the writer is a lonely hunter

writing by Gail Aldwin and other authors

Women writers! How do you relate to your female protagonist?

As part of the research for my PhD which accompanied the writing of my novel The String GamesI came across the work of Judith Kegan Gardiner who discusses female identity and writing by women. She suggests that where women write about female protagonists there is a special link and proposes the analogy ‘the hero is her author’s daughter’. When I first read this, the idea that I could regard Nim (my protagonist) as my daughter caused concern. While I recognised that other women writers may regard their female protagonists in this way, I resisted the idea of applying the analogy to my own situation. I was afraid that if I thought of Nim as my daughter, a natural progression would be to conclude that Jenny (Nim’s mother) represented me. This I did not want to think about. The character of Jenny is by no means an idealised mother: she is short-tempered, snappy, stressed, clumsy, resentful and all manner of other negatives. Her redeeming quality, however, is that she genuinely wants to try to be a good mother.

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The more I thought about the possible link between my protagonist and me, the more I came to realise that I was not her fictional mother – Jenny takes that role in the story – but I was her author-mother. This realisation enabled me to approach later drafts of the novel with deeper understanding of my characters and my role as an author in “mothering” my young female protagonist. It also brought into play the idea of separation–individuation, the process that girls and mothers go through in order that children can go onto to become unique, independent adults. I came to understand that by the end of my work on the novel, I needed to separate from the character of Nim I had created, so that she, as my protagonist-daughter could continue her life in a fictional context through the minds of my readers and I, as the author-mother, am free to go on and create other characters in new fictional writing.

As this is a special post to mark Mother’s Day in the UK, 31 March 2019, I wonder, how do other women writers feel about their female protagonists? Do the theories of Judith Kegan Gardiner chime with you? I’d love to know what you think – please leave your thoughts in the comments.

Thank you.

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The man who saved Christmas

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David has had a cold for well over two weeks. I thought he’d long since stopped being infectious but just before the holidays, the first signs of my cold appeared. Drowning myself with Echinacea didn’t help nor using oregano oil purchased to kill off germs. By Christmas Eve it was clear I’d end up in a ditch if I attempted driving my mum over to Bude to visit my sister. In spite of collecting his mum the previous day from Taunton, my wonderful husband stepped in. While we had a pub lunch, David found a pasty shop, had a look at the sea and then completed the five-hour round trip. Plans for my 8km run on Christmas Day were abandoned in favour of a trudge through some muddy fields. My only contribution to Christmas lunch was some red cabbage that I’d prepared earlier in the slow cooker so David laid on the full spread. While I joined the Christmas toast with a slurp of hot lemon, he popped champagne corks and organised the family, even managing to win three games of Scrabble. He’s off again at the minute, driving Grandma home (only a 3-4 hour drive today, depending on whether the M5 has reopened after an icy start). I stay at home, steaming my head over a bowl of Olbas oil. In spite of all this, he stills says it’s been a lovely Christmas!

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