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Tuesday 21 March 2017


by Helen Hollick, with Anna Belfrage and Alison Morton
March is Women's History Month...

Anna Belfrage
Alison Morton
Author Anna Belfrage, during a recent online conversation, mentioned a thought about the real heroines behind the fictional heroines, another friend, Alison Morton had a joined the debate. I wondered if heroes should also be included, but March is Women’s History Month, so let’s stick to the ladies here. (We can spotlight the men another time to balance the books. Is that a bit of a pun?) In this instance, Anna was referring to the writer as the heroine - the author, the person tapping away at a keyboard or scribbling with a pen on paper (remember those?)

Anna and Helen at HNS Denver 2014
The fictional heroine usually goes through hell and back in a story, or at least some sort of trauma or disaster or romantic upheaval, or complication or… well, you get the picture. But what about the writer who is creating that character, that scene, that story? Is it a case of sitting down at a desk from 9-5 Monday to Friday, bashing out a few thousand words a day, Other Half supplying a cup of tea/coffee/wine/gin on the hour every hour? Those several thousand words flowing freely, the plot flashing along, scene after scene with no wavering? Novel finished well before the deadline date, a dutiful re-write, check for the occasional missed blooper, then off to the editor for a quick once-over?

Oh I wish!

The only bit of the above that is mildly true for me personally is the tea/coffee appearing a couple of times a day in between countless re-runs of Westerns on the TV which my husband watches with avid fascination, apparently completely unaware that he watched the same John Wayne/Jimmy Stewart et al movie the day before.

Meanwhile, I struggle during the dark, miserable, drizzly days of winter. Even the effort to get out of bed some dank, dark mornings is hard work for those of us who suffer from S.A.D. (Seasonal Affected Disorder – basically a desire to hibernate during winter.) To be creative, to find the words to write when I can’t even remember the cat’s name (I am not joking!) is hard work.

Then there is the research, particularly for historical fiction writers who need to know the facts of a period or event before they can even start writing chapter one. All genres need a certain amount of research, even fantasy and science fiction – possibly even more so, because to make the unbelievable believable the facts have to be correct, otherwise all the believability goes out the window.

For writers, meeting our new characters – male or female – is not always a walk in the park, although for me, I did meet my pirate hero, JesamiahAcorne, on a drizzly-day Dorset beach. Long story cut short: I was walking on the beach thinking up ideas for Sea Witch. Looked up and saw a vision of Jesamiah. Might have been my imagination, might have been a spirit from the past – no matter, I saw him. In full pirate regalia. And immediately fell in love.

Alison says hers have been swishing around in her head for decades ever since she trod on a Roman mosaic floor at age eleven. Firmly gripped by the Romans, she started wondering what the world would have been like if a tiny part of Rome had survived… The result is her thriller series, Roma Nova

As for Anna, she blames it all on her husband. It was all because of his family history, which involved fleeing Scotland in 1624 due to religious persecution. She started reading up on the 17th century and fell in love. (Why the 17th century? A declaration of love.) One day, Matthew Graham stepped out of her murky imagination and demanded she tell his story, which she has done, over several books in the Graham Saga..

Our characters get under our skin, into our hearts, minds, lives and very being. When it is time to finish the book, or a series – oh, the heartache of saying goodbye and letting them go! To create believable characters, to bring them alive, to make them look, feel, behave, sound real, to do real (even if they are impossibly over-the-top real) things takes dedication, skill, determination and courage.

Yes. Courage.

Writing can be a hard taskmaster. We slog away in our studies, corner of a room, spare-bedroom or wherever trying to get a paragraph – a sentence – right. We edit, re-edit and edit again and again. We spend hours writing a scene, then delete it because it isn’t good enough. I have deleted entire chapters. We wake up with our characters, walk, live, play, think of, go to bed with them (no not that sort of ‘go to bed’!) They are there with us 24/7 because if these fictional people are real to us, then they will become as real to our readers. In theory.

I am not being sexist here, but I do think women writers have a tougher time of it than do the men. Admitted I am talking in general, but many women writers already have a full-time job plus the responsibility of bringing up children and organising the family, at least this was so thirty years ago when I gave up the ‘hobby’ of scribbling my ideas and got on with attempting to do it properly with the end goal of being published in mind. Usually (OK not always) it is the woman who gets the kids off to school, does the housework, the shopping, the laundry,  goes to her own job, collects the kids from school, cooks the dinner, gets the kids to bed… We grab coffee breaks or the bliss of a quiet hour in the evening to get that next paragraph written. I’m not saying that the blokes in between work and chores also have to snatch those golden moments where they can sit and write, but I’d wager that many an established male writer wanders off to his study in the morning, saunters out at lunchtime, strolls back to his desk to emerge around six-ish to watch TV. Lunch, dinner, clean shirts and a tidy house happening via the Magic House Fairy. (Come on chaps - tell me I'm wrong!) 

At least, now, women writers can create our stories under our own name. How many of our great female writers from the past had to invent a male pseudonym to be heard let alone published? I think the term ‘heroine’ definitely applies to these brave and determined ladies of the past.

So why do we do it? Why do we spend hours doing this darn silly job of writing fiction? It’s not for the money that’s for sure. Very few writers outside the top-listers make enough to equal a suitable annual wage. So why?

Ever heard the answer to a question put to Sir Edmund Hilary when he had successfully climbed Everest in 1953? “Why did you want to climb it?”
His answer? “Because it’s there.”

Well, for us, for fiction authors, we write our words because they are not there

(Which is why I wrote Sea Witch - I couldn't find the book I wanted to read, so I wrote it myself.)

(IndieBRAG Honoree)
The Three Musketeers um, 'Authoreers'?
So who is your favourite, or respected, or even most disliked, female writer of historical fiction? Do you agree with some of what I’ve said above – or disagree? Voice your views below  and you could win a giveaway prize! Read on...

Order Alison's latest novel published April 2017
Alison Morton has written an excellent post on Seasonal Affected Disorder and how it effects writers in particular. Then Click here to go to her blog to read why she felt it was important that the main characters in her Roma Nova series of thrillers lived an egalitarian society.

And go to Anna’s Blog to meet Alex and Kit – her female heroines.

 Helen Hollick

Alison Morton go to her blog post
she says: 'To celebrate Women's History Month, and to show you what we actually produce, I'm giving away a signed paperback copy of my latest book, INSURRECTIO, featuring the ever brave (and ever fallible) Aurelia Mitela as she tries to battle the rising tide of a populist demagogue. Of course, the struggle is always personal as well as political.'

Buying link for Alison’s latest book INSURRECTIO (multiple retailers/formats)
or for all her books on Amazon

Anna Belfrage go to her blog post

To buy the books:

Giveaway CLOSED
the winner of one of my books was
Roland Clarke


  1. Firstly, I won't post my favourite herpoine because I already have ALL your books in one form or another!! But the thrust of this post fits in neatly with something I was reading only yesterday: of all the statues in Britain, only 3% are of women who aren't royalty! Maybe this blog can highlight some who perhaps should be 'honoured' to help redress the balance?

    1. The statues is a very good point Richard! Of that 3% how many are literary figures I wonder? Is there one of Jane Austen, Beatrix Potter, the Brontes? Hmmm.... that gives me a nice theme for a future Reader's Voice topic on Discovering Diamonds!

  2. Remember the hassle of getting Jane Austen on the banknote? A national scandal. Other candidates for statues could be Elizabeth Fry, prison reformer, Edith Cavell, the First World War heroine nurse, Mary Kingsley, explorer, Hester Stanhope, explorer, the women of the SOE... I could go on for ever, but I won't. ;-)

    1. I'll to the Reader's Voice article and we can debate in full there!

  3. I was very disappointed when Elizabeth Fry was removed from the banknote, not least as I am descended from her father via her sister. Having lived in Norwich, briefly, I remember there bein an Edit Cavell memorial outside the Cathedral, but no statue - but there is one near Trafalgar Square.

    I don't dare upset you ladies and choose a favourite heroine by another writer such as Rosemary Sutcliffe. I do respect that the women do all the work, and most of the historical wiring of note. When did Bernard Cornwell ever go shopping? Sure G A Henty didn't?

    1. You can nominate Rosemary Sutcliff any day Roland! She's my heroine too. Next time I'm in touch with Bernard I'll ask him about the shopping...

    2. Hi Roland - you were picked as my winner for the recent giveaway on my blog - can you email me please? author AT helenhollick DOT net

    3. That's wonderful - sent you an email.

    4. Roland - got your email & I've replied, but not heard back? I need to know what book you want and your postal address.

    5. Spent most of the week in hospital so only just sent reply with all details. Apologies and many thanks.

  4. Great blog as always, Helen. I'm currently reading Sea Witch! Kindle library version. (No typos, so far, ahem! Had to didn't I?) Beatrix Potter, for me. I so admire everything about her. Life story. Her books. Big fan! Girl Power!!

    1. Oh yes to Ms Potter! Not only was she a talented artist for her children's books but she did a detailed study of lichen - which was rejected by the scientific 'know-it-alls' of the day because she was female. When her work was later rediscovered it proved to be entirely accurate. Plus not a lot of people realise we owe the National Trust concept to her support of it. She was a good friend of Canon (Rawnsley? Correct spelling?) who set the idea up. From her royalties for books such as Peter Rabbit, Squirrel Nutkin etc she bought land and farms in the Lake District, rented them to tenant farmers and left every one, in her will, to the National Trust, thus preserving huge areas of the Lakes. Definitely a heroine of mine as well!

  5. 1. I liked your comment Helen "I couldn't find the kind of book I wanted to read, so I wrote it myself". I empathise. I'm a re-enactor as you know, and I have often looked for weapons, clothes and accessories that I visualised, but were not available, so I made them. 2. It's one thing to write about a hero, but quite another to set the scene. Things come alive when, by your descriptive talents, one can taste the salt spray, and feel the wind. That's what keeps your latest offering by my bedside and off to another world of your imagination.

  6. What a wonderful month of history was had in Melbourne at Eltham Library. Thanks to Wendy J Dunne arranging panels and discussions for four weekends in a row. Now to get to read this and remember reading the autobiography of Ruth Park, who was married to another writer. I do not know how she had the energy, because she only got to write from early morning, something like 3am to 7 am when her work day as a mother and husband supporter started. Amazing stamina, and durability.
    Glad the three of you managed to balance children, husband and housework to also write!

  7. Thanks Jel Cel - We reviewed Wendy's book on Discovering Diamonds


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