If there’s one thing that really gets my back up it’s women who don’t help other women. I’ve never understood it when you consider everything we have in common. It doesn’t help that we live in a world which has an unhealthy interest in pitting us against each other, celebrating the many ways in which we belittle, betray and judge each other. It’s not every woman’s experience however, and it’s certainly not how the majority of women want to be portrayed. It’s also one of the main reasons I chose to write women’s fiction. Let me explain…
One of the great things about writing fiction is that you have the chance to raise the issues you feel strongly about within a range of ‘what if’ contexts. It allows you to illustrate the best and the worst of human nature through characters which readers will either love or hate. As a writer of women’s fiction one of my aims is to raise some of the issues which women might find themselves facing on a day to day basis; the good, the bad and the ugly. In doing so, I hope to get readers talking about these issues, sharing their stories and experiences. How women relate to each other is an issue I look at repeatedly in my writing, because it’s one which is fundamental to how we live, love, survive and thrive as women. It’s also a theme with an endless number of nuances and variables which means I can explore it from many different angles.
If you’ve read ‘Dancing Through Fire’ you’ll know that the character of Sheila is not one you’d instantly warm to, mainly because she fails to protect and care for Ellie who is a naïve eighteen year old in need of help. Sheila’s actions, or lack of, are counter-intuitive to many women and therefore it’s hard to relate to her. It is of course a fairly extreme example of one woman not helping another but if you compare her actions to those of Maria who instantly takes Ellie under her wing, then you start to wonder what it is that drives us individually as women. Maria is one of those naturally nurturing, no-nonsense matriarchs you’d want by your side during any given drama whereas Sheila is prevented from stepping in by something inside her which over-rides any female instinct to protect or nurture. There’s a question to be asked about why she behaves the way she does and what holds her back. Is it jealousy, fear, insecurity… or is it something in her own history which you’re left to figure out by piecing together all that you know of her? Regardless, she fails another woman by observing her pain and choosing to walk away. She then goes on to make life difficult for Ellie by gossiping about her circumstances and in many ways this is worse than the walking away itself. In terms of how Sheila and Maria respond to a young woman in need, they are polar opposites. The point isn’t to suggest that all women should be naturally nurturing, the point is to explore how and why one woman might choose to walk away when others wouldn’t.
I’m lucky enough to know some amazing women with remarkable stories of their own; what they’ve endured in their lives, what they’ve overcome and what or who has inspired them to get where they are today. I’ve also come across complete strangers who have reached out and supported me, cheering me on at different times in my life. These are not the women you overhear in coffee shops bitching about their friends or those who trip each other up in the workplace to drive their own personal agendas. And they certainly aren’t the women who walk away when another is in need. These are women who are secure enough in themselves to reach out to, and support, other women and when they do, you never forget their kindness. They have lived enough to know just how much we share; the joys, the challenges, the transformations we go through at different moments in our lives which are unique to us as women. They recognise the importance of being there for each other, so we know our experience is seen and understood. They make us feel that no matter what life throws at us, we have an ally in the world. In short, they are the very best of them.
These are the women I want to reflect in my writing because their stories are the ones which deserve to be celebrated. Seeing reflections of them in a book is also likely to be the only way you’ll ever hear about them because if there’s one thing I’ve learned about women who genuinely support other women it’s this: they do it quietly, they do it selflessly and they do it with the purest of hearts.