Smorgasbord Blog Magazine – Jessica Norrie’s Literary Column – Can your protagonist be too old to be interesting?

Never browse Facebook, unless you’re proof against remarks that cause fits of anger.

Here’s one from an author last week:

“There’s been some chatter on other boards about seasoned romances—stories that feature heroes and heroines that are older; late 30s, 40s, even 50s+.

It was that “even 50s+” that got me, aged 59. And one response:

“I wouldn’t just read a book with an older hero or heroine, I wrote one… The hero in my first book is 38 years old, almost 39!” Well, jeez, that must make your readers sweat.

Reading on, I found many others thought 40+ was “old” for a main character, especially if she(!) was romantically intended. Some claimed most main characters in “contemporary fiction” were 20-30; there’d be no interest in anyone older. (I don’t know if they meant only in romantic fiction.) To feel the hurt I experienced, replace “...older; late 30s, 40’s or even 50+” with “...handicapped; mad, blind or even crippled” (I’m deliberately using discredited terms here). Not great, is it? Any better if we say: “disabled; mentally ill, visually impaired or even paraplegic” / “…gendered; trans, bisexual or even gay…” / “…minority ethnic; black, Asian, or even Jewish“? Cringing? But published fiction with minority characters doesn’t yet reflect the numbers in reality, despite exciting initiatives. Drawing attention to it is risky – (hello, trolls).

So I’ll stick to age prejudice, apparently also rife among authors. I went looking for positives: main characters in contemporary adult fiction who represent the “Seven Ages of Man” – “Ten Ages of People” works better nowadays. Obviously, some are too young for romance unless it’s illegal, but I’d argue that none are too old.

Narrator aged 0-10: Nutshell, by Ian McKewan. This narrator is under nought, he’s been in the womb for 8½ months, overhearing his mother’s dastardly plots and adoring her despite them (fuller review here.) Parts of my own second novel, currently touring the publishers, have a 7 year old narrator. I toyed with narrating it all by children, but limited vocabulary, references and understanding pose the problem that the range, however bright the child, could bore the reader. Dickens and Brontë manage it but they’re not contemporary and within their stories, their characters grow up.

Narrator and main characters aged 10-20: In The Dark Circle teenage twins from Jewish London are sent to a 1950s TB sanatorium, author Linda Grant showing contemporary pop culture through their eyes against the momentous social change caused by the establishment of the NHS. In Joanna Cannon’s much lighter The Trouble with Goats and Sheep her young heroines discover more about the adults in their small suburban close. There’s humour, wonder, and just enough fear to keep things interesting. For a teenage story from present day London, read the cheerful, haunting narration of 11 year old Harrison Opoku in Stephen Kelman’s Pidgeon English. You may need to get used to the idiom but stay with it – we ‘re right inside this naive, curious, endangered head as he lives his surroundings to the full. Romance? Oozing from the pores of Linda Grant’s characters, more in the form of pin ups for Cannon and Kelman.

Main characters aged 20-35: Need no further advocacy.

Main characters aged 35-50: To my surprise, Facebook was partly vindicated: there weren’t many on my shelves. Elizabeth Strout rescued me, with My Name is Lucy Barton.  Lucy is looking back through her life. She married young, her parents are old enough to die of natural causes and she has two just grown up daughters, so I’m assuming she’s in this age bracket. Small town Australia provided The Dressmaker, and again, circumstances suggest this heroine is between 35 and 50 years old. But clearly a lady never tells. Both books contain loving relationships (romance?) and much besides – social and economic points, parenting, travel, independence, memory, fear, survival, managing.  Rachel Cusk’s present age – 51 – puts her recent semi autobiographical fiction “Aftermath”, “Transit” and “Outline” here too. These intense, unnerving, truthful books cover the period after a woman with two young children leaves her husband. There’s loneliness, independence, grief, establishing a new home, family and other relationships.

Narrator aged 50-60 I haven’t yet read The Cost of Living  by Deborah Levy but it’s been reviewed everywhere. Like Cusk’s work, it’s variously described as semi-autobiographical, fiction, near fiction, memoir…but Levy’s ten years older. Will that make matters (even) harder, or does added experience help? Definitely fictional – fortunately – is Zoe Heller’s Notes on a Scandal, the narrator a bitter older teacher spying on a glamorous colleague.

As a teacher, I disliked the poor research of how schools function, but the characters certainly stay in the memory. It was a bestselling book and film. Heller was 38 when it was published in 2003; I wonder if she’d be more compassionate to the lonely older teacher now, perhaps allow her a meaningful love life?

Main characters aged 60-70 Maps for Lost Lovers by Nadeem Aslam follows the story of Shamas, his wife Kaukab and their extended family in Britain and Pakistan. These rounded characters disagree, love each other and find it hard to express, are shaped by their beliefs and experiences and try unsuccessfully to influence others. It’s all imbued with colonial India, partition, life for new and established immigrant groups, generational change and misunderstanding. These complex characters destroy stereotypes, in poetic language that, if you savour it, always tells you more. Less complex but equally moving is Rachel Joyce’s narrator in The Unlikely Pilgramage of Harold Fry. Recently retired Harold is a bit lost, until a call comes from his past and he tries to reconcile past and present loves.

Main characters aged 70-80   The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O’Farrell looks back through Esme’s life, sixty years of it spent in a psychiatric hospital which is now closing. Within living memory, real women were incarcerated for the reason Esme was, but this book is not wholly bleak, oscillating between past and present, treasuring small moments of beauty and strangely full of love. I was going to suggest checking in at Deborah Moggach’s   The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel  (“These Foolish Things” renamed after the 2011 film). But the furious first Goodreads review reminded me of  Sarah Payne’s advice: “the authors job is not to make readers know what is a narrative voice and not the private view of the author.” The characters’ upsetting views are products of their time (memory tells me the film tones them down), but the reviewer’s right to be offended by Moggach’s cartoonish descriptions of India.

Main characters aged 80-90 In  Etta and Otto and Russell and James , Etta sets off on a long walk. Unlike Harold Fry, she’s not visiting a person, but aiming to see the sea for the first time. It’s over 3000 miles away, so the reader must suspend disbelief, but the poetic cadences lull you, the interdependencies and relationships cradle you, and the effect is deeply moving. Is there romance? Read and find out.

Main characters aged 90-100 Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All. Is this still contemporary fiction, published in 1984? It’s very long, and views are divided over whether the male author can write the female voice. But those who love it, really do.

Main characters aged 100+ I didn’t love The 100 year old man who climbed out of the window and disappeared – the premise and beginning were great, but then it was yet another implausible walk, including historical figures and an elephant. All the rest is absurd, so why not an elephant too? Nonetheless, I welcome any bestseller about a healthy centenarian.

As a Facebook responder I’d like to hug said: I’d like to think I’m still in with a chance for my heroism to be exposed!! I wouldn’t want to stretch the bounds of reality too far, but I haven’t closed the door on chances for romance, either!

I’d love more suggestions for these categories so we can keep his hopes alive.

©Jessica Norrie 2018

My thanks to Jessica for demonstrating that those of us of a certain maturity are not to be discarded as protaganists in novels, or as writers of books, that might feature spirited individuals enjoying life to the full.

About Jessica Norrie

Jessica Norrie studied French literature at Sussex University, and trained as a teacher at Sheffield. Then she wandered into parenthood, told her now grown up children stories, and heard theirs. A qualified translator, she worked on an eclectic mix of material, from health reports on racehorses to harrowing refugee tales. She taught, full time, part time, adults, children, co-authored a text book and ran teacher training. In 2008 she was inspired with the idea for “The Infinity Pool” and it appeared as a fully fledged novel in 2015. Meanwhile she sings soprano and plays the piano, walks in the forest and enjoys living in and using London. She looks forward to writing more in the future.

Jessica Norrie

About the Book.

In this thoughtful novel set on a sun-baked island, Adrian Hartman, the charismatic director of the Serendipity holiday community, is responsible for ensuring the perfect mindful break, with personal growth and inner peace guaranteed. People return year after year to bare their souls. For some, Adrian IS Serendipity. But Adrian disappears, and with him goes the serenity of his staff and guests, who are bewildered without their leader. The hostility of the local villagers is beginning to boil over. Is their anger justified or are the visitors, each in a different way, just paranoid?

As romance turns sour and conflict threatens the stability of both communities, everyone has to find their own way to survive. This evocative story explores the decisions of adults who still need to come of age, the effect of well-intentioned tourism on a traditional community, and the real meaning of getting away from it all.

One of the recent reviews for the book

Well-written and acutely observed on 14 December 2017

Jessica Norrie’s novel, set on a sun-drenched island somewhere in the Mediterranean, examines the personalities and pitfalls encountered on the sort of package holiday that offers holistic life-skills and self-improvement courses. While practising yoga and suchlike activities, guests at the Serendipity resort, together with staff and, from time to time, local villagers, confront social, personal and philosophical challenges.Norrie has a confident narrative voice and a shrewd and sympathetic view of human nature, which makes her account of the goings-on at Serendipity entertaining as well as thought-provoking.

The central character is absent for much of the book: this means that the reader builds up a picture of him through the thoughts and observations of other characters, like a photographic negative – he is defined by his impact on others. When he re-emerges in his own right, his condition is so altered that we learn about other people from their decidedly contrasting (and sometimes unattractive) reactions.

The prose is occasionally lyrical – as a swimmer emerges from a pool, “The water softly shifted to a forgiving stillness” – and consistently accessible. The author is very good on the strains inherent in a globalized culture. The gulf between Serendipity’s staff and guests on the one hand and the local community on the other sours into violence, which may not be entirely surprising since, as one of the resort’s denizens observes, “Our food and our water supply are better than theirs, so we don’t eat in their restaurants or buy their fruit, except in town where it’s so touristy; most of us don’t even try to speak their language; we don’t talk to them when they come to our bar; we expect them to put up with us sunbathing naked on the beach in front of their grandmothers – and then we go on about how beautiful the country is and how fascinating the local traditions are.”

The author also has a clear-eyed view of the reality beneath picturesque Mediterranean society. A young woman considers “meeting and marrying some local man and giving birth within the time honoured local conventions, kicking just a little against restrictions on her sex because that was what each new generation did, then in turn chivvying her own daughters and unconditionally adoring her sons.”

The Infinity Pool is a well-written and acutely observed examination of diverse lives.

Read some of the many excellent reviews and buy the book:

and on Amazon US:

Find more reviews on Goodreads:

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My thanks again to Jessica Norrie and to you for dropping in.. your feedback is always welcome. Sally

Smorgasbord Posts from Your Archives – Do characters all have to be super heroes, brave, unfallible and larger than life? Honouring realism and the right to be human by Christoph Fischer

Welcome to the second post by Christoph Fischer from his archives. As we develop our heroes are we in danger of creating them all as perfect, strong and able to leap tall buildings?

Do characters all have to be super heroes, brave, unfallible and larger than life? Honouring realism and the right to be human by Christoph Fischer

A recent comment about one of my fictional characters brought up the following thoughts in me.

I know that bravery, attractive cheerleaders and bulging biceps alpha males are the stuff that great dreams and heroic tales are made of.

Of course it is inspiring to read about the people who are fearless and unbreakable.
Authors want to write role models and set good examples.

So characters can become brave, unfallible and larger than life, so that the readers find them likeable and make your book a bestseller.

What about the more normal humans? Those only partially heroic or good? The flawed, the ‘spinesless’ ‘weak’ or even the ‘cowards’ ? Should we write about them in anything but a derogative way? Who are they anyway? Surely not us?

Hand on heart: Who of us is sure they would hold up under torture? Who would be sure not to save their own skin if pushed against the wall and forced to make an unthinkable choice?

We’re creating false illusions about heroism and unrealistic expectations about people.

What about representation and realism?

Don’t get me wrong. I love the fearless hero, too, I admire his actions and wish I could be like him. But I’m probably not going to live up to his standards, however hard I would like to do so.

Sometimes, however, I’m tired of watching or reading about the big-chested models and biceps-bulging machos with their super-powers who never fail and who can make the reader feel small and inadequate for being a regular human.

images (28)

Isn’t it the era of the geek and the anti-hero, a time where we come to realise that everyone has their place in our world – brave or weak, attractive or regular? That everyone is unique, with good and bad sides, individual strengths and doesn’t have to be perfect?

I’m writing a lot of WW2 fiction and I doubt that all the soldiers in that era were of the alpha-male type, as much of the fiction written about that time leads us to believe. In my novels I focus on characters who are not perfect, who are afraid, who act ‘human’ because I believe that is reality and that doesn’t need to be judged so harshly.

Only because a drag queen may cower in the corner when faced with brutal violence it doesn’t make her a lesser person. She has her place in society and might be the support that stops someone from committing suicide, the person nursing you to health, bailing you out or winning the Grammy or Eurovision Song Contest.

Now to the case of my character Ludwika: Halina and LudwikaA woman who moves to Germany and leaves her child behind with her sister and mother – in exchange for the promise of safety for her family – is she out of her mind or the opposite? Ludwika is actually based on a real person and who are we to judge her decisions at the time? Doing the heroic or ‘done’ thing often doesn’t help anyone under Nazi rule; and not everyone is a warrior type with unbeatable strength.

I remember the key scene in “The Reader”. A woman has the choice to follow orders and keep a door locked, by doing so allowing multiple deaths to occur. But if she opens the door to free the captives, she will be killed herself by those who gave her the orders. CWBY8Hx

I’d like to think I’d have opened the door, but can I be sure? What would you have done?

If you read any of my novels, you’ll meet some bravery but no glorification and super humans. You’ll get real characters who may be good but not perfect. These are characters that I can relate to more than the hero stereotype. They won’t make you feel inadequate when reading about them but it doesn’t have to mean they are lesser human beings, less likeable or don’t have good sides to them. They all have a story to tell.

It is my believe that it is ok to be flawed and human and ok to write characters that way.

What do you think?

©Christoph Fischer 2016

Thanks to Christoph for that thought provoking post on our responsibility as writers to ensure we are not creating myths and legends instead of ordinary people who do extraordinary things.

About Christoph Fischer

Christoph Fischer was born in Germany, near the Austrian border, as the son of a Sudeten-German father and a Bavarian mother. Not a full local in the eyes and ears of his peers he developed an ambiguous sense of belonging and home in Bavaria. He moved to Hamburg in pursuit of his studies and to lead a life of literary indulgence. After a few years he moved on to the UK where he now lives in a small town in West Wales. He and his partner have three Labradoodles to complete their family.

Christoph worked for the British Film Institute, in Libraries, Museums and for an airline. ‘
The Luck of The Weissensteiners’ was published in November 2012; ‘Sebastian’ in May 2013 and ‘The Black Eagle Inn’ in October 2013 – which completes his ‘Three Nations Trilogy’. “Time to Let Go”, his first contemporary work was published in May 2014, and “Conditions”, another contemporary novel, in October 2014. The sequel “Conditioned” was published in October 2015. His medical thriller “The Healer” was released in January 2015 and his second thriller “The Gamblers” in June 2015. He published two more historical novels “In Search of a Revolution” in March 2015 and “Ludwika” in December 2015.
He has written several other novels which are in the later stages of editing and finalisation.

About Ludwika

It’s World War II and Ludwika Gierz, a young Polish woman, is forced to leave her family and go to Nazi Germany to work for an SS officer. There, she must walk a tightrope, learning to live as a second-class citizen in a world where one wrong word could spell disaster and every day could be her last. Based on real events, this is a story of hope amid despair, of love amid loss . . . ultimately, it’s one woman’s story of survival.
Editorial Review:

“This is the best kind of fiction—it’s based on the real life. Ludwika’s story highlights the magnitude of human suffering caused by WWII, transcending multiple generations and many nations.

WWII left no one unscarred, and Ludwika’s life illustrates this tragic fact. But she also reminds us how bright the human spirit can shine when darkness falls in that unrelenting way it does during wartime.

This book was a rollercoaster ride of action and emotion, skilfully told by Mr. Fischer, who brought something fresh and new to a topic about which thousands of stories have already been told.”

One of the many excellent reviews for the book which is now in audible.

This is written in the third person and in some ways stands back a little from Ludwika’s life, but we still feel we know her well and the style suits the telling of a story based on real lives. The panorama of the Second World War is so huge we can never take in the whole story. Most of us look at those years from the viewpoint of our own country and our own parents and grandparents.

Here is a fascinating insight into the lives of ordinary people who did not have the benefit of hindsight or the overview of those in power. Ludwika makes her own decisions, but is also at the mercy of events. Along the way she meets people who are not stereotyped good or evil, often neither enemy nor friend. Sharing Ludwika’s war we also get glimpses of so many untold stories.

Read the reviews and buy the book:

and on Amazon US:

A selection of the books by Christoph Fischer.

Read all the reviews and buy the books:

and on Amazon UK:

Read more reviews and follow Christoph on Goodreads:

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Smorgasbord Post from Your Archives – Sacks and Notebooks by Annika Perry

Welcome to the third of the archive posts from Annika Perry and this week a look at the compulsion to write everything down, especially in notebooks. Annika shares the obsession of Oliver Sacks (Awakenings amongst many books) and his over 1000 notebooks filled anywhere and at anytime… Do you have notebooks or even scraps of paper that you have trusted with your thoughts and dreams over the years?

Sacks and Notebooks by Annika Perry

No doubt we’ve all set ourselves deadlines in our writing goals. Some may even come attached with a mental forfeit. Not many can be as extreme as the one Oliver Sacks set himself over fifty years ago when writing his first book.

To complete it within ten days or failing that kill himself.

Spurred into action he wrote at times twenty hours a day and on the tenth day he handed in ‘Migraine’ to Fabers in London. The writing turned to joy and the threat dissipated by a sense of elation.

Writing has been an integral part of his life and besides his numerous books, amongst them the famous ‘Awakenings’ which was made into a film starring the brilliant late Robin Williams, he also uses notebooks compulsively.

Oliver Sacks writes non-stop, taking note-books with him wherever he goes, often pausing to jot down notes. There he is, resting his notepad on a car-roof, scribbling away. Over there, standing still at a train station, pen and paper in hand, oblivious to the huge swirl of the crowds parting around him and his briefcase which stands abandoned for his feet.

Altogether Sacks reckons he has filled over a thousand notebooks. He calls these an ‘indispensable form of talking to myself’ and that they were not written to be read by others, nor does he read them himself.

‘The act of writing is itself enough; it serves to clarify thoughts and feelings.’

Reading these words it was as if a long-lingering dark cloud has lifted from me and in a few single puffs of words my intermittent anxiety regarding my own collection of notebooks has faded.

Stashed safely in two bed boxes, their weight alone threatening the thin chip board base, the notebooks have rarely seen daylight since the day they were filled. On a few nostalgic moments I’ve retrieved the odd one and snuggled in bed, relived a few days of my youth, dipped into past loves, sorrows, tragedies, read a few words of innocent dramatic musings written in my childish scrawl.

Otherwise they lay there, untouched. By no means reaching Oliver Sacks’s thousand, but near a hundred notebooks and I had wondered, why? Why did I bother? What should I do with them?

Now I am reassured. I can face a contented security that this is normal, whatever normal means. To scribble away, to put away. These inner thoughts, emotions, a creative conversation within myself, an outpouring of energy that helped in the moment and helped to form myself. To create and re-create myself. At times two hours would disappear in frenzied writing and as I emerged with aching fingers and blurred vision my soul and mind felt purged, as thoughts and ideas became vivid and crystal clear.

Each notebook is precious, from the smallest, earliest one at 2 x 4 cm in a golden hardback flip case, to the largest, latest lurid pink ‘blott’ notebook. From misspelt words, feelings, lists, to ideas on life, friends, boyfriends and politics, I scribbled away. Not forgetting the dreams…those dream entries still freak me out. Once for two weeks I kept a dream diary and as early morning writing turned into the next morning, the dreams seemed so ominous and fantastic, too real. My sleep suffered and finally I had to stop.

Nowadays I find one notebook alone does not suffice and so I work around four different journals, each assigned a specific topic.

My traditional black hardboard notebook is full of observations of life around me, conversations overheard in shops, description of particularly striking people spotted whilst out shopping, of interesting signposts, newspaper articles.

Another hardback journal is white with the loud and proud words of ‘Hold on People I’m having an Idea’ plastered across the whole front cover. In here I write down story ideas, some are merely a sentence long, whilst others stretch over pages.

The blue one with a blue elastic band serves as my book journal; in here I jot down notes on books I’m reviewing as well as books I have read and ones I intend to buy.

Finally I write in a smaller beautiful multi-coloured notebook with a magnetic flip front fastening. Unusually this was not a gift as most of my journals have been (I’m easy to buy presents for!) but I acquired this myself in Cambridge years ago and for a while it was left unattended as I felt it was too special to write in. Finally I decided to use it for the funny wise sayings of my son. Keen observations of the world that were uttered with startling clarity, seeing things anew only as they young can, and in the process reigniting the novelty of life for weary adults.

How could I resist this kind offer made by my son when he still very young! Reckon I didn’t take the money!

‘You should be a home-author. You can write stories for me whilst I’m at school. You don’t have to publish them. If they’re good I’ll give you 10p.’

I must not forget my mslexia dairy, full of blog notes, story ideas, competitions, quotes (plus of course school trips, doctor visits, birthdays…)

I approach each new notebook with the same eager anticipation I experienced in my childhood. The blank pages bursting with promise and expectation, so empty and free. With almost religious zeal I will flip through the pages, imaging the outpourings that might fill their bleak space. A feeling felt as keenly now as when a child and many a notebook will start with very similar feelings to these written seven years ago in a new gold-leaf edged notebook given to me by a life-long friend.

‘Monday 12th October 2008 Always such a great responsibility – marking that very first page. All pristine, empty of thoughts and emotions, now to be scarred forever, must be something special methinks, of particular value. … Once again I trust I will keep with it, once again I say for my sanity, once again I say, let’s see where it leads.’

Recently Oliver Sacks seems to have been everywhere I’ve turned; his latest autobiography reviewed in papers and online and convinced I bought ‘On the Move: A Life’ for my Dad for Father’s Day (hint to Dad: Please hurry up and read quickly – I want to borrow it!)

Then reading about the life of Oliver Sacks I discovered his addiction to notebooks and its absolute and phenomenal impact on his life This face reassured me about the sanity of writing these, holding on to them, for no particular reason but for their very being. I hope you too might find this of consolation.

I am sure many of you write and keep notebooks. I would love to hear from you about them. What topics are covered? Are they gifts or self-bought? Do you reread them often or let them rest in peace?

Finally, of course it does not just have to be notebooks. As Oliver Sacks said, ‘The need to think on paper is not confined to notebooks. It spreads onto the backs of envelopes, menus, whatever scraps of paper are at hand.’

©AnnikaPerry 2015

Thanks to Annika for reassuring us that we are not mad to write down all our dreams, hopes, story ideas on scraps of paper or in notebooks…. thank heavens.

About Annika Perry

Although writing has always been a lifetime passion for Annika, her route to full-time writing has been circuitous and she formerly worked within journalism and the timber trade before severe illness and motherhood gave her an opportunity to pursue her dream.

Annika’s First Prize win in the ‘Writing Magazine’ short story competition was the much needed impetus and confidence booster for her to complete the first novel, ‘Island Girl’, which is currently in the final editing stages. Annika is also working on the last edits of her first short story collection which she hopes to publish this year.

As well as writing, Annika is an avid reader (a world without books is unimaginable for her), a keen gardener, walker and she enjoys travel (in spite of her well-documented fear of flying!)

For the past two years blogging has become an important part of her life and she deeply values the friendships formed here on WP via the warm encouraging and uplifting comments. She lives in the South East of England with her husband and teenage son.

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I am now looking for archive posts for the festive season.. short stories fiction and non-fiction, food and recipes, humour, memorable Christmas’s etc.  Please send one or two posts to I will be resuming the regular archive series in the New Year.  Thanks Sally.


Smorgasbord Posts from Your Archives – Strength of Character by D. Wallace Peach

Author Diana Wallace Peach shares some posts from her archives on Myths of the Mirror. This week a post about what defines the characters that we write about, and the stereotyping that is applied to emotional character,  according to the gender of your protagonist.

Strength of Character by D. Wallace Peach

image from Bread and Roses

I spent a recent evening chatting with a group of writers about the public’s desire for strong female characters. The simpering, helpless, man-dependent archetype of the past is no longer the paragon it used to be. If any of our female protagonists swoon into the arms of their brawny rescuers, they better be seriously ill or recently wounded in battle. Encountering a spider no longer qualifies as trauma.

Then our conversation took an interesting turn. Someone shared an opinion that the presence of kindness and compassion in a female protagonist might make her appear “weak.” The unspoken implication was that a female character is “strong” when she is more like the stereotypical caricature of a man – as emotionally sensitive as a block of wood.

Yes, I’m talking stereotypes here and the wind blows both ways. Some believe that gentleness “weakens” a man as much as the lack of it “strengthens” a woman. It’s an antiquated mindset that persists on many levels and is slow to evolve.

Pixabay image

Of course, the souls who populate our books must be true to their natures. Both male and female characters (like the rest of humanity) fit into a broad spectrum when it comes to emotional intelligence. Expression can be passionate, volatile, ambivalent, or completely shut down. On top of that, consider that feelings are fluid and slide all over the place along the love-fear continuum.

Emotional texture is one element that puzzles together a character, no different than physical appearance, skills, aptitudes, and social competencies. An emotional undercurrent is one way to enhance complexity, but it’s not necessarily indicative of a character’s strength.

Mother Theresa,

I’d argue that what makes characters “strong,” regardless of gender, is their determination to act upon the world rather than react to it. Kind and compassionate people fall as easily into this definition as ruthless overlords and heroic champions. Strength is demonstrated by conviction, how actively they pursue their goals, overcome their flaws, and engage both the internal and external obstacles that block their paths.

Happy Writing

©D.Wallace Peach 2015

About D. Wallace Peach

I didn’t care for reading as a child – I preferred Bonanza and Beverly Hillbillies reruns, Saturday morning cartoons and the Ed Sullivan show. Then one day, I opened a book titled The Hobbit. Tolkien … literally changed my life.

I love writing, and have the privilege to pursue my passion full time. I’m still exploring the fantasy genre, trying out new points of view, creating optimistic works with light-hearted endings, and delving into the grim and gritty what-ifs of a post-apocalyptic world. Forgive me if I seem untethered in my offering of reads. Perhaps one day, I’ll settle into something more reliable. For now, it’s simply an uncharted journey, and I hope you enjoy the adventure as much as I.

D.Wallace Peach has just released her first children’s book, Grumpy Ana and the Grouchy Monsters. Not only written by Diana but illustrated by her too. An amazing amount of work but as you will see from the cover it is fantastic. Available in print only in US, UK and Canada.

About the book

Grumpy Ana Goblyn is sour, dour, and cranky. Her lips droop in a frown. She’s bored with every place and person in her friendly town. With the help of her father, she builds a spaceship and travels to a soggy planet where she meets her perfect monster playmates. But there’s a problem! The monsters see her grouchy frown and think she’s a monster. In this children’s space adventure, Ana discovers that her attitude affects her happiness, and she can change it if she chooses.

An early review for the book

Lovely, colorful illustrations accompany this book of a spoiled girl with a frown. She’s bored, so bored with the friendly people of her town that she builds a space ship and travels. But her plans turn out different from what she expected. Ana discovers that attitude is everything. Sour will beget sour, a smile will beget smiles. The story is written in four line verses. The viewpoint that the monsters have of the dreaded, spoiled human girl made me laugh.

Buy the book:

And Amazon UK:

A selection of other books by D. Wallace Peach

To discover all the books and read the reviews and buy:

And Amazon UK:

Read more reviews and follow Diana on Goodreads:

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Smorgasbord Posts from Your Archives – The Seven Deadly Sins and How to Use Them in Your Writing Life by Adrienne Morris

Delighted to welcome Adrienne Morris to the series with her posts from the archives. In her first post she uses the equates our writing to the Seven Deadly Sins…

The Seven Deadly Sins and How to Use Them in Your Writing Life by Adrienne Morris.

The number seven symbolizes perfection. Yet in writing it’s far better to dabble in the deadly seven.

Those cardinal sins we relish observing in others from our lofty, virtuous towers are the stuff of conflict and story.

Historical fiction writers have a host of real-life historical villains, but while sins are seen as relative these days, the following list is still quite helpful for the stuck writer.

Lust – to have an intense desire or need.

Some of us lust after five star reviews, don’t we? But let’s talk character. A morphine addict’s addiction is only one extreme example of the many lusts mortals grapple with or go for. John Weldon hides his addiction for over 700 pages. Some don’t like such long books. They lust after other things, but I need to dig deep into my characters. It’s why I write.

Gluttony – excess in eating and drinking.

Gluttony is one I rarely see used in fiction. Yes, we have the drunks who are often (but not always) seen as comic or tragic and unable to help themselves. How does gluttony move a story forward? If someone overeats aren’t they only hurting themselves? Do stolen cookies and late-night binges affect other family members? I wonder if acceptance and tolerance help the person in the grips of gluttony. For a brief period of time my character Katherine becomes a glutton. Some might say she was a glutton for punishment. What turns a person toward gluttony?

Greed – excessive or reprehensible acquisitiveness.

There’s a pattern here, isn’t there? Humanity is quite full of selfishness. This sin is one of my lesser frailties (I have enormous heaps of some of the others) but oh how fun it is to write about Buck Crenshaw’s greedy brother. Greed can be hidden in characters, too. Buck is greedy for control. He thinks he’s generous, and he is, but he’s often fooled by his lust for acceptance and desire for emotional safety.Laziness – disinclined to activity or exertion: not energetic or vigorous.

Laziness is often a sign of deep fear and fatalism.

Why bother starting something when it’s going to fail anyway? Lazy characters rarely become main characters because they don’t do much. Yet their passivity can lead to exciting tragedy, failed marriages and melancholy regrets.Wrath – strong vengeful anger or indignation.

Wrath is the stuff of writing!

We all love a good fight and the clever and biting remark that tears the seams from a book. We decry war in real life, but a book without war, even a war raging in our character’s heart, often doesn’t get to the heart of life. Families in conflict. That’s my thing. It’s what I love. Writing historical family saga novels makes me want to get up in the morning.Envy–painful or resentful awareness of an advantage enjoyed by another joined with a desire to possess the same advantage.

In writing family saga fiction envious siblings are gold. The Crenshaw family in The Tenafly Road Series would not exist without parents who motivate their children by setting them upon each other. The painful part is loving a friend or family member yet envying their success. Brutal–and great for writing.

Pride – quality or state of being proud – inordinate self esteem.

And here we get to the bottom of it. PRIDE. This one word is at the heart of great fiction and our sorry little lives as humans. I say this lovingly because as a writer I relish misplaced pride. We think of characters with pride as the braggarts, but they come in the mousy little men and women too who spend far too much time thinking of how inadequate they are.

The seven deadly sins are really just different versions of self-obsession. Self-obsession is what novels are all about. We read to see how we (as in humans) do and see and feel things. We are obsessed with our species. I am. It’s a big love/hate fest living with and writing about people. The sins (and the virtues) keep life interesting and writers writing.
©Adrienne Morris and image.

My thanks to Adrienne for sharing her post and her interesting perspective on our drive to write and create stories.

Books in The Tenafly Road Series

The most recent review for Forget Me Not.

At this point, I have kind of grown up with this series and it is interesting how it has somewhat mirrored my life. You always think the next phase is going to provide answers and while it does often do that, it then brings a whole new set of catastrophes to worry about. I love that this series has a subtle humor to it, similar to that of a private joke you have with yourself. I’ve cared for each character almost equally, kind of the the way I would love those in my family. They each provide a different perspective that I can find myself relating to in some way, even if I completely disagree. Definitely my favorite in the series so far.

Read the reviews and buy the books:

and Amazon UK:

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About Adrienne Morris

Adrienne Morris is author of the novel The House on Tenafly Road (selected as an Editors’ Choice Book by The Historical Novel Society and a Notable Indie Book of the Year) and The Tenafly Road Series, the continuing family saga of the Weldon and Crenshaw families of Gilded Age Englewood, New Jersey.

“I write family sagas because I love people. I love their flaws. I love their dreams and deceptions. Historical fiction allows me to reckon with thoughts and feelings I’d rather not address in the here and now. There’s a certain safety and freedom in placing personal revelations one hundred years behind you.”

Musty old libraries, abandoned houses and corsets bring to life the many characters crowding Adrienne’s imagination, but it’s the discovery that people, no matter the century they live in, share the same struggles, hopes and desires (the greatest desire being love) that keeps her up at night writing. Adrienne’s novels are love letters to those of us who feel less than perfect. They are an invitation to love ourselves and others despite our many imperfections.

Adrienne also milks goats, chases chickens and sometimes keeps her dogs off the table.

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Sally’s Cafe and Bookstore – New on the Shelves – 13 Steps to Evil by Sacha Black

Delighted to welcome a new author to the bookstore today with her new release 13 Steps To Evil: How to Craft Superbad Villains by Sacha Black

About the book

Your hero is not the most important character in your book. Your villain is.

Are you fed up of drowning in two-dimensional villains? Frustrated with creating clichés? And failing to get your reader to root for your villain?

In 13 Steps to Evil, you’ll discover:

+ How to develop a villain’s mindset
+ A step-by-step guide to creating your villain from the ground up
+ Why getting to the core of a villain’s personality is essential to make them credible
+ What pitfalls and clichés to avoid as well as the tropes your story needs

Finally, there is a comprehensive writing guide to help you create superbad villains. Whether you’re just starting out or are a seasoned writer, this book will help power up your bad guy and give them that extra edge.

These lessons will help you master and control your villainous minions, navigate and gain the perfect balance of good and evil, as well as strengthening your villain to give your story the tension and punch it needs.

If you like dark humour, learning through examples and want to create the best villains you can, then you’ll love Sacha Black’s guide to crafting superbad villains. Read 13 Steps to Evil today and start creating kick-ass villains.

An early review on Goodreads

Lucy Mitchell rated it 5 stars

LOVED this book! It gets you feeling excited about writing. After reading a couple of chapters you find yourself getting strong urges to create some villains. Love the author’s witty and engaging tone. She tells you how it is and puts in such a way you can’t help but smile. It’s very readable and the exercises are fun. I am hoping she will bring out a workbook as that would be ideal. A must read for aspiring writers!

And one on Amazon

it takes the unusual approach of presenting the ideas through the lens of writing better villains, on May 13, 2017

I have probably read over a hundred books on writing craft as well as hundreds of blog posts, so I was dubious about whether I would find anything new in “13 Steps to Evil”.

The book does cover a lot of what will be familiar material if you’re well read in this area, but it takes the unusual approach of presenting the ideas through the lens of writing better villains, meaning many ideas are combined and emphasised in novel ways. As a result, I think most readers are likely to get some valuable take-aways.

Having said that, the book is likely to be most useful for novice writers. As well as some more advanced material, it covers many important points that are often overlooked by novice writers, eg villains need to be hard to beat.

Because the whole book focuses on villains, reading it will make you think harder about how (and if ) you characterise your villain (assuming you have one). What Sacha says is true—many writers put effort into developing their protagonists at the expense of developing their villains.

The tone of the book is irreverent and entertaining, and the reader should be prepared for some bad language.

I found the chapter on the mental health of villains most interesting. Villains are frequently written with various mental health disorders, and if this is something you’re considering then this chapter provides some excellent information on things to watch out for: cliches, common inaccurate representations of mental health disorders, and potentially stigmatising representations. Because of the length of the chapter, the information on the disorders themselves is not comprehensive, but the chapter a very good starting point and references for further reading are provided.

Buy the book:

About Sacha Black

Sacha Black has five obsessions; words, expensive shoes, conspiracy theories, self-improvement, and breaking the rules. She also has the mind of a perpetual sixteen-year-old, only with slightly less drama and slightly more bills.

Sacha writes books about people with magical powers and other books about the art of writing. She lives in Hertfordshire, England, with her wife and genius, giant of a son.

When she’s not writing, she can be found laughing inappropriately loud, blogging, sniffing musty old books, fangirling film and TV soundtracks, or thinking up new ways to break the rules.

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Connect to Sacha.

Thank you for dropping in today and please give Sacha a warm welcome to the bookstore by sharing the news of her new book.. thanks Sally