Tag Archives: writing a novel

Themes in Novel Writing ~4 ~ Gender Inequality

This is part of a series on Themes in Writing Novels, some we chose deliberately, some we develop as the novel unfolds and others we slip into quite by chance, but Themes are certainly worth thinking about for writing the back blurb or book description and for marketing purposes, to find your target audience.

From plenglish.com

What facets of Gender equality could a writer focus on?

  • Prestige and occupation (eg A high flyer in business where it is a woman rather than a man who is corrupt)
  • Finance (There are the old cliches, a man finding a rich woman to marry, or a rich man or woman searching for love where money isn’t the main issue ~ so what more unusual theme could there be ~  maybe a man attracted to a woman who lives an alternative lifestyle where the environment is the main factor, avoiding impending disaster ~ a sort of updated ‘The Good Life’)
  • A sports event eg boxing, where a woman excels
  • A woman priest at the centre of a murder inquiry
  • Women spies have been written about but they are quite rare.

Of course these facets are mainly focused on the woman in the novel. Inequalities perceived against men are another issue. A husband beater for example or a male manicurist. Why not?

This post and the next are two opposing facets of Dorothy, my main protagonist in MISSING, Past and Present:

  • Theme 4 Gender Inequality

  • Theme 5 Fortitude and Resilience

You see Dot is a women of her time. (not necessarily of now) She defers to her husband Gerald in all things and uses female guile to get her own way, sometimes making Gerald believe it was his idea in the first place. She knows little about the household finances and is a bit old fashioned. Dot works in a library for most of her married life; a safe occupation, until she decides it is time for a life change and hits on the idea of becoming a foster parent. She knows that Gerald will not think very positively about the idea and so she begins a campaign, leaving leaflets around and adverts in magazines or in local papers on coffee tables.

As a person who has supported myself and been the bread winner on occasions through my life, she is definitely not a reflection of my own life and personality (and it is certainly not my memoir, as one reader guessed quite incorrectly.) I’m sure, however, that I share some of Dot’s traits; I think all of my main women characters have a bit of me in them if you scrutinize them carefully. One example of this is that Dot, like me, is a WASPI. (women against state pension inequality) She is 60 and will not get her pension until over 65. This would not have been too drastic if Dot had been able to continue fostering children, but when her husband disappeared, leaving her destitute, she had the sell the marital home.

In today’s world, readers and writers find it hard to conceive of an era where ladies like Dot were the norm, rather than an exception. Yet, to compensate with what could be considered as a ‘walk over’ Dot has other quailities ~ Resilience and Fortitude, discussed in my next post.

Here are two very different recent posts which might inspire you in this theme, although, in fact, they raise the bar to inspire Gender Equality rather than Inequality!

  1. They Dared to Fly ~ Laura Ingalls in the 1930’s

  2. Elizabeth Evans, Businesswoman and Philanthropist in 18th Century on English Historical Fiction Authors’ Blog

Can you think of any other unusual ways to tackle or highlight Gender Inequality in a novel either for a man protagonist or a woman? It would be great if you could share them with us.

 

 

 

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Filed under Marketing your novel, MISSING Past and Present, Planning a novel, Research, Writing, Writing a novel

Themes in Novel Writing ~ Theme 3 ~ Racism

(Link to photo source)

RACISM IN NOVEL WRITING

If you glance no further than the first few lines of this blog, then I can recommend reading Jodie Picoult’s Small Great ThingsNever to be shy of controversy in her writing, Jodie hits racism head on (all types described below). I’ve only read about a quarter of the book so far and in it are subtle forms of racism right to what I perceive as downright ignorant, depressing and dangerous behaviour. The most distressing of all is that some of the characters believe implicitly that they are in the right! See challenge your own perceptions below.

How do you write a novel, highlighting racist attitudes without glorifying or trivialising them?

In my novel I didn’t set out to highlight racist attitudes, I wrote from experience, the personality of each character led to conversations which hopefully raised awareness or set alarm bells ringing with the reader, or maybe not, dependent on the reader’s own path of life, their upbringing and their values.

To challenge these values, sometimes so built into a person that it is almost inherent, you need to understand that there are different types of racism.

What are the different types of racism?

I’m no expert but I have been a teacher for most of my adult life, in schools with pupils of many cultural, religious, ethnic and economic backgrounds?  (and yes, the latter induces prejudice too of a different sort, albeit not directly racism ~ see posts on homelessness for the extreme cases) I taught from reception up, but after a change in direction I have even taught 16 to 19 year olds at a college of further education, where each class represented up to ten different racial backgrounds. Challenging but rewarding. I’ve witnessed, or even seen first hand, racism in many different forms. I’ve tried to handle each situation sensitively, firmly if necessary, and with the older students as a learning experience in their development as young adults.

There’s overt racism

~ the kind that makes most people squirm, extremely angry or very sad when you hear about it. This type is usually driven by prejudiced attitudes learnt from birth to the grave, unless that is we can break the pattern. Hopefully, seeing the police treatment of George Floyd on video which galvanised the world into condemnation has been an example of doing just that.

There’s institutional racism

~ where people from varied backgrounds have different opportunities in life, at school, college, in the work place and in their daily lives.

There’s subtle forms of racism

~ these are the moments that can pass unnoticed; a comment given without malice, a joke, a generalisation made or even a throw-away remark. The perpetrator, and it could be you and I, is not even aware of it. In a way this goes even deeper than overt racism because each ‘hit’ (virtual) on an individual undermines their confidence and sense of worth. That’s not to say that all of us shouldn’t be able to laugh at ourselves from time to time, along with others or on our own. It takes a really good teacher to pick up on these remarks and to turn them into a positive, highlighting their danger without undermining either the speaker or the person being spoken to or talked about.

And racism between races

It is not just a case of Black and White.

One area hardly touched on is racism between different African backgrounds, different Asian backgrounds, black against white or even white against white.

A black American lady, with whom I am connected on Twitter, gave a thoughtful tweet, ‘Is racism something we are taught about from birth. My parents would go ballistic if I took home a white boyfriend.’

A lovely Scottish friend once remarked, ‘I don’t think of you both as English. You are just Roger and Diana.’ I laughed. She is a dear friend and had no idea what she had said.

Back to Novel Writing

What type of racism?

I chose to go for a more subtle approach in my novel. The story was not about racism, but it happened to be a theme where issues of racism popped up quite naturally. It is something I feel strongly about but I’m not into writing about overt racism. (See Jodie Picoult)

Asking questions ~ cause and effect

Once I had decided on my characters I began by asking questions.

  • Dot and Gerald were about to foster children. What would happen if they were Syrian, Muslim refugees?
  • Orla and her sister were Irish Roman Catholics. What would happen if Orla fell in love with Jamal, Dot’s foster son?
  • The farmers wife is eastern European. How would such a conservative farmer cope with their different backgrounds?
  • And then finally, (see last post on mixed marriage) what effect would Dot’s view of the world be if she, of Jewish background had married Gerald a Church of England attender?

Letting the characters speak for themselves

Now,  let the words flow from your experience and knowledge. The characters, in my experience of writing, tend to speak for themselves and they certainly challenge my own misconceptions at times.

Challenge your own perceptions

It is probably best not to write about it if you can think of nothing relevant here, but if your upbringing has been of a monoculture for most of your life, then I challenge you to widen your experiences; not by a sanitised holiday abroad (if you could have one at this moment in time) but even by research on the internet or getting to know people on Twitter etc, however superficial that may be. Widen your scope for reading material.

I’m just beginning to read Small Great Things by Jodie Picoult, an author adept at challenging our prejudices and preconceptions. A must read in my opinion!

 

I’ve just finished Beneath an Indian Sky by RenitaD’Silva. An Excellent book! A period in history, not highlighting racism, but seeped in a cultural background with which I was unfamiliar, with its own tensions, prejudices and values.

This will be my June book review.

 

 

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Themes in Novel Writing ~ Theme 2 ~ Mixed Marriage

If you look back at my introductory post, ‘Themes in Novel Writing’ just over  week ago, I looked at why we need to be aware of themes running through our writing. These are usually premeditated, but some creep into our plot unawares.

THE THEME WHICH INSPIRED MY NOVEL

HOMELESSNESS AND POVERTY

As I have described my initial inspiration for my new novel ‘MISSING, Past and Present’ was from my voluntary work at a  centre for the homeless in Luton, and more recently for local folks in need at Kirkcaldy Foodbank. Recently I have written several posts on this theme.

A THEME WHICH I DEVELOPED AS I WROTE

Our very own Harry and Megan

MIXED MARRIAGE

~ as a theme crept up on me as I was writing, and I even back tracked to ensure that it flowed and challenged the reader throughout the novel. How did this happen?

I had planned for two of my characters, Orla and Jamal to fall in love. Orla is an Irish Roman Catholic who runs The Ark, a centre for the homeless, with her sister Laura. Jamal, my protagonist Dorothy’s foster son, is a Muslim refugee from Syria.  It was a potential union of two beautiful people, in both appearance and personality. They were such lovely young people that I needed tension and intrigue between them in some way to give the plot a jagged edge of uncertainty.

Dorothy also lived in  refuge for a while and got to know some of the young ladies living there. It was quite natural that some of the shared their stories with her; Dot being quite motherly and the oldest resident.

After I had written this chapter, the theme MIXED MARRIAGE popped out at me and I slept on that thought. I often solve plot issues in my sleep. The next morning I back tracked and revised Dorothy’s memories of her married life with Gerald, up until he disappeared. Before they were married Dorothy had been a non practicing Jew, although her roots were deep within her psyche, but Gerald was a practicing Church of England. Dorothy agreed to attend Gerald’s church as her compromise and when homeless it was a subject she reflected on when wondering where their marriage had gone awry and in the moments when she was trying to make up her own mind as to what she now believed.

I now had two types of mixed marriages represented in my novel:

  1. Interracial marriage
  2. Interfaith marriage

and both had similar and yet very different challenges and issues.

With Megan and Harry’s interracial marriage I had high hopes that some of the problems related to the first might evaporate, given such a well known role model. If their marriage was accepted by the Royal Family, no less, surely that would benefit the race relations of the whole nation. We shall see now won’t we?

ISSUES ARISING

Thus MIXED MARRIAGE as a theme in my novel added:

  • tension
  • intrigue
  • a way in which the reader’s own thoughts and ideas could be challenged
  • an issue pertinent to today’s world
  • a confrontation of  inherent racism, which I will develop further in my next post
  • a way to encourage readers to empathise with the characters as they became familiar to them

I did not try to give answers and I certainly didn’t preach, just highlighted the issues arising in a natural way as they would appear in real life situations. After all, we have to go through our own journey of awareness, some steps quicker than others.

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