Readers love strong heroines and writers understand why. They make for good characters in compelling tales. Authors like strong heroines because they can live out a fantasy life overcoming their own weaknesses and fears. We put our heroines through hell, give them guilt complexes and seemingly insurmountable odds, and they react in ways we wouldn’t normally dream of reacting ourselves because reality gets in the way. It’s only women like Florence Nightingale or Amelia Earhart who do extraordinary things, not us. But isn’t there a little Florence and Amelia in all of us?
In fiction, reality is suspended, and we can explore our inner selves and think what would we like to do in this circumstance, what would be a strong thing to do?
So what makes a strong woman – in essence, all women are strong, we’re all Florence Nightingales and Amelia Earharts in our own way. We have to be to carry and bear children, to raise them, nurture them, nurse and love them, to watch our menfolk march to war and carry on, but aren’t we all plagued by doubts and feelings of inadequacy no matter how capable we appear on the outside?
I think one of the hardest life lessons I learned was to accept who I am and be happy in my own skin, and it took years. In fact, it was only after researching my family history and seeing the same problems rearing their heads from generation to generation that I realised none of who I am is my fault. I was born this way, as my parents and their parents were born this way. They were who they were and I am who I am, and I now live with that happily. I have learned to like myself, to allow myself to be loved and to love. None of this came naturally, as those of you who struggle with this will understand.
It’s very easy to be thin-skinned and be upset by negative comments. Learning to like yourself is a bit like Pilates or Yoga, you strengthen your inner core and become resilient to criticism. Others opinions of you are less important when you have that inner resilience and self-love. And I don’t mean being Narcissistic, I mean a quiet strength that comes from knowing you’re an okay person. Not perfect, who is – we all have our faults, we all are who we are, though we change as we grow – but you’re doing the best you can for the person you are now, and no-one can ask more of you than that. That doesn’t mean you ignore others opinions. It means you consider them and take on board positive criticism that you feel might improve you in some way and therefore make you stronger. It’s a matter of bending, not snapping. Being flexible, not rigid.
That seems to contradict being bloody-minded and stubborn, but these traits come from inner strength and resilience, holding your ground, being decisive, and not from outer influences trying to break you. Determination, never giving up, is a key ingredient in my life. I get knocked down and I pick myself up again, and to date I have a 100% success rate at surviving. I am stubborn, annoyingly so sometimes, but if you’re stubborn too, a word of advice: try picking your battles. It helps.
One of the things that has helped me strengthen my inner emotional core is learning to paint. If you can find something you enjoy doing, a new skill, and spend time honing that skill, the rewards are two-fold. One, you get enjoyment from learning and exploring something new. Two, you achieve something you didn’t know you could do, and that’s very good for your feeling of self-worth. If it can be a physical skill, like dancing, Yoga, Pilates, or tennis, then the physical strength you gain is a huge bolster to your mental and psychological inner strength and produces endorphins, which help fight illness, and serotonin, which lifts mood. Try it: it really helps. Aerobics is a great serotonin maker – you’ll be knackered but positively bouncing inside.
We all struggle from time to time. It isn’t weakness to ask for help. It takes strength and courage to confide in another person, to open up, to lay bear your soul. Poets write poems, painters splash their souls onto their canvasses, and writers do it through their writing: writers invent strong women.
Kiya, in ‘Where Hope Dares’ was raped and kidnapped, torn from her family and taken over the High Atlas Mountains by her abuser. There were times when she wanted to die, but she kept going, one step at a time, in the hope of rescue.
Alana, in ‘The Silence of the Stones’ struggled with loving a child of rape, and for a while she lost her way, but she threw her hopes and guilt into her new future and never gave up her hopes of reuniting with her lost past.
Miriam, in ‘Touching the Wire’ was an inspiration to me. Deported to Auschwitz, and losing her entire family to the gas chamber, she of all my heroines had just cause to curl in a ball and die, but she fought for life, found love, and died with the same courage she showed in life.
Ella, in ‘For Their Country’s Good’ was maybe the most determined of my heroines. When the man she loves is transported for life to the far side of the world, she stops at nothing to follow him. She makes sacrifices no normal woman would make, surely… Would we?
And finally Florrie, in ‘The Dandelion Clock’ is everyone’s grandmother, a young woman struggling to keep together a home and family during The Great War. An ordinary woman like you and me, doing ordinary things with quiet fortitude. A strong woman. This novel will be published in 2018
So that’s my two penny worth, for what it’s worth, but for one thing. Smile. People like to be around happy people. Smiling actually increases endorphins and serotonin as well, which make you feel healthier and happier, which makes you feel stronger.
Be a strong woman. Love yourself, be happy in your own skin, love and let yourself be loved, be determined, stubborn, learn a new skill, accept criticism, ask for help, have faith in yourself, and while you’re doing all this and vacuuming the kids, changing the cat and putting out the baby – smile!