All of us who write fiction write in both male and female point of view. Lately I’ve been pondering why I feel so much more comfortable writing in a woman’s voice than in a man’s.
My first attempt at a novel length piece, Honest Hearts, started out as the tale of a young man who emigrated from Ireland to North America at the end of the nineteenth century. After spending some time in Brooklyn he joined the Klondike gold rush. I needed to give him a reason to leave Brooklyn so created a young woman for him to fall in, and then out of, love with. It wasn’t long before her story became as important as his with the result that a considerable portion of the book is told from her point of view. And it doesn’t stop there. She has a daughter given up for adoption. Part of the book is told from the daughter’s point of view also.
My second book, Summer Day, concerns a boy who runs away, believing he has accidentally killed his father. Alternate chapters relate his experiences walking, running and stumbling through the countryside that surrounds the family farm. The remainder are told from the points of view of various members of the family and the wider community who encounter the boy on his travels. These include his mother, sister and two aunts as well as the district nurse and one of his teachers. There are male characters too: his father and brother, the postman, the vicar, male neighbours, the head teacher and the female teacher’s husband. But the number of words written in the women’s voices far exceed those written in those of the various men.
Strongbow’s Wife, my novel about the Norman occupation of Ireland in the twelfth century, is told entirely in first person. Written from the point of view of a teenage girl given in marriage to a Norman war-lord, it chronicles her progress from innocent child to widow mourning the loss of her only son.
Many of my short stories feature women. And my most recent long work, Transgression, features another case of a young woman giving up her child for adoption. Although a large part of the book is told from the point of view of the woman’s male biographer, several chapters are recounted through the eyes of his aunt who becomes the young woman’s confidante, rescuing her from her demons of drugs and alcohol. My editor has described my depiction of this character in glowing terms. “You’ve imbued [her] with a depth that pulls the reader into the core of her experience.”
Looking back, I can see that I have always been far more comfortable in the company of women than with men. I can only assume this is down to the lack of a male role model in a family or social setting. At boarding school I did have male teachers and, after I left school, my mother’s second husband, a gentle man who loved nature, taught his reluctant step-son the practical skills he would need as a husband and father.
But the more macho side of male culture has always seemed alien, even intimidating, to me. Little wonder then that I find it so much easier to write in a woman’s voice and from a woman’s point of view. I am already setting my mind to writing about the life of one of the minor female characters in Transgression, a campaigner for women’s rights and nuclear disarmament.
I have always considered myself a feminist though I have reservations about some of the more militant manifestations of feminism and am confused by what sometimes seem to be contradictory viewpoints. Of course women should have the same right to education, training and a professional career as do men. But equality should not end there. There is nothing wrong with the contention that women are better suited to certain roles than are men. We are not all the same. The worst manifestation of inequality, in reward and status, arises from the value our culture ascribes to the roles traditionally performed by women.
Attitudes and women’s circumstances are changing. There remains, however, a hard core of men wedded to those aspects of male culture that I have described as alien and intimidating, many of them linked to such men’s contempt for, and fear of, women. Is it too much to hope that, by writing strong women into my fiction, I can help overcome that fear and eliminate the contempt?