Tuesday, March 1, 2011

On Thirtyish Women, Childbearing and Trying to be Someone You Aren’t.

First of all, I had my job interview today and I think it went really well. So it is a case of wait and see.
Also a bit surprisingly I have already heard about the Public Service job I applied for and they want to interview me next week! And I thought the wheels of government turned slowly.

Now on to the business of my post’s title.

In a comment on my extract of the other night Jennifer (AKA Old Kitty) asked:

“Why can't Penelope and Valentina have children of their own as they approach 30? Awww! Just curious!!!”

I can’t let a question like that pass without a decent answer.

First the simplest answer to Jennifer’s question is “Nothing.”
Of course biologically there is absolutely no reason most 28-30 year old women can’t have children.

But as an author it all comes down to trying to place a character in his or her time and mindset.

As a writer I attempt to at least be a little faithful to the cultural framework of my characters. I try to write something like they might have thought. Yes they might have to be rebels to make them interesting but everyone has baggage.

I am writing in the early twenty-first century and like most of my readers a product of the second half of the 20th century (or so).

Valentina is a product of the 1920s. Things had begun to improve for women by Valentina’s time. For example she had an education that her mother could only ever have dreamt about.

Many, many battles have been fought since then to improve things for women (and other marginalised people).
But of course that is still in the future for Valentina and she sees the world from her own reference point.

Many women of that period considered themselves ‘left on the shelf’ if they weren’t married before they were twenty-five. Before the war she would probably have disagreed with such a notion, but a lot has changed for her since then.

There are a number of factors that add to her belief that she will never have her own children.

Valentina grew up in a world where there were millions of middle aged women who had never found partners because of the casualties in WWI. She has just spent years in a war that killed around 11,000,000 young Russian Soldiers and maimed millions more. She is painfully aware there is a significant gender imbalance in her country.

Also, Valentina thinks she is ugly. In the fighting that killed her friend Raisa she was wounded in the jaw (never posted, you’ll have to read the book when it eventually comes out). There was a hint of her injury in an earlier extract. When she ran into Ronnie at the airport she said, “His hand brushed a wisp of hair from my cheek, and he gently, ever so gently cupped my scarred cheek in his hand.”

To add to her problem she cannot have the man she loves because (as she now knows) in Stalin’s Russia forming a liaison with a foreign national is next to suicidal. So on balance she assumes there is no one for her.

Finally, although she doesn’t know it Valentina is suffering from what we would call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. She has experienced two of the fairly common symptoms: Depression and Suicidal ideas. So when she says Natasha saved her she is literarily telling the truth.

It is this mindset that makes her assume there is not much of a future in love for her. She just makes the assumption that Penelope being around her age would have a similar experience. Of course in reality, attracting men has never been Penelope’s problem.

So there you go my rationale for how Valentina tells me she thinks.
Because in the end I am never going to take all the responsibility for what my characters say :-)


Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Al - excellent news re the interviews .. sure hope the dream choice comes up ..

Cheers have a good week .. Hilary

Old Kitty said...

Aha!! Well this makes sense!! Thank you!!! Now I know a little bit of Valentina's mindset and cultural setting - yay!! It's so amazing to think that only a few decades ago women not yet 30 and unmarried and childless were already seen as past-it! Oh dear!!!! Very sad!! Which I suppose would make Valentina's story even more poignant now that she's discovered this child!

Congratulations with your interviews!!!!!!! That's promising news!! Take care

Christine said...

Glad the interview went well. And you have another! Things are going your way - I'm pleased for you.

Anne Gallagher said...

This is very decided and well-thought out research Al. Very well done indeed. It's not usually in a man's frame of mind to wonder what women thought or cared about way back when. Kudo's to you.

And congrats on the interviews. Best of luck and may you have to make a decision and one is not decided for you.

Ann said...

25 was old in that era. At 25 woman/girls were talked about as being on the shelf or desperate to marry in my era. More about the people around them in the late 20th century though. You know the biddy gossips!

Hart Johnson said...

I think it sounds like you've totally thought this through, and at the time, I think your take on it is right. I love seeing other writers' thought processes!

Marysville Boat Storage said...

Women of yesteryears are looked upon very differently than they are today. Most of them are married off at a young age, below 18.

Lynda R Young said...

good to hear your job interview went well :)

Myrna Foster said...

I really enjoyed your explanation of Valentina. Thanks, Al! And I'm glad your interview went well.

Jai Joshi said...

I definitely agree that women or any other characters should be written and understood as being products of their time. It actually frustrates me sometimes when I read books set in historical periods and read about characters who speak and think in ways that are highly unlikely for their time and culture.


Sharon K. Mayhew said...

Great post, Al! Research is key when writing. Even the tiniest bit of research can make a reader think "huh, that doesn't make sense."

Al said...

Hi Hilary,
It is great! Thank you!

Hi Jennifer,
Phew! I can rest easy now!
It is amazing to think how quickly our society has changed.
You’ve hit the nail on the head with how Valentina feels about Natasha.

Thank you!

Hi Christine,
Thank you! I’m pleased it means I aiming at about the right level.

Hi Anne,
Thank you. I put a lot of effort into most of my situations and characters. Of course you don’t usually get to explain all your thinking.
Thank you for you comment on the job front!

Hi Ann,
Attitudes to age have shifted, partly of course because many of us are living so much longer.
Biddy gossips can be the bane of many people’s lives!

Hi Hart,
Thank you! It is good to see other writers at work isn’t it?

Hi Marysville,
I guess you are right things have changed.

Hi Lynda,
Thank you! It is great!

Hi Myrna,
Glad you liked it!
Thank you!

Hi Jai,
I agree. In Veiled in Shadows (as well as my WIP) I try to place characters in their context. There is a balance though, because you have to write characters that people can identify with. I know what you mean, It is important that characters fit their environment.

Hi Sharon,
I always think the more research the better. I have to remind myself not to beat readers over the head with it as well.

Lisa said...

Sounds like things are moving along well in the job hunt; that's excellent news!

I love that it seems to be an almost universal thing with authors that their characters begin to speak to them.