“A boy doesn’t have to go to war to be a hero. He can say he doesn’t like pie when he sees there isn’t enough to go around”
Edgar Watson Howe
I heard an interesting conversation on the radio this morning about whether there are enough strong role models in children’s literature. I always knew I was going to have a strong female protagonist in my novel “Bree McCready and the Half Heart Locket” and I feel proud that young girls find Bree and Honey characters they can look up to and aspire to be like.
But what about Sandy?
If I had taken the obvious route and written Sandy Greenfield as a macho, testosterone packed lad he would not only have been a stereotype but he may also have damaged the fragile ego of the average 10 year old boy who is looking for someone to identify with.
Sandy is anxious, cynical and a bit of a Mr Grumble but there is so much more to him than first meets the eye and he is very courageous… in his own way.
Didn’t Arthur Ash once say that “true heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic”? Throughout the Bree books Sandy shows a quiet, humble heroism and he saves the day on more than one occasion. Sandy is my hero in as much as he is an ordinary young man who finds the strength to endure and face his fears despite some overwhelming obstacles. He may be flawed and he may fail sometimes but he wins out in the end because he stays true to his love, loyalty and commitment to Bree. He stands up for what he believes in even when the cost is high and he never loses his sense of self. I am convinced there must be lots of young boys out there who will relate to Sandy and who will ultimately love him for his quirkiness and unashamed lack of confidence.
Sandy’s parents left when he was three years old so it is understandable that he is a little cautious and pessimistic about life. He may be reluctant to throw himself into the action but he does so anyway. To me that is real bravery. As a person who can find terror in the smallest of things and who all too often sees the dark side of life I know only too well how difficult it is to “face your fears and do it anyway“. But Sandy does this all the time! And he grows as a person as a result of this. Watching him overcome some of his uncertainties is what I think makes him such a fascinating character.
Sandy is Sandy. Simple as that. Graham Greene (author of Brighton Rock and The Third Man) once gave some good advice about writing when he said “The moment comes when a character does or says something that you hadn’t thought about. At that moment he’s alive and you leave it to him”. That’s how I feel about Sandy. I couldn’t change him now even if I wanted to.
I took a big risk when I decided to write an action adventure novel where the female characters outnumber the males. The fantasy/adventure genre has traditionally been the realm of male protagonists, masculine modes of heroism and patriarchal values. Everyone knows that most boys will not be seen dead reading a novel about girls and because of this most writers steer away from girl leads and opt for a principal boy character with a girl sidekick (no names mentioned!) I bravely decided to buck this trend and turn the tables a bit. I was always aware that Sandy might alienate boys who were looking for a specific kind of superhero. Thankfully the reality has been very different and I get fantastic feedback from young boys who think Sandy "rocks".
Martha Brockenbrough’s excellent article raises some important issues about raising our boys to only read about boys.
“The problem isn’t the books..” she says, “..it’s the way we’re raising our boys. If they aren’t willing to read about girls, and if we’re indulging that sort of nonsense, then we are raising boys who will have a hard time functioning in a world where girls play serious roles”. Brockenbrough continues by saying “If boys aren’t reading, perhaps it’s because we’re not helping them understand what a great story it is and we’re not insisting they respect girls as their equals”
I desperately want to reach more boy readers (having a son myself) but I would never compromise my characters in order to achieve this. I think in time boys will really “get” Sandy and in the meantime there is enough action and baddies in both books to hopefully convince them that this is not a series solely for a girl audience. This is not a story about being female, it’s a story about friendship and good versus evil. It’s an action adventure story that just happens to have two strong female characters at the forefront.
COMING NOVEMBER 2010 - Bree McCready and the Flame of Irenus - the action packed sequel to Bree McCready and the Half Heart Locket.