The heroines behind the heroines...

Authors often talk about the heroines in their books. You may have caught me mentioning Carina and Aurelia from time to time. (Whistles in the air) But a conversation about heroines and their heroes led to something else…

This post was inspired by author Helen Hollick. It’s mainly in her voice with bits and pieces from me and my writing friend Anna Belfrage. Over to Helen…

“Author Anna Belfrage, during a recent conversation mentioned a thought about the real heroines behind the fictional heroines. I wondered if heroes should also be included, but March is Women’s History Month, so let’s stick to the ladies here. (We can spotlight the men another time to balance the books.)

In this instance, Anna was referring to the writer as the heroine – the author, the person tapping away at a keyboard or scribbling with a pen on paper ( ).

The fictional heroine usually goes through hell and back in a story, or at least some sort of trauma or disaster or romantic upheaval, or complication or… well, you get the picture. But what about the writer who is creating that character, that scene, that story? Is it a case of sitting down at a desk from 9-5 Monday to Friday, tapping out a few thousand words a day, Other Half supplying a cup of tea/coffee/wine/gin on the hour every hour? Those several thousand words flowing freely, the plot flashing along, scene after scene with no wavering? Novel finished, a dutiful re-write, check for the occasional missed blooper, then off to the editor for a quick once-over?

Oh, I wish!

Courtesy of Helen Hollick

The only bit of the above that is mildly true for me personally is the tea/coffee appearing a couple of times a day in between countless re-runs of Westerns on the TV which my husband watches with avid fascination, apparently completely unaware that he watched the same John Wayne/Jimmy Stewart et al movie the day before. And the day before that.

Meanwhile, I struggle during the dark, miserable days of winter. Even the effort to get out of bed some dank, dark, damp mornings is hard work for those of us who suffer from S.A.D. (Seasonal Affective Disorder – basically, a desire to hibernate during winter.) To be creative, to find the words to write when I can’t even remember the cat’s name (I am not joking!) is hard work.

Then there is the research, particularly for historical fiction writers who need to know the facts of a period or event before they can even start writing Chapter One. All genres need a certain amount of research, even fantasy and science fiction – possibly even more so, because to make the unbelievable believable the facts have to be correct, otherwise all the believability goes out the window.

For writers, meeting our new characters – male or female – is not always a walk in the park, although for me, I did meet my pirate hero, Jesamiah Acorne, on a drizzly-day Dorset beach. Long story, cut short: I was walking on the beach thinking up ideas for Sea Witch. Looked up and saw a vision of Jesamiah. Might have been my imagination, might have been a spirit from the past – no matter, I saw him. In full pirate regalia. And immediately fell in love.

Alison says hers have been swishing around in her head for decades ever since she trod on a Roman mosaic floor at age eleven! Firmly gripped by the Romans, she started wondering what the world would have been like if a tiny part of Rome had survived…

As for Anna, she blames it all on her husband. It was all because of his family history, which involved fleeing Scotland in 1624 due to religious persecution. She started reading up on the 17th century and fell in love. (Why the 17th century? A declaration of love.) One day, Matthew Graham stepped out of her murky imagination and demanded she tell his story, which she has done, over several books.

Our characters get under our skin, into our hearts, minds, lives and very being. When it is time to finish the book, or a series – oh, the heartache of saying goodbye and letting them go! To create believable characters, to bring them alive, to make them look, feel, behave, sound real, to do real (even if they are impossibly over-the-top real) things takes dedication, skill, determination and courage.

Yes. Courage.

Writing can be a hard taskmistress. We slog away in our studies, corner of a room, spare bedroom or wherever, trying to get a paragraph – a sentence – right. We edit, re-edit and edit again and again. We spend hours writing a scene, then delete it because it isn’t good enough. I have deleted entire chapters. We wake up with our characters, walk, live, play, think of, go to bed with them (No, not that sort of ‘go to bed’!) They are there with us 24/7 because if these fictional people are real to us, then they will become as real to our readers. In theory.

I am not being sexist here, but I do think women writers have a tougher time of it than do the men. Admittedly, I am talking in general here, but many women writers already have a full-time 24/7 job of bringing up children and organising the family; at least this was so thirty years ago when I gave up the ‘hobby’ of scribbling my ideas and got on with attempting to do it properly with the end goal of being published in mind. Often it is the woman who gets the kids off to school, does the housework, the shopping, the laundry, goes to her own job, collects the kids from school, cooks the dinner, gets the kids to bed… We grab coffee breaks or the bliss of a quiet hour in the evening to get that next paragraph written. I’m not saying that the blokes in between work and chores also have to snatch those golden moments where they can sit and write, but I’d wager that many an established male writer wanders off to his study in the morning, saunters out at lunchtime, strolls back to his desk to emerge around six-ish to watch TV. Lunch, dinner, clean shirts and tidy house happening via the Magic House Fairy.

At least, now, women writers can create our stories under our own name. How many of our great female writers from the past had to invent a male pseudonym to be heard and published? I think the term ‘heroine’ definitely applies to these brave and determined ladies of the past.

So why do we do it? Why do we spend hours doing this darn silly job of writing fiction? It’s not for the money that’s for sure. Very few writers outside the top listers make enough to equal a suitable annual wage. So why?

Julian Alps, Slovenia by Petar Milošević (Creative Commons BY-SA 3.0)

Ever heard the answer to a question put to Sir Edmund Hilary when he had successfully climbed Everest in 1953?

Why did you want to climb it?

His answer? “Because it’s there.

Well, for us, for fiction authors, we write the words because they are not there…”


Thank you, Helen, for this wonderful post. Um, please keep writing!

To celebrate Women’s History Month, and to show you what we actually produce, I’m giving away a signed paperback copy of INSURRECTIO, featuring the ever brave (and ever fallible) Aurelia Mitela as she tries to battle the rising tide of a populist demagogue. Of course, the struggle is always personal as well as political…



Just leave a comment below by 30 March.
The draw will be made on 31 March.

Plus, plus, plus: Helen and Anna are also offering a giveaway of one of their books  to celebrate this special month! Why not pop over to Helen‘s and Anna‘s sites to discover what they are giving away.

Helen’a books:

Amazon universal link for Helen:
Sea Witch universal link:
Anna’s books:

The Graham Saga:
The King’s Greatest Enemy:


Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers INCEPTIO, PERFIDITASSUCCESSIOAURELIA and INSURRECTIO. The sixth, RETALIO, will be published in Spring 2017. Audiobooks now available for the first four of the series

Find out more about Roma Nova, its origins, stories and heroines… Get INCEPTIO, the series starter, for FREE when you sign up to Alison’s free monthly email newsletter

34 comments to The heroines behind the heroines…

  • […] don’t forget: Helen Hollick and Alison Morton are also doing giveaways, so pop over to their blogs to join […]

  • Hi Alison,

    What a fascinating mix of thoughts and feelings from three so talented and hard working writers as yourselves. I admire you all so much; not just because you tackle the hard work of producing and writing such excellent, diverse and original novels from a woman’s point of view, but especially, because without the dedication from you all to giving so much of your lives to doing this, we, your enthusiastic followers, would never have had the delights of reading them. The wonderful and eminently readable finished products, always hide the ‘sweat and tears’ of time and research from each of you… to reach the world of your avid readers.

    Thank you. Leila.

    • Alison Morton

      May I say that without our lovely readers like you, Leila, we would be without our voice. Reading is a two-way thing and an engagement by both parties. I love writing my books, despite the ‘sweat and tears’ which are ever present.

      Happy reading!

  • Happy writing too Alison (smiles) May all of you go on from strength to strength!

  • I totally echo Alison, Leila, apart from for our own indulgence there would be no point in producing our stories if there were no readers to share them with. You, the readers, are the most important part in producing a book, be it non-fiction, fiction, poetry or whatever, so thank YOU for being there and supporting us!

  • Richard Tearle

    It seems to me that, if there were a list of the top 20 writers of Historical Fiction of all time, then women would dominate said list – I could name a dozen myself off the top of my head! My two favourite heroines are Aethelflaed, Lady of the Mercians (brilliantly covered by one of your colleagues!) and Aldgyth, wife of Edmund Ironside – another tough but unsung cookie – who is a heroine to me in a very different way from Aethelflaed.
    But, perhaps it is because, rather than despite, these ‘domestic interruptions’ that you cite that women writers are more able to get into their heroines than thier male counterparts!
    Whatever – you three are superb writers and have give this reader many hours of reading pleasure…..

    • Alison Morton

      Thank you, kind sir!
      And I’m so pleased we give you hours of reading pleasure.
      Our work is done. 😉

    • Richard is one of the leading reviewers for Discovering Diamonds (and prior to this for HNS Indie Reviews) so his opinion is valued indeed! I have a confession to make, though: I find writing female characters really tough, be it Gwenhwyfar in my Arthurian trilogy, Queen Emma, or now Tiola in the Sea Witch Voyages, I much prefer getting to know my male leads!

      • Richard Tearle

        Well, Helen, you wouldn’t know it from the way you have ‘treated’ those three you mention!! and, thank you once again, for your endorsements!!

    • Oh, Richard! Kisses to you! It’s readers like you that make it so fun to write!

  • Thank you Helen and thank you too for submitting such a much needed article on the topic of unfair reviews. Some of the reviews giving one star or two star awards for ridiculous reasons or worse, personal attacks on authors can potentially do so much damage. What a shame these are allowed to get through! I read one the other day which only gave a one star award as the person leaving it “had not yet read the book” That one left me speechless! Do keep writing your brilliant books all of you.

    • Alison Morton

      Yes, it can be galling to get a one-star if the book is late arriving, for instance. But not everybody ‘gets’ the story or the world we are building. But that’s part of the heroine writer’s life!

    • of course sometimes the ‘troll’ type comments on Amazon can actually help to sell books – outraged readers rally round and promote like mad!

  • Brilliant observations, and funny with it. Cups of tea brought by OH? I wish! Though he’s very understanding…!

  • Chris Torrance

    I reckon those cups of tea/coffee etc would be very well deserved. When I am engrossed in a book, being drawn into another world, another time, I am often amazed when I think of the fact that this all came from someone’s imagination. Even in a historical novel focusing on actual facts and events, the world surrounding those events still has to be put together on paper. You do a marvellous job and much appreciated by us readers!

    • Alison Morton

      Yes, it’s always about closing your eyes and imagining the characters in their situation. Writers are a rum lot and definitely have strange brains compared to others!

    • Thank you Chris – I’ve even been known to completely forget about cooking dinner (my daughter learnt to cook in order to survive! *laugh*) I personally am also thankful for an imagination at the moment given that it has been pouring with rain where I live in Devon, with an additional very cold wind – so Huzzah for being able to transport my mind at least to the sunny clime of the Caribbean!

  • Whether the author is a woman or a man, I remain in awe of good fiction writers. To be able to stir my imagination with words so that I can not only understand what is going on, but I can BE there with the rest of the characters — actually involved in the story — (to quote Ron Weasley) “That’s bloody brilliant!” Thank you Alison for being that kind of writer.

    • Alison Morton

      Gosh, now I’m blushing! All three of us really try to transport the reader into another world and are delighted when we succeed. And there are an infinite number of worlds out there…

    • Timothy, thank you – and I totally agree that Alison is ‘bloody brilliant’ not only does she write so well that her characters are believable, but the entire concept of Roma Nova is so stunningly real!

  • I’m so glad to find that the Latin I loved at school is coming in handy when I read the Roma Nova books. History should have turned out like this – it’s much more fun than what really happened!

  • Pat Goodspeed

    I would love to win a copy of Insurrectio. I have already read Aurelia and thoroughly enjoyed that book

  • Great article! I certainly appreciate Helen’s thoughts on women writers, and wanting to get a certain story out. I feel the same way. I’ve read books by all three of you, and enjoyed them all!

  • Alison Morton

    Makes it all worth while! Thank you, Eileen.

  • Alison Morton

    I think it’s definitely past the end of 30 March all over the world, so the draw will be done!
    Back soon with the winner’s name…

  • Alison Morton

    And the draw (done in the bits-of-paper-in-the-hat method) has produced a winner – Chris Torrance!

    Congrats to her and commiserations to the other participants. Well, you’re all winners in a way because you’ve made this post a great success! Thank you for joining in.

  • […] Friday next this week, so you have until then to enter. And, don’t forget: Helen Hollick and Alison Morton are also doing giveaways, so pop over to their blogs to join in! Find Alison’s books here! […]

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