Hello, Happy New Year, and thank you so much for having me on Women and Words today!
When I set out to write my debut novel, Lost in Static, I wanted to write characters that are best described by a phrase that’s been brandished about a lot recently, ‘strong females’. I’d read a lot about how strong female characters were under-represented in fiction and, indeed, this was borne out by my own reading (and I am a gluttonous reader).
The problem I kept coming back to was that, no matter how explicit a book’s blurb was about the strength of its female protagonists, I kept finding, time and again, that they did not in fact fall into my definition of strong female characters. Young women bullied by elder lovers, pliable heroines, obsessive women, wide-eyed innocents, and heart-broken women that wallowed in their misery did not fit my definition of strong.
But then I started writing, and I found my definition of strength evolving. Three of my four protagonists (the fourth is male) were strong females (my definition), but they were all flawed and raw. Can a woman severely lacking in self-confidence not be strong, just because she doesn’t realize her strength for ages? Can an arrogant, selfish woman not be strong because she’s unlikeable? And can an individual that constantly puts the beliefs drummed into her during her upbringing above her own needs and desires not be strong? Of course they’re strong! Aren’t they?
At this point, I started to drown in my internal debate and struggle to actually define strength in women. Anne Elliot in Jane Austen’s Persuasion showed weakness of character by refusing Frederick Wentworth after being persuaded as to his unsuitability, but then rallied against those same pressures when given her second chance. Maybe finding strength was part of growing up? This would work well with my plot, with its campus setting, and I allowed myself to a moment or two of clarity before the mist of uncertainty descended again.
Finding strength might be a sign of growing up, but does that mean youth can’t be strong in themselves? There have been so many (real-life, as well as fictional) examples of bravery and strength shown by young girls and women. This, I reasoned, worked well with my second, head-strong, focused, and, yes, nasty protagonist. She was strength personified: no malleability in sight. But she was still obsessive and highly unlikeable, though probably not in the same league as Amy in Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl.
Where did that leave me? Self-confidence and doubt could both form part of strong characters’ personalities and still make them strong. This was great because, frankly, my third protagonist ticked both boxes. But it did mean that I had to re-assess my definition of strength yet again.
So where did I conclude? I’m not entirely sure beyond the realization that strength comes in all forms. And the fact that, next time I come across a virgin crushing on a more experienced lover or a brow-beaten employee kowtowing to her boss in the book’s blurb, I will not scoff when the same protagonist is described as strong. Because there is no reason why they can’t be.
Lost in Static
Sometimes growing up is seeing someone else’s side of the story.
Four stories. One truth. Whom do you believe?
Callum has a family secret. Yasmine wants to know it. Juliette thinks nobody knows hers. All Ruby wants is to reinvent herself.
They are brought together by circumstance, torn apart by misunderstanding. As new relationships are forged and confidences are broken, each person’s version of events is coloured by their background, beliefs and prejudices. And so the ingredients are in place for a year shaped by lust, betrayal, and violence…
Lost in Static is the gripping debut from author Christina Philippou. Whom will you trust?
Christina Philippou’s writing career has been a varied one, from populating the short-story notebook that lived under her desk at school to penning reports on corruption and terrorist finance. When not reading or writing, she can be found engaging in sport or undertaking some form of nature appreciation. Christina has three passports to go with her three children, but is not a spy. Lost in Static is her first novel.
Christina is also the founder of the contemporary fiction author initiative, Britfic.