Isn’t she nice?

I’m facing a bit of a dilemma.

I’m not very good at writing about nice characters.

pretty-woman-in-field-820477__340

Nice.

I tried. I tried really hard to make Alice, the heroine of “The Manor on the Moors”, a thoroughly nice person, her one flaw being an ever-so-slight (but utterly endearing) lack of confidence. She would develop confidence in spectacular style throughout the book to make her, by the end, practically perfect.  And then along came Caroline. She was meant to be the opposite of Alice’s niceness, throwing just what a lovely person Alice was into stark relief. She was meant to be mean, domineering and constantly cross to make Alice seem utterly lovely.

But the problem I found was – if your characters begin the book being thoroughly nice (or nasty) where have they got to go? If your main character is already beloved by all, pretty, intelligent and sweet, how can she grow?

Authors often say that when writing the characters take over, and this is what I allowed to happen. Flawed characters are much more interesting to write about than well rounded, happy characters, so Alice’s lack of confidence grew to be not just a tiny little flaw in her all-round general niceness, but a crippling problem that was going to ruin her life if she didn’t deal with it. I found I warmed to Caroline because of her awkwardness. I had to explain it, develop it and then show that there was more to her than a grumpy middle-aged woman constantly trying to tell other people what to do, but I couldn’t stop her being awkward. And I couldn’t stop her trying to take over ever scene she entered.

nice woman

Utterly lovely.

Instead of Caroline’s attitude making Alice seem more attractive by comparison, Caroline’s sometimes harsh judgement rang a bell of truth. When Caroline wonders ‘if it was legal to shake a visiting PhD student into some semblance of common sense and  [she] concluded that probably it wasn’t …’ I couldn’t help but sympathise with Caroline’s judgement. Alice’s niceness was diminished by Caroline’s attitude to her.

I ended up with two very different heroines with very different issues – but neither of them was practically perfect, or even close to it.

And there’s the dilemma. Because, especially in the genre of cupcakes and cafes that my books inhabit, readers in general warm to a sympathetic main character with whom they can empathise, not a flawed one who can be (let’s be honest about this) a bit irritating at times. I’m no longer even sure whether I’m capable of creating someone nice enough to carry the weight of genre expectations – and crucially, I’m not sure if I want to.

nice woman 2

Practically perfect

 

The Manor on the Moors is now available in both e-book and paperback form here if you want to read about two not entirely lovely ladies …

An introduction to … Aunty Marjorie.

My favourite character in the whole novel is possibly Marjorie, Caroline’s eccentric aunt. She crept in from an unpublished early novel, now banished to that shoebox under the bed, but I couldn’t quite shut the box on Marjorie, so here she is, reborn.

Marjorie is a confident woman in her seventies who knows her own mind and will not conform to what her family, her friends or society expect of her. Widely travelled and open minded she has experienced more than all of the other inhabitants of Misterley put together!  Though if you want to know what she got up to on the beach with Pedro in the 1960s you’ll have to read the novel …

marjorie boots

Image from Pixabay. Marjorie is considerably older than this model, but this is exactly the kind of outfit she would choose for a country walk.

‘There was an older lady in the courtyard. A tall lady, short grey hair, parrot earrings and a purple kaftan? She let me in.’

‘Ah. I see. Aunty Marjorie,’ said Caroline, with a sigh.

Who else could it have been? That woman was a law unto herself.

Like the rest of her family, sometimes Marjorie’s absent-mindedness (she regularly locks herself out of the house) and lack of focus can hinder Caroline’s attempts to keep the Manor in one piece. But Marjorie’s heart is always in the right place … even if she can’t quite remember where that place is ….