I’ve been thinking a lot about story touchstones lately, starting with Sapsorrow’s Dress. As well as exploring some more of my own imaginative touchstones, I decided to ask a bunch of other writers about theirs. This week I’ve invited Mirren Hogan, author of Crimson Fire and upcoming releases Night Witches and Nightmares Rise, to guest blog about one of her touchstones. I asked her a few questions, and here’s what she had to say.
Thanks for coming along, Mirren! What is your touchstone?
I was raised to be a strong, independent (but flawed) woman, so I’ve always enjoyed writing about strong, independent, yet flawed women. The world is full of books and movies about damsels, or ‘perfect’ women. The real world, however, is a different reality altogether. A great many women are capable of saving themselves, or being resilient if they can’t. It’s also full of women who struggle with daily life, but even if it’s buried deep, they have strength, and voices which deserve to be heard.
I’d like to think I write characters (male and female), that people can relate to, that speaks to them and lets them know they’re not alone.
When did this first emerge as a source of inspiration for you? Where did it come from?
When I was in school, a teacher once said to my mother that I’d make a great boy, because I was so assertive. Needless to say, my mother was not impressed. Imagine, if you will, the kind of society in which a teacher thinks that, and then goes so far as to articulate it. This was the early 80s and things have changed since then, but I wouldn’t be surprised to hear this kind of thinking repeated now.
So I’d say I got it from my mother. She kicks butt on a daily basis.
Why do you think it resonated with you so strongly?
I was never one to pay much attention to binary gender stereotypes, even as a kid. I liked cars and trains, I played with dolls, I wore shorts and skirts (mostly the former). My earliest screen crush was Princess Leia (with Han Solo not far behind). I’ve never been all that interested in the damsel (King Kong was more interesting than Fay Wray). I think being immersed in a culture of Star Wars and Star Trek, and Pern, in which the women were ‘ahead of their time’, I’ve just grown up thinking women are badasses.
The older I get, the more I realise this isn’t everyone’s perception of the world, I guess I want it known – this is mine, take it or leave it, be empowered, be your own hero.
How has this idea of the strong-but-flawed woman inspired your writing?
In two ways: firstly, my women are usually tough, independent, sassy, smart, the works. Secondly, my male characters tend to hold back more than I think they would if I thought women didn’t kick ass. They know the women can save themselves, but they’re they’re to help, in case they can’t. And often the woman does the saving.
How is this touchstone reflected in your other work as a writer and editor?
It embodies the anthologies I’ve put together or am working on. Like a Girl and Like a Woman are both reflections of the belief that woman and girls can be anything and do anything they put their minds to.
How has your relationship with your touchstone, or the way you’ve drawn inspiration from it, changed over time?
I’d say that my female characters are stronger now than how I used to write them, but I’m not sure how accurate that is. Even my earlier woman, like Tabia from Crimson Fire is a tough young woman, even in her most vulnerable moments. Is she as tough as Nadia from Night Witches? Well Nadia dropped bombs on Nazis, that’s hard to top!
Nadia Valinsky is a young female pilot and university education student from Moscow. When the Germans invade the Soviet Union in 1941, she wants to fight to defend her country. In October of 1941 Marina Raskova, a famous female aviator, asks for volunteers, Nadia signs up. She is accepted for an interview and offered a place in the training regiment as a navigator.
Following rigorous training at Engles Air Force base, Nadia is assigned to the Night Bomber regiment. She and her crew fly multiple missions on the front lines and are regularly under fire from anti-aircraft guns. The Germans give them the nickname Night Witches, because of the sound their aircraft make as they sweep overhead.
The Night Witches flew in planes made from canvas and balsawood. For the majority of the war, they had no radios, or parachutes. The latter was considered to take up too much space needed to carry bombs. Of three women’s regiments, theirs was the only one who consisted entirely of women through the duration of the war.
They lived together, fought together and died together.
Mirren Hogan lives in NSW Australia with her husband, two daughters, dog, cat, rabbits and countless birds. She has a Bachelor of Arts (English/ history), a Graduate Diploma of Arts (writing) and a couple of degrees in education. She writes fantasy, urban fantasy and science fiction. Her debut novel —Crimson Fire— was released in October 2016, with more to come. These include a trilogy co-authored by Erin Yoshikawa. She’s also had several short stories published and has co-edited two charity anthologies; for breast cancer research and Plan Australia.