I’m very excited by my new book for teenagers, Helen’s Daughter, published beautifully by SilverWood Books of Bristol. (For some reason WordPress refuses to let me post the cover image, but you can see it on Amazon -
It’s the first in a planned trilogy about the girls of the Trojan War. The Trojan War isn’t the happiest of stories – a war in which there are no winners, heroes die, women are horribly enslaved and cities destroyed. But it’s a story that’s fascinated us for thousands of years, and been interpreted and re-interpreted in so many ways. I became intrigued by the hidden women in the story – they’re not obvious in the world of fighting men and heroes, but they’re there if you look for them. We all know about Helen of Troy – almost the only character who manages to come through the war unscathed – but what about her only daughter Hermione? Was it hard for her to be the daughter of the most beautiful and most notorious woman in the world? What pressures were put upon her? Did she manage to make a life of her own for herself? This is the story I’ve uncovered for her.
It’s exciting to work with mythology – you have stories that have been worked over and over until they are full of a kind of concentrated energy that you don’t find in made-up fantasy. There’s a depth and richness to them that you can tap into. And within their space, there’s always room for your own interpretation, so the story can become in some sense your own. And what fun to have the heroes of Troy to work with. Sometimes they surprise you. I found that I liked Achilles, for example, which I hadn’t expected to, and wasn’t so keen on Hector. Cassandra I didn’t like very much at first, but I found myself coming round to her as I tried to understand her, and the dreadful blow she’d been dealt by fate. The heroine of that volume is Elissa, her reluctant Greek slave, who has a destiny of her own. And Electra – in the third volume- how is she going to come to terms with having to take that bloody revenge on her own mother? I am writing this at the moment, and her story is unfolding before me.
I’ve enjoyed writing these stories almost more than anything else I’ve ever written, and I hope people enjoy reading them too.
People often talk as though the worst thing that can happen in a woman’s life is when she looks at her aging face in a mirror. Well, yes, and no. No-body likes to grow old, but providing you have health – and that’s a big providing – old age can be a good time. We enjoyed our sixties very much. With more leisure than we’d ever had before we travelled to places we’d always longed to see, Richard joined a choir and I went to Life Drawing class, we spent time with our grandchildren, walked on the hills and generally had a good time. There’s an aged character in one of Anne Tyler’s novels who says that while she’d never want to be young again, she’d quite like to be middle-aged. Extreme old age probably isn’t much fun for anyone, but the foothills are different.
I think it’s young women in the public eye that I feel sorry for these days. As far as the media are concerned, all they’re valued for are faces and bodies. If the Duchess of Cambridge, however efficiently she carries out her royal duties, were to put on a stone, she’d be mocked and reviled in the media. Female TV presenters are put out to grass while their male counterparts are allowed to go on becoming grizzled and fat (looks distinguished on a man, apparently) It’s sad when you see one of these pretty young women leaves our screens for a few weeks and return with a peculiar puffy face. After a certain age, year by year, Hollywood actresses look odder and odder, and presumably they’ve ruined their faces for ever with the ‘work’ they’ve had done.
Well, I’m seventy now, and while I must admit that I do spend some time looking at the wrinkled old bag in the mirror and slapping make-up on in a vain attempt to neutralize her a bit, I don’t spend too much time at the mirror. She’s what I am now, and I live with her without too much regret.
And I’m cheered by the appearance of many women of my age. For women in their sixties and seventies can be quite extraordinarily beautiful. Certainly it’s a different kind of beauty from that of the unlined twenty year old, but given a bit of good bone-structure to start, an older women’s face shows all the intelligence, humour, kindness, intuition and insight of her years, and surely that’s as good, if not more desirable, than clear skin. Of course these women don’t stop doing all the things they’ve done all their lives; they keep active because they see no alternative. They don’t moan about the terrors of old age. And they don’t spend long peering in mirrors – they simply don’t have the time.