Have You Seen This Hero?
My Dad has lots of videos of me from when I was little, but there’s one I remember with particular clarity. Here it is:
A blurry image of a garden: a line of pine trees at the bottom, a pond with a wire fence, two children running up the grass. That’s me, the one that’s spinning, pretending to be stuck in a tornado. Yes, that’s a white petticoat I’m wearing. Yes. Those are my sister’s tights on my head.
My friend Rory, dressed as Peter Pan or Robin Hood, says I need a sword.
I don’t WANT a sword, I say back. You have to rescue me.
What would this year be? 1994? Even at five, pretending to be a girl, I know that girls are supposed to be rescued, and not the ones doing the rescuing. Five year old Rory is as unlike me as it’s possible to be: boyish and boisterous; wooden sword in hand, shield in the other. But he’s far more progressive than I am. He’s arguing why I should have a weapon. Even playing Wendy (or Marian, I can’t remember which one I’m supposed to be) he insists that we go and tackle Captain Hook/Sheriff of Nottingham together.
See? Now that’s a hero. Someone we could really get behind. Rory was - and still is - a hero of mine, but when it came to writing my first male hero, I discovered that making one for my sensibilities now- in present day - was more complicated that I would have initially thought....
It probably won’t come as a surprise to you after that anecdote to learn that I was earmarked fairly on as the gay kid at school. All my best friends were girls, I had a plethora of feminine gestures and word patterns that I’d picked up from those friends; I’d grown up playing with dolls and whirling around my garden in a silk petticoat and tights pulled down over my head to represent long hair.
Pretty gay, right? Everyone else seemed to think so. Any expression of contradiction on my part was met with a kind of squint; an ‘oh okay’, a slight change in their voice that indicated they knew better, or even a hastily stifled laugh.
How I wished for an older brother. Someone who would have silenced anyone who had the temerity to call my femininity into question. He’d have a black belt in karate, a super beautiful girlfriend (preferably also trained to a high level in martial arts who would think I was cute and let me hang out with them all the time).
The Green Ranger. Tommy the Green Ranger from Power Rangers. That was the ideal big brother.
I’ll skip eleven years - no protective big brother has materialised out of the ether. In the cafeteria in sixth form, someone, I don’t remember who, said casually: Are you sure you’re not gay?
So the femininity had to go. Above all things, I just wanted some peace. I was so tired of having to defend myself from this question. I began to control my gestures, lower the pitch of my voice, I began to talk loudly, obnoxiously about [straight] sex as if it was something I’d done already. And for the most part, people started to leave me alone. It also meant that when that question resurfaced it felt twice as thorny.
You can imagine how irritated I was then, to find myself, aged twenty-five, falling in love with a guy. I had, since sixth form, become open to that idea, but that didn’t mean I really expected it to happen. What happened next is a long story so I’m going to skip it. What I want to say about that is this:
Gender and Sexuality, as so many people who are on that spectrum understand, is impossibly complicated. But my conundrum was this: my sexuality may not be as simple as gay or straight but who is going to believe me?
When a scientist makes a new discovery it has to be proven multiple times by different people with any number of varying factors. It’s the same with representation. If you don’t see yourself in films, in books, on TV - it’s hard to believe in you. It’s hard to feel reassured that you aren’t a glaring exception to a rule.
There were no representations of fluid sexuality and/or gender around for me growing up - real or fictional. The few examples that existed when I started the final version of Ariadnis were still just that - too few.
I’d never had any problem subverting gender stereotypes or expectations for my female characters. So why did it take me so long to realise that I could do the same for my male characters? I wrote countless drafts of Ariadnis over something like twelve years, but never once had I thought to subvert masculinity as I had strived so hard to do for femininity.
Like Aula and Joomia, Taurus, my male lead, had already been several different people over the years. When I started writing Aula and Joomia’s story, Taurus was Aragorn in almost every way. A few years later he was more similar to Philip Pullman’s Will Parry and a few after that he was a William Wallace type: angry and war-like, a revolutionary, a tragic hero.
There’s nothing wrong with this, of course, but later I realised I’d spent all this time trying to put that ideal hero on the page: the feminist hero that Rory had shown me boys could be, the older-brother I’d dreamed up for myself - but never in ten years had I put anything of myself into that guy.
Why couldn’t he be a little of both - masculine and feminine and all traits in between? Why couldn’t he be bejewelled, beautiful, funny, sensitive, vulnerable? It was a radical idea to me, then. What if he wasn’t like every hero I’d been presented with?
What if he was unafraid of his own femininity - not just in terms of taking the piss out of himself, but respecting and loving feminine things - owning them, being part of them? What if he was unafraid of his own sexuality and what if I presented it as something that was entirely unremarkable? What if he lived in a society that made very little distinction between one gender preference and another?
I began to write him from Joomia’s - then Aula’s - and finally, in Anassa, his own perspective - and for the first time since I’d dreamed him up seven years before he lived and breathed on the page.
I’ll leave you with this scene - one of the first I wrote from Taurus’s perspective, which I think perfectly encapsulates who he is and his relationship with his sister. It didn’t make the cut for Anassa but I’m glad to share it here now:
I get up early. Wow, sunshine. The tents glitter with dew. The tree trunks beyond split the young white sunlight into tall beams. I pretend that’s a gift from Ma.Thanks Ma, I think. I neaten my dreads and pull on a tunic and think about how this day could go great or it could go really terrible. Then it’s time to find sis.
I can do this thing which I call compassing. I’ve had it forever but I haven’t always known I could do it. I can find anything you like. Or anyone. It’s useful, I guess. There are rules when I do it:
1. Don’t be stressed
2. Don’t concentrate too hard.
3. Do it barefoot (Actually, this isn’t so much a rule for compassing as a rule for life).
4. Think of the thing, or the person I’m trying to find and… keep them balanced there. (I’m from Metis so I’ve done a lot of balancing on thin branches. That’s what it’s like - the more you do it, the better you get).
5. Don’t be hungover.
I’m hungover, but I try it anyway. It’s easier cause Etain, she’s my sister. I know what to look for, I guess: nerves, a need to be alone. I find her on the edge of camp. She’s standing with her eyes closed and her face tilted toward the sun.
‘Shh,’ she says.
‘I didn’t say anything.’
‘You’re about as quiet as pig with pollen fever.’
‘Oh good, you slept well then.’ I put my hands together. ‘Please Wise One, find someone for Etain to tumble in the bushes with. Help her take the edge off.’
She raises her eyebrow but keeps her eyes closed. Sis needs to let go a bit. She’s got poise for sure. Maybe too much poise. I smack my hands together.
‘Don’t worry, sis. I’m gonna take ‘em in hand today.’
She opens her eyes for that. She says, ‘Thanks, T.’
I bow. ‘My lady is welcome.’
She ignores that. ‘This is gonna work.’ she says, definitely more to herself. What she means is this is gonna work… right? But you have to read between the lines with Etain.
‘Course it is,’ I say. ‘It’ll be fine. If there’s one thing everyone agrees with it’s that they’re sick of sleeping in tents.’
She laughs. ‘Right.’
I punch her on her folded arms, but lightly. ‘Gotta go sis. Don’t mess up those braids eh? They took me ages. I’ll come back later and sort your face out.’
‘You’re my hero,’ she says, ‘Save me some bread.’
by Josh Martin
|Page Count: 368|
Publisher: Quercus Children's Books
Publication Date: 8th Feb 2018
Less than a year since their cities were joined, the people of Athenas and Metis are still arguing. When the island is invaded by Vulcan, whose resource-ravaged, overpopulated island wants to claim Chloris as its own, Etain's new leadership is compromised. The only way she can restore her people's confidence and save her island is to take up a sea quest to retrieve a magical item from a volcano. Alongside her brother Taurus, Etain sets sail for the volcano. But they soon discover there is more to the quest than they realised.
It's up to Etain to be the leader she is destined to be. Should she fight, or should she try to unite?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
His particular interest in heroines, fantasy, environment, gender studies and wisdom led him to write Ariadnis, his first book.
Today was just the first day of the blog tour so don't forget to stop in at these awesome blogs to see what other goodies Josh has in store for us on the lead up to ANASSA hitting shelves on the 8th of Feb! And if you haven't read the first part of this gripping story ARIADNIS is out now!!