I began writing COVENANT around the time of my 50th birthday when I realized it was time to come to terms with the fact that I could no longer identify with lissom young twenty-somethings. Evil stepmothers and witches of traditional fairy stories have always been older women, and, granted they were usually malicious, cackling old biddies, but at least they looked like they were having fun and they had power which wasn’t something many women had in the old days. So while I was writing I decided to do my bit to reclaim the word ‘crone’ and revel in it.
The most contemporary example of the crone that kept springing up in my mind as I was writing was Endora from the TV series ‘BEWITCHED.’ As a little girl I used to watch it religiously, every week hoping that Samantha would do something exciting like ride on her broomstick, attend coven meetings with other witches and create fantastic spells that would amaze the mere mortals she lived amongst. And week after depressing week she never did anything but stay at home, wear a frilly little pinny and make dinner for her husband, Darren; and whenever she did anything remotely magical, she was always apologising because Darren didn’t like her behaving like a witch. By contrast, Endora, the crone, always had a fantastic time, weaving mischievous charms, treating Darren with the contempt I always felt instinctively he deserved and generally behaving disgracefully. I actually found Endora confusing as a child, because she wasn’t like any of the old ladies I knew; she always looked glamorous with her gloriously exaggerated eyelashes and wonderfully sexy clothes. It’s only now having entered that strange world of the over fifties myself that I realise there’s a lot to said for growing old disgracefully. So, to all you ladies out there of a certain age, I say it’s time to embrace your inner crone. We may not be as limber and toned as we once were, but as Evelyn points out in ‘Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle-stop Cafe,’ we’re older and we have more insurance.
Creating a Memorable Character
Although the main inspiration for the creation of Sophronia was a heroine who wasn’t a lovely young thing, (since I, unfortunately, no longer fit that category either), I did have other criteria for what makes her tick. I quite liked the idea of a woman who did not fit the normal parameters of what a heroine should be. Sophronia’s not the bravest witch in the world and she’s quite comfortable with that. Having heroines who are strong and confident is all well and good but they have a tendency to become tedious very quickly. They never seem to be beset by indecision or self-doubt or if they do, it’s over little details and they always end up right anyway and they make me feel inferior. They’re often humourless too and I find myself siding with the villain out of irritation, which leads me to other qualities I like my heroines to have; a sense of humour and the best one-liners. For me, there’s nothing worse than a heroine who ends up feeding the best lines to the hero.
I also wanted a heroine who was less than awestruck by vampires. Sophronia is well aware of the fascination humans have with the undead but she’s not impressed by them at all. She knows all their little ways and is perfectly willing to let them get on with doing whatever they want to do, so long as they keep away from her. The fact that they don’t is a source of great irritation to her.
Finally I tried to portray a heroine who actually likes the company of other women. This isn’t such a problem as it used to be, but there have been times in the past when I’ve read books and despaired because the female characters treat each other abominably as though it’s a perfectly natural way for women to behave. On meeting Charlie, Sophronia immediately recognises she is a witch and instant, instinctive loyalty to one of her own kind is at the core of her personality. Put simply, witches need to stick together.
So that’s why Sophronia is the way she is. I hope she’s memorable. I had a lot of fun creating her and I hope readers enjoy reading about her.