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Of stereotypes and heroes – a reflection on my leading men

The men in my brain have a tendency to ambush me at the most inappropriate moments. Note the men in my brain: in real life, I have only one man, and he is not much given to ambushing me—and when he does, he calls it a surprise, ergo the ambush is a (supposedly) pleasant experience. Which it mostly is.

Anyway: while hubby (in singular) is a singularly one-of-a-kind gift to womankind (well, to me, at any rate), the men that populate my brain come in various shapes, and they’re not always warm and cuddly. Especially not when I am planning to put them through their emotional paces. For some odd reason, neither Matthew nor Adam nor—OK, won’t bore you with this never-ending list—appreciate it when I place the lives of their beloved in jeopardy. Hence the ambush, with me being crowded back in one mental corner while facing a bunch of glowering males.
“Hey, it’s an opportunity for you to show off your hero qualities,” I tell them.

“So stereotypical,” Jason replies. “The damsel in distress saved by her white knight.” He claps Adam de Guirande on the shoulder. “Problem is, only one of us is a knight.”
“Hang on,” Robert FitzStephan says. “I’m a  knight too.”
“So you are,” Jason replies, “but you’re the newbie. You don’t really count—we’ve been here longer.”
“I do not count?” Robert seethes.
“Of course you do,” I say hastily, glaring at Jason. The enervating man just shrugs.
“It’s true though,” Jason says.
“What is?” Robert asks, setting a hand on the hilt of his sword.
“That’s it stereotypical.” Jason winks. “Not sure you understand the word, Robert,seeing as you’re medieval. And a newbie.”
“Been here in Anna’s head long enough to grasp the concept,” Robert replies drily. “I was carrying apple blossoms to my beloved long before she thought up you and Helle.”
He was. I canned that scene, though.
Jason bristles, and I wade in. “Thing is, I think all of you are heroes, fully capable of defending your lady loves,” I say, fluttering my eyelashes at them. “Besides,” I add in view of their icy silence, “your damsels do a pretty good job of saving themselves—and you.”
“They do,” Adam says. His mouth tugs into a smile. “Without Kit, I’d be…” He drags a finger over his throat, making me shudder. Yes, had Kit not risked her own life, he’d have been feeding the crows since seven centuries or so.
“I don’t like it,” Duncan mutters. “This new book of yours, what will you put us through this time?”
I’m about to say that he doesn’t need to worry, this time his Erin is safe and no one will die. Until I remember that isn’t the case. So I hem and haw and say something vague about hoping he’ll like his new adventure. He gives me a penetrating look. I pretend a major interest in my nails.
Matthew chuckles and elbows Duncan. “She’s planning something,” he says, before settling deeper into the armchair that has just materialised in my mind, complete with a foot stool. “I am SO glad she is done writing about me and Alex.”
“Aye,” Adam says. “Same thing for me and Kit.”
Hmm. I am thinking France in the 1330s, and . . .
“What?” Adam says, and even if he tries to look displeased, I can see he is intrigued. Not sure he will be quite as intrigued when I—nope, don’t even think it, Anna, or he’ll catch on. But I need to tell him something, so I lean closer and whisper that Edward of Caernarvon, formerly Edward II, is causing a bit of a havoc in Flanders, and this worries his son, Edward III.
“Hmm,” Adam says, and I know he is thinking that he hasn’t quite forgiven Edward III yet, but an adventure—oh, yes, he’d like that!

I shoo them all out of my head and once I’m alone in my mental space, I spend some time considering the stereotyping accusation.  And yes, I’m guilty as charged in that all my male protagonists are strong and reliable men who will go to whatever lengths necessary to protect their loved ones. This does not necessarily make them a stereotype, though. Matthew Graham, Adam de Guirande, Robert FitzStephan, Duncan Melville and Jason Morris are all very different men, shaped by their experiences and their times.
Are they all a tad possessive when it comes to their women? Yes.
Are they all very protective of their lady love? Absolutely.
Are they all good-looking? To me, yes. (And here I must admit to teetering on the edge of stereotyping in that they’re all tall and well-built, but one of the benefits of being a writer is that I can please myself in these matters, right? Besides, I love how safe I feel when embraced by a tall, strong man and want my female leads to feel the same)
Are they stereotypes? Nope. My leading men all agree: they’re quite unique, thank you very much.

Likewise, my female protagonists are no stereotypical damsels in distress – I don’t believe all that many women are. Instead, they are as strong as their men, albeit at times restricted by their gender. Accordingly, my 14th century female lead, Kit de Guirande, is no atypical sword-swinging female.
“Thank the Lord for that,” Adam mutters. (See? They’re always there, eavesdropping on my thoughts)
No, Kit is strong and determined, but she is also very often pregnant which sort of puts paid to any Wonder Woman aspirations she might have. On the other hand, strength comes in many forms, and sometimes it is our lot—whether we be women or men—to just bear things, survive despite the obstacles along our way.
“I saved his life once,” Kit objects.
That she did. And Noor, my 13th century lady has proved most versatile in defending herself and her man.
So have Alex and Erin, my time travelling female leads—especially Alex, whom I sent falling through time to the 17th century. Very much fun, that, even if Alex doesn’t always agree.
“Of course, she doesn’t,” Erin says, giving me the evil eye. “And let me tell you it isn’t easier in the 18th century.”
“Oh, honey,” Alex says, taking Erin by the hand. “That’s where you ended up?”
“Yup. And seeing as I’m not lily-white, you can imagine how easy that was. Not.”

The challenge when it came to Alex (applies to Erin as well) is that she must reasonably change from the out-spoken and very independent woman she is when she first crash-lands at Matthew’s feet to a woman more in sync with her times. After all, no person is ever written in stone, we evolve throughout our lives this due to our experiences and the expectations on us. And so Alex Lind learns (and slowly accepts) that in this new world of hers she has no legal status. She is only an extension of her husband and has no choice but to accept his decisions. A hard road to travel for one as independent as she is. Fortunately, Matthew is an intelligent man who loves his wife dearly and therefore involves her in the decision-making—as long as they agree…
“It’s no better for me,” Erin grumbles. “Even worse, because some peeps assume I am Duncan’s property, not his wife.”
Duncan grimaces and takes her hand. “That’s why we must leave and go elsewhere.”
And for some reason, Erin and Duncan think that elsewhere is Peter the Great’s Russia . . . *writer bangs head against desk* Ok, neither here nor there in this post!
However, no matter how much he loves his wife, Duncan is also a product of a time where the man decides, the woman obeys—at least officially.
“As it should be,” Adam says, winking at his Kit who makes a VERY rude gesture.
“Aye,” Matthew agrees. “My wife is mine to care for, mine to cherish, mine to discipline as she might need it.” His eyes twinkle. “Mind you, disciplining Alex is a tad dangerous: she may very well end up kicking me to the ground.”
“Too right,” Alex says. My time-travelling lady has a black belt in Karate. Has come in quite handy when she’s had to save Matthew from all sorts. Not something Matthew likes to discuss, though: in his book, he’s the one supposed to do the protecting.
“I’ve never disciplined my wife,” Adam says. “For a man to bear hand on a woman…” His voice trails off, his cheeks going a dull red when Kit just looks at him. “Once,” he says quietly. “I did it once and was immediately ashamed.”
“Well, anyone tries to discipline me and they won’t know what hit them,” Helle, Jason’s woman, says. In tight jeans showing off her strong legs she looks extremely self-sufficient, especially standing the way she does, arms crossed over her chest.
“My lioness has quite the bite,” Jason says proudly, ruffling her blonde curls. And he’s right. Helle saves his life on a number of occasions no matter the cost to her. As I think it, Jason’s face clouds. No doubt he’s recalling just how much it cost her the first time round…

I guess if there’s any stereotype I’m guilty of it’s believing in love. Not your romantic pink-flushed love, more the gritty lasts-for-a-lifetime love that somehow manages to overcome everything from the loss of a child to the loss of your dignity and pride. That’s how my male protagonists love their women, that’s how they’re loved in return. They stand and fall together, my leading men and their ladies. A bit like hubby and me if I may say so—albeit that so far our lives are rather ordinary and humdrum compared to the exciting times my poor characters live through.
“Good. Let’s keep it that way,” hubby says, stooping to kiss my brow. “I’m not sure I’m made for all that hero stuff.”

Silly man. He is a hero. My hero.

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