Fictionally speaking, you could be forgiven for thinking so, at least in the fantasy genres. Sure, there are older female characters, some even powerful: queens, sorceresses, seers, etc. But how often do you find a fantasy where the main character is a mother?
Off the top of my head, I can think of … umm … none. (And if you know of any, please point me at them in the comments!) You can find strong female leads, particularly in urban fantasy, which is great. I love to see strong, competent women take starring roles. But they’re nearly all single young women. Some of them have partners, but nobody has kids.
It’s as if life somehow stops when women give birth. And, sure, I can see how fitting kids into the life of a busy demon-slayer or white witch could be tricky, and why authors choose to free their characters from such complications. But it makes me feel as if, being a mother, I’m invisible, or that it’s not possible for me to have any adventures any more. Only young women are interesting enough to write about.
And hey, I get it, I really do. Being young and single is more glamorous than being a middle-aged taxi driver for a brood of children. I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with stories about kick-ass young single women, or that I don’t enjoy them, because I do. I’m not trying to insist that authors should write stories about middle-aged mothers if they don’t wish to, or suggesting that there’s anything wrong with their choice not to.
But life with children can be complex and beautiful and interesting. It’s not all soccer practice and dirty socks. Love comes in many flavours. Romantic love and the bonds of friendship—even the bonds between siblings—are well represented in fantasy, but the relationships between parents and children aren’t often explored. And yet they are such a big part of many people’s lives. It seems an untapped area just waiting to be explored.
So after I had my big moment of inspiration in the bathroom of the local cinemas, I had some decisions to make about the story that would eventually become Twiceborn. I had a woman changing disguises to evade pursuit. What was she carrying? Who was following her and why?
As the idea developed I decided to throw in memory loss, since I love stories about amnesia so much. Dragons too—I love dragons!
And I also chose to make Kate, my main character, a mother. In the end I chickened out on making her middle-aged. She’s only twenty-nine, so she still qualifies as young and glamorous, but she is most definitely a mother. Love for her son drives a lot of her actions and has a huge influence on the outcome of the story’s main struggle. There is nothing so fierce as a mother’s love for her children, as the dragons of Sydney discover.
There’s a little romance in the book too, as well as the love between friends and siblings, but Kate’s love for Lachie is at the heart of Twiceborn. What will a mother sacrifice for her child? What won’t she?
Twiceborn is available now at Amazon. For all the kick-ass mums out there!
I can’t think of any in fantasy, but in Sci-Fi I believe there are some.
I can see why in High Fantasy there would be a lack of mothers as protagonists, but in urban fantasy (and other sub-genres), it does seem a weird lack.
Congrats on your first book! Personally, I would choose a protagonist who was a mother between 36 and 42. That is, IMHO, a great age range. But I understand why you made her a bit younger.
Thanks, Owen! Yes, she’s a bit of a young mum but making her a mum at all seemed to be pushing the envelope enough without making her (gasp!) middle-aged as well, though 40-ish would have been my preference.
Yes, probably a good idea not to hit people with too much all at once. And, of course, you can keep writing these and she become 40-ish whenever you like. Fantasy does need kick-ass 40-ish mothers!
(I’ll admit I’m biased: our books have a kick-ass major character, who isn’t a mother, but she is pretty hot — in a cool sort of way — and she’s about 60. And a female marine who’s in her mid-70’s. We kinda cheat with her though.)
They sound interesting. Might have to take a look!
Well, we think so (um, yeah). Given it’s mil-sci-fi, we strove to present a story where (on the one side), women and men are on equal footing, so being a kick-ass woman is not something special. A lot of our characters are older, too, except for the protagonist — she’s in her early 20s.
That isn’t the main theme of the series, by any means — we just wanted to present it as a “fact of life” in one particular society without glamorizing it too much (as I think some books do), while other societies in the series see things differently (so to speak).
Thank you for sharing this, I really enjoyed reading the post. I’m (currently) of the 30-something childless bracket and I especially loved your comment: “It’s not all soccer practice and dirty socks.”
I think that people think “mother” and automatically go “domestic”, at least in my experience. Which is disappointing considering how much potential is sitting there waiting to be mined in genres like UF, Sci-Fi or Fantasy.
One of the things I struggle with is trying to write a couple that are working to balance life in the military, with wanting to settle down and have a family of their own.
I feel like there’s the weird pressure where, if you write about a lead female character with children, then the family stuff takes over everything else.
Having written Twiceborn (which I grabbed on Amazon, thank you) can you share how you found the balance between Kate’s family goals and work goals?
Thanks very much!
Yess! You understand exactly where I’m coming from. And you raise another, related, point. As well as a dearth of mothers in fantasy, there’s a dearth of couples who are already together, dealing with the balancing act of real life. And real life can get pretty “unreal” in fantasy, so it’s not as if characters are going to be sitting around changing nappies or worrying about which school to send their kids to.
I find family dynamics endlessly fascinating, and I seem to have written a lot more stories that focus on the relationships between sisters, brothers or mothers and children than ones whose central relationship is romantic.
I can’t say much about Kate’s situation without giving away massive spoilers for the book, but I did find that Kate’s mother side drove everything she did in her non-family life. The lengths a mother will go to to protect her child became a major theme of the book.
Thank you for your thoughtful comment, and good luck with your writing!
The issue of balancing family life with other (especially military) obligations is one that is sadly neglected in Sci-Fi and Fantasy. Admitedly it is difficult, and may not be what a lot of people want read, but I’d really like to see someone explore what happens when some of these kick-ass military women in current Sci-Fi settle down, start a family, and then duty calls.
That “someone” might have to be you, Owen! You could start a new trend in space opera.
Actually, Jordan (my co-author) and I have talked about this exact point, both WRT to our book and others. Lacking any direct experience, it’s a bit of a headscratcher for us though.
But we do have a whole arc to get through, and then another arc to start (assuming we get that far), so I suppose most anything is possible.
I’m sure if you can imagine whole galaxies and civilisations and space travel, you can imagine what life might be like with the complications of children!
The “gotcha” factor here is that no one has any experience with the universe we create with regards to things like space travel etc, so they are likely to buy off on our depiction of it pretty easily. But a lot of people do have kids, so our speculative depictions can run smack into their personal experience and throw them right out of the story.
It’s all well and good to explain that because the this and that in our universe, childrearing is different and so on, but if it’s unrecognizable to actual parents, I think it sort of misses the point. We could end up looking like nitwits who have no idea what we are talking about and are engaging in a lot of hand-waving to cover it up.
So we’d go kind of softly there, we were going to go there.
True. Still, there’s always research, if you ever do decide to give it a shot.
Oh definitely. A lot of research would be needed. We might even send pesky emails to other writiers who have children. 😉