"I like the idea of being strong. I've grown up with the concept. It's in my bones and my blood. Strong people survive. They don't go under."
So speaks 18 year old Annie, the heroine of my ebook Jigsaw Pieces. The book has just been nominated for the eFestival of Words in the YA Category My genre is Historical Crime Fiction both adult and YA, and for me, there are two ingredients that go to make up a successful book in this genre. The first, clearly, is a crime of some sort. In Jigsaw Pieces, set in 1998, it is the mysterious death of one of Annie's fellow students. The suicide of Grant Penney is based on a real event: I was training to be a teacher at a secondary school when one of the pupils unexpectedly committed suicide over the weekend. The beginning of the book mirrors exactly the events and emotions of that time.
The second ingredient is a strong female protagonist. So what makes a strong character? Well, it's not enough just to tell readers they are strong. Strong characters have to demonstrate their strength in various ways, generally by being pitted against challenging events, or other characters. They have to stand out, or stand back from the rest of the crowd. Annie is taken from her birthplace, Norway, and dumped in an English school. This immediately makes her ''different' from her contemporaries, and she has to develop a carapace to survive the daily bullying. Through her determination we learn how strong characters function and survive in difficult situations.
But strength can be shown in softness: Annie 's compassionate side is made clear when she bonds with the mute World War 1 veteran Billy Donne, whom she meets in a nursing home (another character based on real life). Strong characters must also have faults: Annie is far too quick to rush to judgement and jump to conclusions. The reader warms to characters with an inner fault line. Maybe because they are a little like us?
At the end of Jigsaw Pieces, Annie discovers that there remains a vital piece of the Jigsaw missing from her life - she needs to explore her relationship with her missing father and resolve the unanswered questions his departure has caused. And here we see the final ingredient of a strong character - there must always be a sense that there is more to be grasped, new and different conflicts to be overcome.
For a strong character, the journey is never complete; there is always another story waiting to be told. I love writing strong female characters like Annie because they are so multifaceted and complex. They challenge me and push me to my limits. I hope they do the same for my readers as well.
If you would like to read a sample of Jigsaw Pieces, you can do so HERE.