For me, true heroism only occurs when the stakes are high. I’m not talking about particular acts of bravery, or endurance, or winning an Olympic gold medal. The actions of a true heroine have to matter. Have the capacity to move us in the most profound ways.
I believe the true heroine has an unshakeable belief in freedom, truth and justice. She has the courage to stand up for those beliefs, whatever the cost, and without fear of the consequences.
I’ve chosen three examples from recent history who, for me, are standouts.
Sophie Scholl. Sophie’s story is enough to break your heart.
She was a member of the ‘White Rose” – a small resistance group in Nazi Germany. It consisted mainly of students from the University. Just a bunch of kids, really. They printed and distributed handbills, calling for Germans to rise up and resist the tyranny of their own government. They also conducted a graffiti campaign on the streets and buildings all over Munich: ‘Hitler the Mass Murderer…Freedom…”
Little enough, one might think, in terms of resistance. But at that time the Nazis maintained an iron grip over the whole of German society. Internal dissent was quickly and efficiently smashed by the Gestapo. Sophie and her friends well knew what would happen if they were caught.
Their campaign lasted eight months. In February 1943, their luck ran out. Six members, including Sophie and her brother Hans, were arrested by the Gestapo. They were tried for treason and beheaded.
At her trial, Sophie said: ‘Finally someone has to make a start. We only said and wrote what many people think. They just don’t dare express it.”
The chief executioner would later testify he had never seen anyone die so bravely as Sophie Scholl. She walked to the guillotine without a tremor or whimper of fear. The steel blade came crashing down and Sophie said goodbye to the beautiful life she might have led. She was only twenty-one years old.
Rosa Parks. A forty-two-year-old African-American from Montgomery, Alabama, who ‘stood up for her rights by remaining seated.”
Rosa, a seamstress, was travelling home from work one day on a segregated bus. When the bus became crowded, the driver ordered Rosa to give up her seat for a white passenger. She refused. The police were called and Rosa was arrested for civil disobedience. Her brave act of defiance set in motion the Montgomery Bus Boycott. It was a watershed moment in the American Civil Rights Movement and helped launch nationwide efforts to end segregation.
Rosa became an iconic symbol of standing up for one’s rights. Her actions inspired countless other women throughout the world to do the same. Rosa said: ‘I had no idea that history was being made. I was just tired of giving up.”
Nancy Wake. An Australian who fought in the French Resistance. Relatively unknown in her own country, yet her countless acts of bravery and courage made her the Allies’ most decorated servicewoman of World War 2.
Nancy, once married to a wealthy Frenchman, living a life of luxury in Marseille, became the Gestapo’s most wanted person. They code-named her ‘The White Mouse” because of her ability to elude capture. After being trained by Britain’s SOE, she became a Resistance fighter. She was put in charge of an army of 7,000 Maquis troops, engaging in sabotage and guerrilla warfare against the Nazis.
After the War, she received numerous international honours, included the Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur, France’s highest decoration. The RSL recommended she be awarded a medal, but successive Australian Governments turned them down. Nancy, with typical Australian humour, once remarked: ‘They can stick their award and be thankful it’s not a pineapple!”
One day, after the War, she was waiting on a street corner in Paris. The gendarme on point duty happened to catch sight of her Légion d’honneur medal. He immediately held up traffic in all directions while he waved Nancy safely across the road. The French know how to honour their heroes.
These were three ordinary women who found themselves in extraordinary circumstances. We must remember, when needed, every young girl – and every woman – has the potential to be a heroine. We just need to identify that quality in ourselves, before it’s diminished by outside forces.
Lorraine Campbell is a licensed shorthand writer and has worked for seventeen years as a Court Reporter with the Victorian Government Reporting Service, providing verbatim transcripts of court proceedings. She is currently working for a freelance transcript provider. She has a Bachelor of Arts Degree from Monash University, majoring in Philosophy and English Literature, and has studied German and French for a number of years.
A resident of Melbourne’s Bayside, Lorraine adores the opera and is an avid moviegoer. She also likes to keep fit and runs every morning along the beach and in the local parks.
Article at Girl.com.au 2/6/15
When I talk about “strong” female characters, I don’t mean strong in the physical sense. She doesn’t have to wield a weapon, or engage in death-defying feats. I mean strong as in interesting, or complex, or well-written. I’m talking about girls who exhibit great resilience and courage in the face of adversity. Girls who are brave, resourceful and complex. Whose depth of conviction is never allowed to be undermined by any romantic involvement. Their ability to act independently, to make their own free choices, is far more important than “strength.”
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When I set out to write a work of historical fiction, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. The sheer amount of work involved. An historical novel requires research at every turn. There’s no way of anticipating what you’ll need for a particular scene, so you’re constantly going back to your references. Many experts say ‘write what you know.’ How much easier it would have been to write contemporary fiction. Just step out my front door and it’s all there. But nor did I realise how exciting this journey would prove to be.
If you want to write authentic historical fiction, you need to be familiar with every aspect of daily life. What your characters wore, what they ate, what they had for breakfast. Did women wear pantyhose in 1943 (had nylon even been invented then?) Did they have oscillating fans (did they have electric fans at all?) With no fuel for cars, how did they get around? You learn about Vèlo-taxis – a sort of sedan chair on wheels, pulled by a perspiring cyclist. That women painted their legs and drew a seam up the back, to simulate silk stockings.
But having done this painstaking research, the art is not to cram it all into your book. You may be endlessly fascinated by the myriad of detail you’ve discovered, but the reader isn’t. You’re writing a novel, not a Ph.D dissertation. You need to know which little gems to incorporate into the narrative, and – more importantly – what to ditch. (Or if you can’t bear to actually press ‘Delete’ – consign them to a file labelled ‘Outtakes’)
Stephen King refers to it as “killing your darlings. You have to kill your darlings, even though it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart!”
And now to the most exciting aspect of research. Travelling to the all the places I was writing about. Walking in the footsteps of my characters. Breaking the budget and splurging on three nights at the Hotel Scribe in Paris. Chatting up the desk clerk, learning all about its history. Photos of how it looked just after the War. More importantly for my plot, where the exits were located. How they were accessed.
With some of the smaller, less significant locales, one might be tempted to fudge it. But I wanted every place I wrote about to have an authentic feel for the reader. Consequently, I did a lot of travelling around the French countryside. Often I would find myself on the outskirts of some small French town, waiting for a local bus to turn up. Nothing in sight for miles. Feeling like Cary Grant in that crop-dusting scene in North by Northwest.
Standing by a deserted lake in Nantua. Watching tiny sailboats bobbing about. Two white swans rising majestically up from the water, running and skipping along the lake’s surface and taking off in unison. Knowing I’ll be able to use this as a scene. Already creating the dialogue between my characters.
Taking a train journey to Annemasse. A small town, high up in the mountains. Walking away from the train station, down a long road leading to the Swiss border. This was to be the setting for a key scene in Book 2. Like all major border crossings it would have been heavily guarded by German police – military as well as Gestapo. Standing there at the border post, gazing at the blue-grey mountains rising up beyond, I could imagine the feelings of my characters. Freedom was just a few steps away. But how to get there?
Which brings me to another important, yet little acknowledged, ingredient in researching a novel. The time spent staring vacantly out of windows. Or lying on a couch, staring for ages into space. A time when you allow your thoughts to run free. Immersed in the fictional world of your imagination.
Excerpt. from article by Lorraine Campbell on www.onlineopinion.com.au
Over the last few years, there has been a boom in Young Adult dystopian fiction. The most notable is The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, a trilogy of novels set in a post-apocalyptic North America.
Of course, dystopian fiction has been around for a long time. Two of the most famous novels are Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell (1949), and Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (1953). But this idea of a futuristic dystopia is new to most teenagers. For them it’s escapist fiction. They probably don’t realise that in relatively recent history the world experienced the reality of just such a nightmarish dystopian world. For those living in German-occupied countries during World War II, it was a lived reality.