As a pop culture obsessed teenager, I was raised by the bold, fearless female protagonists of film, TV and literature. That's probably why, when I started brainstorming my dark thriller novel Vicious Rumer, the heroine turned out to be a complicated, snarky, darker-than-midnight character who took crap from nobody. Although Rumer wasn't 100% inspired by just one of my favourite heroines, there are a couple who really got me in the right frame of mind, and who paved the way for a heroine as weird and driven as Rumer.
Here are five of them...
Gale Weathers – Scream
The Scream trilogy was all about Sidney (Neve Campbell), right? WRONG! While the plot of this post-modern slasher series mostly revolved around Sidney, it's story-hungry news reporter (and all-round bitch) Gale Weathers who stole the show. She's ruthless, has a wit sharper than any dagger (“You better check your conscience at the door, sweetie, we're not here to be loved”) and, above all, a survivor. The situations she gets into, she should be long dead. But not Gale. Dying would, frankly, be too embarrassing for her. Side note: it's nuts that Courteney Cox played Gale at the same time as playing Monica on Friends. They couldn't be more different; Gale would make short work of Monica if they ever met.
Lisbeth Salander – The Millennium Trilogy
She's iconic for a reason. Lisbeth Salander captured a brilliant moment in popular culture when readers and viewers were tiring of grizzled male detectives and were desperate for something new. Enter Lisbeth, a goth punk who's 100% attitude and gives absolutely zero f***ks. Actually, that's not true, she gives a lot of f***s, but only about the things that really matter – namely unravelling her tortured past and righting the wrongs of men who hate women. She's a modern anti-heroine who I just can't get enough of.
My top 5 Female Protagonists
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Jessica Jones – Jessica Jones
I had a horrible sinking moment when I sat down to watch the first episode of Netflix's Jessica Jones. “They're doing Rumer, and they're doing it better!” I yelled at the TV. I was only the first draft into Vicious Rumer, and suddenly here was Ms Jones, a troubled young detective battling her own demons in a grubby city – just like Rumer. Once I'd picked myself up off the floor, though, I realised they're, thankfully, very different characters with very different stories. The added bonus was that seeing a dark character like Jessica Jones done so well gave me confidence that readers would embrace Rumer, despite her (many) flaws.
Clarice Starling – The Silence of The Lambs
I read Thomas Harris' book after seeing the movie, and it's sort of impossible for me to separate them in my mind now, but that's mostly because Harris' heroine jumps off the page, and was brilliantly played by Jodie Foster. The thing that's great about Clarice is she's a badass who's also emotionally vulnerable. Hannibal Lector has no problem needling her, and she falls for it at first, but the joy is in seeing her rise above it. She gets a handle on her trauma and grows beyond it. Maybe we've all been doing it wrong – maybe we should dump the self-help books and spend a few hours with a psychopath. It seems to put things into perspective.
Nancy – The Craft
Here's a curveball: The Craft was a '90s teen flick that was far better than it had any right to be, and a lot of that was down to Fairuza Balk. She played Nancy, a white trash kid from an abusive trailer park home. When she discovers she can amplify her witch powers with a little help from her school friends, Nancy goes to some seriously dark places – and starts wearing a lot of black. I had a picture of Nancy as my desktop wallpaper while I wrote Vicious Rumer. Not because I wanted Rumer to be just like Nancy, but because I wanted her to have a similar cracker-jack energy. Nancy always has a glint in her eye that makes you worry what she's going to do next – and that's exactly how I wanted readers to feel about Rumer.