Marston Moor really is going to be a grim book.
(With much humour in it, but I very much fear that it will be a sort of grisly, Babbitty battlefield humour.)
Today I have been much thinking about Gray. It’s no spoiler that Gray is a woman; we’d call her genderqueer now, but in the 1640s cross-dressing women were sufficient of a menace that King Charles went public about his disapproval of such wenches in the Army, issuing a proclamation in 1643 to prevent the horror of it all.
There will be probably one day be a Gray story, because she intrigues me, too, but I’m not always sure I like her, never mind understand her.
This all comes from a remark about Tom Hiddleston – an actor who’s doubtless a mighty fine actor, but who doesn’t float my boat – one of those daft little memes that goes “Tonight, darling, all your neighbours will know my name.”
And I thought that was too funny not to use. Now, you know, Hollie – staid old married man whose idea of naked is leaving his sword on the table downstairs and whose definition of ecstasy is ember tart and Het in the same place at the same time – it’s not something he’d ever say. And Luce would probably be too busy kissing his way up the inside of the lady’s wrist and trying to look poetic and yearning whilst wrestling with her laces. Venning – nah, Alice would kill him. And the chances of Russell going to bed with anybody for another… well… a while, are remote: he’s too scared, after the last time.
So it’s going to be Gray, isn’t it? It’s going to be Gray, trying to demonstrate to a troop full of testosterone that she has bigger balls than they do.
The thing is, though, I was thinking about that young lady. I just can’t work her out at all. She is a woman, who dresses, fights, and behaves like a man. Does she want to be a man? I’m not sure she does. (I’m not sure it would cross her mind to, either.)
Does she want to be a woman, though – I’m not sure she does that, either, and given that she is going to have a relationship with one and possibly two members of the rebel rabble, that’s what I find intriguing.
And that’s where I start to flounder a bit. Because imagine this: there’s Gray. Young, not exactly what you’d call pretty, but in possession of all the necessary female anatomy, kicking around one of the rowdier sorts of knocking-shop with some disreputable sorts. There she is, swaggering about making slightly tipsy remarks of the nature attributed to Mr Hiddleston. This is the point at which she’s going to fall into the arms of some young man who’s going to make her a real woman… right?
And the answer is – no. I wish to goodness it was, but she’s resisting it every step of the way. She just is not going to let me write it that way. And she’s going to have her fling with one of the whores, and … so she’s going to be gay, right, and that’s why she dresses as a boy, because she’s some sort of butch drag queen?
And – nope, she won’t let me do that, either. (She’s currently glowering at me with her bottom lip sticking out like a baggage-mule’s, and her eyes narrowed. Definite no, then. )
Gray’s mother was raped by a soldier at the siege of La Rochelle, but I don’t think that’s it, I don’t think she’s frightened of men, I don’t think she has any trauma in her past from which the right man will free her. (Don’t think she’s frightened of very much, actually.) And when it comes to it – so to speak – she does like sex. Though she is, very definitely, the dominant one. So to speak. And then again, possibly not.
Which leaves me with an unpalatable fact.
She’s a woman, who is not motivated by “feminine” things. She’s not moved by relationships, or sex, or love. She’s not gay, and she’s not straight either. She enjoys the physical aspects, but she enjoys them just as much with a woman as a man, and she’s quite open about that.
Now I could decide that I’m going to write her differently. That I’m going to make her change, when she meets the right man: that really, she’s got a heart of gold – because that’ll make her nice and accessible, it’ll be a nice comfortable read.
But she’s not like that.
And yes, the man she marries – and she will, and if you’ve read all the books you know who she marries – she will break his heart. He’s one of the more likeable lads of the rebel rabble and there is a strong argument that he deserves better. But does he? Or is he marrying her because he thinks, in typical cork-brained romantic style, that love will change her into someone he likes much better…?
If you work on the assumption that people in books should be real people – should be themselves, should be believable, even if that means they’re not always nice, or kind, or comfortable – she’s good.