Back in March, which is when Mothers’ Day falls in the UK, I wrote a post about the general portrayal of mothers in paranormal fiction and about Adelaide, the mother in The Cavaliers. I don’t usually go in for recycling blog posts, but as it’s Mothers’ Day in the US today, I thought some people who missed it last time around might be in the mood for this topic. There’ll be fresh content asap, I promise.
“In a genre full of dead mothers, it’s interesting to see one taking such an active and powerful role in her daughter’s life.” Fangs for the Fantasy Blog on Oxford Blood.
“You’ll see that I was right in the end darling,” Adelaide called after her. “Just give it time. Mothers are always right.” from Oxford Blood
“For Mummy, who passed on to me her love of reading, writing and pretty dresses, and who makes Adelaide look positively scruffy.” Dedication to Screaming Spires.
- With my Mum. My weird outfit is due to the fact that this was the day I qualified as a barrister
Anyone who’s read Oxford Blood will know that in my book, the mother/daughter relationship plays almost as big a part as the romantic relationships. I think that’s true to life – for most women, their relationship with their mother, whether good or bad, plays a major part in shaping their life. An advice column I often read claims that well over half of the letters she received are about mothers – mothers they no longer speak to; mothers who want to see them too often; mothers who disapprove of their life choices. Throughout so much of paranormal fiction though, mothers seem to fall into two categories: dead or clueless.
The former has become a complete cliché – see http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ParentalAbandonment for examples. It’s particularly convenient in Young Adult fiction, where it makes it much easier for the heroine to go off having adventures and wild relationships without the problem of their mum telling them they’ve got to stay in and get on with their homework that night. In more adult tales, it’s a simple shorthand for a tragic past, and an easy way to provide a motive for revenge if, as often seems to be the case, it’s the villain who was responsible for their death.
The clueless ones are something I’ve tended to notice. Again, they’re particularly pronounced in YA, but far from exclusive to this subgenre. Probably the best known example of this isn’t in a book at all – it’s Buffy’s mother in the TV series (at least in the earlier episodes), trying to ground her daughter on nights when she needs to save the world. The other one that stands out for me is the mother figure* in the Vampire Diaries books. That series is probably the neatest example of the good guy/bad guy vampire love triangle, and she gloriously takes the side of the bad guy, (not realising he is a vampire), inviting him round and trying to persuade the heroine that he is so much nicer than her boyfriend.
Whenever I used to watch or read things like this, all I could think was “if I was going out with a vampire or involved in some ancient conspiracy, my mother would know about it within days.”
I started to think that it would be fun to have a mother character who knew exactly what was going on, maybe even knew more than the heroine. A mother who entirely approved of relationships with vampires, concerned only that her daughter chose one who was suitably eligible. A mother whom the world thought was dead, but who was actually very much alive, or at least, un-dead. I came up with the character of Adelaide, the mother in Oxford Blood, a good five years before I had a story for her to appear in.
I like to play around with clichés a little and this is probably the best example of it in the book.# Adelaide is one of my absolute favourite characters. For those who aren’t familiar with the book, my character guide describes her thus:
“Harriet’s mother looks more like her slightly older sister, as a result of being made a vampire when her daughter was a baby and she was in her late twenties. Her second husband is Augustine, leader of the Cavaliers, who turned her to save her from dying in a car crash, having become convinced she was the reincarnation of his centuries dead wife. Glamorous, ruthless and ambitious, she’s determined to see her daughter settle down with a nice eligible vampire.”
People often ask me to what extent characters in the book are based on real people. The answer is that while there are characters who have borrowed a trait or two from people I knew at Oxford, in general it isn’t the case that x character equals y acquaintance. There are however two major exceptions – Tom, who is pretty heavily based on my fiancé, and Adelaide, who is just as heavily based on my mother (in both cases, for better and for worse). Adelaide is also partly inspired by my favourite mother in fiction, who has the same combination of glamour, love for her daughter and borderline evilness – Mrs Coulter in His Dark Materials.
*Technically she’s an aunt, the heroine’s real mother falling into category one, but it’s much the same principle.
#My other favourite bit of playing around with cliché is that in The Cavaliers, the “good” romantic interest is just as evil as the “bad” romantic interest, but the heroine is so in thrall to the expected nature of things that she fails to realise this. Sadly I think I underplayed it a bit, because readers don’t seem to realise either.