Monday, 24 August 2015

A Difficult Girl: Frances Thomas

The first two volumes in my Girls of Troy trilogy tell the stories of young women caught up in the events of the Trojan War. They were people whom I found sympathetic – in the first, Helen’s Daughter, Hermione wrestles with the problems of having a famous mother and feeling deserted by her; in the second, The Burning Towers,  Eirene, slave to the princess Cassandra, observes the terrible war in Troy at first hand.  I knew that the last story, now called The Silver-Handled Knife, would have to deal with later  events in Mycenae; when Agamemnon returns from the war, his wife Clytemnestra murders him, and his daughter Electra and her brother Orestes plan their  revenge.

The story would have to be told, as the other two were, in the first person, and for a long time I determined that I couldn’t tell the story through Electra’s voice.  A girl who is implicated in the killing of her mother; what  sort of a story for young people is that? So I was going to use her younger sister ,Chrysosthemis , as the narrator  – Chrysosthemis would observe what was going on, and report on it.  The only problem, I began to realise as I embarked on this, was that Chysosthemis didn’t really have a story of her own. It was boring. I was bored.
And something else was tugging at my writer’s conscience. If I was finding the story of Electra a difficult one to come to terms with, then that was the story I should be writing, and the story that my readers would want to know about.  Electra makes an appearance as a rather strait-laced teenager in Helen’s Daughter – Hermione doesn’t like her very much.  How does this young girl change into the person who hates her mother so much that she hands her brother the knife used to murder her?  It’s this transformation that’s interesting, and only Electra herself can tell this story – it’s not something that can be observed by a third person.
So I gave Electra a voice and let her explain herself to my readers.
Personally, I feel some sympathy for Clytemnestra. As well as being an unfaithful boor, Agamemnon had ordered the sacrifice of  their eldest daughter Iphigenia  just so the goddess would grant him a favourable wind. I reckoned if anyone killed my daughter I’d want to take terrible revenge too. And her lover Aegisthus, although he wanted to take over the kingdom, was nicer to her than her own husband had been. But Electra had to feel none of this sympathy; the hatred she developed for her mother must override all other feelings.

There are softening elements– her relationship with her brother Orestes, and her cousin Hermione. Electra and Hermione find themselves drawn together by the difficult events in their pasts, and end up almost  good friends. And there’s a romance in the air for Electra too – I didn’t make this up; it’s to be found in the mythological sources from which I take my story. (one of the nice surprises when you write historical fantasy is if you’re ever a bit stuck for a plot development, you can often find a solution in mythology, rather than inventing something from scratch)  Electra finds it hard to be in love after the experiences she’s had at the hands of her mother and Aegisthus, but she learns to allow this strange new feeling into her heart.  The story ends at this point, but I hope she’ll be happy.

So, does it work? Will my readers find some sympathy with Electra, in spite of what she does?  I hope so; but what I’ve found out over the last months, is that there are benefits as well as problems in writing about a difficult girl.

The Silver-Handled Knife will be published by SilverWood Books on September 1st.  Helen’s Daughter and The Burning Towers are available on Amazon. For more details about them and my other books, please see my website at


Sue Bursztynski said...

Kerry Greenwood also wrote a series of stories about the women in this period of Greek mythology, including one about Cassandra and, in the last book, Cassandra, who has survived despite what the myth says, helps Electra and her little brother, Orestes - who,she discovers, is actually Electra's son, by her mother's lover Aegisthus. So - child abuse! A good reason...

John Dougherty said...

Sounds great, Frances. I've always loved the story of Troy, and this sort of retelling is a great way to revisit it. Electra sounds like a real challenge, but I bet you've made it work beautifully!

Sue Purkiss said...

Goodness, relationships in Ancient Greece seem to have been almost as fiery as in Eastenders!

Catherine Butler said...

A teenage girl who wants to kill her mother? I'm sure there are plenty of people who could relate to that!

Penny Dolan said...

Sounds as though you've written an amazing trilogy and a very interesting heroine, Frances!