I was about 5 or 6 when this really cool British woman walked into my life. Her name was Emma Peel. My mother introduced her to me. She was on PBS one weekday evening. It was a new show or at least new to me. It was called the “Avengers.” A really quirky British spy show with this Proper British Gentleman named Jonathan Steed. He carried this gentleman’s cane and wore this proper British bowler. He was just as cool as Emma. However, Emma was far different than I expected. The world was changing in the late 60’s and women were changing with them. British television was the first to reflect this with a strong dominant female character such as Emma Peel. Steed was like James Bond, but he had a partner and she happened to be a woman. Steed didn’t mind at all. In fact Jonathan Steed welcomed it. Emma epitomized cool. She was clever, witty and she knew martial arts. No one wanted to mess with Emma.
Emma and Steed had the coolest relationship, built on honesty and respect. Steed didn’t think of her as a woman sidekick and neither did the writers. She was every bit Steed’s equal. I became mini obsessed with this show, because of the gadgets they used, the adventures they were thrown into and Ms. Peel’s charm and wit. She had some of the best lines in the show. Years later, I found re-runs of the Avengers on BBC America and found that it still held up. In a sense it’s Ms. Peel I have to thank for finally being able to conquer my biggest writing obstacle, a believable strong independent female character, who isn’t just the love interest or eye candy.
At the time I rediscovered Emma, I was having trouble writing my own female British spy, named Elizabeth Manning. I was writing a soccer move called Derby Double(See previous post, Research, Research, Research.) and my Protagonist Seamus O’Brien has to come out of retirement to bring down this IRA thug named Albert Renneville. He manages to pass a trial with a Yorkshire club, called Sheffield United. Like Seamus, the owner of the club, Elizabeth Manning is an Interpol agent intent on taking down Albert Renneville after he had poisoned her father. My problem with Elizabeth was that I couldn’t get her right. I wasn’t sure what I wanted her to be and she had no spine. I had no composite to go by. Then Emma popped up on BBC America and that changed everything. I had my composite. As I have mentioned in previous posts, my characters usually talk to me while I am writing them. Elizabeth wasn’t talking. She was screaming at me, because I didn’t understand who she was at all. She was telling me, that she didn’t want to be arm candy or part of the furniture. She was a spy and she needed and craved the action. “Oh bloody hell, you foolish writer, can’t you tell. I don’t want to be saved by Seamus, I want to save him. That’s what I do.” I listened to Elizabeth. In fact she saves Seamus three times in the movie and he doesn’t save her once. Since Elizabeth Manning, my female characters have improved vastly. In the past, writing a female character became a real struggle for me and it wasn’t much fun. Since Emma Peel inspired reappeared, I have written a lot of strong female characters.
Many years ago, I finished writing the sequel to Derby Double and I had created this wonderful love interest for another character. Her name was Audrey and she was a famous Snooker player and I was looking at her character and I began to ask myself where did she come from? How was I able to write this incredibly strong amusing character. I thought of Emma Peel a moment and realized it wasn’t Emma Peel. It was the woman that introduced me to Emma Peel. My mother. I thank her for that. Of course it didn’t hurt to grow up with a strong independently minded sister either. So now when I sit down to create a female character I think of my mom and my sister and draw inspiration from them.