As I remark in the foreword to my new book A Motif of Seasons , I enjoy writing about women - their interaction with other women and with the opposite sex and the delightful complication they add to life through their presence, manifest in their gestures, their voices, their expressions, their tastes and opinions. A Motif of Seasons follows the lives of three feisty, strong-willed women. Below are my top ten inspirational heroines who inspired my writing.
Tolstoy's novel spins an intricate web of hypocrisy, jealousy, loveless marriage, bigotry, social snobbery and physical desire around an unhappily married aristocrat, Anna, and her lover Count Vronsky with whom she has fallen deeply in love.
It is a tragic story of a doomed affair - a reminder of the extent to which inflexible social norms in 19th century Russia did not favour freedom for a woman trapped in a dead marriage. Anna's tortured dilemma makes her an inspirational figure for me. I drew on her dilemma in one of my books Fortune's Sonata. The main female character is faced with a heart rending choice: to marry a man who loves her deeply - and she him - and who fulfils her sexual needs; or remain alone for the sake of the estate she has inherited and her reputation as an accomplished musician. Neither compensates the loss of a loving relationship.
Beatrice in Shakespeare's Much Ado about Nothing is a thoroughly modern woman - feisty, passionate, short tempered, witty, cynical and sharp tongued; taking no prisoners in argument and a fierce opponent of a woman's unequal place in 16th century Messina. Her dialogue crackles like a brush fire. Yet behind her bravado is a sensitive and vulnerable woman in need of equal love and respect. I found in her character a rich vein to mine in order to give some of my female characters in the Herzberg trilogy that crucial human spark.
She is a fascinating character in Vanity Fair - devious, unscrupulous and ambitious, using her sexual allure and cynicism to climb the social ladder and expose the upper classes to ridicule. Becky was initially a starting point for one of my characters in A Motif of Seasons but after a while she inspired me to go in a different direction.
For me Elizabeth is a warm and pleasing heroine who steadily emerges in Pride and Prejudice as a worthy, inspirational woman. Though I did not seek to replicate her character in any of my books, nonetheless some of her traits and qualities - such as her intelligence, independent thinking and sharp tongue - helped me to mould one or two aspects of the principal female character in my first two books.
In my most recent book one of the three leading female characters utters the opinion that the long deceased Countess was strong, clever, capricious, wilful, heroic and sensual - an extraordinary woman who survived the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars. Another replies that if that were so, she was like Cleopatra - that famous ancient Egyptian queen at the centre of a tragic story whose bitter end comes because of the weakness of her lover, Mark Anthony.
Cleopatra is fascinating - one of the most outstanding characters in English literature - because of her scheming, her use of sex to manipulate and her unremitting cold blooded ambition to equal the power of Rome. She is a force of nature.
Countess Natalya (Natasha) Rostova
Natasha's role in War and Peace typifies the position of women at the end of the 18th century, not just in Russia but elsewhere in Europe. Her tragic relationship with Prince Andrei Bolkonsky conducted (in contrast to Anna Karenina) according to the social norms of the time underlines dramatically the difficult task women faced in overcoming sexual inequality. It took the French Revolution and Napoleon to break open an unforgiveable system. Natasha's story of lost first love and ultimate redemption make her a strong literary personality.
Fanny - in Jane Austen's Mansfield Park - is another worthy character on my list. Intelligent, quiet, conscientious and shy, she lives by a strict moral code - portrayed as a young, inexpressive woman, unwilling to speak out despite strong principles. But her constancy and will power triumphs. Her quietness, her understated outward assurance together with her inner vulnerability make her a compelling character reflected - to a small extent - in one of the female characters in my latest book.
Marquise de Merteuil
Les Liaisons dangereuses is a brilliant novel about moral corruption, infidelity and sexual betrayal - with the Marquise, the viper, at the heart of the story, using as does the equally venomous Valmont the weapon of cruel seduction to humiliate her chosen victims. She and Valmont relish their despicable games and boast of their talents.
While it is a tale of pre-French Revolution aristocratic decadence, it is equally a modern story - often played out in 21st century tabloid headlines. She and Valmont are fascinating characters - exponents of utter wickedness and limitless depravity, not just destroying others but ultimately themselves. She demonstrates human nature at its worst. It was with her in mind that I formed the main male character in A Motif of Seasons.
She is a delightful, bawdy character full of human flaws. Though her life of crime, debauchery, endless children and multiple marriages is breath-taking, she is a person of warmth, amusement and an incisive gauge of life and manners in England in the early 18th century. While none of my characters are based on her, the world in which she flourished and survived - nourished by her happy go lucky attitude to life - was useful background for my first two books, illustrating the chasm between the privileged and the poor. Her story echoes today's widening gap in society.
Sophie is a tragic character in Sophie's Choice; so brilliantly portrayed by Meryl Streep in the 1982 film.
The unspeakable dilemma with which she is confronted - which of her two children should she send to the gas chamber to save the other - is a reminder to any writer of the evil that exists in the darker side of human nature. While the human spirit is often not extinguished by profound adversity, in Sophie's case it was. That is what makes her such a compelling and impressive character for me.
A Motif of Seasons by Edward Glover is out now (£9.99, The Oak House). Available to order on Amazon.