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Arguing With Ana

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*This blog post contains book spoilers.

‘You are not entitled to your opinion. You are entitled to your informed opinion.’

After fielding both reviews and personal feedback on Banksia Close, I have found that the most contentious character in the novel, by far, has been Ana Hemingford.

Readers often ask me if I was deliberate in writing her to be so unlikeable. I will attempt to answer that question in this blog post.

Ana is easy to dislike. She’s beautiful, highly intelligent, somewhat elitist despite her roots, infuriatingly righteous, and deftly manipulative. Born with a silver tongue, and able to aim fierce verbal sniper fire from every conceivable angle, Ana is not someone you want to argue with if you don’t hold equal authority. She doesn’t hold back. Not with her glare, nor her mouth. Individuals who behave this way are inevitably going to rub people the wrong way.  

One reader even asked me if I liked her myself.

I did not deliberately set out to make Ana unlikeable, but as I built her character, it became clear that she was always going to be. People who value their truth and knowledge above all else, are inherently difficult to be around. Ana is also a stoic, which can make her seem cold. Even detached. Whilst she is a firm and loving mother, she isn’t exceedingly warm. Her analytical intelligence is off the charts, but her emotional intelligence is quite low. Either that, or she blatantly side-steps it once the children are tucked up in bed. I’ll let the reader decide which.

Another reader asked me if I was going to write a book where Ana inevitably meets her match, indicating that they would so love to see her ‘go down.’

For the record, I do have another character in the works who does intellectually match Ana. Unfortunately, Jake Becker, who you will meet in a further book, quite adores her. Intellectuals who thrive on debate tend to respect others who can do the same, even when they disagree. It’s the rest of us who are left to feel inferior.

I have found that academics tend to like Ana. The book, to date, has been read by three professors, including one philosopher. They were all too busy hating on Tommy Curran to dislike Ana. In their opinion, he deserved to be taken down. He’s an idiot. For them, it was almost an intellectual duty. Ana doesn’t come to war with guns. She comes with snipers. With drones. Beyond finding her potentially alienating, it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world for us all to take a leaf out of that book. After all, being informed. Being educated, if not for debate, then at least for yourself, is not an elitist prospect. Such a gold standard is available to everyone. If one can’t maintain such a credo to defend their own passions, then perhaps that’s not the sniper's fault.  

Dabate entails strategy

Then, there are the more neutral reactions. One Amazon reviewer offered what I believe to be a very apt response to Ana, quote:

“If you’re anything like me, you’ll hate Ana with a passion, but you should be willing to listen to what she has to say - and she says a lot. No matter how much she annoyed me, I had to know what the next things she was going to say was.”

This is likely the best representation of what I intended, and for this reader, I was successful.

I think the more interesting question to ask is why Ana does illicit the strongest response, especially considering her opponent. Tommy, even without his political and conspiratorial dogma, is a total arsehole.

Perhaps it is Ana’s gender that subliminally grates on people. Strong women can still be considered obnoxious, despite apparent feminist progress. Her political and social perspectives could also be in play. After all, you’re not supposed to discuss politics, right? I can’t go into the mind of a reader, and discern where they agreed, or disputed her points, but politics is a tough conversational nut in any country, and hearing deft intellectual sparring from a Russian may be particularly unpleasant for some – especially in this climate.

It could also be the deliberate, methodical, and intentional decision she makes to not only take Tommy down, but crush him to dust in the process, with little consideration as to how her actions are going to implode her oldest friend: Tommy’s wife, Tabitha. Then again, isn’t Tabitha better off without him?

Then, there is the simple discomfort that comes with contention. If you don’t like confrontation, you’re going to hate her on principle. After all, can’t we all just play nice and talk small? Keep the pretence in play to protect relationships that are always going to exist on tenterhooks? There is definite merit to this view. People who don’t stir the pot will have more friends, and funeral attendees, than those who do. Having said that, polite peacekeepers don’t make for very interesting reading.

Ana eventually corners Tommy with an unassuming story about apples.

In the end, I am never going to have all the answers, but nor do I need them. The reader’s journey is their own, as are their responses. It is their choice to dissect their own psychology for the nuances to a reaction, should they choose to do so. The fact that I managed to create a character that evoked such a reaction is a credit to me I suppose. I’ll take it.

So, back to the first reader question. Do I like Ana?

You know what, I do. She’s strong, crafty, and frighteningly clever. She was also incredibly fun to write, and as someone who loves a good debate, allowed me to unleash in ways that I rarely allow. After all, I want all the seats at my funeral to be full, and picking your battles, when you’re an inherent fighter, becomes a position that one must learn with time. Ana hasn’t learned that, and it’s not because she can’t. It’s because she doesn’t want to. She tapped into that dangerous, elusive id that we all learn to tame down, and I do admire that instinct, even if it is more fun to read in fiction, than it would be to deal with in life. 

I will say this. I may have written her. I may like her, but even I wouldn’t argue with Ana Hemingford. She outsmarted me plenty of times as I constructed her deft delivery, and as she took on a life of her own, even I became terrified of her. As a writer, this became a transcendental experience that I am still enjoying. It is quite a thing, to read back over your work as a writer and appreciate it as a reader, and as a reader, I find myself muttering the same thing.

Damn, she’s a bitch… and I love her!


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