A reviewer of Renegade of Two Realms wrote that I "make a point of breaking down stereotypes, particularly relating to gender, race and sexuality. It’s good to see some strong female characters taking centre stage."
Of all the positive things that were said, this goes to the top of the list. It's been a goal of mine from the outset, to challenge convention, for my stories to lead with strong characters that don't fit the usual mould.
When I trawled the image libraries for my book covers I was assaulted by the stereotypes that exist there. Search for 'Male fantasy warrior' and you get muscular, lantern-jawed hunks. Female fantasy warriors - much worse. Images designed by teenage boys you have to hope.
Things are starting to change. There are fantasy novels with tough, violent, damaged female protagonists (such as Red Sister by Mark Lawrence) but still not enough. Even then, minor characters can still fall short of innovation. We need all characters to reflect our world accurately and not allow minor ones to suffer the lash of stereotyping.
Richard Morgan's protagonist in his 'Land Fit for Heroes' trilogy was part of my inspiration for my anti-hero, Robin Goodfellow. (If you haven't read it, you must!!) I knew early on I wanted him to be gay because it was another means to ensure he didn't fit in to society and that he would have suffered years of persecution that would have turned him dark. Morgan did something similar with Ringil Eskiath.
Another major character, Keir, has Indian ancestry (as he's based on the Indian prince that Oberon and Titania argue over in A Midsummer Night's Dream). In both realms, Keir's skin colour triggers consistent abuse which serves to illustrate the suffering minority groups often experience.
As a writer of dark fantasy I want to shine a light on the issues that affect us in the real world. As our world appears to be lurching to the political right, to be led by popularist leaders, I fear for anyone deemed to be different. They become scapegoats. Look at any period of history to prove that point. Writers of any genre have a responsibility to challenge convention, to shine that light on the dark and murky aspects of human nature. We can begin by ensuring our characters break those stereotypes, we place minority groups into the spotlight and give them the positivity that challenges the scapegoating.