Monday, October 11, 2010

Straw in the Wind/Single Titles Review

Review: Straw in the Wind – Janet Woods

"Acclaimed award-winning author Janet Woods continues the spellbinding story of the Honeyman, Chapman and Thornton families in Straw in the Wind, the dazzling stand-alone sequel to her previous release, Salting The Wound."
Serafina Finn has known plenty of heartache, tragedy and misery in her short life. Abandoned as a baby and raised in a gloomy orphanage, Serafina – or Sara, as she prefers to be called – is determined to rise above her abject start in life and to become an independent woman in charge of her own destiny. When she finds a job working as a housemaid at Finch Leighton’s house in Dorset, the plucky eighteen year old girl is determined to start this exciting new chapter in her life. But on her arrival, Sara is shocked when she realizes that rather than a housemaid, she is in fact going to be in charge of running the entire house!
Although stunned, Sara is not about to let this unexpected change in circumstance deter her from doing this job at the best of her abilities, so she sets about restoring this shambolic household, and in the process, manages to win the respect and admiration of her fellow servants who were initial doubtful as to whether a mere slip of a girl could possibly cope with the demands of running a household such like Leighton Manor. A popular girl both with the staff and with Mr. Leighton himself, pretty soon Sara realizes that this is the happiest she’s been in years. However, little does she know that another bewildering turn is just around the corner…
Eighteen years ago, Captain Erasmus Thornton had met and fallen in love with a married woman. Their love had borne a daughter whom he had always believed had died during her birth, but when startling evidence brings to light that the girl had lived, Erasmus becomes determined to track her down, so he hires intrepid private detective Adam Chapman to help him find his missing child.
Adam’s thorough investigation leads him to Sara and as he becomes more and more convinced that she is Captain Thornton’s missing daughter, he also finds himself falling head over heels in love with spirited Sara. But as Adam’s revelations about her parentage start to sink in, Sara cannot help but wonder whether Captain Thornton’s family will ever accept her…and whether her feelings for Adam will lead to disappointment – or the happiness which she has always craved.
Janet Woods’ outstanding storytelling prowess never fails to hold readers in thrall and Straw in the Wind is a novel that is sure to enthrall and delight readers everywhere. Ms. Woods’ gift for creating fascinating characters ensures that readers shall champion Sara, fall in love with Adam and find themselves taking the fascinating assortment of supporting characters to their hearts.
Straw in the Wind is an absorbing tale of family secrets, powerful passions and heart-wrenching choices that expertly combines heart-pounding romance with nail-biting intrigue and beguiling drama. Powerfully written, wonderfully vivid and engrossing from beginning to end, Straw in the Wind is another triumph for the inimitable Janet Woods!

Reviewer: Julie Bonello
Sensuality Rating: Sweet
Star Rating: 4.5 Stars

Monday, October 4, 2010

Motivated to kill

Early in my writing career I realized I was good at killing characters. In the novel I’m currently writing, I’m halfway through chapter six and have already killed two children, a woman, and several men . . . though I’m thinking of resurrecting the children and carrying their story through to the end.

Why bother to write in characters you’re going to kill off? It’s because there was a war going on in 1914 -18 and also an influenza pandemic. Millions of people died. As I’m writing in a specific historical period, to set a story then and ignore the tremendous loss of life at the time, would seriously undermine my credibility as a novelist writing in the historical arena.

To demonstrate how death affected a normal family in the past: in the photograph, which was taken about 1916. It’s a portrait of my grandfather and his family at the time. Missing is the eldest son, who had died from an illness not long before. The seaman at the back went down with his ship in the battle of Jutland, at the age of seventeen. The lady (my grandmother) was accidently killed when run over by a motorbike and sidecar in 1939. She was trying to cross a main road. By that time she was so crippled by arthritis she could only walk slowly. I never had time to get to know her. My grandfather and the sons on the left and right of the picture just survived into old age. So did the younger boy at the front, who is my father. So out of a family of seven, only four survived to live the proverbial three score years and ten.

The events of war and epidemic itself would have affected social history at the time. There would have been food shortages. Family members would have died, children orphaned. With such heavy losses of single men at the time, many more women would have remained single and childless. Quite simply, death can change the course of many characters’ lives, demolish a plot line and create another story. I like this concept because it works well in saga writing. Everything is fluid as several paths are opened for you.

Facts such as war and flu epidemics can be worked into stories as part of the plot, or simply arise by using them in a dialogue between characters, to add historical authority. To leave them both out in 1914-18 would be unthinkable, because it would rob the story of credibility.

Events like the above bring many changes. Apart from changes in family and fortune, there are also structural changes. War forced women into the workforce, doing the jobs that men used to do. Many of them liked earning their own money, and enjoyed the awareness of feeling that they were skilful and intelligent enough to work outside of the home, housewife and baby. Some resented going back to their former roles of nurturing, and rights for women took a new turn.
Whichever way you look at this, WW1 did bring a new maturity of thinking and awareness to woman.

The role of death in a book should serve a purpose. Death touches the emotions. It might simply be there to satisfy reader outrage. If it’s a villain being disposed of, then readers get closure in a way they probably wouldn’t in real life. One reader told me she was glad I made the villain suffer, and if he hadn’t been a fictional character she would have gone and danced on his grave. This made me realize that revenge is still alive and kicking, as long as somebody else swings the cudgel.

Death also brings change. It’s a turning point. There is nothing like a deathbed scene at the beginning of a book to suggest motivation, and to evoke tension between characters. Grandfather dies surrounded by six loving daughters with expectations. The sisters had always got on well together. Only one inherits!

Now . . . think of the passion that would churn up . . . the recriminations and accusations, the soul searching. To give the pot another stir the legatee could be a nun, who can only inherit if she gives up her vocation. A whole series of books could arise from killing off grandfather when the whys and wherefores are examined.

Disposing of children is riskier. In the past, bigger families were the norm, and it was expected that some children would be carried off by disease. In Victorian times a flourishing industry grew up around funerals, with its own set of protocols, since the Victorians wallowed in sentiment. Ordinary workers paid money into a funeral fund, so there would always be money to bury a family member – something that was common. My own mother came from a family of 11 children. She helped her mother lay out 3 of her younger siblings who had died before she was 14, and was obliged to take up employment as a maid in London.

You can foreshadow the death of a child by planting clues, so the reader expects it when it happens. In one book my victim was sickly all the way through, so when a childhood disease carried him off, it was expected. However, I’ve also killed off a child to end a dynasty, and simplify matters for the next book in the series. I made it a heartrending end because I felt guilty for doing it.

Killing animals? Approach this with caution. In one of my books I had a dog named Spot. Spot was stolen by an itinerant worker; who did bodily harm to a female character along with several of his companions (remember motivation?). The female character met a sticky end by jumping off a cliff in a fit of depression to end her suffering. Her loving husband avenged her by going after the men who did her wrong (5 of them, I recall!). He murders them all in cold blood and breaks the dog’s neck!


Well okay . . . he did break the dog’s neck – but only in the original draft. Every member of my critique group hated the dog being killed. I promised to rewrite the chapter and bring Spot back to life. And I did. I eventually left the dog on the doorstep of a farmer with several kids, and a wife with a generous, loving heart.

Funny thing was, my group didn’t mind the male protagonist carrying out five murders in cold blood. Why? Because it was properly motivated. It was retribution for an unspeakable act against an innocent. It served a purpose and they deserved it.

There was no motivation for killing the dog!