I’d like to welcome Jane Odiwe to Just Jane 1813. Jane is the author of nine JAFF titles, including the recently released, “Jane Austen Lives Again,” which has received great reviews from readers on Amazon. This weekend, as part of my Beyond Pride & Prejudice: te Other Side of JAFF blog event, I am reviewing an earlier book by her titled, “Willoughby’s Return.”
“Sense and Sensibility” is my second favorite book by Jane Austen. Perhaps I have a fondness for sisters since I always longed to have one for myself. I have wanted to read “Willoughby’s Return” for a while now, so once I decided to crack open my virtual book, I asked Jane Odiwe to join me at Just Jane 1813 for an interview… Before I knew it, we were chatting up a storm and our interview is here for all of my readers to enjoy.
Jane, I know you’ve had a successful writing career as you’ve written numerous JAFF books that include characters from “Pride & Prejudice,” “Persuasion,” “Sense & Sensibility”, and four including Jane Austen herself. Before we discuss your work as an author, can you take this opportunity to share with my readers a little bit about yourself?
I live in the London Borough of Barnet, which is also in Hertfordshire, home to the Bennet girls at Longbourn so I consider myself very lucky. It feels somewhere between the town and the country, and I can hop on a tube train and be in central London in no time at all. High Barnet, where I live, and the adjoining village of Monken Hadley have been the home of some amazing writers like Elizabeth Jane Howard, Kingsley Amis, Fanny Trollope and her son Anthony, as well as the grandparents of Thackeray. When I’m feeling in need of some inspiration I take a walk past their very grand houses, and I’ve had all sorts of ideas just by looking at the lovely Georgian houses up around the common.
For many years, I was a teacher of Art and later on I taught History until I had my family and I stopped for a while to concentrate on being a mum. Drawing and painting have always been a big part of my life, and I still enjoy losing myself in painting a landscape or drawing illustrations of Jane Austen and her family. I love visiting art galleries and museums, reading novels and listening to music – there just doesn’t ever seem to be enough time to fit everything in that I want to do. Bath is another place I love to spend time, and it’s been an inspiration for several of my books. There are so many wonderful places to walk, and being able to trace Jane Austen’s footsteps never fails to excite me.
Searching for Captain Wentworth is set in Bath and Lyme.
How did you find your way to Jane Austen and how did your love for Austen lead you to write your own JAFF stories?
Jane Austen was always enjoyed in my house as I was growing up, but it was in the mid-nineties after watching the spate of wonderful series from the BBC that I re-read the novels and wanted to discover more about Jane Austen, the author. I was intrigued by the fact that biographies talked about her as if she were just a maiden aunt or timid spinster, and that certainly wasn’t the idea I had in my mind when I visualised her character. I love to draw and paint, and I wanted to see a young Jane dancing with Tom Lefroy, so I started by trying to paint Jane’s portrait with any references I could find and also discovered a miniature of Tom. I made a painting of them dancing at Ashe, which soon led on to many others. Then I decided to try and fill in the gaps in the correspondence between her and her sister Cassandra, which turned into my first little book, Effusions of Fancy. I sent it out to publishers, but they all said they didn’t think there was much of a market for Jane Austen gift books so I decided to publish myself. I met so many lovely people online after that I was encouraged to try my hand at writing a novel. There were a handful of authors writing about Elizabeth and Darcy, but I wanted to do something different. I took a character that nobody liked very much, but Lydia Bennet’s Story was fun to write because she is so outrageous, and I enjoyed redeeming her character just a little. I self-published that book, and then I had the very good fortune to have it taken up by Sourcebooks.
Most JAFF stories centre around Darcy and Elizabeth, so I was thrilled to find your book, “Willoughby’s Return,” since I do adore John Willoughby. Oh, I just can’t help myself! What inspired you to take up the reins and write this story?
I love Sense and Sensibility, and at the close of the novel, I had lots of questions. Because the relationship between Colonel Brandon and Marianne isn’t very fully developed in the book we only get an idea of how they must have fallen in love, and it made me wonder how their married life might be after a few years, and I set the timeline for three years later. I didn’t think their marriage would be completely straightforward because of the colonel’s relationship with two women who were very close to him – his first love who died, and her daughter, his ward Eliza who became pregnant with Willoughby’s child. Would Marianne resent the time Colonel Brandon might spend with his ward? He would certainly have gone off at regular intervals to see her, and at that time, it would have been impossible for Marianne, as a married woman in society to receive a ‘fallen’ woman, even if she’d been sympathetic to Eliza’s predicament. But, we all know Marianne is a bit of a drama queen, and I decided she would probably resent the colonel’s involvement in the lives of his ward and young toddler. She knows how much he loved Eliza’s mother and I decided Marianne would likely be very jealous of Brandon’s relationships that might take him away from home.
Into this mix I wanted to discover what would happen if I brought Willoughby back into the neighbourhood, and how things would play out if they met by chance at a time when Marianne is vulnerable and feeling uncertain about her relationship with her husband. Jane Austen manages to have the Dashwood sisters forgive Willoughby in Sense and Sensibility, and I’ve always loved the fact that although he behaved despicably he felt very sorry for the way he’d behaved. In Willoughby’s Return, he’s tortured by the sight of Marianne happy in her own marriage and he wants to redeem himself further.
I also wanted to tell Margaret’s story, the other sister who is ready to fall in love, and I enjoyed introducing a character of my own, Henry Lawrence into the story … he just happens to be a friend of Mr Willoughby and that’s where the misunderstandings begin.
I loved adding characters of my own and putting in the familiar ones like Mrs Jennings – Elinor makes a few appearances, but the plot centres on Marianne, her husband, and past lover, as well as her sister Margaret. Marianne is tested, but in true Jane Austen style, everything turns out in the best possible way for them all.
Can you tell us about your latest release, “Jane Austen Lives Again?”
I think everyone wishes Jane’s life had been extended and that she’d had her own happy ending. I decided to have her doctor trying to save her using pioneering work on cell renewal, but when he doesn’t succeed, successive generations keep going until they do. Unfortunately, it takes 108 years before the process is perfected, and when Jane wakes up it is 1925. There is little money, and the family she remembers are all gone, but Jane in true stalwart fashion takes her doctor’s advice and becomes a governess, travelling to Devon where she thinks she is to look after five little girls. However, when she gets there, she finds chaos – a crumbling castle, Lord and Lady Milton who are at complete odds with one another, and their five grown-up daughters, not to mention Will, the charming heir to Manberley Castle. The family is divided – Lady Milton is a second wife, and the two sets of siblings do not get on, and all have problems and dramas of their own. Jane loves a challenge and has to find ways to unite the family so she can continue what she loves doing best – writing her books. Being 21 again, with all her past memories intact is delightful, as she finds a new lease on life, slowly embracing the new fashions and dances, but it’s also painful when she remembers past times and loves. Can she truly leave the past behind with the man she loved, to attach herself again, and find her very own happy ending?
Why do you think after 200 years, so many people are still reading Jane Austen’s books?
I think the stories are timeless and have set the standard for writers ever since. The characters are so recognisable; we feel that we know them. Jane’s way of writing draws you in, so you not only feel that you know the characters well, but that Jane Austen would probably be your best friend if you happened to meet her. There are very few writers who achieve that feeling of complete intimacy between the author and the reader. I’ve met so many people who share this feeling that she is your own special friend, and is one of the reasons why we re-read the books over and over again. Her heroines are delightful – we root for them because we appreciate their failings as well as their admirable qualities. Who can fail to love Elizabeth Bennet or Anne Elliot, both very different heroines, but with wonderful personalities, and even a character as unlikeable as Emma Woodhouse, has us falling in love with her too. And I haven’t even started on the men! Dashing heroes like Mr Darcy, Captain Wentworth and Mr Knightley, including the odd sprinkling of boys behaving badly, are unsurpassed, and with the entire mix Jane has invented the perfect recipe for a classic novel.
Jane, can you tell us what readers can expect from you in the future?
I’m working on a novel inspired by Northanger Abbey, Searching for Mr Tilney, which also links to my novel, Searching for Captain Wentworth, though it’s a stand alone book and you won’t need to have read the latter to understand the new book. It’s set in two time periods, with three heroines, but I don’t want to say too much about that one yet, except to say Jane Austen is one of the heroines. I’m just over half way through, and hopefully it will be out in the next year or so – I am really enjoying writing it – a little darker than my usual style, but I hope funny too. I’m also finishing part two of Mrs Darcy’s Diamonds, a story about Georgiana Darcy – Miss Darcy’s Parisian Pin, and hopefully that will be out before the end of the year – maybe in time for Christmas. After that, I’ve got an idea for another ‘Searching for’ title that links to the other two. I’ve got lots of ideas for future books, even ones without Jane Austen – I just wish there was time to write them all. Jane, so do your readers. You keep writing them, and we will keep reading them!