Extract from Dear Jane

‘I beg you, sir,’ said Jane, into the teeth of the tempest, ‘say nothing which will force me to disappoint you.’ She leaned back, away from his face, which was very close to hers. Behind her she could hear the sharp slap of the waves as they hit the boat, the spray of rain on water and above her the angry howl of the wind through the boat’s rigging.

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The Wonder by Emma Donoghue

This book will make you think about faith, about goodness, and about what it means to live. It will ask you if you believe in anything so strongly that you’d die for it. It raises issues about our right to choose the place and time of our passing. It will make you wonder at the power of faith to sustain us through the valley of the shadow of death, or, it will cause you to question the trustfulness of those who have ‘the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.’

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Sneak preview

The final book in the Highbury trilogy is finished, and currently being beta-read. Publication day is 8th April, which would have been my lovely dad’s 91st birthday.

The title has yet to be finalised. My working title has been Dear Jane and I may stick with it unless someone comes up with a better alternative. (Post ideas to me via the Contact page…)

Now I’m kicking my heels, sternly stopping myself from starting something new, clearing the debris from my desk and finding all those bills I haven’t paid, letters I haven’t answered, bits of fluff and clusters of toast crumbs loitering in the corners.

The idea is to let the book settle.

But this child is impatient - oh, she’s raring to get out into the world. So here is a sneak preview.

‘And so, Jane,’ said Emma Woodhouse, ‘you will come no more to Hartfield to play with my dolls. You are going to the Campbells to stay always, and will not come back to Highbury. I suppose Rowena Campbell has not so many toys and books as me? Nor half so many dolls?’

Jane Fairfax looked up from where she sat on the nursery floor. Emma occupied the only chair in the room and looked down from it at her little visitor with some considerable air of superiority.  It was always so, when Jane was sent to play at Hartfield. Although the girls were of an age – almost nine – Jane was always made to feel younger, inferior and certainly poorer. She was poorer – there was no denying it – thirty thousand pounds poorer than Miss Woodhouse. But she was not younger and decidedly she was not inferior by any meaningful measure, being brighter, more accomplished and arguably prettier than Miss Woodhouse of Hartfield. Jane did not reply at once, unsure as to which of Emma’s inaccurate statements she ought to contradict. Or whether she ought to contradict any – Miss Emma Woodhouse disliked being told she was wrong.

At last she said, ‘Miss Rowena has some very nice dolls, but you are right, they are not so numerous as yours. Of books she has a great many, and,’ because she felt she ought to defend her little friend Rowena, and Miss Woodhouse should not be allowed to have things all her own way, ‘most of hers she has read.’

‘I thought not,’ Emma said, disregarding Jane’s second comment, ‘not so numerous as mine, and not so nice, I expect. But still,’ she smiled very sweetly, ‘more than you have at home, and so I suppose you will be pleased to go, and leave your grandmamma and aunt?’

Jane considered. ‘I am not unhappy to go to the Campbells. I have been going there since I was five or six, and feel very at home at their house. They treat me very kindly. But as for being happy to leave Grandmamma and Aunt Hetty, no, of course, I shall miss them very much.’

‘Naturally the Campbells treat you kindly,’ Emma replied. ‘Papa says a young lady in your situation should always be treated kindly. The bible says we must be kind to orphans. I suppose you will stay in the attic and wear all Miss Campbell’s hand-me-down clothes and be required to clean the fire-grates and do all their mending.’

That does not sound very kind,’ Jane said, ‘it sounds more like Cendrillon[i] to me. Rowena is not an ugly step-sister!’

Miss Woodhouse settled an unruly flounce on her dress. ‘Perhaps she is not absolutely ugly, but she is not pretty.[ii] I have heard that her nose is decidedly snub and her hair is only a very dowdy brown. My nose is aquiline – Miss Taylor says that artists throughout the ages have idealised the aquiline nose in their paintings. But if I had a snub nose and a plain face I would not like someone with nicer features coming to live with me, and yours are quite nice, Jane. If I were Rowena Campbell I might well shut you up in the attic.’

Jane could easily believe it.

[i] The version of Cinderella which Miss Woodhouse and Miss Fairfax would have been familiar with.

[ii] Chapter Nineteen of Emma makes clear the disparity in personal beauty between Miss Campbell (by then Mrs Dixon) and Jane Fairfax

Disability - A thorny issue to grasp.

I felt justified in tackling the topic of disability, but it was a thorny one to grasp. I invented two characters who are confined to wheelchairs. Mrs Sealy is a young and wealthy widow, rendered disabled  by a carriage accident.  Captain Bates is a casualty of war whose initial injury was compounded by poor medical treatment to leave him an amputee.

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Pig Iron by Benjamin Myers

John-John’s character and his situation have shades of Billy in A Kestrel for a Knave and also of David Copperfield. They are all innocents abroad in a world which is uncaring and cruel. But they are not infected by it; indeed they make the utter hopelessness bearable.

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The Quality of Silence by Rosamund Lupton

The story is tremendously exciting; a predatory fracking company, the malign presence of a tanker stalking them through the tundra, mysterious emails depicting strangely mutilated animals and the sharp grief of loss. But the important thing about it is the growing understanding between mother and daughter as they both come to terms with her deafness and her choice not to use her physical voice.

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