A Writer’s Life with Jude Knight

 

Jude Knight

I’d like to welcome, Jude Knight to Layered Pages to talk about her writing. She writes strong determined heroines, heroes who can appreciate a clever capable woman, villains you’ll love to loathe, and all with a leavening of humour.

Jude, why do you write?

I write because I cannot not write. Stories keep occurring to me, and I have to know what happens next.

I’ve told stories since I could talk, and I’ve written since I learned how. At primary school, I created dramas with a cast of any other child who wanted to play. At secondary school, I wrote short stories and published them in a student paper friends and I created and ran off on an old Gestetner.

Then came family, a mortgage, and the need to earn a living. I became a commercial writer, and poured my creativity into computer manuals and government reports. (Yes, you might well laugh.)

But the stories didn’t go away. In notebooks and computer files, I have nearly 100 story lines, more than 40 of them set in the late-Georgian, but other historicals, plus fantasy, sf, and contemporary. For a long time, I’d finish them inside my head – which, like any form of self-gratification, was temporarily satisfying but ultimately sterile. A story teller isn’t a story teller without an audience.

What is your writing process?

I tell myself the bare bones of the story, flesh out particular scenes that interest me, hear scraps of dialogue and see bits of action. Then I research the period, write detailed character sketches, and create a full story outline.

Then I ignore everything once I start writing, and let the story take me wherever it wants to go. I write like a knit: I lose track of the pattern, and I’m always dropping stitches.

Once I write THE END, I go back to my original plans. I analyse the story as it stands, find the holes and the dropped plot points, and decide what needs to be fixed. After the rewrite, it goes to beta readers, and the third draft takes their suggestions into account.

How has writing impacted your life?

For a start, I’ve never been so busy. I’ve set myself a publication schedule that, with a full-time day job, is turning out to be grueling. I’m convinced I was wise to wait until I was no longer raising children and grandchildren. They would have been neglected. I become absorbed and the time flies, and my PRH (personal romantic hero) arrives home, and I’m still in my pyjamas. I haven’t had breakfast and the chickens and cats haven’t been fed, but that’s in the 21st century. In the 19th, all is going as it should.

Fortunately, PRH supports me fully, and keeps me supplied with bacon and egg sandwiches and coffee.

The second way writing fiction has impacted on my life is that I’ve seldom been so happy. This is what I was made to do, and I love it. It’s the most fun one can have while standing (at least at my age).

When do your best ideas come to you for a story?

No particular time. The characters go on working behind my back, and an idea will pop up in the middle of another story, or when I’m in a meeting at work, or even in church. Sometimes, I’m forced into a corner by an inconvenient historical fact, and the solution to it turns out to be better than my original plans.

That happened in Farewell to Kindness, when I wanted to get rid of the minor villains by having them imprisoned for smuggling. But they were wealthy, and would have paid the fine and never seen the inside of a goal. Criminal justice worked on a different system back then.

In the end, my hero set them up to rob him on the highway – a crime against him and the King. This meant he could prosecute them and have them imprisoned. And it serendipitously put him in the right place to rescue the heroine.

How do you respond to positive and negative reviews?

I’ve been fortunate with Candle’s Christmas Chair, my novella, to have mostly positive reviews. And I try to stay positive about the others, too. I blogged about bad reviews after I had two in one week that really panned the poor little story. In summary, I want to 1. Learn from them 2. Accept that any publicity is good publicity, 3. Understand that a bad review that states what someone doesn’t like may attract readers that like just that thing. What to do with a bad review

What advice would you give a beginner writer?

Write and keep writing. And when you’re not writing, read. Set a daily word count and stick to it. Make writing what you do whenever you’re waiting for an appointment or a bus; whenever you have a few minutes to spare. If you write 200 words a day, in a year you will have a novel. So just write.

Farewell to Kindness

Fairwell to kindness

Regency noir (On prerelease; on sale from 31 March 2015)

Price: US99c to 8 April 2015; USD3.49 from 9 April 2015

For three years, Rede has been searching for those who ordered the murders of his wife and children. Now close to end of his quest, he travels to his country estate to be close to the investigation.

He is fascinated by the lovely widow who lives in one of the cottages he owns. A widow who pays no rent. A widow, moreover, with a small daughter whose distinctive eyes mark her as as the child of his predecessor as Earl.

Six years ago, Anne blackmailed Rede’s predecessor at arrow-point for an income and a place to livein hiding from her guardian’s sinister plans for her and her sisters. He no longer has legal rights over her, but the youngest sister is still only 18. He cannot be allowed to find her.

Rede is everything she has learned not to trust: a man, a peer, a Redepenning. If he discovers who she is, she may lose everything.

To build a future together, Rede and Anne must be prepared to face their pasts.

Heat: PG13 edging towards R in places

Excerpts of Farewell to Kindness

George was drunk. But not nearly drunk enough. He still saw his young friend’s dying eyes everywhere. In half-caught glimpses of strangers reflected in windows along Bond Street, under the hats of coachmen that passed him along the silent streets to Bedford Square, in the flickering lamps that shone pallidly against the cold London dawn as he stumbled up the steps to his front door.

They followed his every waking hour: hot, angry, hate-filled eyes that had once been warm with admiration.

He drank to forget, but all he could do was remember.

One more flight of stairs, then through the half open door to his private sitting room, already reaching for the waiting decanter of brandy as he crossed the floor.

He had a glass of oblivion halfway to his lips before he noticed the painting.

It stood on an easel, lit by a carefully arranged tree of candles. George’s own face was illuminated—the golden shades of his hair, his intensely blue eyes. The artist had captured his high cheekbones and sculpted jaw. “One of London’s most beautiful men,” he’d been called.

He stalked to the easel, moving with great care to avoid spilling his drink.

Yes. The artist had talent. Who could have given him such a thing?

As he bent forward to look at it more closely, something whipped past his face. With a solid thunk, an arrow struck the painting, to stand quivering between the painted eyes.

******

Rede stayed for a while, shaking hands with those who came for an introduction, catching up with those he’d met during the week, and generally making himself pleasant.

Several times, he met eyes as blue as his own, fringed like his with dark lashes. His predecessors had certainly left a mark on the population. Many of the poorer members of the community bore the certain sign that a female ancestor had caught a Redepenning’s fickle attention.

Mrs Forsythe, the rent-free tenant, wasn’t introduced. He had been hearing her name all week. His tenants spoke of her warmly, and with respect, listing her good deeds, and praising her kindness. From what they said, she was a lynch pin of village life. Listening to their stories, he’d formed a picture of a mature widow; a gentlewoman of private—if straitened—means; a bustling matron with a finger in all the charitable activity of the parish.

The trio of young ladies on the path broke up, two coming over to be introduced as the daughters of the Rector and the Squire. The third young lady collected a child and another young woman from the Rectory garden.

The child was a little older than his Rita would have been; perhaps the age Joseph would have been, had he lived. She studied him curiously as she passed; meeting his blue gaze with her own. Indeed, he could have been looking at one of his own childhood portraits, cast in a more feminine mould.

She didn’t take her colouring from the two young ladies with her. And a quick glance after her showed that bonnets masked the faces of the two ladies they joined.

“Once my cousins arrive, we’ll invite the local gentry to dinner,” he told Mrs Ashbrook. “I’ve met some of them. Could you perhaps introduce me to others?”

As he’d hoped, she launched into a list of all the gentlemen and ladies in the neighbourhood, starting with those present. He listened impatiently as the objects of his interest moved further and further towards the gate.

At last, just as they passed under the arch, Mrs Ashbrook said, “and Mrs Forsythe and her sisters, the Miss Haverstocks. They were standing right there by the church… oh dear, you’ve missed them. They’ve just left.”

The slender figure hurrying away down the road with her sisters and daughter did not fit the picture he’d formed of the busy Mrs Forsythe. Not at all.

He continued listening to Mrs Ashbrook, commenting when appropriate, murmuring pleasantries to the people she took him to around the churchyard. And with another part of his mind he planned a change in the order of his tenant visits.

Meeting Mrs Forsythe, owner of the trimmest pair of ankles he had ever noticed and mother of a Redepenning by-blow, was suddenly a priority.

******************

What was it about this woman that made Rede want to spend time with her? She was, of course, delectable. But many women had faces and forms as lovely.

Since Marie-Josèphe died, he’d felt the stirrings of lust from time to time—and more than stirrings. Acting on those stirrings always felt like too much trouble, though.

In his private desires, as in all the rest of his life, he saw the world as if through a thick blanket that numbed feeling. He went through the motions of looking after his business interests and the Earldom, of acting appropriately in social occasions, of charming his tenants and his neighbours—but all the time, he was acting a part, as if he had been buried with his wife and children, and was reaching from the grave to operate his own body like a puppet.

Except when he woke each morning with his grief still raw. Except when he was planning how to make his enemies pay. Except when he read the reports David sent him every week.

And now, something beyond his vengeance was reaching through the blanket of unfeeling and bringing him back to life. Or, rather, someone.

He studied her for a moment, as he stood apart from the group. He couldn’t put his finger on what made her different. Perhaps it was that she talked to him, and not to his title or his wealth. He enjoyed her wit, her humour. He liked how she treated him with no more and no less deference than she did Will or the Squire or the innkeeper’s wife.

Today, she was dressed far more like a lady than a cottager, in a light-coloured dress in the modern style, modestly covering but shaping to her bosom, and dropping from there to a flounced hem. Yesterday’s apron had defined her slender waist, but the dress beneath it had hidden her shape entirely. Today’s dress left her waist a mystery, but clung to her hips and legs as she walked…

It would give the villagers confidence to see their lord working side by side with the other local leaders. Rede had run large teams of trappers, invested the money into multiple enterprises and made a not inconsiderable fortune by finding managers he could trust and inspiring them to give their all to serve him. He knew the value of showing his tenants and neighbours that he counted himself one of them.

His decision to help was for the village at large, not to impress the lovely Mrs Forsythe.

“And,” he admonished himself as he rode away, “if you believe that, I have a village built of pure gold in Upper Canada that I’d like to sell you.”

********

Rede leaned closer to Anne.

“Have I told you yet how lovely you look this evening?”

“Susan’s maid, Markham, is a wonder. She chose the gown, and altered it.” Anne preened a little, twisting from side to side in display.

“Lovely,” Rede agreed. “I always think you lovely, but I’m delighted to see you in clothes that are fit for you. And you managed to match the ribbon I gave you!”

Anne blushed. Rede was quick to notice and guess the reason. “That is the ribbon I gave you!”

“I happened to have it in my pocket,” Anne murmured.

Rede looked so smug at the thought that she wanted to rein him in.

“Rede, your nephew saw us last night, and he has told Baroness Carrington.”

He was instantly serious. “How…? Oh no. I forgot the lookout in his bedroom. Anne, I do apologise. I should not have… you were so lovely that I lost myself. But that is not an excuse. I should have been more careful. I will be more careful.”

“It cannot happen again, Rede.”

“What are you two looking so serious about,” Kitty asked. “Anne, did you know that in Russia, there is a water spirit that seeks out men and drowns them? And witches live in cottages with chicken legs, so they can turn the cottages around! If you go into the forest, they may catch you!”

“Really,” Rede said, “and you saw these yourself, Alex?”

Major Redepenning just laughed.

“In Canada,” Rede told Kitty, “the Rugaru live in the forest. They are part human and part wolf, and they eat ice. In the river live the Memaquasesak. They are little people, who love sweet things and are always to blame when baking goes missing.”

“And you saw these yourself, Rede?” the Major mocked.

“I certainly had many sweet things go missing. But that could have been John. Or perhaps it was Ti Jean.”

Then Rede told them the tale of Ti Jean and the Rugaru, and Major Redepenning topped it with a story of Baba Yaga and foolish Ivan, and the supper passed merrily.

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