Three years after Miss Marianne Dashwood marries Colonel Brandon, Willoughby returns. She is thrown into a tizzy of painful memories and exquisite feelings of uncertainty, for she is hurt and jealous over the Colonel’s attentions towards Eliza, his ward. Willoughby is as charming, as roguish, and as much in love with Marianne as ever. And the timing couldn’t be worse—with Colonel Brandon away and Willoughby determined to win her back ….
Jane, I have thoroughly enjoyed ‘Willoughby’s Return’. Your writing style is lovely and has matured since your first book. Was it easier to write a second novel?
Jane: Thank you Vic for inviting me onto your blog, and for your lovely comments; I am so thrilled that you enjoyed my novel. I did find it easier in some ways, yet I feel I still have so much to learn. Writing the first one teaches you so much, and I was able to draw on those experiences. Feeling confident to experiment a bit more was very helpful, I wasn’t so afraid to write the book as I wanted to – I’m always conscious that people are constantly comparing what I write to Jane Austen. It isn’t possible to emulate Jane, of course, but I try to retain the tone and flavour of her books, bearing in mind that I am writing for a modern audience.
How were you inspired to write this book? How did you come up with the plot? It was a stroke of genius to make Margaret Dashwood the heroine of your story and yet retain Marianne. They shared center stage much in the way that Elinor and Marianne did in Sense and Sensibility. Was this done on purpose?
Jane: Like a lot of people who have read Sense and Sensibility, I never felt completely convinced at the end of the book that Marianne would have fallen in love so easily with Colonel Brandon as we are told in the two paragraphs that Jane devotes to their courtship and marriage. I wanted to believe that they were right for one another, and this is what started me thinking about how he might have won her over, and about their relationship in general. Marianne is a passionate romantic, a little self-centred, and a firebrand. I imagined that although she might love the Colonel as much as she had Willoughby, it would have been quite a different courtship, and a complicated relationship, especially as they have both loved and lost in the past. The fact that Brandon is guardian to the daughter of his first love who is also tied to Willoughby as the father of her child, I felt would cause big problems. Marianne thinks only of others in terms of herself, I think she would be very jealous of Brandon’s relationship with his ward and her child. Starting with these ideas as a background, I wondered what might happen if Willoughby returned, and how he could be worked into the plot so that Marianne could not avoid him.
Jane Odiwe, left front, at the Reform Club, London. Dominique Raccah, publisher with Sourcebooks, sits in back looking down, with her husband beside her.
I wanted to introduce an older Margaret, who we are told has a character very similar to her sister. The relationship between the sisters is an important part of the book – would Marianne be able to chaperone Margaret as Elinor might or would she indulge her sister, encouraging her to fall head over heels with the first love that comes along? Would Margaret make the same mistakes as her sister?
Finally, I’ve always wondered about Brandon’s sister that we hear Mrs Jennings mention in S&S. Why was she in France? I decided to bring her and her family back to Whitwell, and this gave me an opportunity to introduce one of the young men central to the story. I love all the twists and turns in the plots of Jane Austen’s books, and I spent a long time thinking about how I could achieve a few of my own. I had a lot of fun with the plot, which changed several times before I got to the end!
Mr. Wickham and Willoughby are central to the plots of your two novels. Do you have a penchant for bad boys? Or do you think they are more complex characters than Edmund Bertram or a Henry Tilney, let’s say?
Jane: I don’t have a penchant for bad boys as such, but I understand how such characters have a certain appeal for most women – I think most of us have probably come across a Willoughby at some stage when we were growing up – I am convinced Jane knew of one or two! Bad boys are central to Austen’s plots also, and what fascinates me is that these characters are always introduced as handsome, dashing young men on first acquaintance. But, I think what’s important about Jane’s writing is that even when it is found that they are far from the good characters they are initially painted, they are not caricatures, never wholly bad. Willoughby, for instance, does realise his mistakes by the end of the book even if he doesn’t suffer forever. The development of a character like Willoughby was something I wanted to bear in mind with my book. I love the fact that Marianne is his ‘secret standard of perfection in woman’ – wouldn’t it be wonderful if all Willoughbys spent the rest of their lives in such secret regret?
Photograph taken in the area of Efford House on the Flete Estate where Sense and Sensibility (1995) was filmed.
I also enjoyed the historic touches that you managed to weave into your plot. It is evident that you know the countryside well and that you are familiar with Regency customs. Tell me a little about your research. I know you have visited many of the places you describe.
Jane: Research is a favourite part of writing these books – I probably spend far too much time on it, and always end up with more than I need, but England at this time is so interesting. My book starts off in Devon and Dorset, counties I’ve known and enjoyed since I was a little girl. My father used to take cine films of us when we were little – I have film of me in Lyme when I am about seven, and I have very fond memories of holidays taken in the area. I had to include Lyme in the book for these associations and for those that Jane wrote about in Persuasion.
I also spent a lot of time wandering around London finding all the places where the characters spend the season, and deciding where Marianne and her Colonel might have their house. As you know, Vic, there is still so much to see of Georgian London!
Oh, yes! I envy your living so close to the places that I research and your proximity to London. You write, paint, oversee at least three blogs and a twitter account, and have a family. How do you find time for it all? I am curious how you still manage to paint, for I always found that to be the most time consuming of my talents and the easiest to drop when my schedule is hectic.
Jane: The truth is that I find it difficult to find time for it all, but I am an early riser, and get a lot done when everyone is still asleep. We always come together for meals in my family, that’s most important and, we spend time together in the evenings – sometimes we paint together. There are several artists in the family; I love it if we are all working round the table. My own painting has taken a back seat at present, but that’s more to do with the fact that writing has taken me over for the moment.
Holbeton is the nearest village to the Flete Estate in South Devon, an area rich in natural beauty.
Any other thoughts about your book that you would like to share with our readers?
Jane: One of the themes in the book concerns that of love, lost and found. Both the Colonel and Marianne have been in love before, and their relationship is a second attachment. I wonder what your readers think of second attachments – and have they ever encountered or suffered at the hands of a Mr Willoughby?
Thank you so much for this interview and for the photos you supplied. I can’t recommend ‘Willoughby’s Return’ highly enough to people who love to read Jane Austen sequels.
Jane: Thank you for inviting me to talk to you about my book and for a fantastic interview with such thought provoking questions!
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Find other interviews and reviews of Willoughby’s Return at these sites:
Sourcebooks is holding a blog tour for author Jane Odiwe on other blogs. The schedule is as follows:
Follow Jane Odiwe’s adventure as an author on her blog, Jane Austen Sequels.
By the way, today is Jane Odiwe’s birthday: Happy Birthday, Jane!
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