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Happy Christmas everyone!

I’ve recently finished writing Mr Darcy’s Secret, which is to be published by Sourcebooks. Here’s a small extract with a festive theme. Elizabeth Bennet is married to Mr Darcy and is welcoming her family for the Christmas season to Pemberley for the first time, not without some trepidation!

Christmas Eve and the arrival of the Bennets and Bingleys to Pemberley marked the official start to the festive season. Elizabeth was pleased and surprised at her own feelings on firstly welcoming her parents and two of her sisters, Mary and Kitty, to her new home. For all her newfound happiness and exultation in the success of her marriage, she had not realised until coming face to face with them again, how much she had missed them. It was especially heartening to see her papa again and as he hugged her until she thought she might have no breath left, her feelings took her by surprise. The resulting misting of her eyes she quickly brushed away before his notice provoked a comment.

“I am very glad to see you, Elizabeth, and for this invitation from you and your husband, we are very grateful,” he said, standing back at arm’s length to admire the daughter he loved best. “I have missed you and it does my heart good to see you looking so well.”

Mrs Bennet was, for once, struck quite dumb on their entrance into the hall and did not utter a syllable for the first ten minutes. Her eyes darted everywhere, alighting on the marble floors, staring at the grand curving staircases, the statues in the niches and the paintings adorning the walls and the ceiling. She looked almost frightened and had such an appearance of stupefied shock upon her countenance that Lizzy felt quite concerned.

“Are you quite well, mama?” asked Elizabeth, taking her mother’s hand and rubbing it between her own. “Indeed, you do look very tired. But the journey is such a long one, I know. Come inside and get warm by the fire.”

Mrs Bennet shook her head and spoke at last. “I am astonished, Lizzy. I knew Pemberley must be a great house, but I never expected this; not in all my born days did I expect to see such opulence, such finery! The floor alone must be worth a mint, not to mention the gilded balustrades, the paintings and statues, the drapes, the chairs and settees, and I know not what. And this is only the hall! Lord bless me! I shall have to sit down. And as for the grounds, I thought Christmas would be over before we arrived, so long did it take to get from the road to the house. What a prospect! The finest house, the grandest park, the most magnificent hall that I ever did see. What a pity that Lydia cannot be with us to see it. I know she would have loved to see Pemberley, and dear Wickham too. I’m sure he would have enjoyed seeing his former home.”

“But, mama, though I admire your feelings of benevolence in consideration of Mr and Mrs Wickham’s lack of invitation,” observed Mary, who loved to reflect and sermonize on the folly of others, “in my opinion, such deliberation is ill conceived. If you dwell for just one moment on the real likelihood of such a summons to our misguided sister and her husband from Mr Darcy who we know to be a rational man, you must also know it to be highly improbable.”

“Oh, Mary, hold your tongue. Mrs Wickham can come to Pemberley whenever she likes, whatever you might think on the matter,” rejoined Mrs Bennet loudly, with an expression of exasperation.

Mrs Gardiner advanced quickly to reach Mrs Bennet’s side to greet her and divert the course of conversation just as Mr Darcy entered the hall to welcome his guests. He had thought it prudent to allow Elizabeth a little time with her parents and sisters before he came on the scene. His manners were as impeccable as ever and Mrs Bennet became quite girlish in her manner at his attentions, patting her curls and looking at him under her lashes. When Lizzy was able she could not resist catching her husband’s eye, raising her own heavenwards. She felt such a mixture of pride and love for all that he represented to her, the man who in disposition and talents suited her to perfection.

No sooner were the Bennet family installed dispatched to become acquainted with their rooms over which Mrs Bennet was soon exclaiming, not only at the size, but also at the number assigned to them, than Elizabeth’s sister, Jane Bingley, her husband, and his sister arrived. Never was a reunion more joyful between two sisters who adored one another and who had never before in their lives been separated for so long. Jane still had the glow of a new bride about her and Lizzy was overjoyed to see Bingley again. Elizabeth was not so pleased to see Mr Bingley’s sister Caroline, who had in the past been the cause of a temporary rift between Jane and her husband during their courting days, not only separating them but informing Jane of her wish that her brother be married to Miss Darcy. But she received her with much civility, which in the circumstances was highly gratifying, as she recalled with a certain glee that Caroline had at one time fancied that she might take on the role of the mistress of Pemberley herself. How very satisfying it was to be addressed by Caroline Bingley as Mrs Darcy.

“My dear, Mrs Darcy, how splendid it is to see you again. It is exceedingly kind of you to invite me to Pemberley for Christmas, which, as I am sure you have heard is always unsurpassed in both hospitality, and by its splendour.” She turned to Mr Darcy who was regarding her with what Elizabeth had come to recognise as the expression he reserved for those he could not tolerate; a look of polite indifference, but happily, undetected by the person on whom it was bestowed. “Oh, Mr Darcy, we have enjoyed one or two merry Christmases together, have we not? Such parties and balls, that I have been quite spoiled forever. I do not think I shall ever enjoy such entertainments again. But, forgive me, Mrs Darcy, you are hosting a grand ball on the morrow, are you not? What felicities we shall enjoy, I cannot wonder. Do you remember, Mr Darcy, when Reynolds fetched out the old fancy costumes from the attic and we dressed up? I thought I should die laughing when I saw you as Robin Hood and I was Little Bo-Peep, as I hark back. What fun we had. Do you recall, Georgiana? You were the sweetest lamb, all in white with a pink ribbon on your tail.”

Miss Bingley, having found a willing listener in Georgiana immediately led her away talking at the top of her voice about the wondrous parties of the past.

Elizabeth was starting to feel quite sick with nerves at the prospect of the coming ball. She did so want it to be a success and whispering into Mr Darcy’s ear when the others were busily engaged in directing the servants with their luggage, said, “Oh dear, do you suppose we should have had a fancy costume ball?”

To which came the rapid answer, “Absolutely not. The whole idea was of Miss Bingley’s engineering and I loathed every minute of it. I absolutely forbid fancy costume balls to be held at Pemberley ever again!”

I hope you and your families all have a wonderful Christmas and holiday season and wish you a very happy and prosperous New Year!
Jane Odiwe

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Well, it’s feeling very festive here in England with all the snow we’ve been having! As I look out of my window I can see the world dusted with icing sugar – the sky is a beautiful iridescent pearl, which reminds me of the sort of day it was in Willoughby’s Return when Marianne and Margaret join a skating party in London’s Hyde Park – hence the painting above. I did enjoy doing the research for this part of the book, though I seem to remember it was early summer when I wrote it!
We put up our Christmas tree yesterday – I always love to dress the mantlepiece and my children love to do the tree. There’s something very special about unwrapping all the baubles that we’ve had for many years – it’s like finding old friends. They did a lovely job, the tree is sparkling with flower lights, glass birds, angels, father Christmases, fans and icicles – I even have Lizzy and Darcy – beautiful fabric decorations made by my sister-in-law, Trin. I’m taking a moment to enjoy it all by the fire before the house wakes up and joins me!
I’d like to thank Laura Gerold from Laura’s Reviews for her review of Willoughby’s Return, which is posted below – thank you so much for taking the time to read and review!

Willoughby is the Austen bad boy that I can’t quite find it within myself to hate. He does more despicable deeds than most Austen bad boys (he impregnated and left Eliza and then ditched Marianne for a lady with more money!), yet he comes clean with Elinor and tells her that he did indeed love Marianne, but had to marry for the money. This leaves me with sympathy in my heart no matter how heard I try to hate him, I think about how he has been punished for his misdeeds by never being able to be with the one woman that he truly loves. It also doesn’t help that Greg Wise is such a very handsome and wonderful Willoughby in the 1995 version of Sense and Sensibility.

I couldn’t wait to read more about Willoughby, Marianne, and the rest of my favorite Sense and Sensibility characters in Jane Odiwe’s sequel, Willoughby’s Return. Just the title excited me with the thought of Greg Wise, I mean Willoughby, striding back into the scene.

The novel did not disappoint and was quite simply, a superb sequel to Sense and Sensibility. Marianne Dashwood found love and romance of another sort with Colonel Brandon at the end of Sense and Sensibility. At the beginning of Willoughby’s Return, they are still happily wedded with a young son, James. The only wrench in their happiness is that Colonel Brandon still finds himself drawn away quite often to help Eliza and her small daughter Lizzy. Marianne finds herself jealous of the unknown Eliza, who no only had Willoughby’s love, but also is the spitting image of her mother, Colonel Brandon’s first love. I love how the first Eliza’s portrait with Colonel Brandon’s brother still hangs at the top of the stair. It gave me an almost Rebecca like quality to the specter of Eliza, Brandon’s lost love.

Colonel Brandon and Marianne are distressed by the news that Mr. and Mrs. Willoughby have inherited Allenham after all and will soon be moving to the neighborhood. Sad at the constant absences of her husband, Marianne soon finds herself feeling the old feelings again and being tempted by Willoughby. Will she succumb to temptation or find her way back to Colonel Brandon?

This story is also the romance of Margaret. Margaret has now grown up and has the same temperament as Marianne. She is searching for her one true love. Colonel Brandon’s nephew, the dashing Henry Lawrence, has moved back to England and Marianne is determined to set Henry Lawrence and her sister up. Henry is friends with Mr. Willoughby. Will he live to make the same mistakes as Henry or will he find true love?

My favorite character in Sense and Sensibility is Elinor. She is now a happy wife and mother of two, but this is not her story. She is only seen briefly. I wish there would have been more of her, but I realize that would be a different story.

Overall this book was a terrific read that I really enjoyed. I highly recommend it to all lovers of Sense and Sensibility, Austen, or just a wonderful romance. This is the best sequel to Sense and Sensibility that I have ever read! The characters are captured perfectly and the story is wonderful.

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Thank you to Meredith Esparza of Austenesque Reviews for her review of Willoughby’s Return!

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
*****
“Sense and Sensibility” is such a lovely, honest, and entertaining novel; it such a shame that not many authors have attempted to compose a sequel for it. I have greatly enjoyed “Colonel Brandon’s Diary” by Amanda Grange (S&S told from Colonel Brandon’s point-of-view) and “Reason and Romance” by Debra White Smith (a modern adaption with Christian undertones); but neither of those are sequels or include a continuation story for Margaret. But now, having read “Willoughby’s Return,” I feel I have found the sequel for “Sense and Sensibility” I have always wanted! I am so very delighted that Jane Odiwe has supplied us ravenous Austenites with this compelling and expressive sequel to cherish and enjoy!

Whatever became of Margaret Dashwood? As Elinor and Marianne’s younger sister, Margaret has witnessed their heartbreaks and heartaches first hand. Has their experiences made her wiser, more cautious, or perhaps, more indifferent to love? Does she take after rational and sensible Elinor or does she favor Marianne’s romantic tendencies and impetuous nature?

In this novel, Margaret Dashwood, who is at the marriageable age of 18, seems to be the victim of Marianne’s matchmaking schemes. So far she has yet to meet a man that can live up to her expectation or measure up to her childhood love (can you guess who that is?). However, when Margaret meets Colonel Brandon’s nephew, the handsome, romantic, and charming Henry Lawrence, she feels she may have finally met her ideal man…

Marianne and Colonel Brandon, the other couple focused upon in this story, have been married for three years and have a two-year old boy named James. Like all married couples, they are experiencing some difficulties and trials in their marriage. Marianne is exhibiting some jealousy, insecurity, and mistrust in Colonel Brandon’s love for her. Colonel Brandon, trying to be a father figure in two separate households (he looks after his ward, Eliza Williams and her child, Lizzy), finds that he has unintentionally been neglecting Marianne and spending too much time away from her. Furthermore, the ghost of Willoughby haunts their marriage, both Marianne and Colonel Brandon never mention his name or their past association with him. Because of their silence on the subject, when Willoughby re-enters Marianne’s life, she chooses not to share with her husband their encounters and conversations. Secrets are never good for a marriage…

Jane Odiwe has done a magnificent job of continuing the story of “Sense and Sensibility,” I greatly enjoyed spending more time with these characters and was pleased to see them so accurately portrayed. I was delighted that other minor character such as the Mrs. Jennings, the Middletons and Mrs. Lucy Ferrars were included in this novel and that they appeared the same as ever. I would have loved for Elinor and Edward to have more page time, but I understand that a story with two heroines is quite enough and to add a third heroine may have resulted in diminishing the stories of the other two.

“Willoughby’s Return” was appropriately romantic, emotional, and passionate. I commend Jane Odiwe for capturing the essence and excellence of “Sense and Sensibility” and continuing the story in a knowledgeable and sympathetic manner. It is obvious that Ms. Odiwe loves and cares greatly for her characters (even the difficult ones), and I feel that Jane Austen loved her characters the same way. I greatly enjoyed this sequel for “Sense and Sensibility” and look forward to more works from Jane Odiwe.

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I was recently interviewed by Red Roses for Authors blogspot in celebration of the publication of Willoughby’s Return. It’s always an interesting experience being interviewed – I’m always surprised by how much I learn about myself as well as my book!

Tell us a little about yourself

I’m an English author, an artist, and a wife and mother to three children. I live on the edge of London and enjoy indulging my passions of reading Jane Austen, writing and painting.

What do you write?

I write books inspired by Jane Austen’s life and works. I’ve written and illustrated a book about Jane and have also written three novels, Lydia Bennet’s Story, Willoughby’s Return, and Mr Darcy’s Secret.

Why do you write?

I love escaping into a different world and the sheer pleasure I get when I write is something I’ve enjoyed since I was a little girl. I like the fact that each book is like a puzzle waiting to be worked out with ideas coming to life on the page with my words.

What are you writing now?

It’s another Austen sequel. I’ve just finished another Pride and Prejudice sequel – Mr Darcy’s Secret, which Sourcebooks Inc. is publishing in Spring 2011.

What kind of clothes do you like to wear?

I live in jeans, trousers and tops, though I do enjoy wearing dresses now and then. I like soft, colourful fabrics and I have a weakness for accessories, necklaces, scarves and earrings.

Are you in love? Have you ever been?

I am in love with the man I married twenty five years ago.

Do you have a dream lover – and what does he or she look like?

I do – it’s my husband. I still get goosebumps when I look at him and when he kisses me….

What kind of comfort food do you like best?

A bowl of soup or a tasty stew with mashed potato is my favourite comfort food – something savoury and warming!

What makes you laugh? Cry?

Family mealtimes are hilarious in my house – I sometimes wonder what my neighbours think at the noisy laughter they must hear, especially on a Sunday when everyone is at home.

Hearing about suffering of any kind makes me cry – the injustices that some people have to suffer in their lives through illness, death or misfortune.

What do you do to amuse yourself when not working?

I love spending time with my family, reading, going out to watch music gigs, cinema and the theatre. I really love dancing – I studied ballet for years and I am often to be found twirling round the kitchen.

What is it in a man or woman that turns you on? The clean version please!

A man who really listens and makes you feel as if you are the only person that matters in their world is a turn on for me.

What do you hate about life?

Nothing – my mother died when she was very young, and it’s made me appreciate every second. There’s too much to love to waste time thinking negatively.

What do you hope to achieve in life and when will you know that you have been a success?

I’ve achieved my dream of becoming a published writer. The only other ambition I have is to feel satisfied that I’ve done all I can to make those around me happy – I’m not sure if I shall be able to say when or whether I’ve been a success!

What are you going to write next?

I’ve got at least two more Austen sequels I’d like to write, but I also have ideas for other historical books I want to write. My daughter wants me to write down the book I used to tell them as children a few years ago – I’d just like more time to do everything I’d like to accomplish!

Illustration by Phillip Gough from Sense and Sensibility
Book cover – Willoughby’s Return – Sense and Sensibility continues

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Here’s a review from Odessa at Book Eater.

Sequels, prequels, paraliterature; we see it everywhere, especially in regard to Austen. I am often skeptical, but when I saw Jane Odiwe (author of Lydia Bennet’s Story) had a new sequel to Sense and Sensibility I thought I’d give it a read. I’m glad I did.
Unlike most sequels that endow Austen’s characters with alarming amounts of sex and violence, Odiwe keeps in the spirit of Austen’s style. She resurrects her most charming rogue with success. At the end of S&S the secondary heroine, Marianne Dashwood, marries the much older Colonel Brandon and the dashing Wiloughby disappears with his wife, married only for the money. Many fans have often asserted that Wiloughby’s not a bad guy, that they almost wish in spite of everything that he and Marianne end up together.
This novel begins three years after the close of Austen’s novel. It brings up very real concerns in Marianne’s marriage to the Colonel. Does he only love her because she reminds him of his long dead first love? Does he spend too much time with his ward? At the same time, Odiwe also shows how much their relationship has grown from the timid affection and gratitude Marianne originally had toward the Colonel. It has a believable conflict for Marianne to face as her husband is constantly absent and her first love waltzes back into her life.
Though the title character, Wiloughby has comparably few scenes in the book, his prescence hangs over the story, even in the subplot surrounding Margaret, Marianne’s younger sister, who is falling in love for the first time herself. It was refreshing to see her character grow, she is barely a shadow in the original novel. Perhaps ‘subplot’ is too subdued a term for her role in this book, she dominates the story at many moments, her struggles recieving almost equal time to Marianne’s.
I would have liked to see more of Elinor and how her life with the trying Ferrars clan is at this point. Her major role in this story is to present an image of an ideal marriage match for Margaret. There are some spectacular cameos by Mrs. Jennings, Lucy and Robert Ferrars, and other amusing characters from S&S.
Overall, it was a tasteful, well constructed story that paid homage to Austen’s style and characters. Jane would approve.

Illustrations:
Willoughby’s Return book cover
From Sense and Sensibility by Phillip Gough

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One of the things I enjoy about writing my Austen sequels is the research I have to do for each novel. I love to set each major scene giving clues to how places looked at the time, as well as considering sounds and smells! Jane Austen did not devote much of her writing to descriptions of places and scenes as she took it for granted that people would know what she was talking about, but I think it is important that I transport my reader back to the 1800’s especially if they know little about the era.

I have Marianne and Colonel Brandon go to London for the season. I read everything I could about shopping, amusements and entertainments of the time and it is very fortunate that so much of the part of London I was researching still exists even if some of the buildings have changed. Helping to transport me back in time was a map from 1803 that I downloaded from the internet. Off I went on the tube to stand in Oxford Street and Bond Street trying to imagine that the cars roaring by were carriages and that the sounds around me were different again.

I wanted to give an idea of how exciting it would be for Marianne’s sister, Margaret, to come to London for the first time. She is a young lady who has grown up in the relative quiet of the countryside:

Fascinated by everything she saw, marvelling at the shops on every side, Margaret exclaimed at all she witnessed. Watchmakers, silk stores, and silversmiths displayed their wares behind sparkling glass, illuminated by the amber glow of oil lamps. Exotic fruit and towering desserts in the fruiterers and confectioners formed a dazzling spectacle; pyramids of pineapples, figs, and grapes cascaded from porcelain epergne. Marchpane castles, rosewater creams, and fruited cake vied for attention on platters of every shape and size. And the crowds of people stretching across the wide pavements, the ladies gathered outside in admiration of the linen shops, draped with silks, chintzes, and muslins were a sight to behold; such fashionably dressed gentility as Margaret had never seen before… After the relative quiet of life in Devon and Dorset, she could not believe how noisy London was to her ears; not only the sound of rumbling carriages and carts, but the clatter of patterns on pavements and the distinctive cries of street sellers rang everywhere about.

I love writing descriptions of interiors. When Marianne and Colonel Brandon visit his sister, Lady Lawrence, at Whitwell, it gave me an opportunity to ‘paint’ the setting. We know from Sense and Sensibility that Brandon’s sister spent some time in France and I decided that her taste in design would have been influenced by her travels abroad.

The Brandons were shown into a large salon, filled with the most beautiful fittings and furniture. The style was French, the room ornate with gilded chairs, pier glasses, and chandeliers of the finest crystal. The silk-covered walls glowed with coral shades and iridescent hues of shell pink, further illuminating the room in flowing drapes at the floor-length windows, in the decorative ceiling, and in the Aubusson rug, which burgeoned with fat summer roses and green leaf garlands.

Lady Lawrence sat upon a velvet sofa, bolstered with pads and rolls, guarded by golden lion heads on either arm, which seemed ready to spring into life and leap out at anyone who might come to disturb her apparent idle repose. Despite the warmth of the day, she was covered to her waist by a heavy coverlet fringed with gold braid. She did not get up when they entered but excused herself, claiming that the damp of the day was responsible for her inability to stand.

Whilst writing Willoughby’s Return, I celebrated a special birthday and was lucky enough to spend a few days with my family in the house where Sense & Sensibility 1995 was filmed! It was great fun walking in the footsteps of Marianne and Elinor Dashwood, seeing the spot where Willoughby pulled up in his curricle and where Colonel Brandon helped Marianne cut reeds in the estuary. It was such an enormous treat and great inspiration for my writing.

I had a wonderful time researching Willoughby’s Return. If you could go back in time and star in your own Austen fantasy, where would you like to go? Would you prefer experiencing a vast country house, a grand ball, or perhaps an evening at a Georgian circus like Astley’s?

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I’ve just received the cover from my editor at Sourcebooks for my new book Willoughby’s Return. I am absolutely thrilled, I think it’s gorgeous! Thank you to the designers who have worked on it, you’ve done a wonderful job, I don’t know how I shall manage to wait until November to hold a copy in my hands!
There’s more information about this book, Lydia Bennet’s Story and Effusions of Fancy on my website with extracts and some of my paintings.

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