Winter Downs: New Crime Novel by Jan Edwards
On a snowy winter morning Bunch Courtney rides out into the local woods and finds a dead body. Everything points to suicide, but the dead man is Johnny Frampton, a close friend ,and knowing what she does about him, Bunch is convinced that what she is looking at is a murder scene.
This is the opening premise of Winter Downs, a tightly plotted novel set in war time Britain. The 1940 are vividly brought to life and the main character, Bunch, is set to be one of my all time favourite heroines.
I love a strong woman protagonist, but have to admit to a horror of those feisty females in historical novels who transgress every social convention and behave like no woman of their era would have done. Bunch, however, is nothing like them. She is a product of her time and her social class and all the more interesting for that.
“Winter Downs” is a great read and I am looking forward to the next Bunch Courtney mystery.
Following my review I’ve asked the author, Jan Edwards about her take on female protagonists.
Having been asked about my main character of Winter Downs being a strong female character, and specifically where she came from as a fictional trope.. Exactly who was the inspiration for Rose ‘Bunch’ Courtney?
I had to think about it… a lot.
In my mind Bunch came fully formed. Reviewers of my short fiction collections have commented on my strong female protagonists as a theme running through my work. So given that strong women are a given perhaps its more a question of who my inspirations are in general.
Nancy Blackett; Captain of the Amazon in Arthur Ransome’s famous Swallows and Amazons series was my first and abiding heroine. Unlike most females in children’s fiction of that era Nancy never played second fiddle to anyone, and specifically to her male counterpart, John Walker.
Strong fictional females influences, specifically from past eras, have to include Elizabeth Bennett and Emma Woodhouse. Austen’s women were always as strong as they were capable of being living as they did within the strictures of Georgian society.
Anything by Daphne Du Maurier is an inspiration in itself, and Rebecca, the quintessential bad girl, was as strong as they come.
Mrs Bradley and Harriet Vane were inspirational female detectives of Golden Age crime. Written as contemporary crime it is easy to see how they fit into their world and in writing Winter Downs it was something I tried to bear in mind. So many ‘historical’ crimes don’t allow for the social restrictions of the time and one of the things I have tried to portray is how Bunch succeeds against that backdrop.
Winter Downs is all about Bunch. Yes it is driven by setting and history and war is what allowed Bunch to become herself. Many women like her saw their mother and aunts taking similar rolls in the Great War. Despite all that was done to return to the strictures of pre Great War society the ripples begun by the Suffrage movement gathered pace through the twenties and thirties.
With a generation of young men taken out of society young women had no chance of taking up their expected place as wives and mothers. So they learned to drive, to fly planes, to take up careers – all things that would have been unheard for all but a very privileged few before 1914.
And emancipation was not confined to the upper and middle classes. In Winter Downs we have a reprise of the rise in female power through the work place. Land Army girls from all walks of life working in traditionally male jobs to keep factories and farms running.
That is the setting and the issues that shape my main protagonist but Winter Downs is not by any means a lecture on the rise of feminism. It is a crime novel first and foremost.
Bunch’s main aim is not to prove her self-worth but to provide vital evidence that her oldest friend had not taken his own life. The setting made for an exciting backdrop and provided just the right set of circumstances to enable her to get involved without the usual restrictions or social niceties.
In the early drafts Bunch’s sister had a far greater role, but once DCI Wright walked into the pages that all changed. Once she had a foil rather than a sidekick and the story took off once she had someone that she could not dominate the way she could her baby sister. The added problems of her family home requisitioned and her parents called away made investigations are as important in shaping Bunch’s character.
Researching Winter Downs was a huge undertaking. All aspects of life on the rural home front had to be picked over. there is a lot written about the towns but far less about the doings of shepherds and poachers. Hours of reading and note taking were involved but that is something I love to get involved in. Running down that one line of fact is hugely satisfying. I hope people enjoy reading Winter Downs as much as I did writing it.
Jan Edwards is a Sussex-born writer now living in the West Midlands with her husband and obligatory cats. She was a Master Locksmith for 20 years but also tried her hand at bookselling, microfiche photography, livery stable work, motorcycle sales and market gardening. She is a practising Reiki Master. She won a Winchester Slim Volume prize and her short fiction can be found in crime, horror and fantasy anthologies in UK, US and Europe; including The Mammoth Book of Dracula and The Mammoth Book of Moriarty. Jan edits anthologies for The Alchemy Press and Fox Spirit Books, and has written for Dr Who spinoffs with Reel Time Pictures.
Don’t forget to check out the next stops on the Winter Downs blog tour: