Tell Us Your Backstory with Penelope Janu
I have a legal background, and it took me quite a while to finally write the stories I’d always loved reading—novels about women who face, through background or circumstance, serious challenges, but find the strength and courage they need to overcome them. In some ways I regret my delayed start in writing creatively. But writing is such a time consuming occupation that I’m not sure I would have managed to raise six children if I’d not taken the easy option of law!
My four daughters, and many of the women I’ve taught at university, are aged between twenty and thirty, so it makes sense that I particularly like creating characters in this age bracket. While being optimistic about their futures, they’re generally prepared to tackle difficulties head on and fight for what they believe in. This certainly applies to the character Golden in my latest novel, On the Right Track, whose primary aim is to protect her grandfather’s reputation—a difficult thing to do when faced with Tor, an infuriatingly competent diplomat determined to dig up her past. Golden has other obstacles too— complicated parentage, debt, and dealing with a life changing accident sustained as a teenager. The last thing she needs is to fall in love—but love is a little inconvenient like that!
When I practiced law I enjoyed doing a lot of the research my colleagues hated—like investigating old land titles and looking at legal precedents that were barely relevant to what I was working on—because I was interested in the stories behind the reams of paper. So while some of my story ideas have a legal impetus, the regulation of climate change in In at the Deep End, and money laundering in On the Right Track, the issues are explored as they relate to my character’s lives. Tor wants to do what is right in terms of international criminal law, for example, but his investigation has far reaching implications for Golden—as a result of decisions made by her grandfather, she is threatened with the loss of the only home and lifestyle she has ever known. And home, particularly when it’s tied up with family and community, is something we can all relate to.
While my legal background is useful in some respects, I often leave it behind when it comes to my character’s careers. And this was a challenge I loved when writing On the Right Track. Golden is a speech pathologist and works with children using animal assisted therapy. I enjoyed applying some of the strategies used in speech therapy in this novel—and no doubt drove my speechie friend crazy with my questions. The book also let me communicate something of my love of horses—the pony I grew up on, Fudge, even made it into the book!
Working out legal problems requires knowledge and discipline and writing a novel his similar requirements, so these skills are transferable. But as for writing dialogue and creating places and characters? I get to have far more fun with these as a writer, than I ever did as a lawyer!
On The Right Track
A traumatic past, a charismatic stranger and a family legacy … Golden’s quiet country life is about to get messy …
When the diminutive but fiery Golden Saunders falls from her horse and smashes her leg irreparably, and her racing family is disgraced by a corruption scandal, she thinks she’s hit rock bottom.
Then the enigmatic Tor Amundsen, United Nations diplomat (read: spy), arrives on the scene and proves her wrong. His investigation into her family pulls her back into a world she had escaped, and the branch of the family she has tried to avoid at all costs. Tor is infuriated and frustrated by the impossible mixture of fragility and fierceness that is Golden, true, but he is also strangely protective of her.
Golden wants no part of it. Men have pushed her around her whole life. The last thing she needs is an arrogant, irritatingly handsome man telling her what to do. But it turns out Tor has a way with animals, children and, well, Golden…
Before too long, she finds their overwhelming attraction is overriding her good sense, and as they are both pulled deeper into the murky world of dirty money, things are about to get messy, and Golden’s small, quietly ordered life will change beyond recognition…
Can Golden overcome her fears and the shadows of the past and reach for a new kind of future? Will she ever be able to get her life back on the right track?