Author of Enough, Emmy in Harding, After His Heart, Banff Springs Abbey, Suspiciously Reserved: A Twist on Jane Austen's Emma, Expectations: A Continuation of Pride and Prejudice, and Subgirl. This blog is dedicated to all things reading and writing.
Here is chapter one of my novel Suspiciously Reserved: A Twist on Jane Austen's Emma. In this novel, I retell the story of Emma in a modern, Canadian setting from the point of view of Jane Fairfax. It was a lot of fun to write, but not without its challenges! How did such a practical,
intelligent and beautiful young woman end up with the precocious, untrustworthy Frank Churchill anyway?
Talk of the Sea
“Jane, you must come. I insist!”
Lori said with sparkling blue eyes and perfectly curled shiny, blond
“No, really. I’d just be in the way. I wouldn’t feel comfortable.” Jane squirmed in her high-necked
sweater. It was a blustery day in the
“If you only went where you were
comfortable, you’d stay in your room from morning till night. Now, come on.
You’ve never been to White Rock.
You’ll love it.”
Jane sighed heavily. She’d just been about to start into her
favourite novel – Jane Eyre – when
her friend came bustling into her room with this good news.
“Please tell me, why would I love White Rock? I who dislike all forms of travel?”
Lori laughed. “I love
you,” she hugged her friend. “I know
you’ll come. You always make a big fuss
over every change in our lives, but you always come around. I couldn’t ask for a better friend. Or sister.”
Jane and Lori’s friendship was
nearly a sisterhood. Jane had lived with
Lori since she was nine years old. Her
early life was a sad tale, one she refrained from telling anyone, but which
generally got around despite her best efforts.
Jane often felt she had a lot in
common with the heroine of her favourite book.
Like Jane Eyre, Jane’s parents died when she was only three. She was then left to live with her
Grandmother and Aunt Bates in Tugaske,
Saskatchewan. Of course, they were nothing like Jane Eyre’s
hideous aunt and cousins.
Hetty was her mother’s sister. She had
never married. She was sweet and kind,
though she talked altogether too much about trivial things. Grandma Bates was nearly deaf and generally
stuck to her chair. She was frail and
often sick and Jane, already a quiet child, grew up in a home where, though she
was loved and admired, she learned to be almost invisible.
When Jane turned nine, her
grandmother and aunt came upon hard times and felt they could not do Jane
justice in raising her. They lived in a
small prairie town in Saskatchewan and the public school in her area closed
down. Without consulting young Jane,
they decided to accept an offer from Mr. and Mrs. Campbell to have her live in Saskatoon. She could be closer to a good school, arts
and culture, and could live with a little girl her age.
Campbell had been a very close friend of Jane’s father and insisted on
providing for her. Jane had visited them
often since her father’s death. Her
father had once saved Mr. Campbell’s life.
He felt he owed his good friend everything he could give. Besides, they had always been saddened by the
fact they could only produce one child and were pleased to have Jane as their
daughter’s companion and almost-sister.
The Campbell’s kindness to Jane was
great and they provided her with better clothing and education than she could
have had with her grandmother and aunt, but she always felt herself beneath her
friend. Although the Campbell’s treated
the two girls as equals, Jane couldn’t bring herself to accept the credit card
they gave her for her sixteenth birthday.
She still felt she was an orphan who should provide for herself, and her
aunt and grandmother eventually.
“Oh Jane, won’t it be wonderful to
spend time on our own, away from my parents.
I’m sure Trevor will love me better when he can see me as an independent
Jane laughed shortly. “I don’t think Trevor could love you any
better if you were the Queen of England.”
Lori had been engaged to Trevor for
almost two years. They would be married
in October. Her parents had insisted she
finish university before she married.
Like Jane, Lori was twenty-one and had graduated in May.
met Trevor Dixon on holiday in Seattle.
Jane had been left to stay with her aunt and was surprised that Lori
would become engaged when she was only nineteen. She wondered what kind of man Trevor was, but
on his several visits to their home in Canada, she realized he was a
sweet-tempered, romantic, caring young man; Lori’s perfect match.
“Mom and Dad would never let me
visit him without you. Sometimes I think
they believe you are more responsible than I.”
Jane hid a smile behind her
book. A child of six would be more
responsible that Lori. Although she
dressed stylishly and was always kind and sweet, she lived up to the expectations
of her corn silk blond hair. Jane was
constantly reminding her to act appropriately and keeping her from bad
decisions. She only marveled that Lori
had the luck to find such a reasonable fiancé while Jane had been away from
“I’m sure that isn’t true,” Jane
soothed. “So, what am I going to love
about White Rock?”
Jane had never been to White Rock,
though the Campbell’s had visited six times since Lori’s engagement. Trevor’s family owned a holiday home in the
ocean city. Jane insisted on visiting
her grandmother and aunt when the Campbell’s travelled. But the idea of seeing the ocean made Jane
“Oh, Jane! The scenery!
The sand! The cute little
shops! You will die, absolutely die at
how beautiful it is!” Lori twirled around
the room, knocking over several of Jane’s piles of books. She had collected them since she was six and,
now that she was twenty-one, she had quite a lot of piles.
“Doesn’t it rain all the time?” Jane
Lori tisked. “Not all
the time. We had several days last visit
without rain. It was fantastic! Perfect.
Oh, we’ll need to go shopping for you.
Immediately! These turtlenecks of
yours are so out of fashion.”
Lori grabbed Jane’s hand and pulled
her from her perch on her tidy bed and continued pulling her all the way to
Lori’s bright red convertible.
Jane’s tastes were as far from
Lori’s as a sparrow’s to a blue jay’s.
Lori insisted they shop in an expensive boutique downtown. She tossed armloads of tight-fitting sweaters
and t-shirts into Jane’s open arms, which she soon replaced with sweater sets
emitted a huge sigh of exasperation when they reached the fitting room
Fairfax! How do you expect to catch a
man in any of these outfits?” She held
up a particularly frumpy grey sweater and threw it to the floor.
retrieved it gently. “That isn’t my
intention for visiting White Rock in any way.”
slumped into an oversized leather chair in the corner of the massive dressing
room. “Well you can’t live with Mummy
and Dad forever, can you? You’re already
twenty-one. What will you do when I’m
often worried about this herself. Surely
Lori’s parents would tire of her once she was no longer necessary for
entertaining their daughter. She had
dreamt of living on her own, renting an apartment or travelling abroad, but all
this required money, which she had very little of.
get work. Don’t worry about me.”
you don’t want to live all alone? How
would you manage?”
and more, Jane had begun to think she would manage just fine. Uninterrupted days and nights would be a
change, a change she could imagine herself enjoying. Not to be dependent any longer – what a
Lori, I’ll be fine. I just want to be
warm in White Rock. I’m going as your
friend, not as a woman on the prowl. I’m
more interested in sightseeing, really.”
threw up her hands. “Fine! I’ve tried.
But don’t come crying to me when you’re an old maid.”
left Jane to try on her garments in the fitting room alone. Jane took a deep breath of precious freedom.
had a bachelor’s degree in education.
After the summer, she planned to begin substitute teaching. Jane knew she would be too busy with wedding
preparations to begin teaching full time. The clothes she bought now would need to work
in the classroom as well as on her travels.
a year of substitute teaching, she planned to teach up north – where she
imagined she would find peace and serenity.
Jobs were plentiful and the pay was good. In a few years, she could return to the south
and buy a little place of her own. Plus,
she could send money to her aunt and grandma.
This was her focus for now.
tried on a black sweater with some grey pants.
The pants were too big, so she reached for a smaller size.
Jane had never been in love. Boys in
high school had asked her out a few times, but soon labeled her “frigid” when
she continually said no. That had suited
her. She was embarrassed by Lori’s
Lori wasn’t necessarily pretty, she was outgoing, bubbly and had money. Her boyfriends seemed content enough to have
someone agree to date them, until she found someone more interesting. Lori’s romances had always been exciting and
brief. Yet the boys didn’t seem to mind
her breakups. Jane assumed there was no
great love lost on either side. Now that
Lori had Trevor, Jane recognized they loved one another. She doubted such a thing could happen to
Lori pounded on the change room door.
She sounded very excited.
almost done. What is it?”
have to see this dress. It’s so perfect
for you. Come on Janey, open the door.”
had never been one of Lori’s strong points.
She continued knocking on the door until Jane zipped up the pants she
was trying on and finally let her in.
all ready,” she said.
squealed. “Jane! Look at his.
Can you believe how absolutely, utterly fantastic this dress is?”
Jane really had a chance to look, a blur of red was tossed into her hands and
Lori left the room saying,
expect to see you wearing that in exactly two minutes, Miss Fairfax.”
held the dress out from her hands and was stunned by the intricate beadwork and
beautifully cut lines. The dress was
weighty in her hands, substantial. She
placed it gingerly on a hook on the wall to get a better look. She gasped when she saw the price tag.
“Lori! I can’t afford this!”
–ane,” Lori said like she was rolling her eyes.
“I have my credit card. You need
a dress for White Rock. I insist. If you don’t buy this one, I’ll just keep
bringing you more until you agree to one.”
shook her head and unbuttoned her blouse.
She sincerely doubted she would let Lori buy her this dress, but there
was no use fighting. Lori was as
stubborn as Jane was private. But when
the dress was on, Jane was amazed at the way it fit her tall thin frame. The colour brought more life to Jane’s face
than she’d ever seen. Her grey eyes and
delicate skin were perfectly emphasized and though Jane had never before owned
such a bright colour, she couldn’t deny that she looked beautiful.
Lori trilled when Jane opened her door.
“Just as I suspected.
PERFECT!” She hugged Jane close
and laughed merrily.
had to agree with her friend. She had
never wanted a piece of clothing so badly.
don’t need to bring you any more dresses, do I?” Lori asked coyly.
shook her head.
clapped her hands excitedly. “I knew
it! Didn’t I Jane? Oh, what would you do without me?”