Welcome to my Second Acts Series!
Today, we have author Judy Knight sharing her multi-act life and her latest release, A Raging Madness.
Joanne’s Second Act series appealed to me; but which Second Act? In nearly 67 years of life, I’ve reinvented myself repeatedly, though always around the two themes that surfaced in my earliest childhood. And as I thought about that, the structure of this post surfaced in my mind. Shakespeare’s seven ages? Why not. I reckon I’m up to age five.
Welcome to the story of my life so far.
In the nurse’s arms: the story begins
I was a quiet baby, happy to be left alone to amuse myself. My mother claimed, with the benefit of hindsight, that I’d been telling stories in my crib.
The toddler who lined her dolls and teddies up and babbled to them in her own language lies too far back for me to remember. But I recall my role as chief architect of playground adventures when I was six or seven.
And at around the same age, I remember bringing home a younger child who was, or so I was convinced, neglected by her family. I made her a home in the chicken coop at the bottom of the garden, since it was between flocks at the time. I would be her mother, I said, and look after her. I robbed the kitchen for food for my new baby, read to her from my picture books, and left her reluctantly just on nightfall when it was time for dinner.
Poor little mite. Alone in the dark, she wanted to go home. My father, investigating the wails, rescued her and returned her to her family, and I was in deep disgrace, and heartbroken both at the loss of my child and at being in trouble for what, to me, had seemed like a good deed.
The twin themes of stories and children were now established, and it was that year I began confidently answering the perennial adult question ‘what do you want to be when you grow up?’ with ‘a writer and a mother’.
Satchel and shining morning face: high school
I lost confidence as I grew older. I’m an introvert who spends most of her life inside her own head, and back then I hadn’t learned how to enjoy being with people.
Nearly all my fellow pupils marched to an entirely different tune, were in another parade entirely. Their motivations were a mystery to me; their likely response to anything I did or said a source of anxiety. By the time I arrived in high school, six weeks after the start of term and in a school 1000 miles north of the junior school I’d attended the previous year, I was expecting disaster. To my surprise, my high school years were not too bad, though that might be in part because I haunted the library, staggering away with piles of books, devouring them, and returning them within days.
But there were other compensations. The library was a magnet for other girls who enjoyed the same things I did. I also joined, and later led, the Students Christian Union. I made friends, and even (briefly) became a cheerleader.
I was blessed to have superb English teachers who fed my storytelling with the world’s great literature, a healthy dose of grammar and punctuation, and parts in the school plays. Leading roles in the last two years. For some mysterious reason, my terror at being conspicuous deserted me when I was on a stage speaking someone else’s words.
And my brand new baby brother was a dear delight.
Stories and children.
Sighing like furnace: early marriage
By the time I finished school, I had finished two (rather awful) novels, several plays, and any number of articles and short stories. Some of the latter had even been published. I was on my way to being a writer, and within six months I began working on the prerequisite to other goal. One day, at a prayer meeting, I met and fell in love with the man who is still my personal romantic hero (PRH), and he with me.
Neither family approved. We came from very different backgrounds, had very different interests, and seemed like chalk and cheese to anyone who didn’t look below the surface. But somehow it worked, if only because neither of us was willing to storm out of our marriage and admit to our parents that they’d been right.
Love led to the natural consequence: a first child, followed by three more. With six children (one with a complex set of disabilities), writing fiction took something of a back seat, though I continued to do articles for the local newspaper. And read. And imagined. And made up stories to tell my little ones.
Seeking the bubble reputation: the consultant
When my youngest started school, I was determined to focus on writing. I began to see some small successes: short stories on the radio and in magazines. I did the research and started writing a long complex family saga based on the New Zealand gold fields. And I planned a few other novels to follow.
But in the mid-1980s in New Zealand, interest rates took a sudden alarming jump, and I found a full-time job a squeak ahead of a forced sale by the bank who held our mortgage.
The job was writing computer software manuals. I knew sweet nothing about computers, but I told the interviewer that I could learn about computers faster than he could learn to write. Turned out he wrote plays. Oops.
One thing led to another. Despite adding two more children to our family when a friend died, I continued working full time from that day to this. The software company was followed by a partnership with another writer, offering a full range of business writing and editing services. Later, I set up a company with the PRH to write, edit, and design business publications.
In the last thirty years, I’ve held most roles associated with writing for business, from technical writer to public relations manager.
And I fed my storytelling habit by reading other people’s books, making up stories and playing story games with my children, and continuing my lifelong practice of seeing my own plots unfold inside my head whenever I was not otherwise occupied.
Many times, I started to write a novel, and something would happen. For example, I was grandmother in residence for two of our grandchildren for a number of years. Stories and children.
Full of wise saws: the novelist
And so we come to the present. Reinvention of Jude Knight, part 5. Several years ago, my mother died. She had always supported my desire to write fiction, and I’d done little with it while she lived. It was a wake-up call, and one I heeded. I had more than 60 plot ideas written out, and 40 or so were set in the late Georgian era. Others were history in other eras, fantasy, speculative fiction, murder mysteries, and contemporaries, but the Georgian/Regency drew me.
I devoted myself to research for eighteen months until it dawned on me that I’d found another way to procrastinate. I realised I was frightened of ‘coming out’ as a writer of historical fiction; afraid I would be no good. So I gave myself something else to fear more, by telling my friends and family what I was writing, and that I intended publication. Now I was stuck. If I didn’t finish, I’d look foolish.
So three years on and four and a half novels, six novellas, and ten short stories later, I’m a published writer. Stories and children.
Lean and slippered: the kuia
The play will continue, and each act will bring new challenges and new joys. My guiding passions continue to be my God, my PRH, and my children (including, now, my fictional children). Will I reinvent myself again? I’ll slow down, of course, if only because the body will demand it. But you have to admit the themes have been consistent, at essence. Stories and children.
Second childhood: a disgraceful old age
Shakespeare was considerably more pessimistic in this speech than I. Even if I reach the sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything, I look forward to a new beginning on the other side of death.
But while I’m on this earth I intend to enjoy myself to the best of my ability: to wear purple, to dance, to annoy my children and grandchildren with my irreverent attitude to society’s shibboleths. I picture myself with a marker pen and chalk, cruising the sidewalks on my mobility scooter, looking for grammar and spelling errors to correct in other people’s signs. Or perhaps I’ll just stay home and tell stories to my great great grandchildren.
Ella survived an abusive and philandering husband, in-laws who hate her, and public scorn. But she’s not sure she will survive love. It is too late to guard her heart from the man forced to pretend he has married such a disreputable widow, but at least she will not burden him with feelings he can never return.
Alex understands his supposed wife never wishes to remarry. And if she had chosen to wed, it would not have been to him. He should have wooed her when he was whole, when he could have had her love, not her pity. But it is too late now. She looks at him and sees a broken man. Perhaps she will learn to bear him.
In their masquerade of a marriage, Ella and Alex soon discover they are more well-matched than they expected. But then the couple’s blossoming trust is ripped apart by a malicious enemy. Two lost souls must together face the demons of their past to save their lives and give their love a future.
Before she had even consciously taken in the scene, she was moving, pulling Mrs Broadley further from the kettle that, in falling from its hook, had splashed her with quarts of boiling water. The heat of it soaked into her light house slippers, but only for a moment as she drew Mrs Broadley out of the splash zone.
She sent the maid who ran in from the scullery out to find snow, while she helped Mrs Broadley strip out of her wet garments, relieved that the housekeeper had recovered enough to see the need, and within a few minutes Mrs Broadley was on a couch in the room they were currently using as the housekeeper’s office, stripped to her corset and wrapped in a blanket, with cloth bundles of snow against the long reddened scald on her leg, and the more troubling burns on one foot.
Fortunately, the heavy woollen gown, petticoats, and home knitted stockings had kept most of the heat from the leg, but the foot was already blistering where it caught the full force of the water.
Ella set some of those who had arrived for the day’s work to cleaning the mess and re-laying the fire, had Broadley fetched from the stable yard to be with his wife, and asked Miller to fetch her medical chest.
Alex arrived with Broadley, but diverted to the fireplace, to examine the crane and the kettle. As Ella came back out of the housekeeper’s room to give the Broadleys a few moments alone, Alex was examining the horizontal bar of the chimney crane, and particularly the thick leather strap from which the cook hung kettles and pots. Only part of the strap remained. He was unfastening it as Ella came up beside him.
“How is Mrs Broadley?” he asked, glancing sideways at her.
“She escaped the worst,” Ella assured him. “The foot will be painful for a while, and she may have a scar, but if we can avoid contagion that will be the sum of it. But how did it happen, Alex? You and Dodd inspected this equipment not a week ago.”
Silently, he held up the broken end, and her eyes widened. “How could it split like that? That looks like a clean cut.”
He nodded, his face sombre.
“Alex, no.” But denial would not change the facts. The strap had been cut almost through, leaving a bare quarter inch of leather to take the weight of a large iron kettle full of water.
“Do you have the other end, Ella?” Alex asked.
They hunted together, and Ella found it first, retrieving it from under the kitchen table: twelve inches of leather with the iron pot hook attached at one end and the other severed almost cleanly, bar the stretched and torn fragment whose failure had injured poor Mrs. Broadley.
“Who would do such a thing?” Ella wondered. “And why?”
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Jude Knight’s writing goal is to transport readers to another time, another place, where they can enjoy adventure and romance, thrill to trials and challenges, uncover secrets and solve mysteries, delight in a happy ending, and return from their virtual holiday refreshed and ready for anything.
She writes historical novels, novellas, and short stories, mostly set in the early 19th Century. She writes strong determined heroines, heroes who can appreciate a clever capable woman, villains you’ll love to loathe, and all with a leavening of humour.
Where to find Jude Knight…
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