Winter Downs blog for Ali The Dragon Slayer.
First posted June 4th here
Alison Drew: I’m beyond thrilled to be on the blog tour today for this wonderful book .. it’s a little piece of ‘home’ for me x
Bunch Courtney stumbles upon the body of Jonathan Frampton in a woodland clearing. Is this a case of suicide, or is it murder? Bunch is determined to discover the truth but can she persuade the dour Chief Inspector Wright to take her seriously? In January of 1940 a small rural community on the Sussex Downs, already preparing for invasion from across the Channel, finds itself deep in the grip of a snowy landscape, with an ice-cold killer on the loose.
The most commonly asked questions any author can usually be simplified as why, where and who – so here goes: What is Winter Downs about? In January of 1940 a small rural community on the Sussex Downs, already preparing for invasion from across the Channel, finds itself deep in the grip of a snowy landscape, with an ice-cold killer on the loose. Bunch Courtney stumbles upon the body of Jonathan Frampton in a woodland clearing. Is this a case of suicide, or is it murder? Bunch is determined to discover the truth but can she persuade the dour Chief Inspector Wright to take her seriously?
Where is simple. Sussex was the county in which I was born. A farm on the edge of the Sussex Downs and to my mind it is simply the most beautiful place on earth. Oddly, though, when you add East and West Sussex together, it is one of the largest counties, it is one of those least known in the UK and many mistake it for Essex! To be fair that may be because there are so very few towns of any size until you reach the coastal strip. It is rich in folklore and folk people and in 1940 was poised on the leading edge of the war waging just 30 miles away across the English Channel. The South Downs are spinal cord of chalk hills stretching from the Kent shores into Hampshire. Much of it was made a National Park just a few years ago (map) to preserve its beauty from the scourge of the housing developers.
Walk the fields in that area you are sure to find one of the many pill boxes and dugouts; hurriedly constructed preparations against the expected invasion in WW2. By the 1960s these historic and ominous structures were little more than a magnet for children at play. I had not realised the influence their presence had on me until it came to writing a crime novel.
My sleuth, Rose ‘Bunch’ Courtney, was based loosely on the daughter of a local land owner that I knew in passing a very long time ago. She was one of those self-assured young women as much at home mucking out horses as dancing at the Ritz. Had she been of the right age in those days of hardship she would have had the resources required to dabble in amateur detection. I knew many country folk like the Jenner brothers whilst growing up in a farming community. The old countrymen they were based on are all gone now, but hopefully I have done them, and their long vanished Sussex accent, justice in fictional form.
It was in the course of researching the world of farming folk of the era that I read how many of the large country houses were requisitioned by the Government in 1939 – and voila! Setting, sleuth and era all came together as Winter Downs.
The Winter Downs cover, designed my Peter Coleborn, was based on a propaganda poster urging women to Join the Land Army! An issue that was high on the rural Sussex agenda, and of course the addition of the snow, the planes overhead and rolling hills said all that needed to be said – yes we did consider adding the odd corpse or two, but that seemed a little like over-kill…
Once I had the time and place I could dive into research mode! I love digging out all of those snippets that were forgotten, or in some cases papered over. For instance a comment was made at my writing group that nobody carried a gas mask. I hit the internet, and the books, and came across many references to the fact that though films of the era – fact and fiction – assured viewers that everyone carried a gas mask everywhere because that was the law, nothing could be further from the truth. Millions of masks were issued through 1939 and 1940 but carrying it with you was never made law and by January 1940, when Winter Downs is set, less than 20% of people bothered taking their gas mask anywhere.
Writing Winter Downs was a lot of fun to write. I really have come to be very fond of Bunch and Wright. Onwards and upwards now to finish book two in the series!
As soon as I heard about this book I knew I was destined to read it! I am Sussex born and bred so could easily visualise the scenes and my mother was actually in the Land Army in the relevant time period so I feel I had an advantage. Whether that enhanced my enjoyment I’m not sure because it is such an endearing story so from the outset you instinctively go back to that era of the 1940’s.
Jan’s descriptive writing forms the basis for the tension and bleakness of war, the cold sometimes lonely downs and the austerity that was around, Winter Downs is the perfect title and I think you will agree the cover is simply stunning.
Two sisters, totally different in character but with a deep bond .. Bunch and Dodo find themselves in the middle of a mystery. After finding the body of a local man known to them Bunch is determined to prove that he wouldn’t/didn’t commit suicide and that something more sinister has taken place.
Due to lack of police or suitable funding because of the war, Chief Inspector Wright is adamant it is an open/shut case of suicide and the matter should be dropped.
So begins the search for a possible killer. Bunch and Dodo are already having to adapt to a completely alien way of life after the soldiers took over their house and they had to relocate to grandma, add in rationing, black-outs and the uncertainty of war. Dodo has already lost her husband in the fighting so Bunch is incredibly protective, this all results in the need for an answer. If it was murder then there could be further danger imminent.
I enjoyed finding out about these two women as their individuality emerges, Bunch is the feisty one of the two and I admire her determination to discover the truth. It kept me hooked as the puzzle deepens and I really couldn’t see how there was going to be a satisfactory ending.
The setting is beautifully described and for anyone who doesn’t have knowledge of Sussex it is a charming county steeped in history, yes I may be biased but it was so refreshing to read and absorb my local dialect which reminds me of my grandparents!
Anyone who likes historical fiction with a strong mix of characters will relish this story. Eerie, chilling and riveting I wholly recommend it. I’m already looking forward to more from Jan. I think this is a book that will stay with me long after finishing it and I’m likely to re-read and discover even more from it.
My thanks go to Jan for my copy of Winter Downs and for inviting me to participate in the blog tour. I read and reviewed voluntarily.