Today I’m delighted to introduce you to Penelope Janu. Penelope lives on the coast in northern Sydney with her six children (rapidly growing up) and her distracting husband. She enjoys exploring the Australian countryside, but isn’t always good company because she writes stories in her head as she walks. A lawyer for many years, she has an interest in social justice issues and the natural environment. Whether coastal or rural, Penelope’s novels celebrate Australian characters and communities. Her first novel, In at the Deep End, was published by Harlequin Mira in 2017.
We’d love to hear more about your new release, Penelope!
The name Golden is unusual. Can you tell us how you came up with it?
I was researching one of the well-known events in the Australian horse racing industry, the Golden Slipper, when I decided to name my character Golden. But from the very first chapter of the book, the character of Golden’s grandfather makes it abundantly clear his granddaughter wasn’t named after a horse race, but the Golden Wattle tree, Australia’s national emblem.
Grandpa admired every species of wattle and all the different flower types, but he particularly liked them in August because that was the month of my birthday. I told him once that the flowers looked much better in September and October, when the trees were in full bloom. ‘That’s not the way I see it,’ he said. ‘In August they’re tightly furled and full of potential.’
Immediately I had not only a name that fitted the character and her appreciation of the rural district she lives in, but a poignant connection between Golden, her late grandfather, and her home. In the process of writing this book, I developed an obsession for Australian wildflowers and spent a great deal of time thereafter visiting national parks and gardens and researching species of native flowering plants and trees—including wattles and gums. Like a lot of research, only the parts essential to tell the story actually make it into the book, but I’ve become fascinated with native flowers as a result. Most of them aren’t as showy as introduced species like roses and dahlias, but their delicacy, beauty and ability to thrive in difficult conditions is wonderful.
Was there anything in particular that led you to tell this story?
I had a general interest in horseracing because of my longtime love of horses. I didn’t ever own an ex-racehorse but my friend from childhood, Rina, a policewoman in Victoria, has had two wonderful ex-race horses that have been taken off the track—she’s re-educated them and they have become successful in the competitive dressage arena. Golden rides an ex-racehorse, and her childhood was spent in the horseracing industry.
I’m opposed to gambling (besides the occasional Melbourne Cup flutter) because of the terrible implications it has for many individuals and their families, but the horse aspects of the horseracing industry is something I’ve always been interested in. There are so many people who work within the industry, from strappers and jockeys, to trainers and breeders, who are there because of their love of horses. I find it fascinating that, when going to a horserace and seeing thousands of people in the stands, you can walk to the stalls and stand only metres away from the beautiful animals that underpin the industry. There are generally a host of characters only too happy to talk to you about their lifelong passion for thoroughbred horses and their determination to respect, care for and preserve this unique breed of horse.
About the book:
On the Right Track is a love story, a story about taking chances, and a story about what it means to belong. Golden Saunders has overcome many obstacles in her life and holds a belief that, ‘I’m happy enough. I don’t need more.’ When Tor Amundsen, a Norwegian diplomat, starts asking questions about the past that Golden left behind, it threatens not only the memories she has of the grandfather who raised her, but of the home and career she loves. The tagline that my publisher at Harlequin Mira suggested for the cover perfectly sums things up—All she wanted was a quiet country life: fate had other ideas.
If you’d like to find out more about Penelope: