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Thursday, September 10, 2009

Thursday Spotlight: Judah Raine

Defining The “S” Factor…

I lurve scenery… Living in South Africa, that’s not surprising – we’re incredibly blessed in that particular department: rugged coastlines, dramatic shorelines, vast sweeping vistas that paint themselves on the imagination in dramatic shades – from soft, rolling hills to bold bushveld, through the near-arid conditions of the Karoo and the panoramic high ranges of our mountains…

Being a farmer’s daughter, I naturally gravitate to the rural landscape – small towns where community is king, farming a way of life and everyone knows everyone back to three or four generations. The kind of town that usually consists of a filling station, a general dealer (which also serves as the post office) and, of course, the farmers’ co-op. The general dealer usually stocks everything from pantyhose to safety pins to school shoes (our kids wear uniforms here) and beer. Oh, and brandy, let’s not forget that. Klipdrift, usually, a popular brand among farmers. The farmer’s co-op deals in anything from portable braai’s (barbeques) to irrigation systems and, of course, fertilizer.

The other advantage of these small towns is that they usually populate some of the most incredibly beautiful country in the world. (Okay, so I’m just a teeny bit prejudiced…). I currently live in Kwa-Zulu Natal, with it’s sweeping coastlines rolling into the Valley of a Thousand Hills and on into the foothills and finally the mighty Drakensberg mountain range, a place that has etched itself on my heart.

All bring out the poet in me, I’m afraid, and it would be incredibly easy to fill my books with the passion and romance that is the African setting. Learning restraint was one of my first (and hardest) lessons! Then I discovered the “S” Factor, the secret of every setting, and it’s one that never ceases to fascinate me.

So, you may ask, just what is the “S” Factor? Simply put, it’s the setting as another “Someone”. In writing my books, I’ve found that setting transcends time and place, that it becomes as much a character, a protagonist, as any of the others in “centre stage”. Setting “speaks” as loudly as any hero or heroine, it has personality, depth, character and breath, and as it comes to life through the eyes of the participants, it forces them to act or react, to interact, and to acknowledge it’s power as a shelter, protector, catalyst or opponent… It’s never a static, easily captured thing.

In Still Running, for example, the scenery of South Africa’s “racing country” represents both the haunting past and the unnerving future for Josie. It is an antagonist that compels her to face her inner demons, a catalyst that forces her to face her fears, and a sheltered haven where she can finally find rest – and love, of course. Thrust into a place that is both frighteningly familiar and unnervingly different, Josie is challenged to dig deep and discover things beautiful…

For Morgan in The Look, the scenery is also a catalyst, but one which is wholly unfamiliar and challenging in a completely different way. Morgan is a sassy, streetwise city girl, and she heads off to the back of beyond in search of truth. She finds herself in a rural world of wide spaces and nothing much in between, where community is king, and the countryside presents a truth she never knew existed – one that runs timeless and deep, and turns her perceptions, her preconceived notions and her personal assumptions inside out. People and what they stand for are inextricably woven into the fabric of the landscape, and as she is drawn into the challenge of it, she finds the one thing she never imagined – a man who can speak into her soul through a single look…

In my third book, A Thick Black Line (due Tuesday 9th June), the heroine becomes the scenery in a sense. Betrayed, broken and bruised, Bo creates her own universe through hard work and sheer determination. Her dream becomes her purpose, and her purpose becomes herself, so that her world is defined by who she is and what she works for. The old colonial architecture, the sweeping gardens, the growth of her dream, all of these become the foundation of her life and her future. When the sinister shadows of the past intrude, when tragedy strikes, Bo must first rediscover pain and loneliness before she is able to emerge from her cocoon to the promise of love and wholeness.

Just as the complexity of a landscape shape and grow the inhabitants, so settings work on and with the characters. They add layers, complexity, a whole different dimension that brings a richness and a realness to every story… It’s the “S” factor, I think, that plays the “wild card”, brings in the unexpected, and ultimately can help to determine the final “equation” of the book.


Anita said...

Hi Judah,
Did you know that a South African brandy from the Klein Karoo - Joseph Barry Cape Pot Still Brandy Ten - was crowned Best Brandy in the World at London’s International Wine & Spirit Competition held in London recently.
I thougt that you might find it interesting as Barrydale is such a small town and because you mentioned Brandy.
Anita Franken

Dena said...

Hi Judah, As a reader I think the setting is very important and writers can can use it to enhance a story. I've never read a story set in South Africa, it sounds and looks beautiful.

Hywela Lyn said...

I so agree with you about 'setting' being another character, Judah. Possibly because I too love the 'wide open spaces' and have lived most of my life in rural aras, the landscape plays a big part in my stories too.

Your pictures are beautiful.

Stephanie Burkhart said...

I loved reading about your life and your influences. Thanks for sharing with us. Very inspirational! Steph