Posts Tagged ‘Author interview’

From the desk of Shelley DeWees…An interview with Karen V. Wasylowski, author of Darcy and Fitzwilliam: A Tale of a Gentleman and an Officer

About the book: The first ever Jane Austen BROmance from debut author Karen V. Wasylowski, Darcy and Fitzwilliam: A Tale of a Gentleman and an Officer is a truly original look into the life of Mr. Darcy. Butch Cassidy has the Sundance Kid, Felix has Oscar. Darcy has…Fitzwilliam! Readers of Pride and Prejudice know that Darcy and Fitzwilliam are thick as thieves and each other’s most cherished counsel. But as strong as their bond is, the two are still polar opposites! Darcy is quiet and reserved, while the vivacious Colonel Fitzwilliam is a confirmed bachelor whose military feats have made him a hero. Cousins, best friends, and sparring partners, Darcy and Fitzwilliam have always been there for each other.

To read Shelley de Wees’s refreshing review of this debut novel, click on this link to Jane Austen Today.

1.The problems faced by the characters in Darcy and Fitzwilliam are not quaint trifles by any means. Rather than being consumed by dilemmas of fashion or gossip or health, they’re instead met with huge setbacks and major trials of spirit. They encounter serious issues of social expectations, the solutions of which require lots of thinking and personal toil. What inspired you to write this way, especially in a genre that’s usually overrun with fluffy worlds of happiness and harmony?

First of all, thank you so much for saying that because that was truly what I wanted, to portray these men as real people, not Darcy the perfect romance hero and Fitzwilliam the affable side kick, nor did I want the women to be just caricatures of femininity. Real life is a struggle, very often between men and women, and that is so much more interesting to me than ball gowns and Almacks. There is a saying that life is what happens while we are busy making other plans and that’s the truth. Love and family can bring ecstasy and make you crazy, and sometimes all at once.

2. I really admired the way Lady Catherine De Bourgh was portrayed. Witty and stubborn yet refreshingly aware of her surroundings, your representation of her was one of the more ambitious ones in Austenesque literature. What motivated you to develop her so fully?

I loved writing Lady Catherine. I could say outrageous things that made no sense. As head of the family she feels she has the right, no the obligation, to infuriate these two men and interfere in their lives because, in her eyes, they are still horrid boys. She means well, she really does, and she’s the voice of the older generation that never can quite come to terms with the younger one. In my head Judy Dench starred as Lady Catherine, looking outraged at Fitzwilliam’s filthy boots or explaining procreation to Lizzy. Judy Dench was brilliant in my head.

3. When you’re not writing or volunteering, how else do you spend your time? Do you have any other hobbies?

No, not really. We live in Florida and that’s a pretty laid back lifestyle. Eating out is a hobby here, sleeping late. I love writing but I’m not disciplined in the least and I don’t feel much confidence yet. At any moment I think I’ll never create another scene or another word and that is scary, but exhilarating.

4. Tell us about the process you engage in when you sit down to write. Do you need complete silence, or do you write in the bedroom while throwing wild parties in the livingroom? Do you stick to a schedule? Do you prefer to write barefoot? Any other weirdness you’d like to share for the sake of our fascination?

Most of the time I need silence; anything on the television in the family room will bother me and I sit at my desk and marvel at the amount of female screaming there is on television – very disturbing on many levels. Other times a car could backfire in the family room and I wouldn’t hear it. There is no rhyme or reason. I have no schedule at all, spend a great deal of time ‘getting ready’ which means I play computer chess, and solitaire, I check Facebook, answer e-mails, go into the chat rooms, read the fan fiction sites, see if anyone left a nice compliment for one of my stories there, etc. After about an hour of this I feel ready to start. And then the phone rings – I get angry, grumble that I’m being disturbed, and the whole process begins again. It’s amazing I finished a book at all.

5. Are you working on anything new? Any more beguiling tales of love and intrigue we should know about?

Well, to tell you the truth, I have two books started. One covers the time before Darcy and Fitzwilliam, centering on Lizzy and Darcy and how they coalesce into a single unit as it were. I imagine it was quite a process for him to really understand her family and for her to adjust to his status. Their differences were vast, and I don’t think we, two hundred years later, can truly appreciate how difficult their adjustment must have been. I also want to show the effects of the war on Fitzwilliam and how years of warfare had attacked his spirit, causing his slide into the sort of debauched lifestyle he was living at the beginning of Darcy and Fitzwilliam.

The second book then is the period after Darcy and Fitzwilliam. It involves their children and all the blessings and madness that go with parenthood and getting older. Only heaven knows if either book will see the light of day but it is fun to be with my boys again. I told my husband, “You know it’s like I know what goes on in their heads.” He looked at me like I was crazy and said, “Karen, you are their heads.” I had forgotten. They are that real to me.

6. Finally, is there anything else you’d like to say?

I’d like to thank Deb Werksman and Sourcebooks Landmark for publishing Darcy and Fitzwilliam. No agent would even consider me – I wasn’t a famous name, nor a celebrity. So, I defied all logic and sent my manuscript directly into the publisher who gave me my chance. It proves that if you really love what you are doing and if you have faith in it, anything is possible. Never give up.

Karen Wasylowski

About the author Karen V. Wasylowski: Karen is a retired accountant and CPA. This is her first novel. She and her husband spend much of their free time volunteering with charitable organizations in their community. Karen and her husband live in Bradenton, Florida.

About the interviewer Shelley de Wees: This is Shelley de Wees’s first interview for this blog. She has written five reviews for me – three for Jane Austen’s World and two for my other blog, Jane Austen Today. Shelley also oversees her own blog, The Uprising, which features vegan recipes. Yum. She lives in the northern U.S. I shiver just thinking about the cold at this time of year.

Image of the author taken from My Jane Austen Book Club.

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Mr. Darcy’s Secret is Jane Odiwe’s third Jane Austen sequel for Sourcebooks. The story picks up after the Darcys’ marriage and Elizabeth’s introduction as Lady of the Manor. Lizzy is a quick study, for it is not easy for someone to pick up on all the intricacies of managing such a great house as Pemberley, but through her natural grace she quickly gains the respect of the staff and villagers and settles into her new home – where she uncovers a secret, one that places her relationship with Darcy in emotional jeopardy.

The delightful author Jane Odiwe has done it again – created a novel using Jane Austen’s characters that leaves you turning the pages to find out how the story will end. Jane Odiwe lives in Bath and London, and travels extensively all over England. This is obvious, as she is able to single out details as only someone who is intimately acquainted with the regions can. She has also researched Jane Austen and the Regency era for many years, so that the facts ring true and are sometimes surprising, as with the ability for people during that era to marry without posting the banns in one church in Derbyshire, a legacy from the days of King Charles 1.

In so many ways, Ms. Odiwe gets the characters right, which makes reading her books so enjoyable. Take Lady Catherine de Bourgh, for instance:

Lady Catherine de Bourgh looked Mrs Darcy up and donw with such an expression of horror and contempt it was all Lizzy could do to keep her nerve. “Does your husband know that you are running around the countryside dressed as a gypsy riding in a donkey cart, Miss Bennet?” she asked in scolding tones. “What on earth can you mean by disgracing Mr Darcy in such a fashion? Have you no idea of decorum, are you insensible to the honours bestowed on you by him, that fool of a nephew of mine who has singled you out above all other women to bear his name?”

Wickham remains his dastardly self; Lydia is still immature and silly. We learn more about Darcy’s sister, Georgiana, and how she is influenced by Lizzy, with whom she falls in love, and about her backstory with her governess, a most nasty creature named Mrs Younge. Miss Caroline Bingley provides comic relief in a funny story line, as does the ever reliably silly Mrs Bennet. In short, devotees of Jane Austen sequels will not be disappointed with Jane Odiwe’s latest venture in Austen territory. Reading Mr Darcy’s Secret prompted me to ask the author a few questions, and she graciously answered them.

1. Why did you wait until your third book to write about Darcy and Elizabeth?

For me, it was just a natural progression. Initially, I hadn’t wanted to write their story because I really wanted to do something different from the books that were being published. But, after writing Lydia Bennet’s Story, and Willoughby’s Return, I wanted to set myself a real challenge. I felt absolutely compelled to write Darcy and Elizabeth’s story, and also wanted to give Georgiana a happy ending. I’m a great believer in letting things happen organically, and perhaps I wasn’t really ready to write their story until now. I wanted to do justice to the characters, and have the kind of twisting plot with humour, surprises and shocks along the way that Jane Austen liked to write herself, which I hope I’ve achieved.

2. Does living in England give you a different perspective on how Jane Austen’s environment influenced her work?  If so, how does this knowledge affect your own writing about her characters?

Perhaps it does, but if so, I think it is an unconscious perspective. This country is the place of my birth; I am English, and the feelings of connection to its people, landscape and history are very strong. It’s a part of who I am. I was a teacher, and consider myself very lucky and fortunate to have had the joy of teaching pupils from every walk of life, which means I have witnessed the behaviour and customs of a vast cross-section of society from the very poor to the very rich. I’m just an ordinary person, but I have been able to witness first-hand what it’s like to attend high society balls (a long time ago now) and enjoy 20th/21st century equivalents of the kind of experiences that Jane Austen would have done. Rather like Jane too, feeling apart from that world, not really belonging, made the observation of it all the more fun. I’ve seen a world of privilege, I’ve seen the extreme opposite, and everything in between. I think all of life’s experiences and the knowledge gained help to inform your writing, but whether this means that I am successful in writing about Jane’s characters, I will leave my readers to decide.

3. For you, which comes first? The plot or the characters? How long does it take for you to outline your book before you start writing, or do you just dive in and plot as you go along?

Now that is a tricky one, but I think it’s been different for every book. I generally think about what I’m going to write for a long time, several months usually,  before I commit any thoughts to paper, though occasionally I might jot down a few initial ideas or key words. I think the idea for Mr Darcy’s Secret was really started by thinking about what we knew about Mr Darcy, or rather, what Elizabeth did not know. It occurred to me that she really didn’t know him very well at all. Jane Austen gives us no clues about his past, and so that set me thinking.
I used to meticulously write out the plot from start to finish before I commenced writing, but I’ve discovered that for me it doesn’t really work because the characters always do their best to take me away from what I’ve originally planned. So now I have a general idea of where I want to story to go, and have an idea of the ending, but the journey is always an adventure! The characters always want to tell their own story, and I let them.

4. What research  for your book surprised you the most? Did you leave out any material that you found fascinating but couldn’t use? If so, please give an example and tell us why you decided not to use this bit of information.

The research that surprised me most was the fact there was a Gretna Green of Derbyshire. In the village of Peak Forest its church is dedicated to ‘Charles, King & Martyr’ (King Charles 1) and until an Act of Parliament was passed in 1804 its minister was able to perform marriages without having the banns read.

I really enjoyed all the research into Derbyshire which I’ve visited many times from school trips as a child to spending holidays with my sister.
There is a lovely tradition of ‘well-dressing’ which I would have liked to include, but I couldn’t fit it into the timeline or plot – unlike Jane, I decided we’d spend more time in the Lake District.

I remember as a child being disappointed not to see any of the villages we passed in Derbyshire decorated with flowers. The pagan custom started many years ago with blessing the water supply, and there is a history of making clay plaques pressed with flower petals to ornament the wells, which they still carry on today. I would have liked to have included a lot more of the folklore in the book. The area is well known for its stone circles, petrified rocks, witches and ghosts! Maybe next time…

5. Have you plotted your next novel?

I have written another novel, but I’m still tinkering with it…not quite there yet. It’s not a sequel, and it’s a bit off the wall, but I’ve really enjoyed writing it. It’s inspired by Bath, Jane Austen and Persuasion, my great passions after my family.

Oooh, you have me intrigued already! As always, Jane, it is a pleasure talking with you. I wish you much success with this book and the next, and thank you for stopping by .

Read my reviews of Jane Odiwe’s other books and interviews with the author in the following links:

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Dr. Patricia Meyer Spacks

Inquiring Reader: This interview is with Patricia Meyer Spacks, the editor of Pride and Prejudice: An Annotated Edition. Dr. Spacks, the Edgar F. Shannon Professor of English at the University of Virginia, has written a number of books, including ”The Adolescent Idea,” ”The Female Imagination,” “Desire and Truth: Functions of Plot in Eighteenth-Century English Novels,” “Reading Eighteenth-Century Poetry (Blackwell Reading Poetry),” “The female imagination,” and various studies of 18th-century literature. Her most recent undertaking, the annotation of Jane Austen’s most beloved and popular novel, resulted in a beautiful and elucidative book. I know that Jane Austen lovers will find this illustrated volume a useful and informative addition to their book collection.

How old were you when you first read Jane Austen and which book was it? Were you instantly taken by her writing, or did you develop an appreciation for her over time? Why?

I was probably ten or eleven years old when I first read Pride and Prejudice. I wish I remembered what I saw in it then; I’ve often had the same wondering about college students of mine who read the book early, because now it and the rest of Austen’s novels seem to me very much books intended for grown-ups. For some reason, though–perhaps because of its plot’s resemblance to those of familiar fairy tales–I loved P and P on first reading and read it several times more before ever studying it. As for “develop[ing] an appreciation”: one of the wonderful things about Austen (and other great writers) is that you can appreciate her novels in different ways over time and develop gradually wider areas of appreciation. This is one reason, I think, why many people frequently reread Austen, even as often as every year. Like many others, I have appreciated her for different reasons as I keep rereading her novels.

Image in the book: Carlton House, Blue Velvet Room, Charles Wild, 1816. From the Royal Collection*

How did you come up with the idea of writing this book? What were some of the challenges in researching the information?

The book wasn’t my idea. John Kulka, who became my editor at Harvard University Press, came up with the idea and persuaded me to execute it. That indeed took some persuasion, because I was engrossed with another project at the time he proposed it, but I finally agreed because I had read the novel probably 40 or 50 times; had taught it to college freshmen, sophomores, juniors, seniors, and graduate students, as well as one faculty seminar; and thought I could pretty much annotate it out of my head. Big mistake! I learned a great deal in the course of annotating it, but I don’t recall any particular challenges. Every time I decided that something needed annotating, I had no difficulty finding the information I needed.

I am curious how you decided which sections of Pride and Prejudice required annotation, and how much explanation a term or concept needed. Also, how did you decide on which images to include?

As I said earlier, I’ve taught Pride and Prejudice many times; therefore I had a good idea what words were likely to cause students difficulty. So I started there, annotating language, with special attention to words that we still use but that meant something different in Austen’s time. Beyond that, it was just a matter of paying attention to the text and of thinking about how Austen’s knowledge and assumptions differed from our own. Sometimes one thing led to another. For example, I started wondering why the novel specified Brighton as the place where the militia were stationed. I read a book on eighteenth-century Brighton and learned that because of the nature of the harbor, that was the locale thought the most likely for invasion from France. That made me think about the Napoleonic Wars, which Austen is thought to have ignored, and I was able to discover and annotate a number of references to war that it’s easy to miss.

One of the images in the book: Miss Harriet and Miss Elizabeth Binney, by John Smart. Image from V&A Collection.**

In this kind of book, though, it’s not always a matter of how much explanation is “needed.” I had plenty of room to annotate whenever I thought of something about the text that struck me as interesting, and room to include quotations from other critics that suggested points of view different from my own. Many of the notes suggest connections between Pride and Prejudice and other works of Austen, including her letters.

About the images: John Kulka, my wonderful editor, found most of them. I came across some in my own reading. For instance, in establishing a text I used a first edition of Pride and Prejudice in the Houghton Library at Harvard. The books–the novel was in three volumes–had belonged to Amy Lowell and contained her bookplate. Moreover, they originally belonged to a circulating library and had the original wrappers, specifying the fees for different levels of borrowing and the rules of the establishment. I very much wanted images of the cover, the bookplate, and the text—and they’re in my book. As with the notes, necessity didn’t govern the choices: we looked for images that were beautiful in themselves and that illuminated some aspect of Austen’s period.

What were some of your favorite sources for information and where or how did you access them? Which of them do you think a serious Janeite should absolutely have in her library collection?

I used the internet, the Harvard University libraries, and my personal library as sources. The only “favorite” source I can think of is the OED, the Oxford English Dictionary, which was indispensable–and I suppose I think it’s indispensable for any serious student of any literature from the past. It’s available on line now, and the on line edition is both more flexible and more up-to-date than the printed one. Otherwise, I used many many different sources, and I can’t think of any that I think Janeites MUST have.

Which author/s among Jane Austen’s contemporaries do you think exerted the most influence on her while she was writing First Impressions/Pride and Prejudice?

Maria Edgeworth, Austen’s contemporary, and Frances Burney, her predecessor. Pride and Prejudice contains some apparent allusions to Burney’s novel, Evelina, and the title itself may come from Burney’s second novel, Cecilia. Austen praises Edgeworth in her letters, and although Pride and Prejudice doesn’t directly allude to any Edgeworth novel, it takes up some of the issues that interested Edgeworth.

Thank you so much for your illuminating thoughts, and good luck with the book!

Additional links for this post:

*Carlton House Blue Velvet Room – Royal Collection

**Victoria and Albert Collection: Miss Harriet and Miss Elizabeth Binney

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Michele Ann Young

Michele Ann Young

Inquiring readers: One of my favorite go-to blogs is Regency RambleMichele Ann Young never disappoints me with the choice of her topics or depth of her research about England or the regency era. In addition, the photos of her frequent trips to England provide endless and original variety. Michele is also an author, and her new novel, The Lady Flees Her Lord, is coming out from Sourcebooks in October (in about two weeks). Having admired Michele for so long, and knowing her book is about to come out, I thought this was a perfect time to have a chat with her.

Vic: Hello Michele, thank you for taking time out to answer my questions!

Michele: First I would like to thank you for inviting me to your blog. What a pleasure and a privilege. I am always so pleased when you pop by the Regency Ramble and leave me a note.

Vic: (Blush) I wish I could visit it more often, but whenever I do I look forward to reading your regular features, which you repeat with regularity, like the regency fashion for a particular month, the flora and fauna that are in season, and your travel specials. Most recently I loved your Regency footwear posts, and thought your posts about regency money were fascinating. I especially liked the images of old money, and believe it is the first time I have seen a farthing! Tell me a bit about your research in each of these areas. What are some of your favorite sources and why?

Michele: I first started the regency ramble because I wanted somewhere to keep track visually of things I thought might be useful for scene setting in my books as well as factual information. I thought others might like it too.

Walking dresses, September 1805, Lady's Monthly Museum

Walking dresses, September 1805, Lady's Monthly Museum

The regular fashion feature came about because I wanted to see how fashions changed throughout the time period (the long regency, so really Prinny), and how fashions changed month to month. So I started collecting all the fashion pictures I could find in two folders, one organized by year and one by month. I decided to put the fashions on the blog in the month in which they were worn.

A similar thing occurred with the flora and fauna blog, though it tends to be more flora and insects, because most of my information comes from a Naturists Diary and then I go hunting for pictures. I am looking for a good source for fauna but use some of my own knowledge to then search out the information on particular animals.

My special trip blogs started out fairly haphazardly, but now I carefully document each picture, as best I can in situ and then look up more information for the text. I visit as many old buildings, cities, castles as I can on each trip I make. I like to find interesting places in addition to London where I can set my books, for example Royal Tunbridge Wells and Dover.

Ladies shoes, 1800

Ladies shoes, 1800

The shoe museum was a bonus. A friend invited me to go with her for the day, and I had so much fun, because they really had lots of stuff. And we all love shoes.

As I write my stories, I discover things I need to know, and then I blog about them. It helps me three ways, one, to actually do the research and absorb the information, two, to get visual impressions that I can recall when I am writing and three, to keep track and find it again. I have scores of computer files on myriad topics, but they are often dry texts that I hunt through to find a specific piece of information. But then I have to bring them to life. And often blogging about them, helps me do that.

With regard to resources:

I am lucky to belong to a university library, so I have lots of access to diaries and books that might not be available in the general library system. I belong to the Beaumonde chapter of RWA and they are very generous with their resources and information. I also subscribe to the Moonstone Research Publication Newsletters and have received permission to post a limited number of fashions pictures from that list each month. I also collect my own plates when I can afford them. And I buy lots and lots of books, rare books, used books. I scour second hand bookshops everywhere I go.

Vic: Are you English or American? It seems to me that you naturally straddle both worlds.

Michele: I am English originally. I grew up in England and Scotland. I left there to come to Canada when I got married. I now travel back to England every year to visit family and of course to do my research.

Vic: Is your blog, Regency Ramble, a natural extension of the research you do for your novels? Or is your interest in historical detail a separate passion?

Regency Ramble definitely started because I decided to write novels in the era, because that is what I love to read. But I majored in history at college, European Economic History, primarily after the Regency era. I love all historical topics. I am fascinated with the Tudors, and the Stewarts. I like the Victorian era, but I feel it is too close to today to keep me entranced. I have oodles of general history books covering all eras. But because there is so much to learn about the Regency, it keeps me fully occupied.

Vic: When did you decide to become a writer, and how did you settle on historical romance?

Michele: I wrote my first novel in 2000. I wrote it for something to do during a period of forced inactivity. The story that came into my mind was a regency and I finished it. It wasn’t very good, but I discovered I loved the process and set about to learn about the craft of writing.

I like stories about relationships. And I like happy endings. It turns out that these are romances, although I didn’t realize that when I started. I am also writing a historical novel which does not have a central relationship, or at least not in the first book, since I am planning a single protagonist series also set in 1809 through to 1815. Whether it will sell, I’m not sure.

Jane Austen Centre gift shop, Bath 2007

Jane Austen Centre gift shop, Bath 2007

Vic: Tell me a little about your creative process. Do you come up with the plot first and then research the period, or do the two go together? Are you a disciplined writer or do you wait for inspiration?

Michele: I tend to get a scene in my head with one or both main characters. Usually the opening scene of the book. For No Regrets it was a picture of a man riding into a medieval kitchen that was being used as a scullery for a hunt ball. The woman in the kitchen was someone he’d been trying to talk to for a while. For my new book, The Lady Flees Her Lord, the scene was a woman trying to escape her husband.

These opening scenes pose all kinds of questions and I follow where they lead. Sometimes my research will generate that opening scene. I do a lot of reading of history books for interest. Occasionally I will research an important point along the way, if it might make or break the plot. Otherwise, I highlight something I want to double-check and go back to it later.

I write in a linear fashion from there to the end, with no idea of the plot until it happens. This often requires major rewrites, when the story takes an unexpected turn that messes up the beginning.

I am a full time writer and I write every weekday starting at 9 am until about three. I have several contracts to fulfill, so I have to be disciplined. I do email and research and promotional things later in the day.

Vic: Who are your favorite Jane Austen hero and heroine, and why?

Michele: I have to say Lizzie Bennet and Mr. Darcy. I enjoy her other characters, but those two are standouts for me.

Vic: Thank you for your thoughtful answers, Michele. Before ending this interview, I have one final question. I see that Sourcebooks will come out with your novel in October. What can people look forward to when they read The Lady Flees Her Lord?

The Lady Flees her Lord by Michele Ann Young

The Lady Flees her Lord by Michele Ann Young

Michele: Physically and emotionally abused because she has failed to produce an heir, the plump Lucinda, Lady Denbigh, is running from her husband. A softhearted collector of strays, she rescues a street urchin on her way and posing as a widow, she seeks refuge in the quiet Kent countryside…

Lord Hugo Wanstead, with a wound that won’t heal, and a death on his conscience, he finds his estate impoverished, his sleep torn by nightmares, and brandy his only solace.

When he meets Lucinda, he finds her beautiful, body and soul, and thinks she just might give him something to live for…

Together they can begin to heal, but not until she is free of her violent past…

One reviewer said: Our author has given us a little slice of Heaven molded from a minuscule slice of Hell. Our emotions are played like a violin with endearing words, breath taking scenes and a virtuous sense of right and wrong. The authors writing style is highly comparable with Jane Austin but with more of today’s romance mentality. Lush and loving, heart wrenching beautiful, one could only hope to have a Lord Hugo Wanstead to desire us so truly and deeply.

Vic: Good luck with your new book. I wish you much success and a best seller!

Michele: Thanks so much.

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Gentle Readers,

Syrie James graciously agreed to an interview about her fabulous book, The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen, and her thoughts about writing and the enormous amount of research that was required before she even began her novel about Jane. Here then is the interview, and some photos that Syrie sent of herself in front of Chawton Cottage and with her own Mr. Ashford at a Regency ball – her husband Bill!

How old were you when you read your first Jane Austen novel? Which one was it? What made you become an admirer, and did you become one instantly or did this process take time?

Syrie: I first read Pride and Prejudice and Emma in college, and I really enjoyed them. Few novels can match Pride and Prejudice for pure brilliance of plot, pacing, characterization and dialog. No matter how many times you read that book, you can’t put it down! I also loved Emma, with its delightfully misguided heroine, hilarious supporting characters, and comedy-of-errors plot.

It wasn’t until 1995, however, that Jane Austen appeared full-force on my radar. That was the year that three films that brought her books vividly to life: Emma Thompson and Ang Lee’s Sense and Sensibility, the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice with Colin Firth, and a wonderful adaptation of Persuasion with Amanda Root and Ciaran Hinds. When you put Jane Austen on the screen, something magical happens! The same year, Clueless came out—a modernization of Emma— and the next year there were two fabulous screen adaptations of Emma. Overnight, Jane Austen seemed to be everywhere. I adored those films, and I became obsessed with All Things Austen.

I read the rest of her books, and especially loved Persuasion. Anne Elliott and Captain Wentworth are beautifully drawn characters, and exhibit great depth of feeling. Because Jane wrote it as a mature woman, when she was reflecting on loss and regret, it provides a wonderful counterpoint to her earlier views of life and romance.

I became an admirer of Jane Austen’s work for many reasons. She was a brilliant craftsman; her novels are beautifully structured gems. She wrote with a wonderful sense of irony and humor, and a great understanding of character, and she wrote about real people in recognizable circumstances. Her characters all wrestle with familiar social and emotional problems that we still confront on a daily basis: difficulties with family relationships, money (or the lack of it), and the struggle to live within society’s rules. All of her main characters go on a voyage of self-discovery; they all learn something important about themselves by the end of the book. Her books always leave me satisfied: the good are rewarded, the bad punished, and the lovers united. Most importantly, she wrote about what people risk when they fall in love, and what it can cost—a topic anyone can relate to, at any time.

Your book, The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen, is so meticulously researched. I am curious. Were you a Jane scholar before you began to write the book, or did you come up with the idea of writing the book first, which then led you to do the research? Would you be willing to share one story about your research, and an interesting tidbit you uncovered that surprised you?

Syrie: I came up with the idea a number of years ago, right after watching Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice for the umpteenth time, followed by a screening of Shakespeare in Love. I remember thinking: what about a love story for Jane Austen? Why hasn’t anyone done that? At that point, I knew next to nothing about Jane Austen’s life. I started reading every Jane Austen biography I could find. Her life story, as portrayed by historians, left me unsatisfied. I found it hard to believe that this brilliant woman, who gave the world such wonderful and romantic stories, never fell in love herself.

Wasn’t it possible, I thought, that Jane Austen had a secret love affair? What if she recorded the entire experience in a journal, that had never been found? I was also intrigued by the idea of Jane Austen’s genesis as a writer. According to her sister, Austen wrote early drafts of Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice in her twenties; how much, I wondered, did those manuscripts change when she revised them years later for publication? What part did real life events play in the development of her stories?

I spent an enormous amount of time researching and developing my story before I felt ready to write it. It was important to me to stay true to every known fact of her life, and to present an entirely plausible story, just as Jane herself might have told it. As I conducted my research into Jane Austen’s life and work, a lot of things surprised me.

For one thing, I was struck by how beautifully written, well-planned and structured Jane Austen’s novels are. The first time you read them, you enjoy the story, you laugh at the comic characters and you root for the lovers to be united. On a second read, you begin to notice how cleverly the story is plotted and how real and consistent the characters are. You appreciate the character arcs: the way the heroine (and hero, in most cases) grow and change during the story, as they learn the lesson they’re meant to learn.

I was surprised to see how few descriptions of people, places, and clothing Jane Austen included in her books—it’s almost all left to the imagination. In her letters to her sister, however, Jane expounded on these subjects; she wrote often and in great detail about clothing and hats, and the price of fabric and lace and trimmings, even though she was on a very small budget—but there’s almost nothing about it in her novels. Perhaps she didn’t include these details because she was writing for a contemporary audience, and didn’t think it was necessary… or maybe she was simply more interested in focusing on character and dialog! Most locations in her novels are imaginary and hastily depicted. Two places that she did spend a great deal of time describing are Lyme Regis and Pemberley. We know that Jane Austen visited Lyme Regis herself several times, and loved it; I reasoned, therefore, that she had also been to “Pemberley”—and so I included it as an important locale in my novel.

I was surprised to learn that Jane Austen never went to school… except for a year when she was seven and went away to boarding school with Cassandra, where they both became ill and nearly died. It was relatively unusual for a girl to go away to school then, but for a writer of Jane Austen’s brilliance and skill, it somehow came as a surprise to learn that she’d never been formally educated by anyone other than her father.

I was also amazed at how prolific she was. Jane Austen wrote or rewrote 6 books in 7 years when she moved to Chawton. Apparently it only took her a little over a year to write Emma and a year to write Persuasion (even though she was ill at that time.) I consider this to be remarkable in an era when books were written with a quill and ink, and you had to copy over the entire manuscript before submission. I could never write that fast!

Tell us a bit about your writing process. Do you set aside a daily scheduled time for research and writing? Or do you wait until inspiration hits you, and write in long spurts?

Syrie: I try to write every day, from 10 AM to 4 or 5 PM. I don’t have to wait until inspiration strikes; I love what I do, and I’m always inspired! If I feel that I’m not ready to write a particular part of a novel, I’ve found it means that I haven’t done enough research. I go back to reading, studying, note-taking, and rethinking my outline and the characters’ motivations. When the story becomes clear again, I plunge back in.

One thing that struck me is how well you were able to write as Jane, keeping her voice, yet managing to communicate with today’s audience. At the beginning that task must have seemed daunting. How did you prepare to write in another author’s voice?

Syrie: In order for this novel to be perceived as Jane Austen’s memoirs, I knew that I had to not only sound as much like her as possible, but to create a story that was Jane Austen through and through, peopled with her unique roster of characters, and filled with her wit and sense of irony. To “get into character,” I read dozens of Jane Austen biographies, and I researched her era extensively. I reread her novels, over and over again. I read all her juvenilia and unfinished works. I studied her letters in minute detail. I watched all her movies, some many times over. I even took English Regency Country Dance lessons! Eventually, I felt I understood who she was, and her voice (and the voices of her characters) seemed to come naturally to me.

Hollywood has called, and wants to make a movie of your book. Which actors and actresses would be at the top of your list to play Jane and Frederick Ashford?

Syrie: I’d love to see Naomi Watts, Frances O’Connor, or Kate Winslet as Jane, Christian Bale as Frederick Ashford, and Emma Thompson as Cassandra!

  • Visit Syrie James’s website here.
  • Click on the Avon website here.
  • And click here to browse inside the The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen.

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