Posts Tagged ‘Syrie James’

The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen by Syrie JamesGentle readers, One lucky U.S. reader is eligible to win a copy of Syrie James’s latest book, The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen! (See below) Contest Closed: The winner is – Lilyane Soltz. Congratulations!

The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen, Syrie James

In the Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen, author Syrie James attempts a plot device that often trips up even the most experienced authors -a novel within a novel. Samantha McDonough, librarian and Jane Austen scholar, stumbles upon a clue in an old book of poetry she purchased while on a visit to England.

The minute I saw the letter, I knew it was hers. There was no mistaking it: the salutation, the tiny, precise handwriting, the date, the content itself, all confirmed its ancient status and authorship…

This letter leads her on a quest to find a missing manuscript by Jane Austen. Her journey lands her on the doorstep of handsome Anthony Whitaker, who has just inherited his estranged father’s rundown estate. By virtue of her charm, grit, and determination, Samantha persuades a skeptical Anthony to rummage around dusty rooms, cupboards, and closets and his attic until, voilà, they miraculously find a manuscript entitled The Stanhopes and that consists of 41 tiny hand-cut and bound booklets. (The Watsons, Jane’s unfinished manuscript, is made of 11 similarly bound booklets.)

A draft of Jane Austen's novel The Watsons, which was written in about 1804 . Image @The Guardian

A draft of Jane Austen’s novel The Watsons, which was written in about 1804 . Image @The Guardian

Anthony and Samantha immediately begin to read Jane’s long lost words, and, like Alice tumbling down the rabbit hole, the pair are instantly swept into the story of Rebecca Stanhope and her father, a rector with a propensity for mild gambling over a friendly game of cards. His vice sets off the plot, which is based on Jane’s hilarious Plan of a Novel. In short order, the rector loses a great deal of money with which he has been entrusted and then is forcibly retired from his living. Now destitute,  Mr. Stanhope and Rebecca (a sweet heroine  in the vein of a slightly feistier Jane Bennet or more mature Catherine Morland) must move from place to place — from the rectory to a married daughter’s cramped house, to an elegant abode in Bath, to a seedy inn, and so forth. Along the way, Rebecca receives three proposals, one that is almost as ridiculous as Mr. Collins’ proposal to Elizabeth, and two more serious ones from two suitors who are as different from each other in temperament and intent as, well, Henry Crawford and Edmund Bertram or Willoughby and Colonel Brandon. The road to a romantic union is rocky, and along the way both heroines (Rebecca and Samantha) must learn some harsh truths about themselves and others before they can be united with their heroes.

As the story develops, the reader will recognize a number of plot developments and characters based on those in Austen’s novels. Since the missing manuscript was written early (1802) and before Jane published her books and rewrote Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice for publication, one can assume that this manuscript is meant to be a foreshadowing of the mature novels.  Syrie James, a strong writer in her own right, is smart in setting Jane’s  lost manuscript so early in Jane’s writing career. Austen’s Juvinilia includes melodramatic twists and turns, evident in Northanger Abbey (when Catherine Morland is forced to leave the Abbey alone in the middle of the night) and in The Stanhopes, when Rebecca must find employment in the most unusual and creative way in order to feed herself and her father. The reader should also assume that the manuscript, having been lost before Jane could fully edit and revise it, was found in its  “raw” stage. This would explain any stylistic differences between the lost manuscript and Jane’s later works (and, more practically, between Syrie’s and Jane’s writing styles as well).

I won’t give too much of the plot away, except to say that I was more interested in the Stanhopes than the modern Samantha and Anthony story line. (I believe I had the same preference with Jane Odiwe’s Searching for Captain Wentworth, in which I liked the time travel to the past more than the contemporary narrative.) Syrie’s novel is filled with historically and geographically correct details, which I always appreciate in a novel set in a foreign country or in the past. As an interesting aside, one of Samantha’s friends in the modern world is Laurel Ann, a bookseller. Who could it be, I wonder? (Hint: Austenprose.)

Insights into Jane Austen’s World

Syrie, who I met at the Brooklyn AGM meeting and whose Regency costumes are varied and fabulous, graciously sent me some interesting details about one of Jane’s letters to Cassandra, and how one should handle an old manuscript:

 I don’t know if it’s strange or funny, but while re-reading Jane Austen’s letters to her sister Cassandra, I was fascinated to find the following mention of a “shut-up bed”:

Martha kindly made room for me in her bed, which was the shut-up one in the new nursery. Nurse and the child slept upon the floor, and there we all were in some confusion and great comfort. The bed did exceedingly well for us, both to lie awake in and talk till two o’clock, and to sleep in the rest of the night.

I take this to mean that a “shut-up bed” is what we now call a Murphy bed, or a bed that folds up and away by day into a piece of furniture. I happily put this information to use in The Stanhopes.

Here’s one fact that surprised me: I presumed that when my modern day characters found Jane Austen’s centuries-old manuscript, they’d have to wear latex gloves while handling it. (That was previous my experience when reviewing precious, old documents.) However, Christine Megowan, the Special Collections Librarian at Loyola Marymount University, explained that none of the conservators she knows wear gloves to handle old books and paper, because they don’t fit well and are clumsy. As long as your hands are clean and you work gently, she said, the oils on your fingers don’t do all that much damage to paper—you’d do far more mechanical damage by fumbling with latex gloves. I put that quote directly into the novel.

If you are interesting in reading similar  insights from Syrie, click on the links to her blog tour!

About Syrie James:

Syrie JamesAuthorPhoto2011 - Credit William James (1)Syrie James is the bestselling author of eight critically acclaimed novels, including The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen, The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen, The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Brontë, Dracula My Love, Nocturne, Forbidden, and The Harrison Duet: Songbird and Propositions. Her books have been translated into eighteen foreign languages. In addition to her work as a novelist, she is a screenwriter, a member of the Writers Guild of America, and a life member of the Jane Austen Society of North America. She lives with her family in Los Angeles, California. Connect with her on her website, Facebook, and Twitter.

Follow Syrie’s Blog tour in these links: 

About the book:

Amazon Prices

  • Kindle Edition $9.99
  • Paperback $10.20
  • Audible Audio Edition, Unabridged $23.95 or Free with Audible 30-day free trial
  • Reading level: Ages 18 and up
  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Berkley Trade; Reprint edition (December 31, 2012)
  • ISBN-10: 0425253368
  • ISBN-13: 978-0425253366

About the book giveaway for The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen:  

For your chance to win a copy of Syrie’s latest book, let us know how you would feel and react if you stumbled across a long lost Jane Austen document! Contest open to U.S. readers only. Drawing by random number generator. Deadline, January 23rd, 2013, midnight EST. Contest Closed: The winner is – Lilyane Soltz. Congratulations!

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When Nicole Whitcomb’s car runs off a Colorado mountain road during a blinding snowstorm, she is saved from death by a handsome, fascinating, and enigmatic stranger.

Snowbound with him for days in his beautiful home high in the Rockies, she finds herself powerfully attracted to him. But there are things about him that mystify her, filling her with apprehension. Who is Michael Tyler? Why does he live in such a secluded spot and guard his private life so carefully? What secret—or secrets—is he hiding?

Review of Nocturne: From the desk of Shelley DeWees (The Uprising) …

“Never have I had such an intense relationship with books as when I was a young girl. I raged inside them and lived a double emotional life, half real girl, half inhabitant of a distant world, and I chose book neither because of, nor in spite of, their artistic merit, only for their ability to pull me through the looking glass.”
–Caitlin Flanagan, What Girls Want: Vampire Novels Illuminate the Complexities of Female Desire

It’s Saturday afternoon. The rain is lashing against the windows of your bedroom, obscuring your view into the outside world and in turn, hiding yourself from anything beyond your immediate surroundings. A delicious sense of solitude creeps through you, and you know you’ve got all day to sit and soak it up…no job, no husband, no nothing to distract you. Relieved and carefree, you toss yourself on the bed and carefully unfold the book you’ve been waiting to read, the book you’ve been toting around in your bag for weeks or clutching to your chest like some kind of emotional armor. You’re quickly absorbed once again, lying on your stomach with your legs in the air, and hours upon hours of unbroken silence pass before you know it while your brain floats on a cloud of imagination…

Typical Saturday? Maybe in our most magnificent fantasies. Or how about in our memories?

Losing yourself in a book is truly a remarkable thing. The moment when you look at the clock to realize that midnight has come and gone is a special one, not to be taken lightly. That is, of course, until you become conscious of that fact that, yes, you have to be up in 3 hours and to work in 5. And therein lays the problem. Somewhere along the path of growing up we lost the ability to retreat into our heads, forsaking our giggly girl-reader for a woman almost-reader with a car payment and a pension plan. We traded away the gift of reading trashy, poorly written books that take you somewhere else in favor of using our adult scrutiny to decide whether a book was “good.” When you were a girl, a book became “good” simply if it gave you the giddy feeling that 40-something men must get when they get an unexpected glimpse of pornography: “a slingshot back to a world of sensation that, through sheer force of will and dutiful acceptance of life’s fortunes, you thought you had subdued,” says Caitlin Flanagan, author of “What Girls Want: Vampire Novels Illuminate the Complexities of Female Desire.

Fortunately for us and our shriveled imaginations, it’s never too late to get it back. Thus, I’d like to introduce you to a vampire romance where the characters are predictable and the plot is laughably absurd. The weak woman falls hopelessly in love with a too-perfect man, surrounded by an idyllic setting where gender roles from the 1960’s abound….and no, I’m not talk about that other vampire series. Nocturne, the newest gift from Syrie James, is infinitely better written than that other thing, far better in terms of structure and development but equally silly and delicious.

Nicole Whitcomb, with her lovely red-headed beauty and underdeveloped common sense, drives off the road in a winter storm and is saved by the overly enchanting Michael Tyler. She wakes up in his perfect house among his flawless made-to-attract-her life and…big surprise…falls for him. But wait! He’s a VAMPIRE! What, didn’t you know that? Whoa. Their story unfolds just as you would expect, and the no-I-can’t-yes-you-can banter progresses just as it did in that other novel series. However, the sexual energy builds and the two characters finally succumb to their urges…very well, by the way.

I found myself glued to the pages of this novel, despite its definite installment under the “brain candy” column. A slight glimmer of the teenager I once was showed her face once again, and I dissolved into giggles and gasps like a silly school girl. My adult brain got to take a hiatus for awhile, sipping on margaritas while my imagination hummed into motion, and only shouting in protest at one or two points. It’s not artistic literature, but Nocturne will grip you like books once did, upstairs in your room, hidden away while still in plain sight. It was a unique moment, something that I’m a bit embarrassed to admit (but that must be my overachieving adult side talking).

Excerpt from Nocturne:

Nicole’s heart began to beat erratically. She’d heard scary things about mountain men who’d lived too long in isolated places. Who was this guy? He seemed cultured and spoke very formally, as if he belonged in the Queen’s court or in a palace surrounded by servants.

What was an Englishman doing in this remote corner of the Colorado mountains, unless he was hiding from something? But if he was a killer, surely he would have murdered her already, instead of carefully tending to her wounds. Wouldn’t he?

“You haven’t told me your name,” she said, straining to keep her voice even.

“Haven’t I? I beg your pardon. Michael Tyler.”

“How is it that you live up here? I thought this was national forest land.”

“It is. But there are pockets of private land scattered throughout.”

“Do you live here all year long?”

“I do.”

“By yourself, or …”

“I live alone.”

Her questions seemed to annoy him. He stood up and Nicole sensed that he was about to leave the room. In an effort to lighten the mood—or maybe just to put herself more at ease—she glanced at the grand piano and said with a forced smile, “So I take it it’s either you who plays that piano, or the resident ghost?”

A surprised twinkle lit his blue eyes. He sat back down in his chair with the first hint of a smile. “Definitely the ghost. Watch out for her. She plays at the oddest hours and has been known to leave candles burning in the most unlikely places.”


“A raven-haired beauty. From her clothing and hairstyle, I deduce that she’s from the previous century. Which is strange when you consider that I only built the house ten years ago.”

Nicole laughed. His smile was charming. His accent was so lovely, she could listen to it all day long. Maybe there was nothing to be afraid of after all…” (Read a longer excerpt here.)

Syrie James

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syrie james the secret diariesThe days when I can read a book cover to cover in one or two sittings are gone, but if I’d been able to free up such a large block of time, I would have finished Syrie James’s new book, The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Brontë, a month ago. As it was, the book became a constant companion in my briefcase. I would fish it out at opportune moments to steal a few minutes reading about Charlotte, her sisters Emily and Anne, her brother Branwell, and Arthur Nicholls, the young curate who’s been hired to help out Charlotte’s  father, Reverend Patrick Brontë, and who eventually marries her.

I’ll be the first to admit that my knowledge of the Brontë family was minimal at best. While I count Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights as among my favorite 19th century novels, I knew very little about the authors, except that Charlotte was no fan of Jane Austen’s writing style. Note that I wrote “was,” for after having finished this book I feel that I have gotten to know the Brontë clan quite well.

Syrie’s modus operandi in writing a fictional biography is to inhabit her character and take on her persona as she writes in the first person. She meticulously researches her subjects and uses original sources as much as possible. The result, in this instance, is a first person account of Charlotte Brontë in a style that is not quite Syrie’s and not quite Charlotte’s, but that is serviceable and believable. When using such a technique, one is always in danger of awkward transitions and a choppy style, but I found the story so compelling that I stopped noticing the transitions and began to read the book out of pure interest and enjoyment. The author illuminates certain facts by adding footnotes that link to the actual historical event, enhancing the richness of this reading experience. She also “shows” and doesn’t “tell”, which demonstrates her maturity as an author. Syrie’s introduction to Mr. Nicholls, the “hero” of this romance, instantly tells us something about his character without hitting us over the head with unnecessary exposition. Keeper, the mastiff at the parsonage, is an aloof and particular dog who can take a fierce dislike to strangers, yet here is his reaction to the new cleric:

“To my astonishment, the fire now instantly dissipated from Keeper’s bull-dog eyes; he descended onto all fours; and, as if a child responding to the Piper of Hamelin’s call, he trotted obediently back to the curate’s feet and calmly settled on his haunches.”

Arthur Bell Nicholls

Arthur Bell Nicholls

Syrie strikes a nice balance between the past and the present, going back in time only to illuminate details about Charlotte’s life that were the inspiration for her novels, and she keeps the flow of the story going with as much suspense as Charlotte’s life offered. I found Syrie’s description of Bramwell’s, Anne’s, and Emily’s deaths not only unutterably sad, but she also depicts a despondent Charlotte who went from living in a house filled with supportive siblings to one that was largely silent and empty in a year. For fans of biographical tales and romance, Syrie’s story of Charlotte offers it all: longing and yearning, struggle and success, the searing pain of immeasurable loss, and the happiness of a love that came unbidden and unsought. I did not want this story to end. Thankfully, the book offers an appendix filled with Charlotte’s letters, Brontë poetry, and an interview with Syrie that explains why and how she wrote the book. I also want to learn more about Charlotte and cannot wait to read Mrs. Gaskell’s account of the author’s life.

Charlotte Bronte

Charlotte Bronte

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Gentle Readers,
Author Syrie James has been answering reader questions on Jane Austen Today about her new novel, The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Brontë. A sampling of these questions and Syrie’s very informative answers sit in this post. Syrie will also be giving away a copy of her book. All you need to do is leave a question before the end of today at this link. Only readers who live in the United States or Canada are eligible for the drawing.

syrie james the secret diaries

Question: How do you think Charlotte Brontë would have felt being showcased on a blog for and about Jane Austen? It is well known that Charlotte had no love for Jane’s novels or writing style.

Syrie James: I think that Charlotte would be astonished to find herself showcased anywhere at all today! Trying to imagine her response to the worldwide adoration of her novel “Jane Eyre,” not to mention the computer and the internet, simply boggles the mind. Although Charlotte found Jane Austen’s novels lacking in passion and deeply felt emotion, she did admire Austen’s ability to construct a story, saying that Austen employed “an exquisite sense of means to an end.”

Question: What did you use as your sources for Charlotte Bronte’s life? Did you think that Elizabeth Gaskell’s biography was still relevant? I absolutely loved The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen — definitely one of my favorite Austen-inspired works. I felt you’d absolutely captured Austen’s “voice.” In writing a novel based on Bronte next, did you find it difficult to transition to a new narrator? Did Austen ever “slip” back into your writing?

Syrie James: It was thrilling to write in Charlotte’s voice! To prepare, I read all of Charlotte’s novels over and over, and more than 400 of her preserved letters. Then I just let the novel flow. The difficult part was to avoid Americanisms and anachronisms, which meant checking words throughout the text to be sure they existed and were employed in England in 1854. I found it easier to write in Charlotte’s voice than Jane Austen’s, because Charlotte was far more passionate! I have a shelf full of dozens of Brontë biographies which I used as sources (in addition to Charlotte’s voluminous preserved correspondence), but one of the best is “The Brontës” by Juliet Barker.

Although we know that Mrs. Gaskell was prejudiced in Charlotte’s favor (having been her dear friend), her biography is absolutely relevant and in fact remarkable, since she actually knew Charlotte, visited all the locations in the story herself, and personally interviewed many of the key people in Charlotte’s life.

Question: Besides the literary research, what other methods did you employ in helping to bring about the authenticity of the book? I really loved The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen.

Syrie James: I am so glad you loved The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen and hope you enjoy The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Brontë just as much, for it was truly a work of my heart. In addition to reading dozens of Brontë biographies, everything I could find about Mr. Nicholls, all of Charlotte’s correspondence, most of the Brontë poetry (they wrote hundreds of poems), and all of the sisters’ novels, I also studied the art of the Brontës (Charlotte, Emily, and Anne were all accomplished artists). I spent two days visiting the Brontë Parsonage Museum in Haworth, England– which is the house where Charlotte and her family lived almost her entire life, and is filled with their possessions. I haunted the rooms where Charlotte lived and worked, walked the lanes that she walked, visited the church where her family is buried, and really soaked up the atmosphere of the place. I was also granted a private tour of Roe Head School (from attic to cellar!), a very influential school which Charlotte attended, and which you will read about in my novel. It was invaluable to have those images in my mind when I wrote the book. After that, I just imagined myself in Charlotte’s shoes, and did my best to channel her remarkable spirit while telling her story!

Question: My question is what was your original inspiration to go for the diary style of writing?

Syrie James: I decided to “go for the diary style of writing” with my first novel, The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen, because I the story I wanted to tell was so personal. I felt that readers would connect more to Jane if they could read the untold story of her love affair, and how it influenced her return to writing, in the first person point of view–as if from her own pen. The first book was so well-received, it seemed only natural to write my next novel in the same manner, this time relating the true story of the author of another one of my all-time favorite novels, “Jane Eyre”!

How did Charlotte Brontë come to write that novel, and all her other books? How much of her work was based on her life? Did she ever fall in love and marry? How is it that three sisters living in the wilds of Yorkshire came to become published authors at the exact same time, writing novels that are still so beloved and popular today? I wanted to write that story as if Charlotte was telling it herself.

Question: What inspires you to choose a topic/subject to write about? In your research, did you discover anything surprising about the Brontës?

brontes-1Syrie James: For my first two books, I chose challenging topics which meant a great deal to me. I decided to “become” my favorite authors, so that I could not only tell their love stories, but also showcase their love of writing and their personal struggles on the road to becoming published authors–a subject I could truly relate to.

You asked, “did you discover anything surprising about the Brontës?” Everything I learned surprised me, because when I started my research I knew nothing about them! I was astonished to discover the incredible volume of writing the Brontës did as children, and what wonderful artists and poets the sisters were. I was surprised to learn that Charlotte was secretly in love with a married man, and that he was the partial inspiration for many of the heroes in her novels. I was touched to learn that Mr. Nicholls was secretly in love with Charlotte for so many years, before he had the nerve to propose. It’s a remarkable story, and the Brontës were a complicated and fascinating family.

Question: My question is completely tongue in cheek…I recently visited Haworth and was blown away by those little tiny books that contained Charlotte and her siblings juvenelia. When you wrote the Secret Diaries, did you feel compelled to write it with pen and ink in a microscopic hand? Looking forward to reading this book–sounds absolutely terrific.

Syrie James: It’s funny that you should mention those tiny little books that Charlotte and her siblings wrote as children. My husband and I actually got to hold one of those microscopic books and read it (it was about 1 inch x 2 inches), when we were granted a private viewing at the Brontë Parsonage library. How they ever wrote in such a tiny hand is beyond me.

Question: I have not read a Jane Austen book but have watch the movies. I love them. I am just beginning to read books from the Regency-era. Do you have any other authors you recommend? Which book should I begin with that has been written by Jane Austen? Why?

Syrie James: I always recommend that newcomers to Jane Austen begin with Pride and Prejudice. It’s a classic story, extremely well-written, perfectly plotted, has unforgettable characters, and it pulls you in from the very first chapter.

Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions, Syrie. Look for my review of The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Brontë this weekend.

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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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