Hi everyone! I’m really excited to be part of Jane in June – thank you, Misty, for interviewing me.
Why Jane? What drew you to Jane initially, and what compelled you to try your hand at her stories?
Although I’ve always loved Jane Austen, I actually came to writing my novels via Elizabeth Gaskell! Remember the BBC’s adaptation of North & South? John Thornton, a tall, dark and handsome mill owner played by Richard Armitage, had women up and down the land writing sequels, prequels, ‘what if?’s and modernisations. In fact, Mark Knightley – the hero of my debut novel The Importance of Being Emma – is a physical clone of RA. No wonder my version of Emma had a teenage crush on him!
With Gaskell, I prefer watching the adaptations of North & South and Cranford to reading the novels themselves. With Jane, on the other hand, I find the novels as enjoyable as the adaptations and read them over and over again – even though I know what’s coming. For me, Jane is the master – or should that be mistress? – of comedy romance. So, by modernising her novels, I felt I’d be learning from the expert.
What are some of the difficulties in writing a story using established (and beloved) material? And is anything sacred, or is it all fair game?
Good question. Some might say, ‘Why bother, when the originals are so wonderful?’ I’d agree, if I was merely rehashing Jane’s material. But I wanted to delve into the hearts and minds of those delectable heroes – and a 21st-century context provides a lot of scope for fresh insights!
I also think most romance writers are reinventing Jane to some extent, whether consciously or unconsciously. She covered so many major themes in romantic fiction, didn’t she? Hate at first sight, lost love regained, old friends falling in love, and so on.
I love unpicking Jane’s classic love stories from their 19th-century social context, bringing them bang up to date and spending lots of time with modern versions of Knightley, Wentworth and the like. But, because I have huge respect and admiration for Jane, I want to do her justice. So it’s all about writing with substance and humour, but without being impenetrable. And, while I don’t think Jane shied away from describing sexual tension, even in very veiled terms, I don’t want my sex scenes to be too explicit.
So far, the feedback from fans and reviewers has been overwhelmingly positive and I was absolutely gobsmacked when The Importance of Being Emma was shortlisted for the 2009 Melissa Nathan Award for Comedy Romance. I hope Jane would have been proud!
If you could completely rework any Austen character, who would it be and what would you make of them?
Henry Crawford. Like Jane’s sister Cassandra, I want Fanny Price to take him on and reform him, making herself far more interesting at the same time! But I wouldn’t completely rework him – he would still be the charismatic rogue who wreaks havoc with women’s hearts until he loses his own. Think Valmont in Les Liaisons Dangereuses (played by a young Colin Firth in the film Valmont) or Vidal in Devil’s Cub!
Unfortunately – and this is another answer to your previous question ‘Is anything sacred?’ – I don’t think I’d get away with changing Jane’s pairings. I’ll just have to give Edmund a makeover, as I did with Mr Knightley. Because let’s face it, they’re nowhere as appealing to most modern readers as Darcy or Wentworth!
Jane has inspired an entire genre, which few authors can boast. What do you make of it, especially the mash-up craze? Are you a purist, modernist or mash-up-ist?
I am constantly amazed by the Jane Austen effect, which I take as an ongoing tribute to her artistry. And it’s true – how many other authors have inspired so much creativity after they’re long out of copyright?
As for my opinion on some of the more extreme crazes – well, how can I criticise anyone for tampering with perfection when I do the same myself? But I’m probably somewhere in the middle – not a purist and not an avid mash-up-ist. That’s a pretty good indication of my taste in reading, too; I prefer mainstream commercial fiction, whether sparkling comedy romance, fast-paced thrillers or intriguing detective novels.
What's your favorite scene you've ever written?
That changes with each book I write! Currently, it’s the letter scene in Persuade Me and its inevitable consequences.
Yes, rightly or wrongly, I took on the challenge of creating a modern version of one of the most famous love letters ever. Like Jane, I had to provide Wentworth with a plausible letter-writing opportunity – especially difficult in our world of text messages and emails. Then came the problem of getting the letter to Anna, without anyone else being aware of it. And finally, I wanted to include a suitable reunion between the older, wiser ex-lovers, and show the reactions of their nearest and dearest.
Sorry, that’s actually several scenes!
If you could be a fly on the wall during any Austen scene, what would it be and why?
I’d like to say the walk where Darcy proposes to Lizzy second time round, which I name as my favourite scene. But it’s such a private moment that I’d rather leave them to it!
So, as it’s the 20oth anniversary of the publication of Sense & Sensibility (or didn’t you know?!), I’m going for the scene where Lucy Steele reveals her little secret to Fanny Dashwood. Jane is so skilful in her characterisation that seeing both of these scheming women getting their comeuppance is extremely satisfying.
What's next for you?
Northanger Nights. No prizes for guessing which novel that’s based on! And I understand there’s a Henry Tilney fan club known as the Tilneyettes, so I’ll have them to contend with if I get it wrong!
Quickfire Silly Stuff:
Your Regency Heir/ess name?
Not sure what this means? If it’s ones I would make up (yep), how about Rake de Praved, heir to the Longhorn estate – hot in pursuit of the beautiful, feisty and as yet untouched Lady Desiree Bigg-Wither (a possible descendant of Jane herself, if she hadn’t changed her mind about Harris’s proposal).
Favorite scene in all of Austen?
The walk where Darcy proposes to Lizzy second time round, because Jane has done such a marvellous job of showing their individual journeys leading to this moment.
Your “truth universally acknowledged”?
As Lizzy says: “The more I see of the world, the more am I dissatisfied with it; and every day confirms my belief of the inconsistency of all human characters, and of the little dependence that can be placed on the appearance of merit or sense.” But, like Lizzy, I’m a fairly sanguine person and not that dissatisfied.
Jane, twitter-style: If you could tweet 1 message to Jane (140 characters or less) what would you say?
Get decent pics on ur Facebook page quick! Ur sister’s added weird stuff that looks nothing like u!
Give us some advice for 1 of Austen's characters (for example, advice to Charlotte on living with Mr Collins):
Given that there’s no turning back, a pair of ear plugs would be your best investment.
Character you most want to shake?
Jane Fairfax. As Jane Austen said, ‘Pictures of perfection make me sick and wicked.’
Oh my god, ME TOO! I just want to knock her about a bit every time I read Emma.
Character you'd least like to be related to?
Mr Darcy, for obvious reasons!
If by "be related to" you mean by marriage, then yes...
Would you rather:
-- be stranded on an island with Lady Catherine or Mr Collins?
Depends on how big the island is, but I think Lady Catherine has more entertainment value in the long run.
-- attempt to "reform" bad boy Henry Crawford or bad boy George Wickham?
Definitely Henry, provided there was very little hope of success!
-- have Lady Catherine or Mrs Bennet as a mother-in-law?
Mrs Bennet, but in very small doses.
Ain't that the truth? Thanks for joining us, Juliet!
I know that after meeting Dr Rick Wentworth here and here, we're all eagerly awaiting the publication of Persuade Me (and now Northanger Nights!), but until then, why not occupy your thoughts with Juliet's The Importance of Being Emma?
Mark Knightley - handsome, clever, rich - is used to women falling at his feet. Except Emma Woodhouse, who's like part of the family - and the furniture. When their relationship changes dramatically, is it an ending or a new beginning? Emma's grown into a stunningly attractive young woman, full of ideas for modernising her family business. Then Mark gets involved and the sparks begin to fly. It's just like the old days, except that now he's seeing her through totally new eyes. While Mark struggles to keep his feelings in check, Emma remains immune to the Knightley charm. She's never forgotten that embarrassing moment when he discovered her teenage crush on him. He's still pouring scorn on all her projects, especially her beautifully orchestrated campaign to find Mr Right for her ditzy PA. And finally, when the mysterious Flynn Churchill - the man of her dreams - turns up, how could she have eyes for anyone else? With its clueless heroine and entertaining plot, this modern re-telling of Jane Austen's "Emma" stays true to the original, while giving fresh insights into the mind of its thoroughly updated and irresistible hero.
Interested? Thanks to Juliet, you can win a copy! Just fill out this form and leave a comment for Juliet on any of the posts relating to her (see below).
International (provided it doesn't have to be hand-couriered to the depths of the Amazon jungle, re: Juliet's requests. ;P )
Ends June 30th
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