Good morning Just Jane 1813 readers. Today I excited to have us visit with Ivy May Stuart in South Africa, where the author of “Becoming Elizabeth” has joined us for an interview.
I want to thank you, Ivy May, for joining us here at Just Jane 1813. I recently read your debut JAFF book, “Becoming Elizabeth,” which is a lovely story about the inner struggles Darcy and Elizabeth experience before they can decide whether or not they can be in a relationship with each other. After reading your story, I knew that my readers would love to learn about you and your writing work. Can you start by sharing with my readers some background about your own life?
I am a South African and live in Pretoria, (our country’s capital city) where I manage a very busy, Edwardian-styled guest house. I was a teacher of English and History for many years and I suppose that those two subjects have fascinated me all of my life. I write during the day, largely between 11.00am and 2.00pm (in-between guests arriving and leaving).
My father was a voracious reader and when I was sent to boarding school (quite a common practice for children at the time) reading became integral to my life as well. At around twelve years of age, I discovered the novels of Georgette Heyer and they transported me from where I was – surrounded by mountains and the African veld – to Regency England.
Please tell us a little about “Becoming Elizabeth” and what inspired you to write this story?
Everyone is fascinated by Elizabeth Bennet. There is a lightness, intelligence and honesty to her character that makes her endlessly appealing. While she makes some mistakes in ‘Pride and Prejudice’, she is already largely an adult.
Because I enjoy telling stories in which the central character evolves, I decided to take a closer look at the early forces that would have shaped Elizabeth Bennet’s character. Out of that came a character who has the original Elizabeth’s intelligence and playfulness but has yet to accept the realities of her life.
In my story, Darcy is more adult than Elizabeth (he has faced more sorrow and had to shoulder heavy responsibilities at a much younger age) but he has yet to understand that he has the right to be happy.
As a new writer, what advice can you share with other writers?
Respecting the intelligence of your reader is the bottom line, I think.
Why do you think people are still so drawn to Jane Austen and her work over 200 years later?
There is one thing that I have learned in reading comments about my book and that is that there is a different Jane Austen for everyone. To my mind, she has a deftly humorous touch which she uses to enchant her readers, all the while providing them with an overview of civilized society that was unparalleled at the time for its objectivity.
Jane Austen lived in a world in which women were relegated to the background: the foreground being dominated by men. Yet she managed to shine a light on women (the forgotten half of the population) and still make it fascinating reading. Without undue sentimentality, Austen showed women in their disadvantaged positions and then explored the compromises that they had to make to survive.
We are also indebted to her for her creation of intelligent, strong heroines.
Please tell us a little bit about your cover art for this book.
I chose an old-fashioned stile for the cover of ‘Becoming Elizabeth’ because the incident in which Darcy helps Elizabeth over the stile forms the crisis point in my plot. After this, Elizabeth begins to sense that there might be more to life than she imagines. I suppose that the stile is symbolic of the change in her life in that way.
I also avoided picturing the hero or heroine on the cover as I like to leave their appearance to the reader’s imagination if possible.
I loved the scene between Darcy and Elizabeth at the stile in your book because it was a moment where so many unanticipated emotions came bubbling to the surface. I love the way that the stile also symbolizes this shift within Elizabeth’s own life.
Please tell us about your first book, which is set during the Victorian era and what compels you to write historical fiction.
I began ‘An Unreasonable Woman’‘shortly after my mother passed away. She was the last of her generation and when I look back now, I wonder if part of the motivation wasn’t the fact that our entire family history in South Africa disappeared with her.
Originally, I began writing random observations in a notebook, hoping to create something meaningful for my daughter; then the writing took on a life of its own. I don’t remember exactly when my heroine, Judith Armstrong, appeared, but suddenly there she was: a forthright, rebellious young woman with a giant chip on her shoulder. The Ladies National Association to which she belongs in the novel was a Victorian women’s group which fought for the rights of prostitutes servicing the British Army between 1869 and 1886. They were the first protest group composed entirely of women and – despite some violence and heavy opposition – they managed to get the abusive ‘Contagious Diseases Act’ repealed.
Having created Judith, I wanted to see what would happen to her and my hero, Ralph Gilchrist, if they were taken from the rigidity of Victorian England and placed in a new world (South Africa) as my own grandmother had been.
At the time, the Anglo Zulu War would have been on the go in Natal (a British Colony). To me this was a ‘happy’ coincidence, as I had always been fascinated by the politics of that period and more particularly the Battle Of Isandlwana in which the two opposing forces (British and Zulu) met and clashed in a fateful battle that took place during a total eclipse on the side of a mountain that is shaped like the Sphinx. Truth is often stranger than fiction…
History has always been written from a male perspective. I believe that historical fiction allows us to achieve a kind of balance: it allows women to imagine what it must have been like for their shadowy sisters in the distant past. And then historical fiction, of course, is the ultimate in escapist reading. You move out of the world that you inhabit into another place and time, leaving the modern world behind. It’s fun and educational at the same time. You learn about another reality; a less comfortable but perhaps richer world.
Do you have plans to write more JAFF stories and if so, can you share some of your writing plans with us?
I enjoyed writing this JAFF story and can definitely see another one in my future. At the moment, I am researching an historical novel that takes place in South Africa just after the First World War.
How can readers discover more about you and your work?
I would be happy to answer any questions that readers might have for me on your blog. Thank you so much for having me.
I am thrilled that I will be reviewing “Becoming Elizabeth” in the upcoming days and that Ms. Stuart will be offering an ebook giveaway of this story for Just Jane 1813 readers with my upcoming review.
Readers, please feel free to ask Ivy May your questions about her work and her love for Jane Austen below this post. I also want to extend a big thank you to Ms. Stuart for joining us today for this lovely visit with my Just Jane 1813 readers.