Thank you Joana for supporting “The Twelve Days of Jane” event at Just Jane 1813. I have been looking forward to this interview with you because, not only do I love your books, but today we are going to discuss the very first book I ever read by you, “From This Day Forward” which thankfully set me on a path to enjoy all of your books. Yet, for me, this one has a special place in my heart because it’s your only JAFF sequel, and personally, I love JAFF sequels! For this blog event, your book is so perfect, because it’s a sequel that revolves around three significant Christmas seasons in Darcy and Elizabeth’s lives. I enjoyed this sequel so much, that I felt compelled to contact you right afterwards to share my admiration. Can you tell us what started you on the path to writing this book, which was your very first JAFF publication and why you focused this sequel around three different Christmas seasons in Darcy and Elizabeth’s lives?
(‘You are all to come to Pemberley at Christmas’ –Seasonal decorations at Osterley Park, photo Joana Starnes)
Thanks very much, Claudine, for inviting me to be part of ‘Twelve Days of Jane’ and for your kind words about ‘From This Day Forward’. It’s a great pleasure to be here, your new blog is a wonderful place for us to get together and share our love of Jane.
Like many of us, I was drawn to her novels in my teens, but real appreciation came much later. I eventually began to look beyond the love stories and focus on the details of her world. On how people of her ‘station’ lived, what they ate and when, how and where they travelled, what they did for fun. The turning point was the 1995 Pride and Prejudice adaptation, with its fascinating attention to detail, from Mr Bennet’s gooseberry fool to Lydia and Kitty’s game of quoits and Jane’s delightful hairstyle. ‘The Making of Pride and Prejudice’ was a book that gave me many happy hours and afterwards I was keen to learn as much as possible about the Regency period, from letters and diaries of the time, cookbooks, fashion plates, everything that came to hand.
My first published novel, ‘From This Day Forward’, sort of flowed naturally from this interest, which was also fuelled by the excellent JAFF I discovered at Derbyshire Writers’ Guild. Like many of us, I was fascinated with the idea of Elizabeth’s transition from a pert and playful country Miss to the Mistress of Pemberley, and no less with the early years of the Darcys’ marriage, the challenges they would have had to face, which would have only served to make their bond even stronger.
As you have mentioned, ‘From This Day Forward’ does revolve around three Christmas seasons. The first was suggested by the line in Elizabeth’s letter to her aunt, ‘You are all to come to Pemberley at Christmas’. I thought it would be lovely to see them get together – the welcome guests as well as the annoying ones, like Mrs Bennet and Miss Bingley – and revive old traditions, once Pemberley had become a true family home again. So there would be the Yule log and masquerades and parlour games, like those described so beautifully by Washington Irving during his travels to England. That was the Darcys’ first Christmas as husband and wife – the blissfully happy Christmas. In stark contrast, there would be a different one, when they must find a way to recover from heartache and loss. Finally, the story comes full circle to conclude with another happy Christmas, filled with joy, promise and hope.
(Attingham Park Dining Room – photo National Trust)
This book introduces a couple of love triangles, which, by the way, are still some of my favorite JAFF love triangles. For me, they were also some of the first JAFF love triangles that I had ever read, so I instantly became intrigued by the situations that you placed these characters in throughout FTDF. Can you tell us about your decision(s) regarding these JAFF triangles?
Wonderful to hear they’re some of your favourite love triangles! Mine too, one of them in particular 😉 But I should start with the least complex, the one involving Anne de Bourgh. In JAFF she often has no interest in her mother’s schemes, but for once I thought it might be reasonable to imagine her in love with Darcy and actually wanting to marry him. Not only because he is handsome and kind, but also because he is everything that she is not: independent, healthy, active, a breath of fresh air in her bland and stale existence.
Regarding Georgiana and her suitors, I saw it as a case of former errors coming back to haunt them. She would have to make a very difficult choice between the one who would do anything to rise above his past and prove himself to her – and the other, who comes to her untainted.
As for the most difficult triangle of them all, I just couldn’t resist the poignant pull of unrequited love. Especially when a strong, resilient man rendered temporarily weak by unfortunate circumstances finds himself in love with the woman who nurses him back to health. To her it’s nothing but friendly affection and common kindness. To him she is the difference between life and death – between heaven and hell. But she doesn’t know it and he can’t tell her. He is held back by the bonds of another love and by loyalty and honour. Because he’s had the horrible misfortune of falling in love with the one woman he cannot have – with his dearest cousin’s one true love. Hard to believe I adore Colonel Fitzwilliam, when I’ve chosen to torture him so, both in my first novel and my latest.
Yes, you have explored a similar theme in “The Unthinkable Triangle”. Why?
It was very tempting to sound the depths of his character and see him as something more than a plot device that pushes Darcy’s courtship further. In fact, ‘The Unthinkable Triangle’ was meant as some sort of mirror image of ‘From This Day Forward’ – at least up to a point. It was the bedside scenes that did it. They nudged my evil streak into considering what it would be like for Darcy to witness such scenes while he seemed to be at the losing end. In ‘From This Day Forward’ he has Elizabeth’s love and unquestionable loyalty. In ‘The Unthinkable Triangle’, for a while at least, Elizabeth mistakenly believes herself in love with his cousin. A reasonable mistake, I thought. In the original novel she is attracted to Wickham. Wouldn’t she be attracted to someone like Colonel Fitzwilliam, who has all of Wickham’s openness and charm, but also decency and honour and a temperament so very much like hers? Of course, she sees the error of her ways and understands eventually that it’s Darcy whom she truly loves. I can’t write JAFF where Elizabeth ends up with anyone else.
Darcy’s relationship with Colonel Fitzwilliam has always been one that I have enjoyed reading about in JAFF, and one that you have written extensively about in your books. I also enjoy the witty banter you create between these two gentlemen. Why do you continue to focus on their relationship in your books?
Largely because it’s ever so appealing to see Darcy as his nearest and dearest know him, without the mask of unbending reserve he shows to strangers. With Colonel Fitzwilliam he can be himself, he can joke and tease and be teased in return. He can show his caring and light-hearted side. In scenes involving Darcy and the Colonel we get a glimpse of Darcy’s true nature and of his earlier, untroubled youth. Of course, if the two gentlemen find themselves in love with the same woman, that brings a different set of troubles, and we seem them torn between loyalty and love, which makes their relationship even more poignant.
“From This Day Forward” includes a lot of historical details regarding the lifestyle, the traditions and the current events that were relevant to this period. As a reader, I relished learning about how Darcy and Elizabeth’s lives could have unfolded within this time period. As an author, what did this research process look like for you?
It was not so much as a research process as the joy of travelling back in time. I found glimpses of Pemberley and the Darcys in every stately home I visited and every book on the Regency period that I read. It was a delight to weave such details into the story, such as Elizabeth’s challenges in understanding the workings of Pemberley or in getting used to her new position in society. She is no longer a country Miss who can read all day and go on muddy walks. She has great responsibilities and duties now, and is thrown into very different circles. It was fun to include real gossip of the period and real-life events, such as the duel between two prominent figures on account of war policies. Who can imagine modern-day politicians settling their differences on the field of honour?
(Georgian Christmas at Osterley Park – photos Joana Starnes)
The Christmas traditions that Jane Austen and her family enjoyed are somewhat different from the customs and traditions that the English presently share throughout the Christmas season. Can you share with us any of these holiday traditions, from Austen’s lifetime, that you and your family still enjoy today?
Not many, come to think of it. Some people do maintain the tradition of pudding stirring, but it’s a tricky business to cook the perfect Christmas pudding, so we venture no further than mince pies or Christmas cake. Last year I thought we’d go for roast goose instead of the more modern turkey, but I was so frazzled at the shops that I came home with duck 😀 Not much chance of burning the Yule log or hosting Twelfth Night balls in a modern house either, but I once read that in the olden days, probably even before Jane Austen’s time, Christmas decorations were kept until Candlemas (Feb 2). That’s one very old tradition we’d happily follow and often do – anything to keep the Christmas spirit for a little longer.
What inspires you to continue to write JAFF?
I believe it’s the lure of the ‘happily ever after’. The thought that no matter what obstacles are heartlessly set before them, Elizabeth and Mr Darcy will always get together – that there’s a red thread guiding us through our troubles towards the happiness that we’re meant to have.
What are your thoughts and ideas regarding the upcoming February 2016 movie release of “Pride & Prejudice & Zombies”? Do you believe this movie will create an even greater interest in JAFF, and if so, how do you imagine this may play out within the JAFF community?
I’m curious to see it. I think they were rather late in making it, zombies and vampires were all the rage a fair while back. But who knows, it might be successful even if it’s coming a bit late. I’m sure that some of us in the JAFF community will love it and some of us will hate it. But I think that, with her great sense of humour, Jane Austen would have been ‘excessively diverted.’
Jane Austen is tremendously popular 200 years after the publication of her work. Why do you think she is so popular today and what do you think, in regards to Austen, really resonates with modern audiences?
I think her works bring the perfect mixture of traditional values and modern ideals. We are drawn to her way of life, to romantic courtship, balls and genteel manners (not to mention gentlemen in tailcoats and riding boots – or wet shirts). But we are also thrilled to find that her characters are rewarded not for their wealth and status, but for their intelligence, their honourable deeds, their capacity to love. Then there’s the great sense of humour of her writings and the ever so uplifting message that love conquers all. It makes for an irresistible mix.
What can we expect from you in the future?
More ‘Pride and Prejudice’ variations, and perhaps the odd nod to the other novels. A ‘P&P meets Emma’ is rather tempting, but not just yet, I’m still focussing on Elizabeth and Darcy. And since I’ve tortured him so cruelly in my last books – in all of them, come to think of it – I think now it’s Elizabeth’s turn.
What can readers who enjoy your book do to help make it successful?
I think it’s a tremendous help when readers talk about it and review it on Amazon, Goodreads, blogs, any other forums. If people enjoyed it, other readers would like to know why. If they didn’t like it, others might be curious to see what the fuss is about 🙂 Over the years I have discovered many favourites thanks to other readers’ recommendations – and I have you to thank for some fabulous ones. As an author, I have also learned an awful lot from reviews, both positive and negative, and I deeply appreciate all my readers’ interest in my books.
How can readers discover more about you and your work?
I love to share details about my novels, about what inspired them, as well as snippets from my travels to Jane Austen territory, to places mentioned in her novels and to old country houses. Please follow the links below to friend me on Facebook, follow me on Twitter, visit my website, follow my blog posts at Austen Authors or visit the ‘Writers’ Block’ at Austen Authors for excerpts and vignettes.
Thanks ever so much, Claudine, for the warm welcome, it’s such a joy to talk to you! I only wish we could chat face to face someday! Happy Christmas and a wonderful New Year to you, your loved ones and your readers at Just Jane!
I’d love to put something in the Christmas stocking: a Kindle copy of any of my books, reader’s choice. Please leave a comment for a chance to enter the giveaway by December 15th. All giveaway winners will be listed on the blog on December 16, 2015. Merry Christmas and happy reading!