New in February 2017. A section on Dear Mr Darcy and a section on Pride and Pyramids have been added. Links to Austenblog and Austenprose have also been added as both sites carry articles and interviews. The links take you to a full list of articles on each site.
Writing the Diaries
When I started writing (Mr) Darcy's Diary, I had no idea I would write an entire series of books based on Jane Austen's novels. On this page I want to talk a little bit about why I wrote them and what I learned through writing them.
I'm often asked: "Why Austen's novels? Why not someone else's?" I think one of the main things that attracted me to Austen's novels, apart from the fact that I love them, is that Austen herself was always experimenting. She wrote and re-wrote her books. She changed books from the epistolary format to the standard novel format. This malleability of the texts was very attractive to me as an author.
In Fan Phenomena I likened writing the diaries to literary archaeology - excavating Austen's novels to find things I hadn't noticed before and building a new work around the excavated details. However, that isn't the only way I think of the Diaries. At one point I found myself thinking of them in the way I suppose a clockmaker thinks about clocks: I was fascinated by the idea of taking Austen's novels apart and putting them together again in a new way, to see what made them tick. When I wasn't taking them apart and putting them together again I liked twisting and turning them to reveal new patterns, as if they were Rubik's cubes. The impulse was similar to the impulse that drives people to do crosswords or sudoku puzzles, but with a more literary bent. All this tinkering gave me new insights into the original novels from a technical, writer's point of view.
Here are some of the things I discovered.
When I started writing Mr Darcy's Diary,my initial thought was that a novel starting with Wickham trying to elope with Georgiana could never work since the "big reveal" in the centre of the book, where Darcy's letter corrects Elizabeth's misconceptions, would no longer be a reveal: readers would already know the truth. By taking this away, I would be removing the engine of the book; that is, the tension which gives it its compelling forward momentum. I quickly discovered, however, that the engine doesn't disappear, it simply changes. The momentum then comes from wondering what will happen when Elizabeth finds out. Of course, from a reader's point of view, since they most probably already know the story, this doesn't make much difference, but from a technical point of view I think it's one of the things that makes Pride and Prejudice so extraordinary. Coming up with one "book engine" as strong as this is a difficult task; coming up with a book engine as strong as this that can then be turned through 180 degrees and still be just as compelling is truly remarkable.
With Captain Wentworth's Diary I found myself wondering if Austen had at any point intended to turn Persuasion into a "whole" book; that is to say, one which began with Wentworth and Anne's first meeting. Authors don't always start writing books at the beginning and I think it's certainly possible. Persuasion is, of course, an excellent novel as it stands, but starting it at the mid-point in Wentworth and Anne's relationship is like starting Pride and Prejudice with Elizabeth and Darcy's meeting at Pemberley. Pride and Prejudice would have been a very different book if that had been the case.
I think the biggest surprise for me came when writing Colonel Brandon's Diary. I now see it as Colonel Brandon's bildungsoman, told through the eyes of the Dashwoods. This seems to me to be a revolutionary approach to the bildungsroman and one which brings the male bildungsroman into the female domain.
In Henry Tilney's Diary, I wanted to expore the relationship between Northanger Abbey and its Gothic influences. I wanted to include actual quotations from one of Mrs Radcliffe's novels and I was committed to making that novel The Mysteries of Udolpho, since it's a major text and it's mentioned in Northanger Abbey. The opportunity to include quotations came with the knowledge that Henry and his sister read to each other. I had to decide how much of Radcliffe's text to include. I wanted to use enough to give a flavour of the style so that any readers who weren't familiar with the Georgian Gothics had a chance to fall in love with them, but so that readers who didn't care for them wouldn't find it too annoying. It was a defficult line to walk and inevitably I couldn't find a level that suited every reader but I felt I'd achieved what I'd set out to do. I didn't use quotations from The Mysteries of Udolpho in the end because the two stories fought each other so I went back to Radcliffe's novels and used A Sicilian Romance instead. The two novels work so well together that I'm convinced in my own mind that Austen was thinking of it when she wrote Northanger Abbey.
I was particularly interested in the techincal challenges involved in writing Dear Mr Darcy.I'd never written in the epistolary style before. Making it more difficult was the fact that I was retelling an existing story, so that I didn't have as much flexibility as I would have done with an entirely new book. In a number of places I added original characters in order to make the plot comprehensible. Altogether, the whole thing required a lot of careful thought and planning. I wrote some parts of it in sections, following the letters going to and fro between the characters at pivotal moments of the book. I wrote other parts in a more straightforward manner, finally putting it all together in a way that was rather like assembling a giant jigsaw puzzle.
This is the first part of an interview from Austenprose
Iím sure people are wondering why I have written another retelling of Pride and Prejudice, and why I have used the epistolary form. The reason is very simple. As some of you will already know, Jane Austen rewrote Pride and Prejudice considerably between 1797, when it was begun, and 1813, when it was published. It was originally called First Impressions and it was probably written in the epistolary style.
Iíve often thought about the early version of Pride and Prejudice and wished we still had it to read. Over the years an urge started growing inside me to recreate it. Of course, my version is only my idea of how it might have been, and Iím not Jane Austen, but the idea gripped me. I thought it would be a fantastic way of providing another way into the story, and another way into Mr Darcy.
I decided to start with the death of Mr Darcy's father, because his relationship with his father was obviously very influential in turning him into the proud, haughty man of Pride and Prejudice.
Note: Pride and Pyramids is the only one of my novels that I haven't named. The working title for the book was Mr Darcy in Egypt. My editor at Sourcebooks, Deb Werksman, came up with the title Pride and Pyramids, which is perfect.
This is the first part of an interview from Austenprose
Iíd long wanted to write a sequel to Pride and Prejudice, but there were already a lot of sequels available and I didnít want to repeat the usual story of Elizabeth and Darcy settling down at Pemberley. I didnít want to write about the Darcys having marital problems either, since I firmly believe they live happily ever after, but a book needs incident in order to make it interesting, which created a dilemma. Then one day I was emailing Jackie, whose first book was set in Egypt, and something clicked, because it reminded me that Egyptology was a huge craze in the Regency era. The wealthy young men of the eighteenth century often extended their Grand Tour of Europe to include Greece, Turkey and Egypt, and interest was heightened in 1799 Ė when Jane Austen was writing Pride and Prejudice Ė because of the discovery of the Rosetta Stone. The Stone was brought to England and it was displayed in the British Museum from 1802 onwards.
Interest continued to grow and Belzoniís account of his adventures in Egypt, in 1815, (which was very useful for our research!) added more fuel to the fire. So it seemed a perfect setting for a sequel which would be new and fresh, but at the same time accurate for the period.