I'm increasingly contacted by students and academics who are interested in my Austen-related fiction, so I'm putting together a page of useful information. This is very much a work in progress and more will appear here in the future. For a booklist click here. For covers and some reviews of the Diaries click here. For information about writing the novels click here
This page was last updated in January 2018 with improved links.
Gabrielle Malcolm has an extended interview with me in Fan Phenomena: Jane Austen
These books also contain mentions:
Berberich, Christine, ed. The Bloomsbury Introduction To Popular Fiction. United States: Continuum Publishing, 2014. Print.
Dow, Gillian, and Clare Hanson, eds. Uses Of Austen: Jane's Afterlives. United Kingdom: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012. Print.
Nicklas, Pascal, and Oliver Lindner. Adaptation and Cultural Appropriation: Literature, Film, and the Arts.. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2012. Print.
Punter, David, ed. A New Companion To The Gothic. United States: John Wiley & Sons, 2015. Print.
Raw, Laurence, and Robert G. Dryden. Global Jane Austen: Pleasure, Passion, and Possessiveness in the Jane Austen Community.2013. Print.
Ridout, Alice. Contemporary Women Writers Look Back: From Irony to Nostalgia. London: Continuum, 2012. Print.
This is a transcript of an article I wrote for the Historical Novel Society's review magazine (Feb 2010):
Jane Austen and the Gothic novel.
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies? Mr Darcy, Vampyre? Jane Bites Back? Whatever is the world coming to? Why are the classics suddenly being mashed up with monsters? And why is Austen the author spawning all these monstrous add-ons?
On the surface, she seems an unlikely choice for such treatment. Her novels are comedies of manners and she herself was the daughter of a clergyman, a spinster who lived with her family in the quiet English countryside during an era of elegance and ease. But we have only to scratch the surface to find something very different underneath. Her novels are certainly funny and each of them contains a romance, but alongside the drawing-room manners and the comical characters we have a darker strain in her books.
In Sense and Sensibility we see the harsh realities of life for women. The older Eliza is forced into a repugnant marriage, and when she tries to find some happiness in an affair she is cast off by both husband and lover, leading to poverty, illness and early death - a death which, if not for Colonel Brandon's help, would have taken place in a debtors' prison.
Her daughter, born to one of her lovers, is cared for by Brandon, but she is seduced, made pregnant and then abandoned by a plausible rogue. Even Bath, a seemingly staid and respectable place, is not safe, for this is where the seduction begins; a place where Brandon was sure she would be safe. It is only through his kindness that she, like her mother, is saved.
Lydia Bennet, if she had not had powerful friends, might have suffered a similar fate when Wickham abandoned her, as, in time, he surely would. Her youth and liveliness might have secured her more lovers and more fun, but what when her youth and looks faded? The long term future, without Darcy's interference, did not look bright for Lydia.
Women's dependent position is not the only darkness in Austen. Her men, too, are often dependent. One of the heroes of Sense and Sensibility, Edward Ferrars, is financially dependent upon his mother and subject to her whims and caprices. Frank Churchill, in Austen's Emma, is also dependent, and risks being disinherited if he does anything to displease Mrs Churchill. Even Mr Collins, the comical clergyman from Pride and Prejudice, has some reason for his obsequiousness: a man with no connections must make himself agreeable if he is to earn a living and avoid the poor house.
Nor is the darker strain merely personal. There is a deep-seated political darkness in the books. In Mansfield Park, Austen touches on the subject of slavery and even Pride and Prejudice, Austen's most sparkling novel, does not escape as there is the threat of war. The militia are stationed in Meryton to protect the inhabitants should England be invaded, and the removal of the militia to Brighton is to ensure that Napoleon doesn't land his troops on the coast.
Austen's life, too, is not as tranquil as it might appear at first glance. Though she never married, she was, according to her sister Cassandra, in love with a young man who died before he had a chance to propose. It was Cassandra's belief that, had he lived, Jane would have accepted him. Jane's tragedy echoes Cassandra's own tragedy, for when her fiancé went to the West Indies as chaplain to his regiment, he died there of yellow fever.
Early death is a constant feature of Austen's letters, with illness, childbirth and riding accidents claiming many lives. There are also many early deaths in her novels, for example Benwick's fiancée in Persuasion, Mr Dashwood's first wife in Sense and Sensibility and Fanny's little sister in Mansfield Park.
Politically, Austen was in touch with the turbulent events of the day and well aware of the dangers surrounding her. She had brothers in the Navy, and from them she learnt of the progress of the war; through her cousin, Eliza, she had a personal insight into the horrors of the French Revolution, for Eliza married a French Count who was sent to the guillotine.
This darker strain is to be found more markedly in the novels Austen read. In the early nineteenth century, the Gothic novel was flourishing. The "horrid novels" so beloved by Catherine Morland, the heroine of Northanger Abbey, contained gloomy castles, mercenaries, banditti, kidnappings, murder and more. The decade which saw the publication of Austen's novels also saw the publication of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and Polidori's The Vampyre, both of which introduced new monster prototypes which were to endure for two hundred years (and undoubtedly more).
Which brings us back to today, and the current wave of monster mash-ups, which, with their darker themes, echo the darker themes in Austen's life, novels and world.
But, as with Austen and her world, scratch the surface of the monster mash-ups and it will be seen that, although there are similarities, there are also great differences between the individual books. Together they form a trend in publishing, but they each approach the idea from a different angle and with very different results.
Quirk's editorial director Jason Rekulak, who dreamed up Zombies' concept, is quoted as saying, "I just thought it would be funny to desecrate a classic work of literature." The Seth Graham-Smith novel, published by Quirk, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, is a parody which uses 85% of Austen's novel but adds scenes of zombie mayhem.
Mr Darcy, Vampyre, my own novel, published by Sourcebooks, came from quite a different place. It was woven of many strands which had been gathering inside my imagination over a period of years. The seed was sewn when I was watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer and I found myself wishing they would do an episode where Buffy and the gang were sent into the world of Pride and Prejudice. Buffy and Angel would be Lizzy and Darcy; Willow and Oz would be Jane and Bingley; Xander would be Mr Collins; Giles and Buffy's mum would be Mr and Mrs Bennet. It never happened, but the idea of Darcy as a vampire stayed with me.
In the meantime I wrote a series of heroes' diaries (Mr Darcy's Diary et al) which looked at Austen's novels from the heroes' points of view. All the time I was writing them, at the back of my mind, another idea was growing. I wanted to write a novel which would set Austen's characters in their wider historical context, against a background of the Grand Tour and the Napoleonic wars. I also wanted to write a Gothic novel in the tradition of the Gothics that Austen herself read. And most of all I wanted to write a sequel to Pride and Prejudice. All these ideas remained dormant until I started writing my final diary, Henry Tilney's Diary. To put myself in the right frame of mind, I re-read The Mysteries of Udolpho, and all the ideas that had been floating round in my head came together.
What if, for my sequel to Pride and Prejudice, I eschewed the oft-written story of Lizzy and Darcy settling into Pemberley, and instead sent them to the continent on their wedding tour? As long as I set the novel during the Peace of Amiens then foreign travel would be possible for them and the background to the book would then be some of the great European cities such as Paris and Venice, caught up in an unsettling time of transition.
And what if I paid homage to The Mysteries of Udolpho by sending Lizzy and Darcy over the Alps, then down into Piedmont and along the Brenta to Venice, echoing the journey in that novel?
At once I saw the possibilities for a very different kind of sequel, with many of the glittering things I wanted to read about on the Darcys' wedding tour - and I felt sure other people wanted to read about - such as balls and soirées, but also a darker side: a gloomy castle in the Alps, ancient retainers, portents of doom and an adventure to match the Gothic novels of Austen's era.
With the idea of a gloomy castle, came the final what if? What if Darcy had a secret? What if there was a reason for his reserved behaviour in Pride and Prejudice, beyond the reasons given on the surface? What if he was a vampyre?
Immediately I was intrigued. How would that affect his relationship with Elizabeth? How would it colour their wedding tour? And how would she find out?
As I turned the ideas over in my mind, I began to realise that casting Darcy as a vampyre not only took the sequel into the Gothic realm, it also made a statement about the the deathless nature of Pride and Prejudice - and, by extension, literature - and the eternal freshness of its characters. Mr Darcy is over 200 years old and yet he is forever young and handsome and he still has the power to attract women. I also realised that it made a comment on the relationship between novel and reader. A novel does not exist by itself, it only truly lives when a reader gives up some of their lifeforce in order to vitalise it. Often this is a willing gift, when a reader is seduced by the cover or the synopsis, but there is also a moment when a book takes over. It glues itself to the fingers and sucks the lifeforce from the reader, refusing to let go.
The idea proved irresistible to me and Mr Darcy, Vampyre was born.
So what are we to make of the new strain of Austen-inspired novels? Are they a natural progression from the earlier Austen-inspired novels? Or are they a new strain which, like Frankenstein's monster, have run amok, refusing to be contained in the day-to-day world?
Whatever the case, there is something for everyone. Those wanting a parody including zombies, mayhem and brains will find them in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Those wanting a brooding mood piece filled with extraordinary adventures will find it in Mr Darcy, Vampyre. And those wanting an even more quirky read will find it in Jane Bites Back.
And for those who want none of them I will end by quoting, not Austen, but Shakespeare: