It’s wonderful being here on this website. If there’s anybody who knows about Austenesque Sequels, it’s, you Meredith. You have been tirelessly making lists and writing reviews for some time now, and I think it’s great that you have decided to set up your own blog.
Where and when did you first discover Jane Austen? What is your favorite thing about Jane Austen and her novels?
I discovered Jane Austen at school when I was about 14. My English teacher was really into Pride and Prejudice, and she used to love reading it to us. She was particularly good at playing Mrs Bennet, and she played the role very dramatically. I can still hear her in my head now, after all these years. I loved that class. That’s really when my interest in Jane Austen was born.
My favorite thing about Jane Austen, surprisingly, isn’t the romance, though of course I love that. It’s her cast of characters, particularly in Pride and Prejudice. I love every one of them because they’re so wonderfully written!
I understand you spent some time as a literature professor. Can you tell us about your teaching experiences? What type of literature did you teach?
It’s easier to tell you what I didn’t teach because I taught a whole range, from Beowulf to 20th century African literature. For some reason I was given lots of different courses to teach. I didn’t teach some of the biggies, such as Milton and Chaucer. But having taught the history of British literature I covered a lot of writers. My area of specialty, though, was twentieth century British, and my focus was cultural studies.
As for teaching, I was always passionate about helping people realize that reading is an individual act, and that there are as many interpretations of a writer as there are people reading it. We all bring our life experiences into our reading and react accordingly. Many students come in and want to be told what to think about a particular writer. There is, of course, the historical background that people should know, but otherwise I always presented my interpretations as my own. The only thing I asked of people was that they could show me proof in the text.
Did you do anything to prepare for writing The Other Mr. Darcy? Was it difficult writing a novel that takes place during the Regency time period?
My first novel, An Improper Suitor, is a Regency romance, and so I’d already immersed myself in the Regency world. I’ve been reading traditional regencies for years, and I’ve read a great deal about the period and about Jane Austen. You could say I’ve been preparing to write regencies for a very long time.
But yes, you’d be amazed how much research goes into some of the small details. And then you have to really get into Jane Austen’s world and understand how things work there, because some of what we know about the Regency period focuses on London Society, especially the upper crust. You know the saying history is written by the victors? What we know of societies before the Industrial Revolution is skewed by the fact that those who knew how to read and write were a minority, and so we see the world through their eyes. But even within that group, you have a lot of differences. The rules for the landed gentry in the country are not necessarily the same as for those who lived in London. And there isn’t always agreement on the details.
For example, a short while ago there was a discussion about the hour for breakfast in the Regency period which involved researcher Nancy Meyer and a number of others, and it quickly became apparent that not only was it different in the country vs. Town, but it also differed according to economic status. The same was true of mourning customs and whether women attended funerals or not.
In many senses, it’s easier to research the Victorian period, which had much clearer rules and standards than the Regency, especially because more people could read, and so books became a way of standardizing acceptable behavior, especially for women, and these standards got picked up by the new middle class, so they became more widespread.
You only have to see the radical difference in clothing between the Georgian heavy fabrics and the sheer muslins of the Regency to appreciate that Regency society was very much a period of change and upheaval.
Tell us about Mr. Robert Darcy, the hero of your novel. Understandably you didn’t want to make him too similar to his English cousin, Fitzwilliam Darcy. How did you go about creating this new and different Mr. Darcy?
Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy was completely wrong for Caroline. Anyone can see that. If he remained as arrogant as he was at the beginning, they would have both have continued to feed on each other’s sense of superiority, and both ended up as really obnoxious beings. Luckily for Mr Darcy, Elizabeth came along. I thought really long and hard about who would be able to change Caroline, and it came to me it had to be someone who would be socially acceptable, but who didn’t follow the rules. Caroline needed to be jolted out of her complacency and made to see herself from an outsider’s perspective. Eventually it struck me that her Mr Darcy had to be American. And then it took off from there.
Which is more challenging: writing about characters already established or writing about one you created?
Oh, no question about it. Writing about characters already established, particularly if the characters are from Jane Austen. People are very familiar with Austen’s people, so you’d better not decide to go off and do your own thing!
The truth is, if you’re going to write a tribute to Jane Austen, you had better respect what she did. For one thing, you can’t improve on her characters, because no-one can equal her skill, let alone do it better. For another, why use Jane Austen characters if you want to write something else? The whole point is to try and keep the characters as close to the original as possible, while at the same time allowing them to react to different situations. This is tremendously difficult. I can only say that I’ve learned so much from the process.
So, to answer your question, starting with your own characters is sooo much simpler. But I love JA’s people too much to mind the restrictions they impose on my writing. It’s such a pleasure to re-inhabit their world.
There are many amusing and clever scenes in your book. What scene did you have the most fun writing?
Thank you, Meredith. The scene I enjoyed the most was the scene where Caroline drinks a bit too much sherry. I had a lot of fun with that.
Sourcebooks, Inc. publishes a lot of Jane Austen sequels and Austen inspired fiction, how was it working with a publishing company that deals with a lot of “Austenesque” novels? What are the advantages?
I’m lucky with both my publishers. Robert Hale has published traditional British-style Regencies (slower, more historically based than their US equivalents) since the 1970s, and there’s very little that my Hale editor Gill doesn’t know about that time period, and she’s a stickler. And of course at Sourcebooks Deb Werksman certainly knows her Jane Austen and her Regency era social history, as well as being familiar with all the other Austeneque writings. Consequently, I can feel secure that, between the two of them, my historical details have been carefully filtered. And at Sourcebooks you also have a team of hardworking people who are all familiar with the sequels, and know what to expect.
Another advantage is that there is a certain built-in audience that knows immediately when a new novel is out. Sourcebooks *is* the source for Jane Austen sequels, so it’s great to fit right in.
The disadvantage, of course, is that the competition is tough! But I suppose it’s tough anyway, for all writers.
Do you have any advice for any aspiring authors?
I’m a reader for the Romance Novelists’ Association in the UK, and we have a wonderful scheme called the New Writers’ Scheme in which those of us who are published critique unpublished writers’ work to help them along. From what I’ve seen, I would recommend two things:
The first is to remember that writing is a craft. You wouldn’t expect to become a carpenter by taking an axe and felling trees. You need to put the time in to learn the basic skills like characterization, plot and style, then you have to learn how to fine-tune these skills, and then you have to find your voice and learn to apply your skills to that new-found voice. There is no easy way to learn this, except to write and write and throw away a lot of things you’ve written until you realize one day that finally, you’ve worked out how to do this. Of course, workshops, online advice and critique groups are very important in this process, too.
The second essential advice I’d give to an aspiring writer is to be willing to accept criticism and learn from it. This is very tough, because we’re all very defensive about what we write. After all, it’s all very subjective, isn’t it? And to make this doubly difficult, not all criticism is actually helpful. There are always people who inflate their self-worth by criticizing others. But you have to be able to step back from what you’re doing and assess what your critic is saying, honestly and objectively. I’ve seen writers who have a lot of potential ignore criticism, and keep making the same mistakes over and over. If you do that, you end up never learning to write properly.
I think learning how to write requires a strange mix of humility, being able to take in on the jaw, and sheer hardheaded stubbornness.
What is next for you? Is there another book in the works?
My next novel, The Darcy Cousins, is coming out next spring, and is a lighter, “more sparkling novel” focusing mainly on Georgiana.
Meanwhile, my editor has given me the thumbs up for my next project, another Austenesque novel, but I can’t say anything more than that yet.
Thank you, Monica for your inisghtful answers and for taking the time to participate in this interview. Best of luck with the release of The Other Mr. Darcy and I the publication of your next book, The Darcy Cousins!
The Other Mr. Darcy
“Did you know that Mr. Darcy had an American cousin?!In this highly original Pride and Prejudice sequel by British author Monica Fairview, Caroline Bingley is our heroine. Caroline is sincerely broken-hearted when Mr. Darcy marries Lizzy Bennet— that is, until she meets his charming and sympathetic American cousin…
Mr. Robert Darcy is as charming as Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy is proud, and he is stunned to find the beautiful Caroline weeping at his cousin’s wedding. Such depth of love, he thinks, is rare and precious. For him, it’s nearly love at first sight. But these British can be so haughty and off-putting. How can he let the young lady, who was understandably mortified to be discovered in such a vulnerable moment, know how much he feels for and sympathizes with her?“
Austenesque Reviews is very happy to be hosting its very first GIVEAWAY! Thanks to the lovely people at Sourcebooks, I have one wonderful copy of The Other Mr. Darcy to give away to my readers! (US and Canada only)
You can enter the giveaway by commenting on this post with a question for Monica Fairview OR a comment about which other Austen “bad girl” you’d like to see transform into a likeable heroine.
*To have your name entered twice, become a follower of my blog (if you are already a follower, you will automatically be entered twice).
**To have your name entered three times, post, sidebar, facebook or tweet about this giveaway (please let me know if you did this).
This contest will end November 11th. Thank you for entering and best of luck!!!