Hello readers! Today I’m so excited to welcome two contributing authors of the recently published Austenistan anthology to Austenesque Reviews!!! For those of you who are unfamiliar with it, Austenistan is a collection of short stories written by various members of the Jane Austen Society of Pakistan (JASP) and edited by Laaleen Sukhera! The collection consists of seven stories inspired by Jane Austen and set in contemporary Pakistan. I don’t know about you, friends, but I think this sounds terrific and wonderfully unique! 🙂 I’m so thrilled to have contributing writer and editor, Laaleen Sukhera, and contributing writer, Saniyya Gauhar, stop by for a little tête-à-tête.
Welcome, ladies! How about we begin by talking about Jane Austen! When and where did you first discover Jane Austen? Did you fall in love with her novels right away?
Laaleen: I did, yes. I grew up surrounded by books and had an early affinity for classics. My English aunt gave me my first set of Austens on my twelfth birthday and the very first one I read was Pride and Prejudice. I remember being fixated by the banter between Lizzie, Darcy and Caroline Bingley at that scene at Netherfield—I didn’t actually find Darcy crush-worthy until Colin Firth later portrayed him. Other first impressions of her novels: getting amused by Sir Walter Elliot keenly reading Debrett’s Peerage, relating to Catherine Morland, finding Anne Elliot a little sad, comparing Fanny Price to Jane Eyre, and preferring Willoughby’s glamour to Colonel Brandon’s decency. But of course, I was a child myself then.
Saniyya: I first discovered Jane Austen when I was twelve years old – Pride & Prejudice was required reading for our class and I started reading it very reluctantly because I never enjoyed books that school made us read! However, I found myself reading beyond the chapters that the teacher set and I still remember how Darcy’s first proposal took me by complete surprise- I really wasn’t expecting it and my reaction was to put the book down, smile and go “Wow!”
Thank you so much for sharing your first impressions, how lucky you both are to have encountered Jane Austen at such a young age. I think it is so wonderful that Jane Austen’s novels can be appreciated and admired by so many diverse cultures, she truly is timeless and without bounds! 😉 What are some aspects of her novels that especially resonate with you? What parts of the Regency culture do you find easy to relate to and understand?
Laaleen: I’ve been enamoured by the Regency ever since I can remember. I devoured Georgette Heyer novels in my adolescence, and have been rereading favourites since then. My fascination for Beau Brummel, Prinny, and Princess Charlotte hasn’t abated. While much of what I’ve read and watched about the Regency was fantasy and escapism for me, I couldn’t help but draw comparisons to life around me. I suppose it struck me more when I was away at college in Massachusetts and realized how much more similar Pakistan was to Austen’s England when it came to social codes and etiquette than the USA and it ended up inspiring my honours thesis and then, two decades later, Austenistan. The parallels are endless—everything from our national obsession with ‘marrying well’ to the social season and being part of fashionable society and of course, inherent misogyny.
Saniyya: I agree – she is timeless. And I think part of the reason for that is because she focused strongly on the story she was telling. The conversations, relationships and stories resonate with us today because we can identify with so many situations that will always be timeless – the pursuit of love, happiness, dealing with jealousy, money, disingenuous people etc. I personally find so many things I can relate to such as the importance of marriage in our culture; the social aspects too really resonate with me. Pakistan is a very “social” society and in that respect is similar to Regency England.
Speaking of society, you are both members of the Jane Austen Society of Pakistan, correct? Is that how you first met? Can you tell us a little bit of about the JASP and what being a part of it has meant for you?
Laaleen: Actually, we first met in London as university students through our very close mutual friend. We reconnected later and have remained good friends since. Saniyya is like a sister to me. She was the one who encouraged me to start JASP. We started off as the Jane Austen Society of Islamabad, where I lived at the time, and it was a Facebook page. We hosted the first dress-up tea party feeling quite eccentric and a little foolish until our guests finally arrived. It’s been great fun and I hope it continues for many years!
Saniyya: I have known Laaleen for the last sixteen years but we became close friends, almost like sisters, when she moved to Islamabad. JASP was her brainchild and she came up with the idea about two years ago. Being part of JASP has been a fantastic and very rewarding experience. It’s such fun! It’s a book club with a twist! I have met so many wonderful, supportive people because of JASP and a very special book called Austenistan came out of it. So it really has been amazing.
I love it! How wonderful that you started the group, Laaleen. What a brilliant way to connect with other admirers and celebrate Jane Austen. Let’s talk about Austenistan, what inspired this collection of stories? Can you tell us a little bit about each of your stories?
Laaleen: The collection is inspired by Austen’s novels, characters, or settings, and set in Pakistani society. I edited the stories and wrote one myself as well. My story, On The Verge, was inspired in part by Jane herself, reimagined as a blogger with picky taste in men, torn between being practical and trying to marry well and following her heart. Roya also has some of Lizzie Bennet’s love for the ridiculous and fascination with a Pemberley-like fairytale estate. There are several love interests in the story and it’s comedic tone is embedded with social commentary and a bit of satire.
Saniyya: My story is inspired by Miss Bingley and a line towards the end of Pride & Prejudice that says, “Miss Bingley was very deeply mortified by Mr. Darcy’s marriage.” This line had always intrigued me. When I first read it many years ago as a pre-teen, I had felt a sense of triumph on behalf of Elizabeth that the jealous girl had failed in her machinations. But now as an adult, I thought it was an interesting choice of word because “mortified” means to be embarrassed or deeply humiliated. So I asked myself why? Surely, if Miss Bingley had been in love with Mr. Darcy, she would have been heartbroken or upset – but not mortified. It was then that Miss Bingley, or rather, Kamila Mughal, kind of stormed into my mind and I realised that she was mortified because she had made her feelings towards Darcy so obvious that everyone around her would have been patently aware of them and to a proud character like her, this would have been intolerable. Furthermore, because Darcy and Elizabeth were in her close social circle (and Jane was married to her brother), she would be exposed to them and their happiness very often – how would she cope and deal with the jealousy and humiliation? How would she move on? What kind of face would she present to society? So I wanted to explore those feelings because these are feelings that people are often too embarrassed to articulate. Jealousy is not only a lonely emotion, it’s an embarrassing one too that nobody likes to admit to.
It all sounds just so terrific, ladies! I love the themes of both stories and cannotwait to read the whole collection! Not only do your stories bring Jane Austen to Pakistan but they also bring her to our modern-day society. What were some of the challenges you faced while writing your stories? What aspects of writing your stories was the most fun?
Laaleen: Initially I found myself writing excessively about the back story, Roya’s upbringing and family, how she met her fiancé and so forth. And then I ended up focusing more on other events and rewrote it entirely until I felt the characters were so real that they took over. I find it maddening that I get my best ideas either when I’m in the shower or when I’m about to drop off to sleep and then forget most of them when it’s time to write them down. It can also be quite gut-wrenching to edit ruthlessly and delete thousands of words, but I feel my honours thesis prepared me for slashing pages and pages without crying too much. I was fortunate to be working with such wonderfully innovative writers and thoroughly enjoyed the whole process. It was a labour of love with very low expectations so the buzz (it’s a bestseller in Pakistan) has been a delightful cherry on top.
Saniyya: The funny thing is that I had initially intended telling a story about Charlotte Lucas and I had actually mapped it all out. But when I opened my laptop to write, Miss Bingley literally barged into my mind and I just started writing. It was as if I was watching the events that occur in the story in my mind and I was struggling to get it all down because the characters were talking so fast! The fun part was that I was so immersed in Kamila Mughal’s story that it kind of cushioned me from some of the dramas of my daily life! The challenging part was that even though it took me two evenings to finish – it was a physically exhausting process.
I love that your characters felt so real to life, Laaleen, and Saniyya, I think it is so like Miss Bingley that she took over all your plans and changed them! 🙂 Can you tell us what is next for you?
Laaleen: It’s too soon to say, but just maybe a screen adaptation. I’m also in the early stages of writing a novel.
Saniyya: I am in the process of writing something else but it isn’t related to Jane Austen.
We wish you the best with your future projects. How about we switch it up with some Quick-Fire Questions:
- Which Jane Austen character do you best identify with?
Laaleen: Lizzie Bennet because she “dearly loves a laugh,” is loyal to her loved ones, and because she got over Wickham really quickly. I just wish that I had her athleticism, though.
Saniyya: For ages it was Jane Bennet but now I think its Elinor Dashwood.
- Which Jane Austen character do you intensely dislike?
Laaleen: Lucy Steele, the frenemy from hell! Two faced, manipulative, schmoozy and snide.
Saniyya: John Thorpe from Northanger Abbey – I think he’s ghastly. A real trouble maker.
- What is one of your favorite quotes from Jane Austen’s novels?
Laaleen: “You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope.”
Saniyya: “Your mother will never see you again if you do not marry Mr. Collins and I will never see you again if you do!”
- What is one of your favorite quotes from your own writing?
Laaleen: “He went from Jameel Tanveer Butt of Gujranwala to Sir Jimmy Tanvir of Surrey.”
Saniyya: “Darling, it’s the nerds that make the best husbands. Always marry the nerds!”
- What do you love most about Jane Austen’s novels?
Laaleen: Her readers may get older but her stories and characters always stay fresh and endearing. In fact, I’ve found myself noticing new things with each new read and appreciating her work all the more. Her dialogue and humour is unparalleled and it’s a delight to see it adapted to the screen and stage.
Saniyya: The stories are written so beautifully and with such wit. Practically every sentence is a gem as are the conversations between the characters. Each of the stories are timeless. All the characters are very strongly fleshed out from the main characters to each of the supporting characters.
- What is something Jane Austen has taught you?
Laaleen: That people are not always what they appear, that there is no happily ever after as such, and that the best men are found in books.
Saniyya: I think a little bit about human behavior and motivations – her wry observations about her characters, many of which we see everyday – are spot on!
- Which three Jane Austen characters would you like to invite to your next JASP meeting?
Laaleen: Well, since our meet-ups have so far been entirely female, I think it’d help to fix the gender balance, so I’d invite the yummiest Austen heroes and entertaining cads to drink tea with us ladies: brooding Darcy, romantic Wentworth, funny Tilney, dishy Willoughby, and chatty Frank Churchill. What a salon that would be!
Saniyya: Colonel Brandon, Mr. Darcy and because my story was inspired by her, I have to say Miss Bingley.
- If you were to meet Jane Austen, what would you like to hear her say?
Laaleen: Something biting and witty and very naughty, the content of all the letters that her sister Cassandra sadly burnt into oblivion!
Saniyya: I don’t think I would have any preconceived ideas about what I would to hear her say. I would just love to have the pleasure of hearing her say whatever she wants to say!
Oh, your answers were so wonderful! Thank you so much for participating in this interview, Laaleen and Saniyya! It has been a real treat to have you answer my questions!! I so appreciated this opportunity to chat with you both!
Connect with Laaleen
In celebration of Laaleen’s and Saniyya’s lovely visit to Austenesque Reviews we are giving away one ebook copy of Austenistan to one lucky reader!
To enter this giveaway leave a comment, a question, or some love for Laaleen and Saniyya!!
- This giveaway is open worldwide.
- This giveaway ends June 4th