Mar 112015

Author Interview2

I am very excited to welcome Lisa Pliscou, author of a soon-to-be published biography of Jane Austen titled, Young Jane Austen, to Austenesque Reviews today.  Lisa is here to chat about her writing, Jane Austen, and her new release. Lisa, since you may be a relatively new author to some of my readers, how about we start off with you telling us a little bit about yourself?  When and where did you first encounter Jane Austen?

Thanks for having me, Meredith!Lisa Pliscou

I’m a longtime writer and editor, working in the realms of both children’s books and books for adults. Not that I have a favorite either way, but there’s no doubt that I’m thoroughly steeped in the literary experience of childhood — I write children’s books, I edit children’s books, and I continue to read children’s books for the pure pleasure of it. Still love  Pippi Longstocking, The Perilous Gard, 101 Dalmatians, for example; still adore pretty much anything by Louisa May Alcott, Susan Coolidge, Betsy Byars, Amy Krouse Rosenthal, Maira Kalman . . .

As for Jane Austen, I didn’t particularly care for her books while in high school or college, and in my first novel,  Higher Education (published while I was in my twenties), I blush to admit that my protagonist makes a rude remark about her.

My appreciation — and deeper understanding — came slowly. I began rereading Austen’s novels in my thirties, and it was then that I got hooked. Her wit, irony, and elegant writing just knocked my socks off. And a few years ago I happened upon Claire Tomalin’s biography — so beautifully written, and so sensitive in its approach, that it sparked a binge-read of Austen biographies which ultimately became the research for  Young Jane Austen, my eighth book, which is written for adults.

That’s so interesting that your first encounter with Jane Austen wasn’t a favorable one!  But how wonderful that your second encounter produced such a lasting admiration and appreciation!  Your new release is a biography of Jane Austen early years, focusing on her birth through age 12.  What inspired you to write about this time period? 

In sharp contrast to Tomalin’s biography, some other biographers present a considerably less nuanced view of Jane’s childhood. Some pass along sentimental Austen family lore about a uniformly happy, untroubled time, which struck me at a minimum as being improbable, if not outright fatuous propaganda. Other biographers don’t seem particularly interested in her early years, as if keen to get quickly on to more well-known territory.

It was this curious divergence that really sparked my interest. It set me wondering  . . .

For example, although Jane’s family was lively, literate, and keenly interested in the world around them, they also struggled with significant financial issues before and throughout Jane’s life. That’s a stressful situation for sure. And children — particularly sensitive ones, as Jane no doubt was — have an awareness, often a painfully clear one, of things like this.

Another example has to do with three separate exiles from home before she was twelve. Like her other siblings before her, Jane was “farmed out” to a village family when she was a baby, returning home about a year and a half later. We know this is a crucial time in a person’s emotional and intellectual development; what might have been the impact on young Jane? And how might it have felt to have seen sent away to a faraway school at the age of seven, and to have nearly died from a severe illness? And, finally, she was sent away, to a different school, when she was nine, returning about a year later. That’s a significant amount of upheaval for a child.

These issues and events, and others that I touch on in Young Jane Austen, clearly signify — to me, at least — that Jane’s childhood had its share of nuance, and then some!

Young Jane AustenVery true!  Those issues and events that can definitely shape a person’s behaviors and beliefs.  I imagine her separation from home and ongoing financial woes impacted Jane Austen in both her life and her writing.  With all the research you did, I’m sure you learned plenty about Jane Austen’s youth that you didn’t know before.  What do you suppose Jane Austen loved most about her childhood?  What do you suppose was her greatest challenge?

That’s a great question about what Jane might have loved most about her childhood. It’s precisely the kind of inquiry that makes us Austen admirers gnash our teeth over all the discarded, lost, or destroyed letters which might have provided a more concrete sense of this, and so many other aspects of her life.

Perhaps because my focus in Young Jane Austen has to do with Jane’s creative development, it feels natural for me to say that books and reading had to have been such a seminal thing for her as a child. Wonder and delight, education, information, refuge, entertainment, a shared experience with her family . . . These are some of the terms I’d use to encompass it all, and certainly many of Austen’s biographers have done so as well.

In this regard, I found David Keisey’s personality-typing book, Please Understand Me II: Temperament, Character, Intelligence, to be very insightful , especially in his description of the “Idealist” personality: it seems to dovetail in many ways with what we know about Austen, particularly in her affinity for books and her gifts as a wordsmith, both enthusiasms she clearly manifested as a child.

“It may seem strange,” Keirsey says, “to describe Idealist children as ‘romantic,’ but they certainly are romantic in the sense that, as they look for their unique qualities, they are apt to identify with characters in stories. When very young, [they] usually enjoy being read stories which are beyond their own reading capabilities, but which fire their imagination. Fairy tales and children’s stories . . . are all real for the Idealist child to a degree not shared by other types.” He goes on to say that these children love “stories that have happy endings, with heroes winning, and even villains having a change of heart in the end. Such happily-ever-after stories capture Idealist kids from the very beginning and never let go of them, however much their hopes and dreams are defied by reality.”

Which leads me to your question about Jane’s greatest challenge. That is also, of course, a matter of speculation. But I do wonder if, as a child, she realized one of the most serious personal consequences of her family’s money struggles was that it made her chances of getting married considerably less likely. Mrs. Bennet in Pride and Prejudice is quite open about her concerns and fears, and it’s easy to imagine she would have been freely expressing them all the girls’ lives. Perhaps Mrs. Austen was as frank with her two daughters.

What insightful answers!  I can easily see and understand the theory of Jane Austen being an idealist child, deriving comfort and inspiration from tales of happily ever after, and love and goodness conquering all .  And given how money is an underlying and prevalent theme in all her novels, it makes sense that it was a subject often canvassed at home.  Can you tell us a little bit more about your experience writing Young Jane Austen, do you have a favorite part?  What was your biggest challenge with this work?

My favorite part about the creation of Young Jane Austen actually preceded the writing. It was the “Aha!” moment which occurred as I was voraciously making my way through all those different biographies, as mentioned above. Even as I was registering the various interpretive stances, sorting through them, assessing them, trying to grasp as many factual details as I could, what emerged from all this, well, input was a powerful sense that there was a true narrative to those first twelve years: a fascinating story of a young writer’s development, with a definitive sense of a beginning, middle, and end, and one that was chockablock full of connections to Jane’s life and work as an adolescent and adult.

The narrative section of Young Jane Austen begins with, of course, Jane’s birth, and includes some context about her family and the little village of Steventon. It concludes just as Jane takes up her pen to begin writing her wonderful and hilarious juvenilia. And in between are the significant events of her young life.

My biggest challenge? I’d say it was the classic researcher’s dilemma. You could just go on, and on, and on, reading, exploring, cross-checking . . . I find Jane Austen’s life and work so intriguing that if I’d gone down that path, Young Jane Austen would never have been written! There was just a point where I had to stop; a point where I felt I had enough material, sufficient understanding, to at least propose an answer my initial question: How did young Jane Austen develop into a writer?

And I was keen — am keen! — to share this vision, this tantalizing possibility, with others. So, like Jane, I took pen to paper (or, rather, fingers to keyboard). And there you have it!

How fortunate for us that you decided to take pen to paper and share your findings with us!  I can’t wait to learn more about Jane Austen’s formative years and childhood!  How about we end with some Quickfire Questions!

  • Which Jane Austen character do you identify best with?

It’s a good question for which I have no definitive answer. If I ever come up with one, I’ll let you know! 

  • Which Jane Austen character do you intensely dislike?

I quite enjoy heartily disliking Lady Catherine de Bourgh. And what is better than how decisively Elizabeth Bennet routs her toward the end of Pride and Prejudice?

  •  What is one of your favorite Jane Austen quotes?

Jane’s firm reply to the Prince Regent’s librarian, Mr. Clark, who had suggested that she write a book about the Prince’s family: “No, I must keep my own style & go on in my own way; and though I may never succeed again in that, I am convinced that I should totally fail in any other.”

  •  What is one of your favorite scenes from a Jane Austen novel?

 The deeply satisfying rapprochement between Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth in Persuasion.

  •  What do you love most about Jane Austen’s novels?

 Her profound understanding of human nature.

  •  If you were to meet Jane Austen, what would you like to hear her say?

“I think your book does a very nice job of capturing the essence of my childhood.”

Excellent answers!  Thank you so much for participating in this interview, Lisa!  I’m now even more excited about reading Young Jane Austen!  

 Connect with Lisa

Website    ❧    Twitter    ❧    Facebook   




Today Lisa Pliscou generously brings with her ONE paperback copy (open to US/CAN residents only) of Young Jane Austen for me to giveaway to ONE lucky winner!!!  

Young Jane Austen

To enter this giveaway, leave a comment, question, or some love for Lisa!

  • This giveaway is open to US/CAN residents.  Thank you, Lisa!
  • This giveaway ends March 18th!



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  46 Responses to “Interview + Giveaway with Author Lisa Pliscou”


    This was an interesting interview and I
    am really planning to read this book
    on the child Jane Austen. Thank you for
    the giveaway. I’ll keep my fingers and
    toes crossed!


    What a fascinating interview! It’s always a thrill to me when a scholar approaches a well-plowed field and discovers an odd corner that has never been tilled before. In this case, early childhood development! (And I’m with you on Elizabeth Bennet’s routing of Lady Catherine–the most delicious scene ever!)


    I am impressed with your keen eye, Lisa. To read several biographies and detect what they are avoiding or missing and being brave enough to go there with your own story. I love the idea of exploring Jane’s childhood which shaped her as the woman and writer. Can’t wait to read it!

    Nice interview, ladies!
    Please don’t put me in for the giveaway, Meredith.


      Thanks so much, Sophia! Not sure if it was bravery, but there was definitely a powerful feeling of excitedly wanting to share my thoughts and ideas with others about this less-explored time in Jane’s life!


    This sounds like a fascinating book. I’d love to read it!


    would love to read this book!!!
    thank you for the giveaway…..


    What a great interview. I loved that you mentioned the ‘rabbit hole’ of research being your biggest challenge. That resonates with me. Your book will go on my wish list right away, and I’m looking forward to reading it the next time I go on a Austenesque research binge. I tend to reread Austen and then immerse myself in several histories and biographies in one long, as I said above, binge. I admire your putting pen to paper from your research, we are the winners all. Thank you. It sounds wonderful. Is it to soon or presumptuous to hope there is another book coming from your pen in the future? Much success to you.


      Thanks, Michelle! There IS something about the binge-read, I’ve found, about being open to vast amounts of input . . . it gets the brain percolating nicely! Is that your experience as well? As for new projects, my first novel (a product of my salad days) is being reissued next year, and I hope to have news of a new Austen-ish book in the near future. 🙂


        Well…! Looking forward to that ‘salad days’ novel. Um, percolating? Apparently, I have a low percolating point. I tend to binge until my brain just about boils over. So many ideas, no focus. ADD?


    I enjoyed this wonderful feature and interview. How interesting and fascinating. What a talent and so creative. best wishes and much happiness and success.


    Oh I’d love to learn more about a younger Jane and what shaped her into the writer she became.


    This is definitely on my to-read list!


    Lisa, I’m in my 70s and have probably never read a Jane Austen book clear through. I know a lot of people would not want to admit that in public. I probably wouldn’t either, except I want you to know that just based on your interview, I’m finally ready! “Her wit, irony, and elegant writing . . .” – what’s not to like? I’ll read your book and already have in mind to recommend it to my book club.
    Dianne L., San Diego


      Oh my gosh, Dianne, I’m thrilled! What a lovely compliment! And . . . I would love to know which of Jane’s books you’ll pick up again, and what you think of it. I hope you’ll keep in touch!


    Lisa, thank you so much for sharing your path to publishing this biography. I didn’t read Pippi Longstocking until I was an adult and then I read and loved them all. I was a voracious reader in my childhood and was, most likely, a frustration to our local librarian as I begged and pled with her to get a wider variety of books. You and I had the same choice of books.

    Your consideration of Jane’s early years of being “farmed out” had to be difficult to picture and a challenge to write about. How could it not have left an impression. I can easily imagine her life as you described above. Thank you for this.

    Meredith, please do not enter me as I HAVE to have this now. I’m off to “buy with one click”. Great post!


      Question: I purchased the print copy. Will it be available soon for eBook?


      And thanks for your kind words in your first comment, Joy! So glad you enjoyed the post. Your description of yourself as a voracious reader as a child, and your interactions with your local librarian, reminded me of my own childhood in a very small town with a one-room library. Over the years I worked my way around the shelves, starting with chapter books and ending up at Thomas Wolfe and Taylor Caldwell as a teenager. I tried to reread Taylor Caldwell a few years ago. Would rather reread my Pippi books!


    This sounds perfect for me adding it to top of my wish list,


    I enjoyed reading the answers to your questions and we all have our favorite parts of Jane Austen’s novels and who we love to hate as well. I look forward to reading your novel. I have great admiration for authors who write for children and loved reading as a child. I was young when started reading Jane Austen’s works and still do to this day with our excellent authors who write variations as I have plenty of spare time since I am now retired. Good luck in all your future endeavors!


    I saw a sneak peek inside on Lisa’s Amazon Author site, and I was intrigued! Thanks!


      My thanks to you, Suzan! I just saw the “Look Inside” as well . . . I couldn’t be happier with how my publisher created such a gorgeous antique sensibility for “Young Jane”!


    The research involved in finding what molded Jane Austen into the author whose books we love is intriguing. I enjoyed the interview and am looking forward to reading this book. Thank you for the generous give away.


    I appreciate your focus in this book. I am hoping to learn much more about JA from it. I think my young daughter might enjoy this as well. Thank you for writing it.


    What a wonderful story to tell…while I have never really given her younger life much thought I cannot wait to read your book..Thanks for the giveaway…


      Thanks, Stephanie! You’ve touched on what’s so exciting to me about “Young Jane Austen” — I had never really given much thought to her younger life either . . . and it turns out it’s a pretty amazing story.


    I am always interested in learning more about Jane Austen. I look forward to reading about her early life.


    I have only read Tomalin’s biography of Jane Austen but really enjoyed her work. I never really thought much about learning more about Jane’s childhood. I guess I just assumed there was nothing that could be found out about it but now you have me really intrigued. I am starting my Motivational Psychology class on Monday so I am even more excited now thanks to you. I can’t wait to read your book and learn more about the events in Jane’s childhood that shaped her as an author.

    Thanks for doing all the hard work so the rest of us can just sit back and read about it. 🙂


    Thanks, Danielle! Writing a book can definitely be hard work, but in this case it was a real “labor of love”! While it’s true that little is known about Jane Austen’s childhood, I was, as I mention in the interview, amazed by how differently Austen biographers approach the subject. Tomalin’s biography is, I think, really special; she writes with such thoughtfulness, such nuance. Like you, I really enjoyed it.


    Sounds like a very informative book. I don’t have a biography of Jane but do have Jane Austen for Dummies.


    After reading this wonderful interview, I’m purchasing this book!! I missed the chance to win, but that’s OK. I’m looking forward to reading, Young Jane Austen, as soon as it arrives.


    Thanks so much, Cat! I hope you enjoy it! 🙂

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