Dear readers of My Jane Austen Book Club,
I’m so delighted to be here and to share a bit about Dear Mr. Knightley. This story is the compilation of Samantha Moore’s letters to an anonymous sponsor (Mr. Knightley) who has awarded her a grant to journalism graduate school. And while Sam studies fact, she must lay down fiction – her hiding place.
While we love reading Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion, Jane Eyre, Daddy Long Legs and other favorite classics, Sam lives within them. Growing up in the foster care system, Sam learned to avoid pain, strife and loneliness by “hiding” behind her best friends – Elizabeth Bennet, Charlotte Lucas, Jane Eyre... But now this habit is beginning to hurt her and others (as all hiding does), including another young foster kid, Kyle. And that shocks Sam – that she could be an adult who hurts a child.
So the journey begins… And we are invited along through Sam’s increasingly private letters to Mr. Knightley. And believe me, these letters take us on quite a ride. Nothing comes easily to Sam. She struggles to find her own voice, wondering if she has one at all. And the letters almost make us believe we’ve got a first person view to into her world, but we don’t. It’s even better. There’s a delicious layer we see that Sam can’t – there is what she is willing to tell Mr. Knightley, what she tries to withhold and how she interprets events – any or all of which can look to different to us than to her. The epistolary format allowed me to really explore Sam’s limited perspective and twist it about occasionally. I especially loved playing with Mr. Knightley’s anonymity, Josh’s subtle selfishness and Professor Muir’s feistiness.
Letters allowed me to incorporate my love for Jane Austen in an organic way – as we see Sam hide, even when she doesn’t recognize it, and we watch her discover and recognize the pain it and she causes. Adding this homage to Austen was fun and meaningful because our favorite movies and books play such an important role in our lives. I, at least, can relate to Sam in this to some degree. In fact, some days I’d like to live within my favorite storylines too. Can I be Emma? I would LOVE to believe that I cannot really change for the better.
But we can’t live within fiction and that’s part of the point too. I purposely made Sam’s life bigger, tougher, and more challenging than many of us face so that we could more easily sneak into her emotional world and realize her struggles parallel our own. In this fast-moving, crazy world, I think we all strive to define ourselves, face insecurity and fear, seek a place to stand and belong, and search for a family to love. I’d love readers to resonate with Sam’s “coming of age” journey and feel emotional camaraderie with her. And I hope they find themselves wrapped up in an amazing story.
As for other characters in the story, I adore Professor Muir and, I must say, young Kyle Baines is my favorite. This tough fourteen-year-old, hurting, angry foster kid stole my heart. I also loved that he was willing to sacrifice his story, his very self, to help Sam. I’d like courage like that.
So that is Dear Mr. Knightley…
I started the manuscript in 2009 as I was recovering from an injury and reading tons of Austen, Dickens, Webster, Brontes… And as Sam developed, I started to push her past in order to see how it could and would change her future. And soon all the other characters joined in: Ashley with her debutante aura, Debbie with her steady practicality, Mrs. Muir with unconditional love.
Now it is fully formed and available in Barnes & Noble and on Amazon. And that is unbelievably wonderful and crazy for me.
Again, thank you so much for inviting me here and please keep in touch.
About the author
Katherine Reay has enjoyed a life-long affair with the works of Jane Austen and her contemporaries and can’t seem to leave them out of anything she writes.
Katherine did leave them behind for a bit in college and studied history and sociology at Northwestern University and earned a Master’s degree in marketing from there as well. After a few years working in marketing and a few moves, including stops in England and Ireland, Katherine and her family now reside in Seattle, WA, where she spends her days running, writing, cooking and trying to clean the house and keep up with the laundry.
You can also find Katherine at www.katherinereay.com on Twitter @katherine_reay as well as lurking somewhere within the pages of her first novel, Dear Mr. Knightley. She’s also lurking in her second novel, Lizzy and Jane, but you can’t find her there until November 2014.
Growing up, Samantha found her best friends in the works of Austen, Dickens, and the Bronte sisters. The problem is that she now relates to others more comfortably as Elizabeth Bennet and Jane Eyre than as herself.
Now she will learn to write her own story – by giving that story to a complete stranger.