Tuesday, 10 December 2013

TALKING JANE AUSTEN WITH ... MELANIE KERR, AUTHOR OF FOLLIES PAST + GIVEAWAY

First of all Melanie, welcome to our online book club. Would you mind to introduce yourself to our readers?
Thank-you, I am thrilled to have this chance to talk with you. I am a long-time Austenite as well as a lawyer and a mother of two little boys. I make my own Regency costumes and force my friends to drink tea out of china cups.  I have just released my first novel, Follies Past: a Prequel to Pride and Prejudice.

Of course, my first question is:  “When was your first encounter with Jane Austen and how was that?
A friend gave me Pride and Prejudice in university, about 15 years ago. She had read it in a literature class and thought I would like it. She was right -  I couldn’t put it down. When I look back on it, I remember sort of imagining it in a modern setting, because I didn’t have any references for the aesthetic of the period. I hadn’t seen any of the movies and didn’t know what anything would have looked like. I have, over time, come to love all Jane Austen’s work, and to develop a fascination for the period, which is consistent with my lifelong love of petticoats and pastoral imagery, but my first encounter with Jane Austen didn’t involve any of that, and I loved it anyway.

Follies Past: A Prequel to Pride and Prejudice”  has just been released.  How would you invite our Janeite friends to grab their copy and read it in about 50 words?

Before Darcy came to Netherfield, refused to dance at Meryton or laid eyes on Elizabeth, he rescued his sister from certain peril at the hands of the infamous Mr. Wickham. This is that story, knitted together with characters and histories of my own invention and all told with love and reverence.

 What was your intent at rewriting Wickham and Georgiana’s story?

One of the great things about Jane Austen’s storytelling is the way she ties everything up into a deeply satisfying ending. We all want the books to go on and on, but extending the characters and the plot after the final chapter felt to me like interfering with that perfect ending. And it would all  have to be speculative. Nobody knows what happens after the close of a book, but Jane Austen herself tells
us what happened before Pride and Prejudice. So, I thought if I could extend the story backwards in time, I would be able to explore more of her world, spend more time with her characters and create the experience I longed for as a reader, but without offending anyone’s ideas about what might have happened. Everyone ends up exactly as they are at the start of P&P.  Also,  I love the history of things. I love the depth that a prequel can give to an original story, not that P&P needs anything from me, but just to expand on the back-story, to delve into the history, felt really exciting.
The book also contains a story of its own, to create the arc and structure of a Jane Austen novel, the kind of plot that I, myself, like to read. Because everyone knows how the Wickham and Georgiana story ends, I have woven it with another story with some mystery and drama to keep the pages turning.

What’s your opinion on Austen’s bad boys, namely  Wickham, Willoughby, Frank Churchill?

"Wickham is ... the worst" , Melanie says
My opinion is that they are all a bit sad. They are all charming at the beginning of their respective stories because we don’t actually know their true characters. Once their facade is broken, and we learn the truth about them, we discover that they are cowards, and we, along with the heroins, lose interest, or at least I do. Jane Austen is very good at dispelling the bad-boy mystique. She might be doing it on purpose, or it might just be a reflection of her own feelings, but she certainly paints the virtuous men as much more attractive.
Of the three men you’ve named, Wickham is probably the worst. In everything we are told about him, there is no suggestion that he ever cares about anyone besides himself. In my book, I shed a little more light on his character, and for a brief moment he is almost sympathetic, but in the end, he is just weak, and selfish. Willoughby at least seems to feel something for Marianne, and this makes him a little less distasteful, but it doesn’t redeem him, especially  not for his seduction and abandonment of that poor girl. I still can’t bring myself to like him, or even to pity him. As for Frank Churchill, he is perhaps the least offensive because he is the most consistent. We don’t uncover any dark secrets about him, only that he is engaged to Jane Fairfax, which makes his flirtations withEmma thoughtless, but he’s not so bad really. Nobody really suffers at his hands, and so I don’t count him as a bad boy the same way... and still, he is nothing to Mr. Knightley.

What was the most curious thing you discovered while researching for your book?

Probably the fact that you could once rent a pineapple. I wrote a post about it on my blog. There were many such bizarre little pieces of trivia that I came across, and it struck me that there must be so many more that were never recorded, or that I have not happened upon. It makes me very thirsty for more. That’s what fascinates me about history – those things that don’t make it into history text books because nobody would think to write them down.

As a reader, what’s your opinion on fan fiction? Jane’s world is so down-to-earth, all sense and balance do you think fan fiction mostly  respect those features?

Sometimes it does. Different things about the books appeal to different people. Some people love the romance.Some people love the aesthetic. For myself, I love the sentences. Many readers just want to be entertained, and fan fiction authors are giving the people what they want, and I think that is fine. In my book, I have tried to emulate, as much as possible, the language of the original books. I would never claim to be able to imitate the genius of Jane Austen, but I wanted to be consistent with her rules at least, not only of her society but of her writing. And I am most interested in the fan fiction that has that same goal.

You wrote a prequel, if you could write a sequel  or spin-off, what novel/character would you choose?

Kitty Bennett has always had a special place in my heart. I am a middle child myself, and I see in her the middle child syndrome of not having any real identity and not thinking anyone cares about her. I would love to see her go off to Europe and discover herself. I expect she might turn out to be some sort of extremist.

What do you think is  the secret of Jane Austen’s  huge global success ?

I like to think it is the rare application of such a stunning ability to write to a story people actually enjoy reading. The books have a sense of fun about them. They don’t take themselves too seriously, yet her prose is so skillful and her insights so timeless that it is gratiftying to read even for the most intellectual mind. There is not a lot of that out there. I don’t know if that accounts for her global popularity, but it accounts for my appreciation anyway.
There is also a fantastical element to her books. So many of the huge bestsellers right now have some sort of unreality about them, whether it is the supernatural, dystopic futurism, or magic.They are so distant from the reality of the reader that they offer the complete escapism that people crave in literature. In the case of Jane Austen’s novels, they are set long enough ago that the setting has become like another world, an unattainable existence. This may also account, in part, for their current popularity, though it is a little ironic since, at the time they were written, they were novel for being so quotidien. The popular novels of the time were all very dramatic, about bandits in the Pyrenees and necromancers in the far East. Jane Austen was a bit like Nick Hornby – stories about people you might actually know, living their lives and learning something along the way, and making you laugh.  

If you could live one day in the Regency, what would you most appreciate and what would you miss the most from our world?

It would be the total immersive experience that I would love, just to see that world for myself, to hear it, to smell it. The impossibility of it excites me.
The things I would love about the period itself would, no doubt, end up being the things I would grow to hate, like drinking tea and eating cake all day, not having anything to do but look pretty, going everywhere by horse and carriage, knowing the same people all my life. I would adore these things for a day, but I would eventually want to eat a salad and go to work. I would probably get locked up for trespassing in a coffee house or something.

Do you like watching adaptations of Austen works? Have you got a favourite one?

Yes, I adore them. It is painful to choose a favourite. Though it may be shocking and controversial, I might have to say that my favourite is possibly Lost in Austen. There were some points in the plot that didn’t really stand up to scrutiny, but I just didn’t care. It was so much fun, and the language and the humour and the immersion in the world of Jane Austen, all were so sympathetically done, so clever and so engaging, I thought it was an excellent reflection of everthing I love about Jane Austen’s work, and everything I want in an adaptation.

What  Austen  heroine are you more alike ?

Emma Woodhouse, without question. I’m very bossy, always think I’m right and am always trying to fix other people’s problems even when they don’t want me to. Also, my father can find no fault with me, and I only like things I am good at without having to try very hard.

Let’s talk men, Melanie. In a Wentworth /Darcy/Knightley/Tilney/ Brandon/Bertram  challenge, who do you see as your champion?

Colonel Brandon threatens to take the prize simply because I so adore Alan Rickman, but I don’t think that is the right way to approach the question!  It depends on the nature of the challenge, I suppose. The men  are all very intelligent, which appeals to me. I think Wentworth has a special place in my heart because of his constancy (of a kind) and because of the letter he writes to Anne, which is just too wonderful. Also, all the ladies adore him, and I always fall for popular types.

 Any other Austen – related project in your present or your future?

Always! I always have a thousand ideas and never enough time to execute them all. I‘ve been dreaming for years of running a Regency holiday company, putting on costumed retreats in English country houses, with Regency entertainments.  I love theatre, and would like to stage an adaptation on the steps of the Legislature building, which is the closest thing we have to a Palladian mansion here in Edmonton. I would like to start a Regency dance group. I plan to attend the Jane Austen Festival in Bath again once my kids get old enough to join me (or to be left behind!).   One day I hope  to write more books. Oh, and I would like to open a Jane Austen tea house, with homemade crumpets.

That’s all for now, Melanie. Thanks for being our guest. I hope you’ll be back soon to share some Austen love here at My Jane Austen Book Club.


About the author 

Melanie Kerr studied linguistics, English and theatre at the University of British Columbia and law at the University of Alberta. Melanie is a reckless lover of clotted cream, a staunch defender of the semi-colon and a fierce opponent of unpleasant music. She lives in Edmonton, where she raises her two sons, sews her own Regency costumes, runs a Jane Austen Fun Club, blogs on all things old and English, endeavours to take over the world and occasionally practices law. Follies Past is her first novel. 
http://folliespast.com/html  (link to my website)

About the book
"I must now mention a circumstance which I would wish to forget myself, and which no obligation less than the present should induce me to unfold to any human being..."

So begins Mr. Darcy to lay before Elizabeth his faithful narrative of Mr. Wickham's villainy toward his sister, Georgiana. The facts he sets out are brief but potent. They contain a story unto themselves, and that story is the subject of this book.
Taking its facts from Austen’s own words, Follies Past opens almost a year before the opening of Pride and Prejudice itself, at Pemberley, at Christmas. Fourteen-year-old Georgiana has just been taken from school and is preparing to transfer to London in the spring. It follows Georgiana to London, to Ramsgate and into the arms of the charming and infamous Mr. Wickham.
To read this book is to step back into the charming world of Jane Austen’s England, to pass a few more hours with some of her beloved characters, sympathetically portrayed as they might have been before ever they came to Netherfield, and to discover a host of new characters each with engaging histories of their own. Authentic in its use of language and meticulously researched, it is a truly diverting entertainment.


Read an Excerpt

This is the opening of the book, about the first half of the first chapter. Feel free to cut it if it is too long.
Caroline Bingley had long known the name of Darcy, and she had always hoped to increase her family’s intimacy with it. In fact, she was prepared, as soon as it could be arranged, to take it as her own. Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy was the head of the very wealthy and well-connected family and was her brother’s most esteemed friend. She thought, therefore, of the joy it would bring her brother if she could be the means of uniting the companions in brotherhood, of the many benefits such an exalted connection would bring for her own dear sister, of the future generations of her family and all that they would reap from their association with the prestigious house of Darcy. Of all these considerations, she took pride in none so much as she did in her own charity, for having considered everyone’s interest but her own.
“I know not how I shall survive two fortnights without you, Louisa,” she remarked to her sister as she packed her trunk. “This may be the most important four weeks of my life.”
Caroline had been introduced to Mr. Darcy by her brother at a ball earlier that year. He had not asked her to dance, but she had convinced him to sit down to a game of cards with her, and she felt she had outdone herself in conversation with him—particularly since he was somewhat taciturn with her at first. He had even gone so far as to express a hope of meeting again, which was more than she had heard him do for any other lady that evening. When she received from her brother the news that they were all invited to spend Christmas at Pemberley, Mr. Darcy’s Derbyshire estate, she attributed it to her personal charms and was very well pleased with her success.
Had Caroline known the true reason for the invitation, her pride and her hopes would have been quite dashed.  The Bingleys had been invited with the pointed purpose of being introduced to Mr. Darcy’s younger sister, Georgiana. Caroline always spent the London season at her brother’s house in town and Mr. Darcy hoped that she might take an interest in Georgiana, that their acquaintance might ease his sister’s transition to London and her coming out in society, both of which were to follow in the spring.
Caroline’s sister, Louisa, was not able to accept Mr. Darcy’s invitation as she was to spend the season with the family of Mr. Hurst, the man whom she had lately engaged herself to marry.
“If Mr. Darcy’s affections were inspired on the strength of a single meeting,” Louisa said, “then it would be best to imitate, as closely as possible, the conditions of that first encounter.”
Caroline nodded her agreement with this wise counsel.
“To your first dinner at Pemberley,” she continued, “you must wear the very gown you wore that night. This shall inspire in him a recollection of his obviously favourable first impression.”
“But is not it a risk to wear the same gown twice in a row in the same company?” asked Caroline.
Her sister replied with confidence, “And so it must stand out in Mr. Darcy’s mind for its anomaly and work to impress upon him even more deeply the significance of your first encounter. What is more, you must wear the same fragrance, as scent is known to act upon the mind and heart more potently than any other of the senses.”
“An excellent point,” remarked Caroline. She agreed to everything suggested by her sister, but most importantly, she determined to be everything charming and clever.
After several days and three nights of fair weather and tolerable inns, Caroline and her brother, Mr. Bingley, arrived at Pemberley at dusk.
“We are dreadfully late in arriving, Caroline,” said Mr. Bingley as the carriage entered the gate. “We ought to have left Allestree much earlier. It is, indeed, a duty to offer charity wherever possible, but I cannot understand why it was necessary to visit the alms houses in person. Surely a gift of some money would have sufficed. Christian duty or no, you risk inconveniencing our hosts.”
“Oh Charles,” Caroline sighed. “You are not accustomed to acts of charity as I am. It is the presence of the giver that is the true gift. The money is of assistance, certainly, but to receive it from the hands of the giver—to see the face of generosity—is a gift of hope and good will that far exceeds the value of the coins themselves. Surely you can see that this is worth delaying our arrival for.”
In truth, Caroline had insisted on visiting the poor in order to delay their arrival until the sun was setting, in order that her complexion might profit by the glow of evening light. She believed that there was never too much concern to be spent in making an impression. She wished her sister had been present to make a third as they alighted from the carriage, for a grouping of three is always more pleasing to the eye than two. She was cheered by the late but happy thought that the figure of the footman would suffice to complete the picture.
All her careful planning was thwarted, however, by the efficient courtesy of their host.  Mr. Darcy was more eager to greet and welcome his friend than he was observant of the image so prettily constructed by Caroline.
Elegantly posed, profile turned to the setting sun, she watched him descend the stairs. From her brother, she had long known him to be clever, well-bred, and self-assured. When she was at long last introduced to him, she had been very pleased to discover how tall and how handsome he was. As he approached them at the threshold of his own home, she thought the grace and warmth of his demeanour added much to his already considerable assets.
Caroline held her pose as Mr. Darcy embraced her brother with both hands.
“Welcome, welcome,” said Mr. Darcy. “I am so glad you have finally arrived. I had looked for you some hours ago, but that is no matter.”
Hardly looking at Caroline, he bowed and offered her his arm. “Miss Bingley, welcome. Please, come in. We are all assembled.” She coyly accepted, and he led them both up the stairs into the house. Although it did not alter her intentions towards him, Caroline did think Mr. Darcy ought to have dwelt more on her person – or at least to have paid some attention to her appearance—and she wondered whether a want of appreciation for the virtues of others might not be one of his failings.

16 comments:

Vesper Meikle said...

Welcome Melanie, I love reading any book that can add to the characters already introduced

Follies Past said...

Thanks Vesper. I hope you enjoy Follies Past. If you haven't already, check out our trailers on youtube. The link is above, but here it is again:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AS6UYEvIkX4

Joanne said...

Welcome Melanie!
I think it is going to be interesting to see your perspective on how the characters in P&P developed their, um, character. What events, circumstances and people built them into what we then see in P&P. Congratulations on the book.

Nicole Platania said...

This sounds like a wonderful read. Love the idea of delving more into their story!

dstoutholcomb said...

Welcome! I love the idea of a prequel!

cyn209 said...

a prequel to P&P!!!
cannot wait to read it!!!!

Bruce Rout said...

You are quite correct; I can find no fault with you whatsoever.

Lúthien84 said...

Welcome, Melanie. There are not enough prequels of Pride and Prejudice and I'm so glad that you choose to write on Georgiana, Darcy and their entanglements with Wickham.

Valerie said...

Really enjoyed the interview, Melanie! I am always searching out P&P-related stories, as it's my very favorite JA book. Your story already has my curiosity piqued, and I'm looking forward to reading what happened before P&P! Thank you for the giveaway!! :)

Michelle said...

Sounds interesting because it's a prequel and not a sequel. That rascal Wickham is always up to something and that makes for interesting reading.

rhonda said...

Sounds like a perfect book for me.

Maureen said...

I have just finished reading Follies Past. It was hugely entertaining, with a very satisfying ending! I, too, loved the sentences. Thanks Melanie. I hope to take tea and crumpets with you one day!

Anubha said...

Welcome Melanie :)
I love P & P so anything more P&P directly goes to my to-read :D

Anonymous said...

Hey Melanie! I love everything Jsne Austen, and especially Pride and Prejudice. I'm really interested in the ways other people react to the villains, so I'm looking forward to see how you depict and explore Wickham's character.

MissM

Kelli H. said...

Welcome Melanie!! I haven't read many prequels to P&P and I'm excited to try this one! Thanks for the giveaway!!

Follies Past said...

Thanks for the enthusiasm everyone, and congratulations to the winners of the giveaway! I hope you enjoy the book. I sent the eBook about a week ago, and just posted the paperbacks today. Sorry for the delay but I just couldn't face the pre-Christmas line-ups at the post office.
Anyone who does read the book, please consider leaving a review on Amazon or Goodreads, or both, or anywhere else. And do check out my book trailers on youtube, or on my blog, FolliesPast.com.
If anyone wants more information about the book, or would just like to chat about Jane Austen, I can always be reached at contact@folliespast.com.
Thanks again and happy reading everyone!