‘I think I may boast myself to be, with all possible vanity,
the most unlearned and uninformed female
who ever dared to be an authoress’
– Jane Austen
What a big day for me. How fitting it is that I am writing my first blog post and joining Austen Variations on the same day my first-born goes back to school in a brand new class. I imagine we’re both experiencing the same range of emotions at this moment – excited, but nervous, wondering if anyone will like us – will anyone talk to us and if they do, will we say something monumentally stupid in return? Surely we are too small to be playing with these big kids? But here goes, time to stand up in front of the class and deliver my book report. If you hear a knocking noise as you read this, it’ll be my knees.
I am from Kent, England, not too far from Bromley, where Lady Catherine recommends they change the horses in Pride and Prejudice, and just down the road from me is an inn where Jane Austen once spent the night. A large portion of my days are spent trying to prevent my two children from killing each other, but I do manage to fit in the odd spot of reading, and I’m a sucker for anything on television that involves handsome men in frockcoats and breeches.
I fell in love with Jane Austen’s stories when I was sixteen or seventeen. I remember clearly the crushing disappointment I felt when I realised that, although there were some unfinished works and letters to be enjoyed, there were only six novels to cherish and adore. I read them all, but wanted there to be more. I tried all the Brontes, I admire Dickens and I’m particularly partial to a spot of Du Maurier, but for me, Austen is the best. It’s the humour, the way she can turn a phrase, and her wonderful characters, from the sublimely ridiculous Mr Collins, to the simply sublime Mr Darcy. Those were the things that drew me in and kept me re-reading. What an incredibly strong character Austen created in Elizabeth Bennet. A heroine who staunchly defended her principles and standards, a woman who was unwilling to settle for anything less than true love*. I wanted more of her, but where was more Elizabeth to be found?
About two years ago, by chance, I picked up Longbourn by Jo Baker and while my two favourite characters only play a minor part in her version, it left me thirsty. Were there other spin offs and variations? Imagine my delight when a quick Amazon search revealed there were hundreds on offer. I gobbled them up, laughed, cried and was astounded at the creativity and talent of the writers. There will only ever be one Jane Austen, and while no one can completely capture her style, there is some wonderful writing to be enjoyed in this genre. Many of those books I admired were, of course, written by authors who are part of Austen Variations, and so I feel honoured to be asked to join their ranks. These are the people who inspired me to ‘have a go’ and write my own stories, so thank you.
And while I have the opportunity, I must tell you what an outstanding bunch of people you JAFF readers are. Everyone I have ‘met’ in the JAFF community has been warm and friendly. How kind you are to new writers. I never expected anyone to read my first book ‘Ardently’ but they did, and left reviews, lots of them and I am so very grateful. My second book is called ‘The Coming of Age of Elizabeth Bennet’ (I gave it a really long title because it took me such a long time to write!) I was very nervous about what sort of reaction it would get, as it was so far from canon, but I had some lovely JAFF friends who helped me enormously. They cheered me on and told me everything would be ok, and it was.
Luckily, I am joining this merry band on a month when we are talking about Austen Locations, and Bath in particular, which happens to be one of my favourite places in the world. Ardently is based in Bath and I’ll admit to having spent many a happy hour in various pubs on the banks of the Avon River (all in the name of research of course), so I should have no problems with my homework.
And now I must leave you, for while I have been writing this, my first-born has arrived home from school. Apparently it was ‘brilliant’ and I’m sure my days as an Austen Variations member will be too (the other members seem really nice – so far, nobody has tried to steal my lunch money).
I will do my very best to excessively divert you with my blog posts, and maybe even inflict you with a short story or two in the coming months. Happy reading, and I hope you have an Austentastic day.
*and a very big house