This month, we sit down with Austen fan Ceri, chatting about books and blogs and bonus scenes. Her host this month is Caitlin Williams, and Caitlin has generously offered Ceri a paperback in appreciation for stopping by. Grab your cuppa and cozy up with us! And don’t forget to join in the chat below, Caitlin will put the names of everyone who comments into a hat and will give another copy of Ardently to whatever name she pulls out.
Note to our Readers: Austen Variations has a full calendar of fun planned for December and January! As a consequence, our Interview with a Janeite feature will take a temporary break. Don’t forget to join us again in February!
Hi there, I am so pleased to be the Janeite visiting Austen Variations today. I’m Ceri, I am from the UK and I am a long time Austen fan.
I discovered JAFF about 5 years ago when I first got a kindle and searched for Austen’s books to add to my kindle library. It was an absolute revelation to me! I had spent years re-reading Austen, the Brontes, Mrs Gaskell and Georgette Heyer because I couldn’t find new authors that I enjoyed reading, and JAFF gave me an opportunity to spend more time with Austen’s characters. I also made some lovely reading friends via Twitter, and found blogs where I could interact with other JAFF readers.
AV: How did you first discover Jane Austen?
C: I come from a family of bookworms, so there were always lots of books around the house. Let me take you back to the pre-internet days in the early 1990s when I was a teenager. Back then, in the UK most people had only 4 channels on the TV. So if there was nothing on the TV, and you were bored you’d pick up a book, or at least I would. One day during the school holidays I was bored, it was raining outside and I had nothing new to read so I took a look at some of my mum’s books. One of them was called Sense and Sensibility, which I had vaguely heard of, so I picked it up and gave it a go. I thought it was pretty good, better than I’d anticipated. There was another book called Pride and Prejudice from the same set, so I thought I’d try that next. From the first line I was enjoying the humour, and when I met Elizabeth Bennet I felt like I’d found myself. It amazed me that a book written so many years before could have a character that I resonated with so strongly. I went on to read the rest of Austen’s main novels. Emma and Persuasion I loved straight away, but Mansfield Park and Northanger Abbey I didn’t care for until I read them again many years later. I am always glad that I got to read the books before watching any adaptations, because I got to imagine the characters for myself in the first instance.
AV: Which is your favorite screen adaptation of one of Jane’s books, and why?
C: My favourite is the 2007 Northanger Abbey. I just love it. When I first read the book I wasn’t hugely keen on Henry Tilney, because of how he laughed at Catherine, and I wasn’t keen on Catherine either, because I thought she was a bit dim (teen Ceri was a harsh judge!). When I saw this adaptation I thought the actors and screenwriters had done a wonderful job of portraying Catherine’s innocence, and who could blame Henry for laughing at her, she was entirely adorable, and I couldn’t help laughing too. My second favourite is a close second, 1995 Pride & Prejudice. The reason that one is second is that there are a few things I would change about the adaptation, whereas there is nothing I’d change about the 2007 Northanger Abbey.
AV: If you could take a road trip with one of the following, who would you pick and why? 1) Charlotte Lucas 2) Mary Crawford 3) Jane Fairfax 4) Lady Russell
C: Hands down, Charlotte Lucas. She is good company, and I think we’d have fun. If something went wrong she is very practical, I think she’d be good in a crisis. She wouldn’t dump me for more fun companions like Mary Crawford might, she wouldn’t keep distant from me like the standoffish Jane Fairfax, and she wouldn’t want to be in charge like Lady Russell. However, if she was at the Charlotte Collins part of her life then I might have to reconsider, as I wouldn’t fancy going on a trip with Mr Collins!
AV: You started your own blog dedicated to Austen’s works. Why did you decide to start your blog, and what has been rewarding about it?
C: Well, I first started reviewing books when I found myself reading one that seemed familiar, and I gradually realised that I’d read it before. Due to the nature of JAFF, there are often similarities between storylines so it made sense to write myself a little note of what the story was about so I didn’t inadvertently re-read something. I posted them on Amazon so I didn’t lose them. Then Jakki Leatherberry of Leatherbound Reviews kindly asked me if I would like to do a guest review for her blog. The idea of starting my own blog started to germinate. I wanted to have the chance to post the type of things I wouldn’t put in reviews, such as comparisons between adaptations and the original work, lists, reading plans etc., and to be able to discuss the review rather than it be just a one-way communication. Originally my blog didn’t start as an Austen blog – at the time I started I generally read two books a week, one of which would be Austen/JAFF and the other would be unrelated to Austen. However, over time the blog has become Austen-focussed.
The thing that has been the most rewarding is finding people with the same reading tastes as me and being able to talk with them about books and characters that we both enjoy. In my day to day life I don’t have reading buddies, so it’s lovely to be able to find people who like the same stories as me.
AV: Why do you think Jane Austen’s works are such popular subjects of fan fiction, in comparison to other great authors?
C: I have thought about this quite a few times, but I’m not convinced I have the answer! I think it’s for a few reasons. One big reason is that her works are so well-loved and so accessible to readers – the language isn’t difficult to understand, and her humour and wording make the stories a treat to read. It’s natural that we want more of a good thing! A big nod has to go to the various adaptations, which have sparked a lot of people’s interest in Austen’s works.
I think it helps that they are very domestic books, without a focus on events or social movements of the time. Some writers were trying to push a social agenda with their works, or rely on knowledge of events, whereas Austen is just giving you stories of people’s interactions with each other which makes her stories more relatable and timeless. In addition, her stories are realistic – the settings are day to day and the characters are quite usual. Other books have quite melodramatic events which act as the lynch pin to the plot, whereas Austen’s are weaved, giving more springboards to make a new story from.
AV: What do you enjoy most here at Austen Variations?
C: You know how on a dvd you get bonus features? My favourite posts here are the ones which are like the bonus features for your books – the deleted scenes, the research, the story behind the story, sneak peeks of upcoming works etc.
Now it is Ceri’s turn to interview Caitlin Williams!
C: What inspired the ideas for each of your stories?
CW: I had read a lot of JAFF prior to starting Ardently, and while watching the 1995 adaptation of Persuasion, I thought of how I would like to read a variation of P & P that had a similar feel to it. I think there are more now, but back then I hadn’t seen many JAFF stories where some time had been lost, and the characters were a little older. I love the sweet awkwardness, all the hurt and uncertainty of Persuasion. Ardently isn’t a crossover—Anne and Captain Wentworth don’t feature at all—I wanted Darcy and Elizabeth firmly in the P & P universe, but I also wanted them to have coffee and cake in Mollands. There are also hints of Northanger Abbey in Ardently, Ceri. So, I am glad you love that book, because I do too.
The Coming of Age started in much the same way – I wanted to send Elizabeth to live in a grander setting at a young age – as per Fanny Price is in Mansfield Park. However, when I began to write, I had a scared, young, grieving Elizabeth running off. Darcy saves her but in doing so almost ruins her, then the story became something else. I began to think about how interesting a marriage it would be if they both detested each other in the beginning, and both had a lot growing up to do. I had one scene in my mind where Elizabeth is in a shop in London and becomes upset when she realises she means so little to Darcy, that he is ashamed of her, and that scene remains in the final version.
When We Are Married began as a bit of fluff on the JustJane1813 blog. I reposted it at A Happy Assembly and was urged to continue with it. As a result of it being posted as instalments online, I think it is a book of two halves. The first part is lots of flirting, and a very simple tale of Darcy and Elizabeth getting to know each other in London after his first proposal goes wrong. Then I introduced some Emma-style misconceptions and misunderstandings – and then it became a book as much about Jane and Elizabeth, as it is about Darcy and Elizabeth. It is probably the better written of all three books, but I started the year off in a jolly place, and then we had a bereavement in the family, so my mood was altered midway. I won’t post online again for this reason, as I think a book should have the same kind of atmosphere throughout, which the other two do. It’s all a big learning process for me, and I love that. I want each book to be unique and to keep trying to be a better writer.
C: Which is your favourite character in Austen’s works?
CW: Elizabeth, hands down. Balsy, funny, fearless. What’s not to love?
C: Which do you think is most like you?
CW: Anne Elliott. Though I can be a bit ditsy and innocent like Catherine Moreland -embarrassingly so, seeing as I am 46. I really should be less clumsy and more socially adept by now.
C: Your books have been based on P&P so far – do you think you’ll write something based on another book?
CW: The book I am working on at the moment will be my last P & P. I started another project a little while ago, a fictional account of Jane Austen’s life in Chawton that I might develop further. I will be having a bit of down time though, and whatever comes next will be a slow leisurely project. I don’t want to set myself deadlines, or feel like I have to produce something because then it becomes a chore, when for me it has always been a pleasure and a hobby. I want to relax, enjoy some time with my kids, and read all the books on my TBR pile. I have gone off on a tangent, but the answer is yes. I have recently become fond of Gaskell, so who knows.
C: Do you have a current work in progress? Please tell us something about it!
CW: I do have a work in progress. It is a P & P called The Events at Branxbourne. It will likely be met with some criticism as it pushes all the boundaries, but I had to write it because I adore it, and it’s been in my head forever. It’s edgy but I fully believe that life is far too short not to take risks. It begins with a shocking moment and then we go back a few months in time to see how the characters have arrived where they have. Its told completely through Darcy and Elizabeth’s eyes, and we learn about everything that unfolds through them. Two Janeites who donated to Hurricane Relief have great cameo roles. MaryAnn Nagy is a nursery maid who is in love with her employer Colonel Fitzwilliam — and Mira Magdo is a Hungarian Countess prone to malapropisms. It’s pretty dramatic in places, but there are a few giggles too. We all dearly like a laugh.
Thanks so much, Ceri, for your questions and I loved all your answers. I agree completely about that adaption of Northanger Abbey, it is perfection. As we have been speaking about Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, I thought I’d give away a paperback copy of Ardently, which borrows so heavily from those books. Leave a comment or a question below to enter (winner selected at random).
Ardently recently got a brand-new cover thanks to Janet B Taylor. She has make it look fresh and new, and utterly romantic. I’m very proud to be showing it off here, and to be offering a copy as a giveaway.