It’s been seven years — to the day! — since According to Jane was published. It came out on ebook on September 21, 2009 one week in advance of its paperback release from Kensington Books, and I remember those days very well… I couldn’t have been more delighted, overwhelmed, scared, and enthused all at once. 😀
At the time, I’d just learned that there was a whole universe of JAFF out on the Internet. I’d attended the JASNA AGMs in both Milwaukee (2005) and Chicago (2008), but the online communities were brand new to me. I’d written this novel, submitted it to agents and publishers, even won RWA’s Golden Heart Award (“Best Mainstream Novel with Strong Romantic Elements” 2007) for the story before I had any idea what a rich tapestry of Austen-inspired fiction existed in the virtual world. I’m still a little amazed by the millions of Jane fans all around the web and the way her supporters have bonded together to share their love of her writing.
Since we’re celebrating Bath during September, I’ve got a scene from According to Jane that takes place in that city. My heroine, Ellie Barnett, travels to England for a much-needed summer getaway and, with her, goes the spirit of Jane Austen, attempting to give her advice on life and love. Not that Ellie always listens! Hope you’ll enjoy this little snippet from my debut novel!
We celebrated my thirty-third birthday in the city of Bath, complete with high tea at the renowned Pump Room.
Rather indulgent of me having a feast like this at a table for one, wouldn’t you say? I said silently to Jane, taking in the full view of the open dining area from our little corner. Curious tourists strolled along the edges of the room and peered through the windows at the legendary bathing area below.
Jane made a noise in my head that sounded suspiciously like a snort then muttered something unintelligible.
What was that? I asked her. I raised my teacup in the air to toast myself and reached for a delicate chocolate petit four filled with custard. The jars of strawberry jam and clotted cream called to me from across the tiny table, and I was tempted to rush through my first treat so as to sample another.
I despise Bath, Jane said, louder this time. It is a noisy, dismal place where purported gentlemen and ladies visit for the exercise of gossiping and gazing at strangers. My opinion of it has not improved with the centuries.
I pointed to the pyramid of sweets in front of me. But just look at these delicious—
Ellie, she said with a sigh. Do you recall the emotions you experienced during your school dances? You described them as times when gentlemen and ladies stared at each other yet did not speak. And the feast items on the table did not appeal to you either. Do you remember why?
Yeah. They were usually dried-out, awful things we ate so we had something to do with our hands.
Perhaps the desserts in my time had more flavor, she said, but our intention in consuming them was for much the same reason as yours. We relied on something else to divert our attention from the matter at hand.
The “matter” being husband or wife shopping?
Indeed, she said.
Okay. So you’re saying spending time in Bath left a bad taste in your mouth. I laughed at my own joke and nibbled on another teacake.
Jane ignored my attempts at lightening up the conversation. When we were living here for five years and, later, in Southampton for three, I wished only to be someplace settled. Someplace that was home. It was dreadful being on display every day and forever in transit. A short seaside holiday was a welcome change, yes. But eight years of displacement and rooming with relatives was not. I wish to depart this room and this city, Ellie. I will leave you to enjoy your desserts in the peace of your own company and shall rejoin you at a later time.
Jane? I asked, but I received no answer. She’d left. Hidden herself in the dark unconscious of my mind, just beyond my grasp.
I popped a final pastry into my mouth and sipped on the last of my tea, mindful of my solitary state. I knew I had distant relations living in the area. Maybe I should’ve done some serious genealogy work before I came…or maybe it was better I hadn’t.
Let’s face it, people never knew what weird stuff they might uncover about their families when they began to dig. Truth was, I probably didn’t want to know. But this left me, of course, with the downside of my reticence: There was no one I could really talk to here.
It was easy not to feel the sting of loneliness when Jane’s acerbic and witty observations kept me company. In her absence, awareness of the reality flooded my mind unfiltered, and I became haunted by a homesickness I tried unsuccessfully to ignore. I, too, wanted to be back home. To be settled again in the place I belonged.
My flight back to Chicago departed in three days and, whether or not I’d gained greater maturity as a result of this six-week sojourn, the time had come for me to go back.
The photo above is my own personal picture from a trip my husband, my son, and I took to Bath back in 2012. We were celebrating our 19th wedding anniversary on that day with tea and treats at the Pump Room, just before I went to the Jane Austen Centre to sign copies of According to Jane. Unlike my novel’s heroine, I was anything but lonely or homesick that day — I had my loved ones by my side — and that afternoon remains a treasured memory!
What is one of your favorite family or travel memories? A moment that never fails to make you smile when you recollect it? xox