I love making connections with other fans of Jane Austen. And even though I’ve been with this lovely group of authors from the beginning, many of you may not yet know me or have heard about how I ended up here.
First of all, I must tell you that I was as surprised as anyone that I should turn out to be a novelist. You see, although I’ve always loved books, and I dabbled in other creative mediums (music and art) over the years, I’d never given much serious thought to writing. Besides, I had a practical career as a dental hygienist, a house and husband to look after, and two sons to raise. I barely had time to read a book, much less write one. And yet now I have written five. How do I explain this surprising turn of events? Allow me to paraphrase a few lines from Northanger Abbey:
No one who had ever seen Shannon in her youth would have supposed her born to be a novelist. Her situation in life, the habits of her mother and father, her person and course of education, were all equally against her. But when a lady is to be a novelist, the perverseness of forty different circumstances cannot prevent her. Something must and will happen to throw a novel in her way.
And so it was that, through an impulse buy at Costco (a certain video with the handsome face of Colin Firth on the front), I discovered Pride and Prejudice about twelve years ago. The video led me to the book, and I simply fell in love – with the story, with Darcy and Elizabeth, with the elegant period language, and with Austen’s witty writing style. I couldn’t get enough.
Pride and Prejudice became my passion – or arguably, my obsession – which soon enlarged to include Jane Austen’s other five novels. Still, it might easily have amounted to no more than yearly rereads of her entire canon and countless watchings of the film adaptations.
Undertaking a huge creative project, like writing a novel, requires a ton of inspiration (which I had, thanks to Jane Austen), but also a major dose of motivation. I found mine in an unexpected place: in the first Pride and Prejudice sequel I happened to stumble across.
I’m fascinated with the “what ifs” of life. What if ‘b’ had happened instead of ‘a’? What if I had turned right instead of left at the crossroads? What then? How might things have changed? These questions play a role in my novels and also in my life – the genesis of my writing career specifically.
What if I’d resisted the impulse to buy that video at Costco years ago? Would I ever have discovered Pride and Prejudice? I don’t know. But I’m pretty sure that if I had loved that first sequel I read (as many others have), if it had been everything I was personally looking for, I never would have been motivated to write a sequel of my own. How much I would have missed out on then!
Fortunately, though, I didn’t care for that book (and that’s putting it mildly). Shortly thereafter, I sat down at the computer and began The Darcys of Pemberley in response. I wrote, first and foremost, to satisfy my own curiosity about what would happen next, to continue the story the way I thought Jane Austen would have done herself, to spend more time with her characters and in their world. In the process, I discovered another passion – a passion for writing that has quite literally changed my life.
Since that beginning, I’ve gone on to publish four more Austen-inspired novels – For Myself Alone (an independent story – my idea of what JA might have written next), Return to Longbourn (following The Darcys of Pemberley chronologically), The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen (an alternate, happy ending for Jane herself, based on Persuasion), and just recently Miss Georgiana Darcy of Pemberley (companion to The Darcys of Pemberley, told from Georgiana’s point of view). God willing, there will be many more books to come.
I always expected that people might read my novels because they were fans of Jane Austen, which is usually the case. However, I’ve been surprised (and delighted!) to find that it sometimes works the other way round – when a person decides to try reading Jane Austen because they like one of my books so much. Maybe by introducing new readers to her, I am in some measure repaying all the countless hours of enjoyment she has given me. At least I hope so.
How about you? Did you find your way to Jane Austen in an unexpected way? Or did you discover what you were meant to do – perhaps a second career, like mine – through a roundabout, unlikely series of events? Share your story!