Inspired by Jane Austen’s wonderful novels and written in the tradition of classic books like Cold Comfort Farm, I Capture the Castle, and Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, Jane Austen Lives Again is an amusing fairy story for grown-ups.
Now let me hand over to Jane Odiwe for a post about why she enjoys writing about Jane Austen as a character. Jane is very kindly offering a paperback giveaway to two commenters here - read on for more details!
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Thank you very much, Ceri for inviting me along to your blog today - it’s lovely to be here, and to have the chance to tell everybody about my latest novel, Jane Austen Lives Again.
I love writing books with Jane Austen as a character, and from the very first time I started trying to write, I’ve been fascinated by the enigmatic Miss Austen. She is something of a mystery, and although we can guess much from her books and letters, we know her sister and other relations edited her life, burning letters that were thought unsuitable for public consumption. I think that could be part of why she is so intriguing as a character to me - when you read her books, you feel you know her, almost like a friend, but there’s also very little that we really know about her life, and there are gaps where she is silent - where there is no correspondence, and where nothing very eventful seems to happen. Added to the puzzle there are several portraits painted which may or may not be of Jane, and the one we’re very sure about, which came through her brother Frank’s descendants is a frustrating back view where we can’t see her face at all. I’m always searching to find ‘Jane’ in her books, letters, and in the paintings we have, and she has now been a character in four of my novels - and I’m now writing a fifth. It’s bordering on the obsessive I know, but I can’t help myself. Every time I think I shall do something else, it’s as if Jane pops up and says, ‘Mr Darcy is all well and good, but you haven’t quite written everything you could about me.’
When I started writing Jane Austen Lives Again I thought it was going to be my last book about Jane, and I very much wanted to give her a happy ending beyond the life she’d lived. I hinted in Searching for Captain Wentworth that she’d been able to achieve that, and I won’t spoil it and say how, in case you want to read it, but in a new book I wanted her to have a fresh start. Jane wrote a poem before she died where it includes these lines and these were a huge inspiration for my book:
'When once we are buried you think we are dead
But behold me Immortal'
|Devon, Ilfracombe, Watermouth Castle|
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Jane hurried along the corridors and passages, down one staircase after another. She saw one or two maids bearing breakfast trays groaning with teapots, silver food domes and racks of toast, which made her wonder whether many of Manberley’s residents would be joining her in the dining room. It was empty when she walked in, but there were several covered serving dishes on the side, which rather surprisingly held a vast variety of breakfast treats, until Jane reasoned that the Miltons probably farmed the land, and would keep pigs and hens. Jane helped herself to sausage and bacon, scrambled egg and fried bread, thinking that it might be an idea to stock up on food if dinner was to be another poor affair.
She was just enjoying her solitude when the door opened, which made her start a little, especially when she saw who was walking in. It was the chauffeur who’d picked her up from the station, looking as if breakfasting in the dining room at this hour was a regular habit. He mumbled something, which Jane thought might have been ‘good morning’, before coolly helping himself from the side.
With his plate heaped high, he sat down on the chair opposite her, and spent the next ten minutes without another word, eating his way through a mountain of food in silence. Jane couldn’t help thinking his presence was most unusual, even taking into account how times had changed. In her day servants ate in the kitchen, and though she’d been surprised to discover that she was invited to eat with the family, she decided the Milton’s must be most unconventional to allow the chauffeur the same honour.
It felt very uncomfortable sitting there without any attempt at conversation. Jane observed her companion who was now unfurling a newspaper from his pocket, and spreading it open on the table, with hardly a pause from the movement of his fork from food to mouth. He was very well dressed in a suit of country tweed, no uniform today, and she couldn’t help noticing how well the greenish flecks in the tawny cloth complimented his tanned skin. He was broad-shouldered, yet she detected a slim torso beneath the waistcoat he wore, and with long limbs and strong, capable-looking hands he could be described as a very good-looking young man. Dark, unruly curls had been fixed as well as they could into place with a neat parting and brilliantine, but those at the nape of his neck where they met the collar of his shirt refused to be tamed.
He must have been aware she was staring because he suddenly looked up which made her jump a little out of her seat. She saw a wide mouth curving into a generous smile at her obvious discomfort, and a flash of white even teeth.
‘Not run away yet, Miss Austen?’
His accent had a faint trace of something she couldn’t make out, but it was a friendly voice, and she couldn’t help smiling too.
‘No, not yet, Mr … I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your name.’
‘It’s Will Milton.’ There was a pause during which his eyes connected with hers. ‘Just call me Will … everybody does.’
Jane felt the blood pound in her temples, and knew her face was flooding with crimson. Will Milton? A hundred thoughts flashed through her mind, as she wondered if she could have done or said anything yesterday that she should now regret. He was no ordinary chauffeur she realised in that moment, but the son and heir to Manberley castle. Of course she had been a little snooty, telling him off for discussing her employers, but he’d been obviously playing a trick on her and that was hardly her fault. Jane was in mixed emotions, and went from embarrassment and shame to downright indignation in the time it took for Will to close his paper.
‘Do you always dress up as the chauffeur and pretend to be someone you’re not?’ she said crossly, unable to stop the thoughts coming out of her mouth.
Will seemed to find this funny, and threw back his head to laugh out loud. ‘I don’t have to do it very often, pick people up from the station, I mean, but I thought it might put you at your ease, and I hoped to learn a bit more about you and what you were thinking about coming to work here. We don’t have a chauffeur any more, and on the few occasions I’ve taken on the job, I must admit it’s always fun to listen to the conversations of incoming guests. I’ve learned a lot, and then the moment of realisation is always worth the wait … and such a hoot.’
‘I’m glad you think it’s so funny,’ said Jane, already deciding that she’d never met anyone more unprincipled. Above all things she disliked this sort of trickery, having fun at others’ expense. These Miltons were an odd lot, and she’d best keep her wits if she were to keep her sanity.
‘I didn’t mean to upset you,’ he said and she caught that drawl in his voice again. His eyes were pleading with her but she would not be drawn into the depths of those dark brown eyes. ‘Please forgive me, Miss Austen, I would hate to disappoint my new governess.’
He was making fun of her again. ‘I am not your governess. Your stepmother has made it quite clear to me that you’re a law unto yourself. I am here merely to advise Lady Milton and help with the girls.’
‘I expect she’s told you I’m a wicked stepson,’ he said, his eyes twinkling with amusement, ‘with no morals and a string of women in the village.’
‘Lady Milton has said no such thing, and even if she had I would not repeat it.’
That made him laugh again, and Jane couldn’t help wondering, as she stared at him, whether there was some truth in what he’d said. She saw that arrogance again, and imagined the confident heir to Manberley leaving a trail of broken hearts behind him amongst all the young women of Stoke Pomeroy. Well, he wouldn’t be charming her with his good looks and fine eyes, she decided, not that he’d be interested in anything about her except as a vehicle for his jokes and what he imagined was wit. Jane thought it wouldn’t take her long to put him in his place now she knew what he was like, and looked forward to having the opportunity again sometime.
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Jane Odiwe is a British author with a special interest in writing novels inspired by Jane Austen's works. Her books continue the stories of beloved characters like Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy in Mr Darcy's Secret, or tell Jane Austen's own story, as in the novels, Jane Austen Lives Again, Searching for Captain Wentworth, and Project Darcy. Other works include the novels Willoughby's Return, Lydia Bennet's Story and the novellas, Mr Darcy's Christmas Calendar, and Mrs Darcy's Diamonds. Jane's short story, Waiting, was published in the short story anthology, Jane Austen Made Me Do It.
Jane is an ambassador for the Jane Austen Literacy Foundation, established by Jane Austen's 5th great niece, Caroline Jane Knight. She is also a member of the Jane Austen Society, and the Romantic Novelist's Association. When she's not writing she enjoys painting and trying to capture the spirit of Jane Austen's world. Her illustrations feature in a short biographical film of Jane Austen's life, and in the picture book, Effusions of Fancy.
Born in Sutton Coldfield, England, Jane gained an arts degree in Birmingham where she indulged her great loves of Fine Art, Literature, and History. After teaching in the Midlands and London for some years, writing novels took over her life. Jane lives in London with her husband, children and two cats, but escapes to "Fairyland", Bath, whenever she can!
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Thank you so much to Jane Odiwe for visiting with this lovely post and giveaway! I always love getting some insight into the workings of the minds of authors, and what inspires their story ideas.