Friday, 31 July 2009

To Do or Not to Do: Jane Austen sequels and the shaky bandwagon

I’m “jumping on the bandwagon” and entering the discussion started by Kathleen (Leave Auntie Jane Alone) and picked up very humorously by Diana Birchell, Jane Odiwe and Helen Halstead about Jane Austen sequels and whether they should be discontinued. (I’ll give you the links at the bottom, but I don’t want you going off just yet!). Odiwe’s defence of Jane Austen sequels is so logically argued that I would want to reproduce it here, but since this is my blog and I’m planning to give you my perspective, I’ll send you her way after I’ve added my argument to hers.

“Jumping on the bandwagon,”
is a phrase often used when you tell someone you’re writing a Jane Austen inspired novel. The implication is, of course, that you are in it for the money or because it’s an easy way to be published or something of that sort. Which is an odd kind of logic, because it seems to me it’s a lot easier to write a novel in which you can create your own characters, you can use your own language, and you don’t have to read Jane Austen before you start writing. And if you compare the actual number of Jane Austen sequels to the number of, say, chick lit books being published or detective novels, or thrillers, you’ll see your odds statistically of being published if you write a Jane Austen sequel is a definitely down at the bottom of the imaginary ladder.

In my next two blogs I plan to show that the phrase is no more appropriate to Austensque novels than saying Trekkies are into Star Trek because they want to make money. In my next posts I'll rise to the defence of the Austen sequel by debunking some popular myths about Jane Austen inspired writing.

1. Myth: Jane Austen fans write Jane Austen fan fiction because they want to make a quick buck.
Reality: There are so many fan-fiction sites where people write Jane Austen sequels, fragments, and continuations. Those who write fan-fiction are doing it because something in Jane Austen has inspired them to write. There is something unfinished they want to finish. They disagree with an ending. They want to rework something Jane Austen has done. They are doing it for the sheer joy of it.

2. Myth: There is something unusual, self-serving, or artificial about Jane Austen sequels. Writers who find inspiration in other writers are incapable of being original..
Reality: People have creatively borrowed characters, themes, and plots from other writers/literary masterpieces since the time of Homer. For centuries, poets, sculptors, painters and writers in the West have borrowed from Greek mythology and literature. The most cursory look at the history of literature will show that literary production is essentially cannibalistic (though not necessarily Zombie-style) (I should mention here that I have a degree in Comparative Literature, which is basically all about how writers borrow from each other).

Even good old Shakespeare borrowed (heaven forbid!)
from earlier writers/figures. And in turn, Shakespeare has been rewritten, used as inspiration, and parodied endlessly. Does anyone rise up in arms if somebody writes a new variation on Romeo and Juliet? (I can see that the Tempest has definite sea monsters potential). Did you know that a Shakespeare for families was produced during the Regency period that was purged of anything that could be considered problematic? And that if you lived during the Victorian era you were likely to see a version of King Lear or Romeo and Juliet with a happy ending?

To be continued….

As promised, here are the links:
Leave Auntie Jane Alone with response from Birchell, Odiwe and Halstead

Odiwe’s Defence of Jane Austen Sequels

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Monica Fairview Featured on Two Austen Blogs

I'm having fun these days exploring the world of cyberspace with tweets, faces (why doesn't facebook have a verb? Facebooking? Bookfacing?), and blogs, though I admit my writing is suffering. In fact, my writing is pathetic. Still, it's lovely to be out there, meeting people with similar interests, and puzzling out the diverse and divergent remarks that you encounter. Nothing can be more different than the world of Regency England with its well regulated rules of conduct. On Seesmic, one reencounters the Tower of Babel, a chaos of words flowing through the screen as hundreds of minds share clipets of their thoughts. Yet somehow, we make sense of it all, a tribute to the power of language.

It's an addiction. I will have to withdraw for a while in order to write.

But meanwhile I'm delighted to be featured on not one but two Jane Austen Blogs. The first is as a guest blogger on Jane Austen Today, where I blog about Georgette Heyer's Little Sophy(??)

And then there is the thrilling moment every writer looks forward to once a new book is out: The First Review. This review was particularly exciting because in it I played the role of a fairy godmother to a Cinderella, which is rather a nice role to play, and very appropriate, I think. To work out why I'm talking about fairy tales, head over to Austenprose and Laurel Ann's very skilful review of The Other Mr Darcy.

Friday, 17 July 2009

Harry Potter and The Half Blood Prince: Rich Visual Feast, Skinny Characters

I often think the acid test of a film is what you remember about it the next day. The scenes that stand out in your mind are the ones that are the most powerful, usually, and the process of evaluating the film comes about when you re-evaluate those scenes and put everything together.

So what do I remember most about the Harry Potter film today? Dark, tumultuous clouds, a bridge collapsing, Dumbledore’s blackened hand, Ron Weasley, Malfoy's anguish, and a dead bird.

Oddly enough, when I try to remember Harry Potter himself, I remember: 1) The opening scene with the young waitress. 2) Harry taking Dumbledore's arm 3) Harry hiding under the floorboards in the tower, watching passively as a wand is lifted.

Put all those ingredients together, and you've got an assorted smorgasbord of a film.

Not that it wasn't enjoyable. It was. The cinematography was vivid, the special effects striking. But overall I would have to say that there was something lacking. Motivation, emotional impact, and character (especially when it came to Harry) took the back door to the visual aspect of the film. The two characters who take center stage, if anyone does, are Ron Weasley and Malfoy.

And I have to say I was particularly disappointed in Hermione. Somehow she has been transformed from the spunky little girl full of confidence in the two earliest films into an awkward, diffident young woman whose body language radiates uncertainty.

I can see that the complexity of plot and the abundance of characters in JK Rowling's novels as they get longer and longer become much harder to translate onto the screen. Certainly, this is evident in The Half Blood Prince. The decision to split the next book into two films makes sense. I wish they had thought of it before. The Half Blood Prince would have been much richer (in all senses of the word) for it.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

"A Great Deal of Conversation": Romance Writers' Association Meeting in Penrith

"My idea of good company," says Anne in Jane Austen's Persuasion, "is the company of clever, well-informed people, who have a great deal of conversation; that is what I call good company." Add to it, a trip to Penrith, a few well-informed lectures, and one or two roll-on-the floor funny ones (thank you, Rachel and Liz), and your cup overflows. It certainly regenerated the spirit. (I'll admit that there were overflowing spirits, too).

What other group of people would, very good naturedly, consent to dress up in rubbish bags? We did, indeed. And at the other end of the spectrum, listen spellbound to Hugo Summerson, a former MP, speak of flies, cabbages and kings (well, the aristocracy, at any rate)?

We looked at feet, since our smiling chairperson Katie Fforde's shoes feature in a competition, and at hands and heads (required in Liz Bailey's workshop). We were persuaded of the importance of wagon wheels and stop-watches in across-the-ocean favourite Jodi Thomas' heartwarming reflection on the four seasons of writing.

Wonderful as all the talks were, of course it is the in-between part which brings us to the RNA meetings -- the time when the volume of chatter rises up around us like a cocoon, shutting us away from the world outside and enveloping us in the world of words. In that world, we speak incessantly, and indulge in what, paradoxically, brings us together: the love of words, and the romance we have with language.

Next year in Greenwich!

For more on the Romantic Novelists' Association, visit the RNA blog and the RNA website.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

The Other Mr Darcy: Excerpt

I loved writing The Other Mr Darcy. You know how it is when you find yourself writing the kind of book that you'd love to read, only no one else wrote it before you? Of course, it's a bit embarassing to be chuckling at your own story as you're writing away, especially if you're in a coffee shop. I can tell you, people don't smile at you. They give you the type of glare that says clearly: "You might think there's something funny in the universe, but I don't, so if you have a joke, keep it to yourself."

Of course, the real joke is, I'm not keeping it to myself, because other people are going to be reading it, too.

Anyway -- The Other Mr Darcy has its funny bits and its romantic bits. You're bound to get both when you put someone like Caroline Bingley with someone like Robert Darcy, Darcy's irrepressible cousin.

Here's an excerpt, then.

The Other Mr Darcy
Prologue


Caroline Bingley sank to the floor, her silk crepe dress crumpling up beneath her. Tears spurted from her eyes and poured down her face and, to her absolute dismay, a snorting, choking kind of sound issued from her mouth.

“This is most improper,” she tried to mutter, but the sobs — since that was what they were — the sobs refused to stay down her throat where they were supposed to be.

She had never sobbed in her life, so she could not possibly be sobbing now. But the horrible sounds kept coming from her throat. And water — tears — persisted in squeezing past her eyes and down her face.

Then with a wrench, something tore in her bosom — her chest — and she finally understood the expression that everyone used but that she had always considered distinctly vulgar. Her heart was breaking. And it was true because what else could account for that feeling, inside her, just in the centre there, of sharp, stabbing pain?

And what could account for the fact that her arms and her lower limbs were so incredibly heavy that she could not stand up?

She was heartbroken. Her Mr Darcy had married that very morning. In church, in front of everyone, and she had been unable to prevent it.

He had preferred Elizabeth Bennet. He had actually married her, in spite of her inferior connections, and even though he had alienated his aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, whose brother was an earl. Caroline simply could not comprehend it.

She had that tearing feeling again and she looked down, just to make sure that it was not her bodice that was being ripped apart. But the bodice, revealing exactly enough of her bosom as was appropriate for a lady, remained steadfastly solid. So the tearing must have come from somewhere inside her. It squeezed at her with pain hard enough to stop her breathing, and to force those appalling sobs out even when she tried her best to swallow them down.

She rested her face in her hands and surrendered to them. She had no choice in the matter. They were like child’s sobs, loud and noisy. More like bawling, in fact. Her mouth was stretched and wide open. And the noise kept coming out, on and on.

On the floor, in the midst of merriment and laughter, on the day of William Fitzwilliam Darcy’s wedding, with strains of music accompanying her, Miss Caroline Bingley sobbed for her lost love.

***

A long time later, someone tried to open the door. She came to awareness suddenly, realizing where she was. The person on the other side tried again, but she resisted, terrified that someone would come in and catch sight of her tear-stained face. No one, no one, she resolved, would ever know that she had cried because of Mr Darcy.

Whoever was on the other side gave the doorknob a last puzzled rattle, then walked slowly back down the corridor.

She rose, straightening out her dress, smoothing down her hair with hands that were steady only because she forced them to be.

She needed to repair the ravages her pathetic bawling had caused. At any moment, someone else could come in and discover her. She moved to look into a mirror that hung above the mantelpiece.

And recoiled in shock...

Monica Fairview, THE OTHER MR DARCY
available from Robert Hale, Amazon.co.uk, Book Depository, Barnes & Noble