Amazing Grace: Must-See Movie

For the last month, I’ve been busy with the blog tour launching my latest novel: Murder at Northanger Abbey (see previous post). Someday I’d like to do a “real” book tour, like authors used to. But I suppose it’s just as well this one was designed to be “virtual” instead, because in the current Covid crisis, it wouldn’t have worked for me to travel all the places I’ve visited – various destinations in the US, plus England, Italy, and Portugal – meeting lots of people and signing books in person.

Next up? I have just a few chapters written so far of another P&P book, this one from Mr. Darcy’s point of view. Also, I have not one but two audio books in production! Leap of Hope is already recorded and just needs to go through the editing process. And Murder at Northanger Abbey will hopefully follow close behind. I adore audio books myself, and so it’s a real thrill for me to be able to offer so many of my own in that format!


 

Amazing GraceNow, on to the main topic of this post: the movie Amazing Grace. I first saw this excellent movie several years ago, but current events got me thinking about (and watching) it again.

As you may or may not know, there has recently been some thought-provoking discussion within Jane Austen circles about the presence and the role of non-whites in Regency England. And some very informative articles on the subject have been posted at Jane Austen Variations by my fellow authors over the last few weeks. I will not attempt to duplicate all their fine work, only invite you to read more here and here.

For today, I’ll just reiterate that Regency England was not as homogeneously Caucasian as people often suppose. There were small yet significant numbers of people of color living in England at the time, even some in high position. Jane Austen herself included a mixed race heiress in her unfinished novel Sanditon (expanded into a recently-aired mini-series):

Of these three, and indeed of all, Miss Lambe was beyond comparison the most important and precious, as she paid in proportion to her fortune. She was about seventeen, half mulatto, chilly and tender, had a maid of her own, was to have the best room in the lodgings, and was always of the first consequence in every plan … (Sanditon)

See the source imageMy point is that Jane Austen must have had at least some exposure to people of other races. And although she never addressed wars and political movements head on in her novels, she, and her characters likewise, were not unaware of the major issues of the day, one of those (arguably the most significant) being the debate over abolishing the slave trade that generated so much wealth for the British empire and many of its upper class families, and which is also the subject of Amazing Grace.

The topic is mentioned in passing at least twice in Austen’s novels. In Mansfield Park, Fanny tells Edmund, “But I talk to [my uncle] more than I used. I am sure I do. Did not you hear me ask him about the slave-trade last night?” In Emma, Mrs. Elton exclaims to Jane Fairfax, “Oh! my dear, human flesh! You quite shock me; if you mean a fling at the slave-trade, I assure you Mr. Suckling was always rather a friend to the abolition.”

See the source imageAmazing Grace (2006) is based on the true story of William Wilberforce (Ioan Gruffudd) and his passionate, courageous, decades-long quest to end British sanction of and participation in the slave trade, a quest that is ultimately successful. Along the way, he faces intense opposition, but he also finds formidable allies in the fight:

See the source imageJohn Newton (Albert Finney), a reformed slave ship captain turned Christian minister, who penned the beloved hymn that gives the movie its title.

William Pitt (Benedict Cumberbatch) Wilberforce’s college friend and the youngest prime minister ever.

Barbara Spooner (Ramola Garai) a staunch abolitionist who becomes Willberforce’s wife.

Lord Charles Fox (Michael Gambon) a powerful and unlikely parliamentary ally.

Thomas Clarkson (Rufus Sewell) a radical abolitionist ready for revolution, if necessary.

See the source imageOlaudah Equiano (Youssou N’Dour) a former slave who purchased his own freedom and went on to publish his compelling and hugely successful autobiography depicting the horrors of slavery.

And others, many of the Quaker faith. So while William Wilberforce took the fight to parliament, people from various backgrounds and walks of life worked tirelessly with him, together changing the tide of public opinion and the course of history.

Ioan Gruffud delivers a brilliant performance as Wilberforce. And as you can see, the rest of the cast is stacked from top to bottom with nothing but the best dramatic talent. You can add to this list another old friend from Persuasion ’95: Ciaran Hinds in a less-sympathetic, less-heroic role this time, as Lord Tarleton, an outspokenly pro-slave-trade MP.

As with any dramatization, significant creative licence has no doubt been taken, but my understanding is that the story line follows historical facts pretty closely. And some parts – portions of Wilberforce’s speeches, for example – are taken directly from preserved parliamentary records, etc. That’s the case with the caption in the picture below – what Lord Charles Fox said of Wilberforce when the battle in parliament was finally won.

See the source imageAll this took place during Jane Austen’s lifetime.

No movie can be all things to all people. Obviously, no movie can tell every aspect of such a complex, far-reaching, generations-long, globe-spanning issue as slavery. But Amazing Grace does an amazingly good job of illuminating the particular aspect of the story that is its focus: the atrocity of the slave trade and the political fight to end British involvement in it. That is an important story that deserves to be told, heard, and remembered. Amazing Grace is a must-see movie on those grounds alone, even aside from the fact that it is a tremendously well-made film.

 

 

Posted in Austen Variations, English Regency culture, History, movies, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Book Launch for “Murder at Northanger Abbey”

MNA bannerThe day is finally here! Maybe some of you have been waiting impatiently for Murder at Northanger Abbey to come out. Believe me, I have too!

Usually I underestimate how long it will take to get everything done and I’m scrambling at the end. So for this book, I decided to be smart and allow plenty of time to finish up all those last-minute details. That way, I wouldn’t be so stressed about making my deadline. Consequently, I’ve been ready for two weeks and have just been waiting for the days on the calendar to tick by. In other words, I still miscalculated, only this time in the opposite direction!

What a revolution in her ideas! She, who had so longed to be in an abbey! Now, there was nothing so charming to her imaginations as the unpretending comfort of a well-connected parsonage, something like Fullerton but better: Fullerton had its faults but Woodston probably had none. If Wednesday should ever come! It did come, and exactly when it might reasonably be looked for. It came – it was fine – and Catherine trod on air.

I thought this would be an appropriate Jane Austen quote to use today because it comes from Northanger Abbey (chapter 26), it speaks of impatiently waiting (as I have been), and of the happiness when the anticipated day finally arrives.

Yes, the waiting is over! Tuesday, June 23rd did come, and exactly when it might reasonably be looked for.

So please join me in celebrating the official launch of my latest book – my 10th! Here’s the Blurb for Murder at Northanger Abbey, a couple of advance reader comments in its praise, and the Blog Tour Schedule. Then I have a surprise for you and also how you can win a copy of the book.

Newly married to her beloved Henry, Catherine’s eyes are now open to the grownup pleasures of wedded life. Yet she still hasn’t quite given up her girlhood fascination with all things Gothic. When she first visited Northanger Abbey, she only imagined dreadful events had occurred there. This time the horror is all too real. There’s been a murder, and Henry has fallen under suspicion. Catherine is determined to clear her husband’s name, but at the same time, she’s afraid for her own safety, since there’s a very good chance the real murderer is still in the house.

This delightful sequel reprises the mischievous spirit of Austen’s original spoof on the Gothic novel, while giving Catherine a genuine murder mystery to unravel.


“WOW! This book is absolutely incredible! It is intriguing, mysterious, romantic, and such a great continuation of ‘Northanger Abbey!’ Whenever I picked up ‘Murder at Northanger Abbey,’ I was whisked back in time, and went on quite an adventure!”

“I have just finished Murder at Northanger and I really loved it… I re-read Northanger Abbey before starting Murder at Northanger, and it felt as if I was reading the same book. Both the writing style and the characters remained very close to Austen’s, so this was very well achieved in my opinion. I particularly loved to see what you did with Catherine’s character, I do not believe she is a very interesting character, but you made her interesting, and that is impressive…”

“…this is a sensational sequel and I hope Shannon Winslow feels the urge to write more mysteries set in Jane Austen’s literary world, of course. I would recommend this book for not only those who enjoy Jane Austen-inspired fiction, but also those who appreciate historical cozy mysteries.”

I hope that when you read the book, you feel the same way!


Blog Tour Schedule: (links will be added as the posts go live)


Now, I promised you a surprise.

From the title, you will already have perceived that somebody dies in this book. But who? That is the question.

Months ago, I did an unofficial poll, asking readers who from Jane Austen’s original story they would like to see turn up dead. It seems there are several unpopular characters people think deserve to be murdered, but I could choose only one. So I will tell you this much; it was either 1) Isabella Thorpe, 2) John Thorpe, 3) General Tilney, or 4) Captain Tilney.

Murder at Northanger Abbey_KINDLETo be more specific could be considered a spoiler, even though the answer is revealed early in the book. So I will leave it up to you if you want to know now or not. If you do, you will find the answer at the bottom of the launch post running concurrently at Austen Variations. While you’re there, you can enter the giveaway to win a copy of the book. Just leave a comment there!

Murder at Northanger Abbey is available at Amazon (paperback, Kindle) and Barnes & Noble (ebook). Audio will be coming asap!

PS – Find links to three excerpts here.

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Revealing a Cover for “Murder”

Exclusive! First time seen anywhere! The full cover for Murder at Northanger Abbey. I’m very please with how it turned out. It seems to set the right tone for a slightly spooky murder mystery. What do you think?

Murder-at-Northanger-Abbey_Full Cover for WEBI’d never written a murder mystery before, but that seemed the only choice for a sequel to Northanger Abbey. So I went for it, taking an unconventional approach. You see, unlike most writers of the genre, I didn’t decide “who done it” until I was halfway through the book. Not my fault, really; there were just so many good suspects to choose from! Think Gosford Park: lots of people in the house and everybody has a motive. Anyway, you’ll have to read for yourself to see who the real culprit (and the victim) turn out to be!

The official publication date is June 23rd in paperback. But you can get your Kindle copy a day early if you pre-order it now! Here’s the official book blurb:

Newly married to her beloved Henry, Catherine’s eyes are now open to the grownup pleasures of wedded life. Yet she still hasn’t quite given up her girlhood fascination with all things Gothic. When she first visited Northanger Abbey, she only imagined dreadful events had occurred there. This time the horror is all too real. There’s been a murder, and Henry has fallen under suspicion. Catherine is determined to clear her husband’s name, but at the same time, she’s afraid for her own safety, since there’s a very good chance the real murderer is still in the house.

Shannon Winslow’s delightful sequel reprises the mischievous spirit of Austen’s original spoof on the Gothic novel, while giving Catherine a genuine murder mystery to unravel.

Read excerpts and more about Murder at Northanger Abbey here, and watch for the launch post June 23rd!

Lismore Castle 2

Lismore Castle

“A particular friend of mine had an account of it in a letter from London yesterday. It is to be uncommonly dreadful. I shall expect murder and everything of the kind.”  (Northanger Abbey, chapter 14)

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Why Not Write a Murder Mystery?

Lismore-Castle3Things are on track for a June 23rd release of my next novel! Yay! All four of my beta readers have reported back with very positive feedback and no major changes recommended. Now just a proof read, formatting, and the final touches to the cover remain!

“I have just finished Murder at Northanger and I really loved it. As I mentioned before, I re-read Northanger Abbey before starting Murder at Northanger, and it felt as if I was reading the same book. Both the writing style and the characters remained very close to Austen’s, so this was very well achieved in my opinion. I particularly loved to see what you did with Catherine’s character, I do not believe she is a very interesting character, but you made her interesting, and that is impressive…”

So says one of the lovely beta readers who previewed the book!

Yes, in case you hadn’t heard, this new book is a sequel to Northanger Abbey – Jane Austen’s spoof on the Gothic novel – entitled Murder at Northanger Abbey.

“What?” you say. “Isn’t a murder mystery a little out of your line?” Yes, but I like the challenge of attempting something new. I would get bored doing exactly the same type of book over and over again.

From the beginning, pretty much every book I’ve written has presented a new challenge. My first (The Darcys of Pemberley), well, it was the FIRST! I’d never written a novel of any kind before, and I wasn’t even sure I could do it. But I borrowed Jane Austen’s characters, which gave me a running start. With the next (For Myself Alone), I faced the challenge of creating my own characters as well as an original story, but still in a Jane Austen style. Since then, I’ve written a story about Jane Austen herself (The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen); two time-travel books (Leap of Faith, Leap of Hope), one JAFF and one not; a non-fiction book (Prayer & Praise: a Jane Austen Devotional); and three others, each with its own set of joys and its own set of difficulties to overcome.

So why not write a sort of cozy murder mystery? How hard could it be?

One thing that put me at a real disadvantage from the start was that I’m not very good at plotting out my stories from first to last. Unlike some writers, I tend to only have a vague idea of where I’m headed and then fly by the seat of my pants in that general direction, following the story where it takes me instead of sticking to a pre-planned route. Exciting, but a little risky!

For example, I’m pretty sure most mystery writers know “who done it” from the start, but not me. No, it could have been one of half a dozen interesting characters in Murder at Northanger Abbey. All of them had motive and opportunity, and I could imagine a plausible scenario for each one. It wasn’t until I was more than halfway through the book that I finally decided which way to go!

Even then, I wavered. So, consistent with the “new challenges” theme of this post, I did something else I’ve never done before. I wrote an alternative ending – one that works just as well but results in a rather different outcome for the heroine, Catherine Morland Tilney. I prefer the main one, but you can have your pick, because they’re both included in the book!

Will I ever write another murder mystery? I don’t know. I had a lot of fun doing this one, especially carrying on in Jane Austen’s quirky, tongue-in-cheek style from the original. And besides, I never say “never.” I like to go where inspiration takes me, especially if that means tackling a new and interesting writing challenge!

No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy, would have supposed her born to be an heroine. Her situation in life, the character of her father and mother, her own person and disposition, were all equally against her… But when a young lady is to be a heroine, the perverseness of forty surrounding families cannot prevent her. Something must and will happen to throw a hero in her way. (Northanger Abbey, chapter 1)

 

northanger+abbey+kissPS – If you haven’t read Northanger Abbey lately or perhaps ever, I’d like to invite you to read/reread it now, so that you’ll be ready for its sequel when it comes out next month! – for that seamless transition the beta reader spoke of above. Think you won’t care for NA? Take another look with an open mind. Although in a different style from Mr. Darcy or Mr. Knightley, Henry Tilney is a worthy hero (and a passionate guy). And some of the early examples of Austen’s patented ironic wit contained in the book are laugh-out-loud funny. Speaking of challenges, I challenge you to read chapter one without chuckling here and there. I don’t think it can be done!

Read excerpts and more about Murder at Northanger Abbey here.

Posted in Jane Austen, Jane Austen Quotes, Shannon Winslow's writing, Uncategorized, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

Can Jane and I Help?

20200409_101848-1Yesterday was such a beautiful Spring day in the Pacific Northwest. The sky was blue, the birds were singing, the thermometer topped 70 degrees for the first time in a long while, and my magnolia tree burst into glorious bloom. At my house in the country, surrounded by all that “rightness,” it was hard to believe anything could be very wrong in the world. Yet I knew that when I turned on the TV, there would be a new, shockingly high COVID-19 death count. There would be more heart-wrenching stories of loved ones lost, incredible hardships, and financial devastation.

What a strange and unexpected turn our world has taken! Just a few months ago, we couldn’t have imagined that most of us would now be indefinitely confined to our homes, with schools and businesses closed, waiting out a pandemic that’s like nothing any of us has ever seen before.

20200407_120415-1I’m trying to do what little I can. I’m obeying the ‘stay at home’ order to avoid adding to the problem. I’ve sewn and donated a few dozen masks and given some money. But I wish I could to do more to help. Unfortunately, I don’t have the training to save lives on the front lines. I’m not a scientist researching a cure. I’m not even a grocery worker or someone else providing an essential service.  I’m a writer.

Yes, readers do often say how much simple enjoyment books can give. And that’s important. I even received a touching note from a woman who told me how having the positive distraction of one of my novels helped her get through a really dark time in her life. That warmed my heart tremendously!

A novel is still just a novel, though. In these troubled times, what do I have to offer that’s more substantial?

Like many other authors, I’ve decided to offer one of my books at rock-bottom prices. Not one of my novels this time, but something that I hope will give more help and comfort than a mere “good read.” Whether you’re a person of faith or not, I hope you will be blessed by the encouraging messages in Prayer & Praise: a Jane Austen Devotional.

Prayer and Praise_KindleDuring the current crisis, I’m pleased to be basically giving it away to anybody who wants it – as close to free as I can make it, that is. For a limited time, it is available at Amazon for $.99 on Kindle and $5.99 in paperback – at cost. Or it’s free with your Kindle Unlimited subscription.

The 50 uplifting messages it contains are inspired by the prayers that Jane Austen wrote, and they use familiar situations and characters  from her novels as illustrations.

We marvel at Jane Austen’s insights into people and relationships, as seen in her novels. Similarly, we can take courage from her faith as revealed through her prayers and the way she faced the trials of life.

In one prayer, she prays, May the sick and afflicted, be now & ever [in] thy care…an especially timely sentiment for today. Here’s the first part of the devotional segment from Prayer & Praise that line inspired:

When in Persuasion Louisa Musgrove fell and hit her head at the shore in Lyme, she was not the only one to suffer. She may have been the one sick in body, but all her friends and family were instantly afflicted as well. Mary became hysterical; Henrietta fainted from the shock; Captain Wentworth despaired and agonized; and Charles sobbed, crying out, “What, in heaven’s name, is to be done next?” Anne, who felt the horror of the moment just as much, suffered the added pressure of having everybody turn to her for direction.

Today, if this kind of accident occurred, things would go quite differently. Six to twelve people would instantly whip out their cell phones to call 911, and soon the victim would be whisked off to the nearest hospital for the most advanced medical care available. But that’s not always enough. Even today, so many afflictions of body, mind, and spirit remain completely beyond human know-how to mend. So, in our helplessness and desperation, we still cry out to God. We beg for his intervention. We pray for him to guide human efforts toward healing and add to them his miraculous power so that our loved one may be restored.

This is as it should be. God invites us to bring all our needs and heartaches to him in prayer. Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you (Psalms 55:22).

We are now more aware than usual that many circumstances are out of our control and beyond human ability to remedy. Even if you aren’t personally sick or have lost a loved one or a business, we are all ‘afflicted’ in some way by this viral outbreak.

See the source imageToday is Good Friday, the day Christians commemorated Jesus Christ’s suffering and death on the cross. Despite the horror of the event, it’s appropriate to call it ‘Good Friday’ because of the good Jesus achieved through it – his willing sacrifice out of love making our salvation possible. He did for us what we had no power to do for ourselves.

The darkness of that Friday long ago didn’t last forever, though; it turned to rejoicing with Jesus’ resurrection on Easter Sunday.

God willing, we will have brighter days ahead. Whatever your situation, I hope you will take a few minutes each day (using Prayer & Praise or some other means) to reflect on God’s love for you and the hope of the resurrection ours in Jesus Christ. Cast your cares on the Lord, and he will sustain you through this and every other crisis.

[Read more about Prayer & Praise and a full sample segment here.]

Posted in life, Shannon Winslow, Shannon Winslow's writing, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Who Knew Henry Tilney Was Such a Passionate Guy?

See the source imageI especially enjoy writing the many letters included in my novels, trying to make each one a little work of art, as Jane Austen did.  (More on that topic here.) Who can forget Darcy’s 8-pager to Elizabeth after his failed proposal or Cpt. Wentworth’s iconic letter to Anne?

…You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever. I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own than when you almost broke it eight years and a half ago. Dare not say that man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death. I have loved none but you. Unjust I may have been; weak and resentful I have been, but never inconstant… (Persuasion, chapter 23)

See the source imageThen yesterday, as I was forging ahead with the rewrites for my current work in progress (a fun and somewhat campy Northanger Abbey sequel entitled Murder at Northanger Abbey), I came across a letter I composed for the book months ago. Seeing it again, I thought, “Hmm. That’s not bad!” At least I know I would have been pretty excited to receive one like it from my sweetheart. So I thought you might enjoy reading it, too, as a sneak peek for the upcoming novel.

Set up:  Henry Tilney wrote this letter to Catherine during the time they were separated and waiting for the general’s permission to marry. Since the action in Murder at Northanger Abbey takes place months after their eventual wedding, the letter is included in this novel as a flashback of sorts, and the narrative that introduces it is referring to that earlier time period:



 

The lovers thus had parted with a strong understanding between themselves but nearly despairing of the necessary change in the general’s position ever taking place. Henry had returned to Woodston to hope and to pray and to pursue improvements to his domestic situation for Catherine’s sake. Catherine remained at Fullerton to pine and to cry and to watch for the letter from Henry she felt their unofficial engagement would justify.

In the mode of the true romantic heroine, Catherine had secretly intercepted her lover’s initial correspondence, thereafter always keeping it concealed on her person and close to her heart, and faithfully reading the missive through several times a day, despite the tears of exquisite torture it invariably drew from her already red-rimmed eyes.

Fortunately, however, having committed the entire contents to memory, she soon had no need of worrying the paper parcel any further, for indeed it was at the point of falling to bits where the pages had been folded and unfolded an hundred times or more. She could instead call every touching passages to mind at will anytime she chose during those difficult months of waiting. Even now, she could still remember…

Catherine allowed her mind’s eye to travel across those long-cherished pages again, silently reciting the words once more but hearing them in Henry’s voice.

 

My Dearest Catherine,

May I presume to call you mine, though I cannot yet fully possess you? I dare to hope that I may, for when I look into my mind, into my heart, and into my imagination, I find you already resident there, a warm and vital part of me. In these three seats of my affection, there is no one but you, Catherine. In truth, there never was and never will be another. You have captured me altogether, and I ache with longing until our union can at last be made complete.

Do I shock you, my darling, by the force of my affection, with the strength of these sentiments? Indeed, I shock myself. You have been used to hearing only lightness and teasing from me, only joviality and laughter. That is always my preferred way. But I find that I am, after all, capable of much more serious reflections when hard pressed, as I now am by this separation. I find it is difficult to speak lightly when my heart is heavy.

And yet I do not despair at our situation. Although there currently seems no reasonable basis for hope of an early solution, I remain ever hopeful. I refuse to be reasonable if being reasonable means I must consign myself to a world where the contrariness of one stubborn gentleman should overrule all that is good, right, and fitting. If my father will be obstinate in his position, I will hold even more tenaciously to mine. I can even be patient if necessary, because I am convinced that, with right on our side, we will prevail in the end, you and I. I also believe that the reward – the deep satisfaction we may expect to find in our marriage – will be well worth waiting for. But I dare not say more on that subject here.

So I entreat you to join me in this belief, my dearest, fairest Catherine. Do let me hear from you soon to confirm your love and faithfulness, as I do now confirm mine for you. Tell me you will wait as long as it may take for our happiness to be fulfilled.

I remain ever yours, body and soul,

Henry

 

Catherine was glad for the relative darkness of the carriage, for she felt her cheeks grow hot at the review of these passionate sentiments… and especially with the thought of how their implied promise had been more than amply fulfilled since their marriage.



See the source image

Hope you enjoyed this little taste of what’s coming this summer in Murder at Northanger Abbey! (See Work in Progress page for more info and links to two more excerpts)

What do you think? Would you be pleased receiving such a letter? Did you picture Henry Tilney as a passionate guy, a joking goofball, or can he be both?

Posted in excerpts, my books, Shannon Winslow's writing, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 13 Comments

Becoming a Fan of Becoming Jane

Becoming Jane 2I love movies and I love Jane Austen, so what could be better than a movie about Jane Austen?

I’ve been building my private library for years – movies to my taste, distinctly separate from my husband’s much larger collection of action/sci-fi films. In mine, adaptations of Jane Austen’s books feature prominently. I now own three versions of Pride and Prejudice (with an extra copy of P&P’95 as a loaner), two versions of Sense and Sensibility, three Emmas, one Northanger Abbey, and one Persuasion. (I have yet to find a production of Mansfield Park that I like.) Then there are the odd, related films, but I had nothing about Jane Austen herself until Becoming Jane arrived on the scene.

I went to see the movie at a theater when it came out in 2007. How could I not? I was too impatient to wait until the video was released. I had to find out for myself whether or not it was worthy to assume a connection to our dear Jane. From the trailer and blurb, I was suspicious:

It’s the untold romance that inspired the novels of one of the world’s most celebrated authors. When the dashing Tom Lefroy, a reckless and penniless lawyer-to-be, enters Jane’s life, he offends the emerging writer’s sense and sensibility.  Soon the clashing egos set off sparks that ignite a passionate romance and fuel Jane’s dream of doing the unthinkable – marrying for love.

I considered myself pretty well informed about Jane Austen by then, and so I was prepared to be offended by any inaccuracies in the film. I was prepared to be indignant if the producers had played fast and loose with the facts… which they had. Two of the major players (Lady Gresham and Mr. Wisley) never existed. And although it’s true that Jane met and had a brief but flagrant flirtation with Tom Lefroy, there’s no evidence to show that their romance went anywhere near as far as it does in the film.

But instead of being offended as I watched it, I remember being sucked into the romance.

It’s a very well-made film. The cinematography is beautiful, the dialogue witty, the musical score brilliant, and the cast top-drawer. No, Anne Hathaway’s accent isn’t perfect, but that’s a fairly minor flaw. Otherwise her performance is believable and engaging. James McAvoy, who, at the time, I’d never seen before, was excellent as the male lead. And you should expect nothing less from proven talents like Julie Walters, James Cromwell, and Maggie Smith.

So, what of the story itself? I think the reason it works, even for somewhat of a Jane Austen purist like me, is that, although not factually accurate, it respects the lady and her legacy. It gets the spirit right if not the details, showing Jane as an intelligent, witty young woman, full of potential, facing a world where social constraints severely limit her possibilities. It depicts the challenges she no doubt faced, the difficult odds against her marrying for love and at the same time being allowed to fulfill her writing aspirations. If Tom Lefroy truly was Jane’s one true love, things might have played out very similarly in reality.

Perhaps most importantly, Becoming Jane feels like a story JA might have written herself (except for the less-than-perfectly-happy ending, that is). It also seeks to explain what so many have wondered: how with supposedly little personal experience Austen could have written so expertly about romance, how Jane the inexperienced girl became Jane the accomplished author.

There are plenty of authentic touches incorporated to satisfy JA insiders: an excerpt about Tom from her letter to Cassandra, lines from her books cleverly worked in to the script, music based on tunes found in her personal music book. For example, a snippet of this Lady Catherine speech:

“Miss Bennet, there seemed to be a prettyish kind of a little wilderness on one side of your lawn. I should be glad to take a turn in it, if you will favour me with your company.”   (Pride and Prejudice, chapter 56)

I didn’t mind that what the movie depicted was largely fiction, not fact. After all, fiction is my stock and trade. My strongest criticism, is that it was not clearly labeled as such, leaving the otherwise uninformed to assume what they saw is what really happened with Jane Austen. But in the end, I enjoyed the movie too much to quibble, and I soon added Becoming Jane to my personal collection.

It’s hard to believe well over a decade has passed since I first saw that film, and it would be difficult to estimate how many times I’ve watched it since then – at least 20, I’m sure.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000037_00034]As most of you know, I have my own theory as to the source of Jane Austen’s knowledge of romance. Although in The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen Tom Lefroy is no more than a youthful infatuation, I have to admit that writing the banter between him and Jane was a delight – perhaps somewhat inspired by how their relationship was depicted in this film.

Although I don’t remember thinking about it at the time, maybe discovering I could enjoy Becoming Jane – a less-than-strictly-factual story about Jane Austen – gave me tacit permission to imagine and write one of my own!

So, what did you think of Becoming Jane? Are you a fan? Why or why not? And if you say you prefer my version of events in TPoMJA, I won’t argue with you. So do I, but nobody has made a movie of it for me to watch… not yet anyway.

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Taking Pleasure in a Good Novel

See the source imageLet me start by wishing you all a wonderful 2020! Since all the hubbub of the holidays has at last died down, I’ve found time to get a little writing done again. I’m 200 pages into my Northanger Abbey sequel – Murder at Northanger Abbey (see Work-in-Progress page) – and I’m closing in on the final climactic series of scenes. (Believe it or not, I was until recently wavering on who done it, but I finally figured out the mystery. Haha!)

When I’m writing a Jane Austen piece, which I pretty much always am, I like to keep my head in the game by repeatedly rereading the related book (or listening to the audio version) – in this case, Northanger Abbey. That’s how I came across this quote again:

“The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel must be intolerably stupid. I have read Mrs. Radcliffe’s works, and most of them with great pleasure. The Mysteries of Udolpho, when I had once begun it, I could not lay down again. I remember finishing it in two days, my hair standing on end the whole time.” (Henry TilneyNorthanger Abbey, chapter 14)

See the source imageIs what Jane Austen says about the novel, here and in chapter 5 (the greatest powers of the mind displayed, thorough knowledge of human nature, lively effusions of wit, best-chosen language) her way of tooting her own horn? Sure, but it’s probably her honest opinion as well. She and her family were enthusiastic novel readers, and, according to one of her preserved letters, “not ashamed of being so.”

The idea of being ashamed to admit reading novels sounds absurd, doesn’t it? In Austen’s day, however, when that literary form was in it’s infancy, the novel did not yet enjoy wide social acceptance. Plays and poetry were still considered more the thing. Shakespeare, probably the most revered English author of all time, never wrote a novel, after all.

See the source imageSeveral years ago, because of the above reference in Northanger Abbey, I became curious about The Mysteries of Udolpho. Yes, it’s a real book, one Jane Austen read. Much to my surprise, I discovered it was available through my local public library. It took me at least a couple of weeks (not two days like Henry Tilney) to get through it, and I didn’t feel my hair standing on end even once, which was a disappointment. Tame by today’s standards and painfully long-winded. Wordy.

Isn’t it somehow ironic to accuse a book of having too many words? Yet it’s a common criticism of “the classics.” Even in Jane Austen, who was not as given to exhaustive descriptions as most, you find enormously long paragraphs and speeches instead of the soundbite conversations we’re used to now.

That older style isn’t inferior; it was appropriate for the time. When books were one of the few sources of entertainment, I imagine readers wanted their treasured novels to last as long as possible. And precise, detailed descriptions were important for people who weren’t able to easily visualize other times, places, and social strata by simply turning on a television. Add the fact that writers (Dickens, for instance, with his serialized works) were sometimes paid by the word, and the phenomenon is explained.

See the source imageNowadays, we have a lot to choose from, dozens of different mediums competing for our entertainment time and dollar. But I hope the novel never goes out of style (and not just because I write them). I’m sure Jane Austen would agree with me. In fact, I think I can hear her now, giving us a piece of her mind.

“Turn off your digital devices and pick up something that has stood the test of time: a good, honest book. Come on, people! Don’t be intolerably stupid. Read a novel!”

Of course, we can and do read novels ON our digital devices. But now and then at least, it’s nice to feel the reassuring weight of a real book in your hand, to experience the satisfaction of turning actual pages one by one, and to mark your progress by watching your physical bookmark marching steadily towards the finish at the back. Don’t you agree?

Happy reading!

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Superhero in Disguise

superheroWho is that behind that mild mannered dental hygienist exterior? Could it be a superhero? 

About five years ago, I did an interview with author Maria Grace for her “Writing Superheroes” series on her excellent blog Random Bits of Fascination. When I recently came across it again, it made me laugh, and I thought you might enjoy it too. So with Maria Grace’s generous permission, I’ve dredged it up from the 2014 archives to reblog here today! (For the original publications and tons of other interesting posts, please visit Random Bits of Fascination for yourself!)



 

If you were to write the ‘origin’s episode’ of your writing what would be the most important scenes?

Winslow: Oh, for that we must go way back. The seeds were sown long ago. Opening scene: We see a girl of 9 or 10 being tucked into bed for the night. Mother turns out the lights and exits, closing the door behind her. All is quiet in the dark room while we hear Mother’s receding footsteps in the hall. Then, there is a rustling as the girl fishes beneath the bed for something. Presently, we see it is a flashlight, which she switches on. The girl then takes a book (probably “Black Beauty”) off the nightstand and excitedly ducks under the covers with it. Fast forward to the next morning: the girl is asleep, the book is splayed open on the bed, and the flashlight batteries are dead, dead, dead. Take away point: An early love of reading fiction set the stage. Discovering Jane Austen decades later finally started me writing it.

 

What did your early efforts look like? Are they still around to be used as bribes and blackmail material?

darcys-of-pemberley_kindleWinslow: Yes, they’re still around but, sorry, not much blackmail potential left. The first novel I wrote (The Darcys of Pemberley) was published in 2011. So it’s already out there for the whole world to see.

All super heroes have their mild-mannered secret identity, what is yours? I promise we won’t tell.

Winslow: I’ve employed a variety of secret identities over the years to disguise my super-hero-ness. “Domestic goddess”, of course. Then there’s “Floss Lady” (the unassuming local dental hygienist), which gave me the added advantage of being able to hide behind a mask part of the time. “Mom” was a bit riskier, since (as anyone who’s tried it knows) the multi-tasking required to pull off this role implies that there surely must be super powers lurking just below the surface.

 

Who are your partners in crime? What are their superpowers?

Winslow: My fellow writers, and – dare I say it? – the voices in my head. Other writers, such as yourself, seem to have (and stand ready to generously share) impressive superpowers which I do not possess, chiefly advanced technical know-how. As for the voices in my head, they generally know where the story is going before I do. They are maddeningly stingy with this information, however, dispensing it on a need-to-know basis. That means I get only a bit at a time. They keep me guessing. They keep me inspired. They keep me writing so that I can find out WHAT HAPPENS NEXT!

 

Where do you get your superpowers from?

Winslow: No clue. It’s a beautiful, cosmic mystery.

 

Where is your secret lair, and what does it look like?

JanuaryWinslow: When I find myself in between missions, I like to hole up at a deluxe log cabin deep in the country where I have a special room I euphemistically call “my studio” (translation: my eldest son’s bedroom, which I appropriated for my own use the day he left for college). There, surrounded by books and art supplies of every description, stacked an average of 18” high, I am literally immersed in creative clutter. I hide from the world (or at least from housework), I recharge my batteries, and I plot my next move.

What kind of training do you do to keep your superpowers in world-saving form?

Winslow: I find regular power walks, frequent flights of fancy, and gourmet chocolate in moderation very helpful. Okay, so the chocolate doesn’t really even have to be all that “gourmet” and “moderation” is a completely relative term.

 

How do you insure that your superpowers are used only for good?

Winslow: Following Jane Austen’s example, I always insist on a happy ending to my novels. As she said in Mansfield Park, “Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery. I quit such odious subjects as soon as I can, impatient to restore everybody not greatly in fault themselves to tolerable comfort, and to have done with all the rest.” No matter how much trouble comes their way, the good guys always win in the end.

 

Granted, you probably don’t get to wear your superhero costume a lot, but if you did, what would it look like?

Winslow: It’s a shape-shifter sort of ensemble that allows me to blend seamlessly into any situation in which I find myself. Wearing it, I can mingle equally well among peasants or royalty, listening in on their conversations and collecting information for my next book. BTW, the suit comes with one other useful feature. I ordered the 20/20 option – guaranteed to remove 20 pounds and 20 years from the slightly-past-her-prime wearer. It cost a little extra, but well worth it.

 

What is your kryptonite? What are the biggest challenges you are faced with in your writing?

Winslow: The insidious nature of various important but ancillary tasks (bookkeeping, social networking, research, promotion) that sometimes get in the way of doing the actual writing. Hmm. Maybe I should inquire about adding a time-expanding or self-cloning feature to my superhero suit. That should do the trick.

 

What was the supervillian that threatened to stop your latest project and how did you vanquish it?

Winslow: My current novel (The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen, set to debut this summer) features Jane Austen herself as the heroine, drawing a parallel between events in her novel Persuasion and a previously unknown romance in her own life. What threatened to derail me were certain facts about her life – ones I wanted to find out but couldn’t, and also ones (such as her early death) which didn’t match up with the story I wanted to create for her. Then it dawned on me! It’s a novel! By definition, that’s fiction. Ergo, inconvenient facts may be willfully disregarded as necessary! Problem solved.

 

What important lessons have you learned along the way?

Winslow: Lesson 1: You don’t have to worry about following trends or pleasing all the people all the time. You just need to reach out to the group of readers (and they are out there)who do connect with your stories and writing style. Lesson 2: If you’re passionate about what you’re writing, that will come through to your readers. If you’re not, they’ll know that too. So write what you love. Lesson 3: Writing fiction is the perfect cover for a person who has only a tenuous grip on reality and who likes to listen to the voices in her head.

 

What have been the best/most memorable experiences along the way?

AGM lineupWinslow:  Holding the first physical copy of my first published novel is pretty close to the top of my list. I also love doing book club appearances, and I had a great time at the JASNA AGM last fall. But I think the best moments have come via hearing directly from readers who have taken the time to let me know how much they liked one of my books. That never gets old. It’s always amazing to learn that something I’ve created has given hours of enjoyment to a total stranger. And now that person isn’t at total stranger anymore, but someone connected to me by a shared experience.

 

If you did this again what would you do differently and what would you not change

Winslow:  The only major change I would make would be to start writing sooner! Actually, I don’t regret my years spent doing dental hygiene. It was a great career for while I was raising my family. Now, it’s a wonderful gift to have been given something new and interesting to do at this stage of my life, something that has finally tapped into all my stores of creative energy. Writing is hard work but it’s very rewarding. I’m having a blast!

 

What is the best (writing or otherwise) advice you have ever gotten and why.

Winslow:  If writing (or you name it) is your passion, you should set aside time to do it, whether it pays off financially or not. But unless/until it does pay off financially, “Don’t quit your day job!” Creative work of any kind is a labor of love, but most people don’t make a living at it. I’ve been pretty lucky, though. When I started writing, I really didn’t expect it to go anywhere. I did it mostly for my own amusement. I told my husband it was my new hobby, and, when he caught me “wasting time” at it again, that he should be glad it was at least a lot cheaper than my previous hobby (reminding him of an embarrassing but mercifully brief period of insanity distinguished by bouts of compulsive shopping on e-bay). The fact that writing has turned into a legitimate second career for me is just a fabulous bonus. BTW, my husband has stopped asking me when I’m going to find a “real job.” Now that the royalty checks are arriving on a regular basis, he asks instead when I’m going to finish another book. Yay!



Well, there you have it: my first and only interview as a superhero. (Strangely enough, nobody else, before or since, has ever suspected me of possessing super powers!) Did you learn anything surprising about me? A few things have changed since this was written, of course, a few more books under my belt. But I’m still having fun and still have more stories to tell!

20141222_082650I also want to take this chance to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and blessings on you and your family, however you celebrate the holiday season! Since this wasn’t a particularly Christmassy themed post, I want to invite you to visit a few previous posts that are:

2018 A Christmas Ramble

2014 Christmas Decorations and Waxing Philosophical

2012 The “W” in Christmas

2011 Christmas Cards

2010 The Stories of Christmas

 

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Book Launch and Giveaway!

prayer-and-praise_kindle-e1571355269549.jpgWoohoo! It’s book launch day for Prayer and Praise: A Jane Austen Devotional!

It’s been well over a year since I had a new release, not because I haven’t been writing, but because, for a change, I’ve been working on more than one project at once – a short story, a play, and another novel alongside this devotional, which is inspired by Jane Austen’s prayers.

Did you know that Austen wrote prayers as well as stories? She did! And three have survived for us to read. Here’s an excerpt from one of them:

May we now, and on each return of night, consider how the past day has been spent by us, what have been our prevailing Thoughts, Words, and Actions during it, and how far we can acquit ourselves of Evil. Have we thought irreverently of Thee, have we disobeyed thy Commandments, have we neglected any known Duty, or willingly given pain to any human Being? Incline us to ask our Hearts these questions, Oh! God, and save us from deceiving ourselves by Pride or Vanity.

Seeing the words “pride” and “vanity” together, does your mind, like mine, go straight to a certain contentious conversation between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy?

As I read through Jane Austen’s prayers, ideas like this kept popping into my head – associations to her stories and characters. That’s how this devotional developed. I ended up breaking down Austen’s prayers into fifty individual petitions, allowing each one to form the basis for a separate message using characters and situations from her novels as illustrations. So Emma teaches us about repentance, Fanny Price about gratitude, Elinor about forgiveness, and so forth.

Writing this devotional was an entirely new challenge for me – one that I thoroughly enjoyed. I’m so pleased with the result and can’t wait to share it with you!  (If you’ve missed the lead-up posts, you may want to read Jane Austen’s Devotion and a sample segment here .)

Prayer and Praise is available in Kindle and paperback. Both have the “Look Inside” feature activated, where you can read another sample.

PS – I deliberately used a little larger font than usual for the paperback of this book, so that it will be easier for older eyes, like mine, to read!

Below are the official book blurb followed by the blog tour stops I have planned, some of which will be featuring book giveaways (check back for updated live links). But let’s start that ball rolling right now! I will be drawing 2 winners from this post. Just leave a comment by November 8th. I’d love to know what you think of the concept for this devotional or if you have any questions!

Did you know that Jane Austen wrote prayers in addition to her six classic novels? She was not only a woman of celebrated humor, intellect, and insight; she was a woman of faith.

Prayer & Praise is a treasure trove of thought-provoking messages inspired by the lines of Austen’s three preserved prayers. Atop a solid foundation of scripture, these 50 devotional segments (each finishing with prayer and praise) enlist familiar characters and situations from Austen novels to illustrate spiritual principles – in creative, often surprising, ways!

Which one of Austen’s characters developed a god complex? Who was really pulling Henry Crawford’s strings? Where do we see examples of true repentance, a redeemer at work, light overcoming darkness? With a Biblical perspective, Austen’s beloved stories reveal new lessons about life, truth, hope, and faith.

Blog Tour for Prayer and Praise: A Jane Austen Devotional

(November 4 – simultaneous launch here and at Austen Variations)

November 7 – So Little Time interviews Shannon Winslow

November 11 – Meditative Meanderings – writing this devotional

November 14 – Faith, Science, Joy, and Jane Austen – free sample segment

November 18 – Austenesque Reviews – Lady Catherine takes me to task!

November 21 – The Calico Critic – spotlights sample segment

December 3 – Darcyholic Deversions – Mr. Collins interviews Shannon Winslow

TBA – More Agreeably Engaged

 

 

I will update this tour schedule with live links as they become available. I hope you will follow along! Also, be sure to check back here after the 8th to see if you’ve won your very own copy of Prayer & Praise: a Jane Austen Devotional!

UPDATE: The winners are Suzanne and Agnes. Congratulations! To claim your prize, please contact me by FB message or email: shannon(at)shannonwinslow(dot)com.

 

Posted in Austen Variations, book launch, Jane Austen, Jane Austen Quotes, my books, Shannon Winslow's writing, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 16 Comments