Revisiting the Blank Canvas

Today, I want to revisit a post I did exactly twelve years ago – before I had published a thing and before most of you had ever heard of me! It was called Blank Canvas and related to the creation of the cover art for The Darcys of Pemberley, my first sequel to Pride and Prejudice.

Rereading it, I realized how much had changed since then. The biggest thing is I’ve gone from zero to twelve books published. Yay! Also, I’m never on Twitter anymore. What hasn’t changed is the challenge of writing the book and then producing the cover art. And the blank canvas is still intimidating!

Blank: Not marked; lacking features or interest; uneventful or unproductive; emptiness of mind. (Now we can’t have that, can we?)

I’m again facing the looming prospect of a blank canvas, since Mr. Knightley in His Own Words is about 80% completed, and I’ve started thinking about the cover design – always an exciting part of the process! I plan to do some mock-ups again for your feedback, like I did with Colonel Brandon in His Own Words (see post here). So watch for that in a month or two.

Now without further ado, here’s the brief original Blank Canvas post, followed by the finished painting and final cover:

I wish I had written down a great quote someone posted on Twitter the other day.  It went something like this: What a blank canvas is to the artist and empty paper is to the writer, silence is to the musician.  Since my creative interests carry me into the realms of art and music as well as writing, I’ve faced all three – most recently, the blank canvas.

This morning I started the painting that I hope will turn into the cover art for The Darcys of Pemberley.  As I mentioned before (see Pemberley, the Picturesque), it will be loosely based on a view of Lyme House from the ’95 BBC production of Pride and Prejudice.  Here’s the work-in-progress:

It has a long way to go.  The house looks a little cold and lonely right now. I need to warm up the color, get the water looking like water, and do the entire foreground. But at least all that white canvas is gone.  So, I’ve made it over the first hurdle.

It’s the same for writing and singing; the hardest part is getting started. Staring at that ream of blank paper (or computer screen) is intimidating. Venturing out into an empty, expectant silence can be scary.  That sensible, timid voice in my head tells me, “It’s too risky. Safer not to try. Public humiliation awaits.”  Right now, for instance, I’m guessing you’re not all that impressed with my artistic abilities (and I’m not all that confident in them either, to tell you the truth). 

So, why do people keep painting, writing, and making music? Not for any tangible reward; most artists/writers/musicians will never see big fame or fortune. I think we’re simply compelled to fill the void. We can’t NOT do it.  Seen in proper perspective, those blank canvases, empty pages, and vacant silences are not foreboding.  Each one is an open invitation that’s too good to bypass, an irresistible opportunity to share a creative vision with others, the chance to make daily life a little richer.

I would rarely agree with Mrs. Elton, but she makes a good point here (which applies to all the arts, not only music):

  “I honestly said that…the world was not necessary to me…Certainly I had been accustomed to every luxury at Maple Grove; but I did assure him that two carriages were not necessary to my happiness, nor were spacious apartments. ‘But,’ said I, ‘I do not think I can live without something of a musical society. I condition for nothing else; but without music, life would be a blank to me.’”   (Emma, chapter 32)

Here’s the finished painting and how it appears on the final wrap-around cover. “Tone down the color and make it look old,” I told my graphic designer.

I hope you enjoyed this look back in time and the inside view of the production of my very first book cover! Have you ever experienced the thrill/terror of a blank canvas, a blank page, or a silence to be filled? In what form, and how did you overcome it?

PS – There’s lots of interesting stuff back in the archives. Take a snoop around when you have some time to kill on a rainy day!

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Call me ‘George’

Progress continues on Mr. Knightley in His Own Words! I’m happy to report that I’ve now arrived at the 2/3 done point with 31 chapters, 208 pages, and 62K words.

So today I’m celebrating by sharing a newly written excerpt with you, one that leads off with a scene based on this bit of dialogue between Mr. Knightley and Emma towards the end of the original book, after they had reached their good understanding:

“You always call me, ‘Mr. Knightley;’ and, from habit, it has not so very formal a sound. And yet it is formal. I want you to call me something else, but I do not know what.” “I remember once calling you ‘George,’ in one of my amiable fits, about ten years ago. I did it because I thought it would offend you; but as you made no objection, I never did it again.” (Emma, chapter 53)

Well, he makes no serious objection anyway. Here’s how I see that scene playing out, as told by Mr. Knightley himself:

I have put off thinking about Emma for as long as I can. But since I have now transcribed all the significant events of my past, I can delay confronting the current dilemma no longer.

While she was only a child in my recollections it was easy enough to sidestep the conflict Emma now poses in my mind, for she was just a minor character at the periphery of my consciousness, the young offspring of my friends and nothing more. The girl I knew then seems like a different person altogether from the woman she is now become.

She no longer represents a minor presence in my life. She will not be kept to the periphery of my consciousness anymore. In truth, it has been some time since that was the case. Ever since Isabella married and removed with John to London, Emma has been moving to the forefront – both in my notice and at Hartfield. It was she who claimed the position of mistress of the house. It was she to whom I spoke more and more when I visited Hartfield. Although there had never been a conscious thought of anything like romance until recently, I could not have denied that I looked forward to seeing her nearly every day. She was a friend who was becoming ever dearer to me, a person who had at some point without my knowing it become absolutely essential to my happiness. A day without a word and a smile from Emma seemed sadly lackluster.

Although my musings have now brought me nearly to the present, I cannot help relating one more incident from days gone by – one of my earlier recollections of Emma – because it seems to have established the manner in which Emma and I related to each other ever after, how we got into the habit of saying whatever we like to each other.

Emma must have been twelve at the time – on the very cusp of adolescence – and I had been trying to correct some bad behavior on her part. What she had done on that particular occasion, I do not even recall, for she seemed always to be straying into error of one kind or another. No, “straying” implies accident, whereas Emma’s youthful transgressions were usually of a more willful nature. Boundaries had to be tested. Her strength must be proved.

I just remember saying, “As your friend, Emma – and one older and more experienced – it is my duty to correct you when I see you doing wrong.”

“Oh, so we are friends now, are we? The way you preach at me sometimes, I might have mistaken you for a rector.”

“I have one thing in common with Mr. Bates, Emma – and with your father and Miss Taylor as well. We all care for the development of your character. We all care that you should learn to govern your fancies and do what it right. But believe me, I had much rather you gave me no cause to correct you. Then indeed, I could simply be your friend.”

“I see. Well, although I cannot at present guarantee the first, I will help you with the second. If we are to be friends, and as you already call me by my given name, I will return the favor by calling you George.”


“That is your name, I believe.”

“Yes, of course it is, but you know you should address me as Mr. Knightley,” I said mildly. “Even your father does.”

“Then why do not you address me as Miss Woodhouse? Or Miss Emma, when my sister is by?”

“That is entirely different, and you know it. You are a still a girl, Emma. A mere child.”

“I am nearly thirteen! I shall soon be old enough to dance at balls. And so please do address me as Miss Woodhouse, George.”

“Emma!” cried Miss Taylor, coming into the room. “Apologize to Mr. Knightley at once.”

“So sorry,” she said in an affected way and with a roll of the eyes. “Please do forgive me, George.”

“Now you are simply being impertinent,” I returned, trying to hide my amusement. “I cannot speak to you when you are like this.”

“Very well. Since we obviously cannot yet be friends, I may as well leave you. Good day, George!” And she gaily skipped from the room.

When I was sure she had gone, I laughed and turned to Miss Taylor, who stood with her arms crossed. “Cannot you do anything with the girl?” I asked.

“I try, but you know her disposition, Mr. Knightley.”

“Yes, I do. She is entirely too full of herself. Always has been.”

“One can hardly blame her. With all her faults, she is an excellent creature – so very bright and lively.”

“The trouble is, she knows it,” I grumbled.

“Soon she will be pretty too, I’m afraid.”

“That may be, for she indeed has the look of it, so much like her mother. We must sincerely hope she does not add vanity of person to her list of conceits.”

Miss Taylor shook her head and gave a little laugh of chagrin. “I used to think what a good governess I was, when I had only dear, tractable Isabella in my charge, for she always did everything I said. She has the gentle spirit of her father. But Emma…”

“Yes, ‘But Emma!’ That is the beginning of every sentence. ‘But Emma, you should not say such things.’ ‘But Emma, please do as you were told.’ ‘But Emma, why cannot you be more like your sister?’”

“For all of that, I do love her so, and I must admit admiring her indomitable spirit too, much as it vexes me at times.”

I sighed. “There is a great deal of truth in what you say, Miss Taylor, though I hate to admit it. I suppose we would not like Emma so well as we do if she were nothing more than a mere copy of her sister. She has the wit and vivacity of her mother, but she has not yet learnt to rein in her self-will. I fear what will become of her if she never does. And her father is no help, of course, for he can never find any fault in her.”

“Do not worry, Mr. Knightley,” Miss Taylor said with a more cheerful tone. “Between the two of us, we will see her right, and her own good sense will assist us. I believe Emma will turn out very well.”

I hope you enjoyed this little scene! As I wrote at the beginning of it, this probably will be the last of Mr. Knightley’s flashbacks to the past. From this point forward, he will be covering events during the time span of the original novel. It’s been fun to create an interesting backstory for him, but I’m glad to be finally moving into the period where Emma comes front and center in his life!

Any thoughts about what’s absent from Emma that you’ve always wanted to know? Intriguing blanks for me to fill in? Missing scenes you’d like to see me include? At this point, there’s still room to add, and I’d love to hear more of your ideas!

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Cooking Like Jane Austen

Have you ever wondered about the foods eaten on the occasions mentioned by Jane Austen? For example, what would have been served at the Weston’s wedding breakfast or the Box Hill picnic, both in Emma? What exactly are white soup, negus, and whipt syllabub? Jane Austen would not only have eaten these things; she would probably have had some experience preparing them, since she is know to have helped in the kitchen.

white soup

So today, I’m going to share with you my adventures (so far) in cooking like Jane Austen!

Let’s start off with negus, since that was the first Regency recipe I attempted (see original post here) in 20ll, coinciding with my very first book sale!

Negus is a hot mulled wine drink invented in England by Colonel Francis Negus in the 18th century.  He died in 1737, but his namesake beverage lived on, remaining a popular fortifier on cold evenings throughout the Regency era. Jane Austen mentioned it twice – once in the fragment The Watsons and again in Mansfield Park, at the ball given in Fanny’s honor.

[Fanny] had only to rise, and with Mr. Crawford’s very cordial adieus, pass quietly away; stopping at the entrance-door… to view the happy scene, and take a last look at the five or six determined couple who were still hard at work; and then creeping slowly up the principal staircase, pursued by the ceaseless country-dance, feverish with hopes and fears, soup and negus, sore-footed and fatigued, restless and agitated, yet feeling, in spite of everything, that a ball was indeed delightful.

I’ve seen more than one recipe, but the one I use contained port wine, lemon juice, water, sugar, and nutmeg. Let’s just say I wasn’t all that impressed with the hot toddy. I actually thought it tasted better when it had cooled.

More recently, I’ve tried a couple of other recipes from a book given to me by a friend – Jane Austen’s Table: recipes inspired by the works of Jane Austen. It’s a lovely book, but purists should know that it doesn’t claim to be 100% accurate to Jane Austen’s day, featuring “…recipes that capture all the spirit and verve of the food of Austen’s world and the Regency era, adapted and reimagined for the modern day.”

I decided to try the white soup first, which is mentioned by Mr. Bingley in Pride and Prejudice in reference to the upcoming Netherfield ball.

“…but as for the ball, it is quite a settled thing; and as soon as Nicholls has made white soup enough, I shall send round my cards.”

Genuine white soup was pretty labor intensive, calling for veal stock and copious amounts of ground almonds, which is why preparations had to be made in advance. The modern adaptation of the recipe substitutes chicken stock and omits the ground almonds altogether. (Ingredients: chicken stock, eggs, grated Parmesan cheese, white bread crumbs, nutmeg, salt, pepper, with basil leaves for garnish.) It was good, but someday I would like to try a more authentic version.

whipt syllabub

My friend made the treacle tarts recipe and shared some with me. Jane Austen mentions gooseberry tarts and apple tarts but never treacle tarts by name in her writings. In fact, this British classic may not yet have been invented. Anyway, although they were pretty good, they weren’t as sweet as I expected. Plus, I didn’t have the whipped cream that the recipe calls for to top them with. And everything is better with whipped cream, right?

Speaking of whipped cream, there’s no shortage of that in my most recent creation: whipt syllabub. Jane Austen doesn’t mention this creamy concoction in any of her novels, but she does more than once in her letters.

[Anna] had a delightful evening with the Miss Middletons – syllabub, tea, coffee, singing, dancing, a hot supper, eleven o’clock, everything that can be imagined agreeable.

This is a simple recipe made up of heavy cream, white wine, lemon juice, and powered sugar, all whipped together and topped with a bit of lemon zest. What’s not to like? Once again, though, I found that to my modern palate it wasn’t sweet enough. So I admit I added more sugar!

That’s as far as I’ve gone to date, but I’ll report back when I’ve tried a few more things. Have you made (or tasted) some of these or other Regency treats? Or do you have any suggestions for what I should cook up next?

Progress Report on Mr. Knightley in His Own Words: Progress has been slow but steady. I now have 53,300 words, 182 pages, and 25 chapters. Basically, this means I’ve got almost 2/3 of the book done, and it should be out sometime late summer or early autumn. To read excerpts, go to previous posts (here and here) and this post at Austen Variations, and thank you for your patience!

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“Missing Scene” from Persuasion: the Croft’s Anniversary

I have a warm spot in my heart for Admiral and Mrs. Croft, especially after developing their relationship through their counterparts in The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen. (According to my premise in that book, Jane Austen modeled the fictitious Admiral and Mrs. Croft after a real-life couple by the name of Crowe, of whom she thought very highly.)

This is a “missing scene” about the Crofts that I wrote some time ago but decided to share with you today! It takes place the day the party from Uppercross walked to Winthrop (which also happens to be their anniversary). If you remember, the Crofts, at Cpt. Wentworth’s insistence, gave a weary Anne a ride home in their gig. The following scene is what happened next.

Anne was still in the lane; and though instinctively beginning to decline, she was not allowed to proceed. The admiral’s kind urgency came in support of his wife’s; they would not be refused; they compressed themselves into the smallest possible space to leave her a corner, and Captain Wentworth, without saying a word, turned to her, and quietly obliged her to be assisted into the carriage. (Persuasion, chapter 10)

After depositing Anne at Uppercross cottage, Admiral and Mrs. Croft continued on toward Kellynch at a gentle pace, the admiral returning to a former topic by and by.

“As I was saying to Miss Elliot before, my dear, sailors cannot afford to go in for long courtships during war, and who knows how long this current peace will hold? Your brother must not tarry about the business of choosing one Miss Musgrove or the other if they are to preserve time to enjoy themselves before he returns to sea.”

“I should very much like to see Frederick well married,” returned Mrs. Croft. “I only hope he will not be in too much of a rush to the altar. I like the Miss Musgroves well enough, but, upon further reflection, I am convinced it will take more than an a little beauty and a few smiles to win my brother’s heart. He deserves a wife with a strong mind and sweetness of temper as well. This is how he has described to me the woman he wants.”

“So, you see he has been thinking on the subject seriously.”

“Yes, and I trust it will serve as some protection against an overly impulsive choice.”

“Ah, that is where you are mistaken, Sophie. Like all men, he thinks he will judge soundly, but it is more probable he will lose his head and end by making a very stupid match.”

“For shame, Caspian! How can you say such a thing? This is no very fine compliment to me, I fear, or to yourself either. And on our anniversary too!”

“Patience, my dear, he said, patting her hand affectionately. “Patience. I only meant to say that I deserve none of the credit. I lost my head like every other young fool in love. But I had the great good fortune to lose both head and heart to a woman of superior worth. We must hope your brother has the same good luck. Which Miss Musgrove it is to be, I cannot say, for I can never learn to know one from the other. When Frederick introduces the young lady to us as our future sister, that will be time enough to remember her name.”

Mrs. Croft shook her head in wonder, thinking to herself that she was the one who had been gifted with unexpected good fortune in this man. Had not that storm years ago forced the admiral – a captain then – into the port town where she lived, seeking emergency repairs to his ship, they would never have met. What might have become of her then? Perhaps she’d have married somebody else eventually, but she could hardly imagine that she would have been as happy.

Between herself and her husband, there was more depth of affection and mutual respect than she would have dared to hope for. No love sonnets were required to prove it; it was understood between them, conveyed in the most seemingly insignificant gestures – the smallest look, word, or touch. The light burned so steadily bright between them that it could not be denied.

Sometimes she wondered if their uncommonly strong bond was the natural outgrowth of their compatible dispositions or if it could only have been forged by their weathering trials and dangers together over the course of the years. She thought once again of their private sorrow of having no children. No, they had not enjoyed that blessing, but there were other compensations…

The admiral interrupted his wife’s reverie. “What shall we do when we reach home… to further celebrate our anniversary, I mean?” he asked.

“We need not make a fuss. Remember, we agreed to keep it to ourselves. Frederick, from all appearances, did not connect any special significance to the date, and there is no reason anybody else should know. We have had our drive in the country, as I wished for, and I have ordered a fine dinner. I need nothing more to make me happy.”


“Nothing I can think of.”

“Well, Mrs. Croft, it is lucky you have me here. I have one or two more ideas for making you happy before we blow the candles out tonight, things you may have forgotten or are too proper to propose in the light of day.”

Mrs. Croft considered that she could pretend to be shocked by her husband’s suggestive words or deny that she understood his meaning altogether. They knew each other far too well for that, however. Instead, she simply smiled to herself for the thought of what lay ahead. It was a time-honored anniversary tradition, after all, and tradition must be observed. Who was she to dispute that fact?

I hope you enjoyed this “missing scene” starring the Crofts from Persuasion, and I hope you’ll also read about the Crowes in The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen. What do you like about the Crofts? It just occurred to me that they might deserve to have their own book. What do you think?

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Going to Town for the Season

Readers of Regency romances can tell you that to “go to town for the season” means that the person in question will be spending the official social season in London. For as anybody who is anybody knows, London is the only town worth mentioning, and the social season is the only season that matters. It was the playground of the ton – high society, the rich and wellborn – where they gathered to party and parade themselves in all their finery, and to find eligible marriage partners.

The Cyprian’s Ball by R Cruikshank in The English Spy by Blackmantle (1825)

You would be hard pressed to learn any of this from Jane Austen, though. Jane Austen is known for never writing the sort of scenes about which she could have had no personal knowledge (interactions between men when no ladies are present, most notably), so this must be at least part of the explanation for why none of her heroines gets a London season; Jane Austen never had one herself. The Austens simply would not have had the money and connections to make such an endeavor viable.

The closest thing I could find in Austen canon is in Northanger Abbey, where “the season” is mentioned more than once, but “the town” is Bath.

Mrs. Allen was so long in dressing that they did not enter the ballroom till late. The season was full, the room crowded, and the two ladies squeezed in as well as they could. (chapter 2)

As soon as divine service was over, the Thorpes and Allens eagerly joined each other; and after staying long enough in the pump-room to discover that the crowd was insupportable, and that there was not a genteel face to be seen, which everybody discovers every Sunday throughout the season, they hastened away to the Crescent… (chapter 5)

The same elements are involved – showing off your fine wardrobe, balls and other social events every night, hoping to see and be seen to advantage, the chance of meeting a mate – only on a less grand scale. The other difference is that the Bath season was something Jane Austen had experienced to some extent, having lived there for a time.

So when, for my current work-in-progress, I decided to send Mr. Knightley to London for “a season,” I had to look beyond my usual primary source: Jane Austen canon. I was especially concerned that I get the timing right, that I didn’t make the unforgivable blunder of sending him the wrong month of year. So when exactly was the London social season?

I remembered running into the same question when writing an earlier book and never feeling very confident, since different sources told me different things. Here’s part of the answer:

The London season developed to coincide with the sitting of parliament. During the months when parliament was in session, members of both Houses needed to be in attendance in London and came to the capital bringing their families with them. The London season grew up in response to this influx of upper class people who needed to be entertained.

Rachel Knowles, Regency History
The House of Commons from The Microcosm of London (1808-10)

So, yes, the season happened when Parliament was in session. That much I knew, but exactly when was Parliament in session!?! That was the real question and the one for which I had received conflicting answers in the past.

The reason I kept getting mixed messages is that, as explained in this same article, the dates were different in different years. While in the 18th century, Parliament ran from November through May, the beginning of the session was gradually postponed. By the Regency period – the period in which Jane Austen lived and set her novels – Parliament (and hence the season itself) ran more like February through July. Aha! at last the answer I needed.

So I’m sending a 24-year-old Mr. Knightley to London just after Easter to partake of a portion of the season. He’s not happy about it, by the way. Here’s what he has to say after agreeing to go (from Mr. Knightley in His Own Words):

Afterward, I puzzled over exactly how it had happened. I reviewed the conversation again and again to see where it had all gone wrong. In the end, I was left with the distinct impression that I had been somehow outmaneuvered, that Mrs. Woodhouse had cleverly tricked me into agreeing to her outrageous plan.

So you see, I am not to blame; it was all Mrs. Woodhouse’s idea! (Mrs. Woodhouse is a delightful creature, btw, and I’m having so much fun writing her part! I hate to think that she won’t be will us much longer, but alas, that’s the way it has to be.)

So how do you think Mr. Knightley will fare in London? Will he fit in with the privileged class enjoying their privileges? Will he find young love and romance? Will he get over his disinclination for dancing (or is this when it developed in the first place)? I’d love to know what you think!

Progress Report on Mr. Knightley in His Own Words: 37,000 words, 126 page, 18 chapters. To read excerpts, go to previous posts (here and here) and this post at Austen Variations.

Posted in English Regency culture, excerpts, Jane Austen, Jane Austen Quotes, learning, my books, Shannon Winslow's writing, Uncategorized, writing | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

This, That, and the Other

Because of the date, I will begin with THIS: by wishing you all a very MERRY CHRISTMAS! We’ve already had snow a couple of times here to get us in the mood, and it got down to 16F last night, but it looks, from the forecast, like we can expect a very wet December 25th, not a white one. Since we’re not having company here this year, I confess we’ve been pretty lazy about decorating. But at least my front door looks festive!

Next, something else THAT I hope will interest you. If you follow me on Facebook, you may have picked up on the YouTube video interview I did with British author Andrew Knowles for Regency History. The theme for his series of author interviews is the question of research, and as I say in the piece, I was amazed he wanted to include me in the series, since I make no secret of the fact that research is NOT my strong suit.

Anyway, he didn’t seem to hold that against me (phew!), and we had an enjoyable half-hour conversation about Jane Austen, writing Regency, and more. I was enjoying myself so much, in fact, that I almost forgot there was a camera and microphone in front of me… almost.

After getting me all relaxed and comfortable, Andrew threw some rather probing questions at me, ones I wasn’t expecting and that required me to think on my feet, so to speak. (He actually had the nerve to ask me to confess whatever mistakes I had made in my books. As if!)

Anyway, if you want to get to know me, my writing philosophy, and my writing process better (or if you just want to count how many times I manage to lick my lips and make other nervous ticks), I would encourage you to take a look. I think you’ll find it not only informative but entertaining. Here’s the link:

Finally, for the OTHER thing, I wanted to give you an update on how the new book is progressing. (See my previous post for info and to read the prologue.) I’m happy to report that I’ve continued to make steady headway on Mr. Knightley in His Own Words! I now have 10 chapters / 85 pages / 25,000 words so far, which equals 1/4 to 1/3 of an average novel. Long way to go, I know, but I’m excited about how it’s coming along!

You’ve seen the Prologue, and I have a post coming up at Austen Variations on December 29th (link now updated to go directly to it), which will contain the first half of chapter 1. But just for my readers here, I wanted to share a little something extra. So here’s a brief excerpt (which will follow after the other in Chapter 1), and includes a little surprise about Mr. Knightley’s family, told in His Own Words:

I suppose I should start this narration at the beginning; that would make the most sense. I must go back to the events that established the rule for all the rest: why it is that I owe Mr. Woodhouse my total loyalty, and why our families are forever bound together – not only now by John and Isabella’s marriage, but many years prior to that. I must start in 1791, the year before Emma was born.

Until that time, nothing extraordinary had occurred to me. Life was quiet, pleasant, and good. Both my parents lived, and my brothers and I went on well together, making all Highbury, including Hartfield, and Donwell Abbey in particular, our personal grounds for play and exploration. I say “my brothers,” because there were three of us then, you see. I was in the middle at fifteen, with John four and a half years my junior and poor Miles less than two years my senior.

But then my uncle Spencer Knightley came to stay.

Are you surprised to learn that George Knightley had two brothers? You’re the first to know!

Thank you for your patience and hanging with me during the long stretches between book publications! What can I say? When it comes to writing (and most other things, I suspect), I’m more of a tortoise than a hare.

“John enters like a brother into my happiness,” continued Mr. Knightley, “but he is no complimenter; and though I well know him to have, likewise, a most brotherly affection for you, he is so far from making flourishes, that any other young woman might think him rather cool in her praise. But I am not afraid of your seeing what he writes.” (Emma, chapter 17)

Posted in Austen Variations, excerpts, interviews, Jane Austen, Jane Austen Quotes, Shannon Winslow, Shannon Winslow's writing, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Work in Progress!

At last I have made a genuine start on what will become my 12th novel: Mr. Knightley in His Own Words! So today I want to share the Prologue with you, to give you a taste of where I’m heading and get your reactions. It may not be quite what you expected, but hopefully you’ll be intrigued.

The thing is, this won’t be simply a retelling of Emma from Mr. Knightley’s point of view (although that’s part of it). As with my other two hero’s stories (Fitzwilliam Darcy in His Own Words and Colonel Brandon in His Own Words), it’s going to include a lot of new information – prequel story, major events from Mr. Knightley’s early years that shaped who he is and why he thinks/behaves the way he does. So without further ado, here is the Prologue as it now stands:

Mr. Woodhouse is my hero and always shall be. This profession will no doubt come as a great surprise to some, especially to his more recent acquaintances, for he may not appear heroic in any way.

Mr. Woodhouse is now a somewhat elderly man with what I will call habits of gentle selfishness. He is not autocratic or demanding. On the contrary, he is mild mannered and the soul of charity itself. It is simply that he wishes to keep those he cares about near to him and cannot reconcile himself to change of any kind. These predilections seem so obvious and natural to him that he can never suppose there to be any good reason for other people to feel differently. Why should anybody wish to marry? It is so disrupting to the family circle. Why should anybody choose to leave Highbury, when it is not to be supposed that there is a more comfortable place in the world? I have heard him say as much.

His scope of interest has contracted over the last fifteen years to where his view now rarely reaches beyond his own village and the nearest concerns of himself, his two daughters, and a few intimate friends. Moreover, his valetudinarian propensities have in this same period taken a firmer grasp on him. Mr. Woodhouse is afraid of, if not of his own shadow, then certainly the threat of an unwholesome piece of cake and a chill draft.

But it was not always so. No, I have known him all my life, and I remember him as the man he once was, the mentor and champion of my youth. Do not mistake me; he was never by nature brave-hearted or bold. There was at least one time, however, when he faced up to a formidable foe to see that right was done. This is true heroism, not that one has no fear but that one is willing to go into battle anyway. Mr. Woodhouse did that, and he did it for me. I can never forget the priceless service he rendered those many years ago. It is for that I honor him still.

I owe him everything, perhaps even my life. So as long as I have breath, I will be his grateful servant and faithful friend. I will do my best to see no harm comes to him or to anybody he cares for. I will put his needs and wishes above my own in every case – even when it is most painful, as it is now. For the sake of that longstanding debt I can never repay, and respecting certain promises made, I will deny myself as long as… Well, as long as it is necessary.

It would be tempting to say, “Oh, but things are different now. Circumstances have changed. One must not feel bound to promises made twenty years ago.”

Yes, many things have changed in that time – it would be easier if they had not – but Mr. Woodhouse’s wishes remain the same. Therefore it is my clear duty to keep my promise to him, even now. If there is one thing a man can and always must do, it is his duty.

So what do you think? Are you surprised to discover that Mr. Woodhouse will play such a critical role in Mr. Knightley’s story? Are you curious about Mr. K’s early life and interested to read more? Or do you think I’m headed in the wrong direction? Give me benefit of your opinion!

“Poor Miss Taylor! I wish she were here again. What a pity it is that Mr. Weston ever thought of her! …A house of her own! But where is the advantage of a house of her own? This is three times as large. And you have never any odd humours, my dear… Randalls is such a distance.” (Emma, chapter 1)

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Victorian Adventures!

For those of you who might have missed my post on Austen Variations, I wanted to share a slightly augmented version of my AGM report here, with some added news too! After all, I did promise you that I would be announcing my next writing project this month, didn’t I?

I’ve been to Victoria and back, and so now here is your promised report on the JASNA AGM! (Jane Austen Society of North America, Annual General Meeting = JA convention). I’m going to start  with some pictures and highlights, followed by a fun anecdote about a bonnet. As you will see, it was truly like something straight out of a Jane Austen novel!

“Look here, I have bought this bonnet. I do not think it is very pretty; but I thought I might as well buy it as not. I shall pull it to pieces as soon as I get home, and see if I can make it up any better.” (Lydia, Pride and Prejudice, chapter 39)

As I anticipated (see previous post), the Victoria AGM was great! A different experience from my first and only other AGM (Minneapolis, 2013), which I’ve heard is to be expected. Frequent attendees say that every AGM has its own personality and flavor, and there will be something uniquely special about each one.

Victoria itself is so beautiful, it’s worth a trip there even without the added inducement of an JASNA AGM. Although I’ve been there 4 or 5 times before but wouldn’t mind going again sometime, just for sightseeing. And for the first time, we (my husband and I) stayed at the lovely Empress Hotel!

This year’s AGM theme book was Sense and Sensibility, and all (or virtually all) the presentations tied to that novel in some way. Definitely true of the three plenary speakers – Dr. Emma J. Clery, Dr. Robert Morrison, and Susannah Fullerton – who delved deep  into the novel with scholarly insight and humor, discovering things about it that I’m not sure even Jane Austen herself intended! If that wasn’t enough to entertain and challenge your Jane-loving heart and mind, there were a total of thirty-two  breakout sessions (yes, 32!) to choose from, on topics from Col. Brandon in Colonial India to  “Female Physiognomy and its Revolutionary Potential.” (Honestly, I have no idea what that means.) Unfortunately, with only five time slots available, I couldn’t see/hear everything.

That’s not even mentioning the other special offerings: dance classes, a fan-painting class, a bookbinding workshop, and tours to local landmarks (The Empress Hotel, Butchart Gardens, Craigdarroch Castle), wine tasting, and a “Chocolate and Churches Walk,” among other things. Oh! and let’s not forget my favorite part: the formal banquet and ball!

Are you overwhelmed yet? It can easily happen. So much to do and experience that you can’t possibly take it all in. So here’s some unsolicited advice for when you go to an AGM (which I hope every one of you will someday!):

  1. First and foremost, HAVE FUN!  Dress up. Proudly parade your finery and your love for Jane Austen. You’re among likeminded friends who won’t think it’s silly to do so. In fact, they will probably join you!
  2. Read as much about it as possible in advance, and then thoroughly study your program when you arrive. I neglected to do the second part and missed a thing or two because I didn’t know where to go or when.
  3. Take another JA-enthusiast buddy/roommate with you if possible – to double your fun and have somebody to hang out with. This time my roommate was my husband, which was great in some ways, but he didn’t attend the sessions with me.
  4. Make rendezvous appointments with people you specifically want to meet. Don’t depend on running into them by accident. With 600+ people there, you won’t “just happen” to see everybody! For example, Suzanne, I didn’t realize until after the fact that we never met.  😦

But among many others, I DID see friend and fellow Austen Variations author Diana Birchall again (below). I finally met long-time online friend and fellow author Brenda Cox, showing off her brand new book (for which I did the cover art). And here’s me with my DH, who joined me for the formal banquet Saturday night.

I absolutely LOVED dressing up and dancing! As with the other AGM I attended, that was my favorite part. I’m proud to say that I stayed to the very end of the ball and danced every dance, though my feet were killing me afterwards. (I guess that would be another piece of good advice: wear comfortable shoes!) I only wish one thing… Well two, actually – 1) that I could find a local Regency dance club so I could do more of it, and 2) that my hubby was as enthusiastic.

Forming up 3 long sets for the beginning of the ball at the Crystal Garden. Photo courtesy of Erna Arnesen.

Now for my very Austenesque bonnet-related anecdote. You see, in the two weeks prior to the AGM, I was so consumed with getting my ballgown finished that I never stopped to think that I really should contrive something to wear on my head! So there I was in Victoria, without a suitable headdress and completely at a loss for what to do about it. I hoped I might find something last minute at the Emporium or the Soho Bazaar, but no luck.  So with only an hour to dress before the banquet, I went back to my room, excited about the evening events but sad that I wouldn’t be looking my best.

There I spied the bonnet I had brought – acceptable for a daytime but not at all for an evening banquet and ball. The feathers, though… I thought they had possibilities. If only I could borrow them and somehow affix them in my hair. But I didn’t even have a hairclip! Still, I had to try. So I started teasing the part with the feathers and tassels away from the bonnet itself. Well, since it had all been stuck together with glue-gun glue, the hatband came off with it! Soon I had the whole thing free, and naturally the band fit my head perfectly, feathers and all.

I couldn’t help thinking it was a very Austenesque solution to my problem. Not only did I have the precedence established by that Lydia quote at the top of the page, about pulling a bonnet apart to make something better.  I also claim this one:

…next week shall begin my operations on my hat, on which you know my principal hopes of happiness depend. (from one of Jane Austen’s preserved letters, 1798)

Happiness, yes! I felt quite happy with my headdress, which hung together through the whole night. And I suspect no one (except those I shared this story with) guessed it was originally part of something else. So now you know why my head isn’t embarrassingly bare in the pictures above! And I will never forget the serendipitous solution, courtesy of Jane Austen and the magic of a glue gun. But then I think surprising and interesting things always happen at JASNA AGMS.

Finally, here’s the announcement of my next writing project. Drum roll please. I’ve decided to go ahead with my official Emma novel, to complete my goal of writing at least one book based on each of Jane Austen’s six. (Can you name the others?) So it will be Mr. Knightley in His Own Words! I’ve been minutely rereading the original, gleaning all the information that’s there as well as identifying intriguing blanks that I can fill in. Like I did with Fitzwilliam Darcy… and Colonel Brandon…, I will be not only retelling the story from the hero’s point of view, I will be adding tons of new scenes and backstory to flesh out Mr. Knightley’s life and character. I look forward to the challenge and to sharing the results with you!

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Meet Me in Victoria!

In just a couple of weeks (Sept. 29th), people from far and wide will begin gathering in Victoria, British Columbia, for the 2022 Jane Austen Society of North America Annual General Meeting (JASNA AGM). In other words, it’s a Jane Austen convention! 

What could be better? Around 700 fully-vaccinated Austen addicts congregating to learn more about our favorite authoress, her literary works, and Regency culture. We’ll be taking time out of our busy lives to collectively celebrate our common passion for all things Jane!

How do I know it will be awesome enough to justify all the exclamation points I’m using? I’ve been to one before; that’s how!!!

In 2013, the AGM was held in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and I was there! It was my first, so I didn’t really know what to expect. But good stuff started happening immediately upon my arrival – while I was still in the airport, in fact. To see what I mean, and for a more complete account, I encourage you to read this post that I wrote about the experience: Having a Ball at the JASNA AGM.

The short version goes like this.  We spent two and a half days learning more about Jane Austen and her writings,  and participating in fun activities like bonnet making and dance classes. Then Saturday night, we all dressed up in Regency attire, unashamedly paraded around the streets (sidewalks, really) of Minneapolis together, came back to enjoy a wonderful banquet, and then topped it off with a Regency-style ball! Doesn’t that sound like a dream come true? It really was. I even got to participate in the Author Signing, meeting one of my favorite authors (Julie Klassen) and some of my own early fans!

I know I could have stayed at home – that time and this – and learned nearly as much from other sources. Virtual attendance is offered now too. But those options would never replace the primary advantage of being there: meeting fellow Janeites in person – many that I knew before but only from internet contact, and many new friends as well. That’s what it was really about for me: the people… that and the dancing!

There I go with the exclamation points again, but I can’t seem to help it. Reviewing that earlier experience has been getting me more and more excited about the one coming up! Each AGM features one of Jane Austen’s books or other works. This year, it’s Sense and Sensibility. And who happens to have a new S&S novel out? I do, I do! See Colonel Brandon in His Own Words.

So, will I see you in Victoria? If you’re going  to the AGM this year, I’d love to meet you! Contact me (comment here, FB message, or email: shannon at shannonwinslow dot com), and we’ll set up a rendezvous. I won’t be participating in the Author Signing this time, but I’d be glad to sign one of my promotional postcards for you or a book you bring with you. Some of my books will be available at the on-site bookstore also.

If you can’t make it this time, I hope you will think about attending an AGM in the future. It’s not just for writers and scholars, you know. Anybody who loves Jane Austen can attend. Next year’s is in Denver. Here’s a link to the JASNA AGM page to get you thinking about that exciting possibility.

“My idea of good company, Mr. Elliot, is the company of clever, well-informed people, who have a great deal of conversation: that is what I call good company.” “You are mistaken,” said he gently, “that is not good company; that is the best…” (Persuasion, chapter 16)

Have you attended an AGM before? Which one, and what was your experience like? Would you like to attend one in the future? Do you have any questions for me? I’d love to hear your comments below. (PS – Next time, I’ll post something about my experience at the AGM and also news about my new writing project!)

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Another Summer Passed

“Where did the summer go!?!” Isn’t that what we always say when Labor Day approaches and kids prepare to go back to school? As we get older, those three short months fly by ever faster! (For a bit of philosophical silliness on this topic and more pretty pictures, see this post: It’s All Washed Away Except the Mouse Fur)

“I know the summer will pass happily away. I mean never to be later in rising than six, and from that time till dinner I shall divide every moment between music and reading. (Sense and Sensibility, chapter 46)

I did read quite a bit this summer, as Marianne vowed to do, although I rarely rose as early as six! Otherwise, my only major accomplishment was to launch a new book (Colonel Brandon in His Own Words) and take it on tour, virtually. That project occupied the largest part of June and July, which only left some free time in August. A trip to the family cabin on a lake near Kalispell, Montana, was the highlight of this month.

I had hoped to have my next novel started by now, or at least planned out, but I confess I do not. I’m still not sure what kind of book I want to write next (which means I’m still open to suggestions, btw!). About the only writing I’ve been doing this summer is a column for the local paper: an “Inspirational Message” that publishes every other Sunday, which I’ve been providing for the past year. If you follow me on Facebook, you may have read some of them already, since I’ve been posting them there (and on a couple of FB groups) since May, as The Wednesday Word.

But today, I decided to give you an advance look at the one that will roll off the presses in 2 weeks, on September 11th, actually. And as you will see, the publication date provided the inspiration for this piece:

Do You Remember?

Where were you when you heard about the terrorist attacks September 11th, 2001? Twenty-one years later, those of us who were adults at the time all remember. Without knowing what was going on, I went for a dental appointment that morning. When I got there, I was told I would have to reschedule, but nobody explained why. So still in the dark, I stopped by Fred Meyer, where a total stranger, with tears in her eyes, gave me the unthinkable news. I was home, glued to the TV by the time the second tower fell. What’s your story?

We were all deeply shaken that day that such a terrible thing could happen on US soil, that nearly 3000 lives could be snuffed out in a single act of hatred. We suddenly felt much more vulnerable, knowing that this country’s great wealth, military might, and sophisticated intelligence community had not been able to protect us.

There were some positive side effects, though. A wave of patriotism swept the country. Flags flew everywhere. We were united by a common heartbreak and a common cause. Also, with fresh evidence that the future was uncertain and we were not in control, people in record numbers turned to God for help. They hit their knees in prayer, churches were filled, and “God Bless America” was sung at every ball game.

If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land. (2 Chron. 7:14)

Unfortunately, our memories are short. The threat doesn’t seem so near anymore, does it? And a new generation has since grown up having never experienced the horror of that day. We’ve resumed ‘business as usual.’ We’ve grown divided over a multitude of issues, and we’ve forgotten our need for God. I certainly don’t wish for another 9/11 style tragedy. What I do wish is that this anniversary would remind us of lessons learned the hard way that day, so that we will not be required to repeat them. I pray we would recapture the positive side effects rather than inviting a new disaster.

This country, though never perfect, was founded on godly principles and called by His name: …one nation under God. May we be humble enough to accept that we are not in charge; He is. Let us, as individuals and as a nation, turn from our errant ways and seek His face – His will, not anybody’s political agenda. Only then can we hope that God will heal the divisions in our land, making America healthy, whole, and strong.

So, what’s your September 11th story? Did the experience change you? Do you think that humanity learned anything from what happened that day?

If you want to read more of my “Inspirational Messages,” watch for them every Wednesday on my Facebook page. Scroll back to find any you’ve missed – ones I’ve already shared there since May (look for this graphic). I also wrote a Jane Austen Devotional that might interest you.

Any further thoughts on what you’d like to see me write next? See previous post, What’s For the Encore?, for my ideas. Or just suggest one of your own. I love hearing from readers. Really!

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