Hearts and Flowers

Valentine Flowers

Today, while there’s a bit of a pause in the writing process, I’m commemorating Valentine’s Day with hearts and flowers and some fancy papercrafts appropriate to the season.

Although my primary creative outlet is writing, I also love dabbling in various arts/crafts as well. And those two loves intersect nicely when it comes time to design a book cover.

That’s where I am now. While the completed manuscript of Fitzwilliam Darcy, in His Own Words is out to a few trusted ‘beta’ readers for comments, I’ve been working on some original art that I hope will become an amazing cover to go with it! No, I’m not giving any sneak peeks of that today. You’ll just have to wait for the exciting cover reveal! But here’s a previous cover art sample, and then I want to share some crafty items with you.

I know Valentines Day was a week ago, but I’m still in the mood, especially since I’m still enjoying the flowers my husband gave me (above)! Unfortunately, Jane Austen had ALMOST NOTHING to say about Valentines, only this from an 1801 letter:

Eliza talks of having read in a newspaper that all the 1st lieutenants… were to be promoted to the rank of commanders. If it be true, Mr. Valentine may afford himself a fine Valentine’s knot…

By “Valentine’s knot,” did she mean a fancily tied cravat… or a heart-shaped sailor’s knot like this? I don’t know.

But Jane Austen would definitely have been familiar with the concept of sending Valentines to someone special.

In fact, I just learned about the Puzzle Purse style of Valentine at a virtual JASNA meeting last weekend. This intricately folded and decorated Valentine is often called a Victorian Puzzle Purse, but it actually dates from c. 1790. So perhaps Jane Austen might have given (or received?) one of these beautiful Valentines herself! It would have been presented as a neatly folded packet, like the example in the upper left corner of the picture below. Then the recipient would open it out, first to the pinwheel stage and then all the way, to get the full sentiment, expressed in hearts, flowers, and poetry. Isn’t this one beautiful?

(To learn more about this art form and its Jane Austen connection, please visit this lovely post at Her Reputation for Accomplishment. Find out how to fold your own puzzle purse at the Origami Resource Center.)

Just to learn how, I made a rudimentary puzzle purse myself, which I’d be embarrassed to show you. But I will share a very fancy cut-paper Valentine I made long ago, when I had a lot more patience than I do now. Again, this is another type of craft that would have been popular in 19th century.

I remember this took me hours of work with an Exacto knife and a needle to create, following a pattern. If you look closely, you’ll see that there are a couple of hundred tiny pinholes adding detail to the design. My fingers still hurt when I think of it! So I’m not likely to ever make another one. I framed it and gave it to my parents one year for their February anniversary.

I hope you had a great Valentine’s Day, with hearts, flowers, and someone you love. Or at least with chocolate and a good book! Leave a comment about how you spent the day, or if you have any favorite Valentine’s traditions or crafts. I’d love to hear from you!

PS – Stay tuned for updates on the new book: Fitzwilliam Darcy, in His Own Words. The cover reveal is scheduled for April 14th and the book is set to launch on May 4th, so not long to wait now!

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The Same, Only Different

I’ve participated in a couple of JAFF (Jane Austen Fan Fiction) author events recently. And in preparing for them, I realized that, although we all share the same love of Jane Austen’s work, my writing philosophy is a little different than most JAFF authors, and my novels reflect that. Doing things my own way may not be the smartest move, from a business perspective, but I have to be true to myself.

I am fully sensible that an historical romance… might be much more to the purpose of profit or popularity than such pictures of domestic life in country villages as I deal in. But I could no more write a romance than an epic poem… No, I must keep to my own style and go on in my own way; and though I may never succeed again in that, I am convinced that I should totally fail in any other. (from Jane Austen’s letter to J. S. Clarke, librarian to the Prince Regent, after receiving from him some unsolicited advice on writing)

First, I love ALL of Jane Austen’s novels. Okay, not equally, it’s true. As for most people, Pride and Prejudice is right there at the top, followed closely by Persuasion. Sense and Sensibility, Northanger Abbey, and Emma comprise the middle of the pack, with Mansfield Park bringing up the rear. That’s my ranking.

But still, as I said before, I love them ALL. They’re ALL worth reading. They’re ALL worthy of our attention. And for a true Janeite, ANY Austen is better than almost any other book you could read, right? So, early on, I decided that I’d like to write at least one novel related to each of Jane Austen’s six. And I’m well on my way.

I have Pride and Prejudice covered, obviously (The Darcys of Pemberley, Return to Longbourn, The Ladies of Rosings Park, Miss Georgiana Darcy of Pemberley, with another coming out soon: Fitzwilliam Darcy, in His Own Words). For Persuasion, I wrote The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen. I count Leap of Hope as my Mansfield Park book (although there’s a lot of P&P in it too!). And most recently, I wrote a campy sequel to Northanger Abbey: Murder at Northanger Abbey. That leaves Sense and Sensibility and Emma left to go.

I only wish I could persuade more readers to also expand their sights beyond P&P, at least once in a while!

The second major difference between me and most other JAFF writers is that I don’t write “variations” per se. I can’t swear that I won’t in the future if I get a sensational idea, but so far the books I’ve written expand on (or supplement) Jane Austen’s stories; they don’t change them. I don’t mean that as a criticism of those who do write (and read) variations. Not at all! It’s just what works best for me. I’m sappy enough to believe that there’s one true story for the characters I’ve come to know and love, and that’s the one Jane Austen wrote. So for now, I’m sticking with that.

Well, I did make one minor exception to the above guideline. If you remember, near the end of P&P, Mr. Collins writes to Mr. Bennet and mentions expecting a “young olive branch” – an allusion to Charlotte being pregnant. Personally, I thought it would be better if Mr. Collins were not allowed to reproduce, so in my sequels, that turned out to be a false alarm! I trust you won’t mind.

Anyway, it’s kind of a “world building” approach that I’ve taken. I have expanded on Jane Austen’s stories chronologically, with sequels for example. In fact my two P&P sequels, when added to the original novel form a complete P&P trilogy!) I have also expanded by writing from alternate character’s points of view, telling their full stories and how they fit in, discovering what they’re up to all the time they’re missing from the page. There’s plenty Jane Austen didn’t tell us to give scope for the imagination, plenty of intriguing gaps for me to fill in. What fun!

So all my books are written (at least to the best of my ability) to agree with each other and with canon. And not all of my books are based on Pride and Prejudice. That makes me kind of different, I guess, but the devotion to Jane Austen is the same!


Have you read all six of JA’s novels? How would you rank them? Are you willing to venture beyond P&P JAFF from time to time? What would you like to see me write for my Emma and S&S books?

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Wrapping up the Year with a Gift for You

2020 hanging2020 is winding down, and considering all the troubles we’ve had this year, I think there are few who will be sorry to see it end. But it hasn’t been all bad. We’ve learned new things, like how to conduct a Zoom meeting and how to wear a face mask properly. (Well, let’s be honest, a lot of folks still haven’t learned that one yet!) We’ve learned to be infinitely creative and that it’s possible to do things differently and still get by.

“I know I cannot live as I have done, but I must retrench where I can, and learn to be a better manager. I have been a liberal housekeeper enough, but I shall not be ashamed to practise economy now. My situation is much altered… I must live within my income, or I shall be miserable; and I own it would give me great satisfaction to be able to do rather more, to lay by a little at the end of the year.” (Mansfield Park, chapter 3)

Like Aunt Norris (not the person to whom we usually look for wisdom), we’ve had to change the way we live and be flexible, whether we like it or not!

Since I work at home and do most my my promotional activities online, I have been able to carry on, publishing my 10th book this year: Murder at Northanger Abbey. And I now have 31 chapters (223 pages, and 61,000 words) of my next, my work-in-progress: Fitzwilliam Darcy, in His Own Words.

The most painful change, at least for me, is that we aren’t able to get together with our friends and family as freely and frequently as we used to. We have now survived a much-diminished Thanksgiving, and clearly Christmas won’t be stellar either. If nothing else, though, this year’s deprivations should make us appreciate the “normal” things more when we finally get them back!

Although I don’t think I can reasonably blame this on the pandemic, it is an example of learning to get along without one of those “normal” conveniences that I usually take for granted. My cable TV connection has been on the fritz lately. And while I wait (ever so patiently!) for my husband to make time to do what needs to be done to correct the situation, I have very spotty reception – so spotty that I don’t usually even bother.

audio-booksSo, I’ve made another adjustment, in this case to how I spend a couple of hours each evening, by combining two of my favorite hobbies into one. With no TV, my new wind-down, decompression routine is listening to audio books while I solve online jigsaw puzzles. Extra reading is probably a better use of my time anyway!

Speaking of audio books, this has been an exceptional year for me in that department, with three new productions! Two are already available and one more is coming soon. To celebrate, I’ve decided to do what authors do best and give some books away – audio books. Consider it a Christmas present form me to you!

MNA_AUDIOBOOK CoverLRP Audio coverPrayer and Praise_AUDIOBOOKLeap of Hope - Audio

In honor of my 10th book published, I’m giving away a total of ten – YES 10! – audio codes (one to each of 10 winners) for the book of your choice from my 4 most recent productions: The Ladies of Rosings Park, Leap of Hope, Murder at Northanger Abbey, and Prayer & Praise: a Jane Austen Devotional.

To be entered in the random drawing, simply leave a comment below about what kind of “adjustment” you’ve learned to make this year, and which book you’d like to win. Then check back here or my FB page on December 23rd to see if you’ve won! (For winners who do not have a US or UK Audible account, an ebook will be substituted where possible.)

12/23 UPDATE!!! The TEN WINNERS ARE: Nicole Easton, Lynn Chat, Sheilalmajczan, Kate B, bessamina, Marie H, wendym215, Maud Steyaert, pedmission, and Tamara Howard. To claim you prize, please contact me by email at shannon(at)shannonwinslow(dot)com, subject line “audio code winner.” Let me know which of the four books offered you want and whether you need a US or a UK audio code or a substitute prize. (Prayer & Praise is not available yet, but I will pass it along as soon as it goes live.) Congratulations and I hope you enjoy your books!

Anyway, I hope you are staying healthy, creatively flexible, and in spite of everything, joyful this holiday season. I’m wishing you Happy Reading and all the best in the New Year!


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Time For Thanksgiving

Right after Halloween (and sometimes even before) our retailers would have us begin focusing on Christmas, and now “Black Friday”, which used to be limited to one day, has expanded to an entire season dedicated to shopping for bargains.

I love Christmas. But I often think it’s a shame that in our rush to get to it we tend to overlook Thanksgiving, which deserves to be enjoyed and appreciated for its own sake, not just as a warm-up act for Santa Clause. Of course, not everyone is glossing over Thanksgiving. In fact, I’ve been encouraged to see more than one friend making daily entries on Facebook about things they are thankful for – a valuable exercise.

An interval of meditation, serious and grateful, was the best corrective of everything dangerous in such high-wrought felicity; and she went to her room, and grew steadfast and fearless in the thankfulness of her enjoyment.  (Persuasion, chapter 23)

This year especially, it’s easy to find things not going right in the world – major stuff – and to dwell on them. A while back, I was getting so stressed out by it all that I had to basically stop watching the news altogether.

But when I stand back and take a more objective look, the truth is there are more positives than negatives. I have all the essentials, really (family/friends, food, shelter, reasonably good health, work I enjoy), and most of the rest doesn’t matter.  Besides, studies show that  thankfulness leads to contentment and happiness (not the other way around). Kind of opposite to what we’re used to thinking.

This topic reminded me of one of the segments I wrote for Prayer & Praise: a Jane Austen Devotional – segment 9, Gratitude and Contentment. No room to share it all today, but here’s an excerpt:

Who do you suppose most appreciated the comfort and luxury Mansfield Park provided – the Bertram children, who were born to it, or Fanny Price, who had known poverty and deprivation? While Julia and Maria bickered about who should sit where in their fashionable carriage and which one of them should have the best part in the play they were putting on for their own amusement, humble Fanny felt deep gratitude for the simple things and the smallest acts of kindness – a favor done for her brother, being spared an ordeal, the warmth of a good fire in her no-frills attic room:

While her heart was still bounding with joy and gratitude on William’s behalf, she could not be severely resentful of anything that injured only herself…

This was an act of kindness which Fanny felt at her heart. To be spared from her aunt Norris’s interminable reproaches! He left her in a glow of gratitude…

The first thing which caught her eye was a fire lighted and burning. A fire! It seemed too much; just at that time to be giving her such an indulgence was exciting even painful gratitude. She wondered that Sir Thomas could have leisure to think of such a trifle…

These three references in Mansfiled Park (chapters 31 and 32) are only a few of many expounding on Fanny’s gratitude and thankfulness…

I know mild little Fanny doesn’t make the most dashing, colorful heroine, but I admire her character and would value her as a friend.

Like Fanny Price, Jane Austen herself experienced hardships and deprivation, but she likewise counted the many comforts she did enjoy as blessings to be thankful for. How do I know? Here’s the passage from one of the prayers she wrote, the passage that inspired the above devotional segment:

Give us a thankful sense of the Blessings in which we live, of the many comforts of our Lot; that we may not deserve to lose them by Discontent or Indifference.

Good advice. As I remember seeing on a church reader board: GET RICH QUICK! COUNT YOUR BLESSINGS!

I’ll leave you with my best wishes for a blessed Thanksgiving, whatever that may look like this year, and a bit of COVID humor:

We’ve been told only six people are allowed to meet for a Thanksgiving celebration, but thirty are allowed for a funeral. Therefore, I’m announcing that we will be holding a funeral on Thanksgiving Day for our pet turkey, whose name was Butterball. Dinner to follow the brief service. (In lieu of flowers, please bring a side dish!)

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From Sensibility to Sense

See the source image

Yes, I am working on a Pride and Prejudice novel at the moment (see two previous posts and my progress report at the end of this one), but I like to periodically turn ideas over in my mind for future books too. As many of you know, one of my goals is to write at least one novel related to each of Jane Austen’s, and I still have two to go: Emma and Sense and Sensibility. So I was actually thinking about the latter today, and particularly this quote at the end of the book:

Marianne Dashwood was born to an extraordinary fate. She was born to discover the falsehood of her own opinions, and to counteract, by her conduct, her most favourite maxims. She was born to overcome an affection formed so late in life as at seventeen, and … voluntarily to give her hand to another! … But so it was. Instead of falling a sacrifice to an irresistible passion, as once she had fondly flattered herself with expecting … she found herself at nineteen, submitting to new attachments, entering on new duties, placed in a new home, a wife, the mistress of a family, and the patroness of a village … Marianne could never love by halves; and her whole heart became, in time, as much devoted to her husband as it had once been to Willoughby. (Sense and Sensibility, chapter 50)

I love this insightful account of the revolution in Marianne’s character throughout the course of the story. In the beginning, she is ruled by her feelings alone. Without a single scruple she throws caution (and propriety) to the wind … and herself into Willoughby’s arms, taking her romantic sensibilities so far that she cannot imagine going on without him.

By the end, she has, through painful experience, gained a more balanced perspective and a measure of common sense. She’s learned that her sister’s more conservative approach to life may have some merit after all. She also ultimately discovers it is possible to love again, and that the second, though different, may be just as satisfying (and far more enduring) than the first.

See the source image

I’ve always identified more with Elinor – sensible, steady, doing what’s right. But, if I look back to my early teens, I realize I may have started out much more like Marianne than I care to admit – overly romantic (something I probably haven’t completely outgrow, to tell the truth) and prone to melodrama. After all, Romeo and Juliet was my first movie obsession (and Leonard Whiting my first movie crush – anyone else with me?) And like Marianne, I wallowed in the misery of my first heartbreak for months. Fortunately, I too lived to love again.

So what about you? Are you more Elinor or Marianne? And would you choose the dashing Willoughby or Col. Brandon, “the very best of men”? Tough decision, probably because we tend to want it all. We’d like to think we are both smart and emotionally deep; and our ideal man would embody all the best of both Willoughby and Brandon. Also, what would you like to see me write for my S&S book?


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A Poison Pen Letter for Wickham

See the source imageThank you! All your positive feedback on my previous post (Fitzwilliam Darcy: in His Own Words) really energized me. Now I’m off and running on what will hopefully become my next novel! – expanding on the Pride and Prejudice saga to tell the story from Darcy’s point of view, beginning months before the scope of Jane Austen’s original book.

So what was Darcy doing before he turns up at the Meryton ball, where he meets Elizabeth? Most of it is open for speculation, and I am very happy to fill in the blanks! We could learn a little something more about his childhood and his relationships with his parents, his sister, and Wickham perhaps. What were his ideas about marriage, and had he come close to taking the plunge before? (see previous post for a clue on this one)

See the source imageThe only situation in Darcy’s prior life that we know very much about from P&P is Wickham’s attempted elopement with Georgiana. Since this event falls within the scope of my work-in-progress, I took another look at D’s letter to E, where it’s spoken of:

Georgiana… was persuaded to believe herself in love, and to consent to an elopement. She was then but fifteen, which must be her excuse… I joined them unexpectedly a day or two before the intended elopement, and then Georgiana, unable to support the idea of grieving and offending a brother whom she almost looked up to as a father, acknowledged the whole to me. You may imagine what I felt and how I acted. Regard for my sister’s credit and feelings prevented any public exposure; but I wrote to Mr. Wickham, who left the place immediately…

I wrote to Mr. Wickham? I hadn’t notice this line before. I was thinking Darcy had handled it with a face-to-face confrontation, as depicted in the P&P ’95 adaptation that I’ve watched a million times. So why would he have chosen to use a letter instead? Hmm. Since I was about to write that scene, I thought I should know.

So I posed the question to all my friends on our Austen Variations Facebook page and got some interesting and insightful answers: Maybe because it was more private. Maybe Wickham had already run away. Maybe it was to distress Georgiana as little as possible. It was simply more Darcy’s style. All good ideas.

See the source imageNevertheless, there it was in black and white: I wrote to Wickham. And since I’m only adding to, not changing, the original story, a letter from Darcy to Wickham I must write!

No problem; I love writing the letters contained in my books. It’s one of my favorite parts! But what would Darcy say in this letter? He must get his point across clearly and powerfully but without putting anything on paper that could be used against him or to soil Georgiana’s reputation. Here’s what I came up with:

You are a rogue and a scoundrel, sir, and if I could do so without harming others, I would immediately expose you to the world as such. But I swear that nothing in all of creation will constrain me if by word or action you should ever threaten harm to me or my family again. If you value your safety, you would be wise to remove yourself from the vicinity at once and keep well out of my sight henceforth. For I shall not be responsible for my actions if I ever catch you within ten miles of a certain person again. I trust I make myself clear.

Darcy doesn’t sign the note, but I’m pretty sure Wickham will be able to guess who it’s from!

What do you think? Why would Darcy choose a letter over a face-to-face? Is this about right, or do you think the letter would have contained something more… or less? What else about Darcy’s life before Elizabeth would you like to know and read about in this book? I love your creative feedback!

Audio Book Update – In case you haven’t heard yet, Leap of Hope is available in AUDIO! Murder at Northanger Abbey, which is in production now, should be ready by the end of October. And I have just signed a contract for Prayer and Praise: a Jane Austen Devotional. I’m hoping it will debut before Christmas!

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Fitzwilliam Darcy, In His Own Words

See the source imageGetting this next novel started has been a bit of a struggle. I wanted to do a P&P book from Darcy’s point of view, but what could I bring to the story that would be something new?

The “what if”s always intrigue me, especially when it comes to two people happening to meet when they so easily could have missed their opportunity to get together. When I think of my own marriage (or those of my 2 sons) for example, it’s so clear that a small change anywhere along the line could have made all the difference. (see more on that here)

As he quitted the room, Elizabeth felt how improbable it was that they should ever see each other again… (Pride and Prejudice, chapter 46)

In this case, though, I’m thinking of Darcy and Elizabeth. What if Mr. Bingley had rented some other house and not Netherfield. What if Darcy had not accepted the invitation to spend some time there? What if he had become engaged (or even married) to someone else before meeting Elizabeth?

So I decided it would be interesting to start this book (tentatively titled Fitzwilliam Darcy: In His Own Words) before the timeline of Pride and Prejudice to take a look at those questions. I’ve got less than 50 pages written so far, and the idea is still evolving. (I don’t plot my books, as you may already know). So I’d love to hear what you think of the concept. Here’s the prologue as it stands now (remember it’s Darcy telling the story):

I still occasionally suffer that recurrent dream – a nightmare, really.

I awake at Darcy House in London. Morning light is filtering through the draperies at the windows, painting ghostly shadow patterns across the opposite wall. I feel a great sense of well being at the start of a new day. All is right with the world, or at least my portion of it.

Then I turn toward the other side of the bed and see… not Elizabeth, as I expect, but the Honorable Miss Amelia Lambright. Only of course she is no longer an honorable miss, not when she has spent the night in a man’s bed. Then I suddenly remember why she is there. Her name is Miss Lambright no more; she is Mrs. Darcy now.

My heart lurches and I break into a cold sweat, not because the former Miss Lambright is so horrid unappealing, but because she is not Elizabeth.

I tell myself it surely must be a hallucination or some trick of the light. So I shake my head to clear any cobwebs, rub my eyes and blink. Still, the wrong woman is before me. Please, God, let it be a dream!

I fight to awaken, to claw my way back to the world where I belong, the world where Mrs. Darcy has not blonde but dark, satiny hair and sparkling eyes. My throat is constricting; I cannot breathe. I cannot find my voice to call out. Elizabeth, where are you? I must find her! My life depends on it.

When on these disturbing occasions I at last come to myself, it is many minutes before my heart and breathing return to normal, and longer still until my mind can quiet itself.

Even after I have verified that Elizabeth is indeed beside me where she belongs; beheld her face, a peaceful portrait of repose in whatever meager light offers; pulled her warm, familiar form to fit close against mine; and heard her sleepy but unmistakable voice murmuring my name with affection…

Even then my soul quakes within me for how close the vision from which I have just awakened came to being true, how close I came to missing Elizabeth altogether. Then she and I would have been only two ships sailing the same stretch of sea, perhaps even passing within sight of each other occasionally but never happening to come into a common port together, at least not until it had been too late.

My happier outcome depended on the slimmest thread of unlikely circumstances being precariously strung together without error. At any one of a dozen junctures, the course of my life could have carried me in a completely different direction.

When I consider this, I shudder. Then I thank God for His providential care in guiding me safely through. I thank Bingley for Netherfield. And Wickham. Strangely enough, now, years later, I can think back with some philosophy, enough to acknowledge the part he unwittingly played.

Were it not for Wickham and his nefarious but timely intervention, I would likely be married to Amelia Lambright today.

What do you think? Are you intrigued? What other ideas would you like to see me explore in this (or another) novel?

3/8/21 UPDATE: The book is in final edit and cover design. A cover reveal is planned for April 14th. The publication date is May 4th. Stay tuned! Official blurb:

What was Mr. Darcy’s life like before he met Elizabeth Bennet? – before he stepped onto the Pride and Prejudice stage at the Meryton assembly? More importantly, where is he and what is he doing all the time he’s absent from the page thereafter? And what is his relationship to a woman named Amelia?

With Fitzwilliam Darcy, in His Own Words, the iconic literary hero finally tells his own story, from the traumas of his early life to the consummation of his love for Elizabeth and everything in between.

This is not a variation but a supplement to the original story, chronicled in Darcy’s point of view – a behind-the-scenes look at the things Jane Austen didn’t tell us. As it happens, Darcy’s journey was more tortuous than she let on, his happy ending with Elizabeth in jeopardy at every turn in his struggle between duty and his heart’s desire, between the suitable lady he has promised to marry and the woman he can’t stop thinking about.

Fitzwilliam Darcy - KINDLEUpdate 4/14/21: Here’s the cover! Everything’s on track for publication May 4th in Kindle, KU, and paperback. (Kindle pre-order now available at Amazon). Harry Frost begins recording the audio version soon!

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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.



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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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