William, Fitzwilliam, and Fitzwilliam

ISee the source images it possible to have too many Williams? I like the name – very much, in fact. Even so, there ought to be a limit as to number.

One thing I’ve learned as a novelist is that you shouldn’t confuse your readers with character names that are too similar. If you’ve already got a Terry in the story, don’t name somebody else Jerry. If you have a Ron, don’t add a Don or a Rod. It’s even worse if the names are foreign-sounding, unpronounceable, and all begin with the same letter of the alphabet. Have you read books like that? It’s a nightmare trying to keep the characters straight.

And yet, to a lesser extent, that’s what Jane Austen did in Pride and Prejudice. Her leading man she named Fitzwilliam Darcy, and then she added a Colonel Fitzwilliam to the mix, the odious William Collins, and a Sir William Lucas for good measure.

See the source imageThe two Fitzwilliams I understand; Darcy was christened with his mother’s maiden name, which, naturally, is also his cousin’s last name. Probably a common practice at the time (and something I actually carried forward to the next generation by naming D&E’s son “Bennet” in The Darcys of Pemberley). In truth, there really wasn’t any confusion in the original story. Fitzwilliam Darcy is “Mr. Darcy” to one and all, and Colonel Fitzwilliam is either “Fitzwilliam” or “Colonel.” Mr. Collins is always just “Mr. Collins,” and Sir William Lucas, a minor character, is referred to as “Sir” William. That was clear enough.

I ran into trouble right away, however, when I began writing my first sequel (The Darcys of Pemberley). Although Elizabeth might continue calling her husband “Mr. Darcy” in formal situations (just as Mrs. Bennet did with Mr. Bennet in P&P), she probably wouldn’t in the comfort of their own home and family. She would probably have called him Fitzwilliam. But then what happens when Colonel Fitzwilliam shows up? Since he was a major player in the story as well, I had to come up with a solution, or there would be a lot of awkward conversations. Elizabeth says, “Fitzwilliam, do you agree with Fitzwilliam’s position on the subject?” Then one of the gentlemen called Fitzwilliam answers, but we’re not sure which one it is!

I decided that, to avoid confusion, Elizabeth would call her husband “Darcy,” whether that was entirely correct or not. Crisis temporarily averted.

But when I started Miss Georgiana Darcy of Pemberley, the difficulty only got worse. It’s written in first person from Georgiana’s point of view, and she would be constantly referring to her brother in thought and dialogue. So what was she going to call him? I might get away with “Darcy” for Elizabeth, but not for Georgiana! Once again, she couldn’t refer to him as “Fitzwilliam” because the other Fitzwilliam would feature even more prominently in this book than in my first. And although I had sidestepped the issue in TDOP by having Georgiana use “Brother” on the few necessary occasions, I couldn’t go on like that through the length on an entire novel! No.

Consequently, Georgiana informs us early on that she typically calls her brother “William,” and all is well… for a time.

See the source imageLate in the story, however, Sir William Lucas enters the action and shows up at the same place and time as the other two men. Now I have a new variation of the original dilemma. Instead of two Fitzwilliams, I have two Williams! It took some fancy footwork to maneuver through that scene without confusion and without endless repeats of the names William, Sir William, and Fitzwilliam. Here’s an excerpt, in Georgiana’s words:

Then I noticed a large party of horsemen approaching from the north, trailed at some distance by a carriage. It was quite an unusual sight, and all eyes turned from their work to watch the spectacle. I was wondering at the meaning of it, even growing a little fearful, when I began to suspect something familiar in the figure leading the group rapidly onward. As they drew nearer, I was certain.

“It is my brother,” I said to Charlotte, who was at my side. “Sir William, it is my brother,” I called out to him and to the others.

Then I took another look. “And Colonel Fitzwilliam,” I added. Although I suppose I should not have been so surprised that William would come in search of me, I was entirely mystified as to why a party the size of a small army would accompany him. And what on earth was Fitzwilliam doing among them?

These questions were set aside for the moment, for William was upon us. He drew his horse to an abrupt halt, quickly slipped from the saddle, coming to my side and taking me into his fervent embrace. “Are you well, Georgiana?” he asked a moment later, holding me at arm’s length and studying my person for any ill effects. “There has been trouble here. Have you come to any harm?”

“I am well,” I quickly assured him, “as are the others. Only a few bumps and bruises. It was a minor accident caused by a broken axle, and Sir William has been taking very good care of us.”

“Thank God,” he exclaimed as he took a moment to shake Sir William’s hand. “Elizabeth was so certain it had been something much more serious.”

“Elizabeth!” I repeated, reminded of my former alarm. “How is she? If she has been worrying about me, I believe I have spent the same hours fearing something ill had befallen her. In fact, I had the most compelling premonition.”

William laughed, more from relief than amusement, I expect. “What is it with the female mind?” he asked. “Always imagining the worst and perceiving mountains of trouble where there are only molehills…”

As I said above, it was a tricky business getting through that scene without confusion or continual name repeats. In the end, I was saved by the fact that only one of the three men in question had a speaking part in the above exchange. I made sure of that!

Another variation of the same challenge confronted me with my latest novel, The Ladies of Rosings Park (due out early next year), which is written primarily from Lady Catherine’s and Anne de Bourgh’s points of view. In P&P, Lady Catherine calls her nephews “Darcy” and “Fitzwilliam,” but I couldn’t imagine their younger cousin doing the same. And Anne has no lines of dialogue in the book for Jane Austen to set me a precedent. I decided that Anne would follow Georgiana’s example. She calls Mr. Darcy “William,” and Colonel Fitzwilliam she calls “John” – his given name in my books. (Here is another possible source of confusion, since many other JAFF writers have settled on “Richard” instead! Jane Austen doesn’t tell us.)

I have no choice with a sequel; I need to do the best I can with the cast of character names I have inherited from the original. And you would think I’d have learned my lesson in the process. But I actually set myself a bigger challenge in The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen, where I wrote two stories running parallel – what was happening in Jane’s own life set alongside what she described in Persuasion as a reflection of it. I had two of everything: two heroines (Anne and Jane), two captains (Wentworth and Devereaux), and two admirals (Croft and Crowe). The admirals were the hardest to keep straight because of the similarity of names. Argggh! And no one to blame this time but myself.

I swear I’ve finally learned, though. No more similar names and no additional Williams allowed!



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Q&A with Author Collins Hemingway, part 2

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As you may recall, last year I hosted author Collins Hemingway on blog tour for his trilogy The Marriage of Miss Jane Austen. That Q&A was for the release of volume 2. Well, he’s back today with volume 3 of this ambitious work, now completed! I’m always fascinated to hear about another author’s journey, especially one who shares my passion for Jane Austen and her writings. So I hope you’ll also enjoy the articulate Collins Hemingway as he sits down with me to share a bit more of his story:

SW:  Many contemporary authors have written sequels or variations of Jane Austen’s books, but far fewer have attempted to make Jane Austen herself the heroine of a novel, as you and I have both now done. What inspired you to do so?

Collins HemingwayCH:  Admiration for her intelligence and character, as reflected in her books and letters. I was wowed by what her brother Henry called “the extraordinary endowments of her mind.” I didn’t want to steal from her—at least not very much—but I did want to make use of her qualities in a meaningful way. In parallel, I had begun work on a general story of a woman set in the early 1800s, and I realized that the voice kept morphing into Austen’s. When I dived deeper into the details of her life, I realized I could combine her personal story with the major events of the Regency era in a way that stayed true to both.

SW:  What would you say makes your approach in this trilogy unique?

CH:  I’ve read four novels with Jane Austen as a character. (I’m sure there are more.) Two kept her as a single woman. One was a compilation of incidents intended to show where the critical scenes in her books originated. Another provided an interesting travelogue of early Australia by taking her there during the “lost years” of her twenties. Yours, Shannon, The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen, is the only other one I’ve seen in which Jane marries or has a significant relationship.

You used some lovely sleight of hand to give Jane the happily-ever-after ending that she gave to her own characters. I was not so kind. I wanted to test my protagonist by putting her in the middle of the most difficult personal and social issues of the day. I wanted to show the experiences of most women in the early 1800s. I couldn’t think of a more powerful or resilient woman to build the story around.

Many readers think of Austen’s works as romantic romps—and they are fun. But she also wove into the narrative the most serious issues of the day—premarital sex, illegitimate children, and slavery, to cite the main ones. The publishing limitations for “lady writers” in 1800 made it impossible for Austen to write directly about such topics. It wasn’t until I saw how much she did within the shackles of the time (pun intended) that I really began to appreciate Austen as a person and an artist. I wanted to find a way to give her the chance to deal with those issues directly rather than obliquely—by making her the central character while also writing in a similar voice.

By the way, I immersed myself in Austen’s letters and novels, and the biographies and histories, but I did not read any other fiction about Austen until I was well into the second volume and knew where I was going. I was like an actor who did not want to see any other performances for fear they would influence mine.

SW:  That has always been my policy too, Collins. Now, since you were writing about such a strong character, I’m curious if Austen ever exerted her will and threatened to take over your story. Readers may be surprised at the idea of a character hijacking a book away from the author’s control, but it happened to me when I was writing “Return to Longbourn,” believe it or not.

CH:  I believe it! Both Jane and the main male protagonist at times balked at my stage directions. First, at a critical juncture, I could not get Jane’s husband Ashton Dennis  (you’ll recall she once signed a letter “Mrs. Ashton Dennis”) to move ahead as planned. So I went back and reviewed everything, looking for the path that had led to the dead end. I realized that Ashton’s emotional set would be totally different from what I had planned. When I recast the story according to his feelings instead of mine, the words began to flow.

A similar thing happened with Jane. Halfway through the third volume, Jane was not going to follow my script. Somehow, my unconscious knew there was a problem and would not let me move ahead until I understood what Jane wanted to do (something far more radical) and I revised the plot accordingly. What this means, of course, is that characters learn and grow along the way, and the author needs to pay attention.

SW:  You’re so right. I know we talked a little about this last time, but I think readers would find it interesting to hear how you have successfully reinvented yourself over the course of your career. Coming from a business background (marketing, computers, aviation, technical writing), you seem an unlikely candidate to end up writing historical fiction based on the life of an English author from 200 years ago.

CH:  True. In college, it took a while for me to determine what I wanted. The result was that I ended up with a major in English literature and a minor in science. I worked my way through school as a sportswriter and after graduation became a journeyman reporter and editor. Newspapers were then among the first ordinary businesses to use computers—for writing, editing, and production. I became the computer guru in the newsroom, and that led me to technical writing—a career in high tech and related nonfiction works.

But all during these years I wrote fiction. Most of my work was unpublished—deservedly so—but I continued working hard to learn the craft. I hope that this shows in The Marriage of Miss Jane Austen.

My goal was to write a powerful love story, a sweeping epic, and a deeply personal examination of a woman’s psyche as she’s immersed in the happiness and trials of life. I’ve stayed true to Austen’s life—surprisingly so, considering the novel’s premise. Everything that happens is consistent with what we know, or it parallels events that have poor provenance. History aside, my goal was to capture Austen’s heart and soul. It’s up to readers to decide whether I succeeded or not, but I hope at the very least they will appreciate the respect with which I have treated this extraordinary woman.

SW:  I couldn’t agree with you more about that, Collins – heart and respect! Thank you for sharing your thoughts and insights, and I wish you continued success with your trilogy. I know you are willing to answer any questions readers may leave for you in the comment section below. Where can they follow your blog tour?

CH: I am posting the blog tour on my book’s FB page.

Experience the Stunning Finale to the Jane Austen Saga

In the moving conclusion to The Marriage of Miss Jane Austen, Jane and her husband struggle with the serious illness of their son, confront a bitter relationship with the aristocratic family who were once their friends, and face the horrific prospect of war when the British Army falters on the continent. The momentous events of the Napoleonic wars and the agonizing trials of their personal lives take Jane and Ashton to a decision that will decide their fate—and her future—once and for all.

(Find all Collins’s books here)

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Progress and Cover Art

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Just wanted to give you a quick update on my progress with The Ladies of Rosings Park. I’m up to 85,000 words now, which is probably about 85% complete. The happy ending is in sight, and I wish I could hole up in a nice hotel somewhere – one with comfy beds and room service, of course – and just write, write, write! That’s not in the cards, though, so I’ll have to do the best I can at home with the many interruptions that come along.

I intentionally interrupted my writing a couple of weeks ago, however,  to work on some art to be used for the book’s cover. I wanted to give my cover designer plenty of lead time to do what he does best. So I stepped away from the computer keyboard and pulled out paint and paintbrushes instead. You see the results above – a little 5X8″ acrylic.

This is my rendition of Belton House in Lincolnshire, England – a National Trust property. You will, I hope, recognize it as the manor house used in the 1995 miniseries of Pride and Prejudice as Rosings Park, Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s stately residence. Can you picture Lizzy walking up to this imposing structure for the first time while Mr. Collins rattles away about the impressive number of windows?

Elizabeth saw much to be pleased with, though she could not be in such raptures as Mr. Collins expected the scene to inspire and was but slightly affected by his enumeration of the windows in front of the house, and his relation of what the glazing altogether had originally cost Sir Lewis de Bourgh.

To learn more about The Ladies of Rosings Park, read this previous post: Number Eight is Underway.

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Making a Scene at Georgiana’s Ball

Image result for anne de bourghWhen I mentioned on Facebook that I was writing the scene where Anne de Bourgh crashes Georgiana Darcy’s 18th birthday ball (for my work-in-progress, The Ladies of Rosings Park), I started to receive comments from enthusiastic friends about what they thought that scene should contain – creative suggestions I wished I could use for the book but couldn’t, since the book has to match the tone of Pride and Prejudice. Then I had this messaging conversation:

Friend: Wow! Anne crashing Georgie’s birthday ball sounds like it might be fun to read.

Me: Probably sounds more dramatic than it is. These people are all much too polite to cause and ugly scene, more’s the pity.

Friend: Bummer!

Me: Maybe I’ll write a mash-up version just for fun!

So that’s what I decided to do for this blog post. Here goes!

Anne de Bourgh made her way determinedly toward the door, outside of which a carriage waited to take her to London. “I am going to Georgiana’s ball, Mama. I am of age now, so there is nothing you can do to stop me.”

Lady Catherine followed close upon her heels, shaking her fist in the air. “You may be of age, but I still hold the purse strings. Just you remember that!”

Her daughter paused to deliver her parting salvo. “Perhaps I will find myself a rich husband at the ball, and then all your threats will be meaningless. In any case, I am going. Good-bye, Mama!”

The astonished but straight-faced butler opened the door, and Miss de Bourgh marched through it and on to the adventure ahead. She was quite shocked, really – probably no less so than her mother – that she had actually done it. She had stood up for herself and declared her emancipation from her domineering parent at last! Perhaps it was the recent upturn in her health that had given her the courage. Or perhaps she had finally reached her limit. It mattered only that she was liberated.

“Woohoo!” she shouted as the carriage left the grounds of Rosings Park. She raised her arms in jubilation, kicking up her heels and laughing hysterically. It was probably not decorous behavior. It was definitely not ladylike, and yet Anne cared no more than a jot. She had missed so much being cooped up in Kent; she did not mean to miss anything else, beginning with her cousin’s eighteenth birthday ball. She had another stop to make first, however.

Several hours later, the de Bourgh carriage, boasting its distinguished coat of arms, pulled to a stop in front of a brightly lit townhouse in Berkeley Square – one belonging to that old and honored family, the Darcys. The young lady who alighted, however, barely resembled the one who had come into London earlier that day by the same equipage. Her clothes – feathered headpiece down to her satin dancing slippers – were all new and up to date, and so was the styling of her hair. A bit of fresh color, expertly applied, highlighted her cheeks and lips.

No, it was not a miracle but the nearest thing to it that could be found this side of heaven – on Bond Street, to be more specific – something the fashionable establishment that performed the transformation called a Complete Makeover (which would soon become the rage among those with plenty of money and less than perfect appearance).

Now, finally, after years of being unfairly kept back from what was rightfully her due, Miss Anne de Bourgh, brimming with confidence, was ready to make her social debut. If only she had held an actual invitation to the ball, she should have felt no qualms whatsoever upon nearly reaching the door. But it was a small detail, one she trusted would be quickly overcome.

Image result for butler opens doorA forbidding-looking butler opened the door. “Good evening, Miss,” he said.

“Good evening,” she returned, inclining her head slightly. Anne intended to carry herself through the doorway in a regal manner so there would be no question of her belonging. Unfortunately, her new and unfamiliar slippers caused her to trip and nearly fall to the floor. She would have too, but for the butler’s quick action.

As he caught the young lady, he looked at her more closely. “Do you have an invitation, Miss?” he inquired haughtily.

What happened next is a matter of some dispute. Miss de Bourgh accused the butler of assaulting and otherwise hindering her person. The butler insisted that the lady was somehow to blame. In any case, noise of the scuffle between them soon brought Mr. Darcy to sort out the trouble.

“Is that you, Anne?” he asked, somewhat incredulous. “Heavens! What are you doing here?”

“Sir, kindly tell your man to unhand me!”

“Yes. Yes, of course. Henderson, please release the lady. She is my cousin Miss de Bourgh.” Darcy took his fair cousin’s coat and gave it to a waiting footman. “Now, come in, dear Anne. Come in. I was never so surprised to see anybody in my life, and looking so well too! You are most welcome, of course. Georgiana and Elizabeth will be delighted to see you. Indeed, we should certainly have sent you an invitation had we thought there was any possibility of your actually receiving it and also your mother’s permission to come.”

“Yes, well, I decided to come without – an invitation or Mama’s consent either one.”

“I applaud your courage and fortitude, my dear. Now do make yourself at home. You may find Georgiana through there,” he said, pointing the way. “On the other hand, you may not. She has been skittish as a colt tonight, and I have not seen her this half hour. I would almost swear that she has gone into hiding. But you will please excuse me now. I must return to my duties before things get completely out of hand.”

Anne watched the retreating back of her handsome cousin, the man originally intended to be her husband, and she felt… Honestly, she felt only relief that he had found a way to foil the plan. When she thought of marriage, which she did but rarely, she pictured quite a different sort of man – blonde perhaps, slightly built like herself, and spectacles. Yes a bookish gentleman would suit her perfectly.

Image result for bowl of punchRecalling herself from her musings, Anne smoothed her gown, struck an elegant pose, and looked about herself. What she saw was a party in full swing. The dancing had not begun, and yet the well-turned-out throng of people had already commenced carrying on. Their spirits were very high indeed, and it seemed that the largest bowl of punch she had ever seen was at the center of it all. What was in that punch, she wondered?

While Miss de Bourgh was noticing the room, the room – at least the male portion of it -had begun noticing her as well. When she strolled through in search of Miss Darcy, every gentleman’s head turned. One asked, “Who is that ethereal beauty? I’ve not seen her before.” “I heard Mr. Darcy call her his cousin, a Miss de Bourgh,” reported another. “Miss de Bourgh!” exclaimed a third. “Why, she is one of the richest ladies in the country. Miss Darcy’s fortune is nothing to hers.”

Within five minutes the report had circulated throughout the entire company, and nearly everybody present knew the newly arrived lady’s name, the exact size of her fortune, and the other singular fact: she was neither married nor engaged.

Anne was oblivious to all this. After stopping to enjoy a generous sample of the punch, which she found particularly refreshing, she continued her search for Georgiana. But the crowd began to press about her, and she could make no headway. Everywhere she turned, there was another smiling gentleman, contriving a way to introduce himself and beg the promise of a dance from her. She no more than succeeded in turning one away when two others took his place.

The situation became desperate. When Anne thought she might succumb to the crush, unable to breath, she spotted help. “Elizabeth!” she cried out with all the remaining air her lungs contained.

Mrs. Darcy heard, saw the lady in peril, and instantly perceived that the situation was indeed dire. She came to Anne’s rescue at once, a way gradually opening between them as the guests heeded her command to, “Step back. Step back, all of you. Give the lady some air. You men go away and stop bothering her or I shall have you thrown out of this house and onto the street, every one of you.”

“Come with me, my dear,” Mrs. Darcy told the lady in distress, leading her to a side room and closing the door behind them. “Now, do sit down and let me have a look at you.” Miss de Bourgh did as instructed. After a moment, Mrs. Darcy said, “There is something familiar… Oh, my goodness! Anne, can it be you?”

“It is, Elizabeth. Please do forgive me for making such a scene, especially uninvited as I am.”

“You are not the problem, Miss de Bourgh. It is the others.” Just then, the sound of a muffled sneeze told the two they were not alone. Elizabeth turned to find the source, which she did behind an ornately embroidered oriental screen. “Georgiana! What do you do there?”

See the source imageThe birthday girl replied, “Oh, Lizzy, I could not bear all those people looking at me any longer – the women wanting to find a flaw and the men hoping to win my fortune. Greetings, Cousin Anne,” she continued, going to shake her hand. “So nice of you to come. It has been ever so long, and my, how extremely well you look!”

“She does, indeed,” agreed Mrs. Darcy. “Now, we must think how best to proceed. Hiding here will not do for either one of you. Let me start by fetching each of you a bracing cup of punch.”

While Elizabeth was gone, Anne turned to her cousin. “Oh, Georgiana, I have done it at last! I have done what you encouraged me to do in your letters; I have taken a stand against Mama. As you know, she forbid me to ever see you or your brother again. But I told her I was going to your ball, whatever may come.”

“That was very brave of you, dear Anne! I hope you may not soon regret it.”

“Mama can threaten all she likes to disinherit me, but she has nobody else to leave her money to. Besides, I told her I will not need it because I intend to marry a very rich man.”

“And do you?”

“I suppose I would if the right one came along. What about you, dear Georgiana? But you are very young to concern yourself with finding a husband yet. You must dance and make merry – all the things I was deprived of at your age. You must not waste a single minute.”

“You make me very ashamed of myself, Anne. I urged you to take courage against your mother, and here you find me hiding from my own guests!”

Elizabeth returned with the promised punch. “Here we are, ladies. Drink this. I am sure it will do you good. I had some myself and found it highly therapeutic.”

Anne and Georgiana did as they were told; they each drank down a large draught of punch.”

“Feeling better?” asked Elizabeth. Both the others agreed that they were. “Excellent. Now let us all go out and enjoy your ball, Georgiana. Your brother has been waiting for you to begin the dancing.”

Image result for pride and prejudice ballThus fortified, the three women did just that. Miss Darcy soon discovered she was not as nervous as before, and Miss de Bourgh found the amorous gentlemen much more easily managed since Elizabeth had scolded them. They both danced and danced.

A good time was had by all, in fact, and the ball was an infamous success. All the papers said so.

Much was made of the two young heiresses and their entourage of followers. Speculation continued long about who Miss Darcy would marry in the end, since she showed no particular preference for one gentleman over another. But everybody in the know had already awarded Miss de Bourgh’s hand to Sir Nigel Harrington – a slight, bespectacled young nobleman who had never shown much aptitude for attracting the ladies before, despite all his thousands in the bank. The logic went like this: “Did Miss de Bourgh really dance a full ten dances with Sir Nigel? Then there can be no doubt in the matter; they must be secretly engaged.”

This kind of society gossip and speculation was rather standard fare however – entertaining for a time or until the next big thing came along. What made Miss Darcy’s ball truly unforgettable was something else entirely.

Image result for Pride and Prejudice Lady CatherDuring the supper break, another scuffle was heard in the hall, followed by indignant words. “Unhand me, Henderson! You forget yourself. I am here to collect my daughter, and I will not be prevented!”

The indignant lady was soon identified as Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Her daughter heard the noise and came at once to see what could be done about it.

“Ah, there you are, Anne,” continued Lady Catherine upon seeing her approaching. “You are coming with me this instant.”

“Mama!” cried Miss de Bourgh in alarm. Then, after a moment’s consideration, she knew what to do. “Mama, you look tired.”

“Of course I am tired! You have given me much trouble today, you ungrateful child.”

“Yes, tired and overwrought. Come and have some punch to refresh yourself after your long journey.”

“Well… perhaps I will,” she said starting forward. “Then we must be off…”

Some say Lady Catherine stumbled all on her own. Some say she was tripped – by her daughter or by other means. What is known for certain is that the great lady somehow careened headlong, coming to rest with her face buried deep in the bowl of punch. Before she could be helped out again, she had apparently consumed a fair amount of the contents.  She staggered and blustered her discontent, making an ugly scene before a host of witnesses. Mr. Darcy, therefore, had little choice. He gave the command that his aunt should be taken upstairs to one of the guest apartments and put to bed straightaway so that the party could continue, which it did until early morning’s light.

Ah, yes, it was truly a night to remember!

I hope you enjoyed this lively version of events at Georgiana’s ball. In The Ladies of Rosings Park, the scene will take place at Pemberley and play out a little differently, although still with some fireworks. Please stay tuned!

“I am sure he fell in love with you at the ball; I am sure the mischief was done that evening. You did look remarkable well. Everybody said so…” (Mansfield Park, chapter 33)









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Summer Travels and Sagging Middles

Don’t you love the title? Once it came to me, I had to go with it.

However little Mr. Darcy might have liked such an address, he contented himself with coolly replying that he perceived no other alteration than [Elizabeth] being rather tanned, no miraculous consequence of travelling in the summer. (Pride and Prejudice, chapter 45)

With a lead in like that, I should either show you my gorgeous summer tan or maybe my sagging middle. But my tan is not that impressive and my sagging middle is… Well, we’ll get to that later. Let’s focus on Jane Austen first, specifically her travels – summer or otherwise.

Jane Austen actually got around a little more than you might think. She lived in Steventon, Hampshire, in Bath, in Southhampton, and finally at Chawton. She went to boarding school in Oxford and Southhampton as a child. She visited friends and family in places like Kent, Ibthorpe, Bath, Winchester, Clifton, and Adlestrop. She made it to London several times for business and pleasure. And she vacationed with her family in seaside resort towns such as Sidmouth, Colyton, and Lyme Regis.

Not bad, and a bonus for us is that she wrote a lot of letters when she was away (or when her sister was), and many of those letters survived and are available for us to read! But my guess is she would have liked to travel more if she’d had the means.


Lake Coeur d’Alene, Idaho

The same is true for my husband and me, although the limiting factor for us has been time as much as money. Like everybody else, we were busy with careers, kids, and keeping up at home. Even after our sons were grown and I quit my “day job,” my husband was still working, time and overtime, for a few more years. Now, that’s changed. This was the first summer we were more free to go and do. So, go we did!


The scariest ride at Silverwood

Nothing grand this year. Like Jane Austen, no world tours (although technically we did go “abroad” – to Canada). Just stuff in neighboring states and across the border to British Columbia. When our son asked us to go with his family to Silverwood (an amusement park in Idaho), we said “Sure!” When I was invited to a Jane Austen festival at Port Alberni on Vancouver Island, I said “Count me in!” When my husband told me he wanted to visit relatives in Kalispell, Montana, I said, “Why not?” When I suggested zipping down to Salem, Oregon to see the total eclipse, we just took off and went!

Image may contain: 11 people, people smiling, people sitting, table and outdoorIt was lovely, and we had some wonderful times along the way. Part of the fun has been sharing our experiences with others. Whereas Jane Austen sent letters, I’ve been sharing things on social media. (I hope you have enjoyed the pictures on FB!)


Silver Falls, Salem

The only downside to all this coming and going is that I haven’t been able to get as much writing done as I would have otherwise, and that’s where the “sagging middle” comes in. No, it’s not a comment on my middle-aged figure. It’s a writing term.

Some novels get off to a roaring start, end with a bang, but have a long, comparatively dull stretch in the middle, where nothing very exciting happens. This can be deadly, putting you at risk for losing the readers’ interest. I’ve never struggled with that particular problem before. (If I’ve been criticized for pace, it’s been for slow starts instead!) Since I’m not really a plotter, I haven’t necessarily planned it, but something dramatic always seems to come along in the story about then – a death, a surprising revelation, a major plot twist, etc.  So no sagging middles in the past, but I was a little worried this time.

As some of you know, I’ve been working on a book called The Ladies of Rosings Park, which basically tells Lady Catherine’s and Anne de Bourgh’s stories in three parts. The first section, which I zipped right through and thoroughly enjoyed writing, is what takes place from their perspectives during the timeline of Pride and Prejudice. The last part, which I don’t expect to be too difficult either, will overlay the action of my P&P sequel The Darcys of Pemberley, again, from the Rosings Park ladies’ points of view. The middle, the place I got stuck this summer, is what happens in between – the several months after the end of Jane Austen’s novel and before the beginning of my sequel.

Image result for Rosings ParkI knew basically what had to take place. Still, I was struggling with lack of time and inspiration for how to write it. Since we were gone so much, it was difficult to keep any momentum going in the story line. And I began to worry I might have a sagging middle on my hands!

I wish I could give my fellow writers a brilliant solution from my experience – how I overcame the difficulty. I think it was mostly plain old perseverance, though. In any case, I’m happy to report that I successfully got through and am on to section three.

Image result for anne de bourghImage result for lady catherine pride and prejudiceBut what of that sagging middle I was worried about? Is it going to be a tough slog for readers when they get there? No, I don’t think so. I was forgetting that this whole section will be entirely unexplored territory for most, with lots of new action and revelations. What happens to Anne de Bourgh when Darcy marries Elizabeth instead? Is she devastated or relieved? As an heiress, even a sickly one, she must have other suitors. Who are they, and do any of them steal her heart? Does Lady Catherine accept the defeat of her original plan gracefully or keep conniving? What about Anne’s health? Does it ever improve? If so, how? And (what I think is a particularly intriguing question) what really happened to her father, Sir Lewis de Bourgh? He’s absent and presumably dead, but is that all there is to the story?

So now I’m past the tricky middle and on the homeward stretch. Hopefully the ladies of Rosings Park (Lady Catherine, Anne, Charlotte Collins, and Mrs. Jenkinson) will be ready to tell their combined stories sometime early next spring!

(For a couple of sneak previews now, read excerpts on previous posts here and here. Then watch for weekly chapters of the book to be posted at Austen Variation beginning in January!)

Did you experience some special summer travels this year? Share a snippet in comments below! Writers – have you ever struggled with a sagging middle, and how did you find your way out of it? Do you have a favorite passage about travel in one of Jane Austen’s letters or novels?




Posted in Jane Austen, Jane Austen Quotes, life, travel, Uncategorized, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

A Better Fate for Jane

Some of you may have seen this last month at Austen Variations, but I wanted to reproduce my post here, so I would have it as a permanent part of my own blog. Yes, it’s that important to me!

Have you recovered yet from the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death? Although it was gratifying to see how many people and groups think enough of her to offer special tributes and commemorations, it was still a dark date on the calendar. Heart-wrenching, really. We were reminded all over again of the painful illness she suffered, of her tragic premature end in Winchester, of her family’s grief, of the years of promise she didn’t get a chance to live out, of the stories she never had time to write. So sad!

“If, however, I am allowed to think that you and yours feel an interest in my fate and actions, it may be the means – it may put me on my guard – at least it may be something to live for.” (Sense and Sensibility)

I was prepared to mourn over this anniversary, but then I decided I really didn’t need to. Why not? Although the official record says Jane Austen died July 18, 1817 at the age of 41, I prefer to believe something else.

I am no different than any other fan. Which of us hasn’t, even this past week, wished Jane Austen had met with a better fate? She, who has given so much pleasure to countless thousands through her novels, surely deserved the same romance and happy ending she carefully crafted for all her heroines! For years, I wished I could do something about the injustice of it all, but what?

Hmm. The more I considered the question, the more excited I became. Perhaps there was something I could do for her after all. I couldn’t turn back the clock exactly, but I could use my super powers as a novelist to reinterpret the existing facts into a more felicitous outcome for Jane. And really, I had a lot of leeway to work with – gaps in the record, time unaccounted for, missing letters.

Image result for The Persuasion of Miss Jane AustenThere was probably a lot more to Jane Austen’s story than is generally known, I decided.

First, since most authors draw heavily from people and situations in their own lives, it didn’t seem unreasonable to me that she might have had more real-life experience in the field of romance than the record suggests. Obviously not a married-her-sweetheart-at-twenty-and-lived-happily-ever-after kind of affair. But what about a bitter-sweet romance marked by grand passion, misfortune, and long separation? That would be a better fit. Perhaps something on the order of Persuasion.

Yes! What if Austen actually wrote her last, most poignant novel as a public homage to a very private romance with the man who was the one true love of her life? Soon I was off and running with what would become The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen.

Image result for persuasion by jane austen movieI introduced her to the dashing Captain Devereaux, and they really hit it off. More romance for Jane: check! That’s great, but I still wasn’t content; I desperately wanted it ALL for her. Including the happy ending? How fabulous would that be?

So, that became my new (and audacious) goal – to find a plausible and more pleasing alternative outcome for Jane, something that would fit within the framework of what we know (or think we know) about her life. It would be tricky to pull off – a real challenge. For starters, why would the historical record be wrong? …unless Jane and/or her family had deliberately misled everyone about her fate. But why would they have decided to do that?

I was already well into the book when the answer came to me. Of course! It all made perfect sense! Then everything else fell into place too.

That’s why I no longer have to mourn over an early death for Jane Austen. Instead, I think of her plausible alternative. The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen is my gift to her – to her and to anybody else who prefers a believable fiction to the uncharitable slap of harsh reality. I think Jane would have approved. After all, she subscribed to happy endings too!

What do you think? Do you insist on realism, however bleak? Or would you, like me, prefer to believe Jane Austen met with a better fate? All it takes is a little imagination and a little suspension of disbelief in a good cause. Borrowing a line from Atonement by Ian McEwan…

I like to think that it isn’t weakness or evasion, but a final act of kindness, a stand against oblivion and despair, to let my lovers live and to unite them at the end.


Posted in Austen Variations, Jane Austen, Jane Austen Quotes, life, Shannon Winslow, Shannon Winslow's writing, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A Fresh Place of Interest

“Port Alberni? Where’s that?”

I don’t remember if I actually said those words, but I definitely thought them when I was first invited to attend a Jane Austen festival there July 14 – 16. In case you’re scratching your head and asking yourself the same question, Port Alberni is a community of about 18,000 people at the end of a long fjord on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. As part of the festival, local enthusiasts (a group called the Centennial Belles) had decided to attempt breaking the record for the most people gathered in Regency costume – an ambitious goal considering the modest size and remoteness of the town.

20170720_152941-1_resizedSince I was so warmly invited, since Port Alberni isn’t all that far from Seattle (or so it appears on the map), and since I had the weekend free on my calendar, I decided to go. We could make a mini-vacation of it, I thought. The scenery was sure to be spectacular. I’d have the chance to dress up, talk to people about my books, and soak up the general Jane Austen atmosphere. And with a little luck, my husband might even catch the spirit. Surely he would want to support the record attempt by dressing Regency long enough to be counted. At least I dared to hope so.

We ran into a couple of obstacles, though. First, my passport had expired and, even though we (especially those of us in border states, perhaps) tend to think of Canada as our friendly neighbor to the north, technically it is a foreign country, now requiring official documentation from all visitors. New passport obtained, check.


The other significant obstruction was that body of water between us. It may not look like much on the map, but THERE IS NO BRIDGE, and ferries, although a scenic form of travel, don’t schedule their departure times according my own convenience. We also discovered that traffic jams aren’t only a phenomenon of major metropolitan areas like Seattle; they also occur at 5:00pm on Fridays in smaller population centers with smaller capacity roads, apparently. We persevered, however, and safely arrived in Port Alberni about 9:30pm. Those three inches on the map had somehow translated into about 13 hours of travel.


Helena Korin, me, and Suzan Lauder

Well rested after overnighting at a comfortable B&B, we were ready for the big day. The first event on Saturday morning would be the record attempt, at which I and fellow authors Helena Korin and Suzan Lauder had been invited to display our wares. When the official count came in, there was good news and bad news. Although the 286 total beat last year’s number, it unfortunately fell short of the 409 needed to establish a new record. I thought it an impressive total nonetheless, and everybody seemed to be having a good time.

20170715_123704_resizedThen it was off to the pier for a promenade, which turned out to be a very windy affair. “Hang on to your bonnets!” Next came a Jane Austen inspired lunch (with my first taste of the celebrated “white soup” – quite tasty!), followed by author readings (I did a well-received excerpt from The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen), and very entertaining mini-play versions of Persuasion and Emma.

As with most if not all Jane Austen festivals, this one climaxed with a grand ball in the evening. Although not everybody was an expert dancer, everybody was enthusiastic and having a marvelous time!


This kind of dancing (“country dances” like you see in the movie adaptations) is a lot of fun; it doesn’t require an even number of men and women; and it’s something that can be carried on well into later years. If you want to give it a try, go to a JA festival/convention or look for a Regency dance club in your area.

20170716_124327_resizedSaturday was a very full day, and I slept well that night. A picnic at a local park was the only thing on the schedule for Sunday. Some people went all out for that too, as you can see. Then it was time to do a little sightseeing before saying farewell to Port Alberni and all the friends we made there.


“…and previously there had been a great deal of enjoyment. So much novelty and beauty! I have travelled so little that every fresh place would be interesting to me – but there is real beauty at Lyme… altogether my impressions of the place are very agreeable.” (Persuasion)

20170715_102912-1_resizedYes, we had all the above: a great deal of enjoyment, novelty, beauty, and a fresh place that made an agreeable impression on me.

What would I consider my personal highlight, though?  It had to be finally seeing my husband in full Regency dress (for the first and hopefully not the last time) and having the chance to dance period dances with him. That’s a bit of fantasy fulfillment. Sort of a mature Mr. Darcy or Mr. Knightly, don’t you think?

So thank you, Port Alberni and all my new friends! It was a great weekend!

For a related post on the Jane Austen experience, see my post about attending the 2013 JASNA convention in Minneapolis: Having a Ball…

Posted in Jane Austen, travel, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 11 Comments