Many thanks for inviting me, Maria Grazia – it’s a great pleasure to be here!
My first question is: when and how did your lucky encounter with Jane Austen take place?
If we’re talking ‘first encounters’, like many of us here, I began reading Jane Austen in my teens. Real appreciation, though, came much later. At first, I read her novels for the storyline, but as I grew older, I began to look for context, and reading them in context made me love them so much more!
And then came the 1995 adaptation, which I absolutely adored, not only for the usual reasons – i.e. Colin Firth J - but also for the fantastic attention to detail! Having watched the miniseries, I was left craving for more. Luckily, I came across ‘The Making of Pride and Prejudice’, a book explaining how the 1995 adaptation was put together and I was mesmerised by all the details it mentioned, from the endless hours spent looking for the perfect location, to the countless photographs and sketches done in order to get Lydia’s hairstyle right, or Mr. Bennet’s powdering gown, or the colour and the cut of Darcy’s coat! I was thrilled with the little inside stories too, like Benjamin Whitrow (Mr. Bennet) recounting how the period cook was kind enough to ask for his favourite pudding, so that it could be used in one of the scenes – and how he gorged himself on gooseberry fool during the first, second and third take, only to end up hating the very sight of it by the time that particular scene was finally ‘in the can’!
How did it change your life?
In ways I’ve never anticipated! A deep appreciation of Jane Austen and her works turned into a lifelong passion – some might call it an obsession J. Over the years, I dragged my partially willing family to the beautiful locations and to any other country house that happened to be within reasonable driving distance of our holiday destinations. Actually, some might say that I strongly advocated on the beauties of camping and cycling in Derbyshire because...; or that I thought it might be nice to drive to Lacock because...; or ‘Hey, isn’t this such a lovely stroke of luck? They have a Toy Museum at Sudbury Hall, and wouldn’t the kids just love to spend some time there – and then have a treat in the cafe while mummy goes off to absorb the atmosphere in the Long Gallery, the library, or ‘Pemberley’s music room’?
I’ve been looking for glimpses of the upstairs and downstairs Pemberley in all those beautiful houses, I trawled through second-hand bookshops and libraries in search for letters and diaries of the time, history books and costume plates, cookbooks and illustrations on eighteen-century London – and loved every minute of it!
I only hope I can find enough hours in the day to read all the reference and fan-fiction books I stocked up on!
When did you decide to write a variation of Pride and Prejudice + Persuasion and why did you want to try yourself in such a challenging task?
One of the reasons was that, to the best of my knowledge, this particular angle hasn’t been attempted before, and it’s always tempting to try to come up with something new. The other reason is that I’ve always found that ‘Pride & Prejudice’ and ‘Persuasion’ are by far the most romantic of Jane Austen’s novels! They are also my all-time favourites, so I just had to bring them together!
The story spins away from the original shortly after Hunsford. A broken-hearted Darcy finds a kindred spirit in Miss Anne Elliott, whom he encounters at a family celebration. There is no romantic interest whatsoever, nothing like that at all! To begin with, he is merely grateful to her for understanding and befriending Georgiana, and for helping her regain her confidence and her trust in people. Then, as the close association between the young ladies keeps bringing him into company with Miss Anne, he begins to see that they have a lot in common. Similarities of taste and disposition, the same quiet sense of humour, appreciation of the same books, even the same sense of duty.
The sense of duty is largely what prompts him in the end to make Miss Anne an offer of marriage. He has to provide an heir for Pemberley, and since he can’t have his heart’s desire, he might as well offer for someone with whom he could be content, and whom he could trust to make him a good wife, and be a worthy companion for his sister. Besides, he might be able to do Miss Anne Elliott a good turn, and take her away from a family that does not deserve her.
Honest and uncompromising, Miss Anne confesses that she cannot in good conscience accept his offer, as her heart is otherwise engaged. No names are named and no painful details are given but the two finally disclose that all they can offer one another is the companionship of kindred spirits, and on these grounds only, Miss Anne Elliot accepts.
But then, Darcy learns that the woman he still loves is courted by a dashing naval captain – and the plot begins to thicken!
For my part, just as I found great similarities between Darcy and Anne, I think the same can be said of Elizabeth and Captain Wentworth. Both with attractive, cheerful dispositions; both ready to speak their minds and form strong opinions; both open and plain-speaking, rather than reflective and reserved! Moreover, if he was prepared, in the original story, to give Louisa Musgrove the time of day, wouldn’t Captain Wentworth be drawn to Elizabeth Bennet who has liveliness and charm, but also wit and a great deal of sparkle?
I might be giving the game away now, but I simply can’t go away without saying that all such speculations aside, I am of the firm opinion that any fan-fiction story that separates Elizabeth and Darcy is too depressing, and I could never write that! So, no matter what heartless obstacles are set before them, I think our favourite couple should not be drawn apart!
How much do your Elizabeth /Darcy /Anne / Wentworth differ from the Austen models?
My intention was to keep them as faithful as possible, both to Jane Austen’s originals and to JAFF canon.
In Darcy’s case, I think in this story he is closer to canon than to the mysterious character Miss Austen portrayed. ‘The Subsequent Proposal’ is written from his point of view, and therefore the reader is party to all his heartache and soul-searching but, same as Darcy, is left guessing about other people’s thoughts and feelings – and the same goes for Elizabeth’s feelings as well.
Along with Darcy, the reader might find this Elizabeth a puzzle. She is not the arch, cheerful and teasing Elizabeth of Netherfield and Longbourn, or of Rosings even, before Darcy’s ill-worded proposal. She is closer to the Elizabeth Jane Austen describes in the Derbyshire chapters, when she’d like to talk to him, but “there seems to be an embargo on every subject”; when she thought she would have liked him to join her, Mrs. Gardiner, Georgiana and the Bingley sisters, but when he appears in the drawing room, she begins to regret his arrival. She is subdued and quiet in Darcy’s presence, to the point of appearing shy to those who haven’t met her before, because she doesn’t know what to make of Darcy’s reappearance into her circle, and also because she has seen the error of her ways in having taken him to task regarding Wickham.
As for Anne and Captain Wentworth, little is said about them, as they are not the focus of the story – Darcy and Elizabeth are. Anne and the good Captain are mostly the clear and present threat to Darcy and Elizabeth’s relationship. When the story brings them to the fore though, I have tried to keep them as faithful to the originals as possible.
What is it that you particularly like in Jane Austen’s world?
A very difficult question! There is so much to like! I know most of us tend to romanticise the era, and so much criticism is levelled by social historians at Jane Austen’s novels for glossing over the harsh realities of life, but if we can focus on the lives of her social group or those of Darcy’s peers, then there is indeed a great deal to like about their world! The magic of the self-sufficient country house; the fashion; the balls and assemblies; the fact that any young man worth his salt was supposed to have read the Classics; the music; Gainsborough, Turner and Sir Thomas Lawrence; the unpolluted countryside; London, before the Victorians and the 1960s had their way with it – I could go on forever, but I sense I really shouldn’t LOL!
Your favourite hero/heroine are …
Hero: very, very hard to decide between Mr. Darcy and Mr. Knightley (veering towards the first – don’t we all?!). Heroine: Elizabeth, hands down.
For which of the minor characters would you like to write a spin off? Why?
Jane Fairfax, I think – that is, if she can be considered a minor character!
Why? Partly because so little is said about her, she is just a foil for Emma’s less than appropriate behaviour and petty jealousy. I would like to explore her childhood in Highbury, her time with the Campbells, her encounter with Frank Churchill and her feelings during their secret engagement.
There are so many other minor characters that deserve attention – Henry and Mary Crawford (again, if they can be considered minor), Charlotte, the younger Bennet sisters, Maria Lucas, Anne de Bourgh – but in most cases, brilliant spin-offs on them were done already!
Let’s play Lost in Austen. Which of her novels would you like to end up in?
Eeny-meeny-miny-mo... Pride & Prejudice, of course, what else?
What would you miss the most if you could go back and live in the Regency? What would you be more excited about?
Again, my premise is that we’re talking about going back to the sort of lifestyle Jane Austen’s family and friends had, rather than the life of the scullery maid at Chawton... in which case I think I’d only miss modern medical treatment! Hip baths & corsets and taking 3 days to get to Bath rather than 3 hours I would happily put up with – but the thought of a scalpel & bleeding bowl or ‘blistering plasters’ instead of Paracetamol and antibiotics... [shudder]. Not to mention childbirth, TB, smallpox, or surgery without anaesthetics and antisepsis!
What would I be excited about? Travelling in Jane Austen’s England! If I was to go back as a lady of reasonable means, I’d love to travel everywhere – and the first trip would be to Steventon or Chawton, depending on the year. Not sure how to wing an introduction though! [grin]
Next to that, I would love to chaperone young ladies at balls and assemblies, and giggle behind my fan as I spot various signs of interest between the parties – but unlike Mrs Jennings, I’d at least try to keep my mouth shut!
How would you present your two Austen-inspired works in about 50 words (each) ?
From This Day Forward is a sequel exploring the early years of the Darcys’ marriage, with its gloriously happy times as well as times of heartache and trouble, but no heinous villains or roller-coaster dramas – just what might have happened with our favourite couple, their families and friends, in a context Jane Austen might have recognised.
The Subsequent Proposal is different – no history, but plenty of drama. It’s a fast paced ‘what if?’ story blending Pride & Prejudice with Persuasion. What if, after Hunsford, Darcy offers Anne Elliott a marriage of minds? What if Capt. Wentworth comes home to settle down and meets Elizabeth Bennet rather than Louisa Musgrove?
Very well done! What are you up next? Are you working on another Jane Austen – inspired writing project or something totally different?
I have two more Austen-inspired projects in the pipeline, and I hope to release them later on this year.
One of them is ‘The Second Chance’ – a ‘Pride & Prejudice’ ~ ‘Sense & Sensibility’ variation, previously known, in a different version, as ‘Steady to his Purpose’. I’m currently revising/rewriting it and I hope to release it in Spring 2014. It struck me, all those years ago, when I first started writing this story, that some of Jane Austen’s characters just beg to be allowed to interact, and that they would get on like a house on fire: Mrs Bennet and Mrs Jennings for instance; Elizabeth and Elinor; Darcy and Brandon, even – if there is no conflict of interest in their association.
My other project, ‘The Falmouth Connection’ is a different kind of variation – a more daring one that takes Elizabeth and Darcy out of their comfort zones of tame, reasonably peaceful lives in England and brings them into a world of secrets, on the windswept coasts of Cornwall. No swash-buckling pirates through – this was done so beautifully by another author – but plenty of mysteries and some ‘cloak-and-dagger’ thrown in for good measure!
That’s all! Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions. Best wishes for everything, Joana! We hope to have you back soon as our guest.
It was great fun! Thanks again for having me here, Maria Grazia, and I’d love to come back again sometime! Looking forward to it! All the best and see you soon!
Joana Starnes lives in the south of England with her family.
A medical graduate, over years she had developed a strangely unrelated but nevertheless enduring fascination with Georgian Britain in general and the works of Jane Austen in particular, as well as with the flamboyant set of people who have given the Regency Period its charm and sparkle.
You can connect with Joana on facebook at www.facebook.com/joana.a.starnes; twitter at www.twitter.com/Joana_Starnes and on her website at www.joanastarnes.co.uk
About the books
Inspired by the 1995 BBC adaptation and in its spirit, ‘From This Day Forward’ explores life at Pemberley after Elizabeth Bennet’s marriage to Fitzwilliam Darcy, and follows the couple through the joys and tribulations of their time as they start their life together, nurture and guide Georgiana in her attempts to find her own path and see their friends and family follow the destiny which, according to family recollections, Jane Austen hinted at.
On a crisp winter morning in a small country church, Miss Elizabeth Bennet married Mr Darcy – and her quiet, tame existence abruptly changed. The second daughter of a country gentleman is now many different things, to different people. Beloved wife. Mistress of a dauntingly great estate. Reluctant socialite. Daughter. Sister. Cousin. Friend. Her world is very different too, touched by a series of events that the creator of ‘Pride & Prejudice’ would have recognised. And as the days of her married life go by, bringing both joy and turmoil, the man that stands beside her is her shelter and comfort in the face of family opposition, peril and heartbreak. Three very different Christmas seasons come to serve as landmarks to their lives and there are blissful days and times of sorrow at the old English country house. And before too long, a time would come when Darcy must decide if he is prepared to risk everything for the sake of a full life together - or succumb to the collection of his fears.
In ‘The Subsequent Proposal’, a number of broken-hearted characters from Jane Austen’s most romantic novels are thrown together by the vagaries of fate, and all manner of unwise decisions are taken at this vulnerable time. But then their past creeps up upon them – and what is there to do but face it, and hope that their convoluted paths would lead them to their proper place?
Friends, rivals, foes, wrong choices and a duel – Fitzwilliam Darcy’s life is never dull! ‘The Subsequent Proposal’, a story that is primarily about him, follows Mr. Darcy in his struggles to decipher the troubling enigma of Elizabeth Bennet’s feelings – and correct the worst misjudgement of his life!
Read an excerpt – from ‘The Subsequent Proposal’
They could not lag behind for very long – Darcy could scarce doubt it. Still, he could not deny himself the exquisite enjoyment of revelling for a few moments more in the delightful picture Elizabeth presented, her countenance glowing from the sun and the exertion as she looked around at the astounding prospect, the loose tendrils that framed her beloved face swaying lightly in the gentle summer breeze.
With a sigh, Darcy took on the role of the devil’s advocate.
“We should return to the others,” he offered, and she concurred with a slight nod, then walked back towards him, and they both rejoined the path.
She did not take his arm, nor did he dare offer. Mindful of the precious moments of privacy slipping away from them again, he spoke up, only to discover that they had both begun at once.
“Before we do, though, pray allow me to apologise – ”
“Mr. Darcy, I must assure you – ”
“Pray, continue,” he civilly offered, but she shook her head and wordlessly indicated that he should have his say first.
“I beg leave to apologise for my earlier abruptness… I did not wish to offend!”
“Think nothing of it! Mr. Darcy, it appears that in recent times we have done nothing but repeatedly apologise to each other,” she added, but the wistfulness was mingled with a trace of the adorable archness of old, and he smiled despite himself to hear it. “For my part,” she continued, “I wanted to assure you that I merely wished to thank you for your generous intervention on behalf of a foolish young girl, to whom you owed nothing!”
‘Elizabeth, it was for you. For you alone I think and plan! Have you not seen this? Can you still fail to understand my wishes?’
The forbidden words filled his heart, his senses, and for a moment he thought they had escaped.
They had not – and before too long he would have to utter some half-truth or other, regarding his history with Wickham, and his resulting duty to prevent him from harming other innocents.
It did not come to pass. Engrossed in each other and in the intense moment, none of them looked down to notice the protruding root, nor the stone it had loosened. At her sudden false step and small cry of alarm, Darcy’s arm shot out instinctively to steady her, and prevent her from slipping behind the large rhododendrons, down the steep side of the hill.
Later on, he was to make a great deal of effort to persuade himself that he had merely aimed to grasp her arm. That it had not been his intention to wrap his own around her waist instead. That it had not been his conscious scheme, in any way whatever, if she was suddenly gathered to his chest, warm and safe, and close to him, as close as in his desperate, hopeless dreams. Her eyes intent on his, deep enough for drowning. Her lips mere inches from his own. And everything stood still, even the hazy air full of heady promise, as intoxicating as her warm weight in his arms.
He swallowed, knowing that in a moment it would go to his head. In a moment, the world beyond the merciful screen of rhododendrons would cease to exist, and his lips would hungrily claim hers, and he would taste at last the sweetness he had dreamt of. Her breath, her skin, her scent. He would let his lips roam over her translucent skin, glowing from the sunshine and from the deeper, inner glow of a sudden blush. And find her lips again, as he knew he must, and make up for every second of denial, every second of pretence!
The very air between them seemed charged with expectation, seemed to crackle and tingle – or perhaps it was the blood-rush, violent and forceful, that was making him hear things that were not there, as he teetered precariously on this side of abandonment, every drumming of his pulse pushing him closer to the edge.
Perfect, perfect, perfect. Exquisite and perfect. Body and soul his other half, in every way!
Dark eyes with specs of amber searching his in earnest – and softening at something they must have found therein. Her breath coming faster, warm upon his cheek, in small, rapid puffs of air that soothed and burned at once. The scent of her sun-kissed skin filling his senses, close, maddeningly close, and more intoxicating than the finest wine.
He took a deep breath, as though after a long time underwater – and the sound of it shattered the all too dangerous spell. The next moment, dark lashes fluttered over the dark eyes and he felt her endeavour to step back, so he reluctantly released her. His gloved hand lingered on her elbow as he asked – so blatantly unnecessarily that he would have blushed for it, had he been able to spare it a thought:
“Are you quite safe?”
“Yes. Yes, I am. I thank you,” came the faltering reply, and they were still close enough for her breath to brush over his face again, sending another rush of fire-needles along already tingling nerves.
His hand tightened on her elbow, this time without intention – and, at her swift glance, he let it drop. She made to carefully step away and resume her descent, but before she could do so, he reached out and offered his outstretched hand.
“Allow me,” he said quietly.
She hesitated. Briefly. Yet in the end she placed her small gloved hand in his. And now he had his earlier wish. He was holding her hand, her fingers gripping his now and again, at some occasional unevenness of ground. But it was not enough, not by a fair margin! He wanted more now. He wanted so much more!
He would not speak – he could not speak – and the recollection of the heady bliss that had been his, only a few short moments in the past, only increased the agonising dread of the impending separation.
He could have kissed her. The overwhelming thought brought back the needles and the rush of fire. Yet, underneath and largely unheeded, reason clamoured that, to have done so without the power to offer his hand in marriage once more, in the same breath, he would have injured her in the worst way imaginable.
It was a while until cold reason could prevail, as the surest way to subdue his disappointment.
Another disappointment lay in store. Halfway down from the rhododendron bush, Captain Wentworth was waiting – and this time Darcy could not miss the sheer hatred in the stony glare. His countenance, however, softened beyond recognition when he turned to Elizabeth and offered his hale hand.
“I must beg forgiveness for my inattention, Miss Bennet, it was most remiss of me. Would you allow me? I thank you, Sir,” he added with the scantest bow to Darcy, “for your eagerness to supplant me in my duties. May I observe that I am here now – and I should imagine you might wish to see to your own!”
The man had a horribly valid point and, although seething, Darcy could scarce dispute it. For her part, Elizabeth cast a glance from one of her companions to the other and seemed as though she was about to comment on the Captain’s terse words but, for some reason, thought better of it. Before too long, in any case, they had rejoined the others, and found the Gardiners in pleasant conversation with their eldest niece, Mr. Bingley and Georgiana, while Lady Russell stood at the side of a quiet Anne, looking distinctly unimpressed with the morning’s outcome.
“Ah! Mr. Darcy! I hope you have enjoyed your walk, Sir,” she observed blandly, once he had joined the rest of the party. “Reluctant as I am to trespass on your kindness, I fear I must ask you to escort us home. This walk was a great deal longer than I expected. What say you, Anne? Are you ready to return?”
“If you are in need of rest, Ma’am, then by all means, let us do so,” Anne calmly replied, giving no further indication of her own thoughts on the matter.
It was readily apparent which way his duty lay, and Darcy had no option but pursue it. Adieus were swift and to the point, and there was no opportunity for voicing future plans – not that he could think of any.
The parties separated, each choosing its own path – and Darcy walked away in a daze of longing and despair. He had caught the vaguest glimpse of her upon his departure – a glance, a curtsy – and too many had been in the way, in every sense of the word. Yet it was not merely the parting’s bitter sorrow that weighed down his steps and pierced his heart.
The chance encounter in the gardens had suggested that Bingley and Miss Bennet were indeed in the right – not that he ever should have had the folly of disputing the views of Elizabeth’s dearest and closest sister. Whatever Elizabeth may have thought of him, she was not indifferent – nor was she irrevocably set against him any longer.
The notion that would have given him cause to fervently thank his maker just four months in the past was now a source of anguish and of the deepest heartache.
It was the cruellest torture to think that, had he been able to offer himself to her again, at that glorious moment on the Mount, by now he might have been engaged to Elizabeth Bennet.
He could scarce bear to walk away from her, that morning. How could he bear to walk away for the rest of his life?
He could scarce think – and yet he had to find a way, he had to!
Merciful heavens, there had be a way of rectifying the very worst misjudgement of his life!