Jane Austen commenced writing The Watsons over two hundred years ago, putting it aside unfinished, never to return and complete it. Now, Rose Servitova, author of acclaimed humour title, The Longbourn Letters: The Correspondence between Mr Collins and Mr Bennet has finished Austen’s manuscript in a manner true to Austen’s style and wit.
The Watsons' Blog Tour starts today here at My Jane Austen Book Club with an interview with Rose Servitova. Join us in the discussion in the comment section below the post. Whether you've read Jane Austen's fragment or not, we'd love to hear from you.
Hello and welcome to our online Austen Book Club, Rose. Let's start from a question about you as a reader. What was the first book you read as a child that had a lasting impression on you?
My grandmother had lovely nursery rhyme books that I believe she read to her own children in the 1940s and 1950s and then went on to read to her grandchildren in the 1970s. My favorite was ‘How do you like to go up in a Swing?’ by Robert Louis Stevenson. I remember so vividly an aunt reading it to me over and over because it was my favorite rhyme.
When did you discover that you wanted to be a writer?
I did not really have a time when I said aloud ‘I want to be a writer’ but I believe the signs were always there. I wished so badly to be Jo March from Little Women and I always worked in bookshops and libraries. I secretly wrote short essays and funny poetry and surrounded myself with writers and artists. I believe the first time it hit home was when I attended a literary event in 2014 at which writers were discussing their books and everything about it felt so familiar that I guessed I had better try at least and see where it took me.
What was the best writing advice you ever received?
There is too much – I was like a sponge for the first year or two of writing, attending every event I could, listening to writers talk about their craft and taking from it those pieces of advice that resonated with me (and ignoring the rest). By meeting and listening to so many writers I realized that learning to trust yourself is one of the most important skills to master and that has helped me in just about every aspect of writing, editing and speaking. I also came to the conclusion that they too were finding their way - exploring and discovering what worked best for them etc… it was a lesson in getting to know yourself and trusting in creativity.
What was the first Jane Austen novel that you read? What were your first impressions?
It was, of course, Pride and Prejudice. I was probably dumbfounded by her observations and character development. I’m still in awe of it. Naturally, as a young teenager, it was the love stories that first caught my attention but on re-reading it again and again over the years, it was every subtle detail, every witty comment and all the wonderful minor characters that brought me joy. Like so many other Austen fans, it was my steady, constant comfort-blanket over the years.
After your success with your first novel, The Longbourn Letters (2017), were you encouraged to write a second Austenesque novel?
Not at first. I was attempting to write a humor novel in the style of P.G. Wodehouse. I had a very minor character in The Longbourn Letters called Captain McCarthy who marries Maria Lucas. All we know of him in that novel is that he is a soldier whom Mr Bennet approves of, for he once heard him gargle ‘God Save the King’ with astonishing clarity. I decided to give him a back story but as I wrote it (during a time of great stress in my life) it was not working. I finally realized that in order for it to work, his loyal steed, the horse, would need dialogue and decided that I had finally lost my marbles and had better step away from that story. Just at that moment, I was at Bath on a trip to their annual festival and in learning more of Austen’s unfinished works, I decided I might attempt to finish The Watsons and hence returned once more to Austenesque.
Since The Watsons is an unfinished fragment, it is not as widely read as Austen’s more popular novels such as Pride and Prejudice or Emma. Why were you attracted to it?
To be honest, it was the first of the two unfinished novels I read and I decided to complete it, having read it. However, when I had my first draft written I read Sanditon and was so relieved that I had not read it first as it was much more polished and ridiculous/humorous in tone and I would not have given The Watsons a second glance, had I read Sanditon first. As ITV had then announced that Andrew Davis was working on a screen adaptation of Sanditon, I was relieved that it was The Watsons I had chosen. Having read The Watsons, I could see why Virginia Woolf had alluded to it being a scanty, unpolished first draft and I knew that in many ways I could make the transition from her fragment to my finishing, more seamless as it held so much potential.
Why do you think Jane Austen set aside The Watsons and did not return to it?
Most people believe it is because the circumstances of which she wrote in The Watsons – a group of sisters (without wealth) possibly becoming fully dependent on their brothers if their clergyman father died and they were unwed, was too close to her own life story. In a case of life imitating art, her father George Austen died not long after (1805), leaving the women of the household moving from house to house in Bath, their standard of living sinking with each move they were forced to make and becoming dependent on her brothers. There is also a theory that Austen was not particularly happy in Bath and that she wrote most and best when happily settled in the countryside i.e. Steventon or Chawton. I suppose a sense of security and contentedness are something that all writers seek in order to feel safe to pursue a writer’s life. Who knows but she may have intended to return to The Watsons in time but her untimely death prevented her doing so.
Completing another author’s work is a daunting task. How did you approach writing The Watsons, and were there challenges to completing Jane Austen’s story?
My vision from the start was to complete The Watsons in a manner that would have one think it had just been discovered beneath the floorboards at Chawton Cottage. There was never a question of me taking off in a flight of fancy, introducing zombies or time machines. I love fantasy and science fiction but it was my intention, for this work, to remain rooted in realism and continue loyal to the existing text, style and plot up to the point at which Austen had finished it. The challenge was not in the fragment but in it being Jane Austen. With such a legacy as Austen’s, it is safe to say that her work is almost untouchable – certainly to go so close to her own words as to attempt to finish them for her, might be considered madness in some quarters. That is the challenge but also the great reward when one finishes it and is happy with how it turned out.
What was one of the most interesting or inspiring things you learned while you were writing The Watsons?
I knew before that much of my writing style was similar to Austen’s i.e. concentration on dialogue and character with very, very little description of any sort. Now when I read other fiction, I’m struck with how nature, smells or a character’s movements are described in minute detail. Austen cut to the chase – a character enters a room and says such-and-such to another character and we are often left to fill in many of the details ourselves.
What do you like to do when you are not writing?
Walking country roads near where I live or just walking in nature generally. I have young children and treasure the time I spend with them as it is flying past so fast. Travel has always been a passion. I enjoy doing some form of meditation daily.
Can you share any hints or insights about your next writing project?
When I read Sanditon, I sketched an outline as to how I would envision it ending. Over the last year, I’ve been adding to it here and there whenever a character develops more fully or a possible conflict arises in my mind. Out of the half-baked projects in my head, finishing Sanditon, if only for myself and sticking it in a drawer, is the one I can definitely see myself tackling. Otherwise, I love non-fiction and essays and I’d like to delve into those too.
About the book
Can she honour her family and stay true to herself?
Emma Watson returns to her family home after fourteen years with her wealthy and indulgent aunt. Now more refined than her siblings, Emma is shocked by her sisters’ flagrant and desperate attempts to ensnare a husband. To the surprise of the neighbourhood, Emma immediately attracts the attention of eligible suitors – notably the socially awkward Lord Osborne, heir to Osborne Castle – who could provide her with a home and high status if she is left with neither after her father’s death. Soon Emma finds herself navigating a world of unfamiliar social mores, making missteps that could affect the rest of her life. How can she make amends for the wrongs she is seen to have committed without betraying her own sense of what is right?
“A gift for Austen fans everywhere – full of wit, informed imagination and palpable affection for Austen’s characters.” — Natalie Jenner, author of The Jane Austen Society
“Very satisfying, sometimes moving and often laugh-out-loud hilarious.” — Jane Austen Regency World Magazine
About the author
Irish author Rose Servitova is an award-winning humor writer, event manager, and job coach for people with special needs. Her debut novel, The Longbourn Letters – The Correspondence between Mr. Collins & Mr. Bennet, described as a ‘literary triumph’, has received international acclaim since its publication in 2017. Rose enjoys talking at literary events, drinking tea and walking on Irish country roads. She lives in County Limerick with her husband, two young children and three indifferent cats. Follow her on , and .
THE WATSONS BLOG TOUR SCHEDULE
November 18 My Jane Austen Book Club (Interview)
November 18 (Review)
November 19 (Excerpt)
November 20 (Review)
November 20 (Review)
November 21 (Review)
November 22 (Spotlight)
November 25 (Excerpt)
November 25 (Interview)
November 26 (Excerpt)
November 27 (Review)
November 27 (Spotlight)
November 28 (Review)
November 29 (Excerpt)
November 29 (Review)