Monday 19 September 2016


“This guide steers away from lists of how-tos, filling a niche for readers and writers who are as interested in experiencing the journey to better writing as arriving at the destination.” Library Journal

The Jane Austen WritersClub is out tomorrow in the US! It is the first creative writing guide to look at the methods and devices used by the world's most beloved novelist.

Here Rebecca Smith examines the major aspects of writing fiction—plotting, characterization, openings and endings, dialogue, settings, and writing methods—sharing the advice Austen gave in letters to her aspiring novelist nieces and nephew, and providing many and varied exercises for writers to try, using examples from Austen's work. These include:

Show your character doing the thing he or she most loves doing. In the opening scene of Persuasion, Sir Walter Elliot looks himself up in the Baronetage, which is the Regency equivalent of Googling oneself. That single scene gives us a clear understanding of the kind of man he is and sets up the plot.
·          Send a character our wearing something that they have no choice about or something that will be disapproved of or get the wrong sort of attention. Develop the characters of the observers too, such asAusten does in Mansfield Park when Mr. Rushworth shows how pleased he is by the opportunity to wear a silly costume for the theatricals.

Rebecca Smith is the author of three novels published by Bloomsbury: The Bluebird Café (2001), Happy Birthday and All That (2003), and A Bit of Earth (2006). Barbara Trapido called her “the perfect English miniaturist.”

Rebecca studied History at the University of Southampton and is now a Teaching Fellow in English and Creative Writing there. From autumn 2009 until summer 2010, Rebecca was the Writer in Residence atJane Austen's House Museum in Chawton, Hampshire; she continues to work closely with the Museum. She is also the author of Jane Austen's Guide to Modern Life's Dilemmas, published in 2012. She is JaneAusten's great great great great great niece.

Rebecca granted me a short interview about writing and teaching creative writing, how she came to publish this new guide and, of course, her great great great great great aunt, Jane Austen! 

Rebecca Smith
The Jane Austen Writers Club is your  second non-fiction publication based on Jane Austen’s work after Jane Austen's Guide to Modern Life's Dilemmas (2012) . It is a creative writing guide based on  Jane Austen’s letters, novels and juvenilia.  Why Jane Austen? What can she especially teach us about the job of writing?

I’m sure your readers will agree that Jane Austen is one of the greatest, probably the greatest novelist of all time. Her novels enchant, move and delight two hundred years after they were first published. Her work is so complex and such a joy to read. It just made sense to look at her methods and the way she lived her life – those things which (along with her genius) made her such a great writer. She understood human beings so well and captures exactly what it is like to be in love, to be part of a complicated family, to be bullied, to get things wrong...the list goes on and on. Her writing is so precise and she is so good at comedy and dialogue.
   I was the Writer in Residence at Jane Austen’s House Museum and have run lots of writing workshops there – the book has grown from that. I also teach creative writing at the University of Southampton in Hampshire, England. I’ve noticed that books on writing tend to use examples from 20th and 21st century literature.  I’ve learnt so much from Jane’s novels and letters and the hundreds of happy hours I’ve spent at the Museum. I wanted to put that into a book. 

How similar and how different is it being a writer at present or in Jane Austen’s times? 

It’s very similar. Jane had to keep working through difficult times and faced rejection and disappointment.
   What is different is that when she was starting out she couldn’t, or felt that she shouldn’t, act for herself. She had to rely on her father and Henry to act as her agents. In some ways this may have been a choice as some other female novelists at the time were much more in the public eye. It was her father who first contacted publishers on her behalf and Henry who helped her to retrieve Susan (later Northanger Abbey) from the publishers who had been sitting on it for years.
   I often wonder how she must have felt when James and Henry went to Oxford. Did she wish that she could go to university? Her brothers, with the exception of George, travelled abroad. She must have longed to see more of the world too – think of Catherine Morland talking about the south of France.  Things are much better for women now, in the UK anyway but definitely not everywhere.

Among the many tips, methods and devices you included in your book, could you pick up the three golden Austen rules to be a good writer?

  1. Read. We know that Jane was a voracious and ominvorous reader.
  2. Keep working and don’t give up. Jane was serious about writing for twenty years before she was published.
  3. Push yourself and experiment. Jane Austen was a poineer in her use of language,  the way that she utlized free indirect narration and point of view, and in the things she chose to write about. She kept challenging herself – look at the list of her heroines in the order she created them. She kept trying to do things differently.  She opened her novels in so many different ways and kept exploring different themes.
While reading Jane Austen’s  letters and researching her writings and life for your new book, did you discover anything about her that you didn’t know or expect?

I changed the way that I thought about her years in Bath. The traditional view was that those years hadn’t been very productive. Professor  Kathryn Sutherland’s book Jane Austen’s Textual Lives is really illuminating. I’ve learnt al lot from that and from her brilliant talks at jane Austen’s House Museum. The Bath years were very hard with Mr Austen’s death and the frequent moves, but Jane kept working, just not as fast or productively as she did during her much happier Chawton period.

Many academics consider “Emma” Jane Austen’s  best written achievement, her masterpiece. Do you agree with them?  

I love all her novels, but yes. I often wish that I hadn’t read Emma so that I could have the pleasure of reading it for the first time and being surprised at what is revealed. The passage where Emma looks out from Ford’s and observes everyday life in Highbury and then sees Frank Churchill and Mrs Weston approaching and assumes that they are on their way to Hartfield to visit her is one of my favourite in all literature. I think Jane Austen would have done a little more with Persuasion if she hadn’t been ill.

Let’s play “what if…” , Rebecca. What kind of novels would she have written, if she had lived in Hampshire now? Well, and would she have lived in Hampshire, do you think?

That’s tricky. It’s impossible to think about the contemporary novel without Jane Austen’s influence! My guess is that her novels would still have contemporary settings and be about love and complicated families and have plenty of humour and irony. In a letter dated April 1st, 1816 she told James Stanier Clark, the Prince Rejent’s Librarian “... I must keep to my own style and go on in my own way...I am convinced that I should totally fail in any other.”
   She did her best work in the tranquillity of the Hampshire countryside, but who knows? I hope so, then I’d be more likely to meet her. Her life would have been very  different if she’d had different opportunities. Perhaps she’d be a Professor of English or Music as well as being a novelist.

As a writer, what do you particularly envy Jane Austen? 

 Her genius, of course.  I’m lucky to have a big supportive family like hers. I wish my house was like Chawton Cottage and that my garden looked like hers. I’d like a writing box like Jane’s too. But seriously, imagine creating characters as well loved as Jane’s. 

Thanks a lot, Rebecca, for taking the time to answer my questions. Gook luck with your writing and your teaching!

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Anna said...

This sounds fantastic!

dstoutholcomb said...

this sounds like a wonderful resource book!


Vicki H said...

I'm really looking forward to reading this soon.

Danielle said...

This sounds like a great book, I can't wait to read more. Thanks for the giveaway!

Sonja said...

I look forward to the tips and tricks! Sounds really interesting!

Kirk said...

Very interesting! Thx for posting.

Kirk said...

Very interesting! Thx for posting.

Just Jane 1813 said...

Thanks for the post. I just bought this one tonight, it looked too good to pass up!!