Saturday 9 November 2019


Have you seen ITV Sanditon?  Have you rewatched it countless times on ITV Hub and started longing for series two? We have a cure for your withdrawal symptoms:  a novelisation of Andrew Davies' script, which will gratify your wish to discover  more about the characters and the story you love.

If you are you still watching it - in Australia or South Africa,  for instance - you maybe want to wait on to avoid spoilers or ... maybe not. 
If you are in the States, you must be patient because Sanditon is coming soon: it will premiere on PBS Masterpiece on 12 January  2020!

Kate Riordan is the brilliant historical fiction writer who accepted to work on Andrew Davies' (and Justin Young's!) script and to follow in Jane Austen's footsteps to tell the rest of the story.

Kate kindly accepted to answer a few questions and be my guest at My Jane Austen Book Club today and I want to thank her very much indeed for a great interview.  Read on!

Hello and welcome at My Jane Austen Book Club, Kate. Let's open our chat talking about your first encounter with Jane Austen. When was it? How was it? Love at first sight? Wrong first impressions?

My first proper encounter with Jane Austen was actually on telly (dare I admit that?!). I was a teenager when Andrew Davies’ classic adaptation of Pride and Prejudice was aired and I just found it so absorbing and accessible and fun. I’d assumed Austen was a bit stuffy; someone I ought to read. After that, I wanted to read her and haven’t looked back. When the opportunity came up to novelise Andrew Davies’ scripts for Sanditon, I couldn’t resist. It just seemed very serendipitous.

I bet it did! How did you feel following in  Jane Austen’s footsteps when you were asked to complete her Sanditon?

If I’d thought too much about that, I would have been too intimidated to start. From the beginning, although I obviously loved the Austen connection and felt honoured to have anything to do with her work, I tried to view Sanditon as a collaboration between Jane and Andrew Davies, with me coming in as a distant third. She gifted us this tantalising fragment but it’s very much its own thing now. I deliberately didn’t read the other completed Sanditons either - I just thought it would be so confusing. 

How much freedom did you have with the extra scenes and thoughts you wrote that weren’t in the series? Did they need to be approved by the writers of the series?

The deadline for this was necessarily very tight and so while I hoped to write some extra scenes in full - and that was a possibility contractually, I believe - there just wasn’t enough time to really explore that. Also, the length of the novel was a consideration and because Andrew’s scripts were so packed with action and multiple plot strands, it would have been a HUGE book if I’d expanded freely. I believe there is some dialogue that was probably cut from the drama for pace/timing reasons, which has survived in the novel, which is nice. (I’m sure the fans will spot this!) Obviously I also had the opportunity to get inside characters’ heads in a way that’s tricky to convey on television. Someone I spoke to on Twitter (a paid-up member of the Sanditon Sisterhood, I believe), mentioned that the drama had mostly been shot from Charlotte’s point of view, and of course I got to be in Sidney’s head too, as well as Tom’s and Esther’s and others’. I think, from the perspective of Charlotte and Sidney’s love story, readers have enjoyed this aspect of the novel because it opens up Sidney a little - we see more of his vulnerability in the book, perhaps.

Did you know who had been cast for Sanditon the TV series while writing the book? And did you figure out the  characters in your mind like the actors in the cast or did you picture them differently?

I found out who had been cast quite early on and this was hugely helpful when I was writing. I had already read the scripts first though, so it was interesting googling the actors who’d been cast and comparing them to how I’d imagined them in my head. It was particularly eerie with Charlotte (Rose Williams) and Sidney (Theo James) because they were just how I’d imagined them. Esther (Charlotte Spencer) was another one: I just thought ‘yes, she’s absolutely Esther’.

Now, a crucial question, do you think the TV script was true to Jane Austen?

I think it’s true to the spirit of Jane Austen and particularly the Regency period. We forget how much racier it was before the Victorians and, while Jane Austen was much more coy than Andrew Davies’ scripts, a lot of the sex stuff is in there if you look. Think of Lydia and Wickham shacking up together in London when she’s only 16! We all know what Lydia being ‘ruined’ means… What works really well in Sanditon is that while those saucier elements are very much there, we are mainly seeing the action through Charlotte’s eyes and she’s a perfect Austen heroine: spirited, intelligent but also innocent. I think she’s a great counter-balance to the raunch!

As a writer this is your first novel set in the Regency. Did you work on much research? And did you discover anything you didn’t know or anything somehow particularly interesting?

I’ve learnt with my other historical novels that a little period colour and detail goes a long way. If the language is reasonably authentic, for instance, you don’t need to go to town with exactly what buckled shoes people were wearing. With fiction you're telling a story - entertaining more than educating - and I think too much research can get in the way. It ends up feeling shoe-horned in. That said, I am a big fan of Georgette Heyer, who did meticulous research. There is a huge amount in her books (much more than Jane Austen) about dress and manners and of course slang (I love the slang and insults!), and yet it never seems to get in the way. But then Heyer was a genius.

Which characters did you like the best while writing?

Of course I loved Charlotte - who wouldn’t? - and Lady Denham was hilarious (I love Austen’s redoubtable older ladies generally), but I had a real soft spot for Esther Denham and was really rooting for her and Babington. I just thought she was such a lovely blend of brittle and vulnerable. I loved how Babington saw through all her bravado and kept trying to win her over. I know lots of people were unhappy with the end because the Charlotte and Sidney strand wasn’t resolved, but I loved the last section because Esther got her happy ending in the best possible way. I also loved Arthur Parker and thought Turlough Convery was absolutely right for the part. On the slightly more negative side, I quite wanted to strangle Tom at times! Mary is a saint to put up with him…

Do you have a favourite Austen heroine and hero? What do you most appreciate in them?

To go back to my formative experience of watching Pride and Prejudice on BBC, I would have to say Lizzie Bennett. She was my first Austen heroine and I have stayed loyal to her. She’s funny, bright and resourceful - no wonder she was Mr Bennett’s favourite. I actually made Charlotte her own father’s favourite as a nod to Lizzie (it wasn’t in the script!). As for heroes, it’s hard to beat Darcy because he’s just such an honourable man beneath the awkward and seemingly arrogant surface.  The same goes for Colonel Brandon in Sense and Sensibility. The trouble is, like Marianne, I would probably have fallen for a Willoughby type and so perhaps Sidney Parker is a kind of ideal Austen hero. He’s arrogant and difficult but he’s also very charming when he wants to be, with a good heart underneath it all. A bit of a devastating combination!

Which scene was most fun and which one was the hardest to write?

The cricket scene was hard to write as an action scene with lots of characters doing different things at the same time. Moving people about in a way that doesn’t jar too horribly isn’t very easy. On television, it’s so easy to cut from scene to scene but in a novel it’s too disruptive. Quite a lot of the work, in fact, was joining up short scenes so that readers weren’t jolted around too much. Remember I was writing blind too - I didn’t see any footage before the book was written - and in fact in the first draft, the cricket match was played in a field. Babington’s proposal was also originally set on the beach, so I had to do some speedy editing there. Another tricky scene was the - ahem - liaison in the parkland of Lady D's house, when Charlotte witnesses Clara and Edward ‘up to no good’. I said to my husband, ‘oh lord, I’ve got to write someone ****ing someone else off in the woods IN A JANE AUSTEN BOOK!’ Haha! As for fun scenes, I really enjoyed writing the London bits because Charlotte was completely out of her comfort zone and I could insert some nice gritty description of the bawdy house and Seven Stars pub.

So you watched the TV drama series after finishing the novelisation. When you did it and saw how the cast played the characters you had written about, what was your reaction?

They were - luckily - very much as I’d imagined them. Perhaps Tom was slightly different. I think Kris Marshall played him a little more seriously than I had imagined, so there might be a difference there. My Tom is a bit more boyish and eager to please, which goes a long way to appease Mary when he does something irresponsible. But generally, there were no huge surprises, which is down to the combination of a good script and a good cast I got a glimpse at early on. While actually seeing the characters come to life on screen was surprisingly un-surreal, some of the locations were quite different to what I’d imagined. I’d been to the set in Bristol and seen the main Sanditon street - Tom’s house, the hotel and shops etc - as well as all the interiors (I thought Lady D’s drawing room looked like it was filmed at Blenheim Palace or somewhere; I was amazed it had been built from scratch), but the outdoor shots of Willingden, for instance, were more windswept and moor-like than they had been in my head. I actually thought the series was beautifully filmed throughout: a real pleasure to look at.

Is there a scene you would want to rewrite now after watching the series?

I think, given how fans have connected with and responded to the Sidney/Charlotte romance, I would give them even more space and time to think about each other!

If you didn’t have to follow Andrew Davies’ script, would you have written a different completion of Jane Austen’s fragment? How different?

Well, if I had been writing a one-off completed story, I would have resolved the Charlotte and Sidney question. Of course I would! That’s what a reader of Austen would expect. I think I would have given Tom a harder time too, probably via Mary, but I believe Andrew Davies has hinted about that in his ideas for a further series (if they get the green light!).

Fingers crossed they did! Now, let’s move to a game I like to play with my Janeite guests is … imagine you ended up living in one of Austen’s novels, which one would it be and why?

I’d happily live at Longbourn in Pride and Prejudice because it always sounds quite homely and not too vast and freezing, like some of the big estates. But I’d also love to go back in time and see Bath as it was in Jane Austen’s day. I lived there for a little while and, in the evening there out of season, when all the tourists had gone home for the day, it had such an amazing atmosphere. I always half-expected to turn a corner and see someone being handed up into their carriage, on their way to a ball at the Assembly Rooms… So I suppose I would have to dive into Persuasion or Northanger Abbey so I could spend some time hanging out there.

And if you could travel back to the Georgian/Regency Era what would you be most excited to experience and what would you miss the most from our contemporary world?

I would love to go to a ball! No one ever gets that dressed up anymore, let alone dances, and it would just be magical. But those empire-line dresses with their tiny cap sleeves and open necklines… I would really miss central heating. I’m always cold!

What are you working on at present? Any new book coming out?

My next novel is called The Heatwave, and will be published by Penguin in May 2020. Moving between the 1970s and 1990s and set in the south of France, it tells the story of a mother and her toxic relationship with her daughter. It’s very different from Sanditon, as you can probably tell, but I really enjoyed writing something more contemporary.

And my final question must be: would you gladly write the novelisation of a sequel to Sanditon,  should the  series be recommissioned? 

If the timings worked and Orion wanted to commission me again, then of course I would! I want to see what happens to Charlotte and Sidney as much as anyone…

About the author

Kate Riordan is a writer and journalist from England. Her first job was as an editorial assistant at the Guardian newspaper, followed by a stint as deputy editor for the lifestyle section of London bible, Time Out magazine.

After becoming a freelancer, she left London behind and moved to the beautiful Cotswolds in order to write her first novel, 'Birdcage Walk'. Her second novel, a haunting dual narrative story set in the 1930s and 1890s will be published by Penguin in January 2015 as 'The Girl in the Photograph'. 

In February, HarperCollins will publish the same book as 'Fiercombe Manor' in the US and Canada. She is now at work on her third novel, another dual narrative story full of intrigue and secrets, but this time set in the 1870s and 1920s, and about the lives of two very different governesses.

About the Book

A novelisation of ITV's lavish period drama, Sanditon, adapted for television by Emmy and BAFTA-Award winning writer Andrew Davies and based on Jane Austen's unfinished novel.
When a chance accident transports Charlotte Heywood to the seaside town of Sanditon, her life changes forever. And when she meets the charming and slightly wild Sidney Parker, she finds herself caught up in a whirlwind of romance, betrayal and changing alliances - nobody in Sanditon is quite as they seem.
Discover the world Jane Austen left behind and meet the characters brought to the page by Kate Riordan. Every coastal town has its secrets - but Sanditon has more than most!


Jane Odiwe said...

I love Kate Riordan's novels and I look forward to reading this latest book! if you haven't read her books you're missing a great treat-highly recommend.

Christina Boyd said...

I can’t wait to see it on this side of the pond in January. I hope that it gets the green light for season 2.

What a remarkable opportunity to write the novelization—and to have Andrew Davies write your foreword! Well done.

Terrific interview, Maria!

Maria Grazia said...

Glad you liked it, Christine. 😊
I really hope you'll like Sanditon the tv series when it premieres in the USA. I got completely hooked, though only after episode 3 😉 I'll be waiting for your reaction and comments.

Maria Grazia said...

I haven't but I will as soon as possible. Now I'm focusing on her last, I mean her novelization of Sanditon. Thanks for dropping by and commenting, Jane! 😘

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