Monday, 29 March 2021

A MOST CLEVER GIRL BLOG TOUR: TALKING JANE AUSTEN WITH ... JASMINE A. STIRLING

 


Hello Jasmine and welcome to My Jane Austen Book Club! My first question for you is “When was your first encounter with Jane Austen”?

I first fell in love with Jane Austen while reading Persuasion at age nineteen while studying abroad as an associate member of Keble College at the University of Oxford.

Soon thereafter, I read Pride and Prejudice and Mansfield Park. In all three instances, I was struck by Austen’s realistic heroines. It was the first time I had ever encountered female characters in any novel that seemed so relatable—so like me, in fact! I loved seeing complicated, bookish, outspoken, flawed women change and grow through the course of each novel.

Congratulations on the release of your lovely picture book biography of our beloved author, A Most Clever Girl: How Jane Austen Discovered Her Voice. Did you discover something curious or relevant about little Jane while writing your new book?

Your readers might be interested to know that, from age 11 or earlier, Jane Austen was an unabashed rebel on paper (and sometimes in real life, too). Although her father was a clergyman, and educated girls at that time were expected to be demure and submissive, neither of her parents discouraged the downright shocking, even amoral parodies that young Jane wrote featuring suicide, adultery, drunkeness and murder. In my book, I choose child-friendly examples from her early work, but rest assured that these are tamer than some of what you will find there!

Jane started showing her writing talent very soon in her life. Were you also a young girl who loved writing ?

I was! As a child, I wrote prolifically. From the age of three, I regularly composed poems in my head and dictated them to my mother to write down. I wrote throughout my childhood and into my young adult life. But as an adult, I stopped writing completely, until a few years ago, when I began my first creative writing project—a picture book biography of Jane Austen. 

In hindsight, I wish I had understood more about how creative achievement works. I think it would have motivated me to carve out time for writing during those years, even when I struggled with where to begin.

Why did you choose to focus on Jane Austen?

When I set out to write this book, I chose Jane Austen because I admire her life and her work, and because I believe she is one of the most misunderstood women in history.  Jane Austen was far from being the prim, prudish, “dear Aunt Jane” depicted by her brother Henry and her nephew Edward in their biographies of the author.  She is also far from being an author of swoony romances, as we are sometimes led to believe.

These discrepancies between the popular image of Austen and the real Jane Austen gripped me. I wanted to help young people understand Austen the rebel, Austen the humorist, and Austen the artist, so that when they encountered her work later on, they might better be able to fully appreciate and enjoy it.

However, as I delved into my research, it became clear that Jane Austen was a perfect subject for a children’s book about creativity and persistence, because her upbringing, life struggles, and triumphs tell us a great deal about what a writer needs in order to fully master her craft.

Of course, I still hope that A Most Clever Girl will help kids relate to the real Jane Austen and encourage them to pick up her novels when they get a little older.

Is there a special message you want to convey to your readers in this book?

A Most Clever Girl is about the process of creative mastery. It’s about all those boring, mundane aspects of creative achievement that our culture doesn’t like to talk about—being rooted in place, having community support, getting consistent feedback, having time, money, and a room of one’s own, discipline, and maturity—which are critical for an artist to bloom.

My hope is that if children (and adults!) study and learn more about how someone becomes a great writer—or animator, or game designer, or hip hop artist—it will give them insight into how to nurture their own talents to greatness.

The message, I hope, is an empowering one. If one begins a project and it isn’t coming out quite as nicely as one expected, do not despair! Set aside ninety minutes each day before or after school or work and keep at it. Find your community. Get feedback. Advocate for the time and space necessary to improve. Be patient.

Although Jane Austen had written drafts of her most famous and beloved novels by her mid 20s, it was not until more than a decade later that she had fully developed her voice as a writer. In fact, by the time Austen had mastered her craft, she had been writing for more than a quarter of a century.

In short, creative mastery is not born of a flash of inspiration. Inspiration plays a part, but not the major part, in any creative endeavor.

Do you have a favourite Austen novel? And who are your favourite heroine and hero?

I love all of Austen’s work, but my favorite Austen novels are Persuasion and Pride and Prejudice. My favorite heroine is Lizzy Bennet, because of her sparkling wit and outspokenness. But my favorite hero is Captain Wentworth, because he is a self-made man full of good sense and practicality, and because he is the best letter writer in the history of English literature. 

How has Jane Austen inspired you?

One way in which Austen inspires me is in her ability to create literature that is fun and escapist and yet anything but light. I am dazzled by Austen’s depth and skill as an artist, and love that she challenges our notion that great art must be a moody, dark, and bitter tonic.  

Austen, like Shakespeare, is able to work simultaneously on many levels at once. While distracting us with her perfect sentences and tidy plotlines, she entertains and amuses while also viciously satirizing patriarchy, the church, the aristocracy, and conventional views of women. Her characters are of her time and yet distinctively modern. 

I love that Austen was a champion of balancing both reason and emotion in all of life’s major decisions. She is perennially relevant, offering each new generation corrective wisdom without being gauche or overbearing. 

What was your research process for A Most Clever Girl?

One of the things that I think is unique about A Most Clever Girl among children’s books is it’s liberal use of and reliance on primary sources. Austen’s letters are used to describe details of her life in three spreads. Actual examples from her juvenilia are referenced right at the beginning of the book. Quotes from her novels are sprinkled liberally throughout the text (in italics) to describe Austen’s own creative journey. Every detail, from what young Jane is reading in the second spread to what she thought about her how brother James cut up his turkey, is grounded in a primary source and laid out on an accurate timeline. 

Each decision I made was carefully considered, often in agonizing detail. For example, several biographies state that Austen fainted upon hearing the news that the family would move to Bath. On further investigation, I concluded that, based on the primary sources used to develop this theory, this might not have occurred. So although I had included it in an early draft, I wrote it out later on. The last thing a biographer for children wants to do is to perpetuate inaccurate information about someone in history. 

Is there anything else you would like to share?

I’d love to encourage readers to buy this book! Then buy more copies and give them for the next few years at birthday parties and to your Austen-loving friends—children and grown-ups alike.

A Most Clever Girl was seven  years in the making and offers a richness, in its themes and dynamic illustrations, that sets it apart. This is a book to treasure, talk about, and pass down through generations.

Introduce your children to Jane Austen with this book. Talk about Austen the rebel, Austen the genius, Austen the humorist, Austen the champion of both reason and emotion. Talk to them about persistence and creative mastery and all the things that go into making great art. Talk with them about feminism, and the fact that wives in Regency England had no control over their money, their bodies, their lives, or the fate of their children. Tell them about how Jane Austen bucked every expectation for women of her time by choosing to be a spinster and a writer. Encourage them to be bawdy and racy and dark and edgy when they are developing their voice. Austen was, even though she was a teenage girl living at a time when the pressure on girls to be docile and dull was overwhelmingly intense. Tell them not to put off their dreams—Jane Austen died at age 41.

Hold out your hand and take them on this journey!

About the book

Witty and mischievous Jane Austen grew up in a house overflowing with words. As a young girl, she delighted in making her family laugh with tales that poked fun at the popular novels of her time, stories that featured fragile ladies and ridiculous plots. Before long, Jane was writing her own stories-uproariously funny ones, using all the details of her life in a country village as inspiration.

In times of joy, Jane’s words burst from her pen. But after facing sorrow and loss, she wondered if she’d ever write again. Jane realized her writing would not be truly her own until she found her unique voice. She didn’t know it then, but that voice would go on to capture readers’ hearts and minds for generations to come. 


Buy the book on Amazon or at Bookshop.org


About the author

Jasmine A. Stirling is the debut author of A Most Clever Girl: How Jane Austen Discovered Her Voice, a picture book biography of Jane Austen about persistence and creative mastery. Jasmine lives on a cheerful street in San Francisco with her husband, two daughters, and their dog. From a young age, she loved to write poems and stories and worked her way through nearly every children’s book (and quite a few for grownups, too) in her local library. When she’s not writing, Jasmine can be found hiking in the fog, singing songs from old musicals, and fiddling with her camera.

Jasmine first fell in love with Jane Austen as a student at Oxford, where she read her favorite of Jane’s six masterful novels, Persuasion. A Most Clever Girl is her dream project, done with her dream team—award-winning illustrator Vesper Stamper and Bloomsbury Children’s Publishing. Jasmine also has a YA/New Adult history of the women's suffrage movement out soon, titled We Demand An Equal Voice.

Visit www.jasmineastirling.com to get a free Jane Austen paper doll kit with the purchase of A Most Clever Girl. While you're there, enter to win a Regency tea party gift basket!

Follow Jasmine on Instagram and Facebook @jasmine.a.stirling.author where she posts about kidlit and life with two young girls.

 GIVEAWAY

The giveaway begins March 16, 2021, at 12:01 A.M. MT

and ends April 16, 2021, at 11:59 P.M. MT

6 comments:

Charlotte said...

What a fun book, I’m a huge Jane Austen fan!! And I also love writing poems. Started a bit later than you did though. What a fantastic idea to let your mom write them down. She must have been so proud of you :D

Danielle said...

I teach children so I can think of no better book to introduce them to the lovely Jane Austen. So excited for this book!

dstoutholcomb said...

this looks like a great book and a fun prize!

denise

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