When was your first encounter with Jane Austen and her world? What was it like?
My first encounter with Austen was reading Pride & Prejudice in high school. I was one of those nerd who would read the whole book the day it was assigned, even if we were only expected to read a few chapters at a time. So I devoured P&P, and then moved onto her other works, and eventually found a few completions of Sanditon, which opened the door to fanfics for me.
You’ve written several Pride and Prejudice variations. Is it because that is your favourite Jane Austen novel? If not, which is your best favourite Austen work and why?
I do love Pride & Prejudice, but most of my variations feature characters from other Austen novels as well. I actually love Emma best out of all Austen’s works. Sense & Sensibility is a close second for me, but Emma just stands out from all her other works. Austen acknowledged that Emma was her least likeable heroine (ahem, Fanny Price, just sayin….) but I like to think about what Jane Austen must have been thinking as she was writing these timeless characters. So often, I will be writing something really sassy or snarky, and just crack myself up, and I like to imagine Austen doing the same. I can just picture her laughing to herself at some of the fantastic dialogue and character flaws she gives Emma, or Miss Bates’ nonsense – there’s just so much folly, and I feel like Austen must have had a great time thinking it all up.
Do you have a favourite screen adaptation of Pride and Prejudice? Did it help you to figure out the characters in your mind while writing Five Daughters Out at Once and your other P&P variations?
I have a tough time choosing between the 1995 and the 2005 variations; it varies from one character to the next as to which film I imagine. Lizzy, Bingley, Mr. Collins, and Mr. Bennet I usually imagine from the 1995 films. Jane, Darcy, Mrs. Bennet, Caroline Bingley, and Charlotte Lucas are usually their 2005 selves in my mind. Some characters, Like Lady Catherine and Colonel Fitzwilliam, can vary based on what they’re like in any given novel. This is going to sound a little crazy, but my inspiration for this Lady Catherine, fierce but generally benevolent, was based on Megan Follows’ portrayal of Catherine di Medici in Reign – I do have my quips with that show but the shade throwing is on point.
Is there an Austen heroine you particularly relate to? And do you have a favourite Austen hero?
I think I relate most to Marianne Dashwood. She’s emotional and romantic, she’s not sorry for it, and she doesn’t care about social convention. I also absolutely love her arc – she shoes the most self-improvement of any Austen heroine, and it’s not a man that makes her better, but her own discernment, and her amazing sister. I also love that she learns to examine the difference between what she wants and what she needs in a relationship, which is really a timeless concept. As for my favorite hero, its probably a tie between Henry Tilney and Mr. Knightley. Books are my love language, and Tilney is all about that, and he’s got some great sass too. But Knightley! He’s got a big heart, encourages people to be their best selves, and has a great blend of independence and sociability – he only needs to get a little snarkier to Mrs. Elton to be quite perfect.
Can you tell us which scene in the Five Daughters Out at Once you had the most fun to write?
Oh gosh, I had so much fun with this one, it’s hard to choose! There’s some pretty whimsical stuff in the epilogue I had fun with, a scene where Lady Catherine goes off on Mr. Collins that was lots of fun too, and in a very different way I enjoyed Jane’s emotional scene toward the end of the book. Also, all of the Charlotte scenes. The excerpt I am sharing today is also one I really enjoyed – it’s got some great Lady Catherine banter and Darcy angst.
How exciting is it to listen to the audio version of your own books?
I love it! It’s still hard to believe, when I listen to then, that I actually wrote those words, it’s just such a surreal feeling. With ‘Five Daughters’ especially, being able to sit back and listen pulled me right back into the story as I had imagined it in my mind when I was writing, and all of the voices fit so perfectly. There’s a but where Mr. Collins walks from Longbourn to Netherfield and he sounds so hilariously out of breath, all of the characters come to life in such a delightful way.
INTERVIEW WITH ACTOR STEVIE ZIMMERMAN
When was your first encounter with Jane Austen and her world? What was it like?
I was required to read all six major novels in a two week period for my English Literature studies at college. I thought they were boring and banal – I completely missed her voice and just read the boy meets girl, everyone gets married story. Then I did the same thing again about a year later, and all was revealed. I had to write a thesis about Persuasion and it got my highest grade for any paper I wrote!
It’s been so long since I read the original P&P and I’ve now narrated hundreds of variations, prequels, sequels and extensions it’s hard to remember the original. I keep meaning to do so again.
What fun was it to read a Pride and Prejudice Variation?
I am always amazed at the creativity of Austen variation writers. Jayne’s book is especially complex as it includes characters from more than one Austen book. As a narrator that was a challenge as there are quite a few young men who are of roughly similar classes, ages, types etc across the books, likewise young women, so distinguishing them vocally is tricky – and fun!
Do you have a favourite screen adaptation of Pride and Prejudice? Did it help you to figure out the characters in your mind while reading Five Daughters Out at Once?
I think the BBC series with Jennifer Ehle is hard to beat, although it looks a bit dated in itself now. I watched it with my husband who had no idea how the story ended – it was great to see it through his eyes and see his surprise that Lizzy and Darcy ended up together!
For Five Daughters, I have developed vocal styles and characteristics for all the original P&P characters, everyone from Collins to Kitty, Lady C and Mrs B. So I tend to keep them the same, and unrelated to the series I think. But of course there are always other characters and in Jayne’s book, so many!
Which is your favourite among the five sisters? Why?
I have a bit of a soft spot for Kitty. She’s so much fun to voice as she speaks before thinking and is so spoilt.
What is the most rewarding aspect of working on an audiobook? And what is, instead, the hardest part of the job?
I enjoy finding distinctive voices for individual characters, even if they are in many respects similar. Darcy, Colonel Fitzwilliam and Bingley are all pretty similar in terms of age and class, but I try to give them distinct characteristics. Slight differences in tone help to distinguish for example Aunt Gardiner or Mrs B. The hardest is dealing with the occasional bad author. It happens! Some people just write bad sentences, or misuse the language. Or simply have stupid stories. Not too often but it is frustrating.
READ AN EXCERPT
Miss Mary had already wandered away to examine the stacks of books still piled in the center of the room. She opened the cover of one, perceived her father’s name plate inside, and looked up in happy astonishment. “These are from Longbourn!”
Miss Lydia and Miss Catherine clustered around her, followed by Georgiana and Miss Bennet, and Darcy watched with a swelling heart as they all began to talk over one another with genuine joy. His aunt looked from Darcy to Richard, and then back to Darcy – he could see her silently decide at last that it had been his notion, and with a nod of her head she gave her silent approbation.
Darcy moved closer to address his aunt. “I do not mean to seem inquisitive, Aunt, but have you not acquired five Bennet sisters? I fear you have left one behind in the village.”
She answered his jest with a wry smile and said, “Miss Lizzy did not come to Meryton with us – she went to call on her particular friend at Lucas Lodge.”
Richard dropped the stack of books he was carrying and Miss Lydia let out a loud squawk, for she had been following him so closely that she was obliged to jump backward as the books spilled out of his arms. Miss Mary was also standing nearby, and she tried to catch some of the books as they fell, but she only collided with her sister, startling Miss Catherine into a sudden fit of coughing. Georgiana observed them all with indecorous laughter, and Miss Bennet let out a faint gasp of surprise.
“Richard, for Heaven’s sake, let the footmen do that – there is no need for such exertion, when you do not excel in your pursuit,” Lady Catherine said. “Jane, my dear, I am sure Hill said that Lizzy had already returned – but she cannot sulk in her room again!”
“I am sure she would be delighted to see such a sight as this,” Miss Bennet replied. “I shall go and fetch her directly.”
As Miss Bennet hurried from the room, Richard recovered himself and came to stand beside Darcy. “I hope nothing has distressed her.”
Lady Catherine curled her lips. “Miss Lizzy is shilly-shallying about some moral quandary of her own invention – it is really quite shocking, and I am sorry to see her brought so low in spirit by a man utterly inferior in every regard.”
“Indeed!” Richard affected a pose of concern, but gave his cousin a sly wink.
“If she would only put it out of her mind,” their aunt huffed. “I have never let such things vex me, and I am sure I should not have gotten half so far in the world if I had! Truly, I have never observed such fastidious conscience amongst the upper classes, and I would be quite put out if I ever did.”
“You refer to her dealings at Longbourn?”
“Indeed, Fitzwilliam. I appreciate her intrepid endeavors all the more for how they have confounded Mr. Collins, though I should rather have been spared hearing of his indignation first-hand. That odious man cannot be permitted to continue accosting every lady in the county – we encountered one Mrs. Perkins in the village today, who was another recipient of his wrath, poor woman! And she told us that the blackguard tried to impose himself on poor Miss Lucas – he actually asked her to marry him.”
“Who has proposed to Miss Lucas?” Elizabeth entered the room with wide eyes and a pert smile, and came to stand next to Darcy as Richard started coughing and retreated to the open window.
“I knew all this dust was an ill thing,” Lady Catherine cried.
“Who has proposed to Charlotte? I just left her a few hours ago,” Elizabeth said. With charming curiosity, she laid her hand on Lady Catherine’s arm and leaned in closer to the woman. “I understand she refused two proposals in her younger days, though we were not so well acquainted then, and I had not the liberty of an intimate friend, in demanding to know all her nearest concerns. But if there has been a third, I am surely entitled now to hear every particular.” She grinned at her own irreverence, and for a moment she met Darcy’s eye, giving him some share in her mirth, before recollecting herself.
“I am sure your affection for your friend must compel you to rejoice that you shall not be obliged to call her cousin,” Lady Catherine said drily.
“Mr. Collins!” Elizabeth gasped.
“The poor man is quite at his wits’ end, it seems,” Lady Catherine sniffed. “But we had better say no more about it – if she would not confide in you, I am sure it would only embarrass her to discover that we know of it at all. I should not like her to be uncomfortable at dinner – but do say she will be joining us!”
“It took rather more persuasion than I had anticipated, but I begin to see why,” Elizabeth replied. Her bright eyes met Darcy’s once more, and he desperately wished he might say something profound enough to hold her attention.
Before he could speak, Miss Bennet was calling Elizabeth’s attention away from them. “Lizzy, look!”
Elizabeth darted away to join her elder sister, and she cried out with delight as she realized what she was being shown. Darcy was content to watch her react to his peace offering. She ran her hands reverently over several stacks of books, and upon seeing one that put an especially tender smile upon her face, she lifted it up and leaned in just a little to smell the aged pages. She looked up then, her eyes moist and sparkling as she cradled the book; she perceived Darcy staring at her. Her cheeks flushed pink and she abruptly spun around to speak with Miss Lydia and Georgiana, still clutching the volume of poetry tightly to her chest.
Richard moved to join Darcy and their aunt again; for a minute they silently observed the young ladies chattering over so many dusty old tomes, and Darcy began to understand why his aunt had taken such pleasure in becoming the Bennet sisters’ benefactress. Their liveliness was a spectacle unlike the daily life he had been accustomed to, but there was an endearing quality to the chaotic way the sisters all interacted with one another. Already Georgiana had been pulled into their orbit, and she appeared so glad to be a part of their hubbub that Darcy considered he might be willing to overlook some degree of impropriety for the sake of his sister’s happiness – for the happiness of them all.
Darcy smiled to himself as Elizabeth bid the footmen to allow her to arrange the books as she liked – she declared they must be sorted by subject and placed on the shelves as near to the way they had been at Longbourn as she could manage. “Not too neatly,” she laughed as Miss Bennet swatted at her. “There must be some little disarray, for pictures of perfection make me sick and wicked.”
Elizabeth’s wide smile was augmented by some tears of joy, and in such a state of bliss, she turned toward Darcy and his relations once more. “I cannot recall when I was last so utterly and pleasantly surprised,” she cried – but this effusion was addressed to his aunt, and not Darcy.
Lady Catherine seemed not to mind Elizabeth’s error, and stepped forward to be further acknowledged. Elizabeth kissed her on the cheek and then, in an impulsive gesture, she threw her arms around the dowager, letting out a breathy giggle. “I should never have thought of such a thing myself – but now it seems just what I needed to lift my spirits. Ah, but I am such a watering pot!”
Elizabeth dabbed at her eyes with her fingertips for a moment, and then reached into her pocket and retrieved a handkerchief – one that looked all too familiar to Darcy. After wiping her cheeks, Elizabeth seemed to recollect herself; she looked at Darcy’s handkerchief in some confusion and stuffed it back into her pocket. Her eyes met his but for a moment before she abruptly quit the room, carrying with her a volume of Coleridge and a small but significant piece of Darcy’s inexplicably shattered heart.