I’m only joking, I’ve never actually been asked that, but, along with Shakespeare and Dickens, everyone expects an English author to be very knowledgeable about everything any of these writers has ever written…especially when you’re a high school English teacher as well! However, Austen is an undeniable part of my cultural heritage and an important part of what makes me as a writer.
I’ve visited Austen’s home in Alton, I’ve toured the museum, I’ve walked the streets of Bath and Lyme Regis; heck, I even know someone who had a Jane Austen themed hen party! Yes, I think that Colin Firth is the superior Darcy. Yes, Knightley would be the character I’d choose to marry. Yes, I think that Mrs Bennett would have been insufferable as a mother. And this is what I love about Austen; we get so drawn into her characters and their lives.
But, as a writer, there are five lessons I’ve learned from Jane Austen that carry through into my own novel, Curve:
- Second, third, fourth readings should be at least as good as the first. It’s all about crafting the details until they are smooth and almost unnoticeable on a first reading. The hours spent redrafting and editing hopefully mean this has worked for me too!
- Writers write best about the world they know best. I’m a small-town girl at heart, like Jane, so it makes sense that is the world I would set my first novel in. Visiting places Austen lived helped me to see how much she really knew these places.
- It’s OK to be the nice, quiet one. Characters like Elinor Dashwood and Mr Knightley rightly get their happy ending; just because it was a little less dramatic, doesn’t make it any less fulfilling. I wanted my main character to be a quiet, hardworking Everygirl; definitely more Elinor than Marianne!
- Young women face pressure on all fronts. The types of pressure might have been different, but it’s always been harder to be a girl. Cass, my main character, faces a really dark experience. Let’s not shy away from admitting that the world is still not yet equal.
- You can’t choose your family! Austen created some amazingly funny characters in family members of the main characters, but she also showed the tensions and friction in many families. Yes, Cass’s family is rather more modern in their make-up and issues but family is family.
Jane Austen is always going to be popular, whether because of yet another film adaptation of Pride and Prejudice or because of an updated version like The Jane Austen Book Club. Her writing is universal. It tells of love, life and family…and we’re all interested in that.