Monday, March 10, 2014

Author Interview - Melanie Kerr

I have on the blog today, Canadian author Melanie Kerr, whose latest release Follies Past is Jane Austen fan fiction, a prequel to the Regency classic Pride and Prejudice.
Good morning, Melanie, and thank you for taking the time to appear on the blog today.

1.    When did you first become fascinated by Jane Austen and which of her novels is your favourite after Pride and Prejudice? 

A friend gave me Pride and Prejudice in university, about 15 years ago. She had read it in a literature class and thought I would like it. She was right;  I couldn’t put it down. When I look back on it, I remember sort of imagining it in a modern setting, because I didn’t have any references for the aesthetic of the period. I hadn’t seen any of the movies and didn’t know what anything would have looked like. I have, over time, come to love all Jane Austen’s work, and to develop a fascination for the period, which is consistent with my lifelong love of petticoats and pastoral imagery, but my first encounter with Jane Austen didn’t involve any of that, and I loved it anyway.
After Pride and Prejudice, I would have to say my favourite is Persuasion. It may be the letter that Captain Wentworth writes to Anne that seals it. 

2.    There are a lot of Jane Austen fan fiction books out there. What is different about yours?

The first Fan Fiction book I read was a sequel to Pride and Prejudice, and I quickly decided that I did not like sequels. One of the things I love best about Jane Austen is her endings. They tie up like a bow on a present, and leave the reader feeling satisfied and happy. And everyone gets to imagine what happens after happily ever after. With a prequel, the story we love is all yet to come; it all still leads to the same happy ending.

In the case of Follies Past, the facts of the story are supplied by Jane Austen herself, so I felt more comfortable telling it. There was much less speculation involved because Austen gave us the main points of the plot.

Also, my background is in linguistics and English language, and I took the word use and the syntax very seriously. To me, it was very important that there be no anachronisms in the language or in the portrayal of the period generally. Having the benefit of my educational background gave me, I think, something of an advantage in that respect.

3.    What is it about Jane Austen’s characters that makes them so compelling for you as an author? So much so that you want to create another world for them to exist in?

Jane Austen develops her characters so masterfully that I felt like I could just run with them. In fact, most of the characters in my novel are actually minor characters in Pride and Prejudice, and even they had a lot of the work already done in terms of fleshing them out. One of the most impressive elements of Austen’s skill as a writer is her ability to tell so much with so few words. Despite her sentences being longer than what modern readers might be used to, she manages to convey volumes in a single turn of phrase some times. So, when it came to the characters I was dealing with, they may have only been in a few scenes, but in that short space, Jane Austen gave me so much to work with. That is not to say there are no surprises, that I didn’t have a bit of fun filling in what we don’t know from Pride and Prejudice, or in creating characters of my own.

Melanie Kerr

4.    Which Jane Austen novel do you wish you’d written and how would you have done it differently?  
I don’t think I could say I would have done anything differently in any of them. That would be blasphemy. Pride and Prejudice really is so skilfully done, so perfectly crafted, I think anyone would wish they had written that, or that they could ever hope to write something so exceptional.
Some fan fiction authors have explored the possibility of different outcomes if different things had happened in the novels. I particularly enjoy the television series Lost in Austen, which takes a look at what might have happened if Lizzy were not at Longbourn when Mr. Bingley moved to Netherfield. I think this is enjoyable, however, not so much because Pride and Prejudice would have been better without Lizzy but because we are all so familiar with the original, and it is so entertaining to play with the story, but even more so because we all long to find a door in our bathroom leading into our favourite book.

5.    If you could have dinner with one of Jane Austen’s characters, who would it be and why?

Surely there could be nothing more amusing than dinner with Mr. Collins. But really, so many of Austen’s characters are distasteful, albeit in an entertaining way, but I’m not sure many of them are people I would voluntarily spend time with for fun. I would probably be friends with the sensible heroines, like Anne Elliot and Eleanor Dashwood, but for dinner, I am going to say Colonel Brandon, though that may actually be because of my abiding love for Alan Rickman.

6.    Bearing in mind no one writes without loving it – which part of the writing process do you dislike?
Without a doubt, it would be the editing process. I kept wanting to write to my editor and explain myself, defend my choices, but really, if I am paying him to be unbiased, and he still misses the point, how can I expect total strangers to follow me? In the end, my editor really made me look at my work from a different perspective, and by the end, I was amazed how quickly I was willing to trash my baby once its flaws had been pointed out. 

7.    [Not quite a spoiler alert – but close] I think most fans of Jane Austen would agree with me when I say I had a shaky moment when I reached the part in Follies Past where Fitzwilliam Darcy actually considers making Caroline Bingley his wife – a clever plot device and how/why did you come up with it?
If you look at how Caroline is written in Pride and Prejudice, you might find, as I did, that she is not that different from Elizabeth, except that Elizabeth is not a snob, and has an affectionate and honest heart. Both are supposed to be attractive, and clever, and a bit outspoken. Caroline likes to tease Darcy, to form quick judgments of people and to show off. Elizabeth does all these things, but because she is the underdog, and because we like her, we admire these qualities, whereas in Caroline they are detestable to the reader and to Mr. Darcy, as we see is in those early scenes at Pemberley in Follies Past.

Disclaimer: The rest of my answer might not make sense if you haven’t read the book.
Caroline’s whole involvement in the plot is a bit cheeky on my part, but I just couldn’t resist once the idea struck me. I just had to write it because it made me laugh out loud and clap my hands, and I think it led to some good drama. Of course, Caroline is mistaken in her perception of Darcy’s regard for her, but once she finds love, she stops trying so hard, and that is the sort of irony. When we are not trying to be loved, we are our most attractive. 

Of course, Darcy doesn’t actually plan to propose to Caroline yet. He just thinks maybe he has been too hasty in discounting her as an option. He is intrigued. And I had in my mind this image of Lord Ashwell filling Darcy in on the truth, without Caroline knowing why Darcy suddenly lost interest. It leaves her with hope, though it can never be fulfilled because she is heartless and mean and Darcy knows it. 

8.    What’s the most important lesson you have learned about writing since you began?  
Probably that I don’t have to try as hard as I thought I did, by which I mean, sometimes less is more. Not every line has to be a pun or a riddle. Just telling the story is enough. And that showing and not telling takes a lot of work.

9.    For your own reading pleasure, do you prefer e-books or traditional novels?
I don’t have an eReader. I mostly just read books that people put in my hands, which usually only happens with paper books. Having never had an eReader, I can’t really compare.

10.    I am sure readers would be interested to know if you have any more novels in the pipeline along the same lines. If so, do give us some clues.
I am planning a couple, actually. I really like prequels, and I have spent so long in the Regency, with researching the period and studying the language, that I think I will do some more. I am currently brewing a prequel to Sense and Sensibility. There are several possible stories to tell there, so I will keep the mystery alive and leave it at that.
I am also planning one day to write an epic trilogy, which I have also begun to plan out in my head. I will only say that it has nothing to do with Austen, but it will probably be years before I get to it.

11.    This is your first novel, so what made you choose to self-publish rather than go the usual agent/publisher route?
Both routes are a lot of work. Finding a good agent, and then getting a publisher involves the sort of work that I hate, as in selling myself to strangers. The work involved in self-publishing seemed a lot more appealing. I get to interact more directly with my readers. I made my own film-style trailers, which was incredibly thrilling, and I get to keep all the royalties.

12.    What would you say are the main advantages and disadvantages of self-publishing against being published or vice versa?
Maintaining control and earning higher royalties per book are, I think, the advantages of self-publishing. Also, the turnaround is faster, and I am very impatient. I wanted to get the book out right away, and maybe that was actually a disadvantage because I probably should have done all sorts of things first. The advantages of traditional publishing are that you get paid up front and someone else does much of the work. Also, you get instant distribution, and some people take you more seriously, though I think that is changing, somewhat. Traditional media still doesn’t pay much attention to self-publishers.

13.    And finally, please tell us about Follies Past, where we can find it, and more about you:

About the book:

Caroline Bingley is convinced of Mr. Darcy’s affection and determined to convert his regard into advantageous matrimony as swiftly as propriety will allow. Young Georgiana Darcy has just been taken from the innocent seclusion of her country school, and is about to be sent off to face the rigours of town, to complete her education in all the ways of society before entering upon it. Mr. Darcy intends an alliance between his young charge and his closest and most affable companion, Mr. Bingley, who, in all his self-effacement, betrays no knowledge of the scheme. Colonel Fitzwilliam has his own ideas about Georgiana’s future, while Lady Catherine regards the whole affair with all the disdain and suspicion befitting of her rank.

As the cast turn their faces to London, to that mire of all things perilous and enticing in the way of public balls and morning calls, one gentleman awaits them with all the charm and breeding that a handsome face and merciless ambition can beget. 

200 years after the publication of Pride and Prejudice, this new novel treats readers to the complete and dramatic history of Mr. Darcy and Mr. Wickham.  To read it is to step back into the charming world of Jane Austen’s England, to pass a few more hours with some of her beloved characters, sympathetically portrayed as they might have been before ever they came to Netherfield. With language convincingly reminiscent of Austen herself, and a meticulously-researched Regency setting, Follies Past is the book Austen fans have been waiting for.

Follies Past is available on Amazon and More information, including the trailers, is available at 

About me:
I am a mother of 2 young boys, a lawyer and a definite Anglophile. I studied linguistics, English language and theatre at the University of British Columbia and Law at the University of Alberta. I live in Edmonton, Canada, where I dream of England’s green hills and stone cottages, and force my friends to drink out of china tea cups and eat cucumber sandwiches. I have a closet full of Regency costumes that I made for myself and my friends, and I always use a semi-colon when I can.

Melanie's Blog
Amazon Author Page 

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