Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Blog Tour & Guest Post of Rebecca Ann Collins's My Cousin Caroline

My Cousin Caroline (The Pemberley Chronicles, #6)

I'm excited to participate in the Blog Tour for My Cousin Caroline by Rebecca Ann Collins and to share a post from Rebecca where she talks about her love for Jane Austen's work and how she began her wonderful Pemberly Chronicles!

Without further ado, welcome Rebecca!!

Thank you for inviting me to contribute to your blog site, Gaby. I’m pleased to be here!

I first read Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility when I was 12 years old and fell in love with the characters and style of Jane Austen. I was very fortunate in my English teacher, who not only encouraged my interest, but also let me use her library, which was a veritable treasure house of material about Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, Mrs Gaskell, George Elliot and the era in which they lived and wrote, 19th century England. I read everything that I could lay my hands on and progressed also to Charles Dickens, who is my next most favourite English novelist. At University, I pursued this fascination by specializing in the literature of this period and over the years I have accumulated an immense amount of literature and related information, which helped me understand the themes and characters in the novels, but also to appreciate the manners, morals and world view of the writers who created them. It has been a most rewarding study, but I had never contemplated writing a sequel to any one of them.

It was in 1996, after the BBC’s magnificent TV production had brought us Miss Austen’s masterpiece, that I first came upon the phenomenon of modern sequels to Pride and Prejudice. I was presented with a couple of books which claimed that they were sequels to Pride and Prejudice. To my surprise, Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy had been transformed into players in a Regency soap opera, whom I felt Jane Austen would never have recognised as her own! Quite incredible that Jane Austen’s beloved Darcy and Elizabeth had morphed into these strange new re-imagined people!

Having fulminated about this to no avail, I was finally persuaded by a literary friend to try to write a genuine sequel to Pride and Prejudice—using the resources I had collected over the years as well as my own creative imagination, which is how I started work—mainly as a labour of love and with little hope of publication, on The Pemberley Chronicles, the first volume in the Pemberley series.

I saw it as a means of extending the lives and stories of Jane Austen’s characters into the dynamic, challenging environment of 19th century England, placing them in context and observing how they coped with events in their own lives as well as the consequences of profound social and political change, affecting the lives of all the people of England. A sort of “Life after Meryton,” if you will.

Since I wasn’t chasing a particular “market” or meeting a deadline, I could take my time developing the characters and storylines that would be needed for such an exercise, using the main characters of Jane Austen’s original novel and others, family and friends, who needed to be added to the cast of The Pemberley Chronicles. The title came to me quite naturally, because that was what it was all about- I was simply recording the “chronicles” of a number of related families- the Bennets, Darcys, Bingleys and Gardiners, who in Pride and Prejudice, had been linked by family and friendship. Using the pen name of “Rebecca Ann Collins” (a relation to Mr. Collins) to suggest an internal narrator rather than a complete outsider as storyteller, also helped to add a level of credibility and verisimilitude.

As I developed the stories of the Pemberley families into the second and later the third generation, I needed to introduce new characters, and they came in various ways: by marriage, through business, political and cultural contacts and occasionally by a happy accident of fate. This gave me all the flexibility I needed to extend the range and variety of my cast of characters. Creating the right characters to suit the context was not difficult, because my reading and research had given me plenty of scope and as the plot developed, my familiarity with the period and what was happening in society at the time made it easy to pick the person to suit the situation. I enjoyed the exercise of finding the right characters and giving them the appropriate names- since these were limited by certain conventions and traditions of the period. How these new characters behaved was a matter for me, since they were mine rather than Jane Austen’s and the only limitation on my imagination was relevance and credibility. It was a most exhilarating experience and as the books were published, the response of my readers suggested that they enjoyed the results of my work.

In my sequels, I do my best to maintain integrity of Jane Austen’s characters and develop their stories, as far as possible, within the guidelines she has left us in her work and letters. So, Darcy, Elizabeth, Jane, Bingley, Lydia, Wickham, Georgiana Darcy, Mr and Mrs Bennet, The Gardiners, Mr Collins, Charlotte Lucas, Lady Catherine even Mrs Reynolds, the housekeeper- all remain recognisably as they were in the original novel. Of course, they grow older, change and mature as we all do, and their actions reflect this, but they don’t behave in ways that cannot be reasonably and logically justified. I believe this is important when writing a sequel, because it imposes a useful discipline on the sequel writer—to retain a strong link with the original work.

That’s my view and thanks very much again for letting me put it to your readers.
Rebecca Ann Collins August 2009

Thank you so much, Rebecca for taking the time to share all this with us!

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