Friday, March 7, 2008

The Other Side of the (Austen) Romance

Today Title Magic welcomes UK author Amanda Grange, talking to Evonne Wareham about her books.

Amanda Grange has a string of successful historical romances to her credit, including The Silverton Scandal and The Six Month Marriage. While continuing to write adventurous historicals, such as Lord Deverill’s Secret, in 2005 she added another dimension to her work, when Mr Darcy's Diary was published -- the story of Pride and Prejudice re-told from the male viewpoint. The book has been successful on both sides of the Atlantic and has led to a series of diaries from other Jane Austen heroes.

Welcome Amanda to Title Magic.
Thank you!

You wrote a number of historicals before the diaries -- what gave you the idea for the change?
I was reading Pride and Prejudice again and I found myself thinking that one of the reasons for the book's continuing appeal is that the hero and heroine both have to make a journey before they can be together. Darcy's struggle to overcome his pride is just as compelling as Elizabeth's struggle to overcome her prejudice, and I found myself wanting to know more about his transformation. As part of that, I found myself wanting to know more about the 'missing scenes', and I started imagining what it could have been like when he followed Lydia to London etc. The idea really grew from there.

The diary format works well - did the idea come to you in the form of a diary or did that decision come later?
It came to me in the form of a diary. I'd drawn up a calendar to work out the key dates in the novel as I wanted to find out when it was set. As I filled in the calendar, my thoughts about the 'missing scenes' came back to me and the idea of writing Mr Darcy's diary popped into my head.

I know that you're now known as something of an expert on Austen. How much of a challenge were the books - how much research did you need to do?
I'd been writing Regency romances for years so I'd already done a great deal of research on costume, transport etc and I knew a lot about the manners and customs of the era. The research was therefore more a question of reading the books again very carefully, firstly to reacquaint myself with the characters and events; then to work out the timeline; then to make detailed notes on character names, places, relationships etc and then to think myself into the head of the heroes, using all the information Austen had given us about them.

The re-telling of the story has allowed you to fill out scenes that are only reported in the books. A classic case of show not tell -- could you explain a little about your approach?
I don't start writing the books until I feel I know the characters inside out and until I've absorbed the events and timeline thoroughly, so that by the time I sit down at the computer I simply think myself into the heroes' heads and write.

Jane Austen is at the top of so many lists of favourite authors. What sort of reaction did you get to the idea that you were re-writing her?
The reaction has been very positive. I think it's clear from my books that I love Austen's novels and that I've put a lot of effort into my diaries, and I think that readers respond to that.

Darcy has been something of a slow burn -- the paperback version coming out in 2007. Now, suddenly you're featured in Romantic Times, and mentioned in the Washington Post - has reaction to the book been a surprise?
Yes, it has, a huge surprise!

You've since turned your attention to other Jane Austen heroes – were they more of a challenge than Darcy? I have to admit that Mr Knightley felt to me rather a dry stick when I first read Emma. You made him immensely human and approachable, in his slow realisation that he is in love with Emma – I wondered, did you actually enjoy writing the lesser known heroes more than Darcy? Do you have a favourite?
I love them all for different reasons. I'd always felt that Darcy was the ideal man to fall in love with and that Mr Knightley was ideal husband material. Then, when I wrote Cpt Wentworth's Diary, I was amazed that I hadn't been in love with him for years, because he can do everything! He can captain a ship, and yet he can also say to Anne, 'You pierce my soul.' That's an incredible combination of toughness and tenderness. What a man! Then again, Edmund Bertram really grew on my whilst writing his diary. But perhaps the most surprising hero for me has been Col Brandon. In Sense and Sensibility he comes over as silent and grave, until he tells Elinor his history, and suddenly this dry stick of a man is revealed as a passionate romantic who is the survivor of a tragic love affair. I loved bringing his history to life, and I hope readers will see him as I do, as an excellent hero who has a second chance of love - one of the themes of the novel - and who has the courage to take it.

The diaries have given you the opportunity to write from the male perspective - was that part of the appeal?
I think of the heroes as people rather than men, because men are so different, one from another, that I don't think it's possible to lump them all together. As for the appeal, it was more curiosity that anything else. I found myself thinking: 'I wonder what happened when . . . I wonder why he felt like that . . . I wonder why he said that . . .' etc

What's next for Amanda Grange?
I'll be writing Henry Tilney's Diary, after which I can perhaps get back to the half-finished Regency which is languishing on my hard drive!

Many thanks to Amanda for sharing her insight into Jane Austen's world and the minds of her heroes.

Find out more about Amanda's work on


Anitra Lynn McLeod said...

Thanks so much for sharing with us today, Amanda. I've always loved Jane Austin's novels, especially P&P. I can't wait to check out the story from Mr. Darcy's perspective! That is an idea I wish I would have thought of! :)

Savanna Kougar said...

Evonne, wonderful interviewing style.
Amanda, amazing! I'd just had a chance to read the March RT, and noticed the feature article. Pride and Prejudice is my favorite of the Austin novels. There was something so heart-wrenching when the heroine and hero finally came together. and such a completion of the heart.
I admire your ability get into the minds of these characters, to tell their stories. Thank you for sharing today. Now if only I could steal that gown on the cover.

Helen Scott Taylor said...

Amanda, how fascinating. It sounds as though you have filled in all the details I've always wondered about. Such as the one you mentioned, what did Darcy do when he searched for Lydia in London. The books must have been fun to write. What a wonderful idea!

Trish Milburn said...

Amanda, your books sound fascinating. I love how you've taken well-known stories and given them a new life. That's really cool.

Holli Bertram said...

Clever, clever idea. I can't wait to read these books. Now that you've had a chance to become intimately acquainted with Austin's heroes, did you find any similarities or common personality traits in these men?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for all the comments! I agree about the gown, Savanna, it's wonderful, isn't it? Btw, I don't get Romantic Times as I'm over in the UK, so I'm not sure what the feature article was - any info appreciated!

The books are really fun to write, Helen, and also very compulsive. I find it difficult to tear myself away from the computer. Eating, sleeping? What's that?!

Common personality traits. Hm. Well, they're all honourable men, but I think I've been struck more by how different they are. Austen's novels are a brilliant lesson in how to create a wide range of characters who all have their own distinct personalities.

Hope you like the books!

Evonne Wareham said...

Thanks for being such a good interview subject and for letting me practice my 'skills' on you. I enjoyed finding out more about your take on the Austen men, and I hope it came through.

I have a copy of the edition of RT in which you featured - there was this competition going on at the time ...

I'll make sure you see it next time we party!

Amanda Ashby said...

Great interview Amanda - as you well know I'm such a huge fan of your Austen diaries (and your regencies!!!). Can't wait to see the article in the RT - no one deserves success more than you!!!