Friday, July 31, 2009

In Defence of writing Jane Austen Sequels

I came across a blog post the other day where the author had some feelings of discontent about the genre in which I write myself - that of Jane Austen sequels - she even had particular advice for myself, Diana Birchall and Helen Halstead. I'll post it below so you can read it for yourself. I have a lot of sympathy with the writer of the post who obviously doesn't like any tampering with Jane's novels and thinks it's all gone a little too far. At one time I would never have considered reading a sequel to Jane Austen's novels and I must admit I didn't read any until I wanted to write one of my own. I have read a couple and one or two 'spin-offs' if you'd like to call them that, but my own preference is for the originals like most people. I don't read them mostly because I don't want to be influenced by other's writing - there are a few I know I would really enjoy - likewise there are some I would avoid. But this is the point - no one has to read them if they do not wish to, but some people get a lot of enjoyment and entertainment from reading sequels. I have received lovely letters from people who have enjoyed my books, and I can't tell you the thrill I get when someone says they have loved my writing.
The writers I know (and I don't know many very well) who write sequels started their journeys because of their love of their favourite author Jane Austen. In my case it was a creative response to her work - my first book Effusions came out of my own need to discover a Jane I felt was not being recognised at the time. I wanted to find the young girl who had written First Impressions, danced and flirted at Balls, and who had sat down and made a conscious decision to be a writer. I re-discovered my love of writing - I've always written for pleasure, but having children and being a busy Mum put a stop to that for a while. Like many others, I wondered what happened to Elizabeth after she married and sighed at the fact that Jane only wrote six novels. I wanted to write a book - something I hoped would be light-hearted and humorous. The idea of having it published did not occur to me at first, nor the thought of making money for such a venture. I wrote Lydia Bennet's Story five years before I had it published. I've only just allowed myself to write a sequel with Elizabeth and Darcy as the main characters. I hate the expression 'jumping on the bandwagon' which is used so lightly in consideration of writers who have wanted to write sequels as if million dollar deals were our sole aim or even a reality. Believe me, they are not for most of us - if making money had been my sole aim I would have had a better chance continuing with my teaching career. I write sequels because I can't help myself - I love Jane Austen's writing. I couldn't hope to emulate her in a million years but that doesn't stop me wanting to try. I don't think I own her characters or think that I can write in her style, but I do want to learn from her writing - she is the best writing teacher, I think. I'm not sure how many more I'm going to write, if any. I have a hankering to write something entirely my own.
The fact is that Jane didn't write enough books to satisfy our needs. Whilst I would never assume that I can fill that void in any way, I've written my books for people who want to read more about the Jane Austen characters we all love.
Would Jane Austen be flattered that her work inspires so many? I hope so! Thank you Jane Austen for all the pleasure your books have given me. You truly are an inspiration!

Below follows the blog post with Diana Birchall's wickedly funny response!

Leave Auntie Jane Alone
2009 JULY 17
by Kathleen

Enough with “The Pemberly Chronicles.” Enough with “Darcyland.” Enough with “Mr. Darcy’s Daughters.” And PLEASE, ENOUGH with the [insert Austen Title] and Zombies/Sea Monsters/Vampires.

First, let me begin by saying that no contemporary author has enough experience with Georgian English and 18th century colloquialisms to write a novel in an authentic Austen voice. Look, I have a Jane Austen quote mug (which I bought in Bath, thank you very much) and a Jane Austen Guide to Romance (which is really just a clever way of marketing an anthology of character analysis essays, I swear), I’ve seen (regrettably) “the Jane Austen Book Club” and I own a cinematic adaptation of every novel, but that’s where I draw the line. I go to Austen for the happy endings, sure, but it is a truth universally acknowledged that I also go to Austen for the language and the satire.

Stop with the sequels. If Jane wanted a sequel to Pride and Prejudice, she could have easily riddled it off. I’m sure she was asked to write her own “Pemberly Chronicles.” Diana Birchell, Jane Odiwe, Helen Halstead — Elizabeth Bennet is not your character to play with.

Last but not least, if you’re going to turn an Austen into a Sci-Fi novel, please assign your monsters appropriately. Sea Monsters would be much better supporting characters in Persuasion. I mean, common.

2009 JULY 29
Diana Birchall
Birchall: Hey, Odiwe, check dis out! Here’s a lady who says she reads Jane Austen for the Satire and Language!

Odiwe: You kidding me, right? What the hell she wanna do dat for? She want to ruin some good Sex and Shopping novels?

Halstead: (Gently) I think she is objecting to our rape of Lizzy Bennet.

Odiwe: (Confused) No way! I did Lydia. Never laid a finger on Lizzy in my life! Though I do paint her a lot.

Birchall: And I wrote “Mrs. Elton in America.” Surely the divine Mrs. E. is fair game.

Halstead: You’d think. And our books don’t have a zombie in sight!

Birchall: Too true, damn it. Hey, did you know that zombie guy got a million bucks advance, and his book is Number Three on the New York Times Best Seller List? Jeez, I wish I’d thought of dat gimmick. I still have to work for a living.

Odiwe: I think this chick is confusing us with Amanda Grange, who’s done a Vampyre sequel.

Halstead: What’s wrong wid vampyres! Fine tradition of ‘em, going back to Signore Polidori.

Birchall: This lady don’t know from tradition. Well, I’m sorry. When I wrote Mrs. Darcy’s Dilemma back in 1994 I didn’t know what I was starting.

Odiwe: Really, Diana. You didn’t write the first Pride and Prejudice sequel. What about Pemberley Shades back in the 1940s?

Birchall: Oh, I know. The title of first sequel goes to Jane Austen’s own niece, Catherine Hubback, in the 1850s. She’s the one to blame for the wholesale hijacking and rape to which this elegant young lady objects. And the family *did* blame her. Mostly because she thought of it before they did, I suspect.

Halstead: Gee, Diana, you sound awful eddicated.

Birchall: Don’t worry, I ain’t. I only went to CCNY back in the ’70s. I ain’t Accomplished or none of that stuff. You know how in the present day young ladies are so accomplished. They even got Masters Degrees now.

Odiwe: Bet you can catch a high class husband wid one of those.

Birchall: Of course, I *have* studied Georgian English for thirty years. And I *can* spell Chronicles.

Halstead: Yeah, tell that to the Marines, you superior cow. You know, I think this lady ought to be defending Emma, not Lizzy.

Birchall: Why? Because she seems to have a tendency to think a little too well of herself? Meow.

Halstead: You said it, not me. Say, speaking of Emma, did you see this guy just wrote a gay sequel? He’s taken Jane Fairfax and made her James Fairfax. Pretty slick, huh?

Odiwe: (enviously) Think he’ll make a million?

Birchall: Nah. The real money’s in vampires. I work for a film studio, ya know, and you hear it from the horse’s mouth (an elegant phrase, akin to “Keep your breath to cool your porridge”). Those things sell!

Halstead: Well, what’s keeping us, then? “Only a sequel” – only a novel which pays homage to the finest authors, in the best chosen language.

Birchall: You illiterate cow yerself, what you talking about? You wouldn’t know fine language if it hit you in the mouf.

Halstead: Hey, Birchall, it’s you what made Mr. Darcy middle aged and bald!

Odiwe: Can that noise, willya? I’m trying to read Jane Austen here.

(Apologies to my sister sequelists, who had nothing to do with this bit of sickness and wickedness)

2009 JULY 29
Diana Birchall
You are a good sport, Kathleen! And I actually agree with you more than not. My own anti-zombie rave is here, though you do have to scroll through a mess of cats to get to it:


2009 JULY 29
How could I not be a good sport when so humorously reprimanded by the subject of my post herself! I’m flattered (sort of?)… I was trying to compose an equally funny response, but i’ll bite my tongue… for now

while I may be less inclined to pick up “Darcy’s Dilemma,” I’ve already put in an order for “Onoto Watanna”

thanks for reading!

2009 JULY 30
Jane Odiwe
I’m really pleased to see you have a good sense of humour – I dared Diana to post it! I’ll be honest, I never read any sequels and secretly despised the idea until I did my own. I’m not sure I still approve really, but I am compelled to write them – for my own pleasure – if others like or not like to read them that’s all well and good. I will put my hands up at this point and say although up until now I have only written about Lydia Bennet and Marianne Dashwood, I’m afraid to say I have just written a book about – wait for it – Elizabeth Bennet/Darcy, and of course, Mr Darcy, though I promise there are no vampires, zombies or anything else of that ilk in its content. And Diana is quite right, I do paint a lot of pictures of Elizabeth too for my sins.
Anyway, you are a good sport Kathleen. Diana is so funny and has such a wicked sense of humour, I’m sure you’ll agree!

2009 JULY 30
Diana Birchall
Kathleen – You judge aright. Onoto Watanna is truly an interesting woman and phenomenon, culturally and biographically. Much more substance than a sequel. I have done with writing sequels, and I do apologize for my spleen, which comes from frustration at the publishing market. (”Take care, Lizzy, that speech savours strongly of disappointment!”) You’re a class act and I invite you to make all the fun of me you choose!

Best regards,


Charleybrown said...

Cute reply by Diana!

I can say that I share Kathleen's sentiments about the current trend to make "zampires" out of Austen's characters. That genre is not my cup of tea!

When it comes to sequels, though, isn't it up to the reader to decide? There are some that don't entice me at all but there are some which have stirred my interest enough to take the time to read someone else's further adventures of Jane Austen's characters. The choice is mine!

So yes, there are plenty of sequels but there are many of us who choose which ones we'd like to read! No one's forcing us and thank goodness, since a zombie slayer, I'm not!

Jane Odiwe said...

I quite agree with all you say!

Laurel Ann said...

Jane, thanks for the thoughtful response. I must say that there is a point of crossing the line of propriety with sequels and mash-ups. I enjoy interpretations when they laugh with Jane, but not at her. The same applies when they are turned into a sex romp, just for the sake of titilation and have no plot or character development. Since your lovely novels do not fall into either of the abuse categories, I would not be concerned. They are amusements and pastiches that honor the author, not make fun of her. Personally, I love your writing and art. Of all of the authors to mention as an example of abuse, you, Diana and Helen are so far away from disrespect, that I wonder if this blogger is speaking from a position of enlightment on the genre. I am glad that she has a sense of humor and thought Diana's hillarious response was funny. That was good of her. I am so looking forward to your next book Willoughby's Return. Cheers, LA

Jane Odiwe said...

Oh, Laurel Ann, that is so kind of you to speak up in our defence. I didn't really object to Kathleen's comments, everyone is entitled to their opinion, but I do feel some concern that the majority seem to perceive writers of sequels as opportunist money-grabbers - I just wanted to give my reasons for writing, I suppose and put the record straight.
I can't wait until my next book comes out - just to see it and hold it in my hands - another baby!

Vic said...

I think people are fed up with the extreme sequels that are coming out - vampires, zombies, and sea monsters, as well as horrific sequels like Colleen McCullough's Mary Bennet. Perhaps, too, there is a degree of jealousy knowing that some of these authors are making a killer salary off Jane's works. Having said that, I would never have mentioned you three authors in the same breath as awful sequel writers. I do take exception to Mr. Darcy, Vampyre, which demonstrates quite clearly that sequels sometimes go too far. At least Seth Grahame-Smith knew zombie behavior backwards and forwards, and he had a good laugh on us, while we laughed along with him. He was also smart enough to preserve 80% of Jane's story. I can't say the same about Vampyre, which, while it is a sequel, is neither a parody nor particularly filled with the sort of sexual tension that makes most Vampire books so exciting to read. To each his own, I suppose. I have chosen your new S&S book to review, Jane, because you stay true to the form of writing sequels, but I must admit that the publishers haven't been very careful in general about choosing the best writers to represent this sequel genre. Readers really have to pick and choose carefully, or else they might lose sight of Jane's wonderful works altogether.

Jane Odiwe said...

Thank you very much for your perspective Vic - I feel the same about some of these new novels. I suppose I am feeling that I am seen to be part of it - something I hate the idea of, frankly. But then, am I just as guilty? I have scenes in my books which Jane Austen would not have written about herself - how true is my writing to the ideal of hers? I like to think that I'm addressing the themes that Jane did in her books - my justification for other scenes is that I'm writing for a modern audience and that Jane could not have written so freely as we do today.
I understand Kathleen's point of view wholeheartedly - perhaps it is time to stop.

I shall wait to hear what you think of Willoughby's Return!

Sue Wilkes said...

I know how this lady feels about the zombie 'mash-up' - the very idea made me want to roam the streets Van Helsing-style with a large stake, even if it was done tongue in cheek. But it was rather patronising of her to assume Austen sequel writers like Jane and Diana haven't thoroughly researched their subject. We all know no-one is going to write exactly like JA - but that doesn't mean to say authors can't have fun exploring the possible future lives of the characters - especially if it gives pleasure to readers.

Jane Odiwe said...

Thanks Sue for such a supportive post!

Charleybrown said...

I walked into Chapters yesterday and there were two intelligent-looking ladies chatting and laughing over PP&Zombies. It annoyed me to no end! Had they appeared young and foolish, it would have bothered me less :)

Jane Odiwe said...

Now, that has made me laugh!

Enid Wilson said...

Jane, you defended your reasons for writing sequels very well. I totally agree with you. I write spin offs because I love JA's works.

We can't be compared to those who don't like JA's works before but want to profit from her work now.

And it's lovely to get letters from readers sharing their tears and laughs with us just because our JA's spin offs bring them joy.

Bargain with the Devil

Jane Odiwe said...

Thank you Enid - yes, I think in the end we have to think about the people we write for and if they enjoy our books then that's a good enough reason to carry on!!!