I don’t remember reading any Jane Austen books in high school. I was just becoming ill when my sister invited me to watch the BBC’s version of Pride and Prejudice. She assured me that I would love it and we watched it over six evenings. I immediately became hooked on the characters Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy and had to read the book and others written by Ms. Austen. I think the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice is my favorite and I watch it often.
This year I read about “A Jane Austen Daydream” through a post that my friend Jennie had shared with me. I was drawn to the title of the book because I love all things Austen but was wary of a book whose intention was to capture what Miss Austen’s life was like based on her writings and written by a man. How could a man capture the true essence? As soon as I began reading, I forgot all about the gender of the author and became absorbed in the story. The characters remind me of the characters in many of the Austen books and Mr. Southard uses phrases that are synonymous with these same books.
To learn more about Mr. Southard and how he came about writing this wonderful book, I asked him some questions.
1) Tell me what made you choose to write about Jane Austen? I first discovered Jane Austen in college. I was captivated by her voice, her incredible skill in characterization and her wit. Upon reading all of her books, I decided to learn more about her, meet the wizard behind the curtain.
It is shocking how little we actually know about her! Whatever the case, it is obvious she sadly did not live any of the adventures she had written for her characters. That realization was the first spark that inspired A Jane Austen Daydream. I wanted to correct a wrong. So I used her own characters and plots as a template to imagine something a little more “Austenesque” for her.
2) My image of Miss Jane Austen is of a young woman sitting at her desk with ink stained fingers laboriously writing her stories. It is not of a young man sitting at his desk composing the story by clicking away on his computer keyboard. How did you get your mind set to writing in the tone of Miss Austen? Well, first I needed the courage to undertake it, because I knew right from the start how challenging it would be. I sat on this idea for years before I started it! It was actually my wife that encouraged me on, almost making me feel guilty I didn’t do it sooner.
The first thing I did was completely immerse myself in her books. I ruined numerous paperback copies of her books in the undertaking. See, in the book I draw more from her own fiction than history (this is not what I would call historical fiction, which is why daydream is part of the title). I spent almost a year just planning it out, creating the template. The image of me hunched over a computer does come up later, but I started first in longhand, filling up numerous yellow notepads in my illegible scribble.
3) Have you read all of her books? What research did you do in writing your book? I knew that if I was to do this book right, I couldn’t only dip my toe in. I had to do this fully, live in the deep end of the pool, underwater. Her books, a few biographies, her letters, her unpublished works, I even visited some locations back before I began the book looking for inspiration. Everything I could get my hands on plays a part in the work.
My goal was not just to write about her, but to have her be a part of it. So references and quotes from her classic works are sprinkled throughout it. The trick for me was though writing a book that could work for the casual fan as well as the obsessed reader. Again, it all comes down to planning, which means I had to find a narrator voice that was between Jane and my own. If I did this right, there is something for everyone in this book and it is readable even for those not used to reading regency novels.
4) What was your greatest inspiration in writing this book? I would point to three inspirations. One, I already discussed; the fact that she didn’t find love like all of her characters did, dying tragically at only 41. I wanted to fix that, give her an adventure.
The second was the big twist in the book, which I won’t ruin here. I wanted to see if I could pull it off in a book and what the reaction would be. I’ve spoken to quite a few fellow readers and writers and I think I might be the first that has attempted such a surprise. The reaction to it has been a lot of fun for me to read (like when a reviewer at the Jane Austen Centre called me cheeky); and it’s nice that so many reviewers are passionate about keeping it a secret.
The third inspiration was my wife. She has asked for me to write this book for years! And after giving birth to our first child I wanted to give her a thank you that only I could, something very personable.
5) This is the first of your books that I have read but I currently have downloaded on my Kindle your book Maximillian Standforth and the Case of the Dangerous Dare. How many books have you written and are any of them similar to “A Jane Austen Daydream”? One of my goals as a writer has always been to surprise my readers. Which means, every time I undertake a story I am aiming to do something new, not only for myself but for the reader. It’s why there is the big twist in Daydream, for example.
So when someone reads one of my books they can’t be guaranteed what they will be getting. With Daydream, I have four books available right now. Megan is a dark contemporary fantasy about the power of the imagination; My Problem With Doors is a time-travel adventure; and Maximilian (which you mentioned) is probably my most experimental. It pretends to be a Gothic period mystery, but underneath it is a very different book about the idea of creation and fiction.
6) What do you most like about writing? Writing has always been a lot of fun to me, and I have always been drawn to the idea of being an author.
I love every step of it, the spark of the initial idea, the frantic energy of having to write it down before it is lost. And then watching it grow and evolve over time as new chapters emerge and plots develop. When done right it is all very organic. There are few things I have found in this world more satisfying than the feeling of completing that first draft and holding it in my hands.
A Jane Austen Daydream was a dream project of mine for many years. It is truly satisfying to know that readers, like yourself, are enjoying it as much as I did creating it.
I would like to thank Scott Southard for sharing with us the inspiration behind A Jane Austin Daydream. You can purchase your copy through Amazon.