What is Juliet reading now?

Actually, it’s sad-facemore a case of – is Juliet reading now?

Whenever a parent says, ‘Little [insert name, usually a boy’s] won’t read anything!’, they mean that they never see them engrossed in a story.

A teacher’s stock answer is: ‘It doesn’t matter if it’s the back of a cereal packet, or a newspaper article – as long as they are reading something.’

At the moment I feel like one of those young children.

This is a typical day’s reading for me:

  1. Several lists (like this one).
  2. Ingredients on a ready-meal packet, just in case the manufacturer has listed ‘HORSE’ in a fit of transparency.
  3. Free commuter newspapers – Metro, Evening Standard.
  4. Emails, contracts, policies, reports, minutes – in many jobs, the sheer volume of required reading has made the concept of ‘Monday to Friday, 9 to 5’ redundant.

It’s like being on a particularly unpleasant diet. Recently, the nearest I’ve got to the land of make-believe (although some of the business reports I read are pure fiction) is the weighty Miranda Hart autobiography Is It Just Me? that’s been languishing at my bedside since Christmas. (I was using ‘weighty’ to describe the autobiography, by the way, not Miranda herself.)

Like most diets, it doesn’t feed the soul; whereas a novel …

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‘… there seems almost a general wish of decrying the capacity and undervaluing the labour of the novelist, and of slighting the performances which have only genius, wit, and taste to recommend them. “I am no novel–reader — I seldom look into novels — Do not imagine that I often read novels — It is really very well for a novel.” Such is the common cant. “And what are you reading, Miss — ?” “Oh! It is only a novel!” replies the young lady, while she lays down her book with affected indifference, or momentary shame. “It is only Cecilia, or Camilla, or Belinda”; or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best–chosen language.’

Those are the words of Jane Austen in Northanger Abbey, surely the most passionate and amusing defence of the novel ever written. And that is why I return time and again to Austen – her ‘genius, wit, and taste’ feed my soul.

How do you feed yours?

Juliet’s Romance Day – Happy 200th Birthday, P&P!

Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle, P&P 1995

Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle, P&P 1995

Next Monday, 28th January 2013, it’ll be exactly 200 years since Pride & Prejudice was first published. Today this book is more popular than ever – an amazing achievement for its author, an English spinster who lived quietly in the Hampshire countryside.

Jane Austen’s shelf life has been far longer than her own (she died in 1817 at the age of 41), and her golden rules for publishing longevity still apply:

1. A catchy title – even if you’re borrowing it from someone else. Austen originally called her novel First Impressions, but two other works had been published with that title by the time hers was accepted for publication. Pride & Prejudice was probably inspired by the final chapter of Fanny Burney’s Evelina, where the phrase appears 3 times in block capitals. Alliteration is not compulsory, but it helps …

2. The power of editing - we know that, following the success of Sense & Sensibility in 1811, Austen ‘lop’t and crop’t’ the novel that she’d written between 1796 and 1797, when she was the same age as its heroine, Elizabeth Bennet. And we’re always being advised to put our writing to one side before editing – although 15 years is taking this a bit far!

3. A heroine you’d like to be – Lizzy Bennet’s self-belief and zest for life, tempered with witty cynicism, sparkle on the page even now. And, from what we know of surviving letters, she seems to have more of the 20-year-old Jane Austen in her than any of the author’s other heroines.

4. A hero you’d like to … [please insert word of your choice] Oh, Mr Darcy! Even BC (Before Colin), he set my pulses racing. Difficult to know why at the start, when he insults our beloved heroine. But then that’s become a bit of a winning formula, hasn’t it?

Any more rules for being a bestseller after 200 years?

Matthew Macfadyen and Keira Knightley, P&P 2005

Matthew Macfadyen and Keira Knightley, P&P 2005

Juliet – Savaged by a Dead Sheep?

People of a certain age may remember MP Denis Healey’s comment that being criticised by Geoffrey Howe in the House of Commons was ‘like being savaged by a dead sheep’.

dead-sheep3

Well, today I am hoping for a similar experience. While the Olympians parade through London to universal acclaim, I will be doing a work presentation to a group of patient (as in the noun, not the adjective) representatives – introducing them to a new NHS service that is intended to improve their health care.

On the face of it, they sound like a harmless bunch of mainly senior citizens. But I have already been warned to watch out for Mary, ‘the one who looks like a sweet old lady but goes for the jugular’; and Harry, ‘who will eat you alive if he doesn’t like what you’re saying’. So while I would like to think that they will savage me like dead sheep, rather than ravening wolves, I’m not over-confident.

This happy prospect made me think about my talks as a writer. Those audiences are anything but hostile – the worst that can happen is that a sweet old lady (usually in the front row, in full view of the speaker) falls asleep. Many of them share my passion for Jane Austen and give me every encouragement. If it’s a Women’s Institute talk, then I often have to judge a competition – anything from ‘oldest book’ to ‘best rose’ – but it’s hardly high-risk (provided I make a quick getaway afterwards).

Of course, if you put the same gentle people in the arena of the NHS they may well react like Mary and Harry to protect their interests. And who could blame them, when it might literally be a matter of life or death?

Have any of you ever had particular challenges as a speaker – or as a member of the audience?

PS If I don’t survive today’s presentation, it was lovely knowing you …

Happy Birthday, Jane! by Juliet Archer

austenbdaysoireepicture-1Today’s a very special occasion – Jane Austen’s Birthday Soirée! Around the worldwide web, 31 Austen enthusiasts are celebrating her 236th birthday and showering her with cards, gifts and letters. We’re also showering you, dear readers, with giveaways.

I’ve written a letter to Jane, and I’m giving away a signed copy of The Importance of Being Emma and a signed copy of Persuade Me – open worldwide.

Dear Jane,

When you described your books as your children, did you ever imagine that they would be the start of an ever-expanding dynasty of prequels, sequels, modernisations, mash-ups and other ‘what-ifs’?

Two hundred years after your ‘eldest’ was first published, you have thousands of ‘descendants’ inhabiting every continent. Although the world you knew has undergone huge changes, your stories, characters and humour are timeless. You understood all the magic ingredients of comedy romance long before anyone else did.

Thank you for believing in your writing and persevering to get published. Little did you know how many readers would enjoy your work.

Happy Birthday!

Love,

Juliet Archer

To win a prize, leave a reply to the question below, giving your email address and indicating whether you’d like a copy of The Importance of Being Emma or Persuade Me. Giveaway closes at midnight on 23rd December.

Question: if a lost Austen novel was discovered, what do you think its title would be?

I’d like to thank the ladies who thought of this Soirée and organised it so beautifully – Maria Grazia – My Jane Austen Book Club and Katherine Cox – November’s Autumn (who also did the fabulous images). Finally, here’s the full list of participants and giveaways – feel free to drop by:

1. Sharon Lathan  Blog: Sharon Lathan Giveaway : Miss Darcy Falls in Love

2. Emily SnyderBlog: O! Beauty Unattempted Giveaway: Letters of Love & Deception

3. Laurel Ann Nattress Blog: Austenprose Giveaway: signed copy of Jane Austen Made Me Do It

4. C. Allyn Pierson Blog: SemiTrue Stories Giveaway: Mr Darcy Little Sister (open worldwide)

5. Cindy Jones   Blog: First Draft Giveaway: a signed copy of “My Jane Austen Summer” and a package of Lily Berry’s Pink Rose Tea by Bingley’s, Ltd.

6. Farida Mestek   Blog: Regency stories set against the backdrop of Regency England Giveaway: I was Jane Austen Best Friend by Cora Harrison

7. Marilyn Brant    Blog: Brant Flakes Giveaway : A canvas ACCORDING TO JANE tote bag and a pair of A SUMMER IN EUROPE luggage tags.

8. Prue Batten  Blog: Mesmered’s Blog Giveaway : Anna Elliot’s “Georgiana Darcy” (Kindle book)

9. Erin Blakemore Blog: The Heroine’s Bookshelf Giveaway : a set of Potter-Style Pride and Prejudice notecards

10. Velvet    Blog: vvb32 reads Giveaway: Jane Austen’s Little Instruction Book (Charming Petites) By Jane Austen Edited by Sophia Bedford-Pierce, Illustrated by Mullen &

Katz, Introduction by Barbara Paulding

11. Karen Doornebos  Blog: The Fiction vs. Reality Smackdown Giveaway: 2 Jane Austen Candles and 2 signed DNMD books plus drink coasters and tea!

12. Regina Jeffers ReginaJeffers’s Blog Giveaway: An autographed copy of “Christmas at Pemberley “

13. Alyssa Goodnight    Blog: Alyssa Goodnight Giveaway: Jane Austen Action figure

14: Deb  Blog: Jane Austen in Vermont Giveaway: JASNA 2012 calendars from the Wisconsin JASNA Region

15: Laura Hile,  Susan Kaye, Pamela Aidan, and Barbara Cornthwaite Blog: Jane Started It! Giveaway:

· One copy of Young Master Darcy: A Lesson in Honour by Pamela Aidan

· One set of Frederick Wentworth, Captain (Books 1 and 2) by Susan Kaye

· Two copies of Mercy’s Embrace: So Rough a Course (Book 1) by Laura Hile

· George Kinghtley, Gentleman (Books 1 and 2) by Barbara Cornthwaite.

16 . Juliet Archer   Blog: Choc Lit Authors’ Corner Giveaway: a copy of “Persuade Me” and one of “The Importance of Being Emma”

17. Jane Greensmith   Blog: Reading, Writing, Working , Playing Giveaway: a copy of “Intimations of Austen”, and Sense & Sensibility (Marvel Illustrated)

18. Jenny Allworthy Blog : The Jane Austen Film Club Giveaway: a copy of Northanger Abbey DVD starring Felicity Jones and JJ Feild (The winner will choose region 1 or 2 DVD)

19. Sitio Jane Austen    Blog: El Salón de Té de Jane Giveaway: - Spanish edition of Sense and Sensibility for the 200th Anniversary + A DVD package with adaptations of Jane Austen

(It’s only zone 2, but it’s in Spanish and English ) + blu-ray of the BBC’s Emma with Romola Garai

20. Kaitlin Saunders    Blog : Kaitlin Saunders Giveaway: “A Modern Day Persuasion”

21. Becky Rhodehouse     Blog: One Literature Nut Giveaway: selection of Austenesque Reads

22. Patrice Sarath Blog: Patrice Sarath Giveaway: A copy of The Unexpected Miss Bennet

23. Adriana Zardini Site: Jane Austen Brasil Giveaway: DVD – Sense and Sensibility (1995) – English / Portuguese subtitles

24. Jane Odiwe Blog: Jane Austen Sequels Giveaway: a mug with one of Jane Odiwe’s illustrations and a copy of her “Mr Darcy’s Secret”

25. Courtney Webb Stiletto Storytime Giveaway: Noble Satyr by Lucinda Brant (Regency Romance)

26. Jennifer Becton    Blog: Jennifer W. Becton Giveaway: An ebook of the Personages of Pride and Prejudice Collection, which contains all of my Austenesque works: Charlotte Collins, “Maria Lucas,” and Caroline Bingley. The giveaway will be open internationally.

27. Vera Nazarian    Blog: Urban Girl Takes Vermont Giveaway: a copy of Vera Nazarian’s gift hardcover edition of her inspirational calendar and diary, The Perpetual Calendar of Inspiration

28. Abigail Reynolds   Blog: Pemberley Variations Giveaway: a signed copy of “Mr. Darcy’s Undoing”

29. Blog: AustenAuthors Giveaway: Georgette Heyer’s Regency World by Jennifer Kloester

30. Katherine Cox   November’s Autumn Giveaway :$10 B&N Gift-card (US only)

31. Maria Grazia  My Jane Austen Book Club Giveaway : A selection of Austenesque reads

Regency Day

regencyreadingwomanOn Saturday 8th October the Romantic Novelists’ Association will be holding a Regency Celebration – a one-day event to celebrate Jane Austen, Georgette Heyer and the books they have influenced.

The day will be a mixture of serious talks (eg. Dr Jennifer Kloester on Georgette Heyer and Her Life) and more frivolous activities, such as demonstrations of Regency clothing and dancing, as well as parlour games, a Regency walk, afternoon tea, a quiz, a raffle (with some fabulous prizes!), a book stall and author signings. For anyone who loves the Regency/Georgian period and novels set in or inspired by that era, this is a must!

I’ll be doing a talk together with fellow author Louise Allen on Regency scents (a sort of “Sniff and tell” as it were), and I’ve been busy gathering information and perfumes for demonstration purposes. The Regency ladies seem to have had some lovely flower scents to choose from, although there are one or two that make you recoil in horror! If you’ve ever wanted to know what Emma, Lady Hamilton (Lord Nelson’s mistress) smelled like, please come along and I’ll show you!

A Regency Celebration – Saturday 8th October 2011 between 9.00am-6.00pm at the Royal Overseas League, Park Place, off St. James’s Street, London SW1A 1LR (near Green Park tube station). For more information, please click here and follow us on Facebook and Twitter (@RNARegencyDay).

Drawing a Tickle, by Juliet Archer

mr_men_tickle203_203x152

 

Mr Tickle, the first of the Mr Men, was 40 this week!

He was ‘born’ when six-year-old Adam Hargreaves asked his father, Roger, what a tickle looked like. And Roger drew one, just like that. The rest – lots of Mr Men books, and almost as many Little Miss ones – is history.

I read what seemed like every single one to my nieces and nephews, who loved the simple, brightly coloured drawings and could relate to each human characteristic personified. And it was the same with my own children.

As writers, we often have to rise to the challenge of ‘drawing a tickle’, using only words. Images can convey so much more, and instantly. In my latest Jane Austen modernisation, Persuade Me, I wanted to describe Lou Musgrove’s fall from the Cobb. It had to be a sketch rather than a detailed picture, to illustrate the suddenness and impact on the character who was nearest, Rick Wentworth. So every word had to earn its place, several times over.

What’s been your biggest ‘drawing’ challenge to date?

Juliet Archer’s Body Parts

Like mothers with their babies, authors are prone to parade their book covers in the shameless pursuit of praise and adulation. And I’m afraid that I’m no exception.

But, unlike babies, book covers result from a meeting of minds, usually ones with a good understanding of the more commercial aspects of publishing. It seems to be a real bonus if the author actually likes what her ‘baby’ looks like. I’m very fortunate, because I ADORE MY NEW COVER!

9781906931209I loved the first one, too, for The Importance of Being Emma. The legs summed up my heroine perfectly – elegant and sexy, with a hint of mischief. They were also the first thing that the hero noticed when he met her in the opening chapter.

In fact, I’d had so many compliments about this cover that I was a bit disappointed when Choc Lit decided on a change of body parts for my second novel.

So, no legs for Persuade Me.

But what would my publisher come up with? I had visions of a headless torso, which seems to be a growing trend for Regency romance. However, I’m writing modern stories – not a heaving bosom in sight. And this heroine, Anna Elliot, is a lot different from Emma Woodhouse – more restrained and romantic, longing for another life. Would there be a demure pair of folded hands, perhaps, or bare feet caressing the sand?

Finally, I heard from Choc Lit. ‘We think it should be a girl’s head, in soft focus,’ they said.

OK. I’d seen Margaret James’s covers for The Silver Locket and The Golden Chain, of course - gorgeous, and very evocative of their period. But would they work for a 21st-century heroine, even if she does prefer her men to stay between the covers of 19th-century Russian novels?

Then Choc Lit sent me this …

Persuade Me - Cover

 … and I thought, ‘Wow! It captures Anna’s fragile beauty, hints at her gentle nature - and shows off the neck that Rick Wentworth once found so irresistible.’

What more can I say? Except that, like any proud mother, I want a shower of compliments for my ‘baby’!