This series of mini-interviews features the authors who contributed to our Austen anthology A CERTAIN PERSUASION.
Our next interviewee is JL Merrow, who wrote the story A Particular Friend, which takes a glimpse into the future of the characters of Mansfield Park.
Blurb: When Susan Price leaves Mansfield Park to accompany her aunt, Lady Bertram, to take the waters in Bath, she little expects to meet an old ‘friend’ of the family. Initially scandalised, Susan finds herself drawn to the former Mary Crawford, now a widow, Mrs Lynd.
But Lady Bertram will surely never countenance Susan’s intimacy with a woman whose brother caused her daughter’s disgrace – and Mrs Lynd’s true identity cannot be kept a secret forever.
Q: How did you discover Jane Austen and her works? What was the initial appeal? Has she surprised you since then?
I clearly remember my first encounter with Jane Austen: it was in Heffers bookshop in Cambridge. I’d just started my Natural Sciences degree, and was in there buying textbooks, but I paused when I came across a copy of Pride and Prejudice. That’s a classic book that everyone talks about, I said to myself. Maybe I should read it? So I picked it up and read the first page, with its famous opening: “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”
And this is where it all went wrong, because on reading that, my reaction was (and please bear in mind that I’d been raised on a steady diet of hard science fiction and old-fashioned crime thrillers): It’s all about love and marriage. Ew! And I put the book down again with a shudder and hied me hence to the chemistry section, just in case romance was catching.
Fast forward three years, and an older and dare I say, wiser me practically lived in the college literature library, sneakily reading Hardy and Forster while I was supposed to be studying quantum mechanics. By then I’d devoured all of Jane Austen’s works, including the juvenilia and the unfinished stories, and checked out as many of the books lampooned in Northanger Abbey as I could find in those pre-internet days. It’s left me with a lasting fondness for the gothic novels of Ann Radcliffe.
The writing may not have been on the wall quite yet, but the moving finger was definitely hovering in readiness. 😉
Q: Which Austen character do you like best? Which do you identify with most?
Oh, Lord. It always comes back to Fanny Price of Mansfield Park, for me, and yet she really isn’t very likeable in many ways. Such a prig, and the original party-pooper. But she does stand up for what she believes to be right, in her quiet way—and she’s the only one of Austen’s characters who ever spared a thought for the plight of slaves. Perhaps her own position as a poor relation who was continually reminded of her lower status gave her some empathy for those suffering far worse.
I think her story appeals to me because she is so ill-suited by nature to make the best of what fortune sends her way—her more confident younger sister Susan does far better in a similar situation—and would have had a much easier life if she’d had a more outgoing, less sensitive personality. I guess if I’m really honest that’s the part of her I identify with most.
But she should never have married Cousin Edmund, whose dull morality would feed off her own. I’m sure Fanny would have had far more fun if she’d ended up with a Crawford! 😉
Q: Why do you think the Regency is such an appealing period to write and read about?
Well, as Saul David, biographer of Prinny himself, put it: “The Regency in its widest sense (1800-1830) is remembered today as a devil-may-care period of low morals and high fashion.” – Prince of Pleasure, Saul David, 1998.
What’s not to like? 😉
And I think for me it comes down to being able to relate to the people of the times. The Victorians, for example, with their stiff corsets, stiff collars and stiff sense of propriety just don’t appeal to me all that much, whereas I’ve always had a particular weakness for the 1920s, the age of jazz and flappers, as well as the Regency Period. Basically, and in spite of my fondness for Miss Price, I like to read and write about people I can imagine having fun. 🙂
Author bio: JL Merrow is that rare beast, an English person who refuses to drink tea. She read Natural Sciences at Cambridge, where she learned many things, chief amongst which was that she never wanted to see the inside of a lab ever again. Her one regret is that she never mastered the ability of punting one-handed whilst holding a glass of champagne.
She writes across genres, with a preference for contemporary gay romance and mysteries, and is frequently accused of humour. Her novel Slam! won the 2013 Rainbow Award for Best LGBT Romantic Comedy, and her novella Muscling Through and novel Relief Valve were both EPIC Awards finalists.
JL Merrow is a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association, International Thriller Writers, Verulam Writers’ Circle and the UK GLBTQ Fiction Meet organising team.