Monday, November 28, 2011

Mr Darcy's Secret-Inspiration and an Extract - Jane Odiwe

When I was writing Mr. Darcy's Secret I was lucky enough to take a trip to Derbyshire for inspiration and research. In my book Elizabeth Bennet's aunt, Mrs. Gardiner, has a friend, Mrs. Butler, who lives in Lambton. We know, of course, that Mrs. Gardiner lived in Lambton herself once upon a time so I assumed she would have made friends there.
I stayed in the village of Beeley on the Chatsworth estate and it was here that I was very taken with the house below which I thought would be a good starting point for Mrs. Butler's house. Although not quite exactly as the house I'd imagined in my head, it certainly ran on similar lines. I'd imagined a stone house with mullioned windows - perhaps a little more set back from the road, a little larger in size, and with a grander front door, but I was very pleased with this one nevertheless.
The interior of Mrs. Butler's house was inspired by a house that I knew as a child. The room belonged to a friend of my mother's and I can still remember it very clearly now. I think the memory has stayed with me partly because I wrote about it in a story when I was about seven years old, and also because my Mum's friend was a lady who encouraged me to pick things up and play with them. I remember a beautiful music box - I'd never seen anything like it, and I was allowed to turn the key and play it to my heart's content. There always seemed to be a fire roaring in the grate, interesting objects on the shelves and windowsills, and the added delight of a dog who allowed me to pet and stroke him. Again, the room in my head is a little different to the one I knew, but there are elements that are the same.

I've included the extract from Mr. Darcy's Secret which describes Elizabeth and Georgiana Darcy calling on Mrs. Butler with Mrs. Gardiner. I hope you enjoy it!

Georgiana was delighted to join the party that set out next morning after breakfast, driving along in the carriage away from Pemberley taking the road to Lambton. The three women travelled alone with the coachman and his boy, leaving Mr Darcy and Mr Gardiner to their shooting and all the little Gardiners to their lessons with their governess.
“Thank you so very much for inviting me, Mrs Gardiner,” said Georgiana. “I’m rather embarrassed to admit that I am not really acquainted with anyone in the village, though I’ve always longed to have more friends in the area. But having been in London for such a long time meant I did not have the opportunity to meet with many people round about, apart from the families that called when I was here in the summer.”
“There is no reason why you should be acquainted with anyone in Lambton, Miss Darcy,” replied Mrs Gardiner. “I know the circles you have moved in all your life are very different to those of my own and I am sure there was never the chance to enjoy a very wide society.”
Georgiana looked thoughtful. “I do remember my brother telling me that my mother was very conscientious in her duties and often called in the village especially on the needy and sick. It is a practice I would like to rejuvenate; I know my mother was very well regarded in Lambton. What do you think, Elizabeth? Would you like to revive the habit?”
“We shall go together if you should like it,” agreed Elizabeth warmly. “I know Mr Darcy has always tried to help the poorer families where he can, and I think we could certainly find other worthwhile occupation and enterprises to which we may give a helping hand, especially if it can be done without giving offence. The people here are very proud, hard-working, and for the most part self-sufficient, but we can do much to improve their general happiness and condition, I am certain.”
“If any two people can undertake such work with sensibility and discernment, I am sure you both can,” said Mrs Gardiner. “There is always someone or something that needs attention in a place like this, where those who do fall on hard times often find it difficult to ask for largesse.”
The carriage turned into the High Street and Elizabeth could not help noticing the excitement their arrival was causing amongst the inhabitants going about their business. Being Mrs Darcy was going to take some getting used to, she decided, as she witnessed passers by nudging one another, curtseying or bowing and doffing caps, as they travelled the length of the thoroughfare to a good-sized stone house with gables set back from the road.
“Here we are, I am so looking forward to seeing my friend, though I have to tell you, it shall be a visit tinged with sadness,” declared Mrs Gardiner. “Dear Mrs Butler’s lovely husband passed away last year. He was a naval captain until his health took a turn for the worse and an upstanding member of the community, always willing to help those less fortunate than himself. He succumbed to consumption after a long illness and poor Martha is left quite alone. Her only surviving son has gone to seek his fortune in London and is doing well, I believe, and although he has tried to persuade his mother to join him there, she would never consider leaving Derbyshire or the home she shared with John.”
“I can easily understand that,” said Lizzy peering out at the house before them. “To leave a house full of memories shared with the one you love would not be easy, even if you were going to make a new home with those you adore. Her son must be a generous, affectionate young man to take such care of his mother.”
“I have not seen him for some time, but I do remember that he was the very image of his father and with the same gentle ways. I know he would have tried very hard to persuade his mother to join him.”
The coachman was at the door in a moment and the ladies stepped down to make their way along the flagged path leading up to the house with its central door set between mullioned windows. They were soon shown into a comfortable yet old-fashioned parlour furnished in country style. On one side of the gleaming mahogany fireplace was an oak dresser displaying a wealth of pewter, illuminated by the bright flames of the fire in the grate, and in the opposite corner, a grandfather clock with a painted face of flowers and cupids stood ticking the hours away. Placed before the hearth an ancient settee draped in chintz and a sturdy settle adorned with blue check cushions were arranged to make the best use of the heat of the coals.
Georgiana looked around her with wonder. Such a cosy room and stuffed with objects of varying interest, though not necessarily of great worth. It had the feeling of what she imagined it would be like to enter a ship, with its low, beamed ceiling and dark, panelled walls. Every surface displayed some treasure, from exotic shells, oyster pink and glossy with a finish of pearl, to spiky sea urchins and stiff, bony sea horses. A mahogany box brimming with bright fishing flies lay open on the shelf before the window, in between a Chinese bowl decorated with peonies in vivid blue and the skeletal remains of what appeared to be a large and rather sinister looking fish.

Martha Butler bade them sit down after the introductions and immediately addressed the Darcy women, telling them what an honour it was to receive them. “And to see you again, Mrs Gardiner, after all these years and under such splendid circumstances. I cannot think of anything that would have pleased you better than to see your niece as mistress of Pemberley. Lambton was always so dear to your heart and now you have an excellent excuse to visit us both very often, I hope.”
“I am very lucky to have been invited to stay so soon and I hope to visit you often, my dear friend,” Mrs Gardiner replied.
Mrs Butler glanced at Georgiana who despite herself could not help look with fascination at everything around the room. “It’s a very queer room, is it not, Miss Darcy?”
“Oh, Mrs Butler, on the contrary, it is a lovely room, but you must think me so rude for staring.”
“Not at all, my dear, and if there is anything takes your fancy for a closer scrutiny, I hope you will have a look. See these old panels on the walls? My late husband rescued them from a ship he served in that was broken up for scrap. I never felt so far away from him when he was at sea, so long as I could see these lovely pieces of timber worked on and polished by his own hand to fit into my parlour.”
“Mr Butler was a skilled carpenter as well as being an admirable sea captain,” joined in Mrs Gardiner. “I remember he made you a sewing box on your marriage, a most beautiful object to my mind.”
“I have it still, though it is locked in the cupboard this morning. I’ll fetch it out in a minute, Miss Darcy, and you can see what my husband had to keep himself occupied on during those long days on board ship when he was a mere midshipman.”
At that moment the party heard the sound of the front door shutting and a man’s voice booming with cheerful resonance to the maid in the hall.
“Oh, my goodness me, I quite forgot to tell you in all my excitement in seeing you again,” Mrs Butler declared, her face lighting up with pleasure. “Master Thomas is home for a holiday. He has just finished on a scheme of work at Lord Featherstone’s house in Richmond, but I expect he will tell you all about it himself.”
Just as she spoke, the door of the parlour opened to admit a tall young man with an air of affable good nature and with such pleasing looks that Georgiana, who had started to become quite at ease, felt quite unequal to meet the eyes of those which alighted so eagerly upon her countenance.

© Jane Odiwe Mr. Darcy's Secret 2011

Monday, November 14, 2011

Mr Darcy Forever - Victoria Connelly

My lovely guest today is Victoria Connelly, the author of A Weekend with Mr Darcy, and The Perfect Hero, two books inspired by Jane Austen. She has a new book out, Mr Darcy Forever, which I thoroughly enjoyed, and if you've read any of Victoria's other books, I'm sure you'll enjoy this too! I have lovely memories of showing Victoria around Bath during the Jane Austen Festival, taking tea in the Pump Rooms and looking at all the wonderful costumes in the Fashion Museum. I seem to remember we spied a particularly dashing Mr Darcy figure on the promenade walk...
I asked Victoria to tell us a little more about her books and the characters she writes about.

What made you want to write novels inspired by Jane Austen?
I’d been visiting lots of the Jane Austen locations: Chawton in Hampshire, Lyme Regis and Bath and I was really inspired by how beautiful they were and I thought they’d make great settings for novels.  I quickly came up with an idea for a trilogy: three separate books about modern-day Jane Austen addicts, each set in a different Austen location.
I’d also just watched ‘Lost in Austen’ and had laughed out loud when Amanda Price declared ‘I just want to read my book’ after her drunken boyfriend interrupts her evening’s reading of reading ‘Pride and Prejudice’.  I wanted to explore what it was like to be an Austen addict in a world that can often seem far from romantic.

Can you tell us something about the characters in Mr. Darcy Forever? Who is your favourite?
‘Mr Darcy Forever’ is about two estranged sisters, Sarah and Mia Castle, who are loosely based on Elinor and Marianne Dashwood from ‘Sense and Sensibility’.  I kept wondering what Austen’s sisters would be like if they were alive today and my heroine, Sarah, has OCD – she’s incredibly controlled about everything in her life – measuring, counting, cleaning etc.  It was fascinating to learn about OCD and she was a fun character to write about.  There’s also a naughty dog called Bingley who’s a lot of fun too!

For you, which comes first? The plot or the characters? How long does it take for you to outline your book before you start writing, or do you just dive in and plot as you go along?
It’s often hard to tell which comes first – plot and characters both often go hand in hand for me.  I come up with a very rough idea eg: estranged sisters or a Jane Austen conference (as in ‘A Weekend with Mr Darcy’) or a lottery winner who gives it all away (for ‘Molly’s Millions’).  I do a very rough plot outline which gets padded out as I go along.  But I do rather like the surprise of diving into a new project and seeing where it takes me.

What research for your book surprised you the most, and which bit of research did you enjoy most?
To research this book, I stayed in Bath for three nights during the Jane Austen Festival.  It was amazing.  I loved every minute of it from the grand costumed promenade to the dancing and the talks about Regency costume.  I met some fabulous people and was probably most surprised by the continuing popularity of Jane Austen and that people had come from all over the world to celebrate her work.  I talked to people from Italy, America, Scandanavia and Australia.  It’s incredible that she’s still so loved 200 years after her first book was published.

Who has been the biggest influence on your writing?
Recently, the biggest influence has been Jane Austen!  I have a lot to thank her for – she’s inspired my trilogy which broke me into the American market and has got me into the Top 100 Amazon Kindle Chart.  Growing up, though, I have to say I was influenced more by films than books – I devoured romantic comedies and adored the films of Doris Day, Judy Garland, Deanna Durbin and Marilyn Monroe.  Romantic comedies are my favourite genre and I feel very privileged to be writing them now.

What is the one thing your readers would be the most surprised to know about you?
They might be surprised to know that I love a good thriller and I adore gangster films from the 1930s and 40s.  Alongside the Doris Day movies, I love anything starring James Cagney and I adore ‘Public Enemy’ and ‘Angels with Dirty Faces’ – basically, any film where James Cagney ends up dead.  That might surprise my readers!

If you weren’t writing, what would you be doing?
Going mad, probably!  I can’t imagine not writing but, before my writing took off, I was an English teacher.  Other jobs that appeal are anything creative – something in the world of film or working in Jim Henson’s creature workshop!  I’m also passionate about conservation and animal welfare – I have a rescue spaniel and some ex-battery hens so maybe a job helping animals.  But I think I’d always be writing - no matter what other job I did.  

Thank you, Victoria, for being my guest today, and I wish you much success with Mr Darcy Forever!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A Harry Potter moment on Bonfire Night!

My husband took these magical images on bonfire night-I think they're all fantastic but the romantic in me is very taken with the heart - ah, young love! What fun you can have with a packet of sparklers!!!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Gone Reading, Brad Wirz, and Jane Austen Gifts!

I was contacted recently by Brad Wirz, the founder of a remarkable new company set up to benefit people in parts of the world where reading is a luxurious privilege not open to everyone. It's very hard to imagine not having access to libraries, teachers and books in our societies so when Brad wrote and said that 100%of the profits that are made from the gifts they sell go towards making reading and literacy a real possibility in the developing world, I was very happy to help spread the word! I think you'll be particularly interested in the range of 
Jane Austen Gifts which will not only make fabulous presents, but will be helping others less fortunate than ourselves.

 I also love the fact that Brad has risen to the challenge of attempting to read Jane Austen himself, and you can read his thoughts on our favourite author.
Here's a little more about Gone Reading and its founder, Brad Wirz.
Gone Reading International – maker of the GoneReading brand of gifts for readers – was founded to bring the magic of reading 
to places where it doesn’t exist.  “We believe that when people have open access to great reading materials, life always changes 
for the better,” says founder Brad Wirz.

That’s why GoneReading, founded in 2011, has pledged all company profits to fund new reading libraries and other literacy 
projects in the developing world.  By purchasing GoneReading brand products, you’re changing the world while treating your 
friends and family to great gifts. 

During a volunteer trip to Central America in 2010, Wirz helped to build a library in the middle of the Honduran jungle.
“Hundreds of villages, thousands of people, had basically no access to books or reading materials at all.  That just blew mind," says Wirz. "Six months later I quit my job and ended my 20 year career to try and put books into the hands of all who don't have that advantage," Wirz continues.
The result is GoneReading and its unique brand of gifts for the reading lifestyle.  GoneReading gifts feature original designs and slogans. Each design is available for purchase on an array of apparel, drink ware, book bags, baby clothing, pet products and more.

What were you doing before you began GoneReading? 
“I had a better-than-I-deserved career in marketing for 20 years.  I spent the last 10 running the North American event marketing division of a global 
consortium called Euro RSCG.” 

What made you want to start an organization like GoneReading? 
“Reading has always been my #1 hobby.  I can’t imagine a world without books.  But one day I read (in a book, oddly enough) that almost a billion people in the world don’t have access to books.  They’re basically living in the middle ages.  I couldn’t just sit by and let that fact stand.” 

Do you remember the exact moment you decided to quit your job? 
“Yes.  My corporate life had taken its toll.  I’ll spare you the details, but I found myself curled up in the fetal position in a hotel room in New York City.  I called my wife and said ‘I can’t do this anymore!’  By coincidence I had previously committed to going on a volunteer trip to Honduras in a few weeks’ time.  Our project involved helping to build a library in the middle of the Honduran jungle.  That’s what got the wheels turning in my mind.” 

So how does GoneReading work? 
“Rather than start another charity that relies on donations, I decided to put my marketing background to work.  We market a lifestyle brand of merchandise and gifts – called GoneReading - specifically for book lovers like you and me.  Our current offering consists of original designs, each coupled with a slogan to pique the interest of readers.  Our designs are available for purchase on a variety of shirts, mugs, book bags, baby clothes and even dog t-shirts.  Everything is available for purchase at  We’re donating 100% of the company profits in perpetuity to fund new libraries in the developing world.  We actually wrote that into our corporate charter.” 

How do you develop the designs and slogans on your merchandise? 
“It’s a collaborative process between myself and an amazing illustrator by the name of Danny Wilson.  Danny and I worked together throughout my corporate career.  We develop most of the concepts internally, and Danny brings them to life visually.  I need to give Danny more credit though, as he developed the entire concept for one of our most popular designs, called Take Me To Your Reader.” 

How does all of this actually result in more libraries and literacy projects? 
“One of the things learned in the first five minutes while volunteering in Honduras is that I bring absolutely nothing to the physical process of building libraries.  Mixing cement is not as much fan as it sounds!  That’s why we’re donating 100% of company profits to help fund non-profit organizations that 
already specialize in developing libraries in the poorest parts of the world.  My wife and I went to India and Nepal earlier this year to meet with such groups, to see the work they are doing on the ground.  It’s amazing to see how a simple library can profoundly effect a local community.  Reading is a primary tool of self-improvement; without it, you don’t stand a chance.” 

I'm sure you'll all agree this is such a fantastic way to bring the gift of reading to everyone. Thank you Brad for contacting me - I'm so happy to help spread the word!