Friday, December 2, 2011

Interview with Juliet Archer

Juliet Archer chairs the RNA’s London and South-East Chapter, and claims to be on a mission to modernise all six of Jane Austen’s completed novels, in a series called ‘Darcy & Friends’. I would guess that Jane Austen is the author who has most influenced your work, Juliet? 

Jane Austen has indeed been my biggest influence. 200 years ago, she recognised all the magic ingredients of comedy romance: wonderful characterisation, expert plotting, vibrant language, and using wit to drive the humour. She’s one of the few authors I can read over and over again, even though I know exactly how everything turns out in the end.

And who do you choose to read for pleasure? 

I include Jane Austen in my reading for pleasure, along with books by other Choc Lit and RNA authors, whether contemporary or historical. I also love Lee Child’s fast-paced thrillers – Jack Reacher is James Bond for grown-ups!

I believe you have a full-time career in business. How do you manage to fit your writing in around that?

At the moment I’m commuting to London by train most days, which gives me the opportunity to write – or at least edit and generally think about my work-in-progress. I get up around 5 am and do something writing-related before leaving for the station, even if it’s only answering emails. When I arrive home in the evening, I’m usually too tired to do anything creative – unless I’m giving a talk, which requires building up my energy levels for a couple of hours. Once both our children left home, I thought that I’d have more time for writing – but it hasn’t happened yet because work has got busier. Still, there’s always retirement …

Tell us how do you go about starting a new novel? 
By throwing the reader in at the deep end! My starting point is a scene in my mind that captures a major source of conflict between the hero and heroine. This usually becomes a prologue, giving the reader a glimpse of something in the past, present or future before the story gets underway.
The prologue to THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EMMA is a scene from the past, where the hero discovers the heroine’s teenage crush on him (inspired by Austen positioning Knightley as a much older ‘bossy big brother’ type) and makes her resentful for years afterwards.

As your characters are ‘borrowed’ from Jane Austen, how do you keep them sympathetic to modern readers?

It’s rather like analysing a famous figure from history and proving that their passions and flaws are just as relevant today. I begin by unpicking the social context of Austen’s characters, then transport them to the 21st century, complete with jobs, mobile phones, internet connections and sex lives – great fun! And I love finding plausible modern parallels to some of Austen’s most famous scenes – such as Louisa Musgrove’s fall on the Cobb, and Wentworth’s letter.

Tell us about your latest book, PERSUADE ME. What inspired you to write it?

For the second in my ‘Darcy & Friends’ series, I wanted a change of mood from the almost slapstick comedy of Emma; so Persuasion, with its romantic restraint and autumnal feel, seemed the obvious choice.

I like to describe my version in terms of a recipe – a recipe for romance, a light fruity pavlova, the ideal happy ending for those long winter evenings. Take the following ingredients: 2 lovers (1 hero and 1 heroine), separated; 5 sisters – 2 hard-boiled, 2 empty-headed and 1 that you would actually enjoy being with; 1 father, finer feelings – and who knows what else? – removed with a sharp knife; 1 godmother, grated – or should that be grating?; 2 brothers-in-law; 1 anti-hero, ripe for mischief; and 1 French temptress, who knows exactly which side her bread’s buttered.

Method (Jane Austen’s Persuasion method preferred): whip hero into a frenzy, while keeping heroine cool. Mix them together with the sisters, father, godmother, brothers-in-law and French temptress, reserving the anti-hero for later. Cook this mixture for 341 pages, introducing the anti-hero half-way through. Serve with vodka, to complement the flavouring of 19th-century Russian literature.

I think I can guess who your favourite hero is.

Yes, it has to be Mr Darcy. The original will do nicely, although I’d be happy with either the Colin Firth or Matthew Macfadyen version. What do your children think of your books? My daughter loves them – which is great, as I started updating Austen partly because she couldn’t get into the originals. My son says he’ll get round to reading them soon, so there’s a message in there somewhere.

Are you ever driven to write by hand?

Yes – in spite of having a laptop, Kindle and iPad! I prefer having a hard copy as it gets me into the mindset of a reader. What would you most like to find in your Christmas stocking? A voucher for a holiday in a remote cottage, so that I can get on with writing!

You spoke earlier of a recipe for writing. What about in cooking?

As my publisher is Choc Lit, it has to be something made with chocolate!
One of my favourites is Black Forest Trifle – easy to make and goes down well with adults and children alike.

You need:
1 slab of chocolate sponge cake, as stale as you like.
1 tin of black cherries, stoned
1 packet of black cherry jelly (optional)
1 packet of quick chocolate dessert mix, such as Angel Delight (this is the only time I use it, honest!) – or a few pots of chocolate mousse, if you’re feeling extravagant, or chocolate custard/sauce Double cream, whipped
1 crumbled Cadbury’s Flake or grated chocolate, for decoration

Break the cake into pieces and place in a trifle bowl. Add the contents of the tin of black cherries – the cake will soak up the surplus juice. If using jelly, make it up according to the instructions, pour onto the fruit/cake mixture and set aside to cool. Make up the dessert mix and spoon this (or the chocolate mousse/custard) over the trifle base. Add the cream and decorate with the chocolate.

Thank you Juliet for sparing the time to talk to us today.

Juliet’s debut novel was The Importance of Being Emma, inspired by Austen’s Emma and a desire to give Mr Knightley a makeover. It was shortlisted for the 2009 Melissa Nathan Award for Comedy Romance and in 2011 won the Big Red Read Fiction Award. Her second novel, Persuade Me, was shortlisted for the 2011 Festival of Romance Best Romantic Read. To find out more visit her website


Carol Townend said...

Your books sound fascinating, I can't wait to read them... (Persuasion's one of my favourites.) Like the covers too!

Christina Courtenay said...

Great interview, Juliet, and any recipe with chocolate in it always goes down well in my family - thank you :)

Can't believe you can do anything writing related at 5am - that's the middle of the night as far as I'm concerned! But then, I'm definitely a night owl instead.

Deborah Carr (Debs) said...

Great interview.

I can't wait to read, The Importance of Being Emma. What a beautiful cover too.

Chris Stovell said...

I don't know how you pack it all in, Juliet! Well done on all your success.

Juliet Archer said...

Thank you all for your lovely comments. I'm definitely not a night owl - I keel over at about 8pm, unless I've had an afternoon nap!

Liz Harris said...

What an interesting interview. It left me feeling Wow,Juliet! You do so much, and all of it so well. And you run the SE Chapter of the RNA. Respect!

The party today was brilliant. Thank you very much.

Liz X

Elizabeth Hawksley said...

I really enjoyed 'The Importance of being Emma' and I'm looking forward to reading 'Persuade Me'. 'Persuasion' is perhaps my favourite Austen.

And I'm delighted to know that there are another four to look forward to!

Anonymous said...

Great interview!

I'm looking forward to 'Persuade Me'. Preferably with chocolates to hand as Mr Darcy is sadly unavailable.

This is such a brilliant project, and I'm sure Jane Austen would love them, too.


Monica Fairview said...

I really enjoyed The Importance of Being Emma, so definitely want to read Persuade Me. I love the covers, too.

Great interview!