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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 http://www.julietarcher.com