Friday, March 21, 2014

Author interview: Melanie Kerr on Follies Past (a Pride and Prejudice prequel)

 
Debut writer reveals Mr. Darcy’s scandalous past!!!

EDMONTON, ALBERTA 200 years after the publication of Pride and Prejudice, Melanie Kerr’s new novel treats readers to the complete and dramatic history of Mr. Darcy and Mr. Wickham. 
 
The novel is entitled Follies Past: a Prequel to Pride and Prejudice, and to read it is to step back into the charming world of Jane Austen’s England, to pass a few more hours with some of her beloved characters, sympathetically portrayed as they might have been before ever they came to Netherfield. 

In Pride and Prejudice, everything hinges on a letter which Mr. Darcy gives Elizabeth - a letter setting forth all his dealings with Mr. Wickham. These facts, supplied by Austen herself, are at the heart of Follies Past. The drama begins almost a year before the opening of Pride and Prejudice itself, at Pemberley, at Christmas. We follow young Georgiana Darcy to London, to Ramsgate and to the brink of a perilous elopement. Along the way, readers will discover a host of new characters, with compelling histories of their own. Authentic in its use of language and meticulously researched, Follies Past is a truly diverting entertainment. 

Melanie Kerr has not only penned and published Follies Past, she has also scripted, directed and produced three film-style book trailers, for which she personally designed and created all the period costumes. She also planned and executed a highly successful book launch last November at the Hotel Macdonald, featuring live music, dramatic reading and a real live Mr. Darcy. She is currently planning a book tour to promote her novel, while raising her two young sons and carrying on a busy legal practice. 
 
Follies Past is her debut novel.

The book is currently available for Kindle at http://www.amazon.ca/dp/B00GD76KJY and in paperback at http://www.createspace.com/4524790
 
More information on the book, including the first chapter and the 3 film-style trailers, can be found at http://FolliesPast.com

Also, see http://twitter.com/folliespast and http://facebook.com/folliespast for updates on the book and posts on interesting historical trivia. The trailers for the book can also be viewed at http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCIn1Mil6l-w4f3pPD9wm6WA
 
Vanya D.: First of all, tell me about your new book.

In Pride and Prejudice, everything hinges on a letter which Mr. Darcy gives Elizabeth - a letter setting forth all his dealings with Mr. Wickham. These facts, supplied by Austen herself, are at the heart of Follies Past: a Prequel to Pride and Prejudice. The novel begins at Pemberley, at Christmas, almost a year before the opening of Pride and Prejudice. It follows young Georgiana Darcy to London, to Ramsgate and to the brink of a perilous elopement.
Vanya D.: Sounds exciting! And tell me about yourself. Who is Melanie Kerr?

I am a mother of 2 young boys, a lawyer and a definite Anglophile. I live in Edmonton, in Canada, where I dream of England’s green hills and stone cottages, and force my friends to drink out of china tea cups and eat cucumber sandwiches.
Vanya D.: How did your life as a writer begin?

Follies Past is my first actual novel, but I have been creating fiction since childhood, from countless home theatricals, to elaborate role-playing activities, to costume and set design for their own sake. I was involved in school and community theatre productions and wrote many of my own stories, poems and plays.
It was not until later that I was introduced to Jane Austen and the channel for all my interests became clear, for in her work, drama, make-believe and grammar came together in a charming, intelligent and escapist way that captivated my imagination. I have been sewing my own petticoats and dreaming of Colin Firth ever since.
Two years ago, I was given a book, called How to Write a Sentence and in it the author proposes that, as a painter should love paint itself, so a writer must love sentences. I realized when I read this that I must be a writer. A well-made sentence thrills me with its beauty as much as any masterpiece in any other medium. Now that I have taken on a large writing project, I find I cannot get enough of it.

Vanya D.: What makes you feel inspired to write?

In this case, it was the story of Pride and Prejudice itself, but I am inspired all the time, by almost anything, a thought, a song, a daydream, a good conversation. I am sure I would be incredibly prolific if I only had the time. I have 2 kids and a law career, so my writing is something I have to really make time for. It is my drug of choice, as it were.

Vanya D.: How did you come with the idea for your current story?

One of the great things about Jane Austen’s storytelling is the way she ties everything up into a deeply satisfying ending. We all want the books to go on and on, but extending the characters and the plot after the final chapter felt to me like interfering with that perfect ending. And it would all  have to be speculative. Nobody knows what happens after the close of a book, but Jane Austen herself tells us what happened before Pride and Prejudice. So, I thought if I could extend the story backwards in time, I would be able to explore more of her world, spend more time with her characters and create the experience I longed for as a reader, but without offending anyone’s ideas about what might have happened. Everyone ends up exactly as they are at the start of P&P.  Also,  I love the history of things. I love the depth that a prequel can give to an original story, not that P&P needs anything from me, but just to expand on the back-story, to delve into the history, felt really exciting.
The book also contains a story of its own, to create the arc and structure of a Jane Austen novel, the kind of plot that I, myself, like to read. Because everyone knows how the Wickham and Georgiana story ends, I have woven it with another story with some mystery and drama to keep the pages turning.
Vanya D.: Tell us about your writing process. Do you outline, or are you more of a seat of your pants type of a writer?

I definitely outline. I have to know where I am going, so that everything builds towards a conclusion. Writing Follies Past, I had the ending in mind the whole time. I could have written the last three chapters first. I felt like this helped me to focus my writing and prevented me from getting side-tracked. It also motivated me to keep writing because I just wanted to get to the ending, which I was so excited about writing.
Vanya D.: What is your favorite scene in the book? Why?

If I told you my favourite scene, it would give away the whole plot, because it is right at the end. But I do have a few other favourites nearer the beginning, even perhaps the first chapter, in which Caroline is coming to Pemberley for Christmas, and she thinks it is because Mr. Darcy is interested in her. She is such a vain, selfish character, and so much fun to write. The reader gets to find out a bit more about her, and to explore a bit more about who she is and what her story is all about, which I enjoyed writing about very much.
Vanya D.: What is your most interesting writing quirk?

My goal in writing Follies Past was to imitate, as closely as possible, the style of Jane Austen herself. I studied Linguistics as my major in university, so I approached her use of language very technically, and was very sensitive to the differences between the way words and syntax were used in her time, and in ours. I also carefully studied some of her rhetorical devices, and particular ways she combined words for humour or other effects. I don’t know if you would call this a quirk, but I think it is one of the things that makes the book distinctive.
Vanya D.: What is your usual writing routine?

Firstly, I have to escape my children. They are aged 1 and 4, and if they are anywhere near me, they think they have to be on top of my head or something, so I cannot write with them around. Then, I have a cup of tea and a bit of dark chocolate, and I sit in a comfortable chair, cross-legged, with my laptop on my lap. I like to have 2 hours at a time, as that is enough time to get something substantial down, but not so long that I grow tired of it. Also, I can never get more than that away from my family at a time.
Vanya D.: What is the highest goal that you desire to meet as an author?

In terms of my writing itself, I would love to be as good as Jane Austen herself. So far, I have yet to find anyone else able to write such diverting stories, with such compositional skill, and such meaningful and timeless insight into human character.
In terms of personal goals, I would love to have my book made into a 3-part mini-series for British television. I write a blog and keep a Facebook page about Follies Past, and I often write posts about whom I would like to play different roles in this fantasy adaptation of my book. I think that would be a dream come true.