A few months ago, I got an email from my “Regency expert.” The woman I go to with any Regency question. Her question? Did I want to take a look at her Mansfield Park inspired Christmas story?
Let’s see… my favorite Austen heroine and her misunderstood sweetheart? YES!
I’ve been waiting for the rest of the collection ever since. And last Friday, it came out! A Very Austen Christmas is a delightful collection of four Christmas Novellas, all inspired by Jane Austen’s most beloved characters and even Jane Austen herself!
I bought it and immediately begged for interviews with each of the four authors. They have, I might add, graciously complied. So, without further adieu, let’s get to know the creative geniuses behind A Very Austen Christmas.
Links may be affiliate links that provide a small commission at no extra expense to you.
First up, with Her Christmas Gift by Robin Helm:
Christmas at Rosings… How cruel can you be? What made you decide to torment poor Lizzy so?
It is a truth universally acknowledged that every Pride and Prejudice variation must have an ample serving of either Lady Catherine de Bourgh or Caroline Bingley. People love to despise them, and they provide a wonderful contrast to Elizabeth. In Her Christmas Gift, Lady Catherine had been too ill to travel to Hertfordshire and harangue Elizabeth. Therefore, her ladyship had not had her conversation with Darcy which had given him hope, and he did not make his second proposal to Elizabeth.
I actually think I was kind to Elizabeth in moving her from Longbourn to Rosings immediately after Jane’s wedding to Bingley. (Her mother, you know!)
If you could spend Christmas in any of the houses used in Austen adaptation movies, which would you choose?
I dearly love all of those houses (except Longbourn in the 2005 Pride and Prejudice movie). However, my favorite house of all, and I own nearly every miniseries and movie of Austen’s novels, is the 1995 Pemberley (Lyme Park exterior, Sudbury Hall interior). It would really help if I were twenty and young Colin was there to greet me.
What made you first decide to do an Austen retelling?
My sister discovered Austen retellings before I did, and she introduced me to the genre in 2005. She gave me Pamela Aiden’s Fitzwilliam Darcy,Gentleman trilogy. I loved it and bought other books in the genre by Carrie Bebris, Laura Hile, Susan Kaye, and others.
As I joined online forums to read works-in-progress, my Austen obsession grew until I began to think of the Austenesque stories I wanted to write. I published my first novel in 2011, Guardian (The Guardian Trilogy), portraying Darcy as Elizabeth’s guardian angel. The three books present a Scripturally accurate view of angels and demons, approved by my pastor. Since that time, I’ve published seven books and an anthology (A Very Austen Christmas), and I have plans for two more books I need to write in the next year.
Does your family enjoy any wonderful food traditions inspired by Regency dishes? If not, are there any you’d love to convince them to love?
My husband and I are empty nesters, and when my daughters and their families visit, the food is all disgustingly healthy. Ha! However, during my childhood, my three brothers hunted rabbits, squirrels, pheasants, and deer. They also caught fish and frogs (frog’s legs), and we raised cows and pigs which Daddy slaughtered.
We were a family of eight in extremely rural South Carolina. Though we were relatively poor, we always had plenty to eat. Meat and fish, as well as vegetables from our garden, and the jams and jellies Mother canned from fruit we grew on our property, made up a large part of our meals, just as it did for people in the Regency.
I still use many of my mother’s holiday recipes – such as sweet potato casserole (such an exemplary vegetable). Being Southern, iced tea is always on my menu.
What modern element of Christmas do you think Austen would enjoy most?
If I lived in the Regency era and was transported to this time period, I would love central heating at Christmas. I grew up in a 200 year old plantation farm house with an oil heater which warmed only the family room. We froze in the winter and burned up in the summer. Our fire places smoked, so we didn’t use them. I can remember seeing my own breath in the bedroom I shared with my two sisters.
Austen wrote in Emma, “At Christmas everybody invites their friends and thinks little of even the worst weather.”
Based on that quote, I can imagine Austen would love the pageantry and music we use to celebrate Christmas in our churches, the decorations, and our easy modes of travel from one place to another. Can you imagine the difference between traveling in a chilly carriage or a warm car? We easily visit family that lives several hours away. They thought fifty miles was a long distance. Even if it was fifty miles of good road.
Lovers of Pride and Prejudice will love the skillful weaving of Miss Austen’s own words in many situations into this adapted story. I was rather impressed with just how many familiar lines there were, sometimes in the least expected places!
Next up with The Christmas Matchmaker is Laura Hile:
So, Emma Woodhouse is at it again, is she? What made you decide to mix Emma and Elizabeth?
Mash-ups add sparkle to Austen fiction. Actually, the idea of gracious, well-bred Emma Woodhouse confronting Caroline Bingley, the arrogant social climber, was what started me off. As for Elizabeth, Emma is instantly fond of her, and she is determined to put together a brilliant match. But her choice isn’t Mr. Darcy …
I’ve asked some of the other ladies about adaptations, so I’m going to throw you an Emma one. Disregarding the movies themselves, just as actors only, Jeremy Northam or Jonny Lee Miller for Knightley? Why?
Oh, tough question! I’ll go with Jonny Lee Miller – he has a slight edge on the Knightley vibe (older, more worldly-wise), plus he is more, well … blunt with Emma. A very, very hard choice. Robin will tell you that Mark Strong is da man.
(And I agree on some points, but Jeremy Northam’s “Badly done, Emma” is far superior in my opinion.)
Do you share your work with your students? Did any read The Christmas Matchmaker? What did they think of it? And if you didn’t, why not?
My high school students would very much like to read my fiction; they ask, but I turn them down. My books are “clean” enough, but it’s kind of awkward to read “the teacher’s book.” What I can do is encourage them as writers, giving insider tips and editorial help. We analyze movies, watch selected TED talks, and pore over writing articles I’ve gleaned from the web.
When I, a published author, tell a student, “You could earn money doing this,” it means a lot. Seeing real books with my name impresses them more than anything. “If I can, so can you,” I say. “Learn the craft of writing by doing it. Don’t you dare give up.”
What Christmas tradition does your family have that you think Austen would enjoy most. Is it a treat? Your caroling service? Making special ornaments?
We go caroling with our church as a mob, hundreds of us storming the neighborhood – with guitars and tambourines and any instrument that can be carried, even drums. It’s a hoot. And after the Christmas Eve candlelight service, we come home to eat lasagna and watch The Shop Around the Corner (Margaret Sullivan, James Stewart, 1940). As boys, my sons rolled their eyes at this sentimental movie, but now they’re the ones hauling out the DVD.
Although I have to tell you, two years ago Mom was unwell, so I spent Christmas in California. My sons and husband were left alone at home, and what did they watch Christmas Eve? Can you guess? Sure you can. Die Hard.
I’ve been waiting for more since Darcy by Any Other Name… what’s next?
Since losing my mom this past summer, it’s felt like I’m walking in knee-deep sludge. I’m not depressed – she is home with Jesus – but my energy and flexibility are, like, gone.
Nevertheless, I do have a new project, which is not-so-new to you. I have acquired the publication rights to my three Mercy’s Embrace novels and will be re-releasing them as Indies, with gorgeous new covers and everything. I’m working to get the first one, So Rough a Course, out within the next two or three weeks. There are many new readers in the Austen genre, and they have yet to discover my Elizabeth Elliot. Exciting times!
(Austen Lovers, I HIGHLY recommend these!!! I have reviews on them HERE)
Next up with No Better Gift is Wendi Sotis, whom I’d never read before this.
And while I didn’t finish her story in time for this post, her writing is excellent and I’m intrigued by it.
When you chose your Austen character for this collection, what led you to Darcy and that particular time in the narrative of Pride & Prejudice?
Originally, I was going to write a variation story of Northanger Abbey, but I was having a bit of trouble getting started, probably because I’m used to writing P&P. About a year ago, I had downloaded an outline of Pride and Prejudice from the internet. Once in a while, I open that file and at each point of the outline ask, “What could change here?” to find story ideas.
When I got to December this time, this entire storyline simply popped into my head. I couldn’t have stopped myself from writing it if I had tried! Maybe the Northanger Abbey story I had been thinking about will get written someday.
Do you have other Austen retellings we should know about? Which is your favorite?
Promises, Dreams and Expectations, All Hallow’s Eve, The Gypsy Blessing, Foundation of Love (The Gypsy Blessing 2), The Keys for Love, and A Lesson Hard Learned. Safekeeping is not a true retelling, but the main character writes Austen retellings, and P&P influences her daily life.
I think the story I’m working on at any given time is always my favorite!
(this I totally get, by the way! Feel your pain, Wendi!)
Of my unpublished short stories, I think the very silly mash-up between Star Trek and Austen’s works (Sense & Sensibility, Mr. Darcy, and Sharks in Space) is my favorite, though The Blanket is a close second.
If you could incorporate one Regency Christmas tradition into modern life, what would it be?
This is a difficult question. Before writing this story, I became lost in my research into all the wonderful Christmas traditions during the Regency! I think I’d like to involve my family with making a plum pudding (stir up day, hiding prizes within, etc.), but I’m wondering how sanitary it would be to leave it hanging in a bag for weeks and then only boiling it an hour on Christmas Day!
And readers will want to know. Adaptation heroes– Colin Firth or Matthew MacFayden?
I love them both (sigh) and I think my Darcy is usually a blend of the two, though I always lean more towards Colin. In Promises, since it was written as a cross-over between P&P and An Affair to Remember, when I pictured Darcy, he was a cross between Cary Grant and Colin Firth.
Squee… I must read Promises!!!
What can we expect to see from you next? Anything exciting coming soon?
I’m always working on more than one story at a time. I’m in the middle of revising a non-Austen Regency (written in my usual Austenesque style) called The Pact. I’m hoping that will be ready to release in the first half of 2018.
I also have a few new Austen retellings in progress. The one I’ll probably finish first is currently untitled — titles are so hard for me! In it, before the original P&P novel begins, Elizabeth Bennet travels with her aunt and uncle to assist Aunt Gardiner’s ailing sister and brother-in-law, who are tenant farmers at Pemberley.
And the reason I even knew about this collection is because of Barbara Cornthwaite and her story Mistletoe at Thornton Lacey.
As an author of a series about Emma and Knightley, I find your choice of Mansfield Park (one of my personal favorites) very interesting. Why did you choose Mansfield over Emma?
For a very practical reason: I didn’t want to mess up the next Emma/Knightley novel that I have planned! Since this had to be a Christmas story, it would encompass the timeline of my next book, and I didn’t want to do that. So I had to pick another novel. Fortunately, Mansfield Park is very short on details about Fanny and Edmund’s engagement, so it gives a writer a free hand.
What is it about Austen fiction that captures your heart and imagination?
I think it’s the combination of humor, realistic characters, and emotions that ring true through the centuries.
I agree with you completely. Her humor is stellar!
As an American living in Ireland, how are Irish Christmas traditions different from American ones?
Fruitcake (called plum pudding or Christmas pudding) is loved and eagerly awaited here, unlike most places in America! Also, it seems like the season lasts much longer, since stores are decorated up the wazoo for Christmas starting November 1 (in other words, the day after Halloween).
Fewer people decorate the outside of their houses for Christmas, so driving around to look at Christmas lights is not really a thing. I miss that! Also, Christmas tends to be a bit more of a religious holiday than it is in the States, although it’s growing less so every year.
If you could only listen to one Christmas song ever again, what would it be?
It’s a tossup between “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” and “Mary Did You Know?” Probably “Hark the Herald” is ahead by a nose–“God and sinners reconciled” is my favorite line from any song, I think.
What can we expect from you next?
I know what happens after Emma and Knightley get married! And I hope to share it in a new book coming in the New Year!
Squeeeeeeeeeeeeeee! I am so excited for this!
As you can see, I gave them each five questions… So now let’s look at…
5 Reasons to Read these Wonderful Austen-Inspired Novellas
And let’s face it. You don’t usually go past Victorian for old-fashioned. Regency takes it to a whole new level—and with Austen! C’mon! That’s just cool!
They’re short enough to read in a sitting.
Christmas is a busy time, so a full-length novel at Christmas can be a bit tedious, but a novella is a perfect compromise between time and tradition!
We get to visit old friends!
Miss Bates? Got it! Darcy and Lizzie? Got ‘em! Fanny Price? Lady Catherine de Bourgh? Yep! All those beloved characters and more in one collection—and sometimes in one book! I wasn’t sure about mixing up Emma and Lizzie, but it works, and beautifully!
You get to try a variety of styles for one low price!
So often we find a book that sounds good, but do we want to invest the time and money into something we know nothing about? In a collection like this, we get to sample several writers’ works at a very low cost. And with four separate authors in this collection, you’re sure to find something you like.
I don’t know about you, but I get tired of books that have just too much smut. While one of these stories dances a little closer to the TMI line, it shouldn’t cross it for most readers. The author is a Christian and is conscientious about her work. In fact, that’s why I kept reading when I wasn’t sure what was going on! Sure enough, she didn’t disappoint me.
And when I keep seeing pornography masquerading as Austen adaptations everywhere I turn, it’s nice to know that isn’t going to happen. Just sayin’.
Although I’m not finished with Wendi Sotis’ story, I’m giving this collection five stars.
Because I loved it. I loved the originality in the stories, seeing old friends, and seeing the style and the era treated with respect and skill.
Good luck to the authors. I’ll be watching for your next works!
Congratulations Janashe! You won!
Giveaway void where prohibited.