Susan here, very pleased to welcome May McGoldrick–authors Nikoo and Jim McGoldrick, who also write as Jan Coffey–to Word Wenches to chat about their newest release, Jane Austen Cannot Marry. The story moves between Regency England and the future as Nadine and Xander, traveling from the future, risk a little "un-matchmaking" in 1811 as they do their utmost to ensure that Jane Austen's novels will be written and her literary legacy will survive. The book is already earning stellar reviews — "A stunning and beautifully written time travel novel unlike any other," said one Amazon reviewer.
Read on to learn more about the story and its unique and heartfelt inspiration from this real-life couple. And be sure to scroll to the end for a chance to win a copy of Jane Austen Cannot Marry!
Susan King: Welcome, Nikoo and Jim! Can you tell us a little about the story?
Nikoo & Jim: Yes! Much of this story takes place in April of 1811 in Hythe, England. Nadine Finley is a Scribe Guardian from the future who’s arrived there to play ‘un-matchmaker’ to a romance involving Jane Austen. The as-yet-unknown author is about to run into an old flame, a British naval officer with whom she had a serious romance ten years earlier. Because he was a junior officer at the time, Austen’s family quashed the relationship. If the two get together now, Austen will never write the great stories the world cherishes.
Complications arise when Nadine’s own love interest from the future also arrives on the scene. Xander is a tech person who is cheerfully unfamiliar with both history and literature. He’s totally ‘fish-out-of-water’ in Regency England.
SK: Time travel. Scribe Guardians. Can you tell us why you decided to delve into this new genre?
N & J: As some of you already know, I (Nikoo) was given the difficult diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer earlier this year. My initial bout with breast cancer occurred nineteen years ago. Now, it’s back and I’m going through treatment.
After learning the prognosis, I was thrown into a very difficult state of mind, trying to come to terms with the time that I have left in this world. We’re all mortal, but when a more finite window of survival replaces the vague, hypothetical ‘someday’, it’s sometimes more difficult. During the early months, Jim and I had many conversations about what I would like to do with the time I have left. It was then that the idea of this novel was conceived and took shape.
In our novel, the quantum commuters are people from the not-so-distant future who have terminal illnesses. By time-traveling into the past, however, they can extend their lives and find personal fulfillment in their journeys through history.
Sort of like writers do.
SK: Jane Austen is a character in your novel. What drew you to her as the subject of your time-travel novel? Why did you choose to go back to 1811?
N & J: We've always been starstruck fans of Austen’s ability to create lifelike characters. She herself lived a life which in many ways defied the restrictions of her time and of the cultural constraints her heroines lived with. Her characters—often young women feeling the pressure to find a good match—have remained incredibly relevant, across centuries and cultural perspectives. The social world Austen satirized, and the psychology behind her female protagonists, transcended her own lifetime.
Except for a small circle of people, Austen was completely anonymous in her day. The 1811 setting for Jane Austen Cannot Marry appealed to us because at the start of our story, Jane was on her way to London to prepare her first novel, Sense and Sensibility, for publication.
Having decided that, we then threw a great many ‘what if’ questions back and forth between the two of us:
What if Jane was caught up in a second-chance romance? Would she take a ‘happily-ever-after’ over literary ambition?
One thing really struck home for us about Jane Austen. There was no way during her life, especially in 1811, that she could have ever guessed the cultural impact her six novels would have on future books and movies…and even video games. Because we are writers too, that really resonates with us.
SK: The two main characters have to function in very different times. Much of the early part of the novel is set in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado in 2022 before returning to Austen’s era. Why did you do that?
N & J: When Nadine tries to escape trouble in 1811, she suddenly finds herself in Xander’s path (literally) on a snowy Rocky Mountain road. Immediately, the romance between Nadine and Xander rekindles. These are two people who have not been able to get over their lost relationship, and now fate has thrown them together again. It creates a parallel between their relationship and the relationship that is occurring between Jane Austen and her Royal Navy captain back in Hythe.
N & J: We’ve always enjoyed writing stories where the emotional chaos of our characters is reflected by the situational chaos of the place and time in which they find themselves. The village of Hythe in 1811 fits the bill for that perfectly.
Located as it is on the English Channel, Hythe was particularly vulnerable to invasion. At the time, Napoleon was threatening to bring the war between France and England across the water. In preparation for that possibility, the British government was busy fortifying the defenses along the coast. In fact, at the moment Nadine time-travels to Hythe, workers were almost finished constructing a military canal that still runs through the village.
In our story, because the people of Hythe are nervous about Napoleon and suspicious of strangers, our heroine and hero run the risk of being arrested as spies. And what makes things worse, Xander—knowing almost nothing about this place or time—is likely to stumble into trouble at every turn.
SK: Can you share an excerpt of Jane Austen Cannot Marry!?
We’d love to. Here’s a short passage featuring Jane Austen herself:
“Yes?” Her head tipped slightly in surprise, and she rose to her feet.
The candlelight was dim, but he could see that Jane Austen was wearing a dark shawl over a long dress that could have been gray or brown. Her hair was gathered up under a cap that looked like a floppy beret. Her face was neither friendly nor unfriendly. Just attentive and cautious. Even in this light, he could see her eyes were sharply focused on him, a bit like a mountain lion he’d once startled crossing the road.
“I hope I’m not disturbing you. I’m Xander Finley.” He gave a small bow as he’d seen others do this afternoon.
She returned the courtesy with a nod and a slight curtsy.
Too bad cell phones hadn’t been invented yet. He’d text Nadine right now. What were the chances of catching the writer down here alone?
“Pleased to meet you, Mr. Finley.”
Xander noticed that she gave his clothes the once over.
“Do we know each other?”
“Yes. Well, no. My wife knows you. Or knows of you. She pointed you out to me this afternoon when you arrived on the coach.”
“Yes. Nadine Finley,” he said. “By any chance, do you know what time it is?”
She hid a smile and glanced around the room. “I don’t know exactly. But I suspect it’s close to midnight.”
“Oh, that late.” Xander leaned back, inspecting the hallway. Not another soul was around.
Austen put a cork in a bottle of ink, hurriedly collecting up her papers and pens. Nervous. Hell, she had every right to be with a stranger showing up out of nowhere.
But he didn’t want her to leave. Not until they’d made some kind of connection.
“Do you know the way to the kitchen, Miss Austen?”
“May I ask why?”
“I can’t remember the last time I ate anything substantial. My wife, either. I need to order some food to be sent up to our room.”
She stopped packing up her things. “I don’t know exactly where the kitchen is, but a serving lad comes in occasionally to check on me.
“Okay? That’s a curious word, Mr. Finley. Are you a stranger here?”
“I’m an American. My wife and I are newly married. The innkeeper did have some dinner sent up, but it was left outside our door. By the time I found it, a creepy four-legged thief was sampling the dishes.”
“You’re from America?” she asked quickly.
From her frown, Xander guessed she was more disturbed by that then the fact that a rat had been into his food.
“I am. And I apologize for the way I talk and the way I’m dressed. We’re newly arrived in England. Our luggage was lost, and I haven’t had the opportunity to go to a…a tailor.”
Did they have tailors in 1811? He had no idea, but it sounded right.
“This explains a great deal, sir. Though I must say I have never met anyone from America.”
“I hope you don’t have a bad opinion of them…of us.”
Her frown was replaced by a look of caution. “Are you asking my opinion of Americans?”
He took a few steps into the room, giving her a clear run for the door if she felt the need to flee. “Of course. I’d love to hear your opinion.”
“My honest opinion?”
“If you don’t mind sharing it.”
There was a slight pause as she studied him again from head to toe.
The hint of a smile pulled at her lips. “You have no bluestockings in America?”
“I’m not sure. What are they?”
“It is a woman who dares to discuss controversial issues, such as war and politics. Shocking as this sounds, she even reads books. Philosophy. Science. And not only that, she insists on having an opinion.”
“Then, I’m happy to say we’ve got them…in spades.”
“I mean, we have quite a few.”
“I must say, I am surprised.”
“Many men are appalled by the thought of educated women with opinions.”
“I’m not. And I’d still love to know your opinion of America.”
“Very well. If you insist.” Her chin lifted. There was fire in her eyes. “I believe America is having a negative influence in the world. In my opinion, America is a dangerously radical, unreligious place where people of low birth and poor character can advance socially and materially, despite their unworthiness.”
He suppressed the urge to laugh out loud, but smiled. “There are quite a few people in America who would agree with that.”
N & J: We’d be delighted to give away a copy of the book, either in print or eBook format, to one commenter.
If you'd like to learn more about our books and our journey, look for us on our website, MayMcGoldrick.com— and you can also find us and follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Bookbub, and our blog (links available on our website).
Thank you, Nikoo & Jim! We're honored and delighted to chat with you, and we wish you all the best with this wonderful book.
If you'd like to enter the giveaway for a chance to win a copy of Jane Austen Cannot Marry, be sure to leave a comment on the blog. Nikoo and Jim will choose a winner at random. Good luck to all, and thanks for visiting Word Wenches!