Anne here, and today I'm interviewing a guest, Dr. Jennifer Kloester, who many of you will know as the authorized biographer of Georgette Heyer. She's been on Word Wenches before, here and here and here, but this time she's visiting as the author of a new novel, Jane Austen's Ghost. It's been described thus "Magic and adventure abound in this genre-bending contemporary-historical paranormal romance with a Regency twist."
Here's the blurb:
With her life a mess, Cassandra Austin seeks refuge in Winchester with her eccentric great-aunt – but Aunty B has problems of her own. Ghost problems.
Cassie doesn’t believe in ghosts but she’ll do anything to help the only person who’s ever loved her. Besides, a simple spell in the cathedral crypt couldn’t do any harm, could it? Well, except for the two-hundred-year-old curse on Jane Austen, that is.
Overnight, life is suddenly a whole lot weirder and it’s up to Cassie to save the day with the help of a dour Bishop, two literary geniuses, a couple of wise-cracking geriatrics and the enigmatic Oliver Carling.
Anne: Welcome to the WordWenches, Jen. What inspired you to write a story about Jane Austen's ghost?
Jen: Actually, Anne, in a way it was you! You might remember the Jane Austen conference we went to in Canberra a few years ago. I was sitting beside you when an internal door behind the podium opened for no apparent reason and I leaned over to you and whispered "Jane Austen's Ghost"! You smiled at me and nodded. That night I dreamed about Jane Austen and the following morning I wrote the first half dozen sentences of what is now the first chapter of the book. Of course, it also helps that I love Jane Austen's novels as well as Georgette Heyer's AND so many of the Regency novels that have followed. I think that over the years I've absorbed a lot of Regency storytelling so perhaps it was inevitable that I write a novel with its own special Regency element.
Anne: Tell us about Jane Austen's Ghost.
Jen: Such a surprising book in so many ways. For starters it's a contemporary story (set in 2019) only it has a strong historical element and an original Regency twist. Through all these years of reading Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer and loving that feeling of actually being in that Regency world I've often wondered what a Regency woman would make of our time? I've particularly wondered about Jane Austen. She had such an incisive mind and I think it's her understanding of human nature that makes her novels so enduring. They're timeless. And so I wanted to bring her into our world and let her cast her witty and observant eye over it.
That's how the novel evolved but there's a lot more to it than that. My hapless heroine, Cassie, for instance. Her heart's been broken (again) and she's taken refuge with her Great-Aunt Butters who is one of my favourite characters. But there's also Oliver Carling who seems attracted to Cassie but who may have ulterior motives and then there are my wise-cracking nonagerians, the Froyle twins. This eclectic group of people become embroiled in a quest to free Jane Austen's ghost and are led on a twisting, turning, race against time. It's a romp really, but one with lots of invisible historical research underpinning it.
Anne: Though not the actual heroine of the novel, Aunt Butters is certainly angling for star billing. Tell us about Aunt Butters.
Jen: I adore Aunt Butters or Aunty B as Cassie often calls her. She's a hoot! Clever, adventurous, feisty, curious, loving and kind and she's also eight-seven years old. Aunty B's had an amazing life and she's always open to new ideas. Nothing seems to faze her. She's a straight-shooter and a good judge of character. I grew up with nine great-aunts and have always enjoyed the company of older people. There's a lot to learn from the elderly and many of them have done extraordinary things.
My great-aunt Winifred was in the Congo in the 1950s and actually smuggled home a huge crate of souvenirs by playing the grande dame in the customs hall – the family used to refer to her as 'The Duchess". I think Aunty B has elements of my wonderful strong-minded grandmother and her eight remarkable sisters, with a bit of my great-grandmother thrown in for good measure but most of all she's Aunty B – a woman who fell into my head fully formed and who tried to take over the novel and had to be firmly encouraged to make way for Jane and Cassie!
Jen: You're right, Anne, I do love research – especially about the Regency era and Jane Austen. I had a wonderful time researching Jane Austen's Ghost and drew a lot of material from Austen's letters and novels. I wanted to make sure that Jane had a distinctly Regency voice in the novel and so I was very careful to make sure her words are always authentic and of her era. I also wanted her world and ours to collide and to see what she made of modern life. There are huge differences between our twenty-first century life and the life she led in early nineteenth-century England. I wanted to make the most of that and depict some of those differences it in a really fun and engaging way (think cars and carriages, clothes, language, women and marriage, among other things). I've also visited many of the places Jane Austen knew well and have (I hope) brought them to life in the novel. It was such fun weaving the two worlds together and I'm really proud of the Regency twist which begins with the Prologue and continues between the chapters in the first half of the book. I had an amazing time writing those bits – so often the words just seemed to appear on the page. For me it was like magic only I'm pretty sure it was my years of reading Georgette Heyer and Jane Austen and Regency romances that made it feel so effortless!
Anne: Sounds wonderful. Can you give us a little taste of Jane Austen's Ghost please?
Jen: This is from Chapter 21 – about a third of the way through the book.
‘James Stanier Clarke.’ Miss Austen’s voice was bitter. ‘Oh, that wretched, wretched, man! If I had but known—I should never have gone to Carlton House again—but how could I have suspected—oh, the wickedness!’ She cast the drawstring bag from her and shot agitatedly up the street. ‘Such a fool as I have been.’ Little bits of scarlet ghostly aura went flying off in all directions.
‘What do you mean?’
She paused in her restless circling. ‘Was there ever a more designing, cold-blooded being than Mr Clarke? How dared he do such a thing? Of all the odious, insufferable, arrogant men! How could he have thought for one moment that I should wish to be connected to a person of his nature? A man guilty of such cruelty, such treachery, who had tricked himself into believing he was in love with me. Why, he actually had the audacity to ask me to marry him.’
‘He did? When?’
‘In 1816, on the occasion of my second visit to Carlton House. Mr Clarke was librarian to that vulgar profligate, the Prince Regent. And a more conceited, presumptuous man I have never met.’
‘The Prince Regent or Mr Clarke?’
To my surprise she laughed, a clear, shining sound like the peal of a silver bell, and instantly her angry colour began to recede. ‘An excellent question, Miss Austin. But on this occasion I refer to the servant not the master.’ She compressed her lips. ‘Do you know that Mr Clarke had the impudence to send me several suggestions for my future novels?’
‘So I gathered. Were they any good?’
‘No, they were not. Although, they did inspire me to write a short parody on novel-writing.
Anne: Thanks for joining us on Word Wenches, Jen. Jen will be giving away a copy of Jane Austen's Ghost to someone who leaves a comment or who answers the following question: Where is Jane Austen buried? (one of the key settings for Jane Austen's Ghost)