Jennifer Kloester and Jane Austen’s Ghost

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.

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Heyer Society: Insights About an Icon

Heyer Society Coverby Mary Jo

Few authors can be credited with inventing a genre, but Georgette Heyer is one of them. Her witty and insightful novels set in early 19th century British society created an irresistible world that has been drawing in readers and writers for decades.

I am one of them. My first novel, The Diabolical Baron, had a few hints of the writer I've developed into, but overall, it's so influenced by Georgette Heyer that I should probably pay royalties to the Heyer estate. <G> I cherish the discussions I've had with other Regency writers on Our First Heyer Novel.

Heyer's work and world are continuing sources of fascination, and now writer Rachel Hyland has just published a delicious collection of essays about that work and world. Heyer Society: Essays on the Literary Genius of Georgette Heyer.

Just reading the titles of the essays is mouthwatering, but even better, today we're lucky enough to have as a Word Wench guest Jennifer Kloester, who is probably the world's leading authority on Georgette Heyer. Author of the definitive Georgette Heyer biography, Jen is a novelist in her own right, and a contributor to Heyer Society.

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Interview about Georgette Heyer

Anne here, popping up one of our occasional Sunday posts to let you know there's an interesting interview about Georgette Heyer on the USA Today site, with her official biographer Jennifer Kloester. Heyer&Dog

It contains some little-known snippets of information about Heyer and her writing life. And her dogs. This is not the photo in the article, by the way — in that one she's still a young girl, and she has a much smaller dog.

 Click here to be taken to the interview.



Jennifer Kloester’s Biography of Georgette Heyer

Anne here, delighted to be hosting another visit from Honorary Word Wench, Dr. Jennifer Kloester, pictured here in her study, surrounded by Heyer novels and a few of her many files of research. If you'
d like to read my first interview with Jennifer, it's here.

Jennifer's eagerly awaited biography of Georgette Heyer will be released in London on the 6th October. That's just a few short weeks away. I'm so excited. Jen, this biography has been 10 years of research and five years of writing. Has the journey been worth it? What have been some of the highlights along the way?

HeyerBioCover Jennifer: I have had the most wonderful time writing this biography but I must confess that when I began working on Georgette Heyer’s life and writing, I never imagined where it would lead me. I actually began the research in 1999 but didn’t really get serious about it until I began my doctorate on her in February 2001. When I began I can remember thinking, ‘oh, there’s hardly any material out there about her.’ Boy, was I wrong! I have had so many incredible moments of discovery and made so many wonderful friends along the way that I do feel fortunate in having followed this path. 

One of the main highlights has been discovering the new archives of her letters and having her son, Sir Richard Rougier, give me copyright permission to acquire copies of them and to quote from them.

Another highlight has been the discovery of nine of Georgette’s short stories, seven of which will be completely unknown to the modern reader. I spent days at the British Library trawling thousands of magazines from the 1920s and 30s and I can’t tell you how exciting it was to turn the page and find Georgette Heyer’s name at the top of the page!

Anne: I can imagine. And I hope those stories get published some day. There have been several books written about Georgette Heyer, but I gather you've had unprecedented access to Georgette Heyer's private family papers. How did that come about?

Jennifer: My access to Georgette’s private papers was entirely due to the kindness and generosity of her son. I wrote him a formal letter in 2001 and he invited me to lunch at his house in Somerset. It was a truly memorable occasion sitting with him in the arbour beneath the most magnificent scented wisteria and talking about his mother and her writing. After lunch he showed me his office where he kept her notebooks and papers and pretty much left me to it. After that, he and his wife, Lady Rougier, invited me to stay and I guess I just kept going back. 12 Georgette & Richard

(Picture on right is Georgette with her son Richard, aged 8.)

On each of my research trips to England they had me to stay and each time Sir Richard would show me something new. On one trip he brought out the family photo albums, on another, Georgette’s baby book and, of course, we wrote to each other. I would send half a dozen questions in a letter and he would write back with the answers. That proved to be a particularly good way of doing it because he was a wonderful writer himself and the act of putting pen to paper often jogged his memory and as a result I got some wonderful new anecdotes about his mother and her family. (Pic below, Georgette, her husband, Ronald and her son, Richard.)

22 Ronald, Georgette & Richard Anne: Even though there have been other books written about Georgette Heyer, I believe there are some new and exciting revelations. Can you share one or two with us?

Jennifer: The new biography is full of new information about Georgette Heyer and that’s the thing that’s probably given me the most satisfaction. For those who have read the first biography, you’ll know that Georgette is in her early forties by the end of the second chapter, whereas in the new biography the first two thirds of the book are about those years.

DSCN3683 I have been hugely fortunate in having access to a wealth of new material and that has meant that, among other things, I can tell you a lot more about her childhood and adolescence than we have known before. There’s a fascinating story about when These Old Shades was written and Georgette’s vision for the book and lots and lots of pithy quotes direct from her pen about her novels. There’s also the complete story of her 1942 novel Penhallow and the crucial role it had in her writing life.

Anne:  These Old Shades was my first Heyer, so I'm dying to read that. What surprised you most in your discoveries?

Jennifer: What surprised me most about Georgette was the extent to which she wrote her emotions into her novels. She once said ‘I am to be found in my work’ and when you read her letters and understand more about her life and writing you can see what she means. I recently re-read Bath Tangle and I was struck by how much Lady Serena’s response to her father’s sudden death echoed Georgette’s own experience. These days I often see these sorts of parallels in the novels. (Pic below, Georgette aged 21 by E. O. Hoppe 1923)16 Georgette aged 21 by E. O. Hoppe 1923

The plagiarism chapter in the biography is short but fascinating, especially as I have let Georgette tell a lot of it in her own words. I was really pleased to be able to write openly about the case, not only because people have wondered about it for years, but more importantly because it is in these letters that Georgette really rises to the defence of her writing and research and this was not something she did very often.

 Anne: Yes, I read some of the articles about it in the UK papers.(Here's a link to one such but prepare to be annoyed by the last paragraph.)

That's a beautiful photo of Georgette on the cover of the book. I don't think I've ever seen it before.  I know you have quite a few photos never before seen by the public in this book. Would you care to share a photo or two?    8 Georgette, Sylvia & baby Boris

Jennifer: I would love to share some photos with you that (on account of space restrictions) did not make it into the final book. Having said that, I am thrilled with the number of never-before-seen photos that are in the biography and I really hope readers will be as delighted as I am to see them.

(On right, Georgette, her mother and baby brother, Boris.
Below, Georgette.)


Anne: You're flying to London for the launch, shortly, and I understand there's a whole Regency day planned by the Romantic Novelists Association, of which your launch is a major part. WordWenches Jo Beverley and Nicola Cornick will also be in attendance. Sounds like a marvellous day. I wish I could be there but I'll have to content myself with the Australian launch in December. What else will you be doing in the UK?

Jennifer: I leave for London in a couple of weeks and I am SO excited to be doing the Romantic Novelists Association Regency day. The programme is terrific and there will be some wonderful writers there as well as lots of enthusiastic readers. I also have a book launch at Daunts Books in Marylebone High Street on Thursday 6 October at 6.30pm and a signing at Hatchard’s, the famous eighteenth-century bookstore on Piccadilly, on Monday 10th at 3pm. Georgette used to shop there so that makes it extra exciting.  Hatchards1

I’m speaking at the Wimbledon Bookfest on the 3rd and the Guildford Literary Festival on the 17th and I am being interviewed on BBC4 Woman’s Hour on Tuesday 11 October. So all in all it should be a really exciting trip.

 Anne: It sounds wonderful. Are there any plans for a North American release?

Jennifer: I am also about to sign a contract for the biography with Sourcebooks which means there will be an American edition out in fall next year in the USA – I’m very excited about that.

Anne: Me, too, as are many of the readers here, I'm sure. What else is planned?

Jennifer: The book comes out in Australia and New Zealand on 1 December and I am having launches at Dymocks in Sydney on the 1st and in Melbourne on the 8th. Everyone is welcome. There will be launches in Brisbane, Adelaide and Hobart in the New Year and I also hope to do a tour of New Zealand in the first half of 2012.

Anne: It all sounds so exciting, Jen. I'll be joining you on at least one of those occasions — more if I can wangle it. Congratulations on all your work and research finally coming to fruition.

Jennifer: Thanks, Anne. It has been the most marvellous journey and I fervently hope that Georgette Heyer’s many admirers will enjoy the result. 

Anne: I'm sure they will. Thanks so much for joining us here on wordwenches, Jen.  Jennifer's biography of Georgette Heyer can be ordered from here. People can also check out Jen's website for more about Heyer and some of the things that didn’t make it into the book.

Jennifer is giving away one copy of Georgette Heyer's biography to some lucky person who leaves a comment. So here's the question — who is your favorite Heyer character, and why are they your favorite? And if you have any questions about Georgette Heyer, Jen will be happy to answer them.

Meet Jennifer Kloester – Georgette Heyer expert

AccWeddBookmark Anne here, introducing my friend and fellow writer, Dr. Jennifer Kloester. Jennifer is the author of the wonderful Georgette Heyer's Regency World, which was first launched in Melbourne (my home city). Of course, being a lifelong Heyer addict, I had to go to the launch, and the rest is… history. Jenkloester

Her book was released in the US in August 2010 and  I'm delighted to present Jennifer Kloester here as a Word Wench guest.  

I should add that if any wenchly reader hasn't read Georgette  Heyer, they're missing something wonderful. I'm asking readers to share their first and favorite Heyer, so there will be a list in the comments to help guide you.

Jen, tell us how you first came to Georgette Heyer's books. What was your first?

I was living with my husband (an engineer) in a small mining town in the remote Star Mountains in Papua New Guinea and the YWCA had a little library in one of the houses which had several Georgette Heyer novels. My first book was Friday’s Child which has been a favourite ever since. I was delighted when I discovered that it was Georgette’s own personal favourite among her Regencies. Friday'sChild

What made you decide to study the world Heyer created for your doctoral dissertation?

We had moved to the Middle East in the mid-1990s and I had begun reading Georgette Heyer again. At the time I was studying for my Bachelor of Arts in history and literature as an off-campus student. I had done some study while living in PNG and had taken it up again in Bahrain (it took me thirteen years to eventually get that degree – at the rate of one subject a semester). Anyway, I was having a lovely time re-reading Georgette’s novels and discovering some I hadn’t read and introducing her to friends who didn’t know her work. In 1996 I had the idea of writing a kind of ‘handbook’ to her novels. You know, explaining all the things that might not be familiar to a modern reader – what a barouche looked like and a pelisse, and all about etiquette and dancing and coaches. Things like that.

When I returned home, I finally finished my BA and began working on the handbook. I didn’t really know how to set about it but I made lots of alphabetical lists and a large card index file and slowly worked my way through her historical novels, marking them up as I went. One day I told one of my former lecturers about my project and he sat back in his chair and said ‘that’d make a fantastic PhD’. It was an epiphanic moment and it sent me off to do an Honours degree so that I could apply to do a doctorate.The year I finished the PhD was the year Random House offered me the contract for what became Georgette Heyer’s Regency World. RegencyWorld

Your book, Georgette Heyer's Regency World, arose from your thesis. It's now become a popular reference on the Regency era. Has that surprised you?

In a way, although when I wrote the book I did it as a brand new project. It’s true that it is based on a chapter in my thesis (with the same title as it happens) but of course that chapter is a lot shorter than the book and I did almost another thesis’ worth of research for Regency World.

I think that the fact that all the history in my book is inspired by the history in Georgette Heyer’s novels counts for a lot. She was such a meticulous researcher and her ability to weave the historical Regency with her fictional stories is second to none. In that way I’m not so surprised that Regency World has proved to be popular because it has so much Heyer-inspired material in it and I think that comes through. And, of course, the Regency era is enduringly popular.

It's a fascinating read, as well.
For the last five years, you've been working on Georgette Heyer's official biography. It's to be launched next year in London on 6th October. Tell us about it.

Heyer1 I am so excited about the biography. It’s taken ten years of research and five years of writing and I could never have imagined how rewarding it would be. My aim was to bring Georgette to life for her readers and to really show how significant she is in the writing world. She was a fascinating person and someone who internalized much of her life – her outlet was her writing and it’s astonishing just how much she revealed of herself in her books and letters and short stories. 

Writing the biography has been a marvellous journey of discovery, full of twists and turns and unexpected revelations. One of the things I especially loved about writing it was being able to let Georgette tell quite a bit of her own story in her own words. I really hope that readers will enjoy that as much as I did! Heyer&son

I’ve also had the most wonderful support from Georgette’s family. Her son, Sir Richard Rougier,(pictured here as a child with his mother) and her former daughter-in-law, Susannah, Lady Rougier, have been tremendous and as well as giving me all sorts of material they have enabled me to meet most of the people who knew Georgette. I was also really fortunate to get to know Jane Aiken Hodge, Georgette’s first biographer, and she has been the most wonderful friend and counselor. It was really important to me that she was able to read and approve the biography manuscript before she died. 

 You've had unprecedented access to the Heyer family papers, including the fabled notebooks (an example of which is pictured here below). What else have you discovered?

That’s been an incredible part of the writing journey and part of my excitement is due to the discovery of so much new material. Over the past ten years I have discovered several new, untapped archives of Georgette’s personal letters – the earliest of which was written when she was eighteen and had just received the contract for The Black Moth. There are over a thousand pages of letters detailing so much of her writing life, her thoughts, experiences and feelings, it’s been an extraordinary journey of discovery and I really feel that I have come to know Georgette Heyer.
And it’s not only the letters. I’ve also had access to her baby book, written by her mother during the first few years of Georgette’s life. I’ve discovered nine previously unknown short stories, I’ve been able to view and photograph all of the family photo albums. I’ve spent time among the remnants of her library and at the places she used to stay such as Greywalls in Scotland. I’ve followed her research footsteps at the London Library and had access to all the Heyer files at the Random House Archives in Northamptonshire.  I’ve been to her homes in Wimbledon and to her chambers in Albany and her homes in Sussex and so much more. I’ve had so many extraordinary moments of discovery and I feel really lucky and privileged to have taken this journey.

Did anything surprise you?

So many things. For instance, I had never realised just how important Georgette’s early years were to her later writing. She knew so many aspects of Regency life first hand because they still existed when she was a child. I was also surprised by the number of family legends that were actually wrong. Having so many of her early letters has shed new light on a number of things and altered her story considerably. 
It was also fun to discover that she really had lived in a grass hut in Africa. When I was writing my doctorate my supervisor (who was South African) pulled me up on a quotation from Ronald saying that he and Georgette had lived in a grass hut in Tanganyika in the 1920s. My supervisor told me that no English person living in Colonial East Africa had ever really lived in a grass hut and that I had been watching too many Hollywood movies. You can imagine my surprise (and delight) when I was given the family photo albums to study and photograph and found among them the Rougiers’ African album. In it were several photos of Georgette and Ronald in their compound outside their very own GRASS HUT! I loved that in true Georgette style she nicknamed it ‘The Manor House’. 

(Anne here — having seen some of Jen's wonderful Heyer photos I can vouch for the grass hut. It's fabulous!) 

You're a woman of parts; as well as studying the life of Heyer, you study karate. Tell us about Jennifer Kloester and karate.

I’ve found that being a writer is not exactly ideal for my body. Long hours at the computer writing or sitting reading and researching make me feel like the tin man! So four and a half years ago I took up karate. It proved to be the ideal outlet after a day of writing and I got hooked. I began teaching a couple of years ago and have a children’s class which I love. It’s wonderful watching them start out knowing nothing and then week by week seeing them improve and grow in confidence and skill. One of my students (a 13 year old girl) just got her 1st kyu last week and that means her next belt will be her black belt. I am currently a first kyu myself and am hoping to grade to my black belt next year. It means a lot of intense training but it’s good for my brain and my body and it really does help me to write.

Thanks, so much for this interview, Jen, and for sharing with us a little of your encyclopedic knowledge of a brilliant and fascinating author.  
I plan to interview Jennifer again just before the Heyer biography comes out. Last week I spent a blissful day at Jen's  house, where she showed me some her collected material on Heyer —simply superb! I cannot wait for the biography to come out. But in the meantime, there is the delicious GEORGETTE HEYER'S REGENCY WORLD awaiting you.

If you have any questions, I'm sure Jennifer would be glad to answer them.
And I'll ask one question of readers: which was your first Heyer? And which is your favorite?
One lucky commenter will receive a copy of Jennifer Kloester's GEORGETTE HEYER'S REGENCY WORLD