I have completely fallen in love with Cora Harrison's Jane Austen novels and so I was delighted to have the opportunity to ask her a few questions. I hope you enjoy reading the answers as much as I did!
The Bookette: Where does your interest in Jane Austen stem from do you think? Is there a particular childhood memory or time in your life that you remember being inspired by her?
CH: I read Jane Austen for the first time when I was only about twelve. It was Pride & Prejudice and I adored it. I remember carefully drawing, colouring and cutting out a whole set of figures dressed in regency costumes and constructing a ballroom from an empty cardboard box. Elizabeth Bennet had a beautiful lemon coloured ball gown and she was the belle of the ball.
It’s, I suppose, an indication of Jane Austen’s genius that I have appreciated different aspects of her writing at different times of my life – in the same way as different novels have been my favourites in turn. Romance, wit, humour, understanding of character, the creation of a completely realistic environment – Jane Austen has to be one of the most loved authors in the world.
The Bookette: What are the challenges in characterising Jane considering that she was a real person?
CH: As I said, Jane Austen is hugely loved and that made it tricky portraying her. However, I have concentrated on her teen years where virtually nothing is known of her and I think that made matters easier. My picture of her is inspired by her juvenilia – all written by Jane between the ages of thirteen and nineteen and these are so comic – so anarchic that her character as a funny, lively, exuberant young girl came across so strongly that I never hesitated over writing her dialogue or describing her actions. She was intensely real to me in both I Was Jane Austen’s Best Friend’ and ‘Jane Austen Stole My Boyfriend’.
The Bookette: You describe the ball gowns of your characters beautifully. Did you research into the fashions of the period? Do you have a particular favourite style of dress?
CH: Yes, I did do a lot of research. I found some wonderful books – the best were Penelope Byrde’s ‘Jane Austen Fashion’ and Sarah Downing’s ‘Fashion in the Time of Jane Austen’. I also spent hours in the museum of costume in Bath and there I found my favourite dress. It was made from white muslin and had tiny glass beads embroidered on the train. It is still incredibly beautiful and I couldn’t help making use of it for Jenny’s first ball.
The Bookette: If you could take one thing from Jane Austen’s era and transport it into the twenty-first century, what would it be and why?
CH: Oh, it would have to be the balls. When Jane Austen was a girl she probably went to a ball about once a fortnight as all the families living around used to hold dances and then there were balls in Basingstoke Assembly Rooms once a fortnight. I think occasions like that for young girls to dress up and wear beautiful floor-length gowns are much fewer these days. And, in addition, the music is so loud that the opportunity for finely veiled flirtatious and witty remarks is very limited!
The Bookette: Who is your favourite Jane Austen hero and why?
CH: Mr Knightley from Emma has to be my favourite of Austen’s heroes – he has a sense of humour, confidence, and is a hopeless romantic underneath it all. Jenny’s Captain Thomas Williams is inspired by him.
The Bookette: Are you planning to write more historical novels about Jane Austen or any other literary figure?
CH: I would love to write about Anna Austen, Jane’s niece. Anna was always falling in love with unsuitable men and annoying her parent, especially her stepmother, Mary. She was strong-willed, funny, and very pretty and it would be great to get the opportunity to portray her life for teenager two hundred years later.
The Bookette: And finally, I like to ask this question of every author I get to interview. It is to do with my very Britishness which as a Jane Austen fan I’m sure you’ll understand. What are you favourite types of cookies (we call them biscuits) to enjoy with a cup of tea?
CH: Definitely home-made ginger biscuits.
I have a little plan that on Jane’s birthday December 16 I shall make black butter. Jane speaks of making it in one of her letters and I thought it didn’t sound too nice, but now I have found a recipe for it and it is made from blackberries, apples, sugar, ginger, cinnamon and spice. I feel it will be delicious spread on my home-made ginger biscuits.
The Bookette: Thank you so much for answering my questions Cora. I cannot wait to read a book about Anna!