Joanna Trollope on Jane Austen

The Austen Project
Sense & Sensibility
A Q&A with Joanna Trollope

1. Sense & Sensibility is launching the Austen Project -  what was it about the idea of a modern re-telling of Jane Austen’s novel that caught your imagination?

My first – and I have to say, last – reaction when the idea of updating those novels was put to me, was: how brilliant! Jane Austen’s preoccupations – romance, money and class – are timeless, which is one of the main reasons that puts her at the head of the much beloved, as well as classic, category. She is also completely serious about any character or emotion that requires respect, while at the same time displaying a wonderful capacity for mockery and spot-on censure for folly and unkindness in any form. And so, while determined that any novel I wrote would be unquestionably a tribute to her genius, and in no way an imitation, I could immediately see that her characters and her narrative would translate absolutely seamlessly to 2013 – which, indeed, they have.

2. The characters that Austen creates are timeless but still, transferring them to current times must have been an enthralling task. Did you find the presence of an existing plot and characters liberating or limiting?

The whole process was a liberation. The characters almost felt that they were transferring themselves to recognisable modern people with very little help from me, so vivid are they. And being freed from the need to invent a theme, a narrative or a cast list for myself, I felt little short of exhilarated the whole time. Of course there were elements that had to be modernised since the characters in the original, a lot of them living on the proceeds of the slave trade (although that is never mentioned as it would have been such a contemporary commonplace) have the kind of leisure that is absolutely unthinkable nowadays. And the outrages – Willoughby’s impregnating of Eliza, say – have to be updated to convey the same level of shock. But these changes were really details in what was an extraordinarily engaging project.

3. In Chapter 5 Belle says: ‘Then he’d be at complete odds with my Marianne. And me for that matter. We believe in the love of a life, you see.’ Marianne really is the living embodiment of the sensibility that was so fashionable in the eighteenth century. How did you manage to update her romantic fervour and make her so likeable?

The thing is that Marianne is likeable, as well as close to impossible, in the original. We know that by the time Jane Austen came to write Sense and Sensibility, her own appreciation of the qualities of level-headedness that Elinor displays far outweighed the current philosophical vogue for sensibility. But Marianne is as much a child of her times – 1809 – as she is, with a slightly different modern interpretation, of ours. It’s just that we have a different way of describing, and of seeing, the same utter belief in emotional self-indulgence and the prioritising of individualism, as she does. What she would call sensibility, we recognise as entitlement. Her belief in finding the love of her life equates to our desire for a soulmate. She may exhibit an exasperating level of self-involvement which is very recognisable today, but she is also warm and welcoming and sincere in her attachments. And she loves her sister, Elinor, she really does. We can all look round our circles of friends and see people in it who are ‘Mariannes’ – maddeningly self-absorbed, and emotional, but also sweet and responsive and sympathetic. Jane Austen’s Marianne is a very modern girl, with all the plusses and minuses that that entails.

4. Sense and Sensibility is so much about how we declare our love, and how the public and private versions of love exist. How did you find writing this interplay? Do you think public declarations through social media such as Facebook and Twitter have changed our modern view on love?

I would guess that no amount of social media actually changes the way people feel, even if it might have enabled, rather than actually changed, the way they express those feelings. The desire to be loveable, and popular, and fancied is as old and as enduring as humanity is itself, and I would guess that the number of modern girls pressured by their peers or their own insecurities into making fools of themselves on Facebook and by Instagram, is exactly the same as it was before these alarmingly public fora existed. You can imagine very easily, can’t you, the Steele sisters taking avidly to Twitter! And I think the fact that I could insert a little modern media so effortlessly into Jane Austen’s narrative is the only proof you need that humanity doesn’t change, even if codes of conduct do!

5. Edward Ferrars is described in Chapter 2 as the ‘redeeming attribute’ of the Ferrars clan. But he has little direction and behaves submissively, at first, towards Lucy’s insistence that they are an item, in contrast to Elinor’s composure and intelligence. Did you find it hard when writing to see them as an equal match and can readers be fully satisfied that Elinor is to marry him at the end?

Oddly enough, I thought that Edward Ferrars was one of the most modern characters in the whole book – or, at least, one of the most recognisable as modern. He has had a bullied and neglected childhood, despite material comfort, and is clearly what we would now diagnose as a mild depressive by nature. There is an unquestioned sweetness in his disposition, but his upbringing – thrusting new money and ambition – is not in the least interested in sweetness, but only in success. His overbearing mother has accustomed him to obeying bossy women, and his sweetness makes him anxious to oblige. So he is easy prey, as a lonely teenager whose family have written him off as hopeless, for a gold digger like Lucy Steele. And Elinor, interestingly, for all her intelligence and self control, is the family missionary. She has appointed herself the Sensible one, the Saffy from Absolutely Fabulous, whose task it is to steer her chaotic little family ship to a safe harbour. If she didn’t like sorting volatile people, she would not be so unbelievably patient with her mother and sisters. Sorting them all is her chosen role – so Edward Ferrars is a natural choice for her. He may not be completely worthy, but he is what she wants.

6. The novel’s themes of status and money imply that some things are never out of date and that men with wealth and power will always be more attractive to women. Would you agree and do you see this ever changing?

I entirely agree. In fact, I would go further and say it’s mainly money that gives both power and sex appeal – and of course, the latter is a form of the former. Looking back at history, emperors, statesmen, successful industrialists, soldiers and entrepreneurs may not have made a universal success of their private lives, but they have never not taken what they wanted – or what they thought they wanted! And to look at the present day, it is only money that stops Fifty Shades of Grey from being a novel about sexual abuse – and I see that the new Sylvia Day will feature ‘a young billionaire’ hero … Now, I wonder why that should be?!

7. What would you like readers to take away from this novel?

I would love readers to take away several things. First, obviously, a sense of pleasure and satisfaction. Secondly, a sense of having been in the company of people they can both recognise and believe in. But thirdly, and most importantly, I would like them to feel a renewed and enormous admiration for Jane Austen, and a strong desire either to re-read the original, or actually, to read it for the first time.

8. Do you tend to read when you are writing a novel and, if so, what?

I read all the time … And what I read is not particularly deliberate, but more often than not, whatever is next on the pile of books waiting to be read because I have been asked to read them or am longing to, anyway! This year, one of my huge reading joys was the entire shortlist for the Womens’ Prize for Fiction – six dazzling books. I can’t think when there has been a stronger shortlist – everyone a winner in my view!

9. Did you re-read Austen’s Sense and Sensibility and if so, did you refer to it as you wrote or did you prefer to keep a distance between you and the text?

I read and re-read it exhaustively, to the point of cannibalising several paperbacks of it to work out the scenes I was going to use, and where I would have to add scenes to bring the narrative circumstances up to date. So I ended up with a tattered re-configured sequence of the original, heavily highlighted. I have left one line of the original in the updated version – I wonder if you can find it?

10. As a hugely successful, bestselling novelist, would you have any guidance or advice for young writers starting out today?

The first thing I would say is that there is plenty of time. You can be too young to write – simply because you haven’t had time to live enough – but you can hardly be too old. Think of the wonderful P.D. James, in the bestseller lists at 94! I remain of the opinion that most people write better after 35 than before, for that very reason. So, don’t be in a hurry! And while you are waiting, train your powers of observation, because that is the hallmark of all successful novelists. Maybe even keep a notebook – not a diary, but a notebook you have with you in which you can record ideas or observations, or snatches of a conversation you overhear, or scraps of dialogue. No amount of noticing of other people is ever, ever wasted for a writer … Good luck!


Joanna Trollope, OBE, is the international bestselling author of 30 novels and has written historical fiction, contemporary fiction and non-fiction. When Joanna considers what has happened to her career in the last ten years, she often thinks, as her friend Jilly Cooper once said, ‘You’d believe it, wouldn’t you, if it happened to someone else‘.

Stories That Move You – Thanks To Hachette Australia

There’s nothing like Books, Dominoes and Dry Ice to put you in a good mood.

The folks at Hachette Australia have made this beautiful video for their Stories That Move You campaign.

Enjoy.

The Night I Met George R.R. Martin

It’s strange to meet a man who is a God to some, an unknown mortal to others. News that I was meeting George R.R. Martin was met by friends and family with two reactions. One was ‘wow, you’re so lucky’, the other was ‘who is George R.R. Martin?’.

And that is the world of genre fiction. Authors are deified by some, unknown to others. If you’re a fan, you’re more than just a fan. If you aren’t, you nearly go out of your way to proclaim ignorance.

As I write this I realise I’ve put all people into two categories, neither of which I actually fall into. Of course I have heard of George R.R. Martin and I was incredibly excited to meet such a huge cultural figure, a wonderful writer, a magnificent storyteller. At least that’s what I’ve been told. You see…

…I haven’t read any books by George R.R. Martin. I am an observer. I love the TV show. Admire him, absolutely. But read him? No, not for me.

So it was with equal parts excitement and trepidation I made my way, along with John Purcell, Christopher Cahill and our Sci-Fi & Fantasy specialist Mark Timmony, to the offices of George’s Australian publishers, HarperCollins. Our game plan was simple. Meet George.

Typically at these events the talent makes a late appearance to a soundtrack of whispers, but George R.R. Martin isn’t your typical talent. Our wine barely had a chance to breathe before a bearded man in suspenders began to work the room.

George had entered stage left, and even the ushers didn’t notice him.

It’s easy to miss him in a crowd. He’s a little guy, not prone to loud sweeping conversation. He mingled for a while, pretending not to notice the room who in turn pretended not to stare at him. He sipped his drink and nodded humbly as people told him how much they loved his books. He slowly made his way down the far side of the room before finding refuge in a set of chairs and sat down. It was then we were told our time had come.

‘There he is.’

‘He’s sitting down, this is your chance.’

image(5)And so we made our move. We dashed across the floor towards George who had now found himself in conversation with a woman talking so fast with excitement I couldn’t understand what she was saying. I doubt George could either, but he smiled and nodded, raising a glass with her as we stood awkwardly nearby.

Eventually his conversation stopped and he turned to us and put out his hand.

‘Hi, I’m George.’

The conversation was a blur of fantasy references, questions about Booktopia, and Australia’s weather. Christopher and George bonded over their love of J.R.R. Tolkien as John and I took photos of them chatting. It was surreal, being in the company of such an idolised, influential figure. And as quickly as it started, it was over. George still had to press the palms of many more people that night, and we disappeared into the crowd.

So what did we learn from our night with George?

Christopher Cahill meets George

- He has been to Australia quite a few times, both for business and pleasure.

- He has signed 10,000 books since landing here 5 days ago.

- He loves a good champagne.

- His favourite book is Lord of the Rings.

- His biggest influence writing The Song of Ice and Fire Series was the War of the Roses.

- The next book currently has a working title (which has not been finalised) and is close to being finished.

And that was that. After signing a few books and posing for some photos, George left, and soon after so did we.

So what becomes of a casual observer after a chance meeting? It just so happens this morning I put in an order for The Game of Thrones Boxset.

I mean, now that George is a close personal friend, I owe it to him to at least read his stuff, right?

BREAKING NEWS: 900-Page Debut Novel Fetches Nearly $2 Million

Garth Risk Hallberg

Is the big fat novel back?

Donna Tartt’s exquisite novel The Goldfinch has 771 pages. Eleanor Catton won the 2013 Man Booker Prize for her 834 page masterpiece The Luminaries. And now City on Fire, the 900-page debut novel by New York writer Garth Risk Hallberg, has been acquired for nearly $2 million.

In a two-day bidding war that took the industry by storm last week, 10 publishers bid more than $1 million for the work already being compared to Michael Chabon and Thomas Pynchon.

According to Hallberg’s agent Chris Parris-Lamb, “[the events] revolve around a central mystery: what exactly is going on behind the locked steel doors of a derelict townhouse in the East Village, and what might it have to do with the shooting in Central Park in the novel’s opening act?”

Scott Rudin

To add to the hype even more, the film rights have already been bought by Scott Rudin, the award-winning producer of The Queen, No Country for Old Men and The Social Network.

“The scale of it, the vision of it, the big political ideas, how tightly knitted all the stories are to each other and how densely and pleasurably plotted it is, made me feel like, for the purposes of a movie, he had done the lion’s share of the work that anyone would have to do,” Rudin said. “It doesn’t need to be massively reinvented to be a movie.”

Simon and Schuster joins our Booktoberfest celebration – you could win a prize pack worth over $950!

How would you like to give everyone you love a book for Christmas… without you having to pay a cent?

To help us celebrate Booktoberfest the awesome people at Simon and Schuster are giving you the chance to win a prize pack worth over $950!

Order any of the books in the Simon and Schuster Booktoberfest Showcase to go into the draw to win their entire showcase!

Click here to enter the Simon and Schuster showcase

Simon and Schuster Booktoberfest Highlight

Crossing the Line

by Wendell Sailor

Superstar Brisbane Broncos and Kangaroos winger Wendell Sailor shocked everyone when he switched codes to play union in 2001. The King of the Wing, whose thunderous runs intimidated anyone in his path, surprised even himself when he was selected for the Wallabies, becoming the first Australian player raised in league to represent his country in both codes.

But in 2006, it all fell apart.

During a routine drug test for the Waratahs, he tested positive for cocaine and was banned from the game for two years. And those years away would prove to the toughest challenge of his life. The self-confessed party boy who constantly sought the public spotlight was now forced to do some soul-searching, and most of it wasn’t pretty.

But Sailor fought back hard and worked through the shame, throwing himself into charity work and mentoring young people in alcohol and drug awareness programs. With the help of his family and old coach and mentor, Wayne Bennett, he began his path to redemption.

When the ban was up, Sailor made a triumphant return to the code that had first discovered him at age 18, and the St George Illawarra Dragons had a new winger – and a player determined to prove what he was capable of until his final game in 2010. But Crossing the Line isn’t just Sailor’s story as the comeback king. Written with Jimmy Thomson, Wendell reveals a dark secret that has haunted him since childhood. He tells us what it’s like to be a black man in a white man’s world and the toll racism takes on elite sport. He shows us how good friends and mentors are so important to our national heroes. And he also demonstrates how crucial the bonds of family – and the love and trust of good people – are for anyone, hero or not.

Click here to buy Crossing the Line from Booktopia,
Australia’s Local Bookstore

Jackie Collins, Christos Tsiolkas, and the best-selling foreign books in China

Last week Booktopia’s John Purcell sat down, on separate days, with Jackie Collins and Christos Tsiolkas (two very different authors) to chat about their life, work, and new books Confessions of a Wild Child and Barracuda. It was a wonderful fly-on-the-wall experience to see these two writers at very different periods of their careers.

One resounding impression was that, while the world is getting smaller and smaller, the effect a book reaching a worldwide audience has on a writer is still excitingly tangible. These days Jackie Collins could sneeze onto a notepad and it would become a worldwide bestseller (thank goodness she hasn’t, her latest book is a thoroughly entertaining read), whereas Tsiolkas wrote acclaimed novels like Loaded and Dead Europe before finding recent global success with The Slap (copies of which he has been kind enough to sign, so don’t miss out if you haven’t read it yet).

John asked both of them about their popularity in unlikely territories, to which they both had the same answer.

Both Jackie Collins and Christos Tsiolkas, authors that at times have fallen foul of certain conservative sections of society, are both published and have found unlikely success in China.

Which got us thinking. What are the most popular foreign books in China? And low and behold, we’ve dug up the 2012 best-selling foreign books in China.

There’s some predictable titles, and some surprises…

Best-Selling Foreign Books in China

Fiction

1. One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel García Márquez

2. Before I Go to Sleep, by S. J. Watson

3. The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini

4. The Unbearable Lightness of Being, by Milan Kundera

5. Norwegian Wood, by Haruki Murakami

6. The Da Vinci Code, by Dan Brown

7. Byakuyako (“Into the White Night”), by Keigo Higashino

8. The Catcher in the Rye, by J. D. Salinger

9. Love in the Time of Cholera, by Gabriel García Márquez

10. The Lost Symbol, by Dan Brown

Non-Fiction

1. Steve Jobs, by Walter Isaacson

2. The Secret, by Rhonda Byrne

3. The Greatest Salesman in the World, by Og Mandino

4. Rip It Up: The Radically New Approach to Changing Your Life, by Richard Wiseman

5. Youth, It’s Painful, by Rando Kim

6. On China, by Henry Kissinger

7. Dale Carnegie’s Lifetime Plan for Success, by Dale Carnegie

8. Life Without Limits: Inspiration for a Ridiculously Good Life, by Nick Vujicic

9. A Global History: From Prehistory to the 21st Century, by L. S. Stavrianos

10. A Brief History of Time, by Stephen Hawking

Children

1. Totto-chan: The Little Girl at the Window, by Tetsuko Kuroyanagi

2. Charlotte’s Web, by E. B. White

3. Pippi Longstocking, by Astrid Lindgren

4. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, by J. K. Rowling

5. The Cricket in Times Square, by George Selden

6. Fantastic Mr. Fox, by Roald Dahl

7. Guess How Much I Love You, by Sam McBratney

8. The Life and Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, by Daniel Defoe

9. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, by J. K. Rowling

10. Tiger Team: Witch Swamp & Ghost Castle, by Thomas Brezina

Click here to see Booktopia’s 100 Bestselling titles this week
all discounted by at least 30%

Penguin joins our Booktoberfest celebration – you could win their entire showcase worth over $950!

How would you like to give everyone you love a book for Christmas… without you having to pay a cent?

To help us celebrate Booktoberfest our pals at Penguin Books are giving you the chance to win all of the books in their Booktoberfest Showcase.

Order any of the books in the Penguin Booktoberfest Showcase to go into the draw to win their entire showcase!

Click here to enter the Penguin showcase

Penguin Booktoberfest Highlight

Eyrie

by Tim Winton

Tom Keely’s reputation is in ruins.
And that’s the upside.

Divorced and unemployed, he’s lost faith in everything precious to him. Holed up in a grim highrise, cultivating his newfound isolation, Keely looks down at a society from which he’s retired hurt and angry. He’s done fighting the good fight, and well past caring.

But even in his seedy flat, ducking the neighbours, he’s not safe from entanglement. All it takes is an awkward encounter in the lobby. A woman from his past, a boy the likes of which he’s never met before. Two strangers leading a life beyond his experience and into whose orbit he falls despite himself.

What follows is a heart-stopping, groundbreaking novel for our times – funny, confronting, exhilarating and haunting. Inhabited by unforgettable characters, Eyrie asks how, in an impossibly compromised world, we can ever hope to do the right thing.

Click here to buy Eyrie from Booktopia,
Australia’s Local Bookstore

Kathy Reichs talks to John Purcell about her latest book Bones of the Lost

Bones of the Lost

by Kathy Reichs

The gripping new Temperance Brennan novel from the world-class forensic anthropologist and Number 1 bestselling author

The body of a teenage girl is discovered along a desolate highway on the outskirts of Charlotte. Inside her purse is the ID card of a local businessman who died in a fire months earlier.

This is no ordinary hit-and-run. Who was the girl? And was she murdered?

Dr Temperance Brennan, Forensic Anthropologist, must find the answers. She soon learns that a Gulf War veteran stands accused of smuggling artefacts into the country. Could there be a sinister connection between the two cases?

Convinced that the girl’s death was no accident, Tempe takes courageous action to find justice for the dead. But her search throws her to the centre of a conspiracy that extends from South America to Afghanistan – and places her in terrible danger.

Click here to buy Bones of the Lost from Booktopia,
Australia’s Local Bookstore

Hardie Grant joins our Booktoberfest celebration – you could win their entire showcase!

How would you like to give everyone you love a book for Christmas… without you having to pay a cent?

To help us celebrate Booktoberfest our friends at Hardie Grant are giving you the chance to win all of the books in their Booktoberfest Showcase.

Order any of the books in the Hardie Grant Booktoberfest Showcase to go into the draw to win their entire showcase!

If your love is Sport, Cooking, Biography, Kids books or even Humour, we have something for you.

Click here to enter the Hardie Grant showcase

Hardie Grant Booktoberfest Highlight

The Food of Vietnam

by Luke Nguyen

Tying in with Luke’s immensely popular SBS TV show, Luke Nguyen’s Vietnam, this book follows his trip from southern Vietnam up to the north, through the marketplaces, backyards and kitchens of strangers and family alike.

In addition to the stunning location photography and mouth-watering food shots, Luke’s records of his experiences with the people he meets and the places he visits along the way pepper the pages of this book, breathing life into the classic recipes of Vietnam, from pho to banh mi and everything in between.

Click here to buy The Food of Vietnam from Booktopia,
Australia’s Local Bookstore

Hachette joins our Booktoberfest celebration – you could win 21 beautiful books worth over $700

How would you like to give everyone you love a book for Christmas… without you having to pay a cent?

To help us celebrate Booktoberfest our friends at Hachette are giving you the chance to win all of the books in their Booktoberfest Showcase.

Order any of the books in the Hachette Booktoberfest Showcase to go into the draw to win the lot – 21 beautiful books worth over $700.

Click here to enter the Hachette showcase

Hachette Booktoberfest Highlight

Doctor Sleep

by Stephen King

An epic war between good and evil, a gory, glorious story that will thrill the millions of hyper-devoted readers of The Shining and wildly satisfy anyone new to the territory of this icon in the King canon.

King says he wanted to know what happened to Danny Torrance, the boy at the heart of The Shining, after his terrible experience in the Overlook Hotel. The instantly riveting Doctor Sleep picks up the story of the now middle-aged Dan, working at a hospice in rural New Hampshire, and the very special twelve-year old girl he must save from a tribe of murderous paranormals.

On highways across America, a tribe of people called The True Knot travel in search of sustenance. They look harmless – mostly old, lots of polyester, and married to their RVs. But as Dan Torrance knows, and tween Abra Stone learns, The True Knot are quasi-immortal, living off the ‘steam’ that children with the ‘shining’ produce when they are slowly tortured to death.

Haunted by the inhabitants of the Overlook Hotel where he spent one horrific childhood year, Dan has been drifting for decades, desperate to shed his father’s legacy of despair, alcoholism, and violence. Finally, he settles in a New Hampshire town, an AA community that sustains him and a job at a nursing home where his remnant ‘shining’ power provides the crucial final comfort to the dying. Aided by a prescient cat, he becomes ‘Doctor Sleep.’

Then Dan meets the evanescent Abra Stone, and it is her spectacular gift, the brightest shining ever seen, that reignites Dan’s own demons and summons him to a battle for Abra’s soul and survival…

Click here to buy Doctor Sleep from Booktopia,
Australia’s Local Bookstore

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 981 other followers

%d bloggers like this: