Interview with Syrie James


What if, hidden in an old attic chest, Jane Austen’s memoirs were discovered after hundreds of years? What if those pages revealed the untold story of a life-changing love affair? That’s the premise behind this spellbinding novel, which delves into the secrets of Jane Austen’s life, giving us untold insights into her mind and heart.

Today we welcome to the Riskies Syrie James, whose wonderful first novel The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen is now on the shelves. As usual, your relevant comment or question enters you into a contest to win a signed copy of the book, and Syrie will drop by to chat and answer questions.

Syrie, welcome to the Riskies. How did you come up with the idea for The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen? (which I loved, by the way–it was such fun to identify Austen’s inspirations and I found the ending tremendously moving).

I’d read and loved all of Jane Austen’s novels, and couldn’t accept the historians’ theory that this wonderful, romantic writer never fell in love herself. Since Jane Austen was a very private person—all her books were published anonymously during her lifetime—I realized it was entirely possible that she had a love affair no one knew about. I decided to give her that love affair, with the man who was her soul mate; to write the book that I wanted to read.

Tell us about the research.

I read dozens of Jane Austen biographies. I studied her letters in minute detail, reread all her novels, her juvenilia, and her unfinished works. I researched her era extensively and watched all her movies. I took a self-guided Jane Austen Tour of England. I even took English Regency Country Dance lessons!

Did you find anything unusual or unexpected in your research?

I was delighted by the gossipy, irreverent tone of Jane Austen’s letters and juvenilia. I was overwhelmed and awed when I visited Jane Austen’s house at Chawton, and walked through the very rooms she lived and wrote in during the last nine years of her life. Godmersham Park (the estate formerly owned by Jane’s rich brother Edward, where she often made extended visits) is far larger, and has more extensive grounds, than I ever imagined. The Cobb at Lyme Regis (made famous in Persuasion, and featured in my novel) offers absolutely gorgeous vistas, and is far windier than I expected!

Did you find channeling Jane Austen intimidating?

Only at first. After all the research, when I finally started writing, her voice seemed to come naturally to me.

Why do you think Jane Austen is so popular?

Austen was witty and ironic, and a brilliant craftsman. She wrote about real people in recognizable circumstances, and she examined what people risk when they fall in love—a very relatable topic in any era. I think her recent surge in popularity owes a lot to the movies. Something magical happens when you put Jane Austen’s stories on the screen!

Was this your first novel or do you have a collection of mss. under the bed that may never see the light of day?

Before The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen, I wrote a medical thriller which my agent loves, but has (so far) been unable to sell. That was heart-breaking. In my years as a screenwriter, although I sold 19 scripts, I wrote several that are still available!

Sorry, I have to ask you–have you seen Becoming Jane and what did you think of it?

I thought it was beautifully and reverently filmed, but I was disappointed by the story. I didn’t find it romantic. However, I loved the film adaptation of The Jane Austen Book Club.

What’s your favorite Austen novel?

Pride and Prejudice.

What else do you like to read?

I read everything! I read the newspaper every day. I subscribe to a lot of magazines. I usually have at least three or four novels in progress on my nightstand. I especially enjoy historical fiction, historical romance, women’s fiction, biography, memoir, mystery, humor and the classics.

What’s next for you?

I’m busy maintaining my website at http://www.syriejames.com/ … and I’m researching and writing my next book for Avon: a love story for Charlotte Brontë (another one of my favorite writers.) As you can imagine, I’m having a fantastic time “being” Charlotte!

As usual, we welcome your questions and comments!

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21 Responses to Interview with Syrie James

  1. Syrie, sounds like a cool book! Was there anything in writing it that you had to stop, put down the book and pick up a research one to see if it could actually have happened that way?

    Or, a shorter way of asking — was there anything that made you stop writing and resume researching?

    *waves hi to the Riskies* See you gals on Tuesday!

  2. Er, no Sorry — I’m with you guys next Sunday. Ooops! Clearly I shouldn’t be reading while having breakfast 🙂

  3. Lily says:

    Hi,

    sounds like a great book… where did you get the inspiration to write it?

    There is a craze now for everything Jane Austen… not that I am minding 🙂

  4. Cara King says:

    Thanks for joining us, Syrie!

    Your book sounds like fun — and I love the photos you shared here with us! (And your experiences researching the book.)

    So, off the subject — you didn’t find that James McAvoy saved “Becoming Jane”????

    Ah, that’s fine. I don’t have to share him. (What’s that? Amanda? Is that a knife you have? Okay, Amanda and I don’t have to share him.)

    Ahem. Sorry about that, Syrie. I’ll definitely look for your book next time I’m in the bookstore! (Which will be, oh, probably later today…) 🙂

    Cara

  5. doglady says:

    What a wonderful idea! Like you, Syrie, I just cannot believe that Jane Austen wrote the way she did and never experienced love. You don’t gain that kind of insight into the human condition without experiencing it. I cannot wait to read your book. I also love that you did your research. Many people decide to write fiction about real people and never bother to do their research. I do envy you all of the places you visited. I am a retired opera singer and I toured the house where Mozart was born and it gave me chills. What was it like to be in those rooms where she lived and worked? And being Charlotte should be a blast! Can’t wait to read that one either.

  6. Diane Gaston says:

    Welcome, Syrie!

    I love that you gave Jane a real romance.

    It seems to me that this was a potentially risky book (the kind we love here). Anytime anyone monkeys around with the revered Jane, there are bound to be critics, but I read your fabulous reviews. Sounds like you have achieved something wonderful!

    (And we’ll see you next Sunday, Celia!)

  7. Nathalie says:

    Hi,

    it is funny that your next book wil be about Charlotte Bronte.

  8. Diane Gaston says:

    Syrie! That reminds me. In researching Charlotte Bronte, did you visit Norton Conyers? I visited this house on my last England tour and it seems to be the house that modeled for Charlotte’s Thornfield. The owners Sir James and Lady Graham showed us the room in the attic where it was rumored that a mad woman had been kept!
    Here a url
    http://www.touruk.co.uk/houses/houseyorkshire_nortonconyers.htm

  9. “(What’s that? Amanda? Is that a knife you have? Okay, Amanda and I don’t have to share him.)”

    And don’t you forget it, Cara! 🙂

    I can’t wait to read this book! It must have been extremely challenging, but the research must have been rough, having to visit Chawton and Lyme–not. 🙂 What did you enjoy the most?

  10. janegeorge says:

    Okay, I have to go here.

    It appears that modern sentiments don’t want to think of Austen as not having been in love at least once before her death.

    What about sex? Are we fine with her dying a virgin? Why? Is it because we accept the constraints upon women of her time? Are we modern women fiercely protective of Jane’s “purity”?

    Syrie, does your novel address Jane’s physical desire? Becoming Jane stopped short and kept her a good girl.

    Oh, and welcome to the Riskies!

  11. janegeorge says:

    PS *I* wouldn’t have passed up James McAvoy.

    Jane, dodging Amanda’s knife!

  12. Syrie James says:

    Thanks, everyone, for your comments, and for your interest in “The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen.” Celia–the research and writing was an all-consuming, intermingled, ongoing process. I constantly fact-checked everything! I was particularly attentive to Jane’s wherebouts at any given time, to make sure that everything in my story could have actually happened at the time and place described.

  13. Syrie James says:

    Of course I love James McAvoy! Who could resist those beautiful blue eyes?? But I didn’t believe his character (as written) in “Becoming Jane” was the kind of man Jane would have fallen in love with. I found him far more sexy, appealing and charismatic in the film “Atonement,” for example.

  14. Syrie James says:

    Diane! In Bronte country, I spent a day and a half at the Bronte Parsonage Museum where Charlotte lived almost her entire life (incredible!), and was allowed a private viewing in the Library of invaluable Bronte documents, such as Charlotte’s letters. I also had a private tour of one of the schools Charlotte attended (formerly “Roe Head School”) and visited Red House, the home of her friend Mary Taylor, now a wonderful museum. It was all very inspiring.

  15. catslady says:

    It sounds like a fascinating read and what a great idea. I think you went way beyond the call of duty to actually take dancing lessons lol.

  16. I often wonder what Jane Austen would think to see that she herself has been fictionalized as a sleuth, that her characters have gone on to have fictitious children, that her books are the basis for Hollywood contemporary love stories, etc. I’d like to think she would be amused, flattered, but very probably suspicious of it all. After all your research, what do you think she’d say?

    Since Charlotte Bronte was so dismissive of Jane and her writing, will you deal with that aspect when you “become” Charlotte, or just ignore it? Both these books are on my TBB list!

  17. Syrie James says:

    Hi Maggie,
    I think Jane Austen would be astonished and delighted by her current fame. Although she insisted on anonymity during her lifetime, she was very pleased by the positive response she received from those who were “in the know.” As for the sequels to her novels–she no doubt wishes she could have written them herself! Re: Charlotte… historians love to quote her dismissive remark about Jane Austen’s work, but leave out the positive things she had to say. I will definitely address the subject, and have great fun doing it! 🙂

  18. anne says:

    Hi Syrie,
    Your release sounds extremely compelling and wonderful. I am fascinated with the subject, love the classics and feel that your book is a totally unique approach. Your research trip sounds absolutely fascinating. Best wishes on your work on the Charlotte release.

  19. robynl says:

    this has been eye opening; I so hope Jane was in love at some time.

  20. Janet, you always do conduct very fun interviews. Syrie, welcome to the Riskies. I loved your site and went through every page. Your education pedigree is outstanding preparation for the scads of research you did for this book.

    I love this idea of yours. First you get to walk in Jane’s shoes, write in her voice, and tell us how it “really” was. Now you get to do it again as Charlotte. I’m so thrilled and looking to reading your Jane and knowing that your Charlotte is going to be next. I hope you’ll do many more of these.

    At the risk of being labeled a syncophant, I have to say that from the photos of your family on your site, I first thought the boys were your brothers. Then I read the text and found out they were your sons. Despite the evidence, I found myself scrolling up and down trying to find if there was even one picture where you looked old enough to be their mother. Nope.

  21. Syrie James says:

    Keira, you are my new best friend!

    Thanks to everyone for your great comments. I feel so fortunate to do what I do… and it’s people like you that make it all possible. I hope you’ll check out my website at SyrieJames.com, and participate in one or both of the give-aways posted on my Home Page. Please leave a message in my Guest Book, and let me know how you like the book!

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