Writing a hero's diary - Henry Tilney
I've just started my new Austen retelling and I thought I'd keep an account of the writing process on the blog. It will probably be rambling as I have an untidy mind, but I hope it will be interesting for anyone who likes reading the diaries and maybe for writers and aspiring writers, too.
When I finished writing Colonel Brandon's Diary at Christmas I decided to take a break from writing as it's tiring and I wanted to be fresh for the next diary. But I'm not very good at taking a break, and although I didn't write anything I was thinking all the time.
I knew that I wanted to write Henry Tilney's Diary next, because then I would have written a diary for each of Austen's novels, but I'm very bad at doing what I ought to be doing and I found myself thinking about Edward Ferrars.
I'd been uncertain which diary to do when I was retelling Sense and Sensibility, but I decided rather randomly on Colonel Brandon's Diary, which left Edward Ferrars's story untold. I thought I would probably write it after Henry's diary, but I kept wondering about Edward. Why hadn't he inherited the family estate and fortune when his father died? He was an older son and so, by rights he should have done so.Why did he fall in love with Lucy? What arts did she employ? Or was it just a question of proximity?
I decided I'd write Edward's diary next instead of Henry's diary, so I read Sense and Sensibility again and made notes - I'd already done this for Col Brandon's Diary, but I needed different notes so I couldn't reuse them.
Then I imagined what it must have been like for Edward when his father was alive, his relationship with his father, and I began to write some early scenes from his childhood.
Then I came across this portrait of Walter Scott, and I thought it looked like Mr Bennet:
I thought it was a pity that I wasn't going to write Mr Bennet's Diary because it would have made an ideal cover, and then I laughed at myself for even thinking of writing Mr Bennet's Diary. And then I started thinking about it and I realised it would make an interesting book because it would deal with Mr Bennet's courtship of Mrs Bennet and explain why he married such an unsuitable woman. It would explore the reasons for his disagreement with Mr Collins's father - I've always wondered about that - and the reasons why they stopped speaking to each other. And then it would follow Mr and Mrs Bennet through their early married life, with the birth of their daughters, and his close relationship with Lizzy and Jane. Then the gradual realisation that no son would be forthcoming, and his withdrawal to the library, where he could feel safe from feminine chatter. And then of course it would follow him through the events of Pride and Prejudice, with him paying a call on Bingley, meeting Mr Darcy, and chasing Lydia to London. And finally his thoughts on Mr Darcy's marrying Elizabeth.
I got so carried away by the idea that I wrote the opening diary entries, and then realised, rather guiltily, that I was meant to be writing Henry's diary. I also realised that, as I couldn't keep away from the keyboard and I couldn't keep my thoughts from Jane Austen, I was ready to start work again.
The first step was to reread Northanger Abbey and immerse myself in the world Austen created. The second step was to then read the book again more slowly and make detailed notes, particularly noting down any mention of days or months as they would be essential for writing the diary entries. And then it was time to work out the timeline.
I'll be posting more about this on 21st June, so I hope you can join me.
Available books in the Austen diaries series are Mr Darcy's Diary, Mr Knightley's Diary, Captain Wentworth's Diary, Edmund Bertram's Diary and Colonel Brandon's Diary. They're available from bookshops or from Amazons including Amazon US and Amazon UK