Thursday, March 06, 2008

Guest blogger - Diana Birchall

We're delighted to welcome Diana Birchall to the blog as our guest. Diana will be well known to Austen lovers for her books related to Austen's characters. Here she talks about her love for Austen and the story behind her novel, Mrs Darcy's Dilemma.

Over to you, Diana.

Thank you!

The Saga of a Sequel

Over a twenty year period, I read Jane Austen's novels literally thousands of times. Why this obsession? Because my job at Warner Bros. Studios, where I work as the literary story analyst, reading novels to see if they would make movies, means that my day is filled with reading modern commercial fiction. The manuscripts are usually among the best and most popular novels being published, but they are heavy on violent action.For a bookish, peaceful sort of female, I know more about calibers of weapons, the intricate dynamics of car chases and explosions, kidnappings and mass murders, than you would believe possible.

People have always asked me how I can still read in my spare time, but since reading is what I love best to do, that's no problem. What has happened, however, is that I can no longer read commercial popular fiction for pleasure. Only historical novels or biographies - stories set in the past. And Jane Austen has become both mental balm and stimulation for me. Her rational mind, her graceful prose, soothe me; her fabulous characterizations and brilliant wit stimulate me. And almost insensibly, I began sliding into her style.

Now, if any modern American starts to think she can write as well as Jane Austen, or in her exact style, she has crossed the border into madness; but at the same time it is true that Jane Austen was the best writing teacher anyone could ever have, and studying her writing improved my own beyond measure. Loving to play with language, in the mid-1990s I conceived the idea of writing a novel in as close to her style as I could get, This became Mrs. Darcy's Dilemma, and rapidly gained a New York literary agent, but just as he was setting up a bidding war, came the news that Emma Tennant's agent had assigned her to write a 25-year-after Pride and Prejudice sequel in a month to "beat the American competition." I had just missed the moment. So I put the manuscript on the shelf and turned to writing a biography.

Now, with the unprecedented popularity of Jane Austen-related stories, SourceBooks is giving Mrs. Darcy's Dilemma international publication and I'm thrilled! Early reviews have been amazing (one blogger said "Jane Austen is alive and well and living in California," which left me sitting staring dazedly at my computer for a considerable period!). There is a great range of Austen sequels now - many delectably readable, some not up to snuff; her characters have been spotted in Australia, Boca Raton, and outer space, and have even been interpreted as dogs. My sequel is comparatively restrained, and I believe it's what Jane Austen might have called "probable."

It takes place in the year Queen Victoria came to the throne, 1837, when manners and values were changing. Mr. and Mrs. Darcy, they of Pride and Prejudice fame, are now middle-aged. He is balding, she is an anxious mother, but they are still a charming, witty and fortunate couple, who know their happiness - until they make the mistake of inviting the two daughters of Mrs. Darcy's profligate sister Lydia to visit at Pemberley...and trouble begins. The Darcys' sons are far too interested in the young ladies; the younger, Cloe, is a faultlessly modest creature, but the elder, Bettina, is another pair of gloves entirely, and her flamboyant career includes a shocking turn on the London stage...I hope readers will enjoy this visit to the past, to see one possible future of Austen's most beloved characters.

Diana Birchall

Thanks, Diana! I'm sure Austen lovers will look forward to the book. And Diana has also written The Compleat Mrs Elton, which is a collection of stories about the wonderful Mrs Elton from Jane Austen's Emma. Anyone looking for comic and satirical stories need look no further!

If you'd like to find out more about Diana and her books, then visit her website at by clicking here

And if you'd like to read a review of Mrs Darcy's Dilemma you can find one here


Anonymous said...

Jane said...

A fascinating post, Diana. A number of authors have attempted to hitch their wagons to Jane Austen's star, but you and Amanda Grange are the two most worthy of her approval and our admiration for your care and verisimilitude. What a marvellous review, and thoroughly deserved.

Jane Jackson

Anonymous said...

I've known Diana for a number of years now, having struck up a correspondence with her when she reviewed an earlier book of mine. I admire her both as a person and as a wonderful writer. All her books are treasures and Mrs Darcy's Dilemma is no exception. Congratulations Diana. I wish you every success!

Unknown said...

I look forward to reading it Diana as the thought of those two middle aged......boggles the mind a bit!

Anonymous said...

An interesting post. I am so happy that things workred out for you with publication. From what I see you really deserve your success.

Margaret Blake.

Anonymous said...

It looks an interesting book, Mr and Mrs Darcy years down the line.

Helen Scott Taylor said...


I haven't picked up one of the recently penned Austen-style books in the fear none could possibly live up to the novels of the lady herself. But I love the sound of Lydia's daughters. The story has a ring of authenticity about it. I'll add Mrs Darcy's Dillemma to my tbr pile and look forward to the read.

Jan Jones said...

Hi Diana - nice to hear from you again! seems no time at all since the Penrith conference.

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