After a successful career in Hollywood, in which she sold nineteen screenplays and teleplays in a variety of genres to Tri-Star Pictures, Fox Family Films, ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX TV and the Lifetime Network, Syrie James decided to follow her passion and write a novel. Syrie was thrilled when her first work of historical fiction (about one of her favorite authors), The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen, sold at auction after a two-day bidding war between three major publishing houses, received critical acclaim, and became a bestseller. The Lost Memoirs was then followed by other successful novels: The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte and Dracula My Love. Syrie James latest release is Nocturne, a modern romance. Read through the interview and leave your comment + e-mail address to win a copy of Nocturne! (Giveaway open to US & Canada readers only)
Join me and welcome Syrie James
on My Jane Austen Book Club!
When was your first encounter with Jane Austen and her world ? What fascinated you at first?
I first became introduced to Jane Austen in a British literature class in college. We read "Emma" and "Pride and Prejudice." I was an instant fan. There are few writers who can match Austen for pure brilliance of plot, characterization, and dialog.
Like many of my blogmates and readers, I’ve read and loved your biofic “The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen.” I was incredibly impressed at how true that story seemed to me, how it told about the Jane I had in my mind. How long and detailed was the preparation for that book?
I read dozens of Austen biographies and scholarly works as well as books about the Regency era. I re-read Jane Austen's six novels, her unfinished works, her juvenilia, and all of her surviving correspondence. I went to England and walked in Jane's footsteps, with a visit to her house at Chawton Cottage, the ruins of Netley Abbey near Southampton, the Cobb at Lyme Regis, the city of Bath, and a pilgrimage to her grave at Winchester Cathedral. I was also granted a rare opportunity to visit Godmersham Park, one of the grand manor homes belonging to Jane's older brother Edward, where Jane often stayed. It was a glorious experience! I also watched all the movies of her works many times to familiarize myself with the customs, fashions, and lifestyle of Jane's England.
Then the real work began: to outline and create the story. It was a challenge to interweave my imagined love story with the known dates, times, places, and facts of Jane Austen's life. I am so glad the story rang true to you, because I felt a great responsibility to remain true to Jane Austen's known history, and to accurately represent not only her, but her real-life friends and family members.
While researching, what did you discover about Jane that you didn’t suspect before, that surprised you the most?
I was astonished that there was no known record of a love story for Jane. I couldn't believe it! She wrote so beautifully and with such insight about love and courtship, I feel certain she had a romance of her own—one that she was obliged to keep hidden from the world. That's the story I decided to tell. And my novel is inspired by a true incident—another thing I learned that both surprised and intrigued me. Jane's sister Cassandra confided to a niece that if Jane ever truly loved anyone, it was a man she once met at an unspecified seaside resort. That unnamed, mysterious gentleman has tantalized biographers for two hundred years. I decided to invent him.
What is there in Jane the woman that you most appreciate?
I admire her wit, observation of detail, and appreciation of the small joys in life, as evidenced in both her novels and her letters. She was a devoted sister, friend, and daughter, very close to father and all her siblings, and her feelings for them and for Anne Sharpe, the governess to her nieces and nephews, is truly touching.
What about Jane the writer, instead?
I greatly admire her incredible skill when it comes to characterization, plot, and dialog. Sir Walter Scott once wrote, " That young lady had a talent for describing the involvement and feelings and characters of ordinary life which is to me the most wonderful I ever met with. The big Bow-wow strain I can do myself like any now going, but the exquisite touch which renders ordinary commonplace things and characters interesting from the truth of the description and the sentiment is denied to me. What a pity such a gifted creature died so early!" I couldn't have said it more perfectly.
As I wrote in my review, the hero in "The Lost Memoirs," Mr. Ashford, owns features which are typical of some of Jane’s heroes. Your suggestion is then, Jane didn’t totally create them in her mind but was inspired by and tried to describe the reality. Is it the same for you as a writer? Where do your heroes come from?
I believe Jane did draw on the men she knew when inventing her heroes, while at the same time fantasizing about the type of man she (and her heroine) would fall in love with. And yes, so do I. Isn't that what all writers do? In "The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen," I also incorporated unique characteristics not found in Austen's heroes to create Mr. Ashford—the kind of man I believe Jane Austen would have fallen in love with.
Going back to Jane, what is it in her little close country world that becomes so appealing to our contemporary audience?
Jane Austen's stories and characters are a microcosm of the world we live in today. Everyone knows someone like Mrs. Bennet, Marianne Dashwood, or Mr. Woodhouse. We all want to be Elizabeth Bennet and marry Mr. Darcy. The issues she explores—relationships between men and women, family obligations, money or the lack of it, lack of opportunities for women, morality, overcoming pride and prejudice, learning from past mistakes, gathering the courage to follow our destiny and do what is right—we can identify with all of them today. And it's fun to read about a world before television, automobiles, cell phones, and the internet; a quieter world where conversation and music had to be experienced in person, men wore tailcoats and tight breeches, and people walked everywhere or rode in carriages. We've glamorized it to be sure, but it's still fun!
Have you got a favourite Austen hero and a heroine?
Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy. My second favorites, and also dear to my heart, are Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth.
I’d love to see a film based on your Lost Memoirs. It would be a new, very credible biopic Janeites would love, I’m certain. Would you accept? And in the game of dreaming and keeping hope high, who would you cast as Jane and Mr. Ashford?
I'd be thrilled to see "The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen," come to the screen. I have already written the screenplay! I'd cast Richard Armitage or Colin Firth as Mr. Ashford, and Rachel Weisz, Emily Watson, or Emily Blunt as Jane.
Really? Ok, Syrie. I'll start campaigning for your screenplay, then! (Richard Armitage as Mr Ashford ? Yes, please!)
Back to books, now. After writing about Jane Austen, you wrote Charlotte Brontë’s biofic “The Secret Diaries of …” and "Dracula My Love." It seems classic literature is a great source of inspiration to you.
It is indeed! It was a thrill and an honor to research and write from the point of view of two such remarkable women. I loved exploring Charlotte's true life love story and the inspiration behind her novel "Jane Eyre" (another one of my all-time favorite novels) in "The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Brontë." There is a lot to admire in Bram Stoker's classic novel "Dracula," and it was exciting to re-imagine it from the point of view of the heroine, Mina Harker, as a passionate, dangerous, and secret romance in "Dracula, My Love."
Your latest book is instead a modern thrilling romance, "Nocturne." How much did Jane Austen and her romances influence you in this case?
When I wrote "Nocturne," I was very heavily influenced by my love for all things Austen. "Nocturne" is the story of a woman whose car runs off an icy Colorado road during a blizzard, and she's snowbound for days with a brilliant, gorgeous, charismatic, reclusive man with a dark secret. They fall deeply in love, a profoundly meaningful experience that is destined to change their lives forever. Having written three historical fiction novels in a row that took place in England, I have fallen in love with dashing, cultured, accomplished men with luscious accents, and I knew at once that Michael Tyler, the hero in "Nocturne," had to be British. You might say that Michael is a blend of Mr. Darcy and Mr. Knightley and … (but to give away any more would be telling!)
Michael and Nicole also share a love of classic literature represented by works including Austen's, and one of Michael's secrets directly relates to something quite Austenian. I can't say more without giving away plot points.
So, do you think Janeites may love your "Nocturne"? And what especially in it?
I fell in love with Michael and Nicole while writing "Nocturne," and I hope Austen fans will, too! It's both a love story and an exploration of redemption and of the sacrifices needed to arrive at one's destiny—a theme that is very Austenian. I am humbled and honored by the response from critics, who I think explain the novel better than I can. Here's a sampling of just a few reviews:
- "Lyrical, lush, and intensely romantic ... this infinitely touching, bittersweet story from James ("Dracula, My Love") will weave its way into readers' hearts, with its complex characters and compelling emotions sure to linger long after the last page has been turned." (Library Journal)
- "Nocturne is the kind of book that makes you want to turn off the phone and the television so you can do nothing but read (and maybe sip some tea or hot cocoa.)" (Barnes and Noble's Heart to Heart Blog)
- "Tauntingly compelling … the perfect escape book for romance readers." (Austenprose.com)
- "Brilliant, couldn't put it down … a beautiful romance that pulls at the heart strings." (Book Chick City)
- "A once-in-a-lifetime kind of love ... each incredible revelation kept me turning pages long into the night." (A Simple Love of Reading)
"If you read any book for Valentine's Day, read 'Nocturne' by Syrie James." (Miss Remmer's Review)
- "If you've never read a Syrie James novel you're missing out. Whether you begin with her odes to Austen, Brontë, Dracula, or Nicole and Michael – you will most assuredly read every word she's written and become a true fan for all time." (Feathered Quill)
Thank you so much for hosting this Q & A today. I love to hear from readers, and hope you'll visit me at www.syriejames.com, where I invite you to leave me a message and sign up for my newsletter. Happy reading!
Thank you very much, Syrie! I wish you and your Nocturne great success! And to my readers in the US and Canada, I suggest not to miss the chance to win a copy of this great novel leaving their comments and e-mail addresses here, below this post.The giveaway ends February 2nd .