Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Dancing, Ghosts, and Jane Austen: An interview with author David Wilkin

Today I'm talking with David Wilkin, an author who normally specializes in Regency period novels. For this latest work, he satirically takes on the Jane Austen/monster mash-up trend in JANE AUSTEN AND GHOSTS.


1) Tell us about your book.

JANE AUSTEN AND GHOSTS is a story about the making of the classic works of Jane into a movie with the twist that has recently come these last few years of including everything Jane with some type of monster. The novel is set in the here and now at a movie studio. Jane, being deceased, now falls into a category that we could include with zombies and vampires, werewolves and other monsters that Hollywood has done to death, so to speak. Jane now would be a ghost.

And were Jane a ghost, from the other side, she in my interpretation would not like at all what so many have done to her stories. Thus a haunting by Jane who most assuredly has been rolling over in her grave seems in order.

2) What inspired this book?

I actually have a cousin at the studios whose job is much like my protagonist, Ellis Abbot. Elizabeth, I mean Ellis Abbot is a finder for the studio. He looks for works that would make a great movie, and when he sees PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND Z*****s it was only natural for him to think that this would make a great camp movie. I played with that idea in my mind and what my cousin does, but I thought Jane would hate to see these movies made. She would probably hate to see these books having been written. (Though I never read one until I had finished the first draft of JANE AUSTEN AND GHOSTS, I was then very much surprised that the first seemed a graft onto Jane's writing.)

Playing with the idea that Jane had rolled over in that grave in Winchester Cathedral (I visited her grave in 2007 and also looked for the God Begot House then as well which my cousin Arnold once ran a store out of just a few feet away) I thought what other Ghosts might accompany Jane to set things to right. What could come of that, and then how to link my knowledge of Hollywood (I worked at Dick Clark Productions when younger and taped every single American Bandstand there ever was) to that of Jane Austen.

3) For over two hundred years, people have been reworking Jane Austen. Besides simply mild setting time shifts, we've had modern updates, such as EMMA being reworked as CLUELESS and more extreme cultural transformations such as the Aishwarya Rai-lead Bollywood take on Austen, BRIDE AND PREJUDICE. Why do the works of an English woman who wrote so long ago about a fairly narrow socio-economic range of characters still appeal to so many people all over the world today?

I think that we have a love story in this and it is a little complicated. Thank you, Wickham, Lydia and Georgiana. That love story is a key to why we return to PRIDE AND PREJUDICE as perhaps the favorite of the tales. (I have to admit to liking PERSUASION at this time of life more.) The characters and the stereotypes we find in the work are all well detailed and where some parts of Jane's writing would be far from considered a great novel today, her ability to spin a good stroy endures.

I look at the Regency Romances I delve into, including COLONEL FITZWILLIAM'S CORRESPONDENCE, my Jane sequel, as a dance with the beginning our seeing the Hero and Heroine. Then one or the other takes a fancy to the other, but that can not be returned. Boy meets Girl. Boy likes Girl, and of course Boy loses Girl. The next part is critical, Boy endeavors to get Girl back. Wentworth shows up in Bath and crosses paths with Anne, or Darcy after Elizabeth is found at Pemberly goes to London to make things right between Lydia and Wickham. Our Heroes must then do something heroic to show their love. In Jane Austen and Ghosts, Ellis has to do something to show his affection has something behind it as well.

4) Despite the various direct updates and the re-imaginings, it's only in recent years that it's become popular to try and fuse Jane Austen's work directly with rather discordant elements such as zombies or sea monsters. Do you feel this nothing but a gimmick, or does it imply something deeper about our interface with Austen's work?

I have to think that the mashups of the Austen stories with Monsters are gimmicks. Not a deep exploration of the theme of Love and love in a society where arranged marriages were normal. I can not speak to having read the first of the monster mash-ups beyond the Assembly Ball scene. With that book showing so much in the way of using Jane’s own writing and not original from the author, I think that highlights that it is riding on Jane’s work. Kudos to the author for a creative idea, but perhaps more kudos if the story had been completely written by the author and not grafted onto Jane’s writing.

For JANE AUSTEN AND GHOSTS, I hope those who read it find that I have been very creative in telling a light hearted romp that plays up Hollywood, Jane, B-Movie actors, and Hollywood legends, and the books that are in this recent trend. I think that the tale will bring a smile to the face of Janeites and others who read it.

5) What is the most common thing you feel people misunderstand about Jane Austen's work?

I think that Jane is not the be all and end all of what the Regency period was about. Jane’s work gives us a great glimpse of country life for the edges of the Ton, where she was firmly ensconced. But so many Regencies talk of Dukes and Earls and with Jane we do not see that lifestyle at all. We have to look elsewhere to glimpse it and even when we look at someone like Darcy, or the Elliots, we do not see the members of the first stare.

6) You became interested in the Regency by studying period dance and teaching it. My own dance knowledge is fairly limited compared to yours, but I've noticed more than a few times, for instance, a film tossing the waltz in before it'd been introduced to England. Do you feel film and television adaptations of Regency, Georgian England, and Austen works tend to get the dance right, completely wrong, or something in-between?

They get dance wrong. Mr. Beveridge's Maggot is one of our favorite dances, and the one done in the Colin Firth/Jennifer Ehle P&P where they dance together. Choreographers of the period had to redo the steps that were on film because so many had done what they had done on screen and it was wrong. (The real version is better IMO) There is a lovely piece choreographed in Paltrow’s Emma, again beautiful on the screen but wrong. Or in the Olivier/Garson P&P, the Assembly Ball is filled with dances that come after the period.

There are plenty of great dances for the period, but the movies are just not correct. And waltzing is just out. Jane Austen died in 1817 and waltzing, as I wrote in an article at in an article on waltz in the period, would have been about 3 years done. It would seem a stretch for Jane to have learned it, decided to have her characters master it, and then be able to dance it in such a short period of time.

7) Which do you prefer: contradancing or the waltz?

I like them both. I had been known a few decades ago, to dance 4 nights a week, several of that contradancing. (Great exercise, lost lots of pounds) But for wooing and it is Valentine's Day, nothing beats the waltz, and after a couple years of waltzing, I was able to be proud of my waltzing. A sought after partner here in Southern California at the local balls we have.

8) You've written several works set directly in the Regency. Can you briefly describe those for us?

I have 3 Regencies currently available. COLONEL FITZWILLIAM'S CORRESPONDENCE, THE SHATTERED MIRROR and THE END OF THE WORLD. I consider all three a little different. The first of course is a continuation of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE. We look at the war through the Colonel’s eyes, and we look at society through Kitty’s. As the Colonel is away in Portugal and Spain, letters are sent back and forth and we catch up what is happening with our favorite characters as life moves on. That this lasted sometime, we have developments in all the lives of the characters continuing even as our heroes in this story become united, and parted, in their own ways. And of course we can not forget Lady Catherine. She is present as well (Though my interpretation is more that of Edna May Oliver)

In THE SHATTERED MIRROR, I deal with the effects of the war on our hero, and how a man wounded in the war, as so many were, might think that there can never be love again for him. As a Regency, we know that somewhere along the way there will be love, so our Heroine is young and vivacious and wanting to find love with a real hero of the war. Not realizing that our wounded hero might very well be that man.

Last I have THE END OF THE WORLD, where our heroine does not expect to find love being in the shadow of her sister. Here my hero also is not looking to fall in love as he runs from his own demons only to find the girl and her family beset by neighbors and those who once were friends.


Thanks, David.

If you want to see more from David or are interested in his other titles, you can find him at

JANE AUSTEN AND GHOSTS is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords.


Sophia Rose said...

I enjoyed reading the interview and the process coming up with the storyline.


J.A. Beard said...

Thanks for stopping by, Sophia.

Angelyn said...

So many of the points raised in this interview really struck a chord with me. That particular scene described in P&P with Mr. Beveridge's Maggot playing is really my favorite of all the screen productions. Well done interview.

Debra Brown said...

Great interview. It is nice to read someone who has some of the correct details down, such as the dance facts. I really wish that Hollywood and authors would try to get it right. Look at the confusion the Shakespeare version of Richard III has caused. History "changed" by slanted writing.

J.A. Beard said...

Yeah, dancing accuracy isn't something I used to think a lot until I had to write a dance scene and started looking into it.

Grace Elliot said...

Great post.
In defence of "Pride, Prejudice and Zombies" (or a title to that effect) - my dyslexic son read this book because of the zombie connection - I was pleased (I think) that at least he'd had some indoctrination into (sort-of) classic literature...well, at least come vaguely close.
Grace x

J.A. Beard said...

P&P is actually my wife's favorite book.

She also happens to like zombies. So, P&P&Z actually was something she rather enjoyed.

I haven't read it myself yet.