Quantcast

Guest Post & Giveaway: Why Lady Susan by Alice McVeigh, author of Susan: A Jane Austen Prequel

Welcome everyone to today’s latest guest! Alice McVeigh has written a different kind of Jane Austen story, and I love that she chose to write about Lady Susan!

Here’s a little about the book:

Familiar characters abound – Frank Churchill, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Darcy himself – but Susan – mischievous and manipulative – is the star. This is Austen that even Austen might have loved, with a touch of Georgette Heyer in the romantic sections. Fans of Bridgerton will also relish this classic regency romance, the first in a six-book series.

Sixteen-year-old Susan Smithson – pretty but poor, clever but capricious – has just been expelled from a school for young ladies in London.

At the mansion of the formidable Lady Catherine de Bourgh, she attracts a raffish young nobleman. But, at the first hint of scandal, her guardian dispatches her to her uncle Collins’ rectory in Kent, where her sensible cousin Alicia lives and “where nothing ever happens.”

Here Susan mischievously inspires the local squire to put on a play, with consequences no one could possibly have foreseen. What with the unexpected arrival of Frank Churchill, Alicia’s falling in love and a tumultuous elopement, rural Kent will surely never seem safe again…

Please welcome Alice:

Thanks so much, Serena, for inviting me to write about my new novel, Susan: A Jane Austen Prequel. In her note Serena wrote, “Lady Susan is so interesting! And I so rarely get offered anything to do with Austen’s other works.”

Some of you will probably read that last sentence twice. I did not – not because I’m hugely clever but because I too have Pride and Prejudice fatigue.

Now before I get brick-batted, I should say that, in common with every other writer I know, I love P&P. I simply object that it is actually more “searched for” on Google than Jane Austen is.

Yes, you read that right. P&P is more famous than Jane Austen, herself. It has also inspired more film adaptations, theatre productions, spinoffs, zombies and graphic novels than every other book she wrote – all put together – not only once, but several times over.

Of course, it isn’t as complex as Emma or as autumnal and elegant as Persuasion – it really is as light and liquid as Austen herself jokingly complained (“it is too light, and bright, and sparkling; it wants shade…”) Also, unlike all her other books, it can be read as straight romance, despite Austen’s trademarked ironic social commentary. And yes, so outrageously rich is Mr Darcy that – in today’s terms – it even qualifies as “billionaire romance”!

Yet its sparkle is so rare, enviable, and skilful that I know of no serious academic who would wish her – were she still around – to alter a single word.

Despite this, I think that P&P worship has got out of hand.

The first time I noticed was when I received a disgruntled review of my new novel from an Amazon reader whose only beef was that – to her limitless grief – Mr Darcy did not appear.

My retort – which of course I never penned – would have been, “That’s because Susan: A Jane Austen Prequel is, um, a prequel to Jane Austen’s Lady Susan, and not a sequel to P&P. Mr Darcy never appears in Austen’s Lady Susan.”

Once I stopped grinding my teeth, I made cracks about how I should have included Darcy, within my own book club… At least, I did until Susan: A Jane Austen Prequel received its first Kirkus review.

I had perhaps got my hopes up a little, as Susan had already won First Place in the Global Book Awards, a gold medal in the PenCrest Book Awards, an IndieReader gold medallion, and – most amazingly – been rated 10/10 in Publishers Weekly.

The Kirkus reviewer, however, described it as “spirited but ultimately unsatisfactory”. And why? – you’ve already guessed. Because Mr Darcy and Eliza Bennet never appear. How could it be called a prequel, she or he argued, when only Lady Catherine, of all the P&P characters, really feature in my book at all?

Yes, even Kirkus, the premier source of reviews, possesses at least one reviewer who assumes that every Austenesque prequel has to be a prequel to P&P, the only book she ever wrote.

To be fair to Kirkus – once I’d stopped kicking the furniture long enough to complain – they seemed mortified. They instantly offered me a second review, free of charge, and the second reviewer really liked it. (“An intelligent prequel packed with enjoyable Austen references… McVeigh displays a brilliant, spot-on command of Austen’s diction and tone.” Thank you, Kirkus Reviews!)

But my point still stands. P&P first… the rest nowhere! ☹

And this is a terrible thing for all of Austen’s other works of utter genius. It can even be a pretty terrible thing for the stars of its numerous adaptations, with actor Colin Firth being Example A. He has publicly complained that – grateful as he was for having been cast as Mr Darcy – it had so identified him to most filmgoers that he had missed out on interesting roles afterwards. The curse of P&P!

Anyway, on to Lady Susan!

So, why did I choose to write a prequel to Lady Susan? Why didn’t I simply join other Austen-struck writers doing spinoffs of P&P?

First, because Lady Susan represents Austen’s only attempt at showcasing serious villainy. Austen’s Lady Susan makes Mrs Norris of Mansfield Park look almost civilized – and even the wickedly passionate Maria Bertram like some kind of a Girl Scout. When not amusing herself by seducing married men – or by wrecking the peace of her family by attempting to seduce their rich young heir – Austen’s Lady Susan is trying to force her gentle daughter into marrying a man she loathes. Why would anyone wish to write a book about Lady Susan?

Well, partly because I became fascinated in how she became so villainous, at 35 – her age in Austen’s Lady Susan. In my own novel she’s still just sixteen and – though certainly self-interested and notably manipulative – is also witty, engaging and affectionate. There are hints as to her ultimate character – if anyone’s character is set by their mid-thirties – but the reader is certainly hoping that her machinations will triumph with regard to her cousin Alicia’s love match – in fact, the reader’s pulling for young Susan all the way.

Yes, I give clues – she remarks at one point, “It was a very pretty letter. It was almost too pretty to burn” – but it would take an alert reader to spot them.

Why isn’t “my” Susan closer in character to Austen’s Lady Susan? – It isn’t just because I’m saving most of the character development for the sequel. It’s really because I simply find it impossible to imagine that any sixteen-year-old could be truly villainous – I don’t see how they could manage it in the time. I was also too charmed with the idea of her engaging with Frank Churchill, and with her taking the fancy of Lady Catherine de Bourgh… In fact, the whole idea of the prequel had been percolating in my brain for ages. It just took me about fifteen years to get up enough nerve to write it! (My agent was also against it, as being too close to genre fiction.)

But now I’m beginning to think that maybe, just maybe, I’ve done Jane Austen a tiny favor. I know many people who have gone back to Lady Susan and read it, mostly for the first time, having read Susan, A Jane Austen Prequel.

Of course, Susan would be selling still better had I only been smart enough to instead scribble Darcy as the Bloodthirsty Vampire Headmaster of Hogwarts or Eliza Bennet: Buttered Scones with Strawberry Jam (A Cosy Mystery).

Hmm. Now there’s a thought…

Thank you, Alice, for sharing why you wrote about Susan!

About the Author:

Alice McVeigh’s Susan: A Jane Austen Prequel is the first in a series of six Austenesque books published by Warleigh Hall Press (it is now available in audiobook). The second in the series (Harriet: A Jane Austen Variation) will be published in January. Alice has previously been published in contemporary fiction by Orion/Hachette and in speculative thrillers (using a pen name) by UK’s Unbound Publishing. You can contact Alice here.

Enter the Giveaway: (1 ebook and 1 audiobook – 2 winners)

Leave a comment and let us know if you prefer an ebook or audiobook by Nov. 5 at 11:59 p.m. EST.