My niece likes Jane Austen! This makes me so happy that I’ve bought her this t-shirt for Christmas (don’t worry, she doesn’t read my blog so I’m not spoiling the surprise). I’m tempted to give her a copy of Pride and Prejudice too, but I don’t want to overdo it. I’m trying to be the cool aunt and not show her how completely thrilled I am, but YAY! Now if she could just encourage my daughter to like her too, then we can have period drama parties and have long conversations about the characters and our favourite lines. I’m prepared to make ANY kind of cake, even one without chocolate.
So you probably know that yesterday (16th December) was Jane Austen’s 246th birthday – a date which made me think about how much she means to me. Which is a lot. I don’t think I would have become a historical romance writer without her. I know I’m not alone in this, but the novels which influenced me the most growing up were Jane Eyre, Katherine by Anya Seton, Here Be Dragons by Sharon Kay Penman, Persuasion and, of course, Pride and Prejudice.
I first read Jane in my teens. Me and my sister used to stay with our grandmother in Bath for two weeks every summer (I know, how lucky were we?!) and I was having a phase of reading Wordsworth Classics (are they still £1? I hope so. I read so many classic novels just because they were so cheap). My grandmother didn’t approve of television apart from the news, which was frustrating at the time, but in retrospect meant I had lots of time for reading. I remember going into the city and buying all of Jane’s books and then binge-reading them one after the other. I genuinely think from that point on, there was no other genre for me, although it took me a long time to start writing my own stories – I mean, it was so intimidating. How could anyone possibly compete with Elizabeth and Darcy?
Obviously, the answer is that no one can. I know I’m just a Jane fan-girl and imitator. She was absolutely an influence in my Mills & Boon Regency Belles of Bath series (I know the real Jane hated Bath, but where else could I set my biscuit shop?) and even more so in my new YA/Adult Crossover book How to Lose an Earl in Ten Weeks. My heroine, the honourable Miss Essie Craven, wants to be an actress, but she’s also an avid reader of Jane, as well as ‘the most headstrong, obstreperous, downright impetuous girl in the entire of England’.
I really hope that my story encourages other young readers to pick up Jane Austen, if they haven’t already. She’s warm, witty, wise and she makes you feel better. Last year, during the first lockdown, I always kept a copy of one of her books on my bedside table so that whenever I woke up in the night, I had something familiar and comforting to read. For a while, she was the only writer I wanted. So she’s my favourite. The queen of romance fiction and an all-time writing great.
And to my niece, if you do actually read this, I really hope you like your present.