For this week’s Author of the Week, we are joined by Sunday Times bestselling Author, Gill Hornby to share her new release ‘Miss Austen’. A historical fiction novel based on Jane Austen’s sister & dedicated keeper of her legacy, Cassandra. Historically, Cassandra is the lesser loved, but equally as fascinating sister. Captivated by the mystery of Cassandra’s story ‘sanitisation’ & experience of being a spinster in times where being a single woman was less than favourable, Gill became obsessed with the narrative of Cassandra Austen.
For this edition of the Author of the Week, we are joined by Gill on location in Kintbury, Berkshire for a glimpse into the Austen family. Brimming with facts, this chat also doubles as a history lesson from very well researched, Gill. We discuss the ‘terrifying’ yet fascinating experience of taking on the ‘Austenites’ & blending fiction with history. Plus Gill’s unique experience of writing a book, based on her very own home, in which she speaks to us from today.
In this week’s chat, we discuss:
- Gill shares the story of Jane Austen & her less-loved sister, Cassandra who outlived Jane by 24 years.
- Gill retells the 160 letters left from Jane to Cassandra, and within the letters, Cassandra’s exceptional ‘censorship’ skills, which meant certain sections, people & experiences were burnt out or hidden.
- Cassandra’s ability to ‘sanitise’ Jane’s life. In her biographies, due to Cassandra’s effective skills in censorship & legacy management, Jane’s past holds very little remarks on trauma, pain & loss.
- Cassandra Austen’s engagement with neighbour & family friend, Tom. Gill on Tom’s sudden death before he & Cassandra’s wedding which left Cassandra to a future of ‘Spinsterdom’.
- Cassandra & Jane’s letters as a gateway to the past: Gill’s novel based in 1840 in the house in Berkshire with Cassandra retrieving Jane’s letters as a part of her ‘clean-up operation’.
- The extraordinary revelation of Gill’s when she realised the house she had been living in, was the basis to the entire story she was writing.
- Gill’s experience cutting her teeth on contemporary fiction with her first two books. “Like training bras” her first two books, “got me into the form, the length & gave me confidence”.
- Taking on the sacred cows: Gill’s experience entering the world of Jane Austen fans & her biographical history.
- “I was very, very nervous getting started. And I was very, very keen to make it Cassandra’s story because there’s been so much Jane, Jane, Jane & I’d become rather obsessed with Cassandra myself. So I kept putting off Jane’s entrance basically because I was so terrified of doing it.”
- The feeling of not being commissioned to write a book & the freedom that comes from writing a book that you could hide in a drawer & never see again.
- Gill on the “absolutely terrifying” Jane Austen researchers that read her manuscripts.
- Why Gill was not allowed to include the girls jumping on bed springs & dressing their Aunts.
- Gill on inventing all of the letters from Jane Austen in the book: “It was harder having Jane as a character moving around in the book.”
- The challenges of historical fiction & the overwriting that can be included in the book to prove your own knowledge of the characters & the moment in time.
- History & Hindsight: Jane Austen’s position as a spinster who died horribly young without the success that she acquired after passing away. “She never met her readers, her publisher”.
- The extreme difficulty that women experienced in Jane Austen’s times being a writer & unmarried woman. “A marriage was a business arrangement”.
- Jane not being traditionally attractive to a 19th century pompous man as she could ‘see right through them’.
- “Spinster Clusters”: It was better to take your pittance & put it together with other’s pittance & make a home. Gill on single-dom & couples relating in Jane’s times.
- “All of them died on their 8th, their 9th, their 11th”: Gill on the disturbing truth behind women’s deaths from childbirth during Jane’s times.