My guest today is a much loved idol and mentor and a superlative author of British based comedy romance, touching historicals and some very creepy books with shifters. She has also written the world’s most appealing plumber.
I am speaking, of course, of J L Merrow, and she is here today in celebration of the recent release of A Certain Persuasion – an anthology of Jane Austen themed stories from Manifold Press.
Jane Austen’s grasp of the English language is justly celebrated. Is there any part that you can quote for us that you particularly relish?
Ancles. I just love the way she spells it. But I suppose that doesn’t really count, so how about this one:
“The whole of this unfortunate business,” said Dr Lyster, “has been the result of PRIDE and PREJUDICE. Your uncle, the Dean, began it, by his arbitrary will, as if an ordinance of his own could arrest the course of nature!”
- Except, of course, that doesn’t count either; it is (as every serious Janeite will know) from near the end of Fanny Burney’s 1782 novel Cecilia, Memoirs of an Heiress.
So I guess I’ll have to go with this, from Mansfield Park, which more or less sums up my own approach to writing:
“Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery. I quit such odious subjects as soon as I can, impatient to restore everybody, not greatly in fault themselves, to tolerable comfort, and to have done with all the rest.”
What inspired your story in the A Certain Persuasion anthology? May we have an excerpt?
I’ve always been fascinated by the characters of Mary and Henry Crawford in Mansfield Park. In many ways, they’re far more appealing, especially to the modern reader, than the “real” heroine, Fanny Price. They’re lively while she’s quiet; confident while she’s fearful, active while she’s passive, and worldly in a modern way while she is a throwback to the fainting medieval damsels who were to be so beloved of the Pre-Raphaelites.
As I mention in my author’s notes in A Certain Persuasion, there are significant lesbian undercurrents in the relationship between Fanny and Mary. Perhaps Mary, like her brother Henry, was drawn to Fanny precisely because she was so very different to the Crawford siblings. I’m not sure, however, that such a fascination would form a strong foundation for a lasting love. To my mind, Fanny’s younger sister Susan—who takes her place at Mansfield Park after Fanny’s marriage to Edmund—has, with her “fearless disposition,” far more in common with Mary.
This excerpt from “A Particular Friend” shows Mary and Susan’s first meeting:
It was undoubtedly a fault, Mary reflected, to have retained at the staid old age of nine-and- twenty that playfulness, that lack of regard for consequences, which men found so captivating in a girl of nineteen. And yet, she could not help herself, nor indeed would she, if she could. Let others wait for old age to excuse their eccentricities; she would have what fun she might while still young enough to enjoy it.
And was it so very bad a sin, merely to introduce oneself to a young lady whose handsome face and tall figure had caught one’s eye across the pump room?
By no means, were it not that Mary needed no introduction to tell her this young lady’s name – and was, moreover, quite aware that the young lady’s family would not wish for the acquaintance. Mary felt her spirits lift with the prospect of mischief as she crossed the room with unhurried tread.
“Excuse me,” she said, directing her most charming smile at her fair quarry, who was presently engaged in fetching a glass of water. “But are you not Miss Susan Price, of Mansfield Park?”
Miss Price smiled back, an uncertain smile, but not a hesitant one. “I am indeed. But forgive me … ”
“Ah! No forgiveness is needed, I assure you. And how are you enjoying the waters?” Mary asked, inclining her head in the direction of the glass held by Miss Price. Amusement bubbled within her, but it would not do to let it show. “Or as I should rather say, how are you enjoying Bath? For I am quite sure nobody enjoys the waters.”
“I like Bath very well, thank you, and although I dare say you are correct about the waters, this glass is for my aunt.” Miss Price’s eyes showed her confusion, but she forged bravely on, Mary was delighted to see. “You are acquainted with my aunt, Lady Bertram?”
“Oh, yes, indeed. At least, I was formerly so. I regret to say we have not been greatly in contact, these past ten years. Tell me, how does your sister, Mrs Bertram?”
“Fanny? Oh, Fanny is very well.” A flush of colour suffused Miss Price’s cheek as she spoke with enthusiasm of her sister. “She is lately delivered of their second child, a fine, healthy boy. They have named him William, after his uncle.”
It was not often Mary surprised herself, but to her astonishment she found her pleasure at this news entirely untainted by jealousy. “I am so pleased to hear that. You will perhaps not know this, but at one time dear Fanny and I were quite intimate. I wonder if she still wears the gold chain I gave her?”
Miss Price took a breath, and appeared to straighten her back, although indeed her posture needed no correction. “Perhaps you would be so good as to tell me your name, so that when I write, I may remember you to her?”
“Oh, have I neglected to mention it? How very careless of me. But of course. I am Mrs Lynd – now widowed, alas. But formerly I was Mary Crawford, of Mansfield Parsonage.”
Miss Susan Price, it seemed, was made of sterner stuff than her elder sister. Her jaw did not drop; she did not swoon; her eyes widened but a fraction and her gasp was barely audible.
Nonetheless, as Mary inclined her head and glided away, she found herself entirely pleased with the consternation she had caused.
What are you working on at present?
I’ve got two novels in Riptide’s Porthkennack series in the pipeline: Wake Up Call and One Under (title TBC). Porthkennack is a fictional town in north Cornwall created by the very fertile imagination of Alex Beecroft, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed playing in her sandbox (now, do not be suspecting me of a pun*!) My novels are both contemporary MM romances dealing with more serious themes than many of my books, and the first one is due out in April 2017.
For a total change of pace, I’m currently writing the fourth in my Shamwell Tales series of MM romantic comedies set in the (fictional) English village of Shamwell. For those who’ve read the third book, Out!, this one, provisionally titled Spun!, features two returning characters as the main couple: David and Rory. It’s a May-December, odd couple relationship, with David a very camp, out gay man and Rory discovering there’s more to his sexuality than he thought after the failure of his marriage. It’s due out in July 2017.
*Mary Crawford’s line, after she comments that “Of Rears and Vices, I saw enough.” Gotta love a girl who makes dirty jokes.
JL Merrow is that rare beast, an English person who refuses to drink tea. She read Natural Sciences at Cambridge, where she learned many things, chief amongst which was that she never wanted to see the inside of a lab ever again. Her one regret is that she never mastered the ability of punting one-handed whilst holding a glass of champagne.
JL Merrow is a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association, International Thriller Writers, Verulam Writers and the UK GLBTQ Fiction Meet organising team.
JL Merrow is the author of “A Particular Friend” which appears in A Certain Persuasion, an anthology of stories set in and around the writings of Jane Austen, featuring LGBTQIA characters.
When Susan Price leaves Mansfield Park to accompany her aunt, Lady Bertram, to take the waters in Bath, she little expects to meet an old ‘friend’ of the family. Initially scandalised, Susan finds herself drawn to the former Mary Crawford, now a widow, Mrs Lynd.