Wednesday, June 17, 2020

#TheJaneAustenSociety Blog Tour - Interview with author Natalie Jenner

Welcome back to my second post in #TheJaneAustenSociety blog tour my first stop on May 26th was my #MacmillanAudio review which you can see HERE. And today it's my great pleasure to bring you an intimate conversation with author Natalie Jenner. Sit back have a cuppa and

Title: The Jane Austen Society: A Novel
Author: Natalie Jenner
Genre: Historical Fiction, Austenesque Fiction
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press (May 26, 2020)
Length (320) pages
Hardcover ISBN: 978-1250248732
Audiobook ASIN: B082VL7VRR
Tour Dates: May 25 – June 30, 2020


·      An Amazon Best Book of May 2020 
·      One of Goodreads Big Books of Spring & Hot Books of Summer
·      One of Audible’s Top 50 Most Anticipated Spring Audiobooks
·      June 2020 Indie Next Pick
·      May 2020 Library Reads Pick
·      Starred Review - Library Journal
·      Starred Review - Booklist 

Just after the Second World War, in the small English village of Chawton, an unusual but like-minded group of people band together to attempt something remarkable.
One hundred and fifty years ago, Chawton was the final home of Jane Austen, one of England's finest novelists. Now it's home to a few distant relatives and their diminishing estate. With the last bit of Austen's legacy threatened, a group of disparate individuals come together to preserve both Jane Austen's home and her legacy. These people—a laborer, a young widow, the local doctor, and a movie star, among others—could not be more different and yet they are united in their love for the works and words of Austen. As each of them endures their own quiet struggle with loss and trauma, some from the recent war, others from more distant tragedies, they rally together to create the Jane Austen Society.

My Interview with Natalie Jenner:

Natalie, welcome to The Reading Frenzy, it’s an honor to be a part of The Jane Austen Society blog tour. I really enjoyed the novel. Would you tell my readers just a bit about it please?
My book is about a group of very disparate men and women coping with the trauma and loss of WWII, who bond over a shared love of books and of Jane Austen in particular, and try to save the cottage in their village of Chawton, England, where Austen once lived and worked on all six of her major books. It is an entirely fictional tale in terms of the characters and events involved, but the main settings of Chawton, the Austen cottage, and the Knight family home are all very real. I include an historical note at the back of the book which also sets out the key historical facts that were a catalyst to my imagination, including the founding of the real-life Jane Austen Society in 1940, and the donation of the cottage to the nation by a local grieving Austen fan who had lost his son in WWII, both of which enabled the cottage to be turned into what is now known as the Jane Austen’s House Museum. 

I was absolutely absorbed in your storytelling from beginning to end and really impressed when I learned this was your debut, I thought it was by a much more seasoned author. Will you please tell us about your road to authordom?
I am fairly self-taught, having been fortunate to study English literature at university before becoming a lawyer, and then spending my 30s writing five very different manuscripts, all of which are now firmly locked away in a drawer. In my late 40s, as a “failed” author in my own mind, I opened a little bookshop in an attempt to still make books a bigger part of my life, and through that experience I developed a better appreciation of how difficult breaking into the publishing industry is, especially if you are an unknown author without a significant “hook” or built-in audience of some kind. Three years ago, following a couple of harrowing years involving my husband’s health, I decided to write again for the first time in a decade, to distract myself and to amuse my husband, who is always my first (and sometimes only!) reader. Directly leading up to that, I had been spending a lot of personal time rereading Austen, and reading about her, and I had even travelled to Chawton to walk in her footsteps. So when I sat down to write, all of that “unintentional research” on Austen, as well as a significant amount of binge-watching of Downton Abbey and British home real estate shows, coalesced into the idea of a group of people trying to save an old British house. Things just took off from there.

Your characters are all unforgettable. My personal favorite was Dr. Gray. To me he’s stoic and tragic and the perfect mix of a stiff upper-lipped Brit and clueless male. Was he easy to write?
He was a personal favourite of mine as well! He was easy to write because from the get-go he had such a defined reputation within the village of Chawton, and amongst the other characters, that it was easy to see him from many different angles. Also, as I wrote him, I could so clearly picture and hear the British actor Richard Armitage, who has this amazingly soothing, rich baritone voice and a very stoic and strong presence onscreen. So, when I asked for, and my publishers secured, Mr. Armitage as the audiobook narrator, things truly came full circle for my story and my book.

Did he behave in the creative process or did he misbehave?
He totally misbehaved (and I love that question, by the way, because several of my characters did!). For one thing, I originally had him much older in age, as I had no idea things were going to spark between Adeline and him. I also had NO idea what he was going to do after the second meeting of the society (without giving too much away!). But most importantly, and profoundly, I had no idea when I started writing him that he would be suffering and erring to the extent that he privately was. As I wrote him, his hidden grief and self-destruction became so painful to me, in part because my creative subconscious mind had been hiding it from my own authorial self. I think—I hope—that is why he does resonate with many people, because I was watching him implode along with the reader and this called on both my own personal sense of compassion and my ability to relate to him on a very deep and emotive level.

How did you choose your characters? Were they already in your head or did some of them just show up on the doorstep?
They just showed up—and you must be a writer to ask that, because I think one has to experience it to understand it! Characters truly can just show up when one is writing and, in my case, they present themselves fully formed in terms of their appearance, demeanor and personality. The only thing they’re missing for me, from the start, are defined physical features. Their faces always remain a little fuzzy. All I knew when I first sat down to write, besides the title, was that there would be about eight to ten main characters, equally split between men and women, and that they would represent a range of occupations and age groups. A doctor, a lawyer, a teacher, a farmer, etc. After that, they would just pop up: on a stone wall, on a courtyard bench, at an auction, in a doorway. I suspect all of that is also partly a function of the fact that I don’t plot or outline at all, and never know what is going to happen beyond the very word I am typing.

Do you have a favorite character in the novel, or would that be like asking to pick a favorite child?
Actually, I do have a few favourites, although I love them all. I have a weak spot for Adam, which I think is one of the reasons why he gets to open and close the book, because through him I could really channel and remember how it feels when you first read Austen. So that’s a very visceral experience for me. I also was so proud of Adam for how, despite his natural shyness and early life tragedies, he tries so valiantly in middle age to finally open himself up to others and to his community. I also love Adeline for the way that she just totally owns herself and her grief, in this completely no-holds-barred way. I’ve described how she initially copes with her losses as a negative refraction of the better parts of her personality and spirit: her authenticity, her directness, her intelligence. And she and Dr. Gray are my ship, so-to-speak, so there’s that! And finally, perhaps most of all, I love Evie. She is so much like myself and my university-age daughter when we were smack-dab in adolescence and so equally single-minded in our pursuit of academic achievement. But unlike me at that age, Evie is an old soul with total confidence, no self-pity, and a natural suspicion of others that serves her in good stead. Basically, when I grow up I want to be Evie.

There are many stories inside the story in this novel. Did you use a storyboard on a wall or some other way to keep everything straight?
I think this is where my law school training and consequent strong memory come into play, because I really don’t keep secondary notes at all while I write. What does happen, given that I don’t outline, is that around the one-quarter-to-one-third mark of the first draft, I always have to do a linear time chart of each scene, to redress any initial imbalance or sequence issues. This will entail usually moving about one or two scenes or even chapters, as I get a sense of where my story and characters are really going. But in part because my characters come to me so fully-formed, and drive my story forward, I find it relatively easy to keep things straight. In fact when I write (and my daughter who is also a novelist is the exact same way as this), it’s as if there is a movie in my head and I am simply transcribing it all down. That is why the first draft, for me, is so fun and thrilling a ride. The second draft is where I pay the toll.

I was fortunate to be able to listen to the Macmillan Audio edition and the brilliant recitation by Richard Armitage and really enjoyed the interview between you and Kathleen Flynn author of The Jane Austen Project at the end of the book.
During the interview you said that the reason you set the novel right at the end of WWII was because the real Jane Austen Society was started right around this same time. Was there any other reason you chose this time period?
Yes, it was because I wanted to also explore grief in its many different forms, and through the lens of many different people. In coping with a difficult diagnosis for my husband, I had been surprised (like Adeline) at both my level of what is called “anticipatory grief” and by my reactions to it. I learned the hard way that there is no one way or time-clock to grieve, and I wanted other people to understand that too, if they were fortunate enough to not already do so. Choosing WWII made sense in terms of being a time of such diverse and catastrophic loss and grief. People in war lose family, friends and fortune often all at the same time, and sometimes multiple members of their families and community at that. And I wanted to tell a story where the reader could appreciate the scale of that loss, but also see the possibility in even the worst circumstances for both hope and renewal.

Natalie, I have a confession to make. Before your novel I wasn’t an Austen fan and in fact had only read Emma and didn’t like her. But after the novel I decided I needed to give Ms. Jane another try and am right now LOVING Sense and Sensibility. How old were you when you became a fan?
Very young, around ten! But not because I was special in any way: my mother had a beautiful 1970s Dutton edition of Pride and Prejudice that included sketches and came in a box with a lovely little red ribbon to use as a bookmark. I was fascinated by this book-in-a-box and one day surreptitiously took it down and right away was captivated by Austen’s prose and subject matter. That first chapter of Pride and Prejudice is textbook brilliant and reads in part almost like a screenplay, it’s so dialogue-heavy. And the characters are all so immediately and well-sketched, that I felt right away like I knew them all, which made we want to keep reading right past the Regency period vocabulary and style. And then a couple of years later the 1980 BBC Masterpiece Theatre production of Pride and Prejudice aired on television just as I was entering adolescence and something about Mr. Darcy (what could it be!) just got to me instantly, as well as the way that he dismisses our heroine Elizabeth Bennet on the basis of her looks, only to end up romantically and emotionally at her mercy. Something about that plot really resonated for me as a romantically-minded young woman on the cusp of growing up.

What is your favorite Jane Austen novel?
Pride and Prejudice in part because of all of the above, and because it is the wittiest and most sheerly entertaining. However, Emma is a really close second and—on a more academic or intellectual level—a clear favourite. I honestly love them all for different reasons, and although I like Northanger Abbey the least, even that I still like more than most other books out there

Natalie thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions. Good luck with the novel.

Natalie Jenner is the debut author of THE JANE AUSTEN SOCIETY, a fictional telling of the start of the society in the 1940s in the village of Chawton, where Austen wrote or revised her major works. Born in England and raised in Canada, Natalie graduated from the University of Toronto with degrees in English Literature and Law and has worked for decades in the legal industry. She recently founded the independent bookstore Archetype Books in Oakville, Ontario, where she lives with her family and two rescue dogs.


May 25           Jane Austen's World
May 25           Austenprose—A Jane Austen Blog
May 26           Frolic Media
May 26           A Bookish Affair
May 26           Courtney Reads Romance
May 26           Margie's Must Reads
May 26           The Reading Frenzy
May 27           Book Confessions of an Ex-Ballerina
May 27           Gwendalyn's Books
May 27           Romantically Inclined Reviews
May 28           Getting Your Read On
May 28           Living Read Girl
May 28           The Lit Bitch
May 29           History Lizzie
May 29           Silver Petticoat Reviews
May 30           Cup of Tea with that Book, Please
May 30           Historical Fiction Reader
May 31           Jane Austen in Vermont
June 01         From Pemberley to Milton
June 01         My Jane Austen Book Club
June 01         AustenBlog
June 02         Lu's Reviews
June 02         The Green Mockingbird
June 03         The Interests of a Jane Austen Girl
June 03         Relz Reviews
June 03         Impressions in Ink
June 04         The Caffeinated Bibliophile
June 04         Life of Literature
June 04         Laura's Reviews
June 05         Reading Ladies Book Club
June 05         Bookish Rantings
June 06         From the TBR Pile
June 07         Rachel Dodge
June 07         An Historian About Town
June 08         Bringing up Books
June 08         Austenesque Reviews
June 09         Captivated Reading
June 09         Savvy Verse and Witt
June 10         Lady with a Quill
June 10         Drunk Austen
June 11         Book Girl of Mur-y-Castell
June 11         Inkwell Inspirations
June 12         Nurse Bookie
June 12         A Bookish Way of Life
June 13         Calico Critic
June 14         Jane Austen's World
June 15         Stuck in a Book
June 15         Storybook Reviews
June 15         Confessions of a Book Addict
June 16         Literary Quicksand
June 16         Becky on Books
June 17         The Reading Frenzy
June 17         Anita Loves Books
June 18         Chicks, Rogues, & Scandals
June 18         The Write Review
June 19         Diary of Eccentric
June 20         Cracking the Cover
June 21         Short Books & Scribes
June 22         Reading the Past
June 22         Babblings of a Bookworm
June 23         My Vices and Weaknesses
June 23         The Book Diva Reads
June 24         Books, Teacups & Reviews
June 24         Wishful Endings
June 25         Robin Loves Reading
June 25         Bookfoolery
June 26         Lit and Life
June 26         Vesper's Place
June 27         Foxes and Fairy Tales
June 28         Probably at the Library
June 28         Scuffed Slippers Wormy Books
June 29         The Anglophile Channel
June 29         So Little Time…
June 30         BookNAround


  1. Great interview as always Debbie! Hope you and yours are doing well!

  2. This sounds great especially for Austen fans.

  3. I did like Dr Grey :D He was a good one

  4. Absolutely loved the interview. It was fun learning how the book and narrator came about and a little about Natalie.

    1. Thanks Sophia Rose it was exciting to get the chance!

  5. Wowee utterly fantastic interview and now I know I sure want to get into this audio. Bookmarking this so I can come back to it after I listen to double appreciate it.

    1. It was the best way to enjoy it Kathryn Hope you will love it as much as I did

  6. Stellar review! I loved this audiobook and appreciated getting to know the author. Fantastic choice of narrator too