Tag Archives: Jane Austen

Conversation on the Page

Man and woman sit cross legged on the ground in front of a body of water, and deep in conversation.

Image by pasja1000 from Pixabay

Conversation on the page fascinates me.

Even when I’m writing an email, describing a recent meeting to a mutual friend, for instance, I find myself overtaken by the desire to report the real words one or both of us spoke.

I hear it, of course, as I’m transposing it. Or at least, I am hearing what I remember. But does my reader hear it? And hear it in the same way?

Conversation off the Page

Apple orchard in sunlight

Image by Hans Braxmeier from Pixabay

Unwritten conversation very often kicks off a story of mine. I will be elsewhere, not even be thinking about writing, and my imagination will pluck something out of the whirlwind and give it to me. And I know there is more —and the more is a story.

It’s almost like eavesdropping. Even a bit spooky sometimes.

For instance – I was once dozing gently in someone else’s garden. We’d had a good lunch and lot of laughter and she had gone inside to make tea. The other two were talking and I was looking at a couple of apple trees and not paying attention to anything much.

And a voice in my head said, “I can never forget it.”

It was so real it made me jump, even though I knew it was my imagination on the other end of the line.

Waterfall with a man in shorts and tee-shirt siting to one side, looking at a tiger stretched out beside him, like a cat in front of a fire, not making eye contact with him.

Image by FunkyFocus from Pixabay

It was a male voice. But I was quite certain it was not a human one. It sounded angry and sad and sort of resigned. As if it wasn’t really surprised, and knew it should have taken better care.

I sat bolt upright and wrote it down in the notebook I always carry. Though I knew I needn’t really have written it down. Something that strong isn’t going to go away. It was more a sort of promise that I would find out whatever story that was part of.

Conversation on the Page and Character’s Expectations

Cover of Anne Enright's Booker Prize novel The Gathering, showing name, title and a faded photograph of family indoors, with a burn mark on it oThis week, there was a fascinating half hour on BBC Radio 4 in which James Runcie (of Grantchester) interviewed Booker Prize-winner Anne Enright on the “role of dialogue in story-telling”.

To be truthful, I’ve never felt particularly at home with the books of either author. So I was intrigued to hear how they thought about conversation in their own and other people’s work.

Runcie starts by saying, “Conversations change lives.”

I can only agree. They are the start of so many of my stories, that we are clearly at one there.

However he goes on to contrast a character’s expectations of a conversation with the path it actually takes. He illustrates his point from Pride and Prejudice. Jane Austen shows Mrs Bennet insisting that her husband instructs Lizzie to marry the oleaginous Mr Collins. Accordingly he Speaks To Lizzie, in fatherly mode. The scene culminates, of course, in one of the great punch lines of fiction.

“An unhappy alternative is before you, Elizabeth. From this day you must be a stranger to one of your parents. Your mother will never see you again if you do not marry Mr Collins and I will never see you again if you do.”

How long did she labour over her little bit of ivory to achieve that perfection of balance, precision and poignard?

Conversation on the Page must be Crafted

women sitting on the edge of a platform waiting for a train, absorbed in a book.Anne Enright goes even further in this discussion. It’s not just punch lines that need careful preparation and structure.

She points out that most spontaneous conversation is a mess in real life. People trail off, interrupt each other and themselves, even forget what they were going to say. The novelist has to craft conversation, therefore, “like Restoration Comedy” to make it sound both spontaneous and clear and carrying the plot forward.

I agree with that too. Let the mess flow freely, and you risk losing your reader. That’s dangerous – possibly for both of you.

Natural or Unnatural?

Writing energy, happy writerSo here’s the dilemma. Can you make something sound natural, yet at the same time lose all the white noise that emerges when people are responding spontaneously.

Yes, if you’re careful and keep the natural rhythms you have already established for that character. And especially if you’ve got a good line. (How often have I said of Austen, Wodehouse and T Pratchett, “If I had written that, I would die a happy woman”!

Does Mr Bennet sound natural? Even allowing for the differences of both formality and vocabulary between the Austen and Bennet families and our own, Mr Bennet doesn’t sound exactly spontaneous here.

But of course, he wouldn’t, would he? A man who is capable of saying, “I have not the happiness of understanding  you,” is one who is going to prepare his put down with intelligence and care.

And it is so pleasingly neat that we ignore the lack of spontaneous feeling. He’s putting the knife in and he’s enjoying it. Oscar Wilde would have applauded him.

So it’s  wholly in character. And not very kind to Mrs Bennet, or even Lizzie who is being asked to accept mockery of her mother and side against her too.

Not well done, Mr Bennet. Not well done at all.

Conversation on the Page: what prompted that?

The point about a conversation is that people speak and someone else responds. In my first example I heard, “I can never forget it.” And I knew it was conversation. Of course, it could have been someone talking to himself. But I knew it was not a statement but an answer.

The answer came to me, but not until I had three characters, a local habitation and a name. As I wrote the scene I knew that it was coming. But I had no idea to whom he would say it or when. Or even wholly why. But I knew it would.

And I’ve set it out below, for sake of completeness. Also this is to show that while craft is important, so is the integrity of your story. I didn’t plan this. But once I started to write, the subconscious impulse fell into step and that bit of dialogue emerged just as it ought. And no, I don’t know exactly where the story will go in the end. It isn’t finished yet.

That Scene With Dialogue Evolved

Then he picked up the little drawstring bag, fastidiously, as if he could hardly bear to have it in his mouth. He padded over to me and dropped it at my feet.

“Destroy this foul thing. And never do anything like that again.”

It sounded a bit more hopeful, somehow. I blew my nose – I had found a handkerchief, at last; the pocket had worked its way right round to my other side – and said,  “Does that mean you’ll forget about it?”

That’s what my father used to say, when he told me I wasn’t in trouble. “Forget about it, sweetness,” he would say.

I wanted the dog fox to say, “Forget it, sweetness,” so hard it hurt.

But he said, “I can never forget it.”


I was disappointed. More than disappointed. Heartbroken, for some reason.

He looked angry.

“I am in your debt. I am not allowed to forget.”

Conclusion: craft is good; but don’t tear yourself to bits over it; instinct is good, too.

Sophie Weston Author


Regency food and characters

fabulous hotel foodRegency food is really interesting and characters’ preferences tell us a lot about them. Their preferences for drink do too, as I tried to show in my earlier blog about what characters (Regency and modern) drank.

But this week, I’m blogging about food in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

Sometimes, food in glamorous surroundings, too…

Where Regency food came from…? Meat, fish, game

Mr Darcy and Lizzie Bennet at the danceThere isn’t much detail of food and drink in Pride and Prejudice, but Mrs Bennet does mention preparations being made for dinners to fête Mr Bingley’s return to Netherfield.

“Mrs Nicholls…was going to the butcher’s, she told me, on purpose to order in some meat on Wednesday, and she had got three couple of ducks, just fit to be killed.”

That shows that meat wasn’t instantly available from a butcher’s as it is now. And a hostess knew and accepted that providing meat entailed killing animals. Continue reading

Seeking the Invisible Genre

shortlist for Liberta Books shorter romantic novel award 2021Slightly to my surprise, this week I find myself in search of an allegedly invisible genre. Romantic fiction! I was a little surprised. Libertà has sponsored a Romantic Novelists’ Association prize for books in this non genre.

Of course, romantic fiction has not shown its face in the pages of so-called respectable newspapers and magazines, or even on the shelves of major bookshops, for some years now.

But I was taken aback to see a tweet two days ago from Andrew Holgate, Literary editor of The Sunday Times casting existential doubt on the genre in which I have been writing and reading for most of my life. Continue reading

Space Breaking Up Text, the Reader’s Friend

Punctuation was invented to help the Reader. And the very first invention was space breaking up text — so you could tell one word from the next. Seriously.

A couple of months ago I was putting the final touches to an online course on punctuation. Not a subject to rock them in the aisles, I thought. Mind you, I love the stuff. But I have learned that, as a subject of conversation, it doesn’t generally draw children from play and old men from the chimney corner.

exclamation mark in fireSo when I was preparing the course, I thought I’d throw in a bit of history for context.

Only then, of course, I had to check online whether what I remembered was a) accurate and b) still received wisdom. And found something new to me: Aristophanes, Head Librarian of Alexandria aged sixty. He was sitting there, receiving rolls in Greek, the language of the prevailing empire.

Most people then, of course, would be illiterate. So the purpose of these scrolls was to provide a text for someone else to deliver in the market place or to perform as an entertainment.

BUT they arrived with all the letters in a continuous line. Presumably to save papyrus and possibly time, as they were being hand-copied by scribes.

So Aristophanes thought of a way of marking up copies of the text to help the Poor Bloody Orator who had to read them out loud. Continue reading

Historical costume pics: gowns, petticoats, dolls, even men

  1. Regency Gowns: Who Would be a Seamstress?
  2. Regency evening gowns: delicious detail at bosom and ankle
  3. Regency gowns: clean, alter, mend the damage
  4. Historical Costume 1780s : Polonaise Gown
  5. Historical Costume 1780s : Caraco. But what IS a caraco?
  6. Historical Costume 1800-1820 : the simple Regency gown?
  7. Historical Costume 1800-1820: a spencer for a skimpy gown?
  8. Historical Costume 1800-1820: Keeping Warm in a Pelisse
  9. Historical Costume 1800-1820 : Parasols Up and Down
  10. Designer Stubble: the Bane of Regency Book Covers
  11. Historical Costume, 1790-1830 : Shoes, slippers
  12. Historical Costume 1800-1820: boots and bags
  13. An improper blog : embroidery and the pains of fashion
  14. Historical Costume : 1800-1831 Royal Jewellery to bling it up
  15. Historical Costume 1800-1850 : the Lady’s Riding Habit
  16. A Close Shave (or the gentle art of Pogonomotomy)
  17. Historical costume pics: gowns, petticoats, dolls, even men

Woman businesswoman working, files, clockThis past couple of weeks, I’ve been editing, nose to grindstone, so there hasn’t been much time to think about anything else. So today, Saturday, faced with a blank screen (and editing finished last night, yippee) I’m a bit short of blog ideas.

What, I ask myself, would Libertà visitors like to read about? What can I produce before midnight? And answer came there—pictures, specifically, costume pics. I know you like our costume blogs, because they get lots of hits. So today, I’m going to give you mostly costume pics. To let you drool a bit. What’s not to like?

The Regency Gown: really see-through?

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Reader work

reading with catReader work is a new concept for me. Reading, especially with Companion Cat purring beside me, has always been my purest pleasure.

Fact, fiction,  annual financial statements, cornflake packets, I read them all. And I revelled in the otherwhere of the printed word, quite apart from whatever I learned from the text in question.

During lockdown, I have been reading even more than I usually do. Some old friends, for the dark times. Right Ho, Jeeves never lets me down. Nor does Sylvester. Or Wyrd Sisters, Fire and Hemlock, Persuasion…

But also new voices. Recommendations, serendipitous discoveries, long postponed titles from TBR pile, curiosities. All were interesting, many fitted my mood or preoccupations of the time. A few were utterly fabulous and I binge read everything else the author had written.

But what surprised me was that reading a new book tired me. Especially the ones that I really loved. Nearly as much as writing the damn stuff.

Reader Work – Co-Creation?

Think about it. Reading a new book is nearly as tiring as writing a new book? Continue reading

Military Uniforms, Heroes, Love Stories

Lizzie Bennet with George Wickham in military uniformThis weekend, we four Libertà authors are reminiscing about things military.There’s something about a man in uniform, isn’t there? Even Lizzie Bennet was impressed (for a while) by George Wickham in his scarlet regimentals. But is it also true of contemporary military men? Continue reading

Winchester, Jane Austen, Rifles and Rain

Winchester cathedral

By WyrdLight.com, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

On a recent visit to Winchester — which, to my shame, I hadn’t visited before, even though I lived in Hampshire for 20 years — I felt duty-bound to pay homage at Jane Austen’s grave in the cathedral.

Jane Austen’s Gravestone

It’s a plain black stone, set into the northern aisle of Winchester cathedral, among dozens of others. If you weren’t looking for it, it would be easy to walk over and past it. The cathedral, though, knows it’s a tourist draw so they’ve made quite a display of it, with several stands that tell visitors about Austen’s life, and about her early death in 1817.

Jane Austen's gravestone, Winchester Cathedral

The gravestone makes no mention of Jane Austen’s writing. Women at that time (and later) were usually described by their virtues and by their relationships with men; as daughters, wives, mothers, aunts. So it was with Jane. Continue reading

Sarah Mallory: Living and writing in the Scottish Highlands.

Those who know me from Social media will probably realise that I have moved. A big move. Massive. After 30 years in one house I have moved to the Scottish Highlands.   To Wester Ross. It has been described as Britain’s last great wilderness, and with good reason. Moving here is not just another country, it is another life and a very different one. The language is almost the same. Almost, but not quite. One has to think more about it. No one asks where you live, it is where are you staying, as if you are just passing through.

Hospitality is generous, tea, cake or biscuits are often offered as a matter of course. Which means I need to brush up on my baking skills.

Okay, I doubt I will EVER bake anything this good!

The Scottish Highlands from a writer’s point of view

I travel through this land with my writer’s hat on. The landscape feels old. Continue reading

The Sweet Sorrow of Endings

I have done it!  I have finished my latest historical romance!
Hooray, I hear you say. At last.
About time.champagne to celebrate book endings

writer worries waiting for editor's verdict

It has been polished, re-polished and sent winging its merry way to The Editor, the god-like creature who will pronounce judgement upon my baby. As some old writer hack said, “parting is such sweet sorrow.”
It is an anxious time.

But while I wait, chewing my nails to the quick, I have been pondering on Life, the Universe and…


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