The next installment of our Debut Author Q&A series features Lynn Shepherd who, in an effort to authentically capture the nuances of Jane Austen’s prose style, downloaded all of Austen’s novels as she was writing Murder at Mansfield Park and checked her prose as she went along. Wow.
Name: Lynn Shepherd
Name of book: Murder at Mansfield Park
Book genre: Jane Austen murder mystery
Date Published: July 2010 in the US and Canada
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press (US and Canada), Allen & Unwin (Australia and New Zealand), Beautiful Books (UK)
What is your book about? It takes an “alternate” version of Mansfield Park and turns it into a Regency “Agatha Christie.”
Most challenging part of the writing process: Imitating Jane Austen’s famously beautiful prose style. And making sure that the language was authentic, by only using words and phrases that were in use at the time. Part of this involved downloading all her novels and checking my vocabulary as I went along.
What motivates you to write? A love of words, which stems from a lifelong love of reading. And the sheer pleasure of it, of course.
Did you experience writer’s block? Funnily enough no – not for a minute. I’ve had writer’s block before, but this book seemed to have a life of its own. I’ve heard other writers say that before, and never believed it, but it really did happen to me this time.
How long did it take you to write this book? After I got the idea, it was only about five months – and I was doing the “day job” all that time too. You can see what I mean about it getting a life of its own!
What was your favorite aspect of the writing process for this book? Immersing myself in Jane Austen’s mind and world. Her books evoke such an elegant and civilized time, and it was delightful to become a part of that – even if only at one remove.
How difficult was it to find a publisher? Very hard, at the outset. My agent is fabulous, but we were pitching the book in early 2009, right at the worst point of the recession, when no publisher was really interested in a debut author with no track record. So getting the first deal in the UK was very hard, but it did get a lot easier after that.
What is the biggest misconception about writing a book? That everyone “has a book in them.” It may be true that everyone has a story in them, but that’s not the same thing as a book. To write a book – never mind a good book – you need to learn the craft of novel-writing, which means mastering dialogue, constructing a robust plot and developing character. And then you need to be prepared to spend time refining those skills. The good news, though, is that the more you do it, the better you’ll get – it’s just like everything else in life.
Do you plan to do this again? I already have! I’ve just given my agent the first draft of number two. And I hope there’ll be a number three and a number four…
Oprah has famously said that there is no such thing as luck, without preparation and a moment of opportunity. Would you agree or disagree with regard to your own success as a writer? I agree wholeheartedly! Everything I’ve achieved in life has been the result of hard work and perseverance. It’s corny, I know, but I always remember that line from the theme tune to Flashdance, which I hear all the time because it’s on my iPod when I’m in the gym: “Take your passion, and make it happen.” That’s a good motto to live by – and Oprah would approve, I’m sure.