I loved Natasha Farrant’s book Lydia: The Wild Girl of Pride & Prejudice and was delighted to get to ask some questions about her research, her writing and all things Austen.
Who is your favourite Bennet sister, and why?
Lydia, always, because she has so much energy and is so much fun. I know she can be awful, but the way I see her, she is driven by her determination not to get left behind by her perfect older sisters, and I find that touching. I also love Mary: there’s a lot of both Mary and Lydia in me, I think. Lydia is the teenage rebel, and Mary is the book geek!
Which Jane Austen novel is your favourite?
Emma. I think it’s her most polished work. It has more fully rounded characters than earlier novels, and the decision to have such a thoroughly unreliable main character is clever, funny and thought-provoking.
What inspired you to write about Lydia Bennet?
Actually, I was invited to do it by my publishers, following a conversation about Pride and Prejudice. The moment they suggested it, I just knew I had to. Lydia’s story is so pivotal to Pride and Prejudice, and yet we know so little about her, or what happens to her. When Chicken House (my publishers) suggested it, it honestly felt like Lydia herself was inside my head, saying “At LAST! MY side of things!” From then on, she wouldn’t let me go.
What did the research process for Lydia involve?
Re-reading ALL of Austen. Re-reading Clare Tomalin’s amazing biography of Austen, as well as lots of learned and interested books about Austen’s times – the politics, the fashion, the mores. Spending time in Brighton museums, reading up about the early history of Brighton as a resort. Lying on Brighton beach, picturing to myself what it must have been like…
Do you have any fascinating facts about the Regency period that you could share with us?
They were crazy about fashion, and this fashion occasionally took strange forms. For example, they (briefly) had a sort of corset which lifted the breasts, then divided them so that they pointed outwards! I still laugh every time I think of that..
How did you find the process of weaving your own characters and ideas into Austen’s original story?
Fascinating. The first part of the book takes place entirely in “Austen time and place”, referring to events that happen in Pride and Prejudice. The temptation to adapt Austen’s novel to my purposes was always there, but I wanted to be very respectful of the original, and so I had to adapt my story instead. It felt easier once Lydia was away in Brighton. Even though there was a timeline to respect, I could be freer with my own story. As to Lydia herself, there were a few difficult moments: she felt like she was my character from the beginning, and I loved her from the very start, but there are a couple of moments in Pride and Prejudice where she is really obnoxious, and I had to work quite hard to reconcile that with my Lydia.
What is your favourite Pride & Prejudice adaptation? (I am a BBC fan myself, but I also love more experimental adaptations like the Lizzie Bennet Diaries)
The BBC adaptation, every time.
You wrote diary entries for this book, and film scripts for After Iris. Do you enjoy writing in different formats, and is there a particular format you would like to explore?
I actually don’t want to write a diary again for a very long time… It’s a really interesting format, but it’s difficult too, because you are limited not only to one character’s viewpoint, but also to what they might say about themselves. That said, I’m currently working on a third person narrative, and I’ve grown so used to the first person that I find myself longing for that narrower viewpoint!
Sibling dynamics are very important in your books, is this something that has always interested you? Do you have siblings yourself?
I have three siblings, two sisters and a brother. I’m fascinated by the dynamics of big families, how the position within the family affects personality development. And I like feeling part of a tribe. I have lots of cousins too. We’re in touch all the time, even though we live across different countries and continents.
Do you have any writing rituals?
I write long-hand, in Moleskine notebooks. I’ve tried other notebooks, as part of cost-cutting exercises, but they’re a false economy because if it’s not Moleskine, I can’t write. I tend to write best in cafes, in the mornings, and I always listen to the same music: Bach’s Goldberg Variations, Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto no3 and Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto.
What are you working on at the moment?
A children’s adventure story I describe as Pippi Longstocking meets Enid Blyton’s Adventure series.
Many thanks to Natasha Farrant for her brilliant answers, and to Nina Douglas for arranging the interview.