Mrs Darcy vs The Aliens

As soon as I read Mrs Darcy vs The Aliens I promised myself I would invite the author, the Real Mrs Darcy as s/he is known on Twitter, to the Riskies (thus giving myself the day off for my birthday). Imagine my surprise when I find that the Real Mrs. Darcy is in fact our very first male guest! Yes, we’ve tried in the past, but they’ve shunned our bastion of female accomplishments.

So let me introduce the Real Mrs Darcy aka Jonathan, who will tell you about his creation and answer your questions.

Welcome!

First of all, I’d really like to thank you all for inviting me here. I believe that I’m the first guest of the male persuasion to be welcomed into your charming and respectable abode, so I will be on my best behavior and try not to resort to oafish mannerisms or indelicate language. Not that I do that sort of thing in any case. Oh no.

I guess the reason for the invitation is Mrs Darcy vs The Aliens, which I’m running as a serial here. It’s been described as “not so much a sequel to Pride and Prejudice as its bastard offspring following a one-night stand with the X Files”, and I think that just about sums it up.

I first had the idea back in late 2007, when I’d just finished reading Suzanna Clarke’s rather wonderful Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. I described that book to a writer friend of mine and we agreed that it was essentially a Regency novel with added wizards. From there it was a comparatively short leap to conceiving of a Regency novel with added aliens.

It was a slightly longer leap to actually writing it. In fact, the idea was so preposterous that I didn’t do a thing until early 2008, when I christened it Mrs Darcy vs The Aliens and threw together a synopsis and opening prologue for a competition. The critique I received for it was surprisingly complimentary – except that it included the sentence “This is a brave venture!”

Brave.

Brave is not a good word for a debut novelist to have attached to their work in progress. Brave means “stupid”, “foolhardy” and “no publisher is going to look at this stupid idea in a million years.” So I put it to one side until December of that year, when a friend of mine, Kate Nash, was setting herself up as a literary agent. I jokingly suggested that she might like to consider Mrs Darcy, fully expecting her to hate it, as she is herself a published author of proper Regency romances, under the name Kate Allen.

Somewhat to my surprise, though, she loved the idea, and said that if I could come up with three chapters in time for the London Book Fair in March, she would test the water with a few publishers. So I got writing.

And then the zombies arrived.

At this point, I almost gave up, because the last thing I wanted to write was something that looked like it was jumping on a bandwagon. I had a load of other plans for Mrs Darcy (I’d worked out a plot by now, and I could see a whole series of sequels), and I didn’t want the first thing that anyone said when I described the project to be “Oh, like that Pride and Prejudice and Zombies thing.” Because I was pretty sure that would be the reaction, not only of Joe and Jane Public but also of any potential publisher. If I’d had the thing written and ready to go, then it would have been a different story. But of course, I hadn’t wanted to be “brave,” had I?

Looking back, it was completely the wrong reaction. I should have just swallowed my pride and got stuck in, recognizing it as an opportunity instead of a threat. But instead I put Mrs Darcy to one side and got on with other things. Every now and then, however, I would come back to it, cajoled by both my agent and my wonderful writers’ group, the Verulam Writers’ Circle, and eventually I had my three chapters ready. Amazingly, my agent still liked it (bless her), but at this point the bandwagon was well and truly trundling out of town and it was looking unlikely that I would even manage to jump on that.

The trouble was, by now I’d fallen in love with the project. I’d got a whole load of themes up and running (including Mr Darcy’s plan for an heir, Mr Collins’ mission for prostitutes in the East End, Jack the Ripper, Lord Byron, Charlotte Collins’ laudanum issues, Wickham’s work as an undercover secret agent and loads of tentacled aliens, to say nothing of a sub-plot involving the financial ruin of the Bingleys) and I wanted the world to read it, whatever happened.

Then I had an idea. Why not take a leaf out of Dickens’ book and publish it first as a serial? That way, using my presence on Twitter, Facebook and various writers’ forums, I could muster grass-roots support and use that as leverage to get the interest of a publisher. Almost as soon as I had the idea, I bought the www.mrsdarcyvsthealiens.com domain and reserved the @RealMrsDarcy account on Twitter. Having checked that my agent was happy, I went ahead and published the prologue on December 16th, 2009.

I had no idea that December 16th was Jane Austen’s birthday. None whatsoever. If ever I believed in fate …

It’s been running twice a week ever since, and I think I can say that it’s been pretty successful. Its fans range from complete strangers that I just happened to follow on Twitter in my @RealMrsDarcy guise to serious writers on forums that I frequent who I would have expected to have been a bit sniffy about it. I also get quite a few people coming in from sites like Austenblog and Jane Austen Today, as well as quite a few steampunkers (which is nice).

A couple of weeks ago I also had the idea of putting together a trailer for it (I’m really making all this up as a I go along). My initial idea was to do one of those videos where they add new subtitles to the bunker scene from Downfall, but there have been over 200 of those already, so I needed something a bit different. I wondered if it might be possible to find a version of Pride and Prejudice dubbed into a foreign language, but that proved impossible. So I thought, why not dub it myself as well as do the subtitles? Which is what I did. The literary blog Lit Drift has described the result as one of the weirdest book trailers they’ve seen, and I’m taking that as a compliment:

I’m not entirely sure what other stunts I can pull to top that, but I’ll see what I can come up with …

That, then, is the story of Mrs Darcy vs The Aliens. I do hope you’ll be sufficiently intrigued to take a look at it. It’s up to Episode 22 by now, but if you don’t want to go through all of it from the beginning, there are regular “Previously …” type posts and you can simply read on from one of them, maybe catching up on the earlier stuff later. Or you can treat it the same way as a soap opera that you’re just joining and pick it up as you go along.

It only remains for me to thank Janet and her colleagues again for inviting me. I do hope I haven’t disgraced myself.

Now.

Any questions?

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