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My next book, the second about Jane Austen as a (part-time/temporary) vampire, Jane Austen: Blood Persuasion, is released in October, 2011 and I thought you’d like to see the beauteous cover. I love it! Note the bat-shaped pen and Jane’s fang.

It’s set in 1810, when Jane, with her mother, sister and best friend are living in Chawton and Jane is about to get down to some serious writing. But then, as so often happens in Austen’s own novels, new tenants lease Chawton Great House, owned by one of Jane’s brothers.

Here’s the beginning of the book:

Chawton, Hants, 1810

“She’s an extraordinarily troublesome girl,” the Reverend James Austen said.

Jane watched in fascination as the girl in question, her niece Anna, pulled a hideous face at her father, an expression that lasted only a second before her pretty face resumed its normal sweetness.

“Come, brother, you’d rather have her commit folly at twenty-seven than seventeen?”

“I was sixteen when it started, Aunt Jane,” Anna said.

“Indeed, a whole year of foolishness.” James stood as his mother entered the drawing room. “How goes the garden, ma’am? I have brought you some cuttings; your garden boy has them.”

“You did? Heavens, he’ll probably kill them by looking at them. What possessed your brother to send me that boy I cannot imagine. He’s all thumbs and none of them green. Come now, James, give your old mother a kiss. And you, too, Miss Anna, you must help me in the garden.”

James frowned at the display of affection between Mrs. Austen and her granddaughter. “She is here to reflect upon her foolishness and inconstancy, ma’am, not to enjoy herself.”

“Oh, of course,” Jane murmured. “But you hate gardening, do you not, Anna? And going for walks, and playing upon the pianoforte, and talking nonsense, and reading novels, for that is all we do here, I fear.”

“Hmm.” As James spoke Jane saw a quick glance of affection between father and daughter, quickly masked. “I had in mind some improving literature and early nights.”

“Naturally. Bread and water we can supply too, James. Never fear. We shall be the consummate jailers.”

“Oh, stop talking nonsense and make tea for us, Jane.” Mrs. Austen removed the wide-brimmed, unfashionable straw hat she wore for gardening. “We shall keep Anna busy, you may be assured, and fortunately there are no eligible bachelors in Chawton.”

“Indeed, yes,” Jane said, measuring tea into the teapot. “For Mr. Papillon is destined for me, you know. If you set your cap at him I shall be most displeased, Anna, and send you packing off home to Steventon again.”

“Really? You have a beau, Aunt Jane?”

“Your aunt is funning you.” James, softening a little, winked at his sister. “How goes the scribbling, Jenny?”

“Fair enough. Gallons of ink, acres of paper, and every morning my sister and mother and Martha have to wade through my torn out hair a foot deep on the dining room floor. I thank you for asking, brother.”

“I’m not so sure it wasn’t novels that caused all this trouble in the first place,” James said. “They contain much romantic silliness.”

“Oh, heaven forbid we should act as rational creatures,” Jane said. “Do you think we do not know the difference between fact and fiction, James? That all we read in novels is but a fantasy of the life we lead, and we such poor creatures we cannot tell the difference? And,” she added, “mine don’t contain romantic silliness. Silliness, possibly. Romance, possibly. But the two together? Impossible.”

Enjoy and hope to see many of you in NYC next week!

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Last week I gave a quick overview of my visit to England and today I wanted to talk a little more about the visit to Chawton, where Jane Austen made her home for nine years, polished and wrote her novels, and hung out with vampires (next book!). Naturally I haven’t finished unpacking yet and some of the stuff will get tossed into the bigger suitcase for Nationals, for which I really didn’t buy any more clothes. Sorry. I leave all that to Amanda.

Before visiting Chawton, we went to St. Nicholas Church in Steventon, which is where Jane Austen’s father was vicar, a living taken over by one of Jane’s brothers. The house where they lived no longer exists, but the church still stands, a tiny, charming building.

Austen enthusiasts from all over the world have visited and contributed money to restore the church.

Outside the church door is a venerable yew tree nine centuries old, where once the church key was hidden.

From there we went to Chawton, a place I hadn’t visited in about fifteen years so I was thrilled to see the changes there. The working areas of the house have been restored–the seventeenth century house was once a farm, so it has substantial outbuildings as well as a lovely garden.

Here’s Jane’s donkey cart, used on shopping expeditions (they kept two donkeys) and the copper (for washing clothes) and bread oven.

The kitchen has been fitted out with a range which is early Victorian but not period, and to the left of it is a Rumsford stove, probably original. The bricks above the fire had holes into which pots could be lowered or placed above. (If you’re going to attend my presentation on servants at the Beau Monde Conference next week you’ll see these pictures again!)

I was struck by how tiny and crooked the rooms in the house were–probably less crooked two centuries ago! Very little family furniture remains, although there is a desk and two chairs in the parlor which came from Steventon. And of course the most famous writing table in the world is there too.

It had been very hot the previous week and the weather had only just broken, so the garden possibly isn’t as lush and green as it should have been, but I thought it was gorgeous.

And here’s the last picture, the new cover for Jane and the Damned. When they told me it was going to be pink, I wasn’t very happy. I’m not a pink sort of girl and Jane Austen, as I depict her, wasn’t either. But I love it! Grubby pink works so well. What do you think?

Have you visited Chawton? What did you enjoy seeing there?

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I’m returning home today after a wonderful week in England, and I want to show you some pictures of where I’ve been.

I’ve enjoyed reading about Amanda and Carolyn’s conference experience, but I think I can safely say that the conference I attended last weekend, the RNA Conference in Greenwich, London, had the best conference location ever! The weather was hot and sunny (I found it refreshing after the hot mugginess of Washington, DC) but the nights were awful. We stayed in student accommodation where the windows would only crack open and we would compare notes in the morning on how we kept cool. My technique? Have a cool shower and sleep on the wet towel.

We had a celebratory dinner in the Trafalgar Inn, which Dickens attended for whitebait suppers, and about which he wrote in My Mutual Friend.

I met some lovely people at the conference. Here’s Susannah Kearsley signing, and me with Lucy Inglis who writes the amazing Georgian London blog.

Here’s the Thames in the evening. I spent most of the time in Greenwich but went to the London Museum where I saw, among other wonderful things, the front door of Newgate Prison and a fantastic recreation of Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens.

After the conference I traveled to Hampshire where I stayed with friends who happily took me to Chawton where we visited both Chawton Museum, Jane Austen’s home, and Chawton House, a gorgeous Elizabethan-Jacobean mansion which is now a library of women’s literature from the sixteenth to nineteenth century. Sadly we couldn’t take pictures inside.

Chawton House was one of the properties owned by Jane’s brother Edward, who was adopted by the Knight family and inherited their estate. He lived in Godmersham, Kent, but provided his mother and sisters with the permanent home of the cottage in the village.

We also went to Winchester Cathedral where Jane Austen is buried, and the magnificent Salisbury Cathedral. Here’s a 13th century carving from Salisbury that depicts an African man, almost certainly a cathedral workers\ who was immortalized by his colleagues. Who was he? How did he end up in Salisbury?

I’m also blogging today at Supernatural Underground and showing off more of my photos.

Remember A Damned Good Contest is still open!

Posting late from a household full of angst. I’m off to the UK next week to attend the RNA conference, visit family and Chawton, and in between writing frantically and trying to wrap things up at work, finding things.

Now I firmly believe that there is an imp in my house that goes around moving things. Here’s my success rate of finding vital travel items:

  1. Fancy shoes. Second of pair found. Thrown into suitcase immediately to avoid imp action.
  2. Camera. Found. USB cable? Turned office upside down, called Fuji (“yes, we can get one to you in 7 to 14 business days”) and a local camera store who don’t have one but can provide me with something that may or may not be like a flash drive and may or may not work on a Mac. Husband went into his lair and found USB cable immediately, coiled and stowed safely since the huge snowstorm (February) when he’d downloaded pics.
  3. Talking of which … surge protector/convertor. Found.
  4. Yoga pants. I wasn’t intending to take them, but this was a bonus find.
  5. Collection of short-sleeved black t-shirts. Come on, imp, they were all I could find all winter long. Where are they now?

I suppose I should be grateful that I don’t have to pack something like this gorgeous late Georgian-early Victorian writing slope although my elderly laptop probably weighs about the same (full description here).

In addition, I don’t feel compelled to pack a huge traveling medicine chest just in case. Regency researcher Nancy Mayer has a great article on what the Regency lady might take on her travels here.

And here’s a deluxe traveling medicine chest taken by intrepid Cornish explorers Richard and John Lander when they discovered the sources of the Nile in the early 1830s. Lots of Epsom Salts because you can’t explore if you’re not regular.

And reading matter: I’m happy to report that I have acquired the huge, heavy third Stieg Larsson book for the long plane ride. (Did you see Nora Ephron’s very funny parody for the New Yorker?) It’s only that I’m too busy that I haven’t got into it yet.

Do you have any books you’re saving for travel or vacation this summer? Tell us about your summer reading and what you’ll be doing.

A Damned Good Contest is still open and awaiting your participation!

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I recently went on an online shopping spree with a gift certificate that included buying things I had not received for Christmas and, as is the way, things I didn’t know I wanted until I found them. Last night, while I was wondering what I’d blog about, I listened for the first time to this CD of soprano Julianne Baird and other artists singing music from Austen’s collection. Because sheet music was so expensive (we know she paid six shillings for a book of piano music), many of the pieces were copied by hand from music Austen borrowed from friends or circulating libraries. Her music books include instructions for playing or singing, and in one song, replaced the word soldier with that of sailor, reflecting her loyalty to the Royal Navy.

Baird has a wonderful intimacy to her delivery and the collection of music is extraordinary, including opera arias by Handel and Gluck, songs by Stephen Storace the London theater impresario, and a song arranged by Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire to words by Sheridan. This isn’t the only collection from Austen’s music books–I was tempted by one recorded in Chawton Cottage, but according to one review, the sound quality is poor.

As we all know, music was an important part of a Regency lady’s life. Here are some instructions on drawing room performance from an 1813 fashion and how-to book for gentlewomen, Mirror of the Graces:

What has been said in behalf of simple and appropriate dancing, may also be whispered in the ear of the fair practitioner in music; and, by analogy, she may not unbeneficially, apply the suggestions to her own case.

There are many young women, who, when they sit down to the piano or the harp, or to sing, twist themselves into so many contort lions, and writhe their bodies and faces about into such actions and grimaces, as would almost incline one to believe that they are suffering under the torture of the toothach or the gout. Their bosoms heave, their shoulders sill-up, their heads swing to the right and left, their lips quiver, their eyes roll; they sigh, they pant, they seem ready to expire ! And what is all this about? They are merely playing a favourite concerto, or singing a new Italian song.

If it were possible for these conceit-intoxicated warblers, these languishing dolls, to guesa what rational spectators say of their follies they would be ready to break their instruments and be dumb forever. What they call expression in singing, at the rate they would show it, is only fit to be exhibited on the stage, when the character of the song intends to portray the utmost ecstacy of passion to a sighing swain. In short, such an echo to the words and music of a love ditty is very improper in any young woman who would wish to be thought as pure in heart as in person. If amatory addresses are to be sung, let the expression be in the voice and the composition of the air, not in the; looks and gestures of the lady singer. The utmost that she ought to allow herself to do, when thus breathing out the accents of love, is to wear a serious, tender countenance. More than this is bad, and may produce reflections in the minds of the hearers very inimical to the reputation of the fair warbler.

This is the piano in Chawton Cottage which probably wasn’t Austen’s. We do know that it’s a Clementi (the composer, in residence in London, had a piano and print music business) from the first decade of the nineteenth century. Occasionally musician visitors are allowed to play it. It’s a square piano, the instrument that became affordable to the middle classes and invited a whole slew of women to simulate orgasms in public. Which brings me to my next self-inflicted gift, Mr. Langshaw’s Square Piano: The Story of the First Pianos and how they caused a Cultural Revolution by Madeline Goold. I started reading this last night, and it’s a wonderful account of how Ms. Goold bought a square piano, had it restored, and researched the history of the instrument. It was made by the Broadwood Company, which made pianos well into the 20th century, and whose records are still in existence. You can read more about the book, the restoration process and hear soundbites at

What Broadwood did was to produce a piano that was compact and affordable, with a base price of 24 guineas, that were shipped all over England and worldwide. When Lady Catherine de Bourgh invites Elizabeth to practice at Rosings, she refers her to the square piano in the housekeeper’s room, not the grand piano in the drawing room. Jane Fairfax’s piano is a square piano, according to Ms. Goold (aha! yet another excuse to re-read Emma) a dead giveaway that it was a gift from someone who knew the dimensions of the Bates’ parlor and not Colonel Campbell. Knightley still complains that it’s too big, though, which gives us a good impression of how low the Bates family had sunk.

Do you play the piano or would you like to learn? What sort of music do you like to listen to, if any, while you read or write?

And in other news, Improper Relations (February 2010) has its first review at Beyond Her Book:

What I continue to love about Janet Mullany’s books is how she manages to convincingly tell her story in first person from both her hero and her heroine’s perspective. The first person narrative gives an extremely refreshing take on the insanity which populates the plot; from the way her heroine observes the foibles of her own family, to the slowly beautiful dance it takes the hero to discover he’s in love. I can’t wait to see where she goes next.

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