This post was originally published at Novelicious.com and is now at WritingTipsOasis.com. WritingTipsOasis.com acquired Novelicious.com in June 2022.
What do you get when you mix Downton Abbey with the brooding classic that is Jane Eyre? The answer comes in the form of Thornfield Hall by Jane Stubbs. A new and wholly compelling take on the story we all know and love, this narrative comes from the hidden and secretive world of those living below stairs. Here, Jane Stubbs talks about her new book, the idea for which stemmed from a mere mention of a footman named Sam in Charlotte Brontë’s beloved novel.
I am not sure that ‘inspiration’ is the word I would use. Compulsion seems a more accurate one. An idea starts to niggle at me and just won’t go away. I suspect that writing is more of an addiction than anything else. In the past I have tried diverting that particular form of energy into decorating a bedroom or learning Italian; it doesn’t work. Writing wins every time.
Can you tell us a little about your average writing day?
I would love to have an average writing day. My ideal is to have a walk, put in four good hours of writing before lunch and spend the evening reading, researching and planning. It seldom happens. Events and people get in the way. I am fortunate in living near a river. There is something about running water that settles my mind ready for writing. It enables me to grab any opportunity that presents itself rather than rely on a routine.
When you are writing, do you use any famous people or people you know as inspiration?
I plead ‘not guilty’ to using famous real people. I stand convicted of using famous fictional people such as Mr Rochester and Jane Eyre. The whole of Thornfield Hall is built on Charlotte Bronte’s characters. In Jane Eyre there is one mention of a footman called Sam. In Thornfield Hall I have made him a gruff ex-sailor who takes up with the French maid. When Charlotte Bronte has portrayed a character in depth I have looked at their behaviour from a different viewpoint. Jane decides Blanche Ingram is an unworthy rival for Mr Rochester’s affection. Mrs Fairfax sees how Blanche’s prospects of marriage are damaged by Rochester’s cruel manoeuvre of pretending a flirtation with her in his pursuit of Jane.Real people are too complicated to be ironed flat into a novel.
What is your favourite Women’s Fiction book of all time and why?
My favourite women's fiction book of all time has to be Jane Eyre. I had a very happy childhood but I managed to identify with poor, mistreated and unloved Jane, especially when she was cold and hungry. Schools used to be very chilly places and most children can manage a snack, whatever time of day it is. We all have times when we feel the whole world is against us so it is reassuring to read that such moments can be survived. As a young woman Jane struggled against many disadvantages; she was poor, she was not pretty and she had no one to help make her way in the world. Her triumph was not in marrying Mr Rochester, but in taking control of her own life and in valuing her own worth very exactly.
There are far too many to list. From George Eliot to Margaret Drabble. Currently my favourite is Emma Donoghue.
Can you give us three book recommendations?
Emma Donoghue – Room. There is no way to describe this book without spoiling it.
Julie Cohen – Dear Thing. A thoughtful exploration of surrogate motherhood.
Louise Penny – any of her intriguing detective stories set in Quebec.
What is your writing process? Do you plan first or dive in? How many drafts do you do?
I do not plan meticulously. The beginning just arrives. Several possible endings suggest themselves. The middle is usually an endless string of problems that have to be solved. How does the narrator know that when he is asleep at the time? Does it take three days for a stagecoach to reach York? As I clear these obstacles the ending decides itself.
When it is going well, each scene grows from the previous one. I can see the characters and hear what they are saying. Sometimes they really surprise me. I call this haphazard process ‘organic’; the word fools me, if no one else.
I spend an enormous amount of time revising; I read it out loud, I polish it and I prune it ruthlessly.
What was your journey to being a published author?
It was a long journey. I have a cupboard full of apprentice pieces. To be honest, I think I should have put as much time into selling my work as I did into writing; I should have done much more research. It is not enough to put the rejected work into a new envelope and send it to another publisher. My luck changed the first time I sent Thornfield Hall to an agent; she took me on. She really worked to find a publisher and suddenly my path was easy; she took the hits.
What do you think is the biggest myth about being a novelist?
Graham Greene maintained that the writer has a splinter of ice in his heart. A writer observes even the death of a loved one with a certain detachment and makes notes of details to use in his next novel. In my case the opposite is true. I find the tears well up into my eyes as I describe a completely imaginary misfortune striking one of my fictional characters.
What advice can you give to our readers who want to write a novel of their own?
Read, read, read. Anything you can lay your hands on.
What are you working on at the moment?
Yes I am working on another novel. This time the narrator is a man, so that is a real challenge. That is all I can say about it at the moment. Work in progress is a bit like having a baby; it is bad luck to talk in too much detail about the finished result.