Friday, December 31, 2010

Me and Jane Austen

I watched a late airing of Jane Austen's "Emma" last night. It was a fairly recent movie I'd never seen before with Kate Beckinsale as Emma instead of Gwyneth Paltrow, who I felt was all wrong when I saw her years ago. Anybody who has read the book would know that Emma Woodhouse was clearly a brunette and NOT blonde! Last night's movie impressed me as one that I was sure JA would probably approve of. Apart from Mr Knightley being a bit of a smarty-pants who was always right, "Emma" was one of my favourite books.

Now, this may surprise some people, but whenever I'm asked which famous author I'd most relate to, I can't help coming up with Jane Austen. Some friends of mine write historical fiction set far closer to Jane's time period and you might think they would have more in common with her. But no, it's me! For the rest of this blog post, I'll explain why.

Essentially, she used to write contemporary drama/romances set in her own little corner of the world. That's what I do too, although my corner of the world happens to be the Adelaide Hills in the early 21st century. Years ago, I read some advice that Jane herself gave other aspiring writers. She said something like, "Choose what you know, and for me, a small town with a handful of characters is the perfect thing to work with." I took her advice on board. Rather than tackling piles of research, I'm confident that if I set my stories around modern Mt Barker, the sounds, sights, smells and tastes of the area will come through with authentic freshness because I know just what I'm talking about.

As for Jane Austen, if she'd been at all interested in being a historical novelist, she might have set her books back in the Middle Ages, as some of her contemporaries used to. She even alluded to some of those authors in her novel, "Northanger Abbey." They were the ladies whose books her heroine Catherine used to avidly read. It's all quite interesting to me.

Jane loved to fill her novels with twists in plots; so do I. She loved working with witty, often quirky, entertaining dialogue. So do I. She liked her books to end with uplifting, positive happenings. So do I. As I watched "Emma" last night, I thought what a priceless gift Jane Austen has given us. We have an authentic slice of what it might have been like to live in the gracious, but often snobbishly class-conscious Georgian era. This might have been lost to us if she never wrote. Thank heavens she did. And hopefully, someday people may say similar things about me.

Jane Austen died aged 42. It's generally believed that she had Addison's Disease, which can now be controlled well with cortisone injections. What a waste, because she had so much more to give! In fact, she left an uncompleted manuscript behind her. We could have been blessed with so many more books than the six she left us with. There's another thing we have in common. I've just turned 41 and also have six books published, the seventh coming out this year. But when I think of how Jane used a quill pen and ink bottle for all of her revisions instead of having a trusty computer for all her editing needs, I can't help feeling a sense of awe.

Here's a picture I really like, as it highlights the analogy of me being like JA, showing her with all my modern trappings. Wouldn't she have loved it? I'd like to be able to say, "Thank you, Jane, for being one of my mentors. All writers need a role model and you've been a very good one."

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Paula's Theory of Relativity

When we sit back and think how relative just about everything is, it is the one thing that makes us tend not to form quick judgments about anything at all.

I have a book by Peter Daniels, who's old enough to clearly remember the days when "Beatle Mania" first struck the world; days when many of us were not even born yet. He describes how he saw the four young men on his television screen on that day in the 1960s and instantly thought how sloppily they wore their clothes, how rebellious and appalling their presentation seemed to be and how badly they needed haircuts. They were scruffy, uncouth and loud.

Fast forward a couple of decades to when this book was published. Daniels was watching a TV program with a sudden flashback, which he recognized as that very same clip he saw before. But this time, his initial impression was how clean-cut the four young men were and compared to what regularly bombarded his ears from all media forms, their music seemed reserved and almost classical.

His story made me realise that we do the same to ourselves too, all the time. Reminded me of a photo that was taken of me when I was about 17 or 18 years old. At that time, I'd been going through some sort of phase when I liked to dress up in old vintage sort of clothes that looked like they came from the 1920s or 1930s. I think I wanted to appear interesting and eccentric. In this particular photo I was wearing some sort of weird sailor suit and looked like a character from an Agatha Christie mystery. I'd been going through my anorexic stage too, and looked as skinny as a stick. At the time I thought it came across OK and was quite happy with the photo.

About five to seven years later, I looked at that same photo with disgust, my initial response being how stupid I looked and how mad I was at my family and friends for letting me make such a fool of myself in public. I slammed the album shut telling myself, "You were a real wally!" Then I found it again quite recently, about twenty years after it was taken, and this time I smiled with a bit of nostalgic affection for my old self, thinking how insecure I used to be and how hard I used to try to make a statement. I realised I probably just needed a smile and some encouraging feedback that I really was OK, and if I'd been around then, I would have given myself some.

So now the experience has made me think that as our opinions change all the time anyway, we might as well be generous in our attitudes toward ourselves and others at all times. By the same token, if you find yourself being harshly summed up by other people, remind yourself not to take it on board and get depressed because everyone's opinion is only relative. You have the option to never take mean, negative feedback as accurate!

Blessings everyone,