Juliet Archer is an English woman of many talents – an adept multi-tasker juggling her roles as wife, mother, businesswoman and author. We asked her if we could slip into that mix for a bit and get to know her a little better.
Juliet: First of all, I’d like to say ‘Hi’ to you and your readers from Hertfordshire, Pride & Prejudice country. This is my first interview in Australia – a virtual one rather than a physical one, unfortunately – which features as background in my latest book, Persuade Me.
Thank you for inviting me, Beauty and Lace!
Michelle: Happy to have you Juliet, thanks for coming on board! I must say I’m a little excited to be your first Australian interview.
You describe yourself as a 19th Century mind in a 21st Century body, this seems like an unusual way to describe yourself. Can you elaborate for us?
Juliet: It’s a way of describing my love for Jane Austen and the fact that I spend so much time in the world she created 200 years ago. Mind, I usually add ‘Some days it’s the other way round’!
Michelle: What made you decide to write modern versions of Jane Austen’s classic novels?
Juliet: The word ‘classic’ gives it away. Although they reflect the society she lived in, her stories and characters are timeless and relevant to all. So I’m on a mission to modernise her six completed novels, with the added twist of giving fresh insights into the hearts and minds of her heroes.
And there was another inspiration at work here: the BBC’s adaptation of North & South and its irresistible hero, John Thornton, played by Richard Armitage. That got women up and down the land – including me – writing sequels, prequels, ‘what if?’s and modernisations.
Finally, as a teenager my daughter – like many of her generation – loved the TV and film versions of Jane Austen’s work, but couldn’t get into the books themselves. I thought it would be fun for her to see Jane Austen’s creations in a 21st-century context, with modern language and situations. I wanted my stories to read like other contemporary novels, but for Austen fans there’s the added extra of seeing how I’ve updated the originals – the Box Hill scene from Emma, for example, and Wentworth’s love letter in Persuasion.
Michelle: Can you tell us a bit about how you approach rewriting a 200 year old classic novel into a modern setting and where you get your inspiration from?
Juliet: Like so many writers, I start with a ‘what if?’ ‘What if Jane Austen were writing today – what would a modern version of Emma or Persuasion be like?’ One of the most enjoyable parts is unpicking the novels from their 19th-century context and uncovering the heart of the story. Then I take the story, settings and characters and plonk them firmly in the 21st century. It’s a balancing act between staying as true as possible to the originals, while creating something that’s plausible and appealing to the modern reader.
And Jane never wrote a scene without a woman in it, which I think was due to social convention; after all, the woman had five brothers – she must have heard man-to-man conversations at least some of the time! Whereas a 21st-century context gives me an ideal opportunity to tell things from the hero’s point of view as well as the heroine’s.
Michelle: You do a lot of talks about your modernising of Austen, what has been the best question you have ever been asked by someone in the audience of one of your ‘Jane Austen in the 21st Century’ talks?
Juliet: It’s so hard to choose! One of the best is ‘Which Austen heroine would you like to be?’ Answer: ‘Whichever one I’m writing about at the time!’ Although I have to admit, Elizabeth Bennet is hard to beat.
Michelle: How has the modernisation of Jane Austen’s classics been received by Austen fans?
Juliet: So far, extremely well – for which I’m very grateful. Perhaps the disgruntled fans are just keeping quiet! For example, it was a great relief to have a wonderful review of The Importance of Being Emma in Jane Austen’s Regency World. Mind, things may change now that I’ve modernised Persuasion – that seems to be second only to Pride & Prejudice in readers’ affections.
But in any case I hope my love and admiration for Jane Austen shines through in my work – I have such fun reading, re-reading and updating her novels. Being shortlisted for the 2009 Melissa Nathan Award for Comedy Romance was, I felt, a tribute to her – she is the master of that particular genre.
Michelle: What has been the most challenging aspect of bringing the Jane Austen classics into the 21st Century?
Juliet: There have been several – not least, giving Mr Knightley a makeover to appeal more to the modern reader! – but the most challenging always seems to be giving the hero and heroine reasons to keep misunderstanding each other.
In Jane Austen’s time, the social etiquette prevented men and women from communicating too directly during courtship and revealing their thoughts and feelings, whereas today – despite emails and mobiles – there are different communication problems.
Michelle: Obviously it hasn’t all been challenges and hurdles, what has been the most rewarding aspect of this mission you have undertaken?
Spending lots of time with those heroes – both the originals and my versions!
Michelle: Your mission is to modernise all 6 completed Austen novels, have you thought past that to what will come next for Juliet Archer?
A modern version of North & South perhaps? I’d also love to do a comedy romance based in the business world, and I have half a historical done. However, as I work full time and like to ‘craft’ my books over a long period, it’ll take me a while to finish my Austen series!
Michelle: Emma and Persuasion are done in The Importance of Being Emma and the forthcoming Persuade Me, which comes next?
Juliet: Northanger Abbey. Don’t ask me why – it just felt right. Maybe it’s the Bath setting, which of course features in Persuasion too. In fact, I’m doing an Austen walking tour of central Bath in mid-September – it’s bound to rain!
My version is called Northanger Nights and I’ve turned Northanger Abbey into an English vineyard. Yes, we do have vineyards over here and I’ll have to do extensive research!
Michelle: Have you got a planned order for the complete series or are you taking it one book at a time?
Juliet: I’m taking it one book at a time, but probably leaving the greatest challenges for the second half: Pride & Prejudice (the most tampered with, and featuring the best loved hero, Mr Darcy-Firth-Macfadyen), Sense & Sensibility (unusually for Austen, it’s a two-heroine story) and Mansfield Park (Fanny and Edmund – enough said).
Michelle: You are also part of the ‘Let’s Talk About Love’ quartet, what can you tell us about that?
Juliet: Not a lot at the moment – I should probably overhaul my website! For a while, four of us felt the need to do group talks and it was great fun – especially as we all wrote different types of novel. However, it worked because we were all living in or near to London and that’s no longer the case.
I think group/panel talks are a great idea and a totally different dynamic from my individual talks. I’ve just done one at the Bromley Literary Festival with Dorothy Koomson, Julia Williams and Victoria Fox – wonderful! – and I’ve also got some events lined up with my fellow Choc Lit authors which I’m really looking forward to.
Interviews like this are one of the advantages of the internet – how else would I get to talk to your readers?
Michelle: In your downtime, what do you like to do to wind down and relax?
Write – it’s my downtime activity. It helps if there’s a glass of wine handy.
I also like spending time with my family – including the cat, who is more of a teenager than most teenagers.
And promoting my books gives me and my husband an excuse to go all over the UK, and even America!
Michelle: What does being a woman mean to you?
Getting up at 4am this morning to see my son off on holiday …
I devour books, vampires and supernatural creatures are my genre of choice but over the past couple of years, I have broadened my horizons considerably. In a nutshell – I love to write! I love interacting with a diverse range of artists to bring you interviews. Perhaps we were perfect before – I LOVE WORDS!