Cass Grafton Interview

Interview by Cassandra Bates using questions submitted by region members and through social media.

Cass Grafton is the author of several books that are Pride and Prejudice variations, including A Fair Prospect (3 volumes) and A Quest for Mr. Darcy. She also has co-written two books with her friend Ada Bright about a time-traveling Jane Austen. Cass and Ada have a new book coming out March 9, 2021 which combines Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion: Mr. Darcy’s Persuasion. Cass joined our region for a long-distance interview about reading, collaborating with other authors, and her writing process.

Have you seen the Bookworm Pill Meme?  The choices are 1) Amnesia Pill (read a book as if never read it) 2) Sacrifice Pill (revive dead fictional character) 3) Love Pill (fictional character falls in love with you) 4) Life Pill (bring fictional character to life) 5) Travel Pill (visit any fictional world) 6) Body Pill (change bodies with any fictional character).  Which two would you choose and for which books or characters? 

No, I haven’t seen it, but what fun!

So, instinctively, I went with number 2, reviving Sirius Black from the Harry Potter novels! Broke my heart when he died (hope that’s not a spoiler for anyone)! And, I realised I would love to read Pride & Prejudice for the ‘first’ time again, so I’m opting for number 1 also.

Any other 18th or 19th century women writers whom you love to reread?

I enjoy Elizabeth Gaskell – love, love, love North & South, Wives & Daughters and Cranford. Her Life of Charlotte Brontë is also fascinating. Enjoy the Brontës too, though I’ve only re-read the most popular novels.

I have read some of George Eliot’s novels, but I generally find her stories too depressing to re-read (which is funny, because you’d think with her capacity for a rising death count, Elizabeth Gaskell would be depressing too, but I love her stories! Must be all in the telling).

Switching between writing on your own and writing with a collaborator…does that cause any issues?

Not at all. Ada Bright and I both have our solo projects ongoing, but now and again we love to write together. It depends when the timing is right. Last year, we both found it tough to write contemporary, because we didn’t want to write about the present situation, so we decided to go back in time and write Mr Darcy’s Persuasion instead.

 I loved the Cornwall book…there seemed to be some Austen elements in the book?

Thank you! I’m so pleased you loved it!

Funnily enough, I didn’t think there were Austen elements (beyond some of the chapter quotes), but a couple of readers emailed me afterwards to say they saw parallels, and someone also told me they could ‘hear’ Colin Firth’s voice when Oliver was speaking.

That’s quite lovely, but in actual fact, I was imagining Richard Armitage for Oliver all the time I was writing (it was no hardship, honestly!) and there’s even a scene in there that is an homage to the BBC adaptation of North & South!

What was/is your research process for writing Regency?

Reading, mainly!

I discovered Jane Austen at school, read all her novels, partially finished works and then book after book about her life, and continue to buy and absorb them now (many years later).

With the time travel novels, there was a lot more practical research, as we were writing about a real person and the second in the series is set in Chawton in 1813. I had a behind the scenes tour of Jane’s house when it was closed, where I was told about the layout of the property and gardens back in early 1800, spoke with several people locally, including Jeremy Knight, whose family were the last of Jane’s descendants to live in Chawton (great) House, and was given maps of the village at that time.

I also read as many accounts as possible about Jane’s life in Chawton. It was fascinating!

We also have an excellent editor in Christina Boyd, who pointed out the number of words we were using which were mainly Victorian in origin and not in use in Regency England!

What if any was your inspiration for the relationship of Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy in A Quest for Mr. Darcy?

This is a tricky one, because I can remember where the inspiration for the story struck (whilst sunbathing on a beach in Portugal many years ago), but less so the trigger for the relationship between the leads.

Part of the stimulus was a line in the first Austen-inspired book I wrote, A Fair Prospect, where Elizabeth says something along the lines of, ‘when I return to Longbourn, I will probably find my father is planning to relocate us to Derbyshire’, and ever since I’d written those words, I wanted to set story there—setting is very important to me when I write.

I don’t know if anyone who has read Quest has noticed, but Elizabeth doesn’t appear in the story until Chapter Ten! I felt she would bear Darcy considerable resentment at first, but I did enjoy having her come to realise what a good man he is. Perhaps it’s only me, but I feel Elizabeth needs to suffer a bit, not just Darcy!

Can an extraordinary woman reform Mr. Wickham, perhaps an Elizabeth Bennet?

Short answer? No! lol
Personally, I like to believe everyone has some redeeming qualities. I think, had he married Elizabeth (can’t bear to think about it), she would have curbed some of his weaker tendencies, but within marriage in that era, the man was very much in control, certainly when it came to finances. I can’t help but think, with Wickham’s propensity for losing or wasting any money he gains, even if he managed to persuade someone of Elizabeth’s qualities to marry him, they would never have a harmonious union.

You write with Ada Bright; how do you manage that process? Do you pass the manuscript back and forth? Or do you bounce ideas off each other and take turns writing? 

We both work on every single scene. We tend to brainstorm on video chat (we live thousands of miles apart—Switzerland and California) with a 9-hour time difference, so we chat my early morning, which is Ada’s late night—our most productive times, respectively.

We will decide what the next scene is, and one of us will start it, then send it to the other, who works on it and sends it back and so on. Because of the time difference, we can be working on the story almost 24/7 if we need to.

By the time we’ve finished a book, we have each worked on every aspect, and often we can’t remember who wrote what!

What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?

Jane Austen—with whom I wish I was friends—has helped me become a better writer. She’s an educator. I feel as if I’ve served my writing apprenticeship under her guidance.

I am also lucky to have so many writer friends, across several genres and countries!

The greatest thing I’ve gained is the companionship of fellow writers, because it’s a very lonely profession! It’s so lovely to be able to meet (in person or virtually) and talk about the process, the challenges and to get support when you’re having a ‘moment’ and convinced you can’t write at all!

What is your favorite love theme for ODC – enemies to lovers, forced marriage scenarios or low angst love story? What makes Darcy and Lizzy, one of the most popular couple?

I think I favour enemies to lovers. I always thought I wrote low angst stories, but when I was posting the opening chapters of Mr Darcy’s Persuasion, a few people were getting a bit stressed!

Jane Austen is a master at her craft, and although there are varying opinions over which of her novels shows this best, I’ve always felt she was exceptional in creating Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy. These two characters have charmed and enchanted readers and viewers for centuries, and Pride & Prejudice still regularly appears at the top of the ‘best books of all time’ polls, here in the 21st century.

On the surface, Elizabeth and Darcy appear so different, but they have similarities they have to discover—about each other and about themselves. They have faults, which makes them human and therefore relatable to readers. You feel for them, even as they are making mistakes, and you long for them to have their happy ending.

I believe Pride & Prejudice may be the most romantic of Jane’s books (though I would do a shout out for Persuasion on that score too), even though it’s not strictly a romance novel. The way Mr Darcy changes for—and because of—the woman he loves, and works to save her family from ruin, even when there is no particular hope for him, is enough to make me swoon every time!

How did the story of ‘Mr. Darcy’s Persuasion come to your mind as a full story? Inspiration?

I’ve always wanted to write a crossover between these two novels, because they are my favourites, and once again, location became an influence. I lived in Somerset for 7 wonderful years in the 1990s. It’s a place very dear to my heart, much as it is to Anne Elliot.

With a co-write, it’s also important for Ada to have been to where a book is being set, so she can picture it, and she was familiar with the county. We used Montacute House as our Kellynch Hall (which we visited together in 2019)—you may know it as the Palmers’ house in the 1995 Sense & Sensibility film.

Getting Mr Darcy and Elizabeth to Somerset (separately and unknown to each other) was the easy bit! Both Ada and I love to write an element of mystery into our stories, and I had the idea for this one—which I can’t speak about because of spoilers—after which, we brainstormed the plot and off the story went.

The most rewarding factor for both Ada and I as the novel took shape was the friendship between Anne and Elizabeth—one we never knew we needed, but it felt entirely right. Anne, of course, is only 24 in Mr Darcy’s Persuasion, as it takes place immediately after the Netherfield ball in November 1811, three years before the events of Persuasion.

Do you like to listen to music while you write? Or create playlists for books or characters?

Yes! I always have music on.

If I’m writing historical, I use soundtracks from the Austen adaptations, but when I was writing the Cornwall novel, I created playlists for Anna from current music.

With the time travel novels, it was a mix. The first book was set in the present day, so Rose had a playlist of her own, much like Anna’s, but in the second book, it was back to listening to classical to set the mood for 1813!

When might we expect A Polkerran Village Tale Book 2? Book 1 was excellent. 

Thank you so much! I am really touched to know that.

If it hadn’t been for a certain pandemic, it would have been coming out now! I have another three planned, and I’m hoping to leap into working on the second as soon as Mr Darcy’s Persuasion is released—time to create a new playlist!

What do you find to be the most difficult emotion to write?

Anger! I don’t have much of a temper, so I find lighter characters easier to write. I love writing Colonel Fitzwilliam, about whom we know very little, but he’s easy to make into a fun person.

The only time I manage to write angry people comfortably is when Lady Catherine is being a pain in the neck!

Has writing for you become harder or easier during the pandemic?

At first, I couldn’t write at all. I struggled with all that was happening. That’s why I eventually asked Ada if she’d be happy to co-write a historical novel, where we could escape from the world for a while each day.

It helped enormously. Not only do we have tons of fun when we are co-writing, and laugh a lot during our chats, but it gave us both a focus.

Wow, thank you for some amazing questions! It’s so lovely to have such original ones to answer!

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