top of page
  • Writer's pictureWhat the Austen?

Episode 56: 'Miss Austen Investigates': A Conversation with Author Jessica Bull

Have you ever envisioned Jane Austen entangled in a murder investigation? 🕵️ I am joined by novelist Jessica Bull, who brings this fascinating concept to life in ‘Miss Austen Investigates’ 📖

It was amazing to discuss how Jessica’s teenage love of Jane Austen led her down the rabbit hole that would eventually inspire her to write a story where our favourite literary icon takes on a whole new role. Her dedication to research and authenticity breathes life into a narrative that balances historical accuracy with the creative flair that only a true Janeite could master 📖

Where can you find Jessica?

Instagram: @Jessicabullnovelist

Where can you find your host (Izzy)?

Podcast Instagram: @whattheausten

Personal Instagram: @izzy_meakin


Izzy: 0:20

Hi Janeites and welcome back to the what the Austin podcast. I have an exciting episode lined up today. I am joined by author Jessica Bull to talk about her debut novel, miss Austin Investigates. This book is coming out on the 25th of January in the UK, so in about a week, maybe less, when this episode airs. I really enjoyed this book and I was really excited to chat to Jessica about it. A little bit about the story Miss Austin Investigates imagines a young Jane as observant, sharp, intelligent and an original thinker, in other words, a perfect detective. The book sweeps as a way to regency Britain where her body is found during a ball on the Hampshire estate. The county is in an uproar, but for a young Jane Austin, who has spent the evenings closeted in a greenhouse with a young man, the murder becomes personal when her beloved brother Georgie is accused. Driven by her independent spirit and using her powers of observation and attention to detail, jane sets out to save her brother from the scaffold in a world where manners are more important than murder. So really excited to chat to Jessica about this today. I really enjoyed the book, really recommend picking this one up and, yeah, let's get into the episode. Welcome, jessica, it's such a pleasure to have you on the call, hi.

Jessica: 1:27

Izzy, it's so exciting to speak to my fellow Jane. I Thank you so much for having me.

Izzy: 1:32

Absolutely so. The question that I saw all of my episodes with is what got you into Jane Austin originally?

Jessica: 1:39

So I was probably the perfect age in 1995 when a certain mini series starring Colin Firth came out. So I was about 17. I was doing my A levels and I was just hooked on it from the moment I first saw it. And I remember going into school the next day and disrupting my English class by talking about it so much that my teacher sent me off to the library. But he didn't tell me to read Pride and Prejudice. He told me to read North Anger Abbey and to kind of start at like what are the kind of the earliest end of Boston, because I think you've said before it's almost YA in its themes and it's most like her juvenileia. So he said, and I think we were meant to be studying ghost stories as well. So that might have been it. So he told me to start with North Anger Abbey. So I started reading that and then worked my way through the rest of them and then by the time I finished persuasion, I was actually on a kind of gap year placement, living in Hampshire just down the road from Alton, and this was the late 90s. There was very little to do, there was no internet, there was one bus and the one bus that I could get. I could go to Winchester where she's buried, or I could go to Alton and walk to Chortern and visit Jane Austen's house. So yeah, I was reading the novels and living just down the road from where she lived and that started a love that's lasted a lifetime really and I just kind of every time a new film and new adaptation and new book and new biography kind of came out, I just I just read it and lost myself in it and turned to it, always turned to Austin for comfort. And then I think, when the pandemic happened and like a lot of people, it was really tough for me and my family I just really turned to the things that comforted me, and Austin was a big one of those. And then it got to the point where I had so much that I so many thoughts and feelings and questions about her that I needed a vehicle really to express them. So yeah, it's a lifetime's love affair.

Izzy: 3:35

I love that, and you know what it's not like. It's all you know. It's lifetime love, isn't it? You know, when she gets hooked, that's kind of it for a lot of us. And then we're lifelong Janeites, which I love for us.

Jessica: 3:45

She's a little fun, right? Yeah, I think more than any other writer, she speaks straight to the heart. Jane Austen, I feel like you know, we all feel that she understands us. She sees us in a way and I think you know, like a lot of people, she's been there through some difficult times, which makes that bond kind of really special.

Izzy: 4:03

Yes, absolutely. And because she's such a master at like capturing the human psyche, we can learn, like the life lessons we're currently going through, through her texts as well. You know, we can be like oh, I can so relate to this situation. Or oh my gosh, I've experienced somebody like that and it's just, it helps you to kind of work through your own life situation.

Jessica: 4:20

It really does and encourages you to laugh at it and not take it too seriously, to not let it bog you down, to have that like resilience that she had and that her characters always have. She always kind of picks me up and keeps me going, I think.

Izzy: 4:34

Yes, oh well, I love that so much. That's such a lovely way to come into it. And I do agree, yeah, I think North Angarabi is quite a nice one to start with Because, yeah, like I've said in the past, it's got that kind of YA feel to it and also, you know, it's got the gothic elements, which is quite fun. And I feel like, if you come to it as a teenager as well, catherine is quite relatable at that point, because you're like, oh, is this girl who, like gets sucked into books and just like I understand.

Jessica: 4:57

She is so relatable and her friendships are everything. And you know she makes so many assumptions about people and they get turned into like so much trouble. And I think North Angarabi is much more like Austin's earlier works, isn't it? So it's like the burlesques that she wrote as a child. So if you start there and then you like finish up persuasion, then it's such a journey. Yeah, you kind of go with her on her journey as a writer and all those bits are so different and reflect, you know, how she was feeling at that time in her life, and a masterpiece is in their own right for completely different reasons. So, yeah, I think it's a great one to start with.

Izzy: 5:34

I love that though. So it would be good to know, then, kind of this writing process, because you know how the idea came about, but then also, obviously, because you're looking at Jane Austen and her life, that's, you know how the books all set, there must have been like a lot of research that went into this. So if we start with kind of how the idea came about for this particular book and then we can chat a little bit about the research in process, yeah.

Jessica: 5:55

So I was so immersed in her world and I had read all these you know biographies and literary criticism, and I also went deep into the kind of Jane Austen podcast world how I discovered you and so many other like great kind of women usually, but like people who love her so much and have so much to say about her that you can really, with Austen, dive into some really niche areas of her life and feel connected. And I loved the way that so many people had been inspired to create their own projects through love of her and I wanted to do something similar. So I was looking for like, what's my format? How do I, how can I do something? I'm not an academic how can I make my tribute to Austen? And I really wanted to create a tribute that was testament to her resilience and the fortitude that she had, because I think a lot of people, if they read her works, they confuse her with one of her characters, perhaps one of her more privileged characters, like you know, emma Woodhouse, and think that it was easy for her. And I don't think it was easy for her at all and it was knowing how hard that she had struggled to write. So when you think about all those years before she went to Chortern where she was. She didn't have a home. She was like she'd left Steventon. She was moving around, always at the kind of whim of others and she had those three early manuscripts in her writing box and she was really struggling to find the time and sometimes like even brewing her own ink, sitting at that tiny little table and writing in longhand. And it was that resilience that she'd kept going through all that that really inspired me to start writing again, even though I wasn't writing immediately about Austen, but at the time I was writing a mystery and I realized how much there was in mystery elements in Austen's work. So you think about Catherine Moyland, like she even sets herself up as an amateur sleuth and accuses General Tilney of murder, of murdering his wife. And she does that because all of Austen's characters are trying to find out the true characters of those around them. You think about Lizzie Bernett when she's comparing Wiccan's side of the story to the Darcy's side of the story in questioning the housekeeper. And Austen's also really, really, really interested in law and the way it discriminates against women. So you think of all that's inheritance, seats and the things that are morally right versus what are socially acceptable. So you think of the opening of sense and sensibility where Fanny Dashwood manages to effectively steal the Dashwood sisters' inheritance just by prevailing on her husband not to impoverish their poor son and then not to mention Wiccan running away with Lydia and Willoughby with Eliza. So I realised there was a real link. And I love crime and I love like PD, james's death comes to Pemberley. It's one of my favourite all-time novels. So I thought perhaps if I took the story of her life I might be able to convey it in the murder mystery format. So yeah, that was. And then doing that it was an opportunity to dismiss the kind of stereotypical all-poor James, sad James, jane who never married, which irritates the life out of me and probably every other Jane I had. Who's listening? So yeah, to show off how incredibly determined and witty and irreverent and joyous she was.

Izzy: 9:30

I love that. Yeah, oh gosh, something that really stood out to me as well, that you were like you wanted to create a tribute, like something how you could express your love of Austin, and, yes, that's absolutely. I think we all find our way to do that, like, obviously, me and my podcast and there is something just so lovely and you recognise that in other Jane. I had this conversation on a recent episode, actually about adaptations, and you can really sense when somebody's heart's in it, like they are a true Jane I when they create an adaptation, because you're like you just feel it. I was trying to explain to someone. I was like I can't express what it is, but there's a magic there that you can recognise in other Jane I's in their work alone, without even chatting to them. So, yeah, I love that. You just said that.

Jessica: 10:11

It comes through a place of love, doesn't it? When you're just so excited and you want to, you can make it different. I think you can put your own spin on it, and everyone does. And it's lovely when people do that, to hear what they have to say about Austin, what part of her work has particularly touched or inspired them. And yeah, I love it too. I love that world of people who are just so inspired that they just say, like that podcast, or like make costumes, organise events and do embroidery the list is endless of ways to share a lot for Jane.

Izzy: 10:44

I know, I know I think that's so wonderful. It'd be really good as well to chat about kind of the research inside of this, because from read obviously I've read this book now and I can really tell that there must have been so much research that went into this. There was even elements of Jane Austen's life that I didn't even realise that much about, like her brother Georgie, for instance. Like that he was living in like supported care, I think, in real life. But obviously he plays quite a significant part in your storyline. But there was a lot of characters in her family that I think haven't been addressed Like I feel like Cassandra's, maybe quite well known to people who know about Jane Austen, but her brothers, for instance, more about her mum, like I feel like her mum doesn't come up that often. There seems to sometimes be more of an emphasis on her dad. So I'd love to know just like this journey of researching because I'm guessing this took you a long time you want things. You know I was just like wow, okay, that that took some research.

Jessica: 11:39

So it's funny because it's not like I decided to write a book about Jane Austen and then did a load of research about it. I inadvertently did 25 years of research and then sat down and wrote the book. And the book then came really quickly because I think the characters and the story was informed by reading about Jane Austen's real life and the people who were important in that real life. So her mum. So the most important texts to me while I was writing it were her letters. That was, you know, the story comes directly out of her letters, as well as fantastic list of biographies like Lucy Worsley and Claire Tomlin and Paul LeBan, and you know all the ones that I'm sure are on every Jane White's bookshelf and that are a real treat for us to read. So yeah, so I created the story out of that and I specifically wanted to tell the stories of people who had maybe been erased or hadn't been given the place that they should have in history. So her mum we always talk about her dad and he was brilliant and he was so supportive. But her mum was a really great writer. She wrote these really funny poems about the neighbours and she's got a really, really, really sharp tongue. You can see where Jane gets it from. And as for Georgie, yeah, I always felt like he'd been unfairly erased. So Georgie was the second brother and he had learning difficulties and he suffered from fit. So we can probably guess that that was epilepsy. And he didn't live with the family at Stevenson Brexary. He lived with his nurse for a while and then he was cared for by another family not far away in a village and he also lived with Mrs Austin's younger brother, thomas Lee, so that's like Jane's uncle. So it was a kind of family setup that they had a local family who cared for both those individuals. And the traditional narrative sometimes says that he wasn't part of her life. But looking through the records really closely, I don't think that is true because there are letters from he's not mentioned in Jane's letters but Jane's letters are so edited so we only have like 161 out of the 3000s that we she probably wrote during her lifetime. And he is mentioned in his mum and dad's papers. So his mum talks about her worries about his fits when he's younger and talks about him visiting, coming to stay at the rectory and there's a really touching letter where his dad mentions him and he says he's reflecting on his condition and he says we have this consolation he cannot be a bad or wicked child. And then I read about another of her relatives he's not in this book which is Mrs Leeperow, who was arrested for shoplifting. Arrested and tried for shoplifting in a card of lace in Bath in 1799 and at the time shoplifting anything over a shilling was incurred the death penalty. There were over 200 crimes in George and Britain which incurred the death penalty. Like everything he did, he basically got executed. But because of that the value of the lace it was only 60 shillings and because of her wealth and status she probably would have had that sentence commuted to transportation to Australia if she'd been found guilty. But she was acquitted and it was a really awful time for the Austins and Jane Austen's mum really did write a letter to Mrs Leeperow so she was staying in the jailer's house rather than the cells because she could afford that privilege. And Jane Austen's mum really did write a letter to her offering to send Jane and Cassandra to keep her company. So there's a really family connection to that kind of injustice and the crimes of George and England. So I thought with a terrible imagination of an obelisk, I thought what if I took Georgie, this most beloved and vulnerable member of the Austen family, and put him in the position that Mrs Leeperow was in? Would it be enough to prompt my Jane to solve her first murder mystery?

Izzy: 16:00

Oh, yes, I love that. Yeah, it's like what, what would be her motive? What? What would make her, you know, get up out of bed every morning to want to solve this? Yes, absolutely, and she's. So we can tell from her texts like she is such a driven person, you know. If it's something that she is passionate about, something that she loves, like, she is going to go for it. So, yeah, I love that Absolutely. And I think it's also nice as well because, like you said, there are certain family members that you don't hear about, and I feel like Georgie's, on these ones, he's kind of pushed to the side slightly, and so it's nice that he kind of gets a more prominent role in your book, you know, even though obviously he's going through turmoil.

Jessica: 16:36

I know I'm so mean, yeah, but it's a story that has to you have to I have to make you keep reading. But, yeah, I think that that's one of the things when you learn about her life as well, Like, the reason that we have Jane Austen's work is really because her family was so incredibly supportive and encouraging. So I really wanted to pay tribute to those family members you know, even her mom, who sometimes she can be a bit frosty with but there was definitely like a real connection there and, of course, Henry and Cassandra, who really supported her and managed to get her into print.

Izzy: 17:14

Yeah, definitely, Absolutely. So I know that you said obviously use the letters quite a lot to help with your writing process. Was that also quite restrictive and confusing at times, Because obviously we are missing so many letters? Was it just like there was so many blanks that you were like gosh, I don't, you've kind of got a little bit of leeway there, but also like you don't want to stray too far. So you know, it's quite difficult only having the small amounts.

Jessica: 17:38

I think. I think it. For me it was quite liberating because then I could use my imagination to fill in all the gaps. And I have changed things a little bit. So there is like one of her really really early letters. She talks about going to the Harwood Family Ball at Dean House, and so I've changed that a little bit. So they're the Harcourt's in my story and it's at Dean House, and there's first few kind of littering letters that describe her flotation with Tom LaFroy. Yeah, I've put in there. But I tried to make sure that if ever I'm portraying something, there is an obviously, like it's a modern novel, I'm gonna, you know, do things that Jane Austen would never have done, like you know, having her enjoy this like secret love affair. But whatever I've done, I try to make sure that there is precedence somewhere, that I'm not straying too far from her character. So in the first letter that we've got she describes going to the school and it's not just Tom LaFroy, there's a whole host of like young men that she lists and she talks about one of them like trying to give her a kiss and she's giving that kiss to Mary instead. So I try to make sure that even when I'm making things up. There's some kind of like reign of truth that it might reflect about her life story and trying to use the things that happen in the novel as a kind of metaphor for the way she lived her life and the characters that interacted around her.

Izzy: 19:02

Yeah, I can definitely see how that would be more liberating as a writer, because I feel like there's maybe more of a pressure that comes when writing if you're doing like something that's got an historical basis as opposed to because, like I mean, this would be something interesting to talk about. Obviously, there's a lot of other writers who've done mysteries related to Jane Austen, but either using her characters or just kind of having the essence of Jane Austen's works and things, whereas because she specifically chose to write about Jane Austen and her family, I guess that comes with its own kind of pressure and kind of this balance between what's accurate and what's you know, you can give a little bit creatively way for.

Jessica: 19:39

Yeah, absolutely. And I think like it is difficult because, like we all have our own idea of who Austen is based on reading her works and she really comes through. So you know, some people might have a completely different interpretation of Austen than I do. And in this novel and in this novel I'm very much looking at Jane before she was the really confident narrator of those later novels. So I'm looking at the Austen who comes through in those first few letters. She's only 19, 20. And my books are not retellings but they're kind of shadow books. So this is my kind of tribute to North Anger Abbey in a way, because I was thinking about how North Anger Abbey is her tribute to all those Gothic novels. But she's done it something completely different and I wanted this to be the same in that it is a tribute to an Austen novel and I'm trying to capture her town and I'm trying to tell you the really like exciting and important things about her life. But it's also a Jessica Bull novel and it's it's I'm never going to be Austen. No one's ever going to be Austen. There's only one Austen and she was brilliant. So, yeah, this is, this is Jane a little bit as Catherine Moreland, like being a young, a young woman, making those mistakes on the cusp of womanhood, learning for herself, having to confront all of her prejudices and her assumptions about the world in order to achieve achieve what she needs to achieve.

Izzy: 21:08

You know, I feel like that is the most common thing that I hear when I have authors on who write texts like this, where they're always just like I'm not Jane Austen.

Jessica: 21:14

Like you know, I'm not. It's an unfair fight. Please don't compare it.

Izzy: 21:20

Yeah, I totally can relate that. That makes so much sense and I actually I knew you were saying that obviously everyone has their own perception of Austen. But something that really stood out to me through when I was reading, like your, your version of Jane Austen is I love that you captured the fact. Something I've always felt is that, yes, I feel like Jane Austen is a romantic lowercase, are romantic. She's just, you know, she is interested in love. She writes love stories at the end of the day, yes, the societal love stories, but you know there's love in them. But she's also pragmatic and I love that. You kind of captured that. You know, especially like in her relationship with Tom it was like, yes, I'm having this, like well, and like, yes, I'd really like him to come round and what have you. But then she also has her logical side where she can be like, what would my life actually look like with this person? Is that practical and can I give up? Can I live in this kind of version of reality or is that not really going to work out for me? And I, yeah, I've always loved that about Jane Austen. I love that you captured that in your book Because I think that's an important thing to hold, because I feel like sometimes people can go like all on the other side. You'd be like, oh, jane Austen, like it's massive feminist, like she was. Like, like you know, she chose not to marry because it was like some sort of thing against men, whereas I don't actually think that is. But I think she was very good at balancing her romantic and logical side.

Jessica: 22:33

Yeah, yeah, I think, yeah, I really wanted to Because it wasn't a simple choice, like for a woman of that time. You know there's no birth control, you don't have the right to work Like you can really really love someone and still make a pragmatic choice not to marry. Yeah, and I think that was like a really really hard and I to the way that the story plays out with Tom is that fiercely like fictional in my novel. But what I think I was trying to do was to talk about the way that she lived her life. I think for a long time we were sold like Jane Austen, the greatest romance writer who never found love, and I think, reading between the lines of the letters, it's obvious that's not true. There's like a whole queue of men who would like to marry Jane Austen and you know why not. It's 200 years later and we're still all madly in love with that. I think it's really obvious that she made some very difficult decisions to stay single, to prioritize her work, to live a comfortable life, and I think it for us it would have been a tragedy if she married, and especially that you know really early love affair. Then we might have had Mrs Tom LaFroy, but we might not know the name Jane Austen, like her health was really delicate as well, so a childbearing might have been too much for her, and you know, think of how many women writers we don't have because of because they never made that choice, yeah. So I think I really wanted to capture how difficult that was, and also to have Jane choosing herself be a happy ending.

Izzy: 24:21

Oh, I love that. Yes, oh, my goodness. Yes, there is something really empowering about that, I think, is making the choice for yourself, you know, choosing self concept, choosing the life you want to live, even if it doesn't match up to kind of what society's expecting of you. Yeah, sometimes the greatest love story is with yourself. What can I say? If, like me, you love taking a break from your modern life to escape into Jane Austen's world of handwritten letters, romantic rendezvous and long walks in the countryside, you will love the House of Bennett shop. House of Bennett offers stickers, pins, jewelry, totes, shirts and so much more. All themes around your favorite classic literature and period dramas, including Jane Eyre and of Green Gables, little Women and, of course, the works of Jane Austen. Head over to House of Bennett dot com. That's H A U S O F B E N N E T dot C O M and use my code what the discount for 15% off at the checkout. So, once again, that's House of Bennett dot com and use my code what the discount for 15% off. I also love Henry, right, he was one of my favorite characters. So I love Tim and I love because an Eliza as well. She gave me really like a Mary Crawford vibes but all of the things I love about Mary Crawford like not very Crawford's kind of more negative tones, but I just love that she was. She just came to cross like such an empowered woman. You know, she was very strong. She's a woman of the world, like she's done her thing, but she's also so graceful and elegant and obviously nosy her own mind. So she was a really great character.

Jessica: 25:50

I thought I really know that as an absolute legend in her own life. And again, she, she's like this kind of like dichotomy of womanhood because you know, on the one hand she's really glamorous, she's really well traveled, yeah, she danced. She danced in the very same room as Queen Mary Antoinette, you know, and she's beautiful and she's like obviously like really bewitching, and on the other hand, like her son Hastings suffered from a similar complaint as George Austin, that she chose to have him with her at all times and reading from her letters it's really obvious that she was absolutely devoted to that boy, like tearing up thinking about it and, you know, broke her heart when she lost him. So, yeah, she's like, you know you can be like an amazing, glamorous, like woman and who enjoys like fletation, and you know the scandalous side of society and she did this. Letters from Jane Austen's like other cousin, really frowning about Eliza, it's really funny. But yeah, and you can also be a devoted mother and you know those three things are mutually exclusive and she's wonderful to explore in that sense. And I think, jane, you know she did live quite an isolated life socially and geographically on the one hand, but then she's also connected through people like Eliza and through her brothers who were in the Navy. She's connected to these like world events that are going on and I think that's why we her writing has this like enormous range and this like ability to be so universal, because, you know, she had those relationships and she had those ways of tapping into what was happening in her time.

Izzy: 27:39

Yes, I think a lot of people touch on this that Jane Austen by no means was oblivious to. You know things going on in the world and you can definitely, I feel like of all of her texts you can see that most of Mansfield Park, like there's just so much in that book that just shows that she did know what was going on in all kinds of different things you know. So, yeah, I think that's important to look at for sure. And I love what you said as well about like Eliza. You know she was this kind of you know she was devoted to her son and being a mom was so important to her and she had like this whole life in her own right as well. That was like separate to her family life. But I think it's nice to kind of showcase these women that did have these driving forces. You know, if Austin, it was her work for Eliza you know it's her son and just like making sure she has the best life you can possibly have, and yeah, I think that's that's just like really lovely to see. And then the fact that they can come together. You know like Eliza is the one that works the most with Jane. You know they come together and they're like. You need to figure this out.

Jessica: 28:36

So that was really good. And everything I read about Henry Austin says he was an out and out fox. I mean, he's just. You know, he's a legend.

Izzy: 28:45

Literally, that was like the vibe I was getting. I thought it was so funny, though, like yeah, and also I think it's really interesting because you can read like people in her life and you can see elements of them in her characters which I feel like so, so interesting as well, Obviously because you know you take inspiration for your own life, don't? You in society and your, the people in your life, they're the ones that are going to inspire the characters.

Jessica: 29:11

Yeah, yeah, and Eliza is often said to be the inspiration for Mary. But and then some people are like, no, austin would never have pilloried her sister in law and because at the time when she was writing Mansfield Park, eliza was dying and Austin was with her when she died. They were so close. But like I love Mary Crawford. Like did she have her flaws? But I love her. And every time I read Mansfield Park for the first half I'm convinced she's the heroine. And then it starts to turn and you realize that you know it's fanny story, but yeah, there's a lot to love. I think about Mary Crawford.

Izzy: 29:50

I thought that I dislike about Edmunds, so I actually think it's a redemption art that she doesn't end up as yeah, yeah, who would wish for that? And no, literally I feel like she gets lucky escape. Really she gets a happy ending Mary does, which is funny. I'd love to know as well was there anyone or any topic that was particularly hard for you to research or get the information on?

Jessica: 30:11

So I think the probably the hardest thing was to make sure that I'd got all the details right in terms of the legal system at the time and how that would work and what the penalties would be and how an investigator would go around investigating a case like this, because it's so different from the way that we think about crime and the way that we would investigate crime. So this led to some really funny conversations with my editor. So the Georgians were like very much more spiritual than us and they didn't have any kind of idea of forensic science. So when the milliner is found murdered we might expect everyone to kind of clear the crime scene and leave her body alone and don't change anything and look for physical clues. But they didn't really have that approach. So what I did was I looked at real crimes and how they were investigated and there was a really famous serial killing case in London in the very early 19th century called the Ratcliffe Highway murders and how the police dealt with that. Well, they weren't police. So how the kind of authorities dealt with that is they thought that by inviting people in the area to come and view the body they might be able to guess or kind of communicate with the corpse or the spirit of these murder victims and tell them what was going on.

Izzy: 31:41

Oh my.

Jessica: 31:42

God. Yeah, it was a really awful case. It was a young family like a husband and wife and their baby who was murdered. So the police put them in their beds. So they, like you know, trampled all over the crime scene, put these victims in their beds, laid them out and literally invited everybody in the area to traipse through the house, look at the bodies and try and guess or, like you know, give some kind of indication as to what might have happened. So I then have my magistrate do something similar in terms of moving the body and inviting the whole county and Jane goes to see the body and start thinking like, is this really the right way to go about investigating a murder? So that probably took the most research for me to kind of make the how the crime was dealt with by the authorities as realistic as it would have been for the time and to make that believable as well. Because the first thing my editor said was like this is this is, you know, wild? Nobody would do this. No, no, no, really really. And then I have to explain why and make it believable why.

Izzy: 32:46

Yeah, yeah, definitely. And I suppose something that's touched on as well is if you're a magistrate at this time period, that doesn't necessarily mean you've got any skills or experience in that area. No, just kind of picked out society. You'll be good for this job.

Jessica: 32:59

Yeah, yeah, you, basically you own like a certain amount of land and you know only men can own, you know mostly men can own that kind of land. Only men can can really be magistrates. And yeah, it doesn't have anything to do with their legal training, it's just you know their landowners, pillars of society and therefore, well, put them in charge and leave it to them to keep pace.

Izzy: 33:22

So yeah, yes, and I feel like, yeah, that really came through. And I think that came through a lot of characters where there was sometimes these, the male characters, who kind of weren't more sympathetic about the situation and kind of they just took intuition like way out of it and they were just doing like random stuff that they thought was right. Like I think you see that a lot with Tom as well, like when he's talking about the situation, he does it from such a kind of logical standpoint this is the fact and kind of takes feeling out of it, whereas Jane balances that element of feeling and actually a practical approach.

Jessica: 34:00

Yeah, tom, LaFroy was studying to be a lawyer and obviously he goes on to be the kind of law chief justice of violence. So, yeah, he should be, in theory, the perfect person to help Jane solve this. But the law at the time was very much about property and protecting property rights. You know, that's the whole viewpoint from which the law was written was how can we protect property? It wasn't written. How can we protect women and vulnerable people? But that's why it's so hard to achieve justice and I think that's something that runs through her novels, as I said it's. You know, people can get away with these things that we would think were crimes. So you know, wickham grooming Lydia and Willoughby effectively grooming and then impregnating and abandoning Eliza in sense and sensibility, and then Eliza's mum in sense and sensibility Terrible story. Yeah, yeah. So she's like about 17 and she's an heiress and Brandon's father forces her to marry his eldest son and obviously, in marriage, all your property, your wealth, is transferred away from you, and so she's like, well, she's effectively stolen. He then abuses and then divorces her, and so she leaves her in like a poor house or something. Yeah yeah, the only way that she can support herself is by finding another man to act as a keeper. Yeah, I mean, these are effectively what we would consider today to be sexual crimes, and I think the genius of Austin is that she tells you all this in a very kind of light handed way of making it part of the story, and she brings her herans to the brink of despair and ruin and then she pulls it back, so the herans always get a happy ending. But in the process of doing that, I think she's made you quite angry about the way that the law treats women, and I think is that rage is really powerful and it's a way of inspiring change.

Izzy: 36:11

Yes, yes, fantastic, absolutely. I think she has a real knack as well for, in a sense, discarding some of her female characters, that they suffer and they disappear. I wrote a lot about this in the past, actually, especially female characters that you never hear anything from, you only hear about them, people like Mary King, and obviously you've got that whole within situation. People like Anderberg, who's this sickly character that you only talk of, you never hear her own voice, and how a lot of women were kind of used as pawns in society, and I think she just touch on it only to be like, okay, we're back to our heroin story. These are actual things that are going on. These are actual problems. I'm not going to, you know, ram it down your throat because nobody wants to read that, but it's like it makes you think at the same time and you're like, hmm, that's interesting.

Jessica: 36:59

Absolutely. She's showing you exactly how the world works and you can't help but feel you know angry about that and want things to change and wonder what happened to those like Mary King's, those Anderberg's and those Eliza's? You know, you have to wonder.

Izzy: 37:16

Yeah, yeah, definitely, oh, I love that so much, so I'm just like trying to. We've got so much here. I'm loving it, just like all the boys. So obviously you're on a bit of a mission now, because when I finished reading up the book, there was an extract for your next book. So this one's not even out yet, and the other ones, the other ones on a roll, so I love that. You open the floodgates, is that?

Jessica: 37:42

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I'm editing that at the moment, yeah, so, so when I was thinking about how the series would work, there was so much that I wanted to say about Jane Austen that I kind of thought like how would her character define her, how would her character develop through a series? And, as I said, like they're not retellings but they kind of shallow shadow books looking at the same themes. So, and I'm trying to go through them in the order that I read them, which I thought was the order that she wrote them, but I don't think it is. So the next one is kind of a shadow book to sense and sensibility, and I've written the first draft and I'm editing that at the moment. So, yeah, I wanted to be able to really focus on a particular instant in her life and look at the relationships around her. So this next one, jane goes to Kent to look after Neddie, her wealthy brother's children, for the summer. So it's about her relationship with him. So when she gets there, she discovers that Mrs Knight, neddie's adoptive mother, has taken in a young woman who's claiming to be a foreign princess, who's been kidnapped by pirates and like her to ransom, and she has to then work out how she's going to stop this interloper from stealing the inheritance which all of the Austins have come to rely on. So, you know, neddie's future was so bright and now this woman is, you know, working her way in with Mrs Knight and she's a big threat, and Jane has to work out what's really happening in order to save them.

Izzy: 39:14

Oh my goodness, how exciting. Oh my gosh, wow, yeah, I love that. That sounds amazing. Was the process of getting published? Was that at all a difficulty? Because I know there's a lot of people listening who you know are writing and it's like how do you get from one step to the other? What was your process like when you were, you were transition to come in published.

Jessica: 39:34

So it's all about persistence, I'd say so. I think I spent a long time being a bit afraid of my own ambition and kind of like writing in secret and not sharing it and yada yada. And then, when the pandemic hit, I think I just kind of went to the things that brought me comfort and I decided to really build up a network, a support network, around myself. So I did lots of online courses. I made friends with lots of other writers over social media and they've really helped and supported me and I really really educated myself about how the publishing process and the query process works through that. So definitely don't kind of like hide your light. You know, put yourself out there, do courses, learn about the way things works. So this is by no means the first novel I've ever written. I think it's like the fourth or the fifth and I'd queried over novels and I knew in me. And querying is when you have a look at which agents that you think would would be great at representing you or might be interested in you, and you send out like a query letter and the first three chapters and a synopsis usually which like covers the story. And I've done that a few times before and I've got a little bit of positive feedback or mostly just silence, which is awful. So you know, your worst fear is that everyone's going to say no, and it's even worse when there's just nothing. So I'm really inspired by Austin. I just kind of like I'm going to wear that and try to enjoy the writing process itself and write something which you know I enjoyed writing, which was a treat to write, which was fun to write, and then so this was like, I think, the third novel that I sent out and I knew that something was different because I started to get not just silence but kind of no, but you know, maybe if you change this and maybe if you change that. And then I started to get people reading the whole thing. And then I knew when people, when agents like, recommend to read the whole thing, then people say that you have to contact your dream agent. So I did that and, amazingly, within 24 hours she got back to me and asked to read the whole thing and within a week she'd offered to represent me. And it was just amazing really. And but yeah, it's one of those like it's a whole lifetime to achieve that overnight success. So just just keep going is is my best advice Keep going. Make friends with other writers, do writing courses, get lots of feedback on your work, give lots of feedback on other people's work and just enjoy the actual doing of it.

Izzy: 42:13

Yeah, I feel like that's so amazing because often what we only see is when people succeed and, like you know, they've published and that's all comes out. So I love asking people this question, just so people know that actually takes time. You know resistance, resilience with it. Yes, it's going to be like really hard sometimes, but if it's something you're passionate about and you love it and you know it's it's what you want to do, I think it is. It's so worth sticking with, isn't it? So I love that and I love that you said it was different. So you felt something different with this one and you were just loving the process and I feel like so much in that as well. Sometimes it's not about the like, sometimes I like with the podcast and everything. It's not about looking at the stats or looking at like you guys like am I enjoying this? Do I? Does this bring me joy? Because that's the main thing, you know, yeah, yeah. And when you do enjoy it.

Jessica: 42:58

People know, you know when they're listening to you and they can hear your enthusiasm and, you know, hopefully when they're reading the book they can see like the joy that's gone into writing it. So yeah, yes. No absolutely.

Izzy: 43:11

I love that. Well, it's been absolutely amazing to chat with you. I've loved having you on this episode. Do you want to let people know where they can find you? Obviously, the book's out on the 25th of Jan. Is that just in the UK?

Jessica: 43:22

Yeah, yeah, so in the UK it's out on the 25th of Jan with Penguin Michael Joseph, and then in the US it's with Union Square Co on the 27th of February, and then in Canada it's the same date with Half-Collins, and then there'll be European and other translations coming out, like throughout the year as well. There will be an audiobook, and I'm so, so excited because the actress who we've got to read the audio is Mia McKenna-Bruce, who your listeners might know as Mary Muzzgrove from Netflix Persuasion 2022.

Izzy: 43:55

So excited. I love that and I'm you know I'm a massive on audiobooks. I love just Contrument Books and all forms, but yeah, I'm big on audiobooks, so that's so exciting that you're going to have an audiobook version of this coming out.

Jessica: 44:08

And I am Novelist Jessica on Twitter or X, and I'm Novelist Jessica Ball on Instagram and on TikTok.

Izzy: 44:16

Amazing. I will tag all of your information below as well, and all you know updates on the book and everything, so that people can find everything easily. But yeah, this has been such a pleasure. Thank you so much for coming on.

Jessica: 44:26

It's such a joy to talk to you. Thank you.

9 views0 comments


bottom of page