As the summer has deepened here in Seattle, our social life has gained more vibrancy than enjoyed in previous years. Perhaps it is simply the fact that we have found more space in our lives outside of work and family. In any event, we have been reconnecting with friends—both new and very old. This tale rises from a dinner we shared with one of the latter category.
Joining us this evening at the home of my wife’s friend and early mentor was her son and his partner. While I could devote many paragraphs to the manner in which this lady (for that she truly is, although there is not one jot of the haughtiness we in the #InspiredByAusten world associate with someone to which we apply that appellation) nurtured us in the midst of the darkest period of our lives, t’is not about her, but rather her son that makes this of interest to us.
He is an airline captain. Well, that is not exactly correct; he no longer directly works for any carriers. He did, but now he does something every air traveler can appreciate. He is a production test pilot and captain for our local aircraft manufacturing company—you know, the one that has been filling the skies with aircraft from its first Seaplane in 1917 to the current 787 Dreamliner. Yes, Boeing…and what our friend does is take up newly-finished aircraft for their maiden flights prior to delivery.
I have always been amazed that until our friend or another of his ilk takes the aircraft on that first check flight, there is no guarantee that the darn thing will fly; until they roll it down the runway and point its nose into the sky. So, I am thankful that they do what they do. If there could be someone perfectly cast as a test pilot (no, I am not going all Right Stuff here), t’would be our friend. He is about six feet tall, narrow at the hip, steel grey hair, a perpetual tan, and of incredibly calm demeanor. By his count, he has taken between 150 and 200 maiden flights in 737, 777, and 787 Dreamliners.
But, I digress.
At table, the inevitable question “And, Don, what do you do?” elicited the usual response about teaching history while also writing Pride and Prejudice variations.
At that point, all conversation came to a halt when he asked, “You know, I flew the Jane Austen 787 on her maiden flight.”
It seems that Norwegian Air constituted its international airline around the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. And, those cunning Norse decided to name the aircraft in their fleet after great persons of history. One of those is christened after our own Miss Austen.
The Jane Austen is a Boeing 787-9, the 698th 787 Dreamliner built. Her maiden flight was from Paine Field in Everett, WA on May 12, 2018. She was delivered to NA on May 22nd.
Now, please avoid snickers. Her tail number is G-CKWE. That is useful because there is this fun website which allows anyone to know where any aircraft currently in commission can be found.
As I write this, Jane Austen is on the ground at London-Gatwick, having completed her flight from Los Angeles yesterday afternoon.
I hope you enjoy the photos…and the knowledge that Jane Austen continues to soar above all of us.
One of the other projects that I have undertaken in recent months is the creation of Audible files for the various books I have written. This is a daunting undertaking! I have learned so much.
In the process, I have been forced to think in a different dimension…that of sound rather than sight. Each of my books began its life, of course, as an exercise in prose designed to be silently read. The transition from the written to the spoken word proved something to me early on…that what works well on the printed page (parenthetical phrases, for instance) may or does not work when performed aloud.
I must admit I am fortunate in that I tend to write with the sound of the words and sentences in first position. That is not meant to suggest that I do not go down the rabbit hole of the proverbial 124 word sentence. But, between me and my beta readers, we tend to eradicate the more egregious examples of the wordsmith’s night terrors.
I also have been blessed with voice actors (Amanda Berry on the Bennet Wardrobe stories and Barbara Rich on Lessers and Betters) who have the courage to send me questions that really should begin with “What were you thinking?” However, these two ladies are gracious enough to allow me the author’s conceit that I can explain myself before they gently suggest the right way.
I would like you to perform a small experiment. Below you will find an excerpt from Lizzy Bennet Meets the Countess. Many of you are familiar with this passage…when an adult Elizabeth Darcy is staying on the shores of Lake Geneva in the company of her husband as well as Lord Byron, Percy Shelley, John Polidori, Clare Claremont…and Mary Godwin. The time is a few days before the readings of the entries in the ghost story competition suggested by Byron.
Please go to the following link and click on the audio sample for Lizzy B. Consider how Ms Berry’s performance adds a completely different register to the selection from the novella. I was astonished. I imagine you will be also.
Please be sure to enter the drawing for an Audible Code to download a copy of Lizzy Bennet Meets the Countess by leaving a comment below. The contest will end at Midnight EDST on Wednesday 7/25/18. Winners will be announced on July 28, 2018.
This excerpt is © 2017 by Donald P. Jacobson. No reproduction of this excerpt in any form, written or electronic, without the written consent of the author is permitted. Published in the United States of America.
The month of June aged beyond its days. Cancer the Crab had risen to its Zenith and had begun to turn toward the Lion. Elizabeth had heard of Byron’s challenge from Mary. She had watched her friend rise to the task, but she could also see her frustration. First one day, then a sennight passed. Mary reported no particular progress even though her fingers were now perpetually ink-stained.
Over the days, their teas in Lizzy’s parlor grew quieter and quieter as Miss Godwin turned inward. She was searching for just the right story, one to make the reader dread to look round, to curdle the blood, and quicken the beatings of the heart.[i] However, she soon discovered that the creative process came not when the writer wished—or demanded—it, but rather when the ideas present in the subconscious would rise to the surface and gain life in the light of her awareness. The thoughts needed to percolate until the brew was potent enough.
The two ladies still meandered along the paths bordering the great lake. Arm in arm they would stroll, moving at a faster pace now that Lizzy’s strength had returned. They would always revolve around the villa with the end point invariably to be found at the old stone bench.
On one such occasion, after a few minutes of staring out over the waters, Lizzy reached down and grabbed Godwin’s hand.
“Mary…your fingers…you will have to scrub them forever to remove all the blacking left over from your nibs! How progresses your story? Darcy and I are anticipating judging the entries!”
Mary sadly shook her head, “Oh Elizabeth, writing fiction is so difficult. My mother simply had to observe the world and put pretty language to her analysis of the men who shaped the events. Me? I am trying to create a domain from the unformed clay. And if I were a Deity, I would be a poor one for the darkness still would be on the face of the deep.[ii]
“I have thought and pondered—vainly. I feel that blank incapability of invention that is the greatest misery of authorship, when dull Nothing replies to our anxious invocations. Have you thought of a story? I have been asked this each morning, and each morning I have been forced to reply with a mortifying negative.”[iii]
Elizabeth leaned back as she absorbed Mary’s lament. In a wry moment she entertained the idea that writing a story was not that much different from carrying a babe and giving birth. There was a great amount of tedium followed by considerable pain. That agony vanished into a cloud of joy the moment the child/story cleared its lungs with a lusty cry of righteous anger at being so rudely introduced to the world.
She turned to her friend, “Perhaps you are trying too much. You are neither Shelley nor Byron. These are men who have reached the pinnacle of their craft after thousands of hours of writing.
“Did you not tell me that Byron writes continuously and that Shelley is rarely without a notebook into which he pours his poetic sketches as they rise up in his mind?
“What is your method? You are the daughter of two literary celebrities. Surely you must have tried your hand at their employment when you were a young girl.”
Godwin considered this and then responded, “As a child I scribbled; and my favourite pastime, during the hours given me for recreation, was to “write stories.” Still I had a dearer pleasure than this, which was the formation of castles in the air—the indulging in waking dreams—the following up trains of thought, which had for their subject the formation of a succession of imaginary incidents.”[iv]
Elizabeth laughed, “Well, my dear, that is what you must do…indulge yourself in waking dreams! There are but three days before the reading. You shall need to write quickly!
“Here is my prescription for you…at table this evening, avoid all stimulating drinks—be they coffee or wine.
“After the final remove, I would suggest that you imbibe only some special herbal tea that Sloane will brew for you. Old Mrs. Hill, latterly my mother’s housekeeper in Hertfordshire, swore by it. I always pack a supply in case my sleep becomes disturbed…which has certainly been the case in recent weeks.”
With this reminder and with Mary’s ready acceptance of Lizzy’s directives, the two ladies moved back into the villa to prepare for dinner.
[i] Italicized words are Mary Shelley’s own, Introduction (para. 8) to the 1831 edition of Frankenstein https://www.rc.umd.edu/editions/frankenstein/1831v1/intro accessed 9/11/17.
[ii] Slightly modified for tense Genesis 1:2
[iii] Mary Shelley’s own words from the Introduction (para. 8) to the 1831edition of Frankenstein.
[iv] Mary Shelley’s own words from the Introduction (para. 2) to the 1831edition of Frankenstein.