Writing an Austen Variation or Continuation, by Catherine Bilson

Writing an Austen Variation or Continuation, by Catherine Bilson

For me, writing a fiction story, whether it’s JAFF, fanfiction for a different universe (I also write Marvel fanfic!) or an original with your own characters, always begins with the question “What if?”

What if THIS happened? What if there was a girl who discovered her father was a fallen angel? What if a couple got shipwrecked on a tropical island together? What if there was a vintage elevator which developed an ability to matchmaker and decided to break down whenever a likely couple were alone inside?

What if Elizabeth bowed to pressure from Mrs Bennet and accepted Mr Collins’ proposal?

What if Wickham compromised Lydia before leaving Meryton?

What if Lady Catherine saw which way the wind was blowing and tried to poison Elizabeth at Rosings… but ended up putting the poison in the wrong cup?

(These are stories I haven’t written, but I rather like the last idea. As long as it was Lady Catherine’s or Mr Collins’ cup which got poisoned, anyway!)

If you’re considering writing a story of your own, what if is always the most important question. Start with a what if, and every time you get stuck or wonder what should happen next, sit back and ask yourself a few more what ifs.

(Sometimes the story doesn’t lead anywhere. There are several free short reads on my website which petered out very quickly because the what if led directly to a happy ending).

 

In my book Infamous Relations, I began with the question “What if Mr Collins failed to control his lustful feelings toward Elizabeth?”

When I watch the 1995 BBC adaptation – something I do at least once a year – I’m always struck by how well David Bamber portrayed Mr Collins’ thwarted lust. Even at Hunsford, his malice toward Elizabeth was clear, and I very much had this in mind when I started Infamous Relations with Mr Collins finally losing his grip and asking Elizabeth to be his mistress while trying to sexually assault her. This occurs while Elizabeth is already in enormous emotional distress… but before she has had the opportunity to read Darcy’s letter.

It was a difficult and confronting scene to write, but as one Amazon review said “It was over in a moment and the rest of the story was of our main characters trying to figure out who the culprit was”.

For, you see, Elizabeth spends much of the first part of the story unconscious. After fleeing Mr Collins into a rainstorm, she runs towards Rosings and (she hopes) safety, only to suffer an accident on the way and hits her head. Even when she awakens, her memory is partially damaged, and she does not know who perpetrated the attack which left her dress torn and bruises on her bosom.

Of course Darcy is incredibly distraught, not realizing he himself is under suspicion as one of Elizabeth’s potential attackers as Colonel Fitzwilliam and Charlotte investigate.

Jane’s arrival stirs things up further. I received some criticism for the way I portrayed Jane in this book – there is a very memorable scene where, under the incorrect impression Darcy was Elizabeth’s attacker, she steps up and slaps him – but again, I was asking myself what if. Even the gentlest house cat can turn into a tigress if her kittens are threatened, and I firmly believe that Jane’s reaction was entirely consistent. Jane and Elizabeth are close and loving sisters; Elizabeth’s defence of Jane and her anger at Bingley’s defection show that. What happened to Elizabeth is almost as bad as it could possibly be, and Jane finding a hidden well of rage doesn’t seem to me unlikely at all.

I call it the Jane the Valkyrie scene. Witnessed by Colonel Fitzwilliam, who rather falls in love with her at first sight, I think it’s my favourite scene I’ve ever written, and I’d like to share an excerpt with you here.

 

The door opened, and the Colonel turned, but it was not Mrs Collins who walked in. It was a tall, stunningly beautiful blonde lady who spared him a single dismissive glance – he had been given the cut direct less thoroughly by duchesses! – walked across the room to Darcy, drew back her arm and slapped him as hard as she possibly could across the face.

Darcy’s head snapped to one side with the force of the blow, and then he looked back at the blonde beauty – Fitzwilliam was already calling her Freyja, the Viking goddess of battle, in his mind – and said;

“I dare say I deserved that, Miss Bennet.”

“You dare say? You dare say! You – despicable monster!” Fitzwilliam might have expected a Valkyrie screech, but no, her voice came out soft and sweet, tremulous with tears. “I will see you suffer for this if it is the last thing I do!” She slapped him again, on the other cheek. “That is all the punishment I can give, on my poor sister’s behalf, but be assured that she is by no means unprotected!”

“Wait a minute,” Fitzwilliam moved forward. “Darcy didn’t hurt Miss Elizabeth!”

“I heard it from her own lips, sir!” the goddess turned on him.

“Wait – what?” Darcy exclaimed, bemused.

“Darcy would never seek to impose himself on a woman in such a way!” Fitzwilliam was absolutely sure of that. Darcy was too concerned for Miss Elizabeth, anyway. Only after he had already said the words did he realise that Darcy was not yet aware the extent of Elizabeth’s injuries.

What?” Darcy staggered. “Impose myself – on Miss Elizabeth – what do you mean?”

“Darcy,” Fitzwilliam sought to mitigate the damage by telling him straight, “it appears that someone may have taken advantage of Miss Elizabeth. Her injuries suggest it.”

Darcy fell to his knees, his hands coming up to his face. “No,” he choked out, “No, not her. Not Elizabeth…”

 

If you want to know what happens next, Infamous Relations is FREE in Kindle Unlimited, or just $3.99 for the ebook!

8 Responses to Writing an Austen Variation or Continuation, by Catherine Bilson

  1. What an interesting premise. I feel so badly for Elizabeth being attacked and Mr. Darcy who is under suspicion. I also liked how protective Jane is and wonders if the Colonel’s admiration for her leads to more.

  2. This looks like a fun read. I love the misunderstanding and the defense of Lizzy by Jane. Thanks for the excerpt!

  3. I never liked Mr Collins and now I know how despicable he really is! Poor Darcy, first attacked by Jane and now not knowing who attacked Elizabeth or how far the attack went.
    I hope he and the Colonel soon discover the truth and punish Mr Collins accordingly.

    • Well, you as the reader will know from the beginning what’s going on, but it’s definitely fun to watch the CHARACTERS figure it out. I introduced a doctor character who assists Charlotte and Colonel Fitzwilliam in investigating… and becomes a love interest for Charlotte too!

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