The Jane Austen Writer's Club by Rebecca Smith
Our reviewer, Harriet Smith, discovers that many Janeites harbour a love for creative writing. Rebecca Smith, author of The Jane Austen Writer's Club and five-times-great-niece to Jane Austen provides extracts, quotes and snippets to guide you through the creative writing process.
For some reason or other, many Janeites also harbour a love for creative writing. If you are one of these people, this book is pretty much your dream combination.There are many books about creative writing on the market, but the way that Jane Austen’s five-times-great-niece, Rebecca Smith, uses Jane’s work puts this high on the list – particularly for Jane fans. Using extracts from Austen’s novels throughout her book, Smith utilises quotes and snippets to illustrate lessons we can learn from Jane’s work. She also uses pieces of Jane’s writing that we may not have read before, for example, Jane’s Plan of a Novel written in a correspondence and various letters are used alongside novel extracts.
One of the problems I have had with creative writing books in the past is that they can be a little boring. This book manages to avoid this. Rebecca Smith’s tone is light and approachable without sacrificing the quality of the advice she is giving. The Independent says that ‘Smith shares Jane Austen's clarity and gentle irony’, and it’s impossible to disagree with this. The explanatory paragraphs between her quotes and exercises are never boring and always clear, which is exactly what is needed from a book which aims to teach and advise. The only criticism I would have for people who aren’t avid Austen fans is that some of the quotes are quite long – but for lovers of Jane’s work, this act more as a plus than a minus.
Exercises are varied, imaginative, and prompt interesting writing. Some examples include ‘write a scene which involves a character in public or shared space. What conflicts, feuds, romances or friendships will arise?’ and ‘send a character out wearing something they have no choice about’. Smith also dedicates space to talking about humour and irony in Jane’s work. These were some of my favourite sections as these areas are often left out of other books on creative writing, but are so relevant, particularly in writing for a modern audience.
Even if you are not a creative writer yourself, this book is still a revealing read as it takes apart the ways in which Jane’s work functions. From point of view to the ways villages are set up to drive plot forwards, no matter how many times you have read Jane’s novels, I’d be surprised if you didn’t take something new from this book. At the back of the book there is a helpful timeline of Jane’s life, as well as references, useful websites and blogs on Jane Austen, and a list of Smith’s own favourite books on creative writing.
This book is also beautifully illustrated, both on the front cover and throughout. It manages to look modern whilst maintaining the elegance of the Austen era. I would recommend this book to any Janeite with an interest in creative writing, and those who are interested in the mechanics of Jane’s work.
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