Harvest Moon at Eyre Hall #amwriting #HistoricalFiction #JaneEyre

I have some important news for readers who enjoyed the Eyre Hall Trilogy and for future readers too, of course!

I’m writing a prequel, which takes place at Eyre Hall on and around the early September, 1865, during the Harvest Moon, thus its title, Harvest Moon at Eyre Hall.

Photo by Larisa K on https://pixabay.com/es/

I chose this moment and this title because it takes place roughly two months before Halloween, which is the setting for book one, All Hallows at Eyre Hall. Significant events in all four novels take place on and around the ancient, time-honoured festivals in their titles. I’ve harnessed the power of traditions and rituals in literature and life to shape our world view and bond societies, but more about that in a future post.  

It sounds strange, I know, a prequel to a sequel, so, I think I should briefly explain why I’m so excited about this new project.

It’s not exactly new, because I started jotting down ideas and planning over a year ago. In fact, I’ve done most of the outlining (yes, I’m a plotter, not a pantser and I’ll tell you why in a minute!), and the characters are already there, as they are the same as the first novel in the trilogy, All Hallows at Eyre Hall.  

Now let me tell you about my reasons for writing a prequel, because there is more than one.

In the first place, book one, which is over 112,000 words long, is too long for a first novel in a series, compared to other trilogies. Most editors suggest novels should be are between 70,000 and 100,000 words, in fact, the shorter the better, and as a reader, I tend to agree. My second and third novels in the trilogy, Twelfth Night at Eyre Hall and Midsummer at Eyre Hall are both well within that number at around 80,000 words each.

Secondly, I’ve learnt so many things along the way, that it seems a pity not to prepare a second, revised edition of my first novel, which will be a little shorter, but worry not! None of the plot, action or characters will be missing, because I’ll be including the removed scenes in the prequel.

However there will be some words I’ll be doing away with, because I’ll be tightening the prose, something I’ve learned to do in the last seven years since I started my career as a writer. Unfortunately, I used to ramble, a bit, and although the tendency is still there, I have since made a conscious effort to curb that inclination and edit very carefully.

To be honest, when I wrote All Hallows at Eyre Hall, I didn’t know what I was doing as an author. I thought because I’d read and analysed thousands of books for my profession (I was an English language and literature teacher for over 30 years) and for pleasure (I’ve been an avid reader since the age of twelve!) that I knew how to write a novel. So, I did what Stephen King, and many other experts on the matter recommend, I sat down and wrote with an idea to write a sequel to Jane Eyre (and here’s why), but no specific plan.

Pantsing was a wonderful experience, my characters grew a life of their own and I set off on a creative and thrilling  journey into Victorian England. I researched and wrote so much that I realised one novel wouldn’t be enough, and on the other hand, I was also getting into a rut. I discovered, the hard way, that not knowing where you’re going is exciting, at first, but when you have the constraints of time and space you really have to put an end to the wandering and start planning the journey or you’ll never get home on time!

That was when I stopped pantsing and started planning ahead. I read blogs and books on structure, plotting and story arcs, I took an online course, analysed some novels with this in mind, and then I sat down to plan my own way of outlining. I wrote this post about my plotting process some time ago, but I need to write another post on the subject, because although that’s what I did a few years ago, and it is similar to my present process, since then, I’ve adapted, decluttered and simplified my plotting method (more about that in another post).

So, I’m making All Hallows a little shorter and a little better. You’re probably wondering what the prequel’s all about. Will it just have the missing bits in book one? Not at all, it’s a complete novel which I’m really excited about writing.

In All Hallows, Mr. Rochester is on his death bed, more or less delirious, bad-tempered and very unattractive. I was very hard on him and I still stand by that interpretation of his character, based on his actions, omissions and lies in Jane Eyre, but some of my readers had difficulty coming to terms with this ‘unromantic’ and villainous Rochester.

I had presumed any reader who had read Wide Sargasso Sea (see this post about this prequel to Jane Eyre by Jean Rhys), and reread Jane Eyre, would have read between the lines and realised Rochester was totally unworthy of Jane, but it took me years to come to that conclusion and my readers only have the few hours it takes to read my novel. So, I’m making amends with a prequel.

In Harvest Moon at Eyre Hall, Rochester is not yet on his deathbed, and I’ll try harder, (I have another three hundred pages, so I think I’ll manage it!) to convey what’s been happening in Jane and Rochester’s lives and how their marriage has eroded over the previous twenty-two years.

There’s a long process ahead which I’ll be sharing with occasional updates, and hopefully Harvest Moon at Eyre Hall and a revised edition of All Hallows, as well as a box set of the four novels in The Eyre Hall Trilogy, will be published before the next year’s Harvest Moon.

Over the next few months as we’ll all be coping with the Covid epidemic, we’ll be staying at home and more than ever, and although I wish the worry and suffering it is causing all of us were over, I will be making use of the quiet time ahead by reading, reflecting and writing.

By the way, just in case you were wondering, The Eyre Hall Trilogy is not the sad story of a failed marriage, it has plenty of action, romance, suspense, engaging characters and twists and turns. There are some dark aspects and a few nasty villains, but overall it’s an exciting story set in Victorian England.

Stay safe and happy Friday!

(I have some more publishing news, but I’ll leave that for another post).

Why Read Neo-Victorian Novels Instead of real Victorian Novels?

In this post, which is a follow-up to yesterday’s post which proposes a description and definition of what neo-Victorian fiction is, I’d like to discuss what’s the point of reading neo-Victorian novels in the first place. Why not read the real thing?

I hope that many of my readers have read or will read some real Victorian fiction at some point in their lives, because it’s like taking a walk in the past in a guided tour by some of the most privileged minds of the times. Who could let that opportunity slip by?

On the other hand, I’m well aware that most readers aren’t going to read ‘real’ Victorian fiction, which was written 200 years ago, and these are some of the reasons why:  

Victorian novels are too long for modern tastes and often dwell generously on details which will often exasperate the modern, and often impatient reader. It takes a lot of dedication to read a dense, three volume novel, when you have tons of things to do and need to wind down after a hard day at work, after coping with a family and daily chores.

Contemporary novels are shorter and use economical prose. There are hundreds of articles and editors telling writers, for example, to use adverbs and adjectives sparingly, something no-one ever told Victorian writers! Many of us try to follow Vonnegut’s maxim:Time quote

 

These are our maxims today, and it’s what most readers want. Tell me your story as efficiently and beautifully as possible, but don’t waste my time. Show me what you want me to see, don’t tell me. None of this fits in with Victorian writing style, so it’s understandably tough for a modern reader.

 

Quote 2

Victorian novels were naturally written for a Victorian audience. They knew what they ate, how they obtained their products, what they wore, what their routines were like, why they used candles and lived amidst shadows and darkness, how a message could take a month to arrive, and how a 50 mile journey would take a whole day by horse and carriage, or over two  hours by steam train. All these, and plenty more facts, are so obvious, they’re ignored, and the modern reader can easily get lost, bored, or frustrated.  

Neo-Victorian writers have to make sure, subtly, that modern readers understand and appreciate that life was slow, dark, extremely tough, and unsafe. A badly healed cut, a flu, or a hungry thief could kill you, not to mention cholera, smallpox, or rampant venereal diseases. Clothes were so heavy and complex to put on, due to the laces, strings, ribbons, and layers, that time and help were needed to get dressed. That there were no antibiotics, dentists, electric lights, or bathrooms, and that most people, including children worked from dusk to dawn, and ate plenty of stale bread and drank watered down ale.

Life was hard, look at these pictures of Dickens and Lord Tennyson in their twenties and in their fifties! Check out any other prominent Victorians and you’ll see how old and tired they looked in their forties and fifties.

 

Imagen1

Finally, the contemporary writer has one great and undeniable advantage over the Victorians themselves. They had a lack of perspective of their own times that we have gained over the past 200 years. We can observe them in hindsight in their glory and their misery. We can stand back and understand and appreciate their struggle and their message in the bigger picture and transmit a more global, albeit biased, picture of their lives.

The obvious disadvantage is that we will be comparing them to us, which is unfair and biased, we must look at them from a distance, but we must make sure we are walking in their shoes as we do so.

In summary, reading Victorian fiction is like watching a black and white movie or photo, like the one above, it has a unique beauty, attraction, and value, but too much of it can tire a modern audience.

The pace, style, and richness of language are often unappealing to a contemporary audience, because it has become fixed, whereas neo-Victorian prose is alive and adapted to the taste and needs of a modern audience.

Do you read Victorian fiction? If so why?

Can you think of other reasons why contemporary readers struggle with Victorian fiction?

Have you read neo-Victorian fiction?

I’d love to know what you think.

 

What is Neo-Victorian Fiction?

As I consider myself a writer of neo-Victorian fiction, I thought I’d clarify the meaning for readers, students and scholars who are interested in the term.

Neo-Victorianism is a compound noun formed by the following two terms, ‘Neo’ and ‘Victorian’.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the prefix neo refers to: a compound referring to a new, revived, or modified form of some doctrine, belief, practice, language, artistic style, etc.

Ironically, according to the Online Etymological Dictionary, the word ‘neo’ as prefix, was first used in Victorian times, in 1880.

The term Victorian isn’t as straightforward as it seems. It can refer to the period of Queen Victoria’s life (1819-1901) or her reign (1837-1901). It can also refer to the 19th century in general, and some historians consider it spans from the French Revolution in 1789 until the beginning of World War I in 1914.

It is an enormous amount of time, so many divide it into ‘early period’, ‘the Height of the Victorian Era’, or ‘The Mid-Victorian Period’ (1848-1870), which was the greatest period of economic prosperity and growth of the Empire, and the ‘late Victorian period’.

Neo-Victorian is a relatively new term, Neo-Victorian Studies journal, was first published in 2008. According to Marie-Luise Kohlke, founding editor of the Journal of Neo-Victorian Studies, Neo-Victorianism is “the afterlife of the nineteenth century in the cultural imaginary.

So, a loose definition would be that the term Neo-Victorian refers to contemporary re-engagement, reimagining or artistic revival, of everything related to the Victorian era, such as fashion, history, art forms, famous and infamous people, literature, including authors, novels, and characters.

Most contemporary views of Victoriansim have been and are largely derived from fictional narratives and their film and television adaptations. So let’s have a look at some examples of  Victorian literature and culture mediated through neo-Victorian representations such as:

Cartoons and children’s films such as Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, A Christmas Carol

BBC adaptations of the works of Dickens, Austen, Thackeray, Hardy, Mrs. Gaskell, George Elliot.

Films such as Sherlock Holmes, Jane Eyre, Great Expectations, Wuthering Heights.

Novels: Sarah Waters, Fingersmith, A.S. Byatt Possession are my favourites.

Characteristics of Victorian Novels.

Let’s look back at Victorian novels before returning to neo-Victorian fiction.

The world was rapidly changing in Victorian England, and so were people’s views of themselves and how they should interact with this evolving world.

The major changes were bought by the growth of the population due to expansion and colonization, the growth of the working classes and the advances in science and technology.

Steam power, improved forms of transport, more jobs in factories and cities, scientific knowledge, improved many aspects of their lives, but also brought new problems such as overcrowding, increased poverty and crime.

The growing working classes required more social investment in education, health, and housing. Women were becoming more independent and demanding equal rights.

 

A new philosophy, Utilitarianism, advocated by John Stuart Mill was concerned with the promotion of happiness and wellbeing of the majority of the population, instead of the elite. More egalitarian and ethical modes of thinking led to increased social awareness.

As a result, the themes which interested the Victorians were:

Ethical: Right and Wrong / Good versus evil, which can be exemplified in Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll Mr. Hyde

Industrialisation and progress: Class and Social issues such as prostitution, orphans, wages, living conditions, education, workhouses, addiction. These themes are prominent in Dickens.

Science versus religion and/or superstition. This can be seen in their interest in science Fiction and detailed and systematic crime fiction such as Sherlock Holmes.

Women and their role in society also figure prominently in literature as authors and main characters in novels.

However writers hadn’t abandoned Gothic, Fantasy, and Romance. Literature as a purely aesthetic endeavour providing pleasure and entertainment was also present.

The Victorians wrote about love and life and the torments and pleasures of loving and living. Their characters, stories and themes are still relevant and exciting for modern audiences as we have seen. So what did they write about? Well, they wrote about everything and anything.

You name the genre, they wrote about it first:

Detective fiction: Sherlock Holmes by Conan Doyle

Vampire novels: Bram Stoker’s Dracula

Dystopian: H. G. Wells The Time Machine, Trollope The Fixed Period

Fantasy: George MacDonald The Princess and the Goblin, the precursor of Tolkien / C. S. Lewis

Romance: Wuthering Heights Emily Bronte

Sensation Novel: Mary Braddon’s Lady Audley’s Secret. The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins.

Comedy: Dickens, G. K. Chesterton, Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde,

Social criticism: child labour, work houses, especially in Dickens’ Oliver Twist

Prostitution: Jenny a long poem by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Drug addiction: Thomas de Quincy’s Confessions of an Opium Eater

Erotic: The Romance of Lust, by Anonymous, The Pearl is a collection of erotic tales, rhymes, songs and parodies in magazine form that were published in London between 1879 to 1880.

Paranormal: The Picture of Dorian Grey by Oscar Wilde.

Adventure: Treasure Island by R. L. Stevenson

History: Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe

Science Fiction: H. G. Wells The War of the Worlds

Travel: Around the World in 80 Days, Kipling’s Jungle Book

War:  Kipling’s Soldiers Three

Poetry: Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Christina Rossetti, Tennyson, Wordsworth, Byron, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Robert Browning.

Short Story: Dickens, Wilkie Collins, Thomas Hardy all wrote short fiction.

Theatre: Oscar Wilde, G. B. Shaw

Musicals: Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic operas, and music hall was also a popular form of entertainment.

The Victorians were avid readers. The number of readers was expanding. Even those who couldn’t read, read by listening to public or private readings. Reading aloud was a Victorian form of entertainment. Dickens gave many public readings of his work and reading aloud was a popular pastime for families.

Many novels were serialized and some were sold as magazines. Most of them were later printed into three volumes, also called triple deckers. Many were lent through the lending libraries.

‘Penny bloods’, which came to be known as penny dreadfuls was the name for booklets which told stories of adventure, such as gothic tales, pirates and highwaymen, and crime. They were published weekly with illustrations.

What is a Neo-Victorian novel?

Fiction written by a contemporary author which employs Victorian settings and/or styles to self-reflexively invoke the Victorian era for the present.

BUT

The aim is not simply to set a novel in the Victorian era due to nostalgia. There must be something more than an aesthetic or historic recreation.

In other words, fiction that is consciously and purposefully set in the Victorian era in order to reinterpret, rediscover, or make a statement concerning one or more aspects of Victorian literature and transmitting these findings, or conclusions to a contemporary audience.

Neo-Victorian novels have a specific and conscious aim to put forward an argument about Victorian culture and literature, which the author considers has a message or relevance for a contemporary audience.

Many of the neo-Victorian writers could also be called Postcolonial. Some have considered that Victorian authors and their works represented the mainstream or traditional Victorian society, which supported Colonialism and the Empire either implicitly or explicitly.

They could also be called Feminist because their aim is to discuss, raise awareness, and promote equal rights and opportunities for women in all walks of life, especially in education and employment. More on Feminism in Victorian Literature in this post: https://lucciagray.com/2014/03/24/the-madwoman-in-the-attic-part-i/ and

These writers are writing back to their imperialist forefathers. So for example, Jean Rhys in Wide Sargasso Sea is both Postcolonial, neo-Victorian and Feminist.

Jean Rhys writes back to Charlotte Bronte by reimagining Bertha Mason’s life before during and after she married Mr. Rochester. Rhys takes a Creole woman, who was a minor character from the colonies, without a voice. Bertha had no rights in England. Rhys reinvented her life and gave her a voice and the central role in the novel, which brings us to why I wrote The Eyre Hall Trilogy, but more about that in my next post.

It’s an ample topic and I’ve skimmed through, but if you have any ideas or suggestions, let me know.

In my next post I’ll tell you why I write neo-Victorian fiction and I’ll discuss What’s the point of Reading Neo-Victorian Novels instead of reading the real thing.