Hi, so introduce yourself
Hi, I’m Melanie Kerr and aside from being a writer, I am a mother of 2 young boys, a lawyer and a definite Anglophile. In university I studied linguistics, English and theatre before coming to law. I live in Edmonton, in Canada, where I dream of England’s green hills and stone cottages, and force my friends to drink out of china tea cups and eat cucumber sandwiches.
Tell us about your current story. What’s it about and where can we get it?
Follies Past is a Prequel to Jane Austen’s beloved Pride and Prejudice. In that book, everything hinges on a letter which Mr. Darcy gives Elizabeth – a letter setting forth all his dealings with Mr. Wickham. This history at the heart of Follies Past. The novel begins at Pemberley, at Christmas, almost a year before the opening of Pride and Prejudice. It follows young Georgiana Darcy to London, to Ramsgate and to the brink of a perilous elopement.
It is written in the language of the period, and employs as many techniques and conventions as I could identify to make it feel like a real extension of Austen’s work, which is what I would want to read as a long-time Austen fan.
Have you got anything else in the pipeline?
I am cooking a few stories in my mind, but nothing that has materialized into actual sentences yet. I would like to write some more Jane Austen prequels, as they so enjoyable to write and this one received a very positive response. I might take on Sense and Sensibility next, but it won’t come out for a while.
How did you start writing? Why do you continue?
Two years ago, I was given a book, called How to Write a Sentence [by Stanley Fish – here] and in it the author proposes that, as a painter should love paint itself, so a writer must love sentences. I realized when I read this that I must be a writer. A well-made sentence thrills me with its beauty as much as any masterpiece in any other medium. Once I took on a large writing project, I could not get enough of it.
I am a working mother. I have no time to write a novel, yet miraculously I have done so. People always ask me when I wrote it. I answer that I am a junkie, and a junkie will always find a way. I will sell my soul for a few hours with my word processor.
For many years I wanted to be an actress, but like so many before me, I gave up and wrote the LSAT. Now, I find myself contemplating the other cliché – of quitting a lucrative legal practice to pursue my dream of being a writer. It may be that I was only able to write my book because I was not supposed to be doing it. I have children to raise, a house to keep and work to do, yet I have begged, borrowed and stolen every moment I could in order to create this piece of art. If my book is successful and I am able to devote myself full time to writing, maybe I will not be so driven, but find myself procrastinating from writing by cleaning the house and spending time with my kids. I hope I get the chance to find out.
Where do you get your inspiration?
One of the great things about Jane Austen’s storytelling is the way she ties everything up into a deeply satisfying ending. We all want the books to go on and on, but extending the characters and the plot after the final chapter felt to me like interfering with that perfect ending. And it would all have to be speculative. Nobody knows what happens after the close of a book, but Jane Austen herself tells us what happened before Pride and Prejudice.
I thought if I extended the story backwards in time, I would be able to explore more of her world, spend more time with her characters and create the experience I longed for as a reader, but without offending anyone’s ideas about what might have happened. Everyone ends up exactly as they are at the start of P&P. Also, I love the history of things. I love the depth that a prequel can give to an original story, not that P&P needs anything from me, but just to expand on the back-story, to delve into the history, felt really exciting.
The book also contains a story of its own, to create the arc and structure of a Jane Austen novel, the kind of plot that I, myself, like to read. Because everyone knows how the Wickham and Georgiana story ends, I have woven it with another story with some mystery and drama to keep the pages turning.
Is there anyone you’d like to work with?
I have many times said that I would love to have my work adapted for the screen. I am a huge fan of period dramas. I will watch pretty much anything with costumes. Of course, I would have Andrew Davies write the screenplay for Follies Past. There are a myriad English actors I would love to get the chance even just to meet. To work with any of them would be the dream of a lifetime. I could go on and on, but just off the top of my head, I would say Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Emily Watson, Julie Walters, Hugh Laurie (who will always be Prince George to me), Anna Chancellor, Matthew McFadyen and so, so many more.
Traditional Publishing or self publishing? Would you recommend it to someone else?
I chose to do self-publishing because the publishing side of things really appealed to me. I had a lot of ideas, and I wanted to have a go at it myself. I made my own trailers, with actors and costumes, and that was a lot of fun. I organized my own book launch and have been doing my own promotion, with some help from a hired publicist. I have been able to get quite a few reviews from book bloggers, and from a certain perspective have been doing quite well. The book has been very well received. On the other hand, I have not been able to get any coverage from traditional media, and getting distribution in actual stores means contacting each store individually and setting up a consignment sales arrangement. Essentially, there is a lot of work to do, and given that I am new to this game, I am figuring it all out as I go, and at each step realizing I could have done it much better.
Self-publishing is rewarding, because everything I achieve, I have achieved myself. And I don’t have to split the profits with anyone. But I also have 2 small children, and a legal career to keep on top of, so it feels overwhelming sometimes. In a way, I am glad I have done it myself this time, but I will probably look for a traditional publisher the next time around. I will know first-hand how much work they are putting into my book, and appreciate what they are able to do for me that I couldn’t do on my own. Also, I will have had some experience myself and some understanding of the business, and be that much more confident and informed in our working relationship.
Where can we find you on the internet?
This is a list of links for all the places where people can find Follies Past:
Createspace link (order paperback of Follies Past): https://www.createspace.com/4524790
Youtube (watch book trailers): https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCIn1Mil6l-w4f3pPD9wm6WA
Goodreads link: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18993650-follies-past