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  • Writer's pictureCatriona Ross

Jane Austen made me do it

‘Darling Cattie – may the inspiration of this little writing table be with you in all your life and may all your dreams come true this year. With much love, Mode.’ This message was sent on a postcard by my mother some years ago, after she had visited Jane’s house in Chawton, Hampshire. She knew the picture of Jane Austen’s writing table, with a first edition Pride and Prejudice upon it, would appeal to me.

It did more than that. A whole lot more. You see, I’d had my first novel published a few years previously and had a new novel knocking around in my head, but something was holding me back. As it turned out, the image of Jane’s table and chair was the key that unlocked me. Why was I making the writing of a book so complicated, I asked myself. If Jane Austen could write her novels with nothing more than that side table, a chair, quill pen and paper (and her fabulous self, of course), then so could I. I had everything I needed. Novel-writing can lure you into complex, insecure places in your mind, but it’s actually simple. Sit. Write. Sleep. Wake up. Repeat. That’s how you get a book written.

Then I had an even better idea. (It was so delicious it kept me up for a few nights.) I decided I wanted to be in a Jane Austen romance myself, so I started drafting a novel about a young aspirant writer (a fictionalised version of me) who’s trying to both write a novel and find love. I’d use the structure of a writing course in the story, weaving in some of the novel-writing advice I’d gleaned during my MA in Creative Writing at the University of Cape Town. My novel would be a modern love story inspired somewhat by Pride and Prejudice, with a romantic lead who resembles Mr Darcy.

And then I met him! At a dance! He had a country estate!

Writing The Presence of Peacocks, or How to Find Love and Write a Novel turned out to be an audacious experiment in reality writing – and is undoubtedly one of the most fun things I’ve ever done.

Life isn’t quite that simple after the pages of a book have closed, but I thank Jane for the book and the baby that found their way into the world.

You’ll find my novel on Amazon:

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