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INTERVIEW: Joana Starnes Spills the Tea on Writing Darcy

Updated: Jan 30

 

Welcome to the Tuesday Author Interview with Christina Boyd for the Who, What, When, Where, and Why.


I’ve been a fan of Joana Starnes's work for well over a decade. Imagine my joy when she agreed to be a part of my first multi-author Austen adjacent anthology The Darcy Monologues. Since then, I've been lucky to work with her on the rest of the Quill Collective anthology series and finally met her in real life in 2017. I found her to be as wonderful as I’d hoped. Joana's novels never fail to satisfy and often stay with me for days after I've finished the last page.

CHRISTINA: When did you first think you had a book to write and how did you start?


JOANA: Like many of us who are writing in the Austenesque genre, I started as a reader and devoured all the variations I could find. Those were the days before self-publishing, when Jane Austen variations were posted as WIPs [work-in-progress] on a number of websites, and it was such a "Wow!" feeling when I discovered them!


Speaking of which, I think that the sense of community in the world of JAFF [Jane Austen fanfiction] is absolutely amazing. Here we are, all of us, readers and writers, separated by hundreds of miles, but brought together by the love of Austen and her characters. We simply can’t have enough of them – and that’s what got me writing too.

I think I’ve always imagined Jane Austen’s characters as real people, who had lived and loved, rather than figments of her brilliant imagination. So one day I thought that it would be fun to imagine how characters from different novels would interact, if they had the chance to meet. And why wouldn’t they meet, if they were contemporaries? A couple of my earliest books were crossovers, which was a rather novel approach at the time. I thought that Elizabeth and Captain Wentworth would be well matched, at least in theory; that Mr Darcy and Miss Anne Elliot had a great deal in common; that the Bennet sisters would be very fond of Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, and Mrs. Bennet and Mrs. Jennings would get on like a house on fire. I loved imagining their interactions, but as time went by, my love for Pride and Prejudice took over, and I focused on variations on the theme of Darcy and Elizabeth’s deliciously intriguing love story.

 

CHRISTINA: So many of your books are my favorites, but The Unthinkable Triangle still haunts me. That beautiful book did something to my soul.


What’s the most difficult thing about writing characters of the opposite sex?


JOANA: Since all my books are, first and foremost, Pride and Prejudice variations, I’ll cut to the chase and talk about the difficulties in exploring Mr. Darcy’s point of view. I often find it’s a challenge to portray him as thinking and reacting like a 28-29-year-old Regency gentleman, and not as a modern-day middle-aged writer would have him think and react. Also, I think I’m often in danger of idealizing him and softening the edges too much or too soon. In the early stages of each book, when I have to write about the unreformed Darcy who fell in lust with Elizabeth before he fell in love, and still has no qualms about saying pretty horrible things about her family, I always have to go back and have another go at making him sound arrogant and harsh, because the first portrayal was too mild and sympathetic. As for writing about the reformed Darcy, that has its challenges too. In my opinion, Mr. Darcy could easily be a fool for love, but he just can’t be soppy.

 

CHRISTINA: Agree! A thousand times agree! Darcy cannot be soppy. And he can't be shy either. Aloof. Reserved. Even reticent. But never shy.


What comes first, plot, or characters?


JOANA: A good balance is very important, I think. The plot must be interesting and must give the characters plenty of opportunities to grow and come to understand each other better. With that in mind, I think that, for me, the characters’ growth takes precedence, and I’m more inclined to write about evolving feelings than fast-paced adventures.

 

CHRISTINA: Your characters are honest and flawed. And that is why readers love them. Mr. Bennet's Dutiful Daughter is a perfect example. That book gutted me. Brilliant story.


Is there one of your characters you most identify with and why?


JOANA: One of my own characters? I don’t think so, no. As for Jane Austen’s characters, I definitely am no Lizzy Bennet, and no Jane, either. I flatter myself that I can identify with Mrs. Gardiner, but now and then I’m horrified to find that I’m flapping and panicking like Mrs. Bennet.

 

CHRISTINA: So funny! "Flapping and panicking!" Haha. I like to think of myself as a Mary Crawford with all the witty retorts, but I fear as I get older, I am turning into a babbling Miss Bates.


What is your current project or latest release?


JOANA: My latest release was Snowbound, and I’m so happy you enjoyed it! Thanks ever so much for the wonderful review, and for taking it with you on a snowy walk. 


I love to imagine scenarios in which our dear couple are brought together sooner than in canon, and I love to read and write books in which they are allowed (and sometimes obliged) to interact before they’ve had the chance to gain a better understanding of each other. This is why I’m aiming to throw them together sooner than in canon in my next project too. But this time I might experiment with something I haven’t done before.

 

CHRISTINA: I do hope you are writing something or at least jotting some ideas down. No pressure...


What do you think makes a good story?


JOANA: Emotion. Raw, gripping and relatable emotion.

 

CHRISTINA: And you write it so well! Miss Darcy's Companion was a two-hanky read.


Have you gone on an author pilgrimage or research trip?


Three smiling dark-haired women standing in front of iron gates to a garden
That time I met Joana Starnes and Mira Magdo, blogger, in Chawton. Here in the Walled Garden at the Great House.

JOANA: Oh my goodness, yes, I go on author pilgrimages and research trips as often as I can, and each time I find little things that inspire me. The print room in a country house. A corner in the garden. A household item, or a drawing sketched by one of the young ladies of the house. I’ve been on several Jane Austen pilgrimages, and on quite a few that were driven by the film adaptations of her novels. The best trips were the ones when I travelled with good friends who share the love and the addiction (by the way, we really need to go back to Chawton together soon).


CHRISTINA: From your lips to God's ears. I dream of coming back to the UK and wandering the streets of Bath and eating Sally Lunn's' buns, picnicking in Lyme Park... Le sigh.


What's your most memorable "field trip"?


JOANA: It’s so hard to choose from so many happy ones! I think the most moving moment was on my first visit to Jane Austen’s house in Chawton. As I was climbing down the stairs towards the dining room, it suddenly occurred to me that her hand had trailed along the same banister. It gave me goose pimples, the thought that her hand had touched the same piece of wood (however many layers of gloss paint had been added since then).

 

Thanks again for this lovely chat, Christina, and see you soon, fingers crossed!


CHRISTINA: Thank you. I know you've been busy with family this year, and I so appreciate you taking time for this little interview. I look forward to reading your next book. And I'll nudge MrB again about a UK trip. I've been hinting about a boat trip up the Thames.



White woman with short dark hair wearing gold hoop earrings and a beige sweater.
Joana Starnes, author

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Joana Starnes lives in the south of England with her family. She swapped several hats over the years (physician, lecturer, clinical data analyst) but feels most comfortable in a bonnet. She has been living in Regency England for decades in her imagination and plans to continue in that vein till she lays hands on a time machine. She loves to look for glimpses of Pemberley and Jane Austen’s world, and to write about Regency England and Mr. Darcy falling in love with Elizabeth Bennet over and over and over again. She is the author of twelve Austen-inspired novels and a contributor to the Quill Ink Anthologies. Joana’s novels are all available on Amazon in Kindle Unlimited and in paperback, and some have also been released in Audible. Check out Joana’s page on Amazon.

 

You can connect with Joana via:

 


8 Comments


Wonderful interview. I love her books.

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Christina Boyd
Christina Boyd
Oct 04, 2023
Replying to

Thanks! I love her books too.

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Thanks so much for this lovely chat, Christina, and for your wonderful support over the years! It was such a joy to be part of your dream team in the anthologies, and I'm so happy that you loved my books! I can't wait to chat face to face with you again. Keep nudging Mr B and fingers crossed. The boat trip up the Thames sounds fabulous. And a road trip to Pemberley, and the Lake District one day, and some of the hidden gems of London. I'm full of ideas :) All you need is time.

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Oh, I love the sound of that! Yes, please! I hope Mr B comes to hike Hadrian's Wall soon, and we get to scamper all over the place!

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Christina Morland
Christina Morland
Oct 03, 2023

What a lovely interview of a very lovely author and person! Joana‘a thoughts on developing Darcy’s character were especially meaningful.

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Huge thanks for your wonderful words, lovely ladies! Thank you both so much!

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