Today I have a real treat in store for all Jane Austen fans both new and old!!
Irish writer of The Longbourn Letters, Rose Servitova, dropped by for a chat about her debut, the thriving arts community in her hometown of Limerick and Jane Austen 200.
The Longbourn Letters is described as a re-imagining of the characters of Pride and Prejudice through a series of correspondence between Mr Collins and Mr Bennet and has just been published to great acclaim.
I really do hope you all enjoy this interview as much as I did…
Before we even chat about your debut, The Longbourn Letters, we have to mention Jane Austen 200-Limerick. Sounds fascinating Rose. What exactly is it about and how did you get be involved?
I always felt that my home city of Limerick would be a perfect location for a Georgian festival but kept waiting for someone else to do something about it. Then I saw cities all over the world celebrating Jane Austen’s bicentenary (2017) and I felt, “that’s it. I’ll do it myself”. Limerick has the largest Georgian quarter in Ireland outside of Dublin. The city has lots of magnificent Georgian architecture. Tom LeFroy, Austen’s apparent love, was born in Limerick. Movie costume designer, Eimer Ni Mhaoldomhnaigh, of such period Austen films as “Becoming Jane” and “Love & Friendship” hails from Limerick and studied fashion at Limerick School of Art & Design.
The festival is more a series of events from July to December including afternoon tea with a talk on Tom LeFroy and on regency fashion. A comedy, one-woman play, “Promise & Promiscuity” comes to Limerick in November (it’s creator & actor, Penny Ashton is coincidentally Tom LeFroy’s great grand-niece), the aforementioned movie costume designer, Eimer Ni Mhaoldomhnaigh gives a talk on costume design for period dramas. There are several other talks and workshops yet to be scheduled (encompassing music, screen, literature, theatre, fashion, architecture and customs).
The Longbourn Letters, your novel, is a re-imagining of the characters of Pride and Prejudice using correspondence between Mr Collins and Mr Bennet. Please do share with us all the inspiration and thoughts behind such an intriguing concept.
I remain totally loyal to Pride & Prejudice including timeline and personalities.
I know how upsetting it can be when someone meddles with a favourite movie or book and, besides, in my mind, Austen’s classic is perfect as it is – as are her characters Mr Collins and Mr Bennet. Initially, I was going to write the diary of Mr Collins but I soon realized how painful it would be to read and how difficult to convey anything of any substance through the musings of a man of high self-importance and low intellect!!
That’s when it struck me that Mr Bennet would be the ideal contrast to show up Mr Collins in all his glory. Their relationship in Pride and Prejudice was very funny (more hinted at than anything else). Mr Bennet appeared to find Mr Collins’s company irksome and best avoided yet he enjoyed his letters – “I would not give up Mr Collins’s correspondence for any consideration”.
It was that comment that made me wonder what was it in his letters, what scrapes and shenanigans, did Mr Bennet find so amusing.
Up to this point you have had some level of success getting your essays and short stories published in various newspapers and journals. What was it like to finally get a novel published and how did it transpire?
I think 750 words was my word limit until this novel.
I tried, several times, to write short stories but never seemed to succeed. I also only wrote well in the first person. Everything else was toil and trouble. I realized that short and snappy was obviously my style and if I was ever going to write a book it would have to be first person, short pieces – a diary or a series of letters (due to the brevity of each ‘piece’) was ideal. I stitched the letters together until I had my novel.
Having the novel published is one of the most satisfying experiences of my life. I had to overcome my fear of being exposed, vulnerable and of what other people thought. And there was absolutely no need to be worried whatsoever as I have been so supported.
I feel very proud.
You live and work in Limerick, a county in the West of Ireland. Limerick is always very much associated with the arts. What is it like living and working in such a thriving community?
I love Limerick! I was raised on one side of the county and now live in the other and in-between I have travelled all over the world – eighteen countries when I last counted and the absolute last place I thought I would settle in would be Limerick. But I’m so glad I did and at this time.
I’m actually finding it difficult to find words to describe the creative energy in Limerick right now – explosive might be the most fitting adjective.
There are too many groups and creatives to mention here but it is thriving and there’s a sense that it’s only the tip off the ice-berg.
I was reading that you work as a Jobs Coach with the Daughters of Charity. What does this role entail and how can you manage to juggle so many balls?
I support persons with special needs to secure work placements in the community.
There are other aspects that include training, advocacy and active citizenship. It’s a hugely varied and interesting role which suits this restless spirit very well. I’m an empath, which I believe many writers are, and when you meet so many people on a day-to-day basis you are constantly soaking up stories. I feel very supported and loved in my work and know that I am blessed.
While my day-job is varied and involves a lot of moving about, I have a very quiet social life and most evenings are spent on my laptop after the kids are in bed.
In a recent piece you wrote for writing.ie (Read HERE ) you said that it is very important to ‘project manage yourself’. What exactly do you mean by that?
I believe that I’m very relaxed and maybe a little too laissez-faire in many areas of my life (domesticity springs to mind) but when it comes to committing to something or someone important to me, I just cannot do a half-baked, mickey-mouse job. It’s all or nothing.
I envisioned my wee book as being the best it could possibly be and getting as far as it could go, making as many people as possible smile. I give careful consideration to everything from timing, to media, to organizing a great book launch, to persons/groups to connect with while ensuring that I don’t get overwhelmed and ensure I am still getting walks or meditating.
It is like one big project.
I am very fortunate that a friend of who works in PR offered to help me in promotion as I definitely would have found that a challenge but with his help it’s fun.
As a writer you must have many literary influences in your life. Have you any favourites? Who are they and why?
In no particular order – P.G. Wodehouse, Jane Austen, Agatha Christie, Bronte sisters, Donal Ryan, Paul Howard, Marian Keyes, John Mortimor, Khaled Hosseini, Niamh Boyce, John Berendt…amongst others.
What I usually look for are very strong characters (rather than sunsets) and very often humour features but not always.
I always ask each guest to share with us a few novels that they love. What would be your top five all time memorable reads?
A Thousand Splendid Suns – Khaled Hosseini (broke my heart into a thousand pieces)
Pride & Prejudice – Jane Austen
Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
Any Jeeves and Wooster books – P.G. Wodehouse
Midnight in the Garden of Good & Evil – John Berendt
What next for Rose Servitova?
I have another historical fiction/Austen connected book idea and some notes scribbled. The tone is different to The Longbourn Letters but we’ll see how it goes when I sit down to write it. I am obviously going to spend some time focusing on Jane Austen 200 – Limerick and I can feel it in my bones that Ms Austen and I are going to continue working together into the future.
Rose thank you so much for this wonderful Q & A. It was an absolute pleasure to have you here on Swirl and Thread.
Rose will be back again at the end of the Summer joining me for #IrishWritersWed but in the meantime you can find out more about The Longbourn Letters and about Rose below
Book Info in the words of Rose Servitova:
‘Eager to know what happened to all in ‘Pride & Prejudice’, once it’s hero & heroine had their happy ending, I decided to lend a quill to my two favourite characters, Mr Collins and Mr Bennet, and let them reveal all through their written correspondence. What emerged was a collection of letters, written over a seven year period, reflecting the inner workings of both men and their observations on the lives of others.
“Did I mention to you that he walks an imaginary dog, our Reverend Green? No one has had the heart to tell him that Spot has been dead these twelve years. He even believes that Spot has sired my current litter of pups so, as a kindly gesture, I offered him to take any one of his choosing believing the company of a real animal may be of benefit to him but he refused, stating most firmly, that he cannot be responsible for all that Spot begets.” – Mr Bennet’
Purchase Link ~ The Longbourn Letters
Rose Servitova is an award winning Irish writer whose work has been published in various literary journals and newspapers. When she’s not writing, she works as a job coach for people with special needs and is also involved in organising Limerick’s Jane Austen Bicentenary Festival. Rose lives in County Limerick with her husband and two children. The Longbourn Letters is her first novel.