Along with an epic comic poem called The Miracle of Guru Mikali, writing poems for hen parties and mother-of-the-groom speeches was how I first commenced writing for an audience.
When I decided to try out formats other than comic verse, I soon found my comfort zone was flash fiction and short humour essays. Fortunately, I was short-listed at Listowel Writers Week (for a humour essay on my harrowing maiden voyage with a group of mature hill-walkers in the Galtees) and the Fish Flash Fiction Prize (about a sexually inexperienced frog called Maude). I also had some small pieces published in a number of magazines and newspapers.
Thus encouraged, I attempted to write short stories. They were, however, a bridge too far as I could not stretch beyond 750 words. I joined creative writing classes in an attempt to knead my brain and extract more lingo, but I struggled with dialogues and sunsets alike. So when I kept hearing, “you’ve got a book in you”, I wondered how I could write a book when my stories were shorter than most people’s shopping lists.
Here I am, however, having just published a novel (which is receiving 5-star reviews on Amazon and Goodreads) called The Longbourn Letters – The Correspondence between Mr Collins & Mr Bennet. It is an Austen variation – a sort of Georgian bromance.
This is how I jumped from flash-fiction to novel and what I learned en route to publication:
- Don’t wait for someone else. I really wanted someone else to write this book. I loved its central characters and the notion of what their letters might contain but no one picked up a pen to write it. Then I came across Toni Morrison’s quote “If there is a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, you must be the one to write it.” I wrote The Longbourn Letters primarily for myself and my own amusement and secondly, hoping that some others might come across it and enjoy it too.
- It stands alone. Because 99% of Austen spin-offs are romances, with titles such as Mr Darcy’s Breeches or Mr Bingley, the Servant Girl & the Zombie Hounds, I wondered where I would find an audience for my Georgian tale about two (of varying intelligence) cousins’ correspondences. Although it would be easier to place if it fell into an already well-established market (romance), I always saw my book as a global read, with an eager audience of Austen/historical fiction/humour fans. The very fact that I did not compromise is the reason, I believe, that it is receiving such a positive response.
- Work to your strengths. I was most confident writing short pieces in the first person (ideal for a book of letters or a diary-based novel). I looked at each letter as stand-alone that would eventually knit together into the tale that I wished to tell. It flowed so well, moving back and forth between two very different voices, that the story practically wrote itself.
- If you aren’t found, find yourself. I realised that I might spend valuable months or years trying to convince agents of the merits of my book while Jane Austen’s Bicentenary year (which was my motivation for writing) was whittling away. Instead, I became my own cheer-leader and decided to self-publish – a process that was a pure joy, thanks to Kazoo Publishing.
- Put a sock in it! While I expected some negativity, the greatest enemy turned out to be the voice in my own head. Support for my book has been phenomenal and I have been blown away with the genuine delightedness of those I encounter. Now I’m beginning to realise that if I had not written it, there are many people who would have been deprived of a few well-earned laughs.
- There’s gold in them pages! To those who say there’s no money in writing, I say that there certainly won’t be any with an unwritten book swashing around in your head. Go write it and find out.
- Project manage yourself. While I wasn’t conniving, I was astute. I started writing last year (2016) knowing that Jane Austen’s bicentenary was around the corner and while paying homage to Jane (including curating an upcoming Jane Austen festival in Limerick) I was also capturing a good marketing angle. I began to build an online platform and connected with writers, groups and historical societies the world over, having so much fun along the way. I had landed on my planet and met people who were just like me! My husband used to laugh, last year, at how I was ‘flapping about’ on Twitter with famous, international writers, joking back and forth, as if I was J.K. Rowling, while my ‘book’ was a half-written Word document. And to that I say, you gotta feel it before you become it.
(c) Rosa Servitova
About The Longbourn Letters:
Where Pride and Prejudice ends, a new relationship begins. Good-humoured but detached and taciturn, Mr Bennet is not given to intimacy. Largely content with his life at Longbourn, he spends his evenings in the solitude of his library, accompanied only by a glass of port and a good book. But when his cousin, the pompous clergyman Mr Collins, announces his intention to visit, Mr Bennet is curious to meet and appraise the heir to his estate. Despite Mr Bennet’s initial discouragement, Mr Collins quickly becomes a frequent presence in his life. They correspond regularly, with Mr Collins recounting tales of his follies and scrapes and Mr Bennet taking great pleasure from teasing his unsuspecting friend. When a rift develops between the men, Mr Bennet is faced with a choice: he must withdraw into isolation once again or acknowledge that Mr Collins has brought something new and rich to his life. Tender, heart-warming and peppered with disarming humour, The Longbourn Letters reimagines the characters of Pride and Prejudice and perfectly captures the subtleties of human relationships and the power of friendship.
Order your copy online here.