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Sunday, October 14, 2012

C. Allyn Pierson: Jane Austen and Me, a Memoir

C. Allyn Pierson:
 Jane Austen and Me, a Memoir
I am very happy to have C. Allyn Pierson visiting with us here today.  Here she is posing with her Newfoundland, Muzzy, better known to some as 'The Beast'.  As he is in both of her books, it is only fair that you get to meet both of them today!

C. Allyn Pierson will be giving away a copy of Mr. Darcy's Little Sister to a lucky winner.  Commenting on this post will enter you into the drawing along with:  joining this site, tweeting this post, joining this site as a member via Google Friend Connect (GFC) (See the left hand column on the blog to join!), sharing this on Facebook or your blog, Friend Barbara Tiller Cole on Facebook,  clicking 'like’ on Barbara Tiller Cole, Author's Facebook Page.

My loving and intimate relationship with Jane Austen began 22 years ago and was highly dependent upon several chance occurrences. My husband and I are both physicians and our younger son has autism. When he was young childcare was a problem- he needed extra attention and our older son needed care as well. I tried hiring nannies that would come in during the day (we did not have room for a live-in nanny), but was very disappointed with them. It seemed that all the professional nannies left Iowa to work in California and New York, where there were more people who hired live-in nannies and where they could see some of the world. The ones who stayed behind seemed to regard childcare as a job suitable for someone who was uneducated, untrained and therefore unable to get a job that did not involved flipping burgers. Sorry, not what I wanted for my children. 

By the time my younger son turned three we were just finishing up building our dream house, and we included a bed-sitting room on the lower level for an au pair. For those of you who are unfamiliar with au pairs, it is a cultural exchange program administered by the US government that allows foreigners, usually from Europe, to come to the US for one year to do childcare. The program requires that the au pairs not work more than 40 hours a week, they must get 6 credit hours of college level classes while they are here and they must be between ages 18 and 26.  We were able to hire a much higher quality of babysitter through the au pair program and also had the fun of meeting people from England, South Africa, and Latvia over the course of 15 years.

Our third au pair was the one who changed my life. She was a big fan of Jane Austen and, most importantly, introduced me to the 1995 BBC miniseries of Pride and Prejudice! I did not study Jane Austen in any of the literature classes I had taken (the teachers always seemed to prefer depressing authors like Hardy and Dostoyevsky). I had struggled through Pride and Prejudice when my children were infants, and for some reason it just didn’t click with me. I did not understand why the women thought Mr. Darcy was at all desirable and did not see any reason for Elizabeth Bennet to change her mind about him. I just did not get it. Perhaps the word “infants” is the key here…baby brain is a terrible thing, but fortunately it does pass, and when Karen came to live with us I was ripe for the transformation into a Janeite. I read Pride and Prejudice again and it was a revelation!

How could I have missed Jane’s wit and humour, her unsentimental view of society and the foibles of human beings? How could I have allowed the 19th Century word usage to blind me to the universal truths contained in Jane’s deceptively simple stories?

Not surprisingly, I devoured her books, but there were so few of them that I was left unsatisfied. I watched many of the films of her novels, but most of them were seriously flawed (such as Elizabeth Bennet looking much more like Scarlett O’Hara than a Regency lady…). I treasured those that seemed to me to embody the spirit of the books: the BBC/A&E production of Pride and Prejudice with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle, Emma Thompson’s Sense and Sensibility. They were wonderful!

Eventually I very carefully tried a retelling of Pride and Prejudice from Mr. Darcy’s point of view. I looked at a lot of reviews and decided that Pamela Aiden’s sounded good. I timed it well- I only had to wait for a couple of months for the third volume to be released and I was eager to get it. I enjoyed her writing and her knowledge of the Regency, and when I got to the end I found myself thinking about what came next. I soon realized that I had a strong feeling about where the story should go and sat down at my laptop and started writing. This book might never have been finished if my elder son had not left for college. I wrote in his room after my younger son went to bed, and when my husband wasn’t home.

In fact, I did not tell my husband I was writing a book until I was almost finished and knew that I would be able to complete it. I told him when we were out to dinner on one of our weekly “date” nights, beginning with “There is something I need to tell you.” He looked a little worried for a moment, then was stunned when I told him what I had done. I had decided to go with a self-publishing company because I knew my manuscript was not ready for prime time and I did not know anyone who could direct me to editors and other professionals for help (we live in a small town in Iowa!). When I told him what my book was about he paused a few seconds, then said, “You just might be able to sell that.”

After self-publishing my book, titled And This Our Life: Chronicles of the Darcy Family, which told about the first year of married life for the Darcy’s, I was contacted by an agent who was interested in selling the book to a publisher who carried a lot of Jane Austen related works. They wanted the story to be about Georgiana Darcy (who was very important in my original work) and I was good with this- by the time my original book had gone through editing and rewriting I was wishing that I could redo it with Georgiana as the lead character. I rewrote it completely in three weeks (boy did I have a headache!) and it was published as Mr. Darcy’s Little Sister.

Not long before that release I was invited to join Austen Author blog and I am still a member after 2 years. Through AuAu I have met many wonderful writers, who are now friends as well as great sources of information. It’s good to hang around people who speak your language and don’t think you are weird when you say that you are “all astonishment!”


  1. Thanks for sharing the story of how you "met" Jane Austen. I enjoyed Mr Darcy's Little Sister very much!

  2. Thanks Laura! Mercy's Embrace is one of my faves- I think I have read it 3 or 4 times (I've lost count)

    1. My friend, you've made my day. I'm so happy to know that you've enjoyed my books. (Maybe you can tell me where those pesky continuity errors are? I know they are some, hiding! :) )

      So here's my question, are you writing on anything new? Another genre? I hope so!

  3. “There is something I need to tell you.” He looked a little worried for a moment

    Heh-heh! I can easily picture this scene -- as physicians, you know that's how many conversations start to announce something dreadful like cancer. I'm thankful for the au pair who introduced you to Jane.

    1. Also how many other unpleasant conversations start...such as "I want a divorce!"

  4. Thanks for sharing your story. I enjoyed reading it.


  5. Love that picture with you and "the Beast"! Is he a lapdog wannabe?

  6. I absolutely love reading about how author's start writing, and your story is so interesting. Having au pairs from all over must have been fascinating to learn from.

    I have And This Our Life and really enjoy it. I have been wanting to buy it again as Georgiana's story, but have been resisting to save some money. I may need to buy it anyways, if I don't win it. :)