Retelling Jane Austen

 

I read Pride and Prejudice when I was eight years old. Along with Les Misérables, Mill on the Floss and Lorna Doone. My father had just died and a generous friend of my sister’s had loaned me a collection of her books and comics to help me deal with the pain of losing a parent. It was an abridged version of Austen’s classic, dog-eared with big lettering and black and white sketches.

I loved it.

I was always slightly precocious for my age, the youngest of three siblings, and the story of a mother trying to get her three daughters hitched to wealthy husbands appealed to me. I was hooked. I devoured all the books in the pile. As I grew older, I read the unabridged versions one by one. The pleasure I got from reading them was undiminished.

Austen’s novels take a humorous look at society and life in the late 1700s. There is irony and realism in her plots, characters and the worlds that they inhabit. So much so that if you transport any character to the current world that we live in, they would fit in quite well and you would relate to their predicament. Women, marriage, dysfunctional families, money problems, greed, pride and the biases that all of us hide. These are things we come across daily, don’t we?

The reason Austen’s appeal has stretched across centuries.

Imagine my delight when my publisher Juggernaut Books commissioned me to retell one of Austen’s classic novels last year. Persuasion is the last novel fully completed by Jane Austen and was published at the end of 1817, six months after her death. The novel follows the life of Anne Eliot and her ex-fiancé Commander Frederick Wentworth.

It took me three months to write the novel. While there have been many retellings of this particular tale, I didn’t read a single one of them. I wanted to stay true to Austen and write the story in my own way keeping the modern milieu as a backdrop. My novel takes readers to North Bengal (Siliguri & Jalpaiguri), Kolkata, Gurgaon, Dharamsala and Mcleodganj – towns and cities which are special to me. There’s music, tea, doomed relationships, quirky parents and second chances. Not just that, the protagonist is named after legendary singer Freddy Mercury. In my novel, Commander Frederick Wentworth is reborn as Farrokh “Freddy” Wadhera.

Mr Eashwar’s Daughter is available on Juggernaut Books. You can buy the book here.

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The Heart of the Matter

A friend asked me on Twitter after reading my post on writing short fiction, how does one get the reader to experience an emotional connect with what you are writing? There are some stories in which the plot isn’t particularly new or extraordinary yet they manage to make the readers feel a myriad of emotions.

Now I can list out all the different techniques that you can use to write your stories so that your readers get hooked. The way you create your characters, using plot, descriptions and twists in the narrative to hold their interest. You will find most of that on the Internet if you look for it.

What about the emotional connect then? How do you write something that will move your readers? In the words of Ernest Hemingway: write hard and clear about what hurts.

As a writer, you need to feel emotion when writing to be able to convey that feeling successfully to your readers. If your writing leaves you cold, how can you expect your reader to be moved to tears by it?

It’s a dangerous proposition. Difficult even. It can leave you feeling vulnerable and exposed. But whoever said writing is an easy job? And the simpler your tales are, the more complex emotions they will tap. You need to be prepared to journey to the dark places inside your soul, play with your own feelings and life experiences so that you can tell your tales convincingly. You have to make people believe, giggle uncontrollably, shed a tear or perhaps feel terrible rage.

These journeys will not be easy and they will leave you emotionally drained. But it will be worth it. That part I can guarantee. My last short story, The Red Thread, about a young apprentice tailor who falls in love with disastrous consequences left me weeping after I had written it. It wasn’t a particularly pleasant experience but recent events and a trip down memory lane prompted me to write it. Do read and tell me what you felt. I’d be curious to know.

Have you ever read a story that moved you to tears or rage or intense contemplation? Have you wondered what it was about that story that made you feel this way? Write back, I’m waiting to hear from you.

Meanwhile, you can read some of my other short stories on the Juggernaut Books app here.

The Long and the Short of It: Writing Short Stories

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“Short stories are tiny windows into other worlds and other minds and other dreams. They are journeys you can make to the far side of the universe and still be back in time for dinner.”

(Neil Gaiman)

Over the years, I’ve experimented with many different forms of writing but the short story has always eluded me. Always by accident, never by design. In the light of recent developments, I view this as a shame.

I have recently finished writing a collection of short stories and I find that writing short fiction is hugely enjoyable, at least for me! It holds a lot of promise. I would actually go so far as to say that short stories are, perhaps, the most challenging thing I have ever worked on in my entire career.

You may ask me why. Well, I’ll tell you why.

Brevity

You don’t have the luxury of writing till the ink in your pen runs dry or the battery in your laptop out of charge, the latter a more likely scenario. You don’t have the luxury of 50,000 words or more. Short stories are typically between 1,000 to 7,500 words though some pieces of short fiction can be as long as 30,000 words! But let’s forget about that for a minute. Say you have a limit between 2,500 and 3,000 words to tell a good story. You need to make sure you keep that limit in mind when setting out or else you may get terribly lost and waste precious time.

Plot

It’s always good to have an idea fleshed out into a tidy plot before you start writing. With a well-defined plot in hand (or in mind) you will find it easier to stick to the word limit rather than amble along as you may have in the case of a longer work of fiction or non-fiction. Figure out how the storyline will develop within the word count. I found it helpful to have a beginning, middle and end and have an approximate word count for each section.

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Characters

Don’t go overboard with a host of characters with complicated sub-plots. Keep it fairly straightforward unless you have a plan to weave all the different characters and their stories into your main plot. Remember, you are not writing a novel and it’s difficult even for an experienced writer to have different things going on at the same time. The story becomes heavy, clumsy and loses focus.

Twists don’t always work

You don’t necessarily need a twist to make your tale work. Often, there is great value in simplicity. Also, open endings work really well. The reader can interpret it whichever way he or she likes. That increases their engagement in the story and which author doesn’t want the reader to get engaged?

Short stories are good practice before you go ahead and write the longer novel if you haven’t written one already. You can write a couple of short stories and then expand them into proper novellas or works of fiction. One of my short stories was actually an idea that I had (inside my head for years) for a longer novel.

My head is already buzzing with more ideas for stories I’d like to write down. What about you? Go on, give them a try.

If you would like to read my short stories, do click on this link: http://bit.ly/2x7mBUm

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