I’ve been a long-time fan of the online “Mrs Darcy vs The Aliens” series, having read it sporadically for many months. Only just lately I got the pleasure of asking Jonathan Pinnock, the man braving the Pride and Prejudice world, all about this pet project of his. And when we will see it in print.
Born in Bedfordshire, England, and having “only succeeded in moving as far as the equally dull next-door county of Hertfordshire” Jonathan is married “with two slightly grown-up children and a 1961 Ami Continental jukebox”. His blog-style ongoing story Mrs Darcy vs The Aliens details an entirely new Pride and Prejudice, one where the limits aren’t confined to earth and Jane Austen’s sense of humour has been greatly added to.
It is unlike any other Pride and Prejudice sequel I have read so far. It does not limit itself to a plausible storyline, adding in a fair share of drugs, tentacles and a bunch of mentions of our favourite period drama actors (Firth, Macfadyen, Keira the horse etc). Set after the novel we love (hence the Mrs Darcy), suddenly Pemberley takes a very unexpected turn.
This twice-weekly updated blog is now becoming a print book from Proxima/Salt (much to my delight). Indeed, I can’t think how anyone would dislike a book with lines like this in them: “It seemed to be part of some kind of tentacle. It hissed as it landed, spurting out a bubbling yellow liquid. … another revolting body part spun off and caught Mrs Darcy full in the face.” Genius.
Jonathan explains where the ideas for this came from, with answers that left me in stitches.
The Regency era and Aliens? … Why Aliens?
Short answer: Why not?
Longer answer: Back in 2008, I was discussing Susanna Clarke’s “Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell” with a fellow writer, Toby Frost, and we agreed that it was essentially a regency novel with added wizards. Then I suddenly thought, why not write a regency novel with added aliens? There may have been alcohol involved, I should add.
For people that haven’t read it before – what is the storyline?
Best thing I can do is give you the description I’ve given to Salt’s marketing people: “A few years into her marriage, Elizabeth Darcy has much on her mind: she has still not produced an heir for Mr Darcy, there are preparations to be made for the Pemberly summer ball, and her youngest sister Lydia has been abducted by aliens. As Regency England sleepwalks towards tentacled oblivion, will she be able to reunite with her old foe Wickham and put a stop to their evil plans?”
Says it all, really.
What is your inspiration for the story?
Good question. Part of the fun of writing it has been using some quite diverse elements, combining them and seeing where the logic of that takes you. For example, when I was looking for plot ideas, one of my writer friends suggested that the Whitechapel murders might be interesting to use, and connecting them to the P&P universe became the plot driver for Mr Collins’ career path. And then I felt it was a bit brutal to kill Jack the Ripper’s victims off so early on, so they became ghosts, and that sent things off in a different direction altogether. My favourite sub-plot involves Charlotte Collins, who has turned to narcotics to ease the pain of her marriage and ends up hanging out with Lord Byron.
Sorry. Got carried away a bit with that answer.
In Mrs Darcy vs The Aliens you reference a lot of film versions etc. of Pride and Prejudice. Which is your favourite adaptation and why?
Probably the 1995 BBC version. Mainly because of Jennifer Ehle. And Mr Collins’ hair.
Now that it is being turned into a book – how do you feel? Was this the initial aim of the project?
Amazed, gratified and stupendously excited. It was always my aim, although I never really believed it was going to happen.
What do you think of other Austen mashups (e.g. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies)?
I’ve deliberately avoided reading them. I know you’re supposed to read up on your competition, but I was actually quite miffed when P&P&Z came along. Up until the end of 2008, all I’d written was a synopsis and the first three pages. I’d entered this into a competition in mid-2008 where it was judged to be “brave”. Which wasn’t what I wanted to hear. So I stalled until some of my writer friends persuaded me to write a bit more – and it was just beginning to take shape when along came this zombie thing. The last thing that I wanted to do was look as if I was jumping on the bandwagon, so I downed tools again. But my wonderful writer friends persuaded me to carry on, so I staggered on with it for a few more months. Then towards the end of last year I decided that the only way I was going to attract any attention would be to leverage (hey, look at me, I said ‘leverage’) my Twitter presence and start blogging the first draft.
But in any case, I don’t really see Mrs Darcy as part of the mash-up trend – I see it more in the tradition of Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next novels, where there’s a bit more mad stuff going on as well.
When did you first read Pride and Prejudice and what did you think about it?
Relatively recently, in fact. What struck me was what a superb job the BBC had done in adapting it – they’d captured the wit and character interplay just right. As a writer, though, it did strike me that Jane Austen wouldn’t get away today with the wobbling point-of-view that she uses – that surprised me.
Who is your favourite character in Pride and Prejudice?
It’s not so much the characters themselves that I like – it’s the interactions between them that are so compelling. And Austen’s got such a rich set to choose from. She can just pick any two or three, put them together and see what sparks fly. That’s the brilliance of it.
What else do you like to read?
All sorts of things. My all-time favourite writer is probably Peter Carey – I think Oscar and Lucinda is wonderful. But I also love Terry Pratchett – I’ve read pretty much everything he’s written. This year I’ve been reading a lot of short story collections, which are great because even if you don’t like everything in them there’s usually something that makes you go “wow”.
What other projects are you working on?
Right now, my main task is editing Mrs Darcy. But once that’s out of the way, I’ve got a number of ideas for a sequel. I’ve also got what I think is quite a neat idea for a high-concept thriller that I’d like to get going. And I would also dearly love to have a collection of short stories published – I managed to get a story accepted by the BBC for broadcast on Radio 4 this year, which was rather exciting, and I’d like to do more of that kind of thing.
Many thanks to Jennifer for inviting me to her blog.
I’m trying not to gush, I really am, but is anyone else tremendously excited for this book? Have you been following Mrs Darcy vs The Aliens online? Let me know what you think.
Also, if you haven’t read the episodes before, I recommend Episode Ninety-Three: Misunderstandings, as it is my absolute favourite.