ShortBookandScribes #BlogTour #GuestPost by Allie Cresswell, Author of Mrs Bates of Highbury @Alliescribbler @rararesources
I’m delighted to welcome Allie Cresswell to Short Book and Scribes today with a guest post as part of the blog tour for Mrs Bates of Highbury. Doesn’t the book have a gorgeous cover? My thanks to Rachel Gilbey from Rachel’s Random Resources for the place on the tour.
The new novel from Readers’ Favourite silver medalist Allie Cresswell.
Thirty years before the beginning of ‘Emma’ Mrs Bates is entirely different from the elderly, silent figure familiar to fans of Jane Austen’s fourth novel. She is comparatively young and beautiful, widowed – but ready to love again. She is the lynch-pin of Highbury society until the appalling Mrs Winwood arrives, very determined to hold sway over that ordered little town.
Miss Bates is as talkative aged twenty nine as she is in her later iteration, with a ghoulish fancy, seeing disaster in every cloud. When young Mr Woodhouse arrives looking for a plot for his new house, the two strike up a relationship characterised by their shared hypochondria, personal chariness and horror of draughts.
Jane, the other Miss Bates, is just seventeen and eager to leave the parochialism of Highbury behind her until handsome Lieutenant Weston comes home on furlough from the militia and sweeps her – quite literally – off her feet.
Mrs Bates of Highbury is the first of three novels by the Amazon #1 best-selling Allie Cresswell, which trace the pre-history of Emma and then run in parallel to it.
Why did I choose to write about an existing character in a well-known story?
by Allie Cresswell
Mrs Bates appears in Jane Austen’s ‘Emma’ but never utters a syllable. She is very elderly, with failing sight (she wears spectacles). Her garrulous daughter Miss Bates thinks she is deaf but then admits that her mother can hear others very well indeed. We never see Mrs Bates without her daughter but we know that she does have some independence – she goes to play backgammon with Mr Woodhouse while Miss Bates attends the ball at the Crown – so she cannot have any significant degree of senility or incapacity. The reader concludes that Mrs Bates has simply given up the battle against her daughter, who talks to her, for her, over her and about her with such relentlessness that to interject or contradict is simply impossible.
To a certain extent Mrs Bates is a comedic foil to Miss Bates, the straight woman, the butt of her humour and the receptacle for Hetty’s endless diatribe of conjecture and observation. But of course she had a life before old age crept in. She was married to the vicar of Highbury before his death made her homeless and all-but destitute. As the wife of the incumbent she occupied a very elevated and respected position in Highbury society. George Knightley tells Emma that at one time it would have been an honour for Emma to be recognised by her. She had two daughters, one of whom we never meet in Jane Austen’s novel – she is named just once, her name was Jane. All this interested me – the life of Mrs Bates we never get to know but which matters, especially in the way it plays out in the lives of her daughters and granddaughter, Jane Fairfax.
I guess this is the beauty – and the privilege – of being a writer, to conjure from a cameo a three-dimensional character who lives and loves and has substance. It is something I am quite used to. Many of my characters and my stories have their roots in the merest snippet of overheard dialogue, a snatch of gossip, a six sentence stop-press in the local newspaper. Before I know it I am creating back-story, inventing dialogue and imagining motives. I trace backwards to the genesis and forward to the revelation, making a beginning, middle and end. Here, Jane Austen gave me the end; an elderly lady helplessly yoked to her loquacious ninny of a daughter, allowed hardly a moment’s respite from her endless diatribe of chatter. No wonder she feigned deafness! But what did she think about while her daughter droned on and on? What memories entertained her, what vestiges of passion did she recall? Who, beneath the shawls and neatly crocheted knee-blankets, was Mrs Bates?
I wanted to know, and Mrs Bates of Highbury is the result.
It sounds absolutely fascinating and a really clever idea. Thank you, Allie.
Allie Cresswell was born in Stockport, UK and began writing fiction as soon as she could hold a pencil.
She did a BA in English Literature at Birmingham University and an MA at Queen Mary College, London.
She has been a print-buyer, a pub landlady, a book-keeper, run a B & B and a group of boutique holiday cottages. Nowadays Allie writes full time having retired from teaching literature to lifelong learners.
She has two grown-up children, two granddaughters and two grandsons, is married to Tim and lives in Cumbria, NW England.
***For the duration of the blog tour, Allie Cresswell has five hard copies of Game Show and five hard copies of Tiger in a Cage, all signed, available for £5 plus p & p to UK addresses. If you are interested then please get in touch.***
Emma is my favourite novel and this sounds like a fun book to accompany it.
Sounds like one for you to try, April.