Good Morning everyone,
I am very pleased to welcome today at From Pemberley to Milton Sarah Courtney, and author who has enchanted me with Plots, Ploys and the Art of Matchmaking. While reading this book I could tell that Ms. Courtney’s writing style is different and refreshing, so I am very excited about her new novel The Olive Branch. She agreed to answer to a few of my questions about this book and her other projects, so I hope you like reading her answers as much as I did.
If there is anything else you’d like to ask her, feel free to do so, and don’t forget that all your comments will be considered for the ebook giveaway the author is offering 😊
Good afternoon Sarah, Thank you so much for visiting from Pemberley to Milton once more and for accepting to answer some of my questions.
I always like to know more about the authors who are visiting, and you were amazing! I loved chatting with you and reading all your answers!
Olive Branch will be your 4th P&P novel and if we look at your previous books, they’re all very different. You’ve written a modernization, a fairy tale adaptation, a comedy, and now a more traditional variation. Is diversity something you aim for when writing your books?
I’ve actually thought about this a lot, how different my stories are! My next novel is going to be a fantasy, so my stories are pretty different from each other! I think it’s because I’ve read so many variations and seen so many things done already (and done beautifully!) that I want to come up with original ideas. That can be pretty tricky when there are so many books out there, so I end up with lots of ideas that are pretty much all over the place.
I think that being simultaneously a reader and a writer of a specific genre is quite common among JAFF writers. How do you manage that? Do you stop reading while you’re writing so you are not influenced by what you’re reading? And as you mentioned, you have written different types of stories, but which is your favorite genre as a reader?
I do love both reading and writing JAFF! I will admit that, having read a ton of JAFF over the last several years, I do sometimes go long periods where I don’t read much of it. Then I get on a JAFF kick, like I have been this month, and I binge story after story.
I don’t really worry about being influenced by what I’m reading, because one of the things I like best about writing stories is taking things in a new direction. So there might be some scene or idea in a story I read that sparks an idea, but the reason it sparks that idea for me is that I want to take it in a completely different way, so it tends not to be recognizable in the end.
I did read a story once in which a young woman was forced to enter an engagement unwillingly. In her case, I believe she was a celebrity and the fiancé was a costar or something of that sort, and her mother/agent forced her to do it for public attention. So the basic idea of being forced into an engagement came from that book, but the circumstances, reasons, and ultimate result are so different that the two ideas have very little in common.
As for what genres I usually read, I am a huge fantasy fan. I probably read more fantasy (generally light romantic fantasy) than anything else. I do also like romantic thrillers. So generally I like books with lots of action and excitement, where the romance happens along the way but is not constantly the focus. Within JAFF, I love stories that have a unique twist and a good hook to catch my interest, and I have a particular soft spot for fantasy.
I imagine those fantasy books already inspired you for your next work! Can you tell us how long does it usually take you to write a book?
I’m a pretty slow writer (and editor), so it takes me a long time to write a story. I think it took me about six months to write The Olive Branch and another four months to edit it—I went through more drafts than you could imagine. Probably anywhere from six months to a year, but sometimes I’m working on more than one book or story at a time.
And how was your writing process during that time? Do you write the entire story at once or do you write separate scenes and then try to put them together? What can you tell us about that? How was it like for The Olive Branch?
I am very much a plotter. I will sometimes write the first scene or few scenes when I first come up with an idea, just to see how the story will start out, but I typically then end up writing an outline of the entire plot before I begin.
I do then generally write in order, but I do sometimes skip around a bit. I think I did a lot more of that in another book, Beauty and Mr. Darcy, where I’d write several scenes of one character at a time even though they would end up being interspersed with other characters’ stories. With The Olive Branch, I mostly wrote in order. However, I ended up moving a lot of scenes around, so the final story is not in the order I originally wrote it!
And what can readers expect from The Olive Branch?
The Olive Branch is my “evil Mr. Collins” story. I’ve added sort of a twist to Mr. Collins’s character. In front of others, he is pretty much like he is in canon: a foolish prattling man who idolizes Lady Catherine. However, Elizabeth learns that this is all a front, and he is in reality a far more calculating, evil man. She is trapped into an engagement with him to protect her family, but when Mr. Darcy hears of it, he’s desperate to find her a way out.
It appears Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth will team up early in the book, should we expect this to be a low angst one?
Early on in the book, Elizabeth has a good reason to keep things close to her chest. She and Mr. Darcy are both working towards the same purpose but without knowing what the other is doing, so I wouldn’t say they truly team up until about halfway through the book. It is true, though, that there isn’t a whole lot of angst between them. For one thing, while Mr. Darcy did insult her, she never heard any lies about him from Wickham, so she has far less to hold against him to start with and is thus she sooner comes to see him as a friend. There is plenty of angst, but it’s mostly focused on the seemingly impossible situation that Elizabeth is in with Mr. Collins.
I am glad to know that Elizabeth was not influenced by Wickham as I do not like to read that specific plot line over and over again. Is it safe to say that he won’t have a big part in this story?
This is a little tricky to answer. Wickham does actually have a significant role in this story, but most of it happens “offscreen,” so to speak. And his role is very different from the traditional role in P&P (he’s not around telling lies about Darcy to Elizabeth—in fact, his interaction with Elizabeth is almost nonexistent). So hopefully, while he is in the story a bit, his role will be different enough not to bore you!
Sorry about the difficult questions! So let’s go with an easier one now, I know humour plays a big part in some of your previous books, is this something that will also be present in The Olive Branch?
I do love to add in bits of humor and fun when I can! While this book is more angsty than my other stories, I didn’t want it to be too dark and depressing, so I did try to add in some lightness and humor where I could. It’s a tricky balance, to have the book have some real conflict but also keep it fun and enjoyable to read and reread, but that is what I aimed for.
I imagine that like the balance you were talking about there are other difficulties in writing a book, but which was the hardest scene to write in The Olive Branch?
I would say the “reveal” at the end. It can always be tricky to have your characters resolve everything without getting too wordy or having the traditional “villain monologue.” It took several complete rewrites to get that scene to work how I wanted it to.
And did you have any authors block on that particular scene? Or while you were writing the book? What is your solution to the author’s block?
I think one of the trickiest parts of that scene was point of view. We needed to find out information that was only known by somebody who was not available to reveal that information. So I did spend a lot of time kicked back in my chair, thinking, occasionally running ideas by my very tolerant husband or talking it over with my developmental editor.
My biggest trick to overcome writer’s block is to just start writing anything. So if I can’t think how to start a scene, I will actually brainstorm while typing. I’ll just start typing notes to myself on what I’m stuck on and why, and somehow I’ll end up sorting it out and starting to type the actual scene.
Another great way that I’ve found to overcome writer’s block is to talk to my critique partner, Melanie. She and I have a great time bouncing ideas off each other, and she’s not afraid to say, “I think your story/scene should start in a different place,” or what-not. Talking to her can often help me figure out how to fix a scene that is flat or figure out how to start a scene I’m stuck on.
Which character inspires you the most? And which one do you believe has more potential?
I’m going to take “inspires” to mean “was the most fun to write”—that’s what you mean, right? Right? And I would definitely say Mr. Collins. It was really entertaining to give him two faces: the one he shows to the public, and the one he shows to his victim. And of course sometimes his true self would leak out at a bit and reveal hints to other characters when he didn’t mean to.
I’m also a huge fan of the “fanon” version of Colonel Fitzwilliam, so of course he had to have an important role in this story. I think he’s such a great guy, so I really love to have him in my books when I can.
Yes, that exactly what I meant 😉 You’re making me really curious about the Collins character! Is the Col. present in this story? What about a secondary character story based on him next?
Yes, Colonel Fitzwilliam is in this story! He gets to help out Darcy, and they have some fun banter here and there, although of course the story is focused on Elizabeth and Darcy. However, he gets a little bit of a sideplot (read: romance) all of his own. So we don’t need a secondary story for him, as he gets to live happily ever after, too!
And here I was thinking we would have a secondary character story coming out soon 😊 Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with the positive and the negative ones?
I will admit to reading some of my reviews but not all of them. I did read all the reviews early on, because I do try to have a thick skin. But I found that sometimes reading the lower reviews made me lose my delight in a book I’d written, and so I’ve started to avoid those.
I do post to several active Jane Austen fanfiction boards, and I have received an incredible amount of helpful criticism there. In fact, I made some major changes to The Olive Branch based on critical reviews. The difference, I think, is that during the writing process, I can actually edit the story to fix any problems that people point out. Once it’s published, it’s done, so I tend to only read the reviews that are more positive.
Elizabeth Bennet faces an impossible choice—wed Mr. Collins or watch him destroy her entire family.
Given a choice, Elizabeth would never dream of marrying the pompous, ridiculous Mr. Collins. But when she refuses his offer, he threatens to reveal a shocking secret that could ruin the Bennets.
Fitzwilliam Darcy has no intention of giving in to his unsettling attraction to Elizabeth Bennet. Still, before he flees to London, he cannot resist seeing her one last time and discovers, to his dismay, that she is now betrothed to her odious cousin. She did everything in her power to evade Mr. Collins at the Netherfield ball, and the woman he sees before him now is not merely unhappy, but afraid. Elizabeth is in trouble, and Darcy cannot bear to abandon her in her distress.
As the wedding day looms, Darcy and Elizabeth become desperate to break the engagement without scandal. It is only when a stranger arrives—a stranger Mr. Collins seems to fear—that Darcy and Elizabeth have any hope of extricating her from this frightening predicament.
As Mr. Collins’s plan begins to unravel, it is clear that Elizabeth may not be the only one in danger. Will she and Darcy be too late to stop Mr. Collins’s vile plans?
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Sarah Courtney would like to offer one ebook copy of The Olive Branch to one lucky winner. To enter the giveaway comment this post until the 28th of July, the winner will be announced shortly after.
Good Luck Everyone!