Friday, January 15, 2016

Stephanie Barron--Jane and the Waterloo Map

 DEBORAH CROMBIE: What could be more fun than being in London while reading a book about
Jane Austen in London?

And not just Jane Austen, but a fictional Jane brought so inventively to life, and solving mysteries! That has been my treat, as I was fortunate to bring to London with me a copy of Jane And the Waterloo Map, the thirteenth Jane Austen novel by Stephanie Barron. I have loved these clever tales of Jane's adventures since the very first book, and with this one I've had the pleasure of following in Jane's footsteps, both real and imagined.

Here's Stephanie to tell us about Jane and the Waterloo Map.

Two hundred years ago this past Christmas, Jane Austen was staying with her brother Henry at his house in Hans Place, London—not far from the present-day Harrods. She was there in part because Henry was ailing, and he was her favorite brother. He’d lost his wife a few years earlier, and now, as Jane celebrated her fortieth birthday, they were two middle-aged siblings supporting each other through the wretched autumn of 1815. Wellington had narrowly won the Battle of Waterloo six months before, at enormous human cost to both the Allied and the French forces, but as a result of Napoleon’s fall and the end of hostilities on the Continent and in America, tens of thousands of military men returned to England in want of jobs. The economy tanked. Henry Austen was a banker and a militia payroll agent. Runs on all three branches of his bank ruined him by the turn of the year, and he was declared a bankrupt.

23 Hans Place, by Laurel Ann Nattress,

I’m filling in this backstory for two reasons: It’s the basis of my thirteenth Jane Austen mystery novel, Jane and the Waterloo Map (Soho Crime, February 2, 2016), but it’s also important to understanding, I think, so much of Jane Austen’s work. Although she was concerned about Henry’s health and that of his bank, Jane was really in London for entirely personal reasons during November and December of 1815. She was proofing the typeset pages of her fourth novel, Emma, which was published by John Murray two hundred years ago.

Dedication page, Emma

Murray was taking a chance on Emma. He was accustomed to putting out books by sweeping British male authors—Lord Byron and Sir Walter Scott being two horses in his stable. Jane’s previous book, Mansfield Park, hadn’t equaled her early success with Sense and Sensibility or Pride and Prejudice. And in a poor economy, people were less likely to spend their pence on books. From Jane’s letters that fall we know Murray tried to take advantage of her—offering to buy Emma’s copyright only if she sold him the rights to her backlist as well. She refused, retaining the rights to Emma, financing the book’s publication at her own expense, and according Murray a ten percent commission for his trouble. Unusual enough as a lady novelist, she had now become a woman of business as well.

I find Austen’s commentary on the vagaries of publishing fascinating, of course—the more things change, the more they stay the same. (Murray went on to remainder Austen’s books four years after her death, another personal slight familiar to contemporary novelists.) But when I sat down to write about this period in her life in Waterloo Map, I felt a stronger kinship with her than ever before. That sensation was due entirely to Emma.

Readers of mystery fiction like to argue the merits and names of the first true detective novelists. Some invoke Sheridan Le Fanu, others Wilkie Collins, still others Edgar Allen Poe. But for me, the first novel of detection will always be Emma. Austen’s cleverness in disguising a tale of duplicity, betrayal, false witness and eventual social redemption as a lighthearted romance is one reason I chose her for the role of fictional detective myself.

I’m not the only writer to recognize the mystery genre’s conventions in Austen. The Great Dame, as I like to think of her—P.D. James—outlined them in a lecture entitled “Emma Considered as a Detective Story” that she gave to the U.K.’s Jane Austen Society in 1998. One suspects that Dame P.D. continued to mull the parallels between Austen and murder fiction for years before she gave way to temptation and wrote her pastiche on both, Death Comes to Pemberley. Emma is apparently the story of a self-absorbed young woman of birth, wealth and beauty, who sets out to play matchmaker among the benighted souls of her acquaintance. But in fact, Emma Woodhouse is unwittingly engaged in solving a mystery hidden at the heart of the book—nothing involving murder, but a social outrage nonetheless. Eligible and charming Frank Churchill, who should be flirting with Emma herself, has contracted a secret engagement with impoverished Jane Fairfax against the expressed wishes of his adoptive parents. By suppressing the truth, and forcing Miss Fairfax to do the same, Frank descends into a series of impostures that deceive and betray the friends and family nearest to his heart. He wounds his beloved Jane to the point of self-martyrdom. Emma, the reader’s guide through these social labyrinths, is the original unreliable detective—she misinterprets the motives, actions, and desires of everyone about her with a destructive confidence that nearly ruins all their lives. The village of Highbury is turned on its head. Only when Frank’s “crime” is revealed and justice accorded to Jane Fairfax, is order restored in Emma Woodhouse’s small Eden.

Austen’s construction of the story is both subtle and ferociously clever. The perceptive reader finds clues that generally reveal themselves only upon a second journey through the book. Evidence is analyzed and false conclusions drawn. Witnesses offer testimonies that conflict and obscure the truth. Red herrings abound. And Emma, who blithely embarked on this elaborate investigation, realizes almost too late that the most deceived and benighted person in Highbury is herself. Austen seems to be warning us that the greatest mystery we can penetrate—a word she often used--is the motivation of the human heart, which can destroy or construct as much happiness as it chooses.

Carlton House main staircase. William Henry Pyne’s History of the Royal Residences, 1818-1819.

What Jane called penetration—perceptivity and empathic understanding—are critical to both writers and detectives. It is the crux of her endurance as an author: we return to her books because they persist in revealing us to ourselves. But Jane’s penetration is also the reason I decided, two decades ago, to steal her life and voice for the main character in a series of mystery novels.

I took up with Jane when she was at a personal crossroad: she had just turned twenty-six, another wretched Christmas; she had accepted and then hastily rejected an offer of marriage from a man she did not love. She chose personal truth over comfort, risk and possible want over economic security—and had she done otherwise, we would never have known her name. She would have become Mrs. Harris Bigg-Wither instead of Jane Austen, the mistress of a fine drawing room and park at Manydown House, but not of Fitzwilliam Darcy or Emma Woodhouse.

Carlton House main hall, William Henry Pyne’s History of the Royal Residences, 1818-1819.

Over the years I have followed Jane around England, from Bath to Southampton, Chawton to Canterbury. We have grown old in each other’s company; one of us has raised two children. Waterloo Map finds Jane at Carlton House, home of the Prince Regent, a man she despises. HRH is a fan of Jane’s work—and he has ordered her to dedicate Emma to him. (This is true.) And as she enters the remarkable library at Carlton House in November of 1815, she stumbles over the body of a Hero of Waterloo....

Only I know, at this point in Jane’s story, that she has a bare eighteen months to live. Her fears for brother Henry ought better to have been kept for herself. I have no idea how many more adventures she and I will share before pain and illness close her eyes in 1817, but I relish the ones we have known thus far. She has taught me so much about penetration, that Jane—with her subtle and ferocious heart.

DEBS: The book is not out until February 2nd, but you can pre-order, and here's more to tantalize you:

November, 1815. The Battle of Waterloo has come and gone, leaving the British economy in shreds; Henry Austen, high-flying banker, is about to declare bankruptcy—dragging several of his brothers down with him. The crisis destroys Henry's health, and Jane flies to his London bedside, believing him to be dying. While she's there, the chaplain to His Royal Highness the Prince Regent invites Jane to tour Carlton House, the Prince's fabulous London home. The chaplain is a fan of Jane's books, and during the tour he suggests she dedicate her next novel—Emma—to HRH, whom she despises.
However, before she can speak to HRH, Jane stumbles upon a body—sprawled on the carpet in the Regent's library. The dying man, Colonel MacFarland, was a cavalry hero and a friend of Wellington's. He utters a single failing phrase: "Waterloo map" . . . and Jane is on the hunt for a treasure of incalculable value and a killer of considerable cunning.

And more about Stephanie:

Francine Stephanie Barron was born in Binghamton, New York, and grew up in Washington D.C, the youngest of six sisters. She graduated from Georgetown Visitation Preparatory School then earned a degree at Princeton University in European History. While there she wrote for the university newspaper which led to later jobs with The Miami Herald and The San Jose Mercury News. She gained a master's at Stanford University in history then worked with the CIA for several years as an intelligence analyst. After the publication of her first book she started writing full-time, citing John McPhee (who taught her at Princeton) and Elizabeth George as particular influences. She lives in Denver, Colorado with her children and husband.

REDS and readers, are you Jane Austen fans? Please tell us your favorites, and stop in and visit with Stephanie!


  1. Oh, I’m most definitely a Jane Austen fan . . . and “Emma” is one of my favorites. I’ve enjoyed reading your inventive tales of Jane’s mystery-solving and I’m looking forward to reading “Jane and the Waterloo Map” . . . .

  2. I neglected to say that this book is gorgeous--photographs don't begin to do it justice. The title and details of the design are picked out in silver foil, which makes it look very rich and elegant.

  3. Definitely an Austen fan. As I read the book titles the wonderful covers of the editions I've owned floated up in my memory in turns. I've often thought she was a a detective of the heart. Penetrate is the perfect word to describe her. I'm Looking forward to reading Jane and the Waterloo Map, and hope Jane has many more mysteries in the works during her last eighteen months.

  4. This essay contains fascinating insights - thanks so much Stephanie! I go to Pride & Prejudice whenever I want a comfort read. Reserving my copy of Waterloo Map now...

  5. Welcome, Stephanie! I'm an Austen lover, too, and reread one of her books every year — and this year it's Emma! Jane and the Waterloo Map sounds fantastic -- count me in!

  6. Like Hallie, Pride & Prejudice is one of my go-to books for a comfort read. I've never considered Emma as a detective; I'll have to re-read with that in mind.

  7. Stephanie, I'm curious as to how you pick the episodes from Jane's life that you think will lend themselves to a mystery?

  8. Welcome! I'm completely taken with your discussion about second reads of Emma. The author lays so much groundwork, and backstory, and connections, and subject but it's frustrating, because readers can't really see that until they read the whole book, right? Then things fall in to place, and connections are revealed. But how much do we miss reading, it only once?
    It's fun to read a book just for the story, my English teacher used to say :-), but it's different to read the book for the insight and construction and connections and skill and design.
    Learning to be an author makes me seethat even more, you know? I read books way these days, and I guess that is a good thing.
    And one more thing, forgive the length of this--, but how wonderful of you to give us Jane as a real person!

  9. A Jane Ausren fan? As someone who watches Pride and Prejudice with monotonous regularity, whose oldest granddaughter is called Elizabeth, I think this might be an understatement. But I'm also a Stephanie Baron fan! We talked about this book when we did an event together and Im so looking forward to reading it!

  10. This is so apt. Last night, in honor of Alan Rickman, we watching the beautiful Emma Thompson-scripted movie of Sense and Sensibility where he, of course, plays the world-wounded but eventually triumphant Col. Brandon. I'm trying to get the Smithie to read more Austen; she's not fond of pre-20th century novels, but I think Austen is the most modern of all the 18th and 19th century writers.

    Stephanie, I'm so glad you've written another Jane mystery. I've been a devoted reader since forever and I have all the novels (also several of your Francine Matthews thrillers!) I'm really looking forward to spending more time with the perspicacious Miss Austen.

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  12. Definitely a fan of Jane Austen and, like many others, I rely on Pride and Prejudice (both book and movie [Colin Firth as Darcy]) to get me through life's ups and downs.

    Don't know how I missed your Austen novels, Stephanie, but am remedying that right now. Thanks, Reds, for bringing yet another fantastic author to a broader audience.


  13. Just starting my work day out here in Colorado. Sorry to join the conversation late!

  14. And as I can't quite figure out how to reply to each comment individually, I'm going to just go down the list. Hallie, P&P is one of my comfort reads, too, and has been since about the age of 12. But my favorite Austen novel, hands-down, is PERSUASION. I've just reached the point in her life where she's starting to think about writing it. Knowing that it was published after her death gives that fact a certain poignancy.

  15. Debs, the books generally follow one of two paths: either I use a few letters Jane wrote during a particular period in her life (October-December 1815, in the case of WATERLOO MAP) as a springboard for setting the novel, or I use a period where no letters exist at all, and fill the gap in her history. Both are fun to play with. When she's left a record of six weeks, you know exactly what she did on different days, whom she spoke with, where she shopped, what she bought and ate--even the weather--and all of that can be used as the background or framework to the story. When there's no record at all, the book can use historical events in England and her personal life as a starting point. That's very much what I did with JANE AND THE STILLROOM MAID, the fifth book in the series; I send her to the town of Bakewell three miles from Chatsworth, the Duke of Devonshire's estate, when no letters have survived for those weeks in her life. She mentions Bakewell specifically in PRIDE AND PREJUDICE when Lizzie visits Darcy's home, Pemberley, in Derbyshire, so I riffed on that--and it was truly fun to do.

  16. Hank, I think we all read books differently once we've taken on the challenge of writing them. I know I edit other people's prose far too often in my own head. :) A book is successful for me when I don't find myself doing that! But certainly I know I'm far more aware of plotting and structure in the novel--the way events are choreographed and "evidence" is released, to both reader and protagonist at different times. Jane was adept at what I call "privileging" information. Certain characters have pieces of the puzzle before her main characters, and often her readers, learn them. I'm thinking here of how Darcy possesses the key to Wickham's past and character when no one else does, or how Elizabeth Bennet's Aunt Gardiner knows that Darcy has saved Lydia long before Lizzie is aware of it. Those are crucial but hidden parts of the P&P. Jane understood the narrative power of the "reveal."

  17. Julia, I agree that Austen is remarkably modern--I think that's why she's still being read and filmed. Harold Bloom maintains that PERSUASION is the point of departure for the modern novel, because of its remarkable concision, and the interiorality (is that a word?) of its characters. It's one of the most tightly plotted books out there, and one of the first to track a woman's emotional course through, and out of, depression.

  18. Rhys, AWAY IN A MANGER made my Christmas. So glad we got to trade books at the Poisoned Pen!

  19. I'm afraid I got way behind on your books Stephanie. I admit I was brokenhearted when Jane's relationship with the Gentleman Rogue ended. It must be like working a puzzle to weave Jane's recorded life with a mysterious happening.

  20. Then you need to pick up with the two most recent books at least, Pat, because Jane has a new romantic interest in her life...with links to Lord Harold. :) Raphael West, painter and government spy (son of Anglo-American artist Benjamin West) enters Jane's life in JANE AND THE TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS. He reappears in WATERLOO MAP.

  21. And yes, Pat, it is like working a puzzle. I think of the books as mosaics, actually--fragments of fact set with fragments of fiction, the pieces making a different whole.

  22. I love Jane Austen. I find her fascinating -- the fact that she bucked the system by not marrying a man she didn't love. This is the first I've heard of your series, Stephanie, which, frankly, seems ridiculous. :-) I'm going to start with the first--looking forward to it!

    I'm intrigued by the fact that you have a natural end to your series (unless you go paranormal and have her become a ghost, or God forbid, a zombie -- I can't believe Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is a movie!). I wonder how writing a series differs in your case versus most cases (open-ended timeline with main detective not based on a real person). Did you ever think you'd get so far along that you would HAVE to think about Jane's death?

    It makes me think of the last Poirot novel and how Agatha Christie handled his finale.

    I'm like Hallie: I go back to P&P for comfort reads.

    1. Stephanie, I love Raphael West. Is he based on real person?

  23. So much to talk about, Lisa, in your comments.
    First, the last Poirot novel, CURTAIN--as you may know, but I'm just going to set down here--Christie wrote during World War II, when she was worried about the possibility of being a civilian casualty and leaving her family, who relied on her income, destitute. She set it aside along with the final Jane Marple--SLEEPING MURDER--in a safe, as sort of "investment properties" to be published after her death. It's fascinating to me that she could foresaw the end of her series characters' lives so many decades in advance.

    I have serious reservations, myself, about writing the end of Jane Austen's story. She has been a friend of mine for too long to enjoy watching vigil at her deathbed. But I have no intention of prolonging her life. I've been quite faithful to the record, aside from strewing bodies in her path every few months, and going paranormal would violate that. But as for your larger question, writing fiction about characters who have actual existences and ends--I love doing it, and seek it out. While I have written a series about an entirely fictional detective (the Merry Folger Nantucket mysteries), I prefer historical fiction embedded in real people's lives. Other than Jane, I've written about Virginia Woolf during the three weeks her body waited to be found after her suicide (THE WHITE GARDEN). Queen Victoria and her children are the subjects of A FLAW IN THE BLOOD. As Francine Mathews, I write spy novels about real people--most recently Jack Kennedy as a college student in World War II (JACK 1939) and Ian Fleming as a British intelligence officer in TOO BAD TO DIE. For whatever reason, I find the gaps in the historical record--the moments when events might have gone differently, or events and personalities coincide--to be rich territory for storytelling.

    Now: as for starting the Jane series. I often tell readers to start with the second book--JANE AND THE MAN OF THE CLOTH. When I wrote the first Jane mystery, JANE AND THE UNPLEASANTNESS AT SCARGRAVE MANOR, I was still finding my Austen voice. I grew more confident in it as the series went on. So if you do start with book one--I hope you'll persevere.

  24. Debs, Raphael West is a real person. He was the eldest son of Benjamin West. I've got a catalogue of his sketches, along with his father's. There isn't a lot known about him, but all the details of his life (wife, daughter, parents, brother, Newman Street house, etc) are true. The little detail of his working as a spy for the Crown is explained in the previous book, TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS.

    As an American family from Pennsylvania, the Wests were conflicted about becoming naturalised British subjects, which in effect they did--Benjamin was head of the Royal Academy and a court painter to George III. But he left England and took his family with him to Paris after the Revolution, believing it was a great moment for humanity and individual freedom from tyranny. When Napoleon crowned himself Emperor, they left Paris in disgust--and returned to London, where Benjamin died in 1820. He had a huge influence on a whole generation of American painters, however, who crossed the Atlantic to apprentice in his atelier, like Raphael and Rembrandt Peale.

    I like using Raphael West as a character because just enough is known about him to make him interesting--but not enough to disqualify him for fiction.

  25. I am a fan of Jane (of course!) and also of Stephanie. Happy to see there is a new Jane mystery out soon.

  26. Hello, I'm also a Jane Austen fan, and it's difficult to decide which book I like best. Your essay discussing her story construction is very interesting, and new to me. Thank you for the info.

  27. Appreciate all the feedback, folks! So often the life of a writer feels like just so much talking to yourself.

  28. Stephanie, I have gotten behind in the series so am grateful for this gentle reminder to catch up. Way back when, I read the first book in the series and have had this question ever since. Is my memory correct? There was a foreward that talked about you having access to a trunk of letters of Jane's and Cassandra's (and others) that a family member, who lived in the States had ownership of. Was that fictional? Am I dreaming that memory?? I thought how lucky you were to have access to that.

  29. You're not dreaming, Brenda, but it was indeed fictional--what a writer calls a framing device for the story. I was attempting, in that forward, to position myself as the editor of Jane's recently discovered journals, which recount her detective adventures, much as Dr. John Watson is presented as the chronicler of Sherlock Holmes's work. Laurie King does something similar in the BEEKEEPER'S APPRENTICE, when she suggests that the first Mary Russell story is a "found" manuscript. These are all ways to heighten the reader's suspension of disbelief. I had a personal bit of fun with that forward, however, because I had the manuscripts discovered in the drystone cellar of a friend, Philip Carroll, who is descended from Charles Carroll of Carrolton, one of the original signers of the Declaration of Independence. Another ancestor of Phil's is Archbishop Carroll, one of the Jesuit founders of Georgetown University, who allegedly helped spirit the illegitimate son of the Prince Regent and Maria FitzHerbert out of England to Maryland, where he was raised as an adopted child. (This has never been fully documented, I should say.) Descendants of Jane Austen's brothers eventually emigrated to the United States, and as some of her letters were in their possession, I thought it would be fun to send the "journals" with them, too.

  30. Oh, yes, I'm definitely a Jane Austen fan, and Emma is a special one of her books for me because a couple of years ago, my adult daughter and I read it together, something we seldom can coordinate. And, of course, I really enjoyed it. Now, Stephanie, you have me wanting to do a second reading.

    I am working my way to your Jane Austen Mysteries. It's one of the series I most want to read, and I so hope to get caught up this year. With a family health crisis, my reading year has been pretty much put on hold until another couple of weeks, but I'm going to at least get started on your series by Bouchercon in New Orleans this year. Your answer to Debs' question about how you choose the episodes to make into your mysteries was a nice piece of information to have before I start the series. I did manage to meet you very briefly in Raleigh and get a Jane Austen Mystery signed. I should have more to sign in New Orleans.

  31. That's wonderful to hear, Kathy. I had a terrific time in Raleigh--my seventeen year-old son took a greyhound bus from his fencing tournament in Richmond and met me there. We visited a few colleges in the area and I was quite struck by the beauty of the North Carolina countryside. I hope you had a good Bouchercon, too. Looking forward to meeting again in New Orleans--and best of good wishes regarding the family health crisis. I know I am constantly juggling so many things in life, that the few minutes I steal to read, with a glass of wine by a good fire, are my conception of heaven.

  32. Nicely done, Stephanie! Thanks for the detailed explanation!