Tuesday, July 15, 2014

"Ode to Jane"

Author Julie Klassen is with us today. In her Christy award winning novel, The Girl in the Gatehouse, set during the English Regency, Julie opens a world foreign to the twenty-first century. It’s a world where a girl can be ruined and abandoned by her family for an “indiscretion” while the boy experiences little more than momentary embarrassment. It’s a world where novel authors are held in low repute. (Even the beloved books of Jane Austen were published anonymously in her time.) In this story, several characters are “outed” in this notorious profession. In places the author mimics the style and melodrama of the period, all in good fun.

LeAnne Hardy: Thank you for being with us, Julie. Won't you tell us a little more abouthe book.

Julie Klassen:  The Girl in the Gatehouse is about a young woman who has been sent away from her home after a scandal. She lives in an abandoned gatehouse on a distant relative’s estate, where she supports herself and her loyal servant by writing novels in secret. Her plan to live quietly goes astray when a wealthy and ambitious naval captain leases the estate. Captain Bryant is intrigued by the beautiful girl in the gatehouse. But he fights the attraction, not wanting to risk his own plans for a woman shadowed by scandal

LH: This book is so much fun. Where did the idea come from?

JK: The spark of the idea came from one of Jane Austen’s minor characters—Maria Bertram, who is caught in immorality and banished by her family to “an establishment being formed for them in another country—remote and private.” Of course in Mansfield Park, we do not admire vain and adulterous Maria Bertram and most readers likely feel she earned her just deserts. But I found myself wondering, What if Maria (pronounced “Mariah” in England) were a character we actually cared about? Would we be content to leave her in her lonely exile? As someone who has made her share of mistakes in life, I am thankful for forgiveness and second chances. And I enjoyed giving Mariah Aubrey hers as well.

LH: I think we are all grateful for second chances. The Girl in the Gatehouse has a delightful Jane Austen feel to it. What do you like best about Austen’s novels?

JK: Thank you. I call this book my “Ode to Jane” and Austen fans will recognize her influence in several aspects of the book. I like Austen’s strong, noble heroes, like Mr. Darcy, Captain Wentworth, Colonel Brandon, and Mr. Knightley. I also enjoy her sense of humor, and the chivalry and manners of the era—where a look across the ballroom or the mere touch of gloved hands sparked romance.

LH: You have even been to a conference of the Jane Austen Society, haven't you? What did you enjoy most about that experience?

JK: Yes, I attended the annual conference for the first time in September 2013. I enjoyed meeting fellow Austen fans from around the world, and learning more about the time period in which Jane Austen lived. I especially loved taking English Country Dance lessons and dancing at the formal ball in my Regency-era gown. 

Julie (center) with friends at the Jane Austen Society ball
LH: Have you visited places like the manor house, gatehouse and poorhouse you describe? What was that like?

JK: I loosely based the fictional manor in the book on one in Lower Slaughter—probably our favorite Cotswold village. I have also been inside a gatehouse, but not the one shown on the cover. And no, I have not been to a poorhouse, but I did manage to find a fair amount of information and old photographs online, which helped me imagine what an institution of this kind might have been like. I have been to England three times now—but at the time I wrote this novel I believe I had only been once. In general, my research is primarily done online and through books—though I find research on location very helpful and try to do so as often as I can. I love visiting England!

Julie outside the gatehouse at Lanhydrock House in Cornwall

LH: Me too. My husband and I spent a wedding anniversary at Lords of the Manor, a short walk up the river from Lower Slaughter, while we were living in England. Gorgeous area! What else do you find valuable for research?

JK: I like old books, maps, diaries, newspapers, advertisements, village web sites, classes through the Jane Austen Society, friendships with fellow Regency authors, etc. There’s always more to learn!

LH: More to learn. That’s what makes writing so much fun, I think. You were already in publishing before you became an author. Tell us a little about your journey.

JK: Like my main character, I was a “secret” or “closet” author for years while I worked as a fiction editor for Bethany House Publishers. I learned so much working with other editors and authors. When I finally completed my first historical, my boss wisely sent it around to my co-workers under a pseudonym so it would be reviewed objectively. Thankfully, they wanted to publish it. After that, everyone knew it was me and I was edited just as hard as I ever edited anyone else!

LH: I loved that not only was the main character a secret author, but several other characters turn out to be hiding similar secrets. How differently was writing viewed as a career in the early 19th c?

JK: Novel-writing in particular was not considered proper or respectable, especially for ladies. Many authors (female and male alike) published anonymously or under pseudonyms in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. As you mentioned, Jane Austen’s name never appeared in her novels during her lifetime. The title pages were printed with “by a lady” or “by the author of” one of her previous novels. Thankfully, times have changed.

LH: What should we be looking forward to from the pen of Jane, I mean, Julie Klassen?

JK: My 8th Regency era novel, The Secret of Pembrooke Park, is due out from Bethany House in November of this year. It centers around a long-abandoned manor house and is filled with mystery, family drama, and romance. I hope you’ll enjoy it!

LH: I’m sure we will. I love mystery around long-abandoned places! Readers, as Julie mentioned, this will be her eighth Regency novel. So if you go to your favourite on-line book site, you will find lots to interest you between now and November. Julie, thank you for being with us today.


LeAnne Hardy, author of the Glastonbury Grail series, has lived in six countries on four continents. She first met Julie Klassen at a book signing and has been a fan ever since. LeAnne's fiction reflects her faith, her passion for storytelling that stretches the mind and soul, and the cultures she has lived in. Learn more on her website.  


  1. This looks amazing! I love Jane Austen-ish books! Bravo!

  2. Great interview Leanne and Julie. I don't read many regencies, but I do love watching the BBC productions. :D This one sounds like it would make a great one!

  3. Oooo! I'd love to see any of Julie's books as BBC productions.

  4. Ah, wonderful interview, LeAnne. Julie is a real master of capturing the Regency times. I wrote about Julie & her books in my Feb. blog.

    These books mentioned here sound like a very good read.

  5. Love the costumes and the castle! The dresses of that time are so beautiful. Julie's books are absolutely fabulous!

  6. LeAnne and Julie, great interview! Julie, the Jane Austen Society ball looks like a lot of fun. Love the dresses :)

  7. Thanks for the great interview, LeAnne and Julie.
    Julie, I'm a big fan of your novels. It's interesting to learn that Mariah was inspired by 'Mansfield Park''s Maria.
    I'm looking forward to 'The Secret of Pembrooke Park' I'm glad those of us who love Jane Austen have your books to follow.

  8. Hi Julie, what fun to see you on ICFW! I saw you at the Minneaplis AGM, but didn't manage to connect. Will you be in Montreal?

  9. P> S. I agree--the English Country Dancing was just about the most fun I've ever had in my life--like truly being in a Jane Austen movie.

  10. Thank you so much for talking about one of my all time favourite books! Julie I love your work and this book was particularly enjoyable to me, particularly since It was about closet authors!

    I loved the characters in this book so much, I wished for a sequel!

  11. Great and interesting post. Thanks, I enjoyed it, and look forward to Julie's next book.