Thursday, August 20, 2009

Guest: Syrie James

Syrie James’ last novel, The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen, was a Discover Great New Writers Selection of Barnes and Noble, and was named a Best First Novel of 2008 by Library Journal. She’s a best selling author and a great friend. Please give Syrie a warm welcome to the convertible. One super lucky commenter will receive a copy of her latest novel, so chime in, Top Downers.

Did you enjoy the novel JANE EYRE? Have you ever wondered who Charlotte Brontë was, and what inspired her to write that remarkable masterpiece? I did. I must have read JANE EYRE a dozen times. I wanted to know and understand the woman behind it—so I researched her life in depth.

I’m now thrilled to announce that my new novel, THE SECRET DIARIES OF CHARLOTTE BRONTË—the dramatic story of Charlotte’s life and romance—is on the shelves. Written from Charlotte’s point of view, the book begins with an impassioned proposal which throws Charlotte’s entire household into confusion. Charlotte takes up her pen to examine the truth about her life: her deepest feelings and desires, her triumphs and shattering disappointments, her relationship with her family, her evolution as a writer, and her scandalous, secret passion for the man she can never have—the man who was the basis for all the heroes in Charlotte's books, including the infamous Mr. Rochester.

Above all, it is the story of Charlotte’s real-life romance. Her father’s curate—the tall, dark, and handsome Arthur Bell Nicholls—lived right next door to the Brontës for more than seven years and carried a silent torch for Charlotte all that time, before he had the nerve to propose. Charlotte at first greatly disliked him, but her feelings eventually changed to deep and abiding love. (I knew that would make a fabulous story—and it had never been told!)

I had such fun researching Charlotte’s life and writing this novel. The process took about two years. I was astonished to discover how many parts of Charlotte’s books were inspired by her own experiences. What a story! Charlotte lived a secluded life in Victorian England in the wilds of Yorkshire. She was a feisty, independent thinker—one of the original feminists—yet she had no social connections whatsoever. Her father was going blind. Her brother became an alcoholic and a drug addict. Her sisters Emily and Anne were also very talented writers.

After a chance discovery brought out the fact that all three women were writing in secret, they encouraged each other and began working together. Despite the difficulties of their circumstances, all three became published authors at the exact same time. Charlotte’s JANE EYRE and Emily’s WUTHERING HEIGHTS are considered to be among the greatest works ever written in the English language. I can’t think of any other family in history who have achieved a similar literary feat!

To research my book, I read dozens of Brontë biographies. I studied their art. I read all of the Brontës novels over and over, hundreds of their poems, Charlotte’s juvenilia, and more than four hundred of Charlotte’s preserved letters. The letters not only helped me to hear Charlotte’s true voice, they gave me great insight into her most intimate thoughts, beliefs, daily struggles, and personal relationships.

I also visited the Brontë Parsonage Museum in Haworth, England—which is the house where Charlotte and her family lived almost her entire life, and is filled with their possessions. It was such a thrill to walk through the rooms where Charlotte lived and worked, to walk the lanes she walked, and to see the wild expanse of moors that she and her sisters loved to roam.

I was even granted a private tour of the former Roe Head School which Charlotte attended, and which I featured in my novel—where the legend of a mysterious attic dweller, the Ghost of Roe Head, still lives! It was invaluable to have those images in my mind when I wrote the book. It was such a thrill to recreate the historic moment when Charlotte was inspired to start writing JANE EYRE, that I got chills down my spine when I was writing it.

For those of you who enjoyed my last book, THE LOST MEMOIRS OF JANE AUSTEN, I hope you will love THE SECRET DIARIES OF CHARLOTTE BRONTË just as much, if not more—for it is truly a work of my heart!

And please do visit my website at You’ll find lots of fun stuff, including photos of my research trip to Brontë country, portraits of the Brontës, excerpts from Charlotte’s correspondence, and selections from their art and poetry.

And now, back to the question which began this blog: Did you enjoy the novel JANE EYRE? If so, why? When did you first read it? Why do you think JANE EYRE is still so adored and revered more than 160 years after it was first published? Which movie version do you like best? How do you feel about WUTHERING HEIGHTS? What do you like best about historical fiction? Are you excited to learn more about Charlotte and the Brontës?

I’ll be giving away a free copy of my new novel to one lucky commenter!



Betina Krahn said...

Welcome back, Syrie! Congratulations on all the kudos and success of "Jane Austen". . . and best wishes for "Charlotte"!

It sounds like you had a wonderful time researching the book and putting yourself into the mind and heart of Ms. Bronte. And I LOVE your picure of the Yorkshire countryside. Don't you find it kindof amazing that such wild and beautiful country remains relatively unpopulated, while so many places in the UK are so people-dense?

lois greiman said...

Syrie, thanks so much for sharing your experiences with us. Yorkshire is one of my favorite places, and historical fiction continues to fascinate me because of its endless ability to ignite our imaginations.

Best of luck with your new novel.

Cindy Gerard said...

Hi Syrie and welcome back. the book sounds fantastic. I can't imagine having the opportunity to research in such great depths. Wonderful and amazing.
Thanks for joining us and much luck with the book!

I Heart Book Gossip said...

Hello Syrie!

Great interview. Good luck with everything!

Please count me in.

cindyc725 at gmail dot com

Margay said...

I am just fascinated (if not more so) by the lives of historical writers as I am by their work, so I'd love a chance to read this new book. I think it's interesting to read about how they lived and to compare that to what they wrote to see if any of it crept into the prose.(I have The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen and enjoyed it.)

traveler said...

Welcome Syrie. Congratulations and much success on Charlotte. Austen was wonderful. I read Jane Eyre many years ago and adored this novel. The characters and the plot captivated me. This novel was compelling in everyway. I loved the setting, the era and the descriptions. I became immersed within the pages of this tome. I watched the first version of this movie and adored it. Jane Eyre is such a classic and that is missing from our lives in this day and age. Classics continue on forever and give us romance, hope and love. I love historical fiction for its period characters, settings, dialogue and beauty which is unique and special.

Helen Brenna said...

Welcome back, Syrie!

Oh, gosh, I read Jane Eyre so long ago I can't remember how young I was, but I loved it!

I just watched the Masterpiece Theatre production with Toby Stephens and really enjoyed it.

Kathleen Eagle said...

Hi Syrie!

I loved JANE EYRE. I love a tortured hero--always have. The impossible relationship, the fire (ahem) that never dies. Ah, the angst. Ah, the woman who loves him through it all, and, oh yes! the true love makes the impossible finally possible.

The women who wrote and published stories about women back in the day--against all odds--have always been heroes of mine.

Thanks for giving them new life!

Kylie said...

Welcome, Syrie! What an intriguing idea for a book! Best of luck with it.

Virginia said...

Hi Syrie, I don't think I ever read Jane Eyre, I am a shamed to say! It sound like you had a wonderful time doing research on your book and it sounds like a great read. I would really love to read it.

catslady said...

I think it's time for me to read that book again. I read it in high school (a long, long time ago) and can only remember that it was a book I enjoyed. I love your premise and think it would be a fascinating read.

flchen1 said...

Hi, Syrie! I know I read both in high school but that was ages ago! I recall seeing a movie version of Wuthering Heights in class after we'd read the book, and I think I was bothered because the casting wasn't how I'd expected it to be after reading... that started me down the whole "can't watch the movie after reading the book" path! I'd definitely be curious to learn more about Charlotte and the Brontes now!

My Writer's Attic said...

I didn't read Jane Eyre until a few years ago, but now it's one of my favorite books. I love that Jane was a strong woman. She may have had a hard life but she didn't let it leave her bitter. She triumphed and found not only herself, but the love of her life. It's a romance in the truest sense of the word. I can't wait to read both THE LOST MEMOIRS OF JANE AUSTEN and THE SECRET DIARIES OF CHARLOTTE BRONTË. They sound amazing and I know you had a wonderful time researching them.

Debra Dixon said...

Syrie-- Welcome! I did very much enjoy THE LOST MEMOIRS OF JANE AUSTIN!

This new one sounds great as well. I'll have to put it on my list.

Damn you. (g)

Katherine C. said...

Jane Eyre is one of those books I've read over and over since the first time I read it in fifth grade (Mom was an English teacher, so I read lots of stuff before I had any idea what was really going on). I love the character of Jane and her ability to get through a horrible childhood — not unscathed — but without coming out a bitter shell of a person either. And I heart Mr. Rochester. Even as I've grown older and realized what a tool he can sometimes be — particularly in the way he treats some of the important people in his life — I can't help but fall in love with him right along with Jane every time.
I'd have to say my favorite movie version is the BBC production that aired on PBS' Masterpiece Theater a few years ago — I own it and actually watched it again not long ago. I think it was perfectly cast, although the way it glosses over takes away from it a bit.

Syrie James said...

Hi everyone! Thank you so much for your comments. I was delighted to "ride in the convertible" with you today. Sorry I didn't get a chance to stop by earlier. I have been working 24/7 on my next book, which I just this minute finished and turned in to my editor (at 1 AM.)

It's entitled DRACULA, MY LOVE. It's a retelling of Bram Stoker's Victorian novel from the point of view of the heroine, Mina Harker... the untold story of Mina's secret, scandalous passion for the man who is not her husband: the young, gorgeous, charismatic, intelligent, fascinating Count Dracula, who she deeply loves, despite herself. This is a Dracula unlike the one we have formerly seen in film and print; a vampire with a heart and soul, who struggles against the evil within him, and whose past actions have been misunderstood.

The book is an thrilling romantic adventure, and will be published by Morrow in hardcover in 2010. I had such a blast writing it...

But back to "Secret Diaries"! I do hope you will fall in love with Charlotte Brontë and Mr. Nicholls, and Emily and Anne, as much as I did-- and that their story will touch your heart. It was crucial to me to remain true to Charlotte's spirit and due her justice, for she was a truly remarkable woman. Think how much she touched the world, with her novel JANE EYRE. It made her immortal!

Margay said...

It's funny you wrote a book about that, Syrie. I always thought it would be fascinating to read Dracula's story from Mina's point of view. I'll be looking for this book!

robynl said...

sorry to say I've never read the books; Charlotte seems an amazing woman of her time.
I'm sure you knew Charlotte quite well after all was said and done.
Could you feel her, so to speak, as you researched her home, etc.?

Syrie James said...

Hi Robynl,

Yes! After all my research and immersing myself in Charlotte's life and letters, I felt as if I was walking in her shoes, channeling her spirit, and writing as if I was her. When you read the book, I hope you feel the same way.