Thursday, 6 December 2007

Mr Darcy's Diary - two for the price of two

Getting publicity for a book you have written is almost as hard as writing the thing or finding somebody to publish it. Unless you’re already famous for something else, or are so shamelessly self-publicising that you’re prepared to doorstep the PM naked or call your book BUY THIS BOOK IF YOU LIKED [insert names of at least three books that your book either resembles slightly or wants to resemble a whole lot more] finding a market for an unknown author is proverbially hard.

Which means we could all learn a thing or two from Maya Slater and Amanda Grange who have both written books called Mr Darcy’s Diary. What a brilliant piece of market-placement; find your eager readers first and then write just what they want to read! Perfect!

Why didn’t I think of that…?

Of course there will be Janeite purists out there who will not sully their lorgnettes or their chaises longues with anything which purports to represent Miss Austen’s characters but wasn’t actually written by her. They will eschew these books whilst looking down their noses at them, possibly holding a lacy handkerchief to their nostrils to keep out the whiff of literary larceny.
But those who could never resist Mr Darcy in a wet shirt will queue up to buy these books and are unlikely to be disappointed.

I have just read the pair for our book group which met to discuss them last night. It’s the first time we’ve attempted a ‘compare and contrast’ read but – for me at least – it was a great success. (And no, it wasn’t my idea. In fact, it wasn’t anybody’s idea really – one of our number chose the Maya Slater book having forgotten the author and, when it became clear there were two, we decided to read both as neither is overly long.)

We did wonder what trick of synchronicity had persuaded two authors to produce books of the same title in the same year – some copyright thing which has a lifespan of over a century and a half? – but, after consulting the inner pages, we worked out that it was simple geography – Ms Slater’s book was published in the UK, Ms Grange’s in the US.

Amanda Grange’s Mr Darcy’s Diary can be a bit disconcerting at times because it is SO VERY like Pride and Prejudice. In fact I checked up and some bits are just lifted straight from the pages of P&P, as when Darcy and Elizabeth are chatting/flirting/teasing each other. This version is the absolute flipside of Jane Austen’s book – there we mostly see things from Elizabeth’s viewpoint, in Amanda Grange’s book we see exactly the same events from Fitzwilliam’s point of view. And nothing else, apart from a little extension after the weddings which, even so, stops short of anything which might smack to Ms Austen of impropriety.

Not so Maya Slater’s book. This Mr Darcy is much more fully explored. We see much further behind his scenes and quite raunchy some of the scenes are too. His feather-spitting antipathy to George Wickham is more fully explained and explored as is his young life and the way in which he came to be so ‘ungentlemanlike’ in his pride. Maya Slater’s book gives us more of a feel for the life of a Regency gentleman and how he would have spent his time. She even invents a friendship for Darcy with Lord Byron who, despite his scandalousness, is presented as something of a sad figure.

I was delighted that both books are united in the extremely short shrift they give Caroline Bingley (don’t you just want to give her a resounding slap?) and both flesh out Anne de Burgh somewhat, which I enjoyed.

The working title of my current book is Rebecca Revisited. I’ve always assumed that no publisher would produce it under that title as the reading public would immediately think Daphne du Maurier but, in the light of Mr Darcy’s Diary, maybe I need to think again….

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