THE MYSTERIOUS DEATH OF MISS JANE AUSTEN

LINDSAY ASHFORD

the mysterious death of jane austen

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WELCOME LINDSAY!!

 

The idea for ‘The Mysterious Death of Miss Jane Austen’ came to me when I was living and working at Chawton House – an Elizabethan mansion once owned by the novelist’s brother. Jane Austen was a frequent visitor to the house, which was just five minutes’ walk from her cottage.

 

I moved there in May 2008 when my fiancé was offered a job at Chawton House Library. I’d been writing contemporary mystery novels prior to the move and I planned to start work on another. But within a few weeks of settling in the village I’d abandoned the new book. Instead my head was stuck in old volumes of the Austen family letters. One morning a sentence Jane penned just a few months before she died jumped out at me. Describing the weeks of illness she had suffered, she wrote: ‘I am considerably better now and recovering my looks a little, which have been bad enough, black and white and every wrong colour…’

The words jumped out at me. As a writer of crime fiction I’ve researched forensic techniques, including the detection of poisons. What Jane had described sounded very similar to the effect of arsenic poisoning, which creates dark and light patches on the skin when taken in small doses over a long period of time. She died at the age of just 41 and no-one has been able to fully explain her symptoms. Could she have been poisoned, I wondered?

 

I put the idea to the back of my mind until a few months later, when the library had a visitor from New York. She asked if I had seen the lock of Jane’s hair – cut off after her death as a keepsake – on display at the cottage down the road. Then she related the story of the couple who donated it – American collectors of Austen memorabilia, both now deceased, who had bought it at auction at Sotheby’s in 1948. ‘And did you know,’ she said, ‘that before they handed it over to the museum, they had it tested for arsenic?’

 

This was my ‘lightbulb moment’. The hair had tested positive for arsenic. So Jane Austen died with poison in her body. Why? How? The seeds of a novel began to germinate.

 

I already had plenty of research material for the book, provided by the Austen family archives housed in the library. So the next thing was to find out everything I could about the use of arsenic in the early nineteenth century. I came across an excellent book called ‘The Arsenic Century’ by Professor James C. Whorton, which gives a fascinating insight into the use and misuse of arsenic at the time Jane Austen was alive. In 1817 – the year she died – the tasteless, odourless white powder could be bought from any grocer’s shop in England with no questions asked. People were poisoned by accident if it got mistaken for baking powder and there were also those who were poisoned slowly and deliberately by relatives or servants who knew the symptoms could easily be mistaken for those of bowel cancer or gastroenteritis.

 

I thought of Jane’s best friend, Anne Sharp, to whom the author wrote one of her last letters. Anne lived until 1853 – long enough to hear about the discovery of the Marsh Test. Developed in 1836, it enabled the analysis of human remains for the presence of arsenic. What would you do, I wondered, if you suspected your best friend had been poisoned and you were in possession of a lock of her hair?

 

This is how the novel begins:

 

‘I have sent him her hair. When I took it from its hiding place and held it to my face I caught the faintest trace of her; a ghost scent of lavender and sun-warmed skin. It carried me back to the horse-drawn hut with its wheels in the sea where I saw her without cap and bonnet for the first time. She shook out her curls and twisted round. My buttons, she said, will you help me? The hut shuddered with the waves as I fumbled. She would have fallen if I hadn’t held her. I breathed her in, my face buried in it; her hair.

 

I suppose he has had to destroy it to reveal its secret; he can have no idea what it cost me to part with it. All that remains are the few strands the jeweller took for the ring upon my finger: a tiny braid, wound into the shape of a tree. When I touch the glass that holds it I remember how it used to spill over the pillow in that great sailboat of a bed. If hair can hold secrets this ring must surely hold mine…’

 

Researching the novel was made all the more fascinating by the knowledge that the people I was writing about had actually lived in the house I was now working in. Jane, her family and her friend Anne Sharp had dined, danced and slept at Chawton House. Sometimes I felt I could hear Anne Sharp whispering in my ear. That might sound fanciful but it’s the only way I can describe the way the novel took me over.

 

Five Things You May Not Know About Me:

 

1)      I was the first woman in 800 years to graduate from Queens College, Cambridge. That might sound grand, but it was a bit of luck, really – I happened to get a place there the first year they decided to admit women, and as my name was higher up the alphabet than the other women who graduated that year, I got to be first!

2)      I’m terrified of elevators. I once jumped out of one in a hotel in Kuala Lumpur because the doors were opening and shutting erratically. I found myself stranded on the eighteenth floor dressed in nothing but a bathrobe (I was on my way back from the pool) – very embarrassing, especially when a group of smartly dressed Japanese businessmen emerged from a conference room a few feet away!

3)      I keep ducks in my garden – the eggs are amazing!

4)      I have a house by the ocean in Wales and I go surfing whenever I can.

5)      I have four children – two boys and two girls – all of whom are now taller than me. So I’m the midget of the family, unless you count the dog and the ducks.    

    

Lessons I’ve learned as an author:

 

Waiting for the muse to descend is not the way to get a book written. When my kids were small I had to write whenever I had a time window and it taught me to be disciplined. I have more time now they are older but I try to stick to a routine of getting down to work at 8.30 each morning. I don’t always feel like it, but I make myself sit in that chair and turn on the computer.

 

My advice to new and aspiring authors is: believe in yourself but listen to constructive criticism from people who know what they are talking about. Don’t be too precious about your work – writing is like learning a craft, so be prepared to rewrite your manuscript if an editor or publisher shows an interest. It took me four drafts to get ‘The Mysterious Death of Miss Jane Austen’ to the stage where both I and my editor were happy with it!    

 

 

            Thank you so much for spending time with us and our readers today! What an amazing story! 

 

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A BIT ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Lindsay Ashford is an award-winning British mystery novelist and journalist. Her writing has been compared to that of Linda Fairstein. Ashford has a degree in Criminology and in 1996 began writing mysteries. Ashford divides her time between a home on the Welsh coast near Aberystwyth, Wales and the village of Chawton (Jane Austen’s home) in Hampshire.

Website: http://www.lindsayashford.co.uk/

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the mysterious death of jane austenA BIT ABOUT THE BOOK:*From the publisher*

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark (August 6, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1402282125
  • ISBN-13: 978-1402282126

 

*Publisher*
Jane Austen died at the tragically early age of 41, her face (described by Austen herself) “black and white and every wrong colour.” What might have been the cause? Medical theories are inconclusive. Suspecting foul play, Jane’s close friend Anne Sharp is compelled to investigate, uncovering dark secrets… and possibly murder.

“Where would I begin to explain it all…?”

Twenty-six years have passed since the death of Jane Austen. Armed with a lock of Austen’s hair as perhaps her best clue, Anne Sharp, former governess to the Austen family and Jane’s close friend, has decided at last to tell her story—a story of family intrigues, shocking secrets, forbidden loves, and maybe even murder…

Upon its publication in the UK, Lindsay Ashford’s fictional interpretation of the few facts surrounding Jane Austen’s mysterious death sparked an international debate and uproar. None of the medical theories offer a satisfactory explanation of Jane Austen’s early demise at the age of forty-one. Could it be that what everyone has assumed was a death by natural causes was actually more sinister? Lindsay Ashford’s vivid novel delves deep into Austen’s world and puts forth a shocking suggestion—was someone out to silence her?

– See more at: http://www.sourcebooks.com/store/mysterious-death-of-miss-jane-austen.html#sthash.xDa4WW5F.dpuf

 

“Where would I begin to explain it all…?”

Twenty-six years have passed since the death of Jane Austen. Armed with a lock of Austen’s hair as perhaps her best clue, Anne Sharp, former governess to the Austen family and Jane’s close friend, has decided at last to tell her story—a story of family intrigues, shocking secrets, forbidden loves, and maybe even murder…

Upon its publication in the UK, Lindsay Ashford’s fictional interpretation of the few facts surrounding Jane Austen’s mysterious death sparked an international debate and uproar. None of the medical theories offer a satisfactory explanation of Jane Austen’s early demise at the age of forty-one. Could it be that what everyone has assumed was a death by natural causes was actually more sinister? Lindsay Ashford’s vivid novel delves deep into Austen’s world and puts forth a shocking suggestion—was someone out to silence her?

– See more at: http://www.sourcebooks.com/store/mysterious-death-of-miss-jane-austen.html#sthash.xDa4WW5F.dpuf

“Where would I begin to explain it all…?”

Twenty-six years have passed since the death of Jane Austen. Armed with a lock of Austen’s hair as perhaps her best clue, Anne Sharp, former governess to the Austen family and Jane’s close friend, has decided at last to tell her story—a story of family intrigues, shocking secrets, forbidden loves, and maybe even murder…

Upon its publication in the UK, Lindsay Ashford’s fictional interpretation of the few facts surrounding Jane Austen’s mysterious death sparked an international debate and uproar. None of the medical theories offer a satisfactory explanation of Jane Austen’s early demise at the age of forty-one. Could it be that what everyone has assumed was a death by natural causes was actually more sinister? Lindsay Ashford’s vivid novel delves deep into Austen’s world and puts forth a shocking suggestion—was someone out to silence her?

– See more at: http://www.sourcebooks.com/store/mysterious-death-of-miss-jane-austen.html#sthash.xDa4WW5F.dpuf

Book Trailer: http://youtu.be/KWUP7Dc_XVA
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~Check out “My Thoughts~
Visit:
http://mybookaddictionreviews.com/2013/08/05/review-the-mysterious-death-of-miss-jane-austen-by-lindsay-ashford/
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the mysterious death of jane austen~GIVEAWAY ALERT~

(Sponsored by the publisher)

*Prize will be mailed directly to the winner by the publisher*

We are offering 1 lucky commenter a print copy of “The Mysterious Death of Miss Jane Austen” by Lindsay Ashford. Giveaway open to US residents only! Giveaway will run from August 9 until August 16,2013.

GOOD LUCK AND ENJOY!

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Enjoy your summer!

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