> Skip to content

Q&A  •  16 February 2024


Jessica Bull shares how she entered Jane Austen’s world while writing her debut novel

She took up a few new hobbies, including horseback riding, sewing and Georgian dance.

What was your writing process like? Did you have a writing routine or any regular rituals?

I outline my novels in detail before I draft them. I think it’s especially important to plan what happens in a mystery, as I really want my readers to trust where I’m leading them. All crime novels are stories where the protagonist uncovers another story, so things can get very complicated.

How did you first come up with the idea for the book? 

I’m a huge Jane Austen fan, and I was looking for a way to bring her to life that would allow me to showcase how wonderfully determined, insightful and irreverent she was. I realised a whodunnit was especially fitting, as Austen’s novels are mysteries where the heroine must uncover the true character of those around her, especially the hero. In Northanger Abbey, Catherine Morland gets so carried away with her investigation that she accuses her crush’s father of murdering his wife! 

If you could have dinner with any fictional character, who would it be and why?

Mr Darcy - he could smoulder at me across the dinner table while I insulted him. I also think that the catering at Pemberley would be spectacular. 

If you were a character in a novel, what would be your signature quirk or catchphrase?

'Let’s just have a nice cup of tea and think about this.'

I’m addicted to Assam tea and drink bucketloads of it while writing. If I were a character in a book, every scene would be punctuated by me enjoying a cuppa while I worked out what to do next.

What fictional world would you want to live in, and how would you survive or thrive there?

I love historical fiction and all of Jane Austen’s lively characters, but I would not willingly place myself in a world where women’s lives were so constrained and antibiotics had yet to be invented. Instead, I’d choose a fantasy realm where women were in charge – perhaps I could be a teacher at Miss Cackle's Academy for Witches from Jill Murphy's The Worst Witch.

What's the weirdest talent or skill you have that not many people know about?

I took up a few new hobbies in preparation for writing my novel, as I wanted to fully understand what it was physically like to inhabit Austen’s world. Some of these were more successful than others: my backyard flock of hens is thriving, but it’s not so easy to learn to ride horseback in your early forties! Most gratifying was getting my old sewing machine out and running up some Regency-style costumes, plus learning how to dance in the Georgian style.

Author Jessica Bull at a ball.
Author Jessica Bull horse riding.

What's your go-to karaoke song, and how well do you perform it?

'Try' by Pink, and I’m afraid I murder it. I enjoy music, and I always make a playlist to help set the mood for each of my writing projects . . . but I have absolutely no talent for performing. 

Where is your happy place and why?

Since my children were little, we’ve driven to the Loire Valley in France almost every summer. I love all the food and wine, visiting the chateaux and learning about the history - especially of the French Revolution, which influenced ideas during Jane Austen’s lifetime. 

Follow along with the author on Instagram, @jessicabullnovelist

Feature Title

Miss Austen Investigates
It is a truth universally acknowledged that every good mystery is in need of a brilliant sleuth... A Jane Austen-inspired murder mystery for fans of Richard Osman and Janice Hallett
Read more

More features

See all
Georgia Harper says she ‘ruined her mum’s fantasy’

Find out why Georgia Harper’s writing routine ruined her mum’s idyllic vision of a writerly life. Plus, learn about her love for Anne Rice and her unlucky skill for attracting strangers’ stories.

Fun Fact: Sarah-Jane Collins wrote much of her debut novel in a bar

Sarah-Jane Collins shares how her background as a reporter inspired her to write her debut novel, Radiant Heat.

Gareth Brown shares how a yearning to travel inspired The Book of Doors

Plus find out why he’d choose to live in Middle Earth and main difference between him and Hugh Jackman.

How the characters from Abbey Lay’s Lead Us Not came to her in an imagined conversation

The debut author also shares the fictional character she’d most like to meet and why she loved Lemony Snicket’s writing as a child.

Ferdia Lennon shares the Plutarch passage that inspired Glorious Exploits

Plus, find out why he taught himself to memorise an entire deck of cards while researching for the novel.

How drama school inspired Chris MacDonald to write The Actor

Plus, learn about which fictional character he’d like to dine with and the musician he always turns to when singing karaoke.

Lottie Hazell shares how she came up with the idea for Piglet

Plus, the cosy fictional world she’d most like to live in.

An interview with Ela Lee about her debut novel, Jaded

We caught up with debut author Ela Lee to learn about how she made time for writing while working full-time, her ‘big break’ into publishing and more.

Generate a husband

Generate a husband in honour of Holly Gramazio’s debut novel, The Husbands.

Book clubs
What I Would Do to You book club questions

A stunning, thought-provoking debut to read with your book club.

Debut authors share what surprised them most about the publishing process

The Fresh Voices of 2023 look back on what they found most surprising when publishing their debut novels.

Debut authors share their best tips for aspiring authors

The Fresh Voices of 2023 share their advice with fellow writers. Whether you’re aspiring to get your book published or looking for writing tips, these words of wisdom will help.

Looking for more Q&As?

See all Q&As