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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
Lavish balls, fetching bonnets, and dead bodies...It's time for Jane Austen to put down her pen - and find a killer
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