I first met Lynn Shepherd on Twitter a few months ago, after she picked up on a casual tweet I wrote about Jane Austen. I then read her brilliant book, Murder at Mansfield Park (it was written so well, it almost seemed like Miss Austen herself), and we started tweeting about that and other modern takes on Jane Austen, and somehow or other we ended up with the idea of trying to write a whole new Austen-style story, with a plot chosen on Twitter, developed on Twitter, and published on Twitter. Personally, I loved the concept of fusing Regency-era prose with modern innovation.
As far as we know, nobody has ever tried anything like this before – it’s a completely new experiment in creative collaboration, and it’s been amazing how many people have come forward wanting to get involved. That’s one of the most gratifying things that’s happened so far, because we always wanted to open it up to anyone on Twitter, not just published writers. Basically, it was open to anyone who loves his/her Jane, though for a while, I was the only “his!” (Now there’s one other person with a Y chromosome)
We started by inviting people to come up with the basic set-up for the story, and then ran a poll in January on the project website, www.austenproject.com, to choose the favorite one. We asked people to start their idea off, but then leave the development of the plot open, so that all the Twitter storytellers would be able to run with the story and the characters and see where we all end up. We also suggested that they base their ideas around characters from the original Austen books, because it would be easier for a big group of people to work with familiar names.
The winning story was submitted by @fangsupnicolee and is called ‘A Ball at Pemberley’. We went live on Tuesday morning with Lynn starting the whole thing off in fine Austen style: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that no diversion on earth so delights young people as the prospect of a ball…”
It has been such a pleasure working with Lynn. I expect us to be close friends for the rest of our lives!
Adam said to me a while ago that our transatlantic Twitter friendship is a bit like the film 84 Charing Cross Road, and I suppose it is like a modern version of that – we’ve never actually met, or even talked on the phone, but we’ve still managed to put together this idea which seems to have really captured people’s imagination.
Adam’s done a wonderful job sorting out all the logistics on the project website – and we both tried hard to think about possible glitches before we started – like what happens if Twitter goes down, or someone misses their slot. And what if no-one signs up at all. Thankfully that last one hasn’t turned out to be a problem at all – we now have over 40 contributors, spanning five continents!
The first session on Tuesday was more of a success than we could possibly have hoped for – people are really entering into the spirit of it, and clearly enjoying themselves hugely. It’s a bit chaotic too, of course, but that’s all part of something like this – you just have to go with the flow and see that as part of the fun. For example, there were a few hilarious continuity problems when it became clear that some of the characters were managing to be in two places at the same time, but the quality of the writing – the sheer wit and exuberance of it – was just brilliant.
We’ll be running more storytelling sessions every Tuesday from now until May 4th, which we chose because it’s the anniversary of the publication of Mansfield Park. There’s still time for anyone to join in the writing – you just have to book your 15-minute slot by clicking on the ‘Austen Project Weekly Schedule’ link on the project website www.austenproject.com. During your slot you can tweet as often or as little as you like, and the hashtag #A4T (Austen for Twitter) at the end of every tweet makes sure no-one loses the plot – at least in theory! Each week’s chapter is also going to be posted on the project website and on www.AustenAuthors.com on Sunday. We ended with quite a cliffhanger on Tuesday, so it will be fascinating to see what happens next…