First Impressions: A Novel of Old Books, Unexpected Love, and Jane Austen Virtual Book Launch Party with Author Charlie Lovett

First Impressions A Novel of Old Books, Unexpected Love, and Jane Austen, by Charlie Lovett (2014 )We are thrilled to welcome bestselling author Charlie Lovett to Austenprose today as guest of honor for the virtual book launch party of his new book, First Impressions: A Novel of Old Books, Unexpected Love, and Jane Austen, just released by Viking (Penguin Group USA).

This intriguing new novel combines two of my favorite genres – historical romance and contemporary mystery. It features dual heroines: English author Jane Austen while she is writing her first draft of Elinor and Marianne (later entitled Sense and Sensibility) in 1796 Hampshire and Sophie Collingwood, an antiquarian bookseller in modern day London who stumbles upon a literary mystery that casts doubt upon the true authorship of Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen’s second published novel and her most famous work.

ADVANCE PRAISE FOR FIRST IMPRESSIONS

  • “[An] ingenious novel….Ardent fans of Jane Austen and lovers of gripping stories will enjoy following Sophie’s pursuit of the truth.” — Publishers Weekly
  • “[An] appealing combination of mystery, romance, and bibliophilism….An absolute must for Austen fans, a pleasure for others.” — Booklist
  • “A delightful read that Janeites will love….[Lovett] adds bookish intrigue to the life of another luminary of English literature.” — Library Journal

Mr. Lovett has generously offered a guest blog sharing his inspiration to write First Impressions—and to add to the festivities—his publisher has also offered three hardcover copies of the book in a giveaway contest. To enter, please ask Mr. Lovett a question or leave a comment following this blog post. The entry details are listed below. Good luck to all.

PLEASE JOIN ME IN WELCOMING CHARLIE LOVETT: 

When I first wrote my novel The Bookman’s Tale (Viking 2013), I titled it Marginalia, which would have been a great title if the only customers were rare book librarians and literary scholars. My agent wisely suggested a change. He sold the book as The First Folio, and it ultimately became The Bookman’s Tale, but the idea of The First Folio stuck with me. If one book was titled The First Folio might my next book be titled The Second . . . something? That’s when I started thinking about the idea of a book that was worthless in its first edition but, for some reason, priceless in its second edition. Once I threw in Jane Austen, the idea for First Impressions was born. I talked to my agent about the idea very early on and he encouraged me to do two things: not write a sequel to The Bookman’s Tale, and have a female protagonist. Those two ideas are what really solidified First Impressions in my mind.

I spent several months making notes and when my wife and I were in England in the summer of 2012 I visited Steventon in Hampshire, where Jane Austen had grown up and where part of my novel would be set. I relate very strongly to place in my writing, and even though we spent less than an hour in this peaceful village, I began to see Jane there. I visited other sites associated with Jane Austen—from Bath to Winchester to Chawton—but I wanted to write about young Jane Austen, and Steventon is where she spent her formative years and where she started writing. That one hour spent basking in the quiet, looking out over the fields shimmering in the summer sun, sitting inside the cool stone church Jane had attended for all those years, provided more inspiration than a hundred hours of research possibly could.

Why Jane Austen? Well, it seems that Jane Austen was always in my house. My father, now retired, was an English Professor at Wake Forest University, and his specialty was the eighteenth century. True, Jane Austen’s novels were not published until the early nineteenth century, but her work was very much a part of his syllabus and he often talked about her. In seventh grade, I made the rather impetuous decision to read more “grown up” books in my spare time. I read Brave New World and then I moved on to Pride and Prejudice. Now I can’t tell you exactly who Jane Austen’s imagined audience was, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t seventh grade American boys of the 1970s. To me, the novel was nothing more than a soap opera. How could my dad spend all his time with this stuff? Sadly, I let this impression of Austen guide me for the next couple of decades. I was probably in my thirties when I picked up Pride and Prejudice and gave it a second chance. The first thing that surprised me was that it was funny—really funny. And it was smart and incisive and observant. I regretted having spent so long laboring under my seventh grade misconceptions, and since then I have read Austen frequently and with much enjoyment.

When I set about writing Jane Austen as a character, I didn’t want to know too much about her. Yes, I wanted to get the facts of her life correct—where she lived, when she wrote her novels, the names of her family members—but I was creating a character in a novel. So, instead of looking to her biography to discover her personality, I looked to the novels. What kind of person, I asked myself, would write Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility? To me Jane had to be not just smart but witty, energetic, a tad irreverent, and quietly revolutionary. I did my best to make her all of this as she interacts with her fictional mentor, Richard Mansfield. I also endowed my contemporary heroine, Sophie Collingwood, who fights to save Jane’s reputation, with some of the same qualities.

I truly enjoyed spending time with these two remarkable young women, and I hope you will too.

Charlie Lovett 2014AUTHOR BIO: Charlie Lovett, author of the New York Times bestselling novel The Bookman’s Tale, is a former antiquarian bookseller who has collected books and materials related to Lewis Carroll and Alice in Wonderland for over thirty years. He has written several books on Carroll and served as president of the Lewis Carroll Society of North America. As an educator, he served for more than a decade as writer in residence at Summit School in his hometown of Winston-Salem, NC. There he wrote twenty plays for young audiences, which have been published and seen around the world in more than 3000 productions. Charlie is a member of the Grolier Club for book collectors and is currently at work curating an exhibit at Lincoln Center on “Alice in Performance” in celebration of the 150th anniversary of the publication of Alice in Wonderland. He and his wife Janice live in Winston-Salem and in Kingham, Oxfordshire. Please visit him online at his website, charlielovett.com, on Facebook as Charlie Lovett Author, and follow him on Twitter as @CharlieLovett42.

ASK MR. LOVETT A QUESTION OR LEAVE A COMMENT TO ENTER A GRAND GIVEAWAY

UPDATE 10/23 – Q&A with author Charlie Lovett has closed, but the giveaway contest

remains open until Oct 30th. Just leave a comment to qualify. 

In celebration of the release of First Impressions, please enter a chance to win one of three hardcover copies available by leaving a question for Charlie Lovett or a comment sharing what intrigues you about this novel before 11:59 pm, on Wednesday, October 22, 2014. Winners will be drawn at random and announced on Thursday, October 30, 2014. Shipment is to US addresses only. Good luck to all.

First Impressions: A Novel of Old Books, Unexpected Love, and Jane Austen, by Charlie Lovett
Viking (Penguin Group USA) 2014
Hardcover and eBook (320) pages
ISBN: 978-0525427247

Cover image courtesy of Viking Adult © 2014; text Charlie Lovett © 2014, Austenprose.com

73 thoughts on “First Impressions: A Novel of Old Books, Unexpected Love, and Jane Austen Virtual Book Launch Party with Author Charlie Lovett

  1. Is it the smell, the feel, the content, the history, or the effort that intrigues you most about old books? I, too, love Lewis Carroll’s biting humor and ability to spin a tale. since we have this in common, I believe I would enjoy adding your newest book to my reading library. Best of wishes for a successful launch.

    Confetti! Chocolate! Champagne!

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s all of those! Physical books are so much more than just containers for text and I try to get at that in my novel. Sophie’s first impression of old books is the smell of her uncle Bertram’s flat in London, but she goes on to explore the 18th-century printing process and the way that books move from reader to reader through history. She’s as fascinated as I am.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. What do you think about the “mystery” aspect of Emma? That book intrigues me because there are clues to the mystery strewn throughout the book, but Emma and the reader (most likely) won’t see them on a first reading. Did you think about using that strategy in your book?

    Liked by 2 people

    • I certainly do my best to drop subtle clues throughout the text without giving away too much too soon. The three books that feature most prominently in my story are Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, and Northanger Abbey, so I haven’t read Emma as recently. Sometimes I like to drop a clue that most people won’t see on first reading, but other times I want the reader to be one step ahead of Sophie (my modern protagonist). I think there will be some things that the reader picks up on that it takes Sophie a little longer to see because she is in the middle of the story, without the perspective that the reader has.

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  3. I´d like to know what motivated you to give Pride and Prejudice a second Chance when you were in your thirties. Was is just a whim, a conscious decision or dis you have a particular interest in reading Pride and Prejudice once again?
    Best wishes for a successful launch of your new book!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think it was when I was starting to get serious about being a writer and was looking for models. I went through a period when I read a Dickens novel every year during Lent and that got me to start really appreciating the classics.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you for this giveaway. I read and loved
    The Bookman’s Tale and am very excited to
    read this, as it combines all my literary loves –
    Jane Austen, mystery and bibliophilia! I have
    my fingers and toes crossed that I win one of
    the copies!
    One question: might you consider a series of
    similar Jane Austen-related bibliomysteries?

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I love the cover of your book and the story of your experience with reading Pride and Prejudice and your “First Impressions!” I look forward to reading it! You said your novel features her earlier works: Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, and Northanger Abbie, but since we’ve just been celebrating Mansfield Park this year, I was interested in your opinions of that novel, and/or if your father had expressed his thoughts on it as well… It is usually considered the least favorite of Austen’s work, but it is a favorite of mine and we learned a new appreciation of it in Montreal at the JASNA AGM conference just concluded!

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  6. Maybe I shouldn’t say this, but I had the same experience with the Bookman’s Tale as you did with Pride and Prejudice – although it was only a few months before I picked it up the second time! I am a librarian, and another librarian encouraged me to try it again. I just must not have been in the mood the first time, but loved it the second. I agree with others that your combination of Jane Austen, mystery and bibliophilia has me on board for this one. Best wishes on a ton of sales!!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I cannot wait to read “First Impressions”!!! My Cover-to-Cover Book Club hosted a ‘Phone Chat’ with Charlie Lovett to discuss the fabulous “The Bookman’s Tale” last year… And, we’ve been anxiously awaiting “First Impressions” ever since!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I (and our book club) enjoyed The Bookman’s Tale and appreciate that you took the time to chat with us via phone during our meeting. I am looking forward to reading this new book!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. It’s so very nice to hear a man say he loves Jane Austen’s novels! What would you say to convince other men to do the same? (P.S. I look forward to reading your books!)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Daniel Pool’s What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew was a good one. I also read a lot of articles online about individual issues (how letters were sealed and that sort of detail). But Jane herself was the best resource.

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  10. I absolutely loved “The Bookman’s Tale” so I was especially delighted to see who the guest of honor was for this blog post!! I truly enjoy reading books that are mystery’s surrounding books~ old, new, out of print, the works. And as I am also a Janeite, “First Impressions” is most definitely high on my tbr list. Ebooks are okay but NOTHING beats the feel of a book, the anticipation of starting that first page and the satisfaction of ending a wonderful read with the knowledge that a rereading is at hand.

    Have you read The Shadow of the Wind and the others by Carlos Ruiz Zafron? Or Matthew Pearl’s The Dante Club or The Poe Shadow?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Those are definitely on my to-read list. Since The Bookman’s Tale came out I have mostly read either books I needed to read (for novels I am working on, i.e. Jane Austen) or books I was asked to read either in advance copies either by editors or my agent (I have written blurbs for several books lately). I’ve also read a number of books by authors with whom I was appearing on panels at book festivals. So, my tbr pile gets taller now that I have had some success as an author!

      Liked by 1 person

  11. I haven’t stopped laughing over a 7th grade boy in the 1970’s reading Pride and Prejudice! I am so glad that you reread the novel and saw immediately the humor as I, too, laugh out loud. I realize that you are President of the Lewis Carroll Society of North American, but do you think you will also join The Jane Austen Society of North America since you have written what sounds like a very intriguing novel. Thank you for the giveaway.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. I agree with the JASNA membership idea….and I commend a 7th grade boy attempting P&P at all! I can only imagine his having to sneak it around in a plain brown cover!
    This lookslike it combines 2 of my loves….Bristish mysteries and Austen. The idea that someone could question JA’s authorshop is frightening. I look forward to reading it!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. First Impressions sounds captivating and unique. I enjoy British literature and always have. The writing, the eras depicted and the settings are my favorite. What is your favorite era and place.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I am looking forward to reading First Impressions. Mystery, books and Jane Austen combine to make this unforgettable. Best wishes for much continued success.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. First Impressions is definitely now on my want-to-read list! I would be interested in finding out how it was writing both the contemporary piece and the historical piece of the story and having two strong heroines. Did you write them simultaneously? Did one come more easily than the other?

    Also, I think it is interesting that you connect with locations.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Actually I found the Jane Austen sections easier to write—I think because I had the richness of her novels to fall back on. She had already created the world I was writing about. With this book I would write thirty pages or so of Jane and then a similar amount of Sophie. As I got towards the end I started working on how the two parts would fit together.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. Were you possibly inspired by the fact that very few women wrote novels in Jane Austen’s day? Also, what do you make of the fact that Jane Austen wrote a very different sort of novel than what was popular at the time? It sounds like that aspect of her life plays into your story.

    I agree about the feel and smell of old books. I’m a special collections librarian/archivist and I love old documents too.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I did want to show that Jane had a boldness in undertaking novel writing as a woman and in departing from the norm in her works. It’s one of the reasons I included Northanger Abbey because it gave me a chance to add a scene in which members of the Austen family suggest books for inclusion on the list of “horrid novels” that Jane writes. I hope that scene shows how Jane is taking a leap forward in the development of the novel.

      Liked by 1 person

  17. This sounds fabulous! I’m a librarian that came to Jane Austen late in life and love all the spin offs about her and her books. What do you have planned for your next book?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I have a Christmas book coming out next year—a sequel to A Christmas Carol written as if Charles Dickens had penned it. It’s part parody, part pastiche, and all homage. After that I’m working on a book set in an English Cathedral library that delves into the world of medieval manuscripts.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Oh wonderful! I look forward to reading that too. Hopefully in time to read during the holiday season? Thanks for responding to all of us, I’ve enjoyed reading all the comments and your answers.

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  18. Charlie, thanks so much for graciously answering questions from my readers! It appears that this book is not only intriguing to Janeites, but book geek librarian Janeites! How flattering. They are a tough group to win over. Congrats.

    I am dying to ask you about how you channeled Jane Austen as a character, her family and social sphere. How did you get into her head and think like her? And, I am sure that many Jane Austen fans laughed out loud at your choice of the name Richard Mansfield for the older cleric who mentors her. There is an inside joke here for Jane Austen aficionados on the first name and use of last name. Have you planted other little nuggets of Jane-ism throughout the book?

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    • It will be interesting to see what die-hard Janeites uncover—doubtless clues that I intended to leave and others I didn’t. By coincidence, Richard Mansfield is also a 19th century actor/manager who produced one of the early stage versions of Alice in Wonderland (but that is not why I chose that name!) As far as how I channelled Jane–reading the novels, visiting Steventon and Chawton, and lots of long runs through the English countryside using my imagination to think about how she and the fictional Mansfield would interact. And maybe the fact that I was running through Adlestrop, where I later discovered Jane had visited her maternal cousins on several occasions, had something to do with it as well.

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  19. Wasn’t Lewis Carroll big into Logic and Probability? I seem to remember that from my college days but never studied him as a person. I do know he was a mathematician. I did read his books but long ago and saw movie versions or adaptations of such. Have recently read several different authors, Syrie James and Shannon Winslow, and their books on parts of Jane Austen’s life so this would be a nice addition to my reading.

    I, too, love the smell and feel of books. Especially love to leaf through a book and pick out favorite or interesting portions. If you are in a reading group it is almost impossible with a kindle to find a particular passage quickly unless you remember an exact word or phrase. But I do find a kindle good for carrying around many books and cheaply adding to one’s library.

    I don’t have a question but would love to win your book.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. I share your sentiments about Jane Austen’s humor which is often hidden from the casual reader. I’ve coined the phrase “a hammer covered in velvet” regarding her humor and the way she pokes fun at her characters. Just when you think she is about to say something favorable she gives a wicked twist to her observations and the result is always a delightful surprise. It never becomes tiring. Wishing you success in your literary endeavors!

    Liked by 2 people

  21. You mentioned that you spent a brief time in Steventon of Hampshire, less than an hour, and in that short period of time you were able to learn more about Jane Austen than you would have had you done a hundred hours of research. Was there anything profound that you discerned about Jane Austen during your brief visit there—something that research may not have revealed?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Nothing profound, just a sense of place. It’s hard to put into words what I feel when visiting a place so closely associated with a figure about whom I am writing, but I do my best to convey the feel of the place in my text. Seeing the setting of Steventon certainly gave me the courage to send Jane out on lots of long country walks.

      Liked by 2 people

  22. This book has been on my to-read list and I would love the opportunity to win a copy! Like many others here, I’m very amused at the idea of a seventh-grader in the 1970’s being disgusted by P&P. Glad you gave it another chance! I’ve had similar experiences with many classics in school, only to read them later and realize just what I was missing.

    I’m curious about the title of the book, First Impressions (the original title for P&P, of course). What made you choose this as a title? Is it a deliberate nod to Pride and Prejudice, or just a title that fit the story so well it had to be used, regardless of its connections to Jane Austen and her early works?

    Thanks for answering readers’ questions!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I chose the title for both of the reasons you mentioned. First, part of the novel is about the genesis of Pride and Prejudice, so using Jane Austen’s original title was appropriate. But my novel is also about the first impressions we form of people and where those impressions can lead us.

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  23. Congratulations on the publication of First Impressions! I am delighted to be introduced to you and your work, I am fascinated by the subject of this novel, and I am eager to read it! It seems you and I have a lot in common, as my novel The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen shares a similar theme, and my newest book, Jane Austen’s First Love, is also about a witty, vibrant, young Jane Austen!

    I had the same experience as you when I visited Steventon last year to research my novel. The beauty of the fields spreading out beyond the Steventon Rectory were mesmerizing, and the hour or so that I spent in that tranquil spot also helped me to visualize Jane Austen’s early years while growing up there.

    My questions for you are: what was your favorite scene to write, and why? And what was your least favorite scene to write, and why? Inquiring minds want to know! Thank you again for this giveaway!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think my favorite scene to write was the first scene with jane and Mr. Mansfield, because it was my own first impression of those two characters and their relationship. Their banter came very naturally to me, which was great. My least favorite scene to write—well, I don’t want to give away too much, but it’s always hard when your heroine is in peril.

      Liked by 1 person

  24. I’m looking forward to reading your book and have enjoyed the comments/answers that have been posted here. Thank you Charlie and AustenProse! I don’t think anyone has asked who are your favorite Austen characters and how did her characterizations influence your writing? Thanks again.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well I love Elizabeth Bennett and I think I used a lot of her smarts in creating the character of Jane Austen; but I also think Jane creates wonderful minor characters (and sometimes wonderful less than likable characters). I was pleased to get a mention of Thomas Palmer from Sense and Sensibility into my text.

      Liked by 2 people

  25. I love any old book. Just holding one makes feel connected to the past in some way. I can’t waiy to read your story.

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  26. I worked in rare book shops for a number of years and began collecting Jane Austen then. My graduate education in both English and Library Science drew me to that profession. When I read Bookman’s Tale (which I recommended to everyone as my favorite book of the year), I felt that you must have had a similar experience to mine. How did you gain your knowledge of rare books?

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    • My father was a book collector and as a young man I began collecting Lewis Carroll. I ran an antiquarian book business in the 1980s and have continued to collect and write about books for three decades now. Also never miss a chance to read a catalogue or visit a rare book library or exhibit.

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  27. I’m glad to know that I wasn’t the only one that wasn’t head over heals for Pride and Prejudice the first time. I reread the book when I was 25 and I completely changed my tune. I, like you, found Austen to be witty and humorous. Although Pride and Prejudice is not my favorite Austen novel, it is the first one I ever read through so it holds a special place in my heart. Best of luck with First Impressions! I can’t wait to read it!

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    • I’ve read two recently that I wrote blurbs for that don’t precisely fit this category but they come pretty close. I enjoy the way they make connections over time. The Hundred Year House is out now and The Memory Painter will be out next year.

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  28. I haven’t had the time to read all the previous comments and questions, so forgive me if this has already been asked, but how did you find writing in two different time periods? Did the characters overlap personality-wise? Did you find yourself getting mixed up in the writing process? I love books that jump back in forth, but have always wondered that.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Honestly First Impressions was much less complicated in this respect than my first novel The Bookmans Tale. I wrote the two sections in big chunks and then decided how to split them up to draw parallels between the narratives.

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  29. What I find interesting and wanting me to read this novel is that it’s not a prequel or sequel to one of her novels, as much of the Austen fan fiction is. I like the idea of two time periods. I’ve read several other novels that go back and forth between the present and past and find it quite intriguing.

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  30. What I find intriguing about “First Impressions” is that it takes place in two time periods. I absolutely enjoy books that can switch back and forth in time, as it makes for such an interesting story, especially when Jane Austen is involved. I am looking forward to reading your new book!

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  31. What a fascinating concept for a book! I look forward to reading it! It sounds like an interesting departure from other Austen fan fiction; I’ll definitely be on the lookout for it. Best of luck!

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  32. As a Psychology major who teaches middle schoolers, I am really intrigued by you looking for traces of Jane’s personality in her novels! I haven’t read through all of the comments above, but I’m wondering what you gleaned of her from Mansfield Park in particular?

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    • Because I was focussed on the period when Jane wrote Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, and Northanger Abbey (in their first drafts) I stuck to those books in looking for hints about what sort of character she should be, but my contemporary heroine Sophie is a big fan of Mansfield Park. She is reading it when we first meet her. I read it for the first time in graduate school and after your question I’ll probably go back and read it again soon!

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  33. This sounds like a wonderful read, what with it going back and forth from present day to the past. I look forward to this!!

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  34. Thank you for introducing your book to us! I am very excited to read it soon. I find it intriguing that you focus on Jane Austen in her youth. Because her books were published much later in her life, I have learned more about that time period, and have imagined her more like Anne Elliot in Persuasion (which is my personal favorite). I wonder if your protagonist, Sophie, is younger or more mature? And I am intrigued to read about the mystery and romance as well… a little romance in a book is always delightful! Thanks again for sharing your insights as an author.

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  35. You say you’re not ready for a series. Does that mean you haven’t considered Seconds or Thirds as titles or themes?
    Also, have you read Janine Barchas’s *Matters of Fact in Jane Austen*? If so, did it influence your writing?

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  36. Pingback: Giveaway Winners Announced for First Impressions by Charlie Lovett | Austenprose - A Jane Austen Blog

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