The Perils and Pitfalls of “Writing Like Austen” (Part One)

I’m always being asked how I can write in Austen’s style. Trouble is, I don’t know how I do it.

Though I suspect it has something to do with having been a professional ghostwriter for 15 years – and learning how to inhabit celeb’s/other writers’ voices – and something to do with being a musician and ‘getting’ the rhythm of it. She’s the most marvellously rhythmic writer. Only Shakespeare can compete!

What I do know is that being able to pull this trick off can be a frigging nuisance when scribbling contemporary fiction. 

Now I haven’t written much contemporary fiction lately – my volume of Austen-inspired short stories will be published early in 2024, is why. (Mark your calendars now!!!😊)

But I recently recovered the copyright from Hachette to my two traditionally published novels, inspired by my performing, all over the world, in various London symphony orchestras. (“The orchestra becomes a universe in microcosm – all human life is here.” THE SUNDAY TIMES.) And… well…  it seems really sad to let them dwindle out of print, when I can now do new editions with different covers and sell them on my website, right? 

While the Music Lasts was relatively easy to edit, and bring up to date, but I’ve been pulling my hair out with its standalone sequel, Ghost Music, the one about the haunted cello. (Though both novels are mostly about the loves, rivalries, etc., of London orchestral musicians, there is a supernatural element in Ghost Music.)

So, why has Ghost Music – almost finished editing it – been so much harder? Because I was on an Austen binge while writing it. And this is why.

I felt “under the cosh” as we say in Britain. Basically, desperate.

I was desperate for just one of my seven IVFs to work so I could have a baby. (Spoiler alert: I finally did!!!)

I was desperate to finish writing Ghost Music (I was under contract to a major publisher – my starry agent was unhappy with my slowness – and there was no alternative to major publishers, as self-publishing wasn’t even a “thing” in the 90s.)

I was depressed, having failed to win the full-time job in the London Symphony Orchestra I wanted. So, under the cosh and pretty deeply depressed, I comfort-read all Austen’s novels again… and does it ever show!!!! 

Ghost Music, in its first edition, had such long sentences… and don’t even get me started on the semi-colons!!! I blush to report that, in a book of 105,000 words, there were 187 semi-colons alone, plus about 15 colons, and readers nowadays are allergic to them!!! As for the “whethers, howevers, quites, and indeeds’ I started by weeding them out but, in the end, had to resort to using a shovel.  Eek!!!!

On the bright side, I lost 5500 words (most of these words being “quite”). Go me!!!! The new Ghost Music is a much tauter read. If interested, here’s the link to While the Music Lasts, to which it is the sequel:

And so, though I’m mega-proud of crits like Publishers Weekly’s “McVeigh’s prose and plotting are pitch-perfect – she echoes the master herself” my advice-of-the-day is, when writing contemporary fiction, to get weeding!!! 😊

Don’t let yourself be seduced by long and beautifully rhythmic prose. Weed out those colons/semi-colons. Lose those “howevers”. ‘If’ should generally trump “whether” – let “quite” eat cake. And don’t even get me started on “indeed”…

Alice McVeigh’s most recent Austenesque novel, Darcy: A Pride and Prejudice Variation, is on KDP:

Currently shortlisted for Chanticleer’s Chatelaine Award, it’s so far won Gold medals in the Pencraft and the Global Book Awards, and honourable mention in Reader’s Favorite Book Awards. It’s also a starred “Editors Pick” on Publishers Weekly

2 responses to “The Perils and Pitfalls of “Writing Like Austen” (Part One)”

  1. cindie snyder Avatar
    cindie snyder

    Great post! Sounds like you have been crazy busy!lol

  2. Alice McVeigh Avatar
    Alice McVeigh

    To be honest, I doubt I’m half as busy as most people here. I no longer ghostwrite , though I DO edit my husband’s books. Our only kid is messing around at Harvard with her PhD, and our long-haired dachshunds (brothers aged 14!!!) really don’t take much walking these days – one of them “walks” tucked up in my husband’s backpack, mostly!! XXAlice

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