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“Mills and Boon, written by a genius”

March 16, 2012

No, I didn’t say that, but the great crime writer, PD James did and she was talking about Jane Austen. Apparently it’s a famous literary quote but I wasn’t aware of it until I heard it from PD James herself at a completely inspiring talk she gave at the Oxford & Cambridge Club in London.

My friend, Sue invited me to one of the club’s Writers’ Lunches. Now, Sue is, I hasten to add, a lovely, down-to-earth person who I met at my college many years ago. Anyway, we had a rather nice lunch and then listened to a fascinating talk by PD James, about Death Comes to Pemberley, detective fiction, Jane Austen and writing in general.

Afterwards I approached Baroness James’ lectern to have my copy of the book, signed. I felt like I was meeting The Queen and Jane Austen herself rolled into one – PD James was lovely, it’s just I was in total fangirly awe! She also shared that the novel is going to be made into a TV series. I can’t wait for that one.

Her comment about Mills & Boon, was, I think, talking about how you can write a really great novel within the confines of a tight genre or format – whether that be a detective novel, a romance or a sonnet.

Much of what she said, you can find here in her book Talking About Detective Fiction – most surprisingly, she finds Emma to be the most interesting example of a mainstream novel which is also a detective story.

She talked about her writing process and how she thinks creativity is about empathising totally with your characters and getting inside their minds – while remaining detached enough to craft a story that engages all the readers’ emotions. So much of what she said about writing fiction chimed with me, that I found myself almost believing I’m a proper novelist. 🙂

But her best quote was something like this:
To say that one cannot produce a good novel within the discipline of a formal structure is as foolish as to say that no sonnet can be great poetry since a sonnet is restricted to fourteen lines—an octave and a sestet—and a strict rhyming sequence. And detective stories are not the only novels which conform to a recognised convention and structure. All Jane Austen’s novels have a common storyline: an attractive and virtuous young woman surmounts difficulties to achieve marriage to the man of her choice. This is the age-long convention of the romantic novel, but with Jane Austen what we have is Mills & Boon written by a genius.

I’m now inspired and please, watch this space for I’m planning to share some rather exciting news in the not-too-distant future. 🙂 🙂

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Posted by Phillipa @ 7:01 am | Leave a Comment


  1. Alexandra Says:

    How inspiring to hear such positive views on writing.
    It’s so exciting that the novel is going to made into a TV series. I enjoyed reading Death Comes to Pemberley – couldn’t put it down and the story stayed in my head for a long time after I’d finished it.

  2. Debs Says:

    Thanks for telling us about this talk, it must have been wonderful to be there.

    I can’t wait to hear your news. x

  3. Judy Says:

    Wow, what a fantastic treat. And one to cherish too.

  4. Phillipa Says:

    Alex – I can’t wait to hear who is going to play Darcy.

    Debs and Judy – 🙂 Thanks. Hope to tell more soon.

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