The Austen Project asked six contemporary writers to each write a unique take on one of Jane Austen’s novels.The crime writer Val McDermid took on Northanger Abbey. Her article about how she dealt with this daunting challenge offers a fascinating glimpse into the creative process — in particular, how to deal with prosaic but thorny issues posed by modern life.
(How many books/plays/movies that appeared before, say, 2005 would run into serious plot difficulties now that smartphones allow characters to a) call for help as the zombies/vampires/deranged killers approach; b) look up directions with GPS, thus not getting lost in the wilderness or dangerous city streets; or c) easily text a boyfriend/girlfriend without worrying that a vital message will be lost in the mail?)
As McDermid writes, “When I was asked to join five other writers in the Austen Project, feeling daunted at the prospect merely added lustre to the invitation. Rework Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey in a contemporary setting? How many pitfalls lurked behind that suggestion?”
She answers that with a step-by-step explanation of how she created a believable background for her Catherine Morland, determined the best setting for the novel (Edinburgh), and dealt with our pesky modern technology.
“I can testify from personal experience,” she writes, “that there are large tracts of the Borders where there is no mobile phone signal.”