Lord Byron is accused of murder in Jane and the Madness of Lord Byron, the 10th Jane Austen mystery from Stephanie Barron, the pseudonym of Francine Mathews.
This is the first book in the series since 2006's Jane and the Barque of Frailty. What have you been doing since?
I've written two stand-alones, A Flaw in the Blood, about Queen Victoria and hemophilia, and The White Garden, a thriller in which a modern-day character researches Virginia Woolf and the events leading to her suicide in 1941. But after a few years I missed Jane and needed to go back to her.
Is there any historical record of Jane Austen and Lord Byron having met?
They didn't meet as far as anyone knows, though the possibility exists. I am particularly intrigued by the fact that at Byron's death he was laid out at the London townhouse of Fanny Austen-Knight Knatchbull, who was Austen's niece. That connection has never really been explained. Although Jane was dead by the time Byron died, how interesting if they did have friends in common.
How much license do you take with historical characters?
That is a debate I wage with myself every time I "exploit" an actual historical figure. I certainly had that issue with a number of people I have used in my novels. Happily, all these people lived in a time that was rich in correspondence, and much of it survives. Letters and journals are so revealing of character and intellect that when I attempt to capture a voice, these primary documents are my touchstone.
What's next for Jane?
There are so many gaps in Austen's actual record. What I find so exciting is exploring the possibilities of unknown history. It would be fun to use 1815, Waterloo, but I may find myself going back farther in time. Last week I found myself creating a plot line set around Trafalgar, in 1805, since Jane Austen's brother served under Nelson. There Jane is with a relative right in the middle of one of the seminal events of British history, and it's hard not to use that. I would very much like to write up to 1817, the year Austen died. Meanwhile, Jane and the Canterbury Tale is due in 2011.
Are you considering any other historical figure for fictional use?
Yes, Edith Wharton, one of literature's grimmer witnesses to women's lives. The great divide between her and Jane Austen is that her endings are invariably miserable and Jane's are invariably hopeful.