Science fiction author Gray’s first mystery, The Murder of Mr. Wickham (Vintage, May), features Jane Austen characters.
This book is a departure for you. How have your years of writing Star Wars novels prepared you for carrying on the stories of Jane Austen’s well-known characters?
My Star Wars novels have to slot into the existing canon, which is ever-evolving thanks to a constant stream of other books, comics, TV shows, and so on. But both fan fiction and licensed Star Wars fiction provided me with tools to write The Murder of Mr. Wickham. I still had a canon to work with, but in this case it hadn’t changed in more than 200 years. I had practice recreating character voices and determining precisely what elements made those personalities distinctive.
How long had you been planning to write The Murder of Mr. Wickham?
I’ve been a huge Austen fan for many years. The concept for the book began about 11 years ago, when I read Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James. I was so hyped for the book, and then it didn’t hit me the way I’d expected. It took me a while to recognize that I was judging not the novel she wrote, but the novel I’d wanted to read—one where the murder victim was someone we were interested in, and where the beloved characters were themselves suspect. Since James hadn’t written that book, I eventually realized I had to do it.
Your sleuths are two non-canonical characters: Juliet Tilney, the daughter of Catherine and Henry Tilney from Northanger Abbey, and Jonathan Darcy, the son of Darcy and Elizabeth from Pride and Prejudice. Did you create Jonathan and Juliet using elements of their parents’ personalities?
Juliet has elements of her parents’ personalities, but she’s not an amalgam of the two, but someone who Catherine Morland and Henry Tilney would have raised. She has her own personality and outlook on life, along with certain tendencies toward wit and adventures. Initially, Jonathan was simply going to be “more Darcy than Darcy”—but as I began writing, his character emerged in a very different way. Once I had the insight that Jonathan might be neurodivergent, it opened up many fascinating questions. He lives in a world which has no conception of how, or why, he differs from other people—so how is he misunderstood? Elizabeth and Darcy are loving and understanding—though not perfect!—parents to a son whose needs differ from the norm. Writing that family dynamic intrigued me.