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Jane Austen & Company Presents: An Evening with Syrie James

Syrie James

It’s the end of an era, dear readers! On February 6, Jane Austen & Company concluded its Fall 2023-Winter 2024 Many Flavors of Austen season by hosting bestselling author and playwright Syrie James for a discussion of her many Austen-adjacent projects—on the page and on-stage. Syrie (“Pronounced like the app, but spelled better,” she quips) encountered Austen’s work later in life than many Janeites, reading Pride and Prejudice and Emma in a college English class for the first time. Her love affair with Austen quickly expanded to the rest of her novels, as well as their many film and television adaptations.

Syrie’s professional writing career began with the publication of two contemporary romance novels: Walking on Air and Two Week Deal. In between raising her two sons, she pursued another dream: becoming a screenwriter. Over the ensuing years, she sold twenty scripts for film and episodic television, including an adaptation of Danielle Steel’s 1982 novel Once in a Lifetime.

The inspiration for Syrie’s first Austen-adjacent novel, The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen, published in 2007, came from a seemingly ordinary place: she was rewatching two of her favorite movies, Shakespeare in Love and the 1995 Sense and Sensibility film adaptation, when she suddenly wondered why no one had written a love story for Jane Austen herself. Like many fans and scholars around the world, Syrie was haunted by Jane’s ability to write such insightful novels about love and courtship when she had allegedly never experienced a grand, sweeping love affair of her own. The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen sold at auction to HarperCollins in a bidding war between three major publishing houses, became an instant bestseller, and was a Library Journal Editor’s Pick of the Year (starred review).

Syrie's three Austen-inspired novels

In Jane Austen’s First Love (Library Journal Editor’s Pick), Syrie explores Jane Austen’s real-life teenage romance with a young man named Edward Taylor. Previous Austen biographers had largely brushed over Edward’s role in Jane’s life, though her correspondence certainly indicated an affection for him. After conducting copious amounts of research, Syrie wrote Jane Austen’s First Love, a fictional account of Jane and Edward’s brief whirlwind romance, highlighting the passionate whims of youth.

Syrie’s third Austen-inspired novel, The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen (starred review, Kirkus) offers the ultimate Janeite fantasy: the discovery of a long-lost Jane Austen novel. In this novel, Syrie imagines that Austen composed a seventh novel in the years before she was published whose manuscript mysteriously went missing. The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen follows one modern-day librarian’s quest to recover Austen’s long-lost draft of The Stanhopes, framing the text of this “seventh manuscript” within the larger story. More or less, The Stanhopes follows Austen’s satirical “Plan of a Novel” (1816), a short document detailing others’ suggestions regarding plot formulas and the writing process.

Syrie’s latest theatrical project, a play called Jane Austen in 48 Minutes (and the expanded version, Jane Austen in 90 Minutes), combines all six of Austen’s finished novels, whittling them down to their “essence” for a humorous bite-sized romp through Austen-land. Jane Austen in 48 Minutes made its professional theatre debut in April 2023 at a theatre in San Pedro, California. In the coming year, Syrie hopes to publish and make the play available to theatres across the country.

Lastly, in celebration of the Jane Austen Summer Program’s 2024 Austen vs. Brontë season, it would be remiss not to mention Syrie’s novel The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Brontë, which won the Audie audiobook award and was named a Women’s National Book Association Great Group Read.

Syrie ended the evening with a brief Q & A with the audience. To watch (or re-watch!) the full live-stream, visit YouTube or Jane Austen & Co.’s website.

Syrie James is the author of thirteen critically acclaimed novels of historical fiction, romance, and young adult fiction that have been international, USA Today, and Amazon bestsellers and won numerous awards. Her books are published in more than twenty languages. A member of the Writer’s Guild of America, JASNA, and the Historical Novel Society, she has sold many scripts to film and television and adapted bestselling books to screen, including Danielle Steel’s Once in a Lifetime. Syrie’s dramatic works have been produced across North America and off-Broadway in New York City. Her comedy Jane Austen in 48 Minutes was nominated as a Best Special Event in the Broadway World L.A. 2023 Awards. She also writes contemporary and adult paranormal romance, including titles such as Dracula, My Love and the multi-award-winning Nocturne. Syrie lives in Los Angeles, where she is currently writing a new play and her next book.


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