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Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Blog Tour - The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennett by Bernie Su and Kate Rorick

Today I am pleased to welcome Bernie Su and Kate Rorick to my blog, following the publication of their new novel, The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennett, last week. 

This book is based on the you-tube series of videos of a similar name. The book has the plot of a modern day Pride and Prejudice - it has the same basic plot however it I do not believe that it had the same effect on me that the classic has everytime I read it. The book is a series of diary entries and explains about why the youtube clips came about and also the effect that these clips have on family and friends.

I enjoyed the modernisation and the diary entries are peppered with modern day references, including recent songs, films and equipment. I do like the idea of classics being revisited  and modern references being peppered throughout the adaptation - when I was in high school I went to see a performance of Romeo and Juliet which was set in the modern day and it really made me a fan of this style of adaptation. 

In summary I would say this book will be enjoyed by the target audience of young teens but as a modern day pride and prejudice it didn't really work for me. 

As part of the blog tour I am pleased to welcome Bernie Su and Kate Rorick, the authors, to my blog and to talk to them about the novel, how they feel that they have modernised the story and the tools and social media they have been able to use to bring it right into the 21st century. 

A Conversation with Bernie Su and Kate Rorick

Why did you decide to write a novel?

Kate: We knew fairly early on that our version of Lizzie Bennet was pretty special and had a really interesting worldview. While Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice is a timeless character, she is reacting to circumstances very much from her own time period – marriage being the only option for women, entailed estates, etc. In modernizing Lizzie, we found that her story on the videos also translated well to book form – after all, we still read. Plus, there were so many things that we only talked about on the videos and didn’t get to experience, due to the limitations of the video format. In a book, there are no such limitations. We could be with Lizzie at the Gibson wedding, walking around San Francisco, or simply enduring her mother’s histrionics about her single daughters. The book let us fill out the world in a way that the web videos – and their meager budget – didn’t allow us to do.

Because the storyline already existed, what was your writing process like? Was it difficult to coordinate the story with the videos? Were you surprised at any difficulties or opportunities along the way?

Kate: The first thing I did when figuring out how to write this book was to create a really big, really detailed calendar of events. Where Lizzie was, when her videos posted, the movements of all the other characters, what party fell on what date and what happened there, who tweeted what when…it’s an enormous and scary-looking colour-coded document. It was incredibly important that the book fit within everything we had already established. Even though I knew the story very well from having worked on the show, I found myself referring to the calendar time and again as I tried to navigate where character moments should go. On the one hand, it forced me to conform. On the other, it forced me to get creative.

This timeless story works well in our modern times, with a few minor adjustments. What from the original story was the most difficult to contemporize?

Bernie: We wanted to modernize the independent woman. Back in the 1800s there weren’t a lot of options in careers, and it was important to us that career choices be an underlying current to every major decision that our characters make. We didn’t want it to be about finding the guy/marrying the rich guy.

Kate: One specific stumbling block I remember coming across when we were writing the series was the time it takes for information to get from one place to another. In Pride and Prejudice, if you needed to tell someone something, you had to write a letter, and at least a week would pass before it reached its destination. Now, everything can be found out at once, thanks to smartphones.

The Lizzie Bennet Diaries uses social media to give all of the characters a voice. How do you think this adds to the viewer’s experience of the story?

Bernie: The social media expansions add three unique experiences to our interpretation of this story:
1. When the show was running, you (as a viewer) could talk to the characters and they could talk back to you. You could be a part of their stories.
2. You could explore more about the characters through their social media destinations; for example, Jane’s Pinterest gives you a lot of insight into what she’s going through during her arc.
3. You could experience the story from another character’s point of view. What was Lydia doing when Lizzie and Jane are at Netherfield? What was Georgiana Darcy going through before she finally meets Lizzie? We have that for you; it exists for you to discover and explore.

Discuss your decision to make the book analogous to the videos, rather than an omnisciently narrated book like Pride and Prejudice.

Kate: While Pride and Prejudice is in third person, it sticks pretty strongly to Elizabeth’s POV. There are only a couple of scenes that aren’t told from her perspective. As she discovers new information, the audience discovers it as well. If Jane Austen were writing today, I wouldn’t be surprised if she tried a first-person narrative. Lizzie’s voice is so strong in the videos, carrying it over to the book was simply common sense. This is her story. She has to be the one to tell it.

How is the process of writing a work like this, one integrated into so many platforms, different from the usual TV episode or novel?

Kate: From my perspective, it meant we had a lot more data to work with. (Hence, the big calendar.) Every tweet sent, every photo posted on Pinterest, every comment on the videos had to be treated like canon. It can be mind-boggling trying to keep everything straight and to navigate a story between it all.

Bernie: It definitely goes both ways. If you write that a character says they’re going to have lunch with someone, there’s an obligation to acknowledge and verify that event through social media. We have to be hyper-aware of everything the characters are doing at any given time.

What did you learn from this experience that may help you in similar endeavours in the future?

Kate: Personally, I learned that when you tell a good story, it can be told many different ways. And instead of competing, they can complement one another.

Bernie: I learned to embrace alternate points of view. It goes back to the adage that everyone is the hero of their own story, even the antagonists. Yes, characters need to serve plot points, but why are they there – what are they really like as people?

Do you have any plans to expand The Lizzie Bennet Diaries any further in other media? If not, would you like to?

Bernie: This story is timeless and has been told across so many platforms, but with all the multi-platform content that we do, I would love to try to make an app.

What’s next for Lizzie, Lydia, Jane, Darcy, and Bing?

Kate: What’s next in terms of their stories? Well, perhaps you’ll get to find out in the near-ish future…

Thank you to the publishers, Simon and Schuster Children's Books, for sending me the book to review and to the authors for joining me on my blog to be part of the blogtour.

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