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Jane Austen 200 Festival Limerick

Interview with festival curator and author, Rose Servitova

Jane Austen 200 Limerick is a series of events (screen, theatre, architecture, literature, fashion, workshops/talks & tea) taking place in Limerick from July – December 2017 to celebrate Jane Austen’s Bicentenary and Limerick’s Georgian heritage. The brainchild of Rose Servitova, the idea formulated around the completion of her book The Longbourn Letters, a reimagining of characters Mr Collins and Mr Bennet from Pride and Prejudice and their unique friendship as they correspond with one another through a series of letters. She tells us more about the novel and how she hopes this event will rekindle the love for all things Georgian in the city.

How did you get started as a writer?
I had always dreamed of writing but never thought I was good enough. I studied English, which I loved but at the same time kind of put me off reading for pleasure for a while. I love Jane Austen because I’ve always loved history and learning about different societies and culture.

After studying I went travelling for a while, then I had my children, and if I’m honest I had a bit of the baby blues, so by that time writing had more or less gone out of the window. Then I saw there was a visiting writers’ event in Limerick with Donal Ryan and other high profile writers. All the writers were so human and lovely and I realised writers weren’t of a particular DNA I wasn’t part of, and that I could do it too. I started writing a few bits and got some flash fiction published in the Irish Times small things enough for me to feel that I had something.

How did the idea for The Longbourn Letters develop?
I had always had the idea of doing a Jane Austen book. I didn’t want to do what has been done a lot recently and take it to complete extremes – there’s no zombies, no new romance! You do find out more about what happened to certain characters after end of Pride and Prejudice. My initial idea was for a diary of Mr Collins alone, but I soon realised there was nowhere to go with it. Then I realised there could be something in the conversations between him and Mr Bennet.

The book stays loyal to the original – we do find out certain things happen to certain characters, and it brings more side-line characters to the front. I wasn’t necessarily writing it just for Jane Austen fans, really I writing for myself! I knew I couldn’t please everyone but also wanted it to reach a wider audience as well as being liked by fans.

How did people respond to the book, did anything surprise you?
People really picked up on humour, which was a surprise but I’m glad it’s being commented on. I have had some really lovely comments from Jane Austen fans, who were the ones I was most worried about hating it! People seem to genuinely be attached to the characters. I get such relief and joy when my intentions come across to people, has been received fantastically and the experience has been a great opportunity to connect with Jane Austen fan groups and Georgian societies all over the world.

Was the Jane Austen festival always part of the plan?
The bicentenary year acted as my deadline for the book; I knew I needed to get it done otherwise it would never happen. Because there was lots happening internationally around Jane Austen this year and with the Georgian heritage we have here in Limerick there was definitely the potential to do something more. Through the book I connected with lots of societies and organisation relating to Jane Austen and Georgian Ireland so it was a case of, ‘why wait for someone else to do it?’

What can people expect from the festival?
There will be event throughout July to December on society, women, fashion, art, architecture, music and all aspects in the novels and of Georgian life. The Afternoon Tea at No.1 Pery Square this month is sold out, but we’ve added another similar event in September. Another highlight is Culture Night where there will be a free workshop with Historical Costumer & Workshop Presenter, Melissa Shiels. She’s going to give a very entertaining and informative talk on Georgian Clothing, Customs and Material Culture. There is lots more going on so check out the Facebook page for details of all events!

Do you think Limerick’s Georgian heritage has been underappreciated?
Not so much underappreciated, there are so many people who are passionate about the Georgian quarter, and are working because of the sheer love of it such as the Georgian Society of Limerick, No.1 Pery Square, the Belltable are there – we have all the elements ready to go, but they just haven’t been brought together. I believe Limerick is probably the best city Georgian area in Ireland so there’s so much potential there. I hope that Jane Austen 200 Limerick will be the flagship event of an annual celebration of Georgian history and culture going forward. It definitely can be achieved as people here are so willing and creative.

The Longbourn Letters is available to buy in O’Mahonys bookshop, the Crescent bookshop and on Amazon and Kindle. Jane Austen 200 Limerick runs from July-December 2017.

Article by: Kayleigh Ziolo
Photograph of Rose: Eva Birdthistle

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