I am so excited to have debut author and fellow Austenite Kate Watson on the blog today! Kate’s lovely new book Seeking Mansfield came out yesterday. I had the tremendous opportunity to read an early copy of this book a couple of months ago, and I absolutely love it! I highly, HIGHLY recommend this book to fans of Jane Austen and fans of charming YA contemporary fiction alike!
Seeking Mansfield by Kate Watson
What better wine to pair with a Mansfield Park retelling than this Mansfield Cabernet Sauvignon? Not only is the label ALMOST as lovely as this story, but the wine is complex and classy, just like Miss Price!
*All wine recommendations are for strictly for those of legal drinking age only.*
About the Book
Sixteen year-old Finley Price has perfected two things: how to direct a world-class production, and how to fly way, way under the radar. The only person who ever seems to notice Finley is her best friend and godparents’ son, Oliver Bertram. If she could just take Oliver’s constant encouragement to heart, she’d finally chase her dream of joining the prestigious Mansfield Theater.
When teen movie stars Emma and Harlan Crawford move across the street from the Bertram’s, they immediately set their sights on Oliver and his vapid sister, Juliette, shaking up Finley and Oliver’s stable friendship. As Emma and Oliver grow closer, Harlan finds his attention shifting from Juliette to the quiet, enigmatic, and thoroughly unimpressed Finley. Out of boredom, Harlan decides to make her fall in love with him. Problem is, the harder he seeks to win her, the harder he falls for her.
But Finley doesn’t want to be won, and she doesn’t want to see Oliver with anyone else. To claim Oliver’s heart—and keep her own—she’ll have to find the courage to do what she fears most: step into the spotlight.
SEEKING MANSFIELD is a charming YA contemporary reimagining of Jane Austen’s classic Mansfield Park, perfect for fans of Stephanie Perkins and Rainbow Rowell.
Buy the book:
I’m a huge Austenite, and after reading Seeking Mansfield, I’m assuming you are as well. Can you tell us a little bit about how Jane Austen’s work has inspired you to write your own books?
Jane Austen has been my favorite author since high school, when my grandmother gave me a copy of her complete works for Christmas. Since then, I’ve read each of her books at least five (or fifteen) times, although Lady Susan only once. I love her cheeky style and way of poking fun at things without being mean-spirited. So much of what she wrote feels like a commentary on people and society at large. Her characters are memorable—iconic, really—because they feel real. We have known a Mrs. Norris and dreamed of a Mr. Darcy and felt like an Anne Elliot. Many of us wish we were Lizzy (even if we’re secretly Emma). Jane Austen shows that people can be ridiculous and complex at the same time. She reminds us that actions have consequences, but we shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously. Her books shaped my tastes as a reader, and her charm, wit, and heart certainly shaped me as a writer.
Finley is such a great leading lady. I would go so far as to say that I enjoyed her character even more than Fanny Price from Mansfield Park. How did you approach taking such an iconic literary character and adapting her for a modern, YA audience?
Thank you! I love Finley dearly, but I also love Fanny. In approaching modernizing a character I love so much, it was important for me to really understand the situation Fanny found herself in. She was taken from a poor family that she loved to her rich relatives who didn’t seem to care much about her. Shortly after she moved, a sibling she had been especially close to died and she didn’t get to be with her family after it happened. She was treated horribly by one cruel aunt and used and neglected by her two female cousins, who should have been her closest companions. She was a glorified servant to her aunt and ignored by her uncle. She was sickly and thin, at least partially due to the fact that she was denied proper exercise and even adequate heat in her little attic. In every way, she was beholden to her aunt and uncle.
In other words, she had it hard.
Finley, similarly, has had it hard. I don’t want to risk spoilers, but I like to think the trials I gave Finley were worthy parallels that paint an accurate, modern picture of what Fanny’s life must have been like.
What are some non-spoilery things about Mansfield Park that were important for you to stay consistent with in Seeking Mansfield?
I have a strong personality, and I’m typically drawn to similarly strong female leads. But something that was essential to me was to show that there are different types of strength: you can be sharp-witted, you can fight for what you want, you can be so confident or firm or self-assured that no one could ever take advantage of you.
But you can also stay true to your values, no matter the pressures that abound. You can choose how you react when bad things happen. You can allow yourself to dream even when you’re oppressed. Fanny Price is certainly in this latter camp. She has an inner strength that no one could shake. I wanted Finley to have that same strength. She knows who she is, and staying true to herself matters. Just like Fanny.
I’m sure as the author of this book, this is a tough question to answer, but which character did you enjoy writing more Harlan or Oliver?
Oof. This is hard! I love Oliver, and he was the more satisfying character to write, but (and I’ll deny this if you tell anyone) I think I enjoyed writing Harlan more. I just adore Harlan Crawford. He can be such a jerk, but he is also such a charming, complex rake. The fact that he wants to be better and that he has enough self-awareness to see what a good influence Finley has on him makes me love him all the more. It’s so enjoyable to me to see want to reform to get the girl.
There’s a game called Kiss, Marry, or Kill, and I’m interested to know out of all of the love interests in Austen’s work, who would you kiss, who would you marry, and who would you kill off?
Okay, this is probably my favorite question ever. I’m going to limit myself JUST to the good guys—the actual heroes—and keep my unjust swooning over Henry Crawford and Willoughby out of this. My answers are probably controversial, but:
Marry: If I was on the Bachelorette, let’s just say I would have a legit game-time decision between Captain Wentworth and Mr. Knightley. Sigh. But because I’m probably more of an Emma than an Anne, I should probably say Knightley. Hopefully I don’t regret my decision on After the Final Rose!
Kiss: Darcy. And probably maintain a lifelong flirtation, because Darcy. Also, if the aforementioned husband dies, we’re absolutely getting married.
Kill: Edmund Bertram. Which I know is ironic, considering he’s the hero of Mansfield Park, but dude is a bit insufferable and willfully ignorant of Mary Crawford’s vices and Fanny Price’s virtues, and his whole Pygmalion treatment of Fanny is just not okay. He’s gotta go.
As an author do you feel like it’s easier to write a retelling where some of the story structure already exists, or do you find that it’s easier to start from an entirely blank slate?
I can’t say a retelling is easier. If anything, my quickest drafts have been of books that came from my own ideas. With a retelling, there is so much to take into consideration. It was important to me that I understand how the social customs and norms of the day impacted the original characters. I needed to think about why the setting mattered and what themes were examined. Finding ways to modernize those elements took a great deal more research than a project that comes from my own brain. And then I needed to think about what I wanted to change, what I wanted to keep, and what made my retelling different from the others out there. I included little hat tips to the original that I hope Austen fans catch. And all of that needed to be done while still creating a story that felt fresh and worthy of the original.
I hope readers will enjoy it and that it will inspire them to reread the original or pick up Jane Austen for the first time.
“If you love heartfelt, emotional, romantic, witty stories (I know I do!), you will love Watson’s debut. It was beyond swoon worthy!” –Kasie West (author of The Fill-In Boyfriend)
“All the drama of a classic romance, refreshingly set in the modern day. Watson’s characters pop, and the tension is masterfully maintained throughout.” –Adi Alsaid (author of Let’s Get Lost)
“Delightfully witty and irresistibly romantic! Kate Watson honors Austen’s classic tale while adding a heart and humor that is decidedly her own. Seeking Mansfield is not to be missed!” –Abigail Johnson (author of If I Fix You)
Featured Media Links (OMGEEE YA and Wine is one of Kate’s featured links!)
About the Author
Kate Watson is a young adult writer, wife, mother of two, and the tenth of thirteen children. Originally from Canada, she attended college in the States and holds a BA in Philosophy from Brigham Young University. A lover of travel and experiencing new cultures, she has also lived in Israel, Brazil, and the American South. She now calls Arizona home.
For several years, Kate worked as a senior director for a private university and was one of the faces of a national ad campaign for the university. Shortly following the birth of her first child, she chose to stay home full time and focus on her family and her writing.
Seeking Mansfield is her first novel, with a companion novel to follow. She is also a contributor to Eric Smith’s Welcome Home adoption anthology coming fall 2017 from Flux.
Kate is represented by Dawn Frederick of Red Sofa Literary
Enter the Giveaway!
Enter to win 1 of 2 copies of Seeking Mansfield (eBook if international; hard copy if USA)
*Warning! This review may contain spoilers if you have not yet read Mansfield Park*
I read a lot, A LOT of Austen retellings. I’ll admit that I’ve got a bit of an Austen addiction. There are a lot of great adaptations of Austen’s work out there, but this one is truly something special. It not only stays true to the original text, it IMPROVES upon it. Yes. I said it. JASNA is probably considering revoking my membership this very second, but I dare them to read this book and tell me that I’m wrong.
So let’s talk about what Watson does better than Austen. There are two chief criticisms that Mansfield Park typically receives. First, that Fanny Price is a weak leading lady. And second, that Edmund Bertram is overly protective of her, telling her what to do and treating her like a damsel in distress.
Instead of repeating those same “mistakes” in Seeking Mansfield, Watson has created brilliant character arcs for both Finley and Oliver that break them out of those molds and make them appealing to a 21st century audience.
As I previously mentioned Watson also made me fall in love with both Crawford and Bertram in a way that Austen just couldn’t in Mansfield Park. Watson does a much better job of showing that people are not just good or bad, that we’re all complex, and she develops her characters accordingly. Because of that, I was legitimately rooting for Crawford for a big section of this book, which I never would have guessed going in.
If you’re familiar with Mansfield Park, you’ll be able to guess the major plot points here, but it’s the way that Watson takes us from point A to point B that is just so completely enthralling. She also has some wonderful nods to the original Mansfield story that will be so much fun for fans of Austen’s work to discover.
Thanks so much to NetGalley and Flux Books for granting me this eARC in exchange for an honest review.
I really like this cover. The color scheme is lovely and I love that they included the theater in the background, since it’s such a critical part of Finley’s development and history.
So much swoon in this story. I am still absolutely blown away by Watson’s ability to make me fall in love with both of the leading men in this story. She makes them so much more complex and relatable and even gives us a glimpse into Bertram’s POV, which just made me love them both all the more. Watson truly nailed the romance element in this retelling.
Have you gotten to read Mansfield Park yet? Will you be adding it to your TBR lists? What are some Jane Austen stories that you would like to see YA retellings of?