Friday, 2 July 2021

Susan: A Jane Austen Prequel by Alice McVeigh – Excerpt

Book Cover: Susan; A Jane Austen Prequel by Alice McVeigh
Today I’m welcoming a new visitor to the blog. Alice McVeigh has written a book based on Lady Susan, Susan: A Jane Austen Prequel, which came out this week. I’ve only read Lady Susan, which forms part of Austen’s juvenilia, once, but it’s really something, and I am excited to see a book based on this character, particularly as according to the blurb, it's the first book of a series. Let’s look at the blurb and then I’ll share an excerpt. 

Book Description

Susan is a Jane Austen Prequel (or Pride and Prejudice Variation) brilliantly capturing Austen's own Lady Susan as a young girl.


As the BookLife review put it for Publishers Weekly: "McVeigh's prose and plotting are pitch-perfect. Emma mingles with Pride and Prejudice in a delightful confrontation between the two books' worlds... This Austen-inspired novel echoes the master herself."


Familiar characters abound - Frank Churchill, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Darcy himself - but Susan - mischievous and manipulative - is the star. This is Austen that even Austen might have loved, with a touch of Georgette Heyer in the romantic sections. Fans of Bridgerton will also relish this classic regency romance, the first in a six-book series.


Sixteen-year-old Susan Smithson - pretty but poor, clever but capricious - has just been expelled from a school for young ladies in London.


At the mansion of the formidable Lady Catherine de Bourgh, she attracts a raffish young nobleman. But, at the first hint of scandal, her guardian dispatches her to her uncle Collins' rectory in Kent, where her sensible cousin Alicia lives and "where nothing ever happens."


Here Susan mischievously inspires the local squire to put on a play, with consequences no one could possibly have foreseen. What with the unexpected arrival of Frank Churchill, Alicia's falling in love and a tumultuous elopement, rural Kent will surely never seem safe again...

Book Cover: Susan; A Jane Austen Prequel by Alice McVeigh
Excerpt from Susan: A Jane Austen Prequel 

(The sixteen-year-old Susan, after attracting scandal and comment in London, has been banished to Hunsford, Kent. There, she incites the local squire into mounting a play, and is loaned a horse by Lady Catherine de Bourgh…)

* * *

Susan looked divine in Laura’s dark green riding habit, but even she felt a little abashed at the sight of her horse. It was at least a hand taller than Lady Catherine’s borrowed pony, a creamy chestnut that almost seemed to dance on its hooves.

Still, she managed to mount, with the assistance of a groom, while striving to recall Hough’s instructions: to keep her heels down, to move with the horse, to direct from her boots. But she felt as if she was riding an Indian elephant. Still, it was something to have Frank Churchill beside her, on his black mare.

‘You have not been riding long, I think?’

‘Not for very long.’

‘Truly? At this rate you might hope to adorn the next hunt!’

‘I do not yet jump, however. And only the most accomplished ladies venture to hunt at all.’

‘There is nothing to jumping but a little practice. I shall teach you, one fine evening, down in the west field. You’ll manage perfectly, I’ll vouch for it.’

Mr Johnson led the way alongside his son, his daughters and MacHale: just behind these were Miss Richardson with Mr Oliver. It was hard not to watch the pair – as well-matched as carriage horses – with Miss Richardson’s hat, with its sweeping blue feather, perfectly setting off her porcelain complexion and gilded hair. Susan could not help observing how everyone’s style of riding reflected their characters: Mr Johnson wild and untidy beside the grim MacHale; Henry Johnson almost too stiffly correct, in front of the suave Mr Oliver and the self-conscious Miss Richardson.

At first, Susan found the sensation delightful – but that was while the party were trotting. Mr Johnson then moved from a trot to a canter, and it seemed to Susan that she had never ridden so fast before. Was it even a gallop? Then Mr Churchill dug in his heels and wheeled up to the front, shouting something to Henry Johnson – and then she was the last, quite the last, even behind Miss Laura, whose mount was hardly more than a pony.

Mr Johnson was enjoying himself, enjoying the day, enjoying the dappled sunlight, and enjoying the scrub and ditches as much as the view of his timber, verdant and dazzling after the rain. His horse, delighting in its speed, passed heathers and clumps of trees, leaving poor Susan – by this point behind indeed – quite breathless. Wishing not to be an incumbrance and determined to keep up – what if she lost them altogether? the shame would kill her! – she brought her whip down on her horse’s flank, rather faster than she had intended. This alone might not have done the business were it not that Mr Oliver’s pointer chose this moment to shoot past, as if fearing his master’s abandonment. Susan’s mount sheered sideways – and then bolted.

Fast as the ground had pounded past before, it was a sick and dizzy daze of greenness then – and Susan’s sole object not to fall. It was a long moment before anyone else noticed, for they were so far in advance, and it was only as Frank Churchill shouted out a warning that any of the party observed that she was no longer in control, that she had her little arms locked around the neck of the galloping horse and her boot jammed inside her stirrup.

Mr Oliver was the swiftest. Wheeling round and urging his own horse to maximum effect, he managed to catch her up in a few moments. But as he reached for the flapping bridle, her horse lurched sideways – and Susan could hold on no longer. She fell to the ground, an agonising pain spearing her ankle. She was only conscious of the bright, hot pain and of Mr Oliver’s bending over her – then she fainted.

The rest of the party arrived in breathless disorder. Even Miss Richardson appeared most distressed, as Mr Oliver gently turned Susan over.

‘How still and white she is!’ – ‘Does she still breathe?’ – ‘Poor creature! – how terrifying for her!’ – ‘Only been riding for a month, I believe’ – ‘I saw nothing at all – she was behind me’ – ‘Take care, Churchill: the angle of the leg looks very bad.’

Mr Oliver frowned, stroking his chin. ‘The ankle, even the leg itself, might well be broken. How can we contrive to get her back? Should the doctor join us here, perhaps?’

‘One of us must ride to the Hall and bring out a sling or a litter of some kind, and another must go for the doctor,’ said Henry. ‘I shall go!’

‘And I with you,’ said Churchill, while Miss Richardson shivered and said, ‘I will accompany you. I am no use with such things!’ But Caroline stayed, though very shaken, and, as Susan returned to herself, she found Mr Oliver adjusting Caroline’s coat around her shoulders. She tried to rise, uttered a little cry and fell back again.

‘Do not move, I beg,’ said Mr Oliver, with that same deep glance that had so unsettled her on their first acquaintance. ‘The others have gone to fetch assistance.’

‘Does it hurt a very great deal?’ asked Mr Johnson, while MacHale secretly congratulated himself that Susan had no part in his play.

‘Hardly at all,’ she lied. ‘I am sure it will be easily mended.’ Though she did worry, ‘What if I am lamed forever, because I would not be the last?’

‘She makes the best of it,’ thought Mr Johnson, deeply moved. Such a trouper, to be so small and so brave! He offered her a sip of brandy from his flask, which she could not be persuaded to sample.

In a shorter time than Caroline had believed possible, the rescue party were observed at the top of the down: Mr Churchill directing various servants, who were carrying a heavy board with a blanket on it. Mr Oliver and Frank Churchill lifted Susan (‘No weight at all!’ the latter assured her) and four footmen carried her back to the house, though her pain so worsened along the way that she had to bite her lip to avoid crying out.

Alicia was anxiously waiting. She had seen Henry Johnson first, in a very great hurry (‘Your cousin has had a fall – forgive me, I must go!’) while she – uncertain even of the location of the calamity – had waited nervously, only to see Mr Churchill and Miss Richardson galloping up together. Mr Churchill paused, but only to ask which way Henry had gone, before disappearing in his wake. Miss Richardson, looking almost ill, ran up to her room, but Alicia dared not leave her post. If only Susan had listened to her, and not attempted to ride! – but risk-taking was part of her character, and always had been.

As the rescue party approached Warleigh, there was some dispute about where the invalid should be taken, but after what seemed to her endless discussion (‘for her aunt will wish to tend her – and there is no room properly prepared’) the servants deposited her in the nearest vacant bedchamber, where a fire was hastily lit, and the bed hurriedly made-up, and a more comfortable chair commandeered for Alicia.

The local doctor, Mr Warren – a wiry fellow with whom Lady Catherine relished the occasional feud – was there within the hour. After prodding and poking to a degree that quite astonished Susan, he declared that the leg had been spared and that the ankle was likely sprained, instead of broken. After he had bound it up tightly it was agreed that her cousin would stay the night with her, and Alicia was invited to descend to supper.

She left the rest of the cast downstairs as soon as she could, and hastily returned to Susan, saying, ‘Oh, why must you always be so dramatic? Cannot you even contrive to canter across open country without creating some incident or other?’

‘I did not wish to fall off – and it does hurt a great deal, Alicia.’

‘I am sorry for it – but you are such a worry! Before you arrived, everything was calm and easy – but now there seems to be nothing but difficulties and jealousies everywhere.’

‘What have I done?’

Nothing, thought Alicia – nothing beyond being herself: entrancing, annoying, dramatic, mercurial! – Nothing, other than being the kind of person to whom things always did seem to happen.

* * *

Author Bio

Alice McVeigh, a London-based ghost writer, also writes Kirkus-starred speculative fiction as Spaulding Taylor.  When brash and youthful, she was published more than once by Orion (Hachette) in contemporary fiction. She has been a life member of the Jane Austen Society since her 21st birthday, and knows most of her works by heart. This is an excerpt from her prequel to Lady Susan, to be published by Warleigh Hall Press on June 30.


Book Cover: Susan; A Jane Austen Prequel by Alice McVeigh
Buy Links

Susan: A Jane Austen Prequel is available to buy now in Paperback and Kindle.


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  1. Thanks so much for this, Ceri!!! Truly honoured to have an excerpt from Susan on your blog!

    1. Thanks so much for visiting, Alice, it's lovely to host you.

  2. I did read Jane Austen's writing about Lady Susan and viewed the movie based on that. So thanks for sharing about a further extension on that young lady here.

    1. It's great to see something based on Lady Susan, I'm looking forward to reading it.

  3. I'm intrigued. Lady Susan was never my favorite story, but this story sounds great. I also enjoy those mash-ups where the story includes characters from multiple Austen books as long as it works. Alice McVeigh is a new author to me too, and since you reported this is first in a series it looks likely we will get very acquainted with her writing. Beautiful cover, isn't it? Best of luck to Ms McVeigh on this book and the rest of the series.

    1. It seems as though there are characters from quite a few stories here, so it's a wide ranging cast!

  4. what a fresh idea for a prequel.


  5. I really love this excerpt, showing that, no matter the circumstances, Susan always tries to take advantage of it and that those around her end up a bit frustrated. I just read Lady Susan and adored the grey humor. Thank you for this excerpt.


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