There is no such thing as chance; and what seem to us merest accident springs from the deepest source of destiny.
Authors are becoming accustomed to promoting their own wares. We're encouraged, even compelled, to hitch a ride on the latest gravy train and exploit every trend connected with our books; the location, what's in the news, what chimes with the destinies of the fast and the famous. Spin-offs abound. Stunts may be marvelled at for their ingenuity. Some of it is amusing, some of it illuminating, much of it spurious. It's almost become superstition, as if we hope a little of the stardust will rub off on our ventures and they will be carried along on the prevailing current, never mind the quantities of flotsam and that it is in full spate.
The Jane Austen connection is one of the most powerful to excite interest in recent years and I have to admit I've used it to puff my early second novel, My Mother Bids Me, which is set in the Regency era and is woven in with the events leading up to the Battle of Waterloo. The book is a portrait of Jane Austen's England.
The odd thing is that Jane Austen wasn't particularly successful in her own lifetime and it's rather sobering to think that we might only be appreciated long after we're earthly dust. Yet it must be a sign of destiny when some spark is caught way after the fact and fanned into a conflagration.
I don't know what to think about the newly discovered drawing purported to be of Jane Austen. The jury's still out, but I do note that the academic most convinced that it is of the author has publicised her views to coincide with a new biography.
I had to smile, too, at the time of the Royal Wedding last year, when it was claimed that Catherine Middleton's ancestry was linked to Jane Austen. Wasn't marrying an heir to the throne kudos enough?
Now Tom Fowle, who was engaged to Jane's sister, Cassandra, is mentioned in Book One of the Berkeley Trilogy. This gentleman was educated by the Revd George Austen, the girls' father, and was chaplain to Lord Craven, the 5th Earl of Berkeley's nephew, when he set sail for the West Indies with his patron, contracted yellow fever and tragically died. In the film Becoming Jane, they changed his name to Robert for fear of confusion with the lawyer, Tom Lefroy, whom Jane was attached to at that period. The family was known to the nefarious cleric, Hupsman, who officiated at the fake marriage between Lord Berkeley and Mary Cole. His mother had been governess to Berkeley's sister, Lady Craven, later Margravine of Anspach.
Mary Cole is not in my genealogical tree, nor my late husband's, but I sometimes do feel a frisson that my full name incorporates hers, a name which I didn't own when I discovered her. Also, as mentioned elsewhere, my first, ultra-youthful, attempt at writing historical fiction, aged 13, did feature a heroine called Kate Barclay (the shades weren't fully on my wavelength in those days!).
I wonder what mileage there'd be in revealing that my maternal line lived a few miles from Steventon Rectory where Jane Austen was born, and Chawton House where the family moved, now the Jane Austen's House Museum?
Whether any of this ranks as destiny is dubious. But shall I tell you something really amazing? For The Wolf and The Lamb, I researched the forebears of the second husband of one of Mary Cole's sisters who came to figure significantly in southern American history of the early 19th century. It transpires that that line coincides exactly with the ancestry of a Red Room colleague with whom, unbeknownst, I have formed a warm friendship.
What are the chances? The Swiss psychologist, Jung, might call it synchronicity, Douglas Adams would call it 'the fundamental interconnectedness of all things', John Guare might put it down to 'six degrees of separation'...
To me, it's pretty mind-blowing!