Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Christmas Gifts for Jane Austen Fans

In honour of Jane Austen's birthday, here is a Christmas wish list for the Austen fan - even if that person is you.
You may know a lover of Jane Austen, or of classic literature in general, and be looking for inspiration for a unique gift. They probably have all the books, in various editions, as well as all the movies, and many works of fan fiction, or non-fiction. So what do you get them? Of course, they probably have other interests which you may know more about. Just because they like Jane Austen doesn't mean they need an Austenesque gift, but if that is what you would like to get them, here are a few things I have come across, and which I think would be very welcome by anyone. Most of them will make it in time for Christmas, depending on where you are.

Storiarts makes clothing and accessories based on classic literature. I like these gloves in particular, because they use text from Persuasion, which is not a novel that gets as much attention as some of the others, so it is nice to see it highlighted here. I would be delighted to receive a pair of these, as I think, would any Jane Austen fan. And it is not too late to order for Christmas, as they offer express shipping. They also have scarves, and cushions and other stuff, but these were my favourites.

These are available from the Jane Austen gift shop in Bath. If you are in the UK, they should get to you in time for Christmas. They are also on Amazon, if you are not in the UK. These are best for people without kids, and therefore with a fridge that is not covered in dinosaur magnets and school notices and crayon drawings, like mine is. In fact, the Jane Austen Centre has loads of awesome gifts, including a reproduction ring, copied from the one Jane Austen wore herself, which is exclusively available through them. But as that requires six weeks to custom order, so no dice for Christmas!

These are made to order, though the site says there is one in stock, so you might have some luck getting one for Christmas. I have only ever seen these on line, so there is a good chance your Jane Austen fan does not have one already. The cover design is from a vintage collection, and one  you don't see much, so it's a great, unique gift.

This, from A Mighty Girl, is my idea of fun. I love the adult colouring book movement! I have a mandela book, and I work on it when I am watching my kids, because it makes me happy and I can leave it and come back, and it is kind of mindless but cathartic. How much more true would this be if the images were Regency themed? Love it.

If you are a parent and a Jane Austen fan, you have no doubt received more copies than  you can count of the Pride and Prejudice counting primer. It is adorable, my kids love it, and I think it's a great gift... so long as you are sure they don't already have it! BUT, now there is a new one, and if you are quick, you might get to be the first to give it! (I have a copy already and it's adorable and kind of hilarious, just like the first one). It is on Amazon, so should be able to ship in time for Christmas.

I know, I know. Yes, this is my book, and yes I am shamelessly putting it on this list. We indie authors have to do what we can. But seriously, I have read numerous fan fiction novels, and never found what I was looking for. That is why I wrote this book, because it is what I, as a fan, wanted to read. It is also pretty obscure, so there is a very good chance that they have not read it, unlike most of the mainstream spinoff novels that you might find on shelves at your local bookstore. If you happen to live in Edmonton, you can pick up a copy at Cally's Teas on Whyte Ave, where they also carry Jane Austen band aids and air freshener as well as many other charming gifts and teas. Follies Past is also available at Tix on the Square, where they have a large selection of local handicrafts, which would make unique gifts for anyone on your list.  For those outside Edmonton, Follies Past is available on Amazon in paperback and eBook and will ship in time for Christmas if you are in North America. I cannot confirm either way for the rest of the world. 

I am a believer in not giving more stuff. Despite my enthusiasm for the gifts set out above, I think in our cluttered world it can be much better to give an experience. Yes, if you are in Edmonton, you can come to one of my events, like the Midwinter Ball on February 27, but there are events all over the world that you can check out. I recommend having a peruse through the Facebook Page for Regency-Austen-Napoleonic Events. You can check out your local chapter of the Jane Austen Society of North America, or the Jane Austen Festival in Bath. I know there are a few groups in Australia and across the US. And in the UK, there is lots always going on. There are costume balls, and retreats in Georgian houses, and dinners and musical evenings - I have seen posts about all of these things. If you have specific suggestions, please make them in the comments page.

Whatever you give or you get, I hope you have a wonderful holiday season, with plenty of good cheer!

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Pride and Prejudice on the big screen

November 15 saw possibly the most enjoyable six hours I and 250 other Edmontonians have ever spent - with this guy (see below) at Fort Edmonton Park in the historical Capitol Theatre. It sold out in under an hour, and I have been overwhelmed with interest in repeating it. I enjoyed it so much, that even after six hours of sitting, I would have done it all over again the next day... nay, that very same night. "Just put it back to the beginning, Mr. Tech! We want more!"

So, since so many people were unable to get tickets, and are hoping for a repeat, and indeed even those who did get tickets would like to do it again, I thought I would write this little post letting everyone in on the background and thus the future of this unprecedented and thrilling event.

I had wanted to put this on for years. Eventually, in 2014, I started trying to track down the rights for a public screening. Many people do not understand copyright and think that as long as you aren't charging any money, or include a disclaimer giving credit to the rights holders and stating that you intend no copyright infringement, then you are not committing an offense. This is like saying, "I didn't intend any theft; I just meant to take it without paying." Or how about, "I did kill him, but look, I held up this sign as I did it!" (sign says: No Murder Intended). So, I had to actually acquire the rights. This proved quite a challenge. I contacted every copyright collective and every agency that I could find. They all directed me to each other. Nobody seemed to know how to obtain these rights. I even called 1800-O-Canada, which is a surprisingly helpful service in the most unexpected situations. They too were flummoxed. I contacted companies that arrange film rights for public viewings like the ones in Churchill square. They could not help me. I was sent to broadcasting rights organizations all across the county. They were all equally unhelpful. Surely, I am not the first person in the world ever to want to put on a show? Was there something about this particular show?

In the end, I went to the BBC shop - the online store where you can order DVDs and mugs and stuff. I dropped them a line. You can imagine, they were not really the right people. But I did not go away.

After a few months, I finally heard back from a guy at BBC International. He told me it was unlikely the BBC would give me the rights. I thought unlikely was not the same as impossible, so I asked him to look into it. He told me there would be a lot of obstacles and it would be very expensive. I may want to have a plan B. I told him my plan B was not to do the event. And let's see what those obstacles are, shall we? Apparently, the BBC never imagined anyone would want to show the program on the big screen and so had not negotiated the rights for that with people like the director. Essentially, the BBC didn't have the power to grant me a license to show the program, because they didn't actually own all the rights to it.

I told them to get me a ballpark estimate, just so I could evaluate whether it was worth pursuing. It was several weeks before he came back with a figure. He said it would be in the range of $37,000.00.

So, that was more than I had expected! And yet I was not deterred. It seems they had decided just to set the price so high that nobody would want to purchase the license and they wouldn't have to renegotiate the rights. Little did they know, I would not be so easily put off. I decided to ask what I would get for my $37,000.00. Could I sub-lease the license, for example? Would it be exclusive to Canada? To North America? For how long? Maybe I could get corporate sponsorship. Maybe I could crowd-fund it. Maybe Cineplex would like to do a national run of it. He said he would get back to me.

It then came up that some people didn't know that you needed to have permission to show programs even if they weren't charging admission. He asked whether I would be interested in a non-theatrical license (one that did not permit admission charges, usually used by schools and private groups), which would have different pricing. I said I could find a way to work with that (again, maybe corporate sponsorship, maybe crowd-funding). He said he would find out the price for that.

Some time later, I received the most wonderful and amazing email. He came back to me saying that the BBC had decided to buy out the rights to the program, so they now had the power to grant whatever licenses they wanted. (I'm not saying this was entirely my doing, but in my heart I do like to think that it was). And they were setting the fee at zero for me and my event. As long as I didn't charge admission, I could show it. He then said that the upcoming Friday was his last day at the BBC, and not to ask any questions but to take this permission and run.

So I did.

Next was the challenge of finding a way to cover the expenses of putting on a film screening without any income from ticket sales. I was not hopeful about grants. I could sell really expensive refreshments. Maybe do a Kickstarter campaign, but with no rewards, since I couldn't offer admission as a reward. I approached my first choice of venue, which was Fort Edmonton Park, just to get an estimate of costs so I knew how much I had to fund-raise. They took a while to provide an answer, but after several phone conversation and email exchanges, they offered to put the whole thing on for free! We would co-host it. I would provide the license and they would do everything else. What a dream come true! All they asked was the right to sell us food. All the costs of running the theatre and paying the staff would have to come out of the food sales, so they were kind of expensive, but considering the entertainment was free, it was still a good deal.

It turned out I was not the only one with this dream, as I did no advertising and it sold out almost instantly. All I did was make an event on Facebook and invite my friends to it. There were over twice as many people wanting to go as there were seats, and that was just according to the Facebook numbers. There may have been others.

Lizzie on the big screen, entertaining the throng
The event itself was absolutely glorious. The weather was perfect. The venue was perfect. Everything was even better than I had imagined it. I was a bit worried that six hours was going to seem long. It didn't. It was such a festive atmosphere. The jokes were funnier with such a large group, and the nuances of the acting, the directing choices, even the editing, were so much clearer and more entertaining when blown up to such a large size. It was truly magnificent and completely unforgettable.
Some people even came in costume!
The food was delicious, and so plentiful!
Treats laid out for our enjoyment in the original Selkirk Hotel,
beside the theatre

I have written to the BBC to seek permission to repeat this event. I have not yet had a reply, but it is Christmas time. Everyone is no doubt run off their feet. But fear not. I am not easily dissuaded, and I hope, before long, to be able to post good news here, or at, or on our Facebook page or Twitter. In the meantime, if you are interested in getting first dibs on tickets once I wrangle the BBC into letting me do it again, you can put your name on a waitlist I created on Just click the "Get Tickets" button and then the "Join Waitlist" button in the window that should pop up. (It was brought to my attention that these links were not taking readers to the waitlist. I have fixed this error and it seems to be working now. Sorry about that!)

Hopefully I will see you at Fort Edmonton Park soon!

Melanie Kerr is the author of Follies Past: a Prequel to Pride and Prejudice and founder of Regency Encounters