Like most lovers of Austen literature,Virginia Aitken will never forget the sight of Colin Firth as he emerged from the lake at Pemberley in his soaking white shirt.
“I could watch that clip forever and forever,” says the former teacher, “and that’s a scene that wasn’t even in the original book!”
As the author of the new sequel to Jane Austen’s beloved novel Pride and Prejudice Virginia Aitken is a world away from the stuffy stereotype of a straightlaced English teacher and freely admits that Colin Firth made Mr Darcy sexy.
That said, she did teach English for many years, including a notable stint in the 1990s as the Head of English at Limavady Grammar School.
These days however, County Derry-based Virginia devotes all of her time to writing and her new book ’Mary Bennet’s Chance’ marks her fourth published novel.
The book has already received praise from Jane Austen societies globally.
And oldest daughter Lynne has also given it the thumbs up.
“Lynne is my number one proof reader,” explains Virginia. “She reads a lot of books herself. When it came to Mary Bennet’s Chance, Lynne rang me up and said: ‘Mummy, you’ve cracked it.’
“People say I’m brave in tackling a sequel to a novel like Pride and Prejudice. It was just something I wanted to do.
“I have been an English teacher all of my career and taught Pride and Prejudice quite a few times. It’s a book I have read many many times, but I always got to the end and wanted it to go on and know what happened.”
Most people would have expected Virginia to pick Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam Darcy as the subjects for the sequel - but she had other ideas.
“Sequels for Elizabeth and Darcy have been done to death,” she said.
“In screenplays and films I think Mary Bennet has been given a bad press. I couldn’t understand how five daughters who had been brought up by Mrs Bennet could be so different. Of course when you go to the original book you see that Mary is actually not so different.
“I felt that Mary had a lot more to offer then Elizabeth. I looked at the Bennet household and Mr Bennet with all of his books and thought about how much reading Mary would have done.
“In fact, in the book Mary is described as “one of the most accomplished women in the whole village.”
“We also look at Mary and her music. In Pride and Prejudice, fun is often made of Mary’s music when she plays at dances. However the music is taken to a new level when she meets Charles, a music teacher who slowly but surely teaches her to play music with feeling.”
Asked if she dared to include any sex in the book - Virginia replies with an emphatic ‘No’.
“I had to remain true to Jane Austen while writing the sequel,” she says. “
Virginia took on her usual six months of research before putting pen to paper.
“I read all of Jane Austen’s books again so I could hear her voice,” she said, “I wanted in a way for Jane to come alive again. “
But she does admit she has made changes for the modern reader
“I’ve been less wordy,” she said. “For example Pride and Prejudice contains letters which are very long. I use letters in Mary Bennet’s Chance but in a different way
“I do admit that things are easier to research now with google - information is always there at your fingertips, but you do have to careful not to believe eveything you read on the Internet.
“I write every day, some days it is just a sentence, but there are other days when I am full of ideas.
“And I always write my last two paragraphs first. For me fiction is a fantastic journey but I need to know where I am going and what my destination will be.”
Virginia regards writing as her full-time occupation. She also does some work as an education consultant.
However she has fond memories of Limavady Grammar, where she directed and produced about 15 plays for the school.
“My leading lights, among others, were the Donaghy brother and sister from Eglinton who played leading roles in Oklahoma and Our Town respectively and who have gone on to pursue careers in drama in England,” she said
A mother to four grown up children, and grandchildren Virginia has also written the trilogy The Porter Legacy - ‘Oh My Child,’ ‘Snowdrops for Ada,’ and ‘Red Scar.’
Mary Bennet’s Chance will be released this week and Virginia, who gives many talks about her writing, hopes to visit Derry City and do a talk soon.
Mary Bennet’s Chance is published by Indepenpress and is available on www.amazon.co.uk, www.waterstones.co.uk, Eason online, Kindle and at local book stores.