Thursday, March 17, 2011

Jane Austen Unites the World Via Twitter

All images courtesy of Adam Spunberg and Lynn Shepherd

Here’s what we love about the Internet. First of all two people from two different parts of the world who’ve never met can become really close friends. And second of all, there’s something for everyone — even a couple of Jane Austen fans with a dream. 

Take for example Adam Spunberg and Lynn Shepherd. He’s a 28-year-old editorial producer for Major League Baseball, Advanced Media from the Upper West Side of New York. She’s a 47-year-old author and freelance copywriter from Berkshire England not far from Oxford. The two met over a mutual appreciation of the British novelist Jane Austen. Adam recalled their initial encounter, “Lynn started following me on Twitter after I had a discussion with someone about Austen and baseball.” 

Lynn added, “Then he started reading my own modern version of Jane Austen, Murder at Mansfield Park. We talked about that, and somewhere along the way we became fast friends.”

From there a very high tech concept based on the works of a very traditional author came about — The Austen Project. Adam explained, “Every Tuesday, contributors from all over the world tweet our Austen-esque novel, A Ball at Pemberley, in turns. People sign up for time slots beforehand and then follow along throughout the day, electrifying the story with amusing banter and surprising twists. Each week we post the new tweets. So far the story has really worked.”

The bookish adventure has evolved over time, Lynn noted, “We originally invited ideas for the story from potential contributors, and ran a poll for people to choose their favorite. Since then we’ve been holding a story-telling session every week, starting early for people in Australia and running right through the day to close with those on the West coast of North America.”

It may sound complicated but it really isn’t. The first step is simply to join the group. Lynn remarked that people “just need to sign up at, and they can then book up to two slots on each writing day. They obviously need to keep up with the development of the story, especially what’s written in the slots immediately before them.”

From there, Adam described the process. “When it’s their turn, they tweet the hashtag #A4T with each tweet, which can then be read by anyone on Twitter. Once their time is up, they write “DONE” and the next person goes.”

So far it’s been smooth sailing according to Adam, “Believe it or not, this complicated, confusing process has run without a hiccup, resembling more an efficiently run train station than a chaotic airport (such as LaGuardia, for instance).”

As far as writing goes, being a part of the Austen Project really doesn’t eat up too much of a participants time. Adam noted, “The tweeting time slots are a mere 15 minutes, so it really isn’t much of a writing commitment.”

But be forewarned, it’s easy to get sucked into a time warp when you’re following the ever evolving tale. Adam disclosed, “Of course people naturally find themselves following along, voting in polls, and discussing the story. The minimum requirements are low, but expect the excitement to take hold of you for longer stretches.”

Especially since, as Lynn pointed out, no one knows what to expect — including the project’s creators. “We did have an original plot idea, but we deliberately didn’t dictate how it would evolve, because we wanted it to be a collaboration in the true sense of the word. We’ve certainly had some unexpected developments, and some surprise new characters — including a certain ‘Mr Firth.’ It’s all a bit chaotic, I must admit, but that really is half the fun.”

The other half of the fun is tracking the international community that’s developed as a result of the madness. Adam revealed that participants come from “all over the world, literally. As of now, there are contributors from 15 countries and six continents.” That’s something he never says he never expected when they had the initial idea, “I never in my wildest dreams imagined we would have contributors from Ecuador or Pakistan, yet those two tweeters (@leOnelaaaa and @Farah_Khan1 respectively) are phenomenal. Of all the wonderful things that have emanated from this project, the worldwide participation may be my favorite.”

Lynn doesn’t seem surprised that Austen would have such a far reach for literary fans, “She has such an enormous worldwide following, and has inspired so many people like me to try to write in her style. We though that her work more than anyone else’s would attract people to get involved, and we’ve been proved right.”

But that doesn’t mean she’s the only author who’s going to get the Twitter treatment from this creative duo. Adam teased, “Not to give anything away, but don’t be surprised if the next installment has a new Eyre to it, and the following one a Twist.”

That should beat the Dickens out of potential tweeters curiosity.

To find out more about the Austen Project visit To buy a copy of Lynn’s Austen-esque novel Murder at Mansfield Park go to And to stay on top of all that Adam’s up to check out

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