Books inspire other books. Jane Eyre inspired a ‘prequel’ – Wide Sargasso Sea, telling the story of the first Mrs Rochester, and ‘The Eyre Affair’ by Jasper Fforde – where the heroine, Thursday Next, jumps into Jane Eyre to give it the proper ending – in her world, Jane marries St John Rivers. It’s a fantastic, wonderful book, and gives us Jane Eyre fans a few more amazingly sexy Rochester moments (the Thursday Next series continues with journeys into Great Expectations, Alice in Wonderland, Blyton books, and into the Nursery Crimes series – also written by Jasper Fforde. It all gets a bit confusing, in a wonderful way….)
And there’s retellings – Rebecca is a re-telling of Jane Eyre (and so is Twilight, to some extent) and Bridget Jones is a retelling of Pride and Prejudice, but are both fine books in their own right.
Be wary of straightforward sequels – they usually don’t work. There are a plethora of Jane Austen sequels, and they mostly range in quality from dire to screamingly, achingly awful. The problem is, the authors take the main characters, and try and tell another story in the same style as Jane Austen. No-one writes like Jane Austen, and no-one should try, and the main characters have told, and finished their story.
It’s best to leave the main characters as they are, and tell a story around a minor character – such as Margaret from Sense and Sensibility (someone has written a good book around her, but I can’t for the life of me remember who). These minor characters are created, and have a life and a story to build on, but never get to finish their tale in the main book.
Elizabeth Aston writes some pretty good Pride and Prejudice sequels – and they work because she barely mentions Elizabeth and Darcy – the books are about the children (although Maria Rushworth from Mansfield Park makes a guest appearance, as does Jane Eyre’s father.). Also, she doesn’t write in Jane Austen’s style – she writes in her own.
Equally, most James Bond sequels are pale imitations – but I understand the Moneypenny spin-offs are pretty good. These kind of tales – writing about the minor characters are pretty much fanfic, with the added bonus that the the author gets paid – which doesn’t happen for most fanfics!
So go on – get reading. You’ll get some great ideas! (And may I suggest Dickens – hardly anyone has re-told, or written a sequel too, or told a minor character’s story from him!)