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Talking Downton Abbey Season Six With Jessica Fellowes

With less than one month to go until the next season of Downton Abbey premieres on KCTS 9, it’s time to get ready for all the drama, romance and the witty bon mots in store for us. As we all wait with apt anticipation, here is a revealing interview with author, journalist, public speaker and Downton Abbey insider Jessica Fellowes.

Jessica Fellowes. Photo credit Sarah Weal.

Laurel Ann Nattress: The sixth and final season of Downton Abbey premieres in the U.S. on MASTERPIECE Classic on January 3, 2016. It has been an amazing ride for period drama fans all over the world. As creator and writer Julian Fellowes’ niece, you have been involved since the early days of the series. Looking back, can you share some of your favorite moments?

Jessica Fellowes: There have been so many, but I’d say that the moment Isobel and Matthew first arrived at Downton Abbey was very memorable – not least for Violet’s damning line: "We could always start with Mrs. Crawley and Lady Grantham." I loved the final scene of series four, with Mrs. Hughes and Carson going for a paddle in the sea, hand in hand. When Edith went to take back Marigold from Mrs. Drewe, I found the scene unbearably moving, so well-written – I didn’t know who to cry for more. But who can forget Mary slipping over in the mud, carrying water for her blessed pigs? What a ride it’s been.

LN: We have followed the lives of the aristocratic Crawley family and their servants from the sinking of the Titanic in 1912 through WWI and into the Jazz Age of 1925. As a social historian and journalist, what do you find intriguing about the era in British history? How does it factor into the new season? 

JF: This era has always held a fascination for me – it was something that Julian and I both shared, particularly as a lot of our family’s anecdotes came from his father and aunts of the time. They had told Julian the stories of a way of life that largely disappeared – much of these have found their way into Downton. What I found so extraordinary was that the men and women were brought up before the first World War in the expectation that they would lead lives very similar to that of their parents, grandparents and even great-grandparents. But in a very short period of time – really, the years of the war – everything had changed completely. They had to adjust to that, and it is this theme of change and reaction to change that forms the main theme of Downton. I think we find it so compelling because we have been through something very similar ourselves in the last few years, whether you’re talking about DNA, Google, home computers or Botox, the way in which we communicate, work and live has been radically altered. Sometimes that is exciting but sometimes it is overwhelming. Everyone is either a Violet or an Edith in the way they respond to that!

Downton Abbey: A Celebration, by Jessica Fellowes © 2015 St. Martin’s Press.

LN: Downton Abbey has been a big part of your writing career, resulting in four sumptuous official companion books to the hit series published in the U.S. by St. Martin’s Press. What was your inspiration for your latest release, Downton Abbey: A Celebration?

JF: Each book has always had three layers: we’ve looked at the series and characters as they are, how the series is made and then the real life social history, to put it all into context. For this book, we deliberately took a valedictory approach – it’s a review of all six series, and I approached it by going around the house and the various locations of the show, room by room, remembering the great scenes that had happened there and how they had been created, as well as exploring real-life houses of the period. We’ve also included interviews with the cast and an episode guide, so nothing is left out – we hope!

LN: Since the book is a celebration of the entire series, can one hope for a sneak peek of season six? Without revealing any spoilers, can you give us a few hints?

JF: Julian and the producers were aware that audiences wanted resolutions to a lot of the storylines, so they have done that in series six. Julian told me that he’s always known where he’s wanted the characters to end up, and he has got them all there by the end of the last episode (which we have yet to see in the U.K.! It will be aired on Christmas Day). So it’s a very satisfying final series, from that point of view. But that’s not to say that he hasn’t bowled us along with some terrific new storylines and plot twists, too. I also particularly enjoyed the longer episodes of this series – we’ve had some wonderful longer scenes of dialogue between characters that one could almost have watched an entire episode of. Watch out for the scenes between Mrs. Patmore and Carson in the first episode – one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen.

The Wit and Wisdom of Downton Abbey, by Jessica Fellowes © 2015 St. Martin’s Press.

LN: Also in your CV this year is a sassy little stocking stuffer of a book, The Wit and Wisdom of Downton Abbey. The witty bon mots are one of my favorite things about the series. There were hundreds of fabulous quotes to choose from in the scripts. Can you share one of your all-time favorites and why you selected it? 

JF: Goodness, it was hard enough choosing the quotes that made it into this book, let alone narrowing that down to just one! But I think the sparring between Violet and Isobel is always a joy and I do love this from our dowager: "Does it ever get cold on the moral high ground?"

LN: Writing seems to be a tradition in your family. I would love to be a fly on the wall at your family dinner parties. What was it like growing up a Fellowes? 

JF: My father is one of four brothers (Julian is the youngest, my dad, Rory, the next one up) – so when we were all at their parents’ house, with various accompanying wives, girlfriends and children, you mainly had to shout to be heard! Everyone had a very distinct, strong personality, everyone was very sure of their views. Arguments were fierce – particularly when it came to politics, religion and money, all things no one is supposed to discuss at the dinner table! But so, too, was their sense of fun. I remember fabulous Christmas parties with loud music, dancing and hilarious games. At home, my mum was very gregarious and had a huge heart, so my parents had legendary dinner parties frequently. I used to love lying in my bed and hearing the roars of laughter come up the stairs like smoke from a bonfire.

LN: Season six has been heralded as the season of resolution. What are your hopes and fears for your favorite characters in the new season?

JF: Ooh, these questions terrify me as I can’t give anything away! I’ve already read all the scripts so I fear it’s a bit disingenuous to reply… But I can tell you that everyone has a treat in store.

LN: What’s up next for Jessica Fellowes?

JF: Most immediately, I’m touring the USA with my talks to accompany the latest book. I’ll be starting on 16 January at WNIN, in Evansville, IN, then going on to the Rancho Mirage Writers’ Festival in Palm Springs. I’ll be in Newport, Carmel, Cleveland, Chicago, Boston, Sarasota and Stuart in Florida, and Sea Island, Georgia…Back at home, I’ve got a few projects on the boil…I’m waiting to see which one really takes off but there’s undoubtedly another book or two in me!

JESSICA FELLOWES is the New York Times and Globe and Mail bestselling author of A Year in the Life of Downton AbbeyThe Chronicles of Downton Abbey, and The World of Downton Abbey. She is a journalist and the former Deputy Editor of Country Life, and the niece of Julian Fellowes. Visit her at her website and on Twitter as @JessicaFellowes.

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Laurel Ann Nattress

Writer, blogger, and editor of Jane Austen Made Me Do It, Laurel Ann Nattress is a champion of Georgian civility, British culture and Masterpiece PBS. Visit her at Austenprose.com and follow her on twitter as @Austenprose

More stories by Laurel Ann Nattress

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What a great interview! Thanks for asking all the questions I would have been too star struck to ask. Well done.

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