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Jessica Fellowes Goes Behind the Scenes of Downton Abbey

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As Downton Abbey finally returns to PBS, I reached out to Jessica Fellowes, author of three juicy coffee table books about the award-winning series and niece to show creator Julian Fellowes, to get the inside scoop about the new season.

I met Fellowes when I visited Highclere Castle over the summer, and could happily have spent all day listening to her fascinating tales of what goes on behind the scenes. She is a wealth of knowledge about the characters, the time period in which the show is set and its changing customs, culture and costumes.

Filled with gorgeous pictures, her latest book, A Year in the Life of Downton Abbey: Seasonal Celebrations, Traditions, and Recipes, immerses readers in the great house and offers tips on how to live the Downton lifestyle.

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Here’s what Fellowes had to say about the books, Season 5 and her personal wish for Edith:

As you know, I’m a huge Downton Abbey fan, and I think your books bring the show to life in such a rich way that make the characters even more real. They add a whole new dimension to the show — and almost feel like family scrapbooks. What was your intention in starting this series of companion books?

First of all, thank you! From what you have kindly said, you have got from the books everything I hoped a reader would. From the initial publication, they were always meant to be “companion” books — something to enhance the show for the viewer. They’ve come one at a time quite organically. I didn’t know there would be a series when I began! We really just wanted to explore the social history of the period, to explain the context in which it is set and to give viewers/readers a better idea of why the characters behave in the ways that they do. This “knowledge by stealth” seems to have been something readers weren’t expecting but have very much enjoyed.

How did you come up with the idea for A Year In The Life of Downton Abbey? I learned so much in this book, it made me wish history had been taught like this when I was in school. I would have been way more interested! What was your research process like?

This book is very different to the others in that we wanted something more “interactive” for the readers. I do talks all over the US and in the UK, with audiences from 25 to 2,500, and I have seen up close that people not only enjoy watching the show but they want something of the show in their lives. Many people turn up in full Downton costumes, there are Downton parties, Downton puppets … you name it. I thought it would be great if we could give people real ideas and insight as to how to recreate some Downton for themselves — so that meant recipes, games, tips on how to curtsy and so on.

Credit must go to the publishers for wanting to explore Downton Abbey over a year. It meant that we could not only use wonderful new images from the fifth season but also use glorious images from scenes that had not been in previous books, such as the Christmas and Scottish…

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