Bonnets at Dawn by Lauren and Hannah

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By Gabby Guerra

Podster is a column for podcast listeners and serves as a curator for the best of known and unknown podcasts.

Bonnets at Dawn podcast

About the Podcast

Bonnets at Dawn is a show that explores the lives and works of women writers from the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries.

Austen vs. Brontë is a literary thunderdome! Listen each week as Lauren and Hannah compare and contrast the lives, work and fandoms of the Jane Austen and the Brontë sisters.

Lauren and Hannah of Bonnets at Dawn

Tell us about yourself/selves.

BAD: In a nutshell, we’re both writers in our 30’s who share a love of travel and history. We first met at an indie comics festival back in 2012, and have always wanted to work together, which was (and still is) a challenge since we’re on opposite sides of the pond. I (Lauren) live in Chicago in the US, and Hannah is in Bristol in the UK. Then, in 2017, we both wanted a bit of a break from the comics scene and started throwing ideas around for a project that would focus on our other great love – classic literature.

How did you get started with the podcast?

BAD: The show actually started out as an idea for a book called Austen vs Brontë: Bonnets at Dawn, which was meant to be a literary thunderdome that compared and contrasted the work of Jane Austen and the Brontë sisters. We used the first season of the podcast to help us research and outline the chapters as well as set writing deadlines. It was meant to be fun and cheeky, and only twelve episodes, but our carefully laid plans were derailed by Elizabeth Gaskell.

Shortly after the podcast began, we had the opportunity to volunteer at Elizabeth Gaskell’s literary home in Manchester, where we hosted a panel about her connections to Charlotte Brontë. There, we had many discussions about the female authors that had been missing from our English courses and our desire to expand our knowledge. So we decided to keep researching and recording, and bit by bit we branched out to cover women writers like Frances Harper, Pauline Hopkins, L.M. Montgomery, Beatrix Potter…and the list goes on and on.

Why She Wrote book on women writers

Ultimately, Austen vs. Brontë was axed, but funnily enough, the podcast actually did become a book in 2021. Chronicle Books published our collection of essays and comics (expertly drawn by Kale Bales) entitled Why She Wrote. It’s not the book that we originally set out to write, but hey, the show is so different too! And our big takeaway from this is never be afraid to grow, change course and follow your interests!

How would you describe your podcast?

BAD: Bonnets at Dawn is a show that explores the lives and works of women writers from the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. We try our best to balance the silly and the serious, and have explored topics ranging from anti-slavery literature of the Victorian age to literary ghost sightings. You’d be surprised by how many authors come back from the dead to haunt libraries and museums (we’re looking at you, Agatha Christie and Elizabeth Barrett Browning).

Neither of us are academics, but we both studied storytelling and work in publishing, so we tend to discuss our subjects and their work from that lens. We do, however, interview loads of historians, academics, and curators to help inform and broaden our perspective. We also host read-alongs where we invite our listeners and experts to discuss classics like Northanger Abbey, Agnes Grey, and The Blue Castle.

The episodes that are most near and dear to our hearts are the road trip diaries where we take the show on the road to literary festivals and places like the Jane Austen House Museum, Brontë Parsonage, and Wordsworth Grasmere. Not only do we get to travel and spend time together, but we also get to take a peek behind the scenes at some of these amazing sites. Sadly, our traveling days have been halted due to the pandemic, but we’ve been experimenting with some new formats to replace our road trip diaries, including our B@D Mixtapes, where we bring in actors to read short works by some of our favorite authors.

What’s the most challenging and most satisfying part of running a podcast?

BAD: For me (Hannah) the most challenging and most satisfying parts go hand in hand. I get very nervous about not being qualified to co-host a show that skews more to academia so I really struggle with imposter syndrome around that. The most satisfying part is getting to learn from our guests who really are experts in their field. There’s a funny push and pull between fans of the classics and academics and I feel like Bonnets sits nicely in between these.

And for me (Lauren), the most challenging aspect is definitely time. We have a lot of pre-production work to do including scouting and scheduling guests, reading (so much reading) and writing. Then you have to tape, edit, and promote. Trying to balance all of that on top of work and motherhood can be a lot. But the upside is that we get to have these amazing conversations with academics, writers, and historians about work that they feel really passionate about and that is always so energizing and inspiring to me.

How did you get the word out about your podcast in the beginning, and how have you grown your audience?

BAD: The usual way – social media and word of mouth. We were lucky to have some amazing supporters early on that spread the word. And we’ve always been up for a live show – we’ve moderated panels and recorded live events at Jane Austen Festivals, the Brontë Parsonage, Page One bookstore, and Elizabeth Gaskell’s House.

What’s one of your favorite episodes?

BAD: My (Hannah) favourite episode was the road trip diary where we visited Anne Lister’s house, Shibden Hall, in 2019. It’s the last roadtrip we were able to do before the pandemic hit so it feels special for that reason but also, these are the most fun to record. Just running around the UK or America, visiting literary homes and learning about our favourite authors!

I’m (Lauren) tempted to pick the episode where we traveled to Jane Austen House Museum and, just by chance, had the house to ourselves as my favorite, but I am going to pick an episode that I think about a lot, which was an interview with writer/director Madeleine Olnek about her film Wild Nights with Emily Dickinson. That was part of a series where we talked to writers, artists, and directors about the challenges of adapting literary works and lives to stage, page, and screen. And, as someone who aspires to adapt, it was such a valuable conversation.

What is your uploading schedule, and what can we expect from the worst bestsellers in the upcoming months?

BAD: We break the show down into mini-series and when we’re “on” the episodes are weekly.

We just finished a 7 parter on literature and race so we’re currently working on the next series, a George Eliot readalong, which will drop in September.

If you can’t wait that long we have a new mixtape coming soon and if you can’t wait that long we have a massive archive of episodes ready and waiting.

Where can listeners find buzzing about romance?

BAD: You can find us on Instagram and Twitter (@bonnetsatdawn) and we have a Facebook group where most of our read-a-ong discussions get posted.

Our listeners are super insightful and funny and it’s been so great to have these spaces to bounce ideas around and get an even deeper understanding of the books we cover.

Bonnets at Dawn can be found on Stitcher, SoundCloud, Spotify and iTunes, or wherever you get your podcasts.


Gabby Guerra columnist

Find Your Next Podcast

By Gabby Guerra

Podster is a column for podcast listeners and serves as a curator for the best of known and unknown podcasts.


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Article originally Published in the August / September 2022 Issue: Indie Debuts.

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