Next Wednesday evening sees an early Christmas present for Salisbury book fans when bestselling author Joanna Trollope is in town for an event at St John’s Place in Lower Bemerton ( Joanna has local connections in the area and her family, like so many, have been touched by the effects of cancer. The event, as a result, is a dual charity one, with proceeds in aid of Macmillan Cancer Support and Bemerton Community.

The theme of the evening is ‘Updating Jane Austen’ and I caught up with Joanna earlier in the week to discuss the topic. Back in 2013, Joanna was one of a select handful of leading novelists to take part in The Austen Project – a project that, as the title suggests, involved updating the work of Jane Austen into a modern setting. Alongside Val McDermid (Northanger Abbey), Alexander McCall Smith (Emma) and Curtis Sittingfield (who rewrote Pride and Prejudice as Eligble), Joanna was invited to work on an updated version of Sense and Sensibility.

Originally published back in 1811 under the anonymous author name of ‘A Lady’, Jane Austen’s first book actually began life in the late 1790s, as a novel-in-letters under the name Elinor and Marianne. The philosophical concept of sensibility was very much in vogue when Austen started writing the story, and the sensibilities of the two sisters is very much at the heart of the book.

Like all of Austen’s work, Sense and Sensibility has been traditionally adapted many times over the years: here, I feel duty bound to mention the 1995 Ang Lee film, for which Mompesson House was used as the setting for a London townhouse. But the Austen Project offered a different challenge in bringing a classic novel into the present day.

It would be easy to be daunted by such a proposition, but hearing Joanna talk about writing the book, her passion and enthusiasm for Jane Austen rings clear. She described how she went back to the original book, and having re-read it twice, was certain just how much Austen’s central themes of love, money and class still held for a modern audience. There was little in the way of the storyline that needed changing. One of the few significant changes was at the very beginning: modern fiction demands a quicker start than its nineteenth century equivalent and Joanna described making the opening more immediate. Character-wise, the modern equivalents of the cast list quickly fell into place: Nancy Steele had modern day echoes in TOWIE, John Middleton was reimagined as a Johnnie Boden type.

As much as Joanna enjoyed her novels before, the experience of working so closely with Austen’s fiction left her in no doubt she was ‘an absolute genius’.