Tag Archives: theatre

What are the odds?

You know why I write? Because life is effing strange, that’s why. And I want to document, explore and exploit that strangeness.

I’m sitting here in the living room with my husband, listening to Saxon’s Crusader, and I’m looking at the album cover. Suddenly my eyes snag on the coat of arms worn by one of the soldiers, and I sit up straight and burst out, “It’s the Henry IV coat of arms! But he didn’t go on a crusade, did he? The play starts with him complaining that he’s too ill to go. Not that Shakespeare got his reputation for being historically accurate, but…”

And so on and so forth. Geeky, yes. But the geekiness isn’t the point. It’s the utter randomness of it all.

Let’s look at the chain of events. Once upon a time in a random country, a random king chose a perhaps not so random coat of arms. It contained the French fleur de lys and the English lion, since his ancestors (and his son) laid claim to France.

A couple of hundred years later, a random Warwickshire boy writes about him, and it’s a hit. The success of his plays are so enduring that, four hundred years later, they’re still produced all over the world. Including the one about the random king.

Enter an even more random player in this strange, eventful history: a Swedish fifteen year old girl who travels to England with her parents to cycle all through the summer and watch a few plays in Stratford. One of the plays is the Adrian Noble production of Henry IV part 1&2, and the girl falls so hard for it that she gets a concussion. Twenty-five years later, she’s still obsessive enough to write a blog post about it. Twenty-five years later, the coat of arms with the fleur de lys and the lion still mean something to her. Those symbols that have long since lost their original meaning for most people — for her, they’re the epitome of nostalgia.

I mean… you couldn’t think it up if you tried!

And now imagine something from our own time and place having that kind of symbolic value for somebody in 500 years’ time. For example, the Swedish king’s official motto having sentimental value to someone in 2416 Argentina.

Mind-bogggling, isn’t it? But it happens. It happens all the time. As humans, we seek for patterns and symbols in everything, and the meanings of artifacts change and change again, moving in and out of the personal, in and out of the general.

The distorted echoes of history. Seriously. It’s the reason to write.

Gatecrashing celebrity parties and being hijacked by a dead poet

This post and the links in it contain advertisements for my books.

A good friend of mine once said that writers are people who still have imaginary friends as adults. I have always believed this to be true, but it became really obvious when I started writing about Shakespeare. Even though I’m used to having fictional people clamoring for attention in my head all the time, I wasn’t at all prepared for being swept off my feet like I was by Kit Marlowe.

It all began in Liverpool, of all places. My husband and I went to a concert with a singer that he has admired since his teenage years. After the gig, we stalked one of his friends and gatecrashed the post-gig party. Now, I’ve never wanted to meet my idols, since I just know I would make a fool of myself. But my husband isn’t quite such a coward, so he went over and introduced himself. The singer was really nice and talked to him for a long while, and the memory of that stuck with me.

When I started researching for Rival Poet, I came across the only known (alleged) portrait of Marlowe. In it, he looks a lot like that singer. Rival Poet AReMulling over the connection, I decided that when Will first came to London he must have met someone he looked up to – a poet, probably. The two most likely candidates for such hero worship were Kyd and Marlowe, both successful playwrights at the time. Simply because of the link in my mind to my husband’s idol, I leaned toward Marlowe. Finally, after watching a BBC documentary where he was depicted as a madcap biker, I knew I had to go with him.

So I decided to write a scene where Will meets Kit and is really awkward – as a kind of flirtation with my own admiration for Shakespeare and how nervous I would be in his presence. It was just supposed to be a minor plot point. Little did I expect that both Will and I would fall head over heels in love with the man. In no time at all, he had completely hi-jacked the story, and in the end, the book was more about him than about Shakespeare himself.

And you know, it’s kind of ironic: I chose this profession because I like having full control over everything – only to end up at the complete mercy of people who don’t even exist!