The Future of History

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Q & A

OKAY - some fairly big news, first.  I've agreed with Moon Books that I shall work on a new, rather experimental project.  A book about the Grail (working title "THE GRAIL: RELIC OF AN ANCIENT RELIGION").  What will be different about this project is that, starting in a few weeks time, I will complete a chapter each month, which will then be published online via the Moon Books website.  After twelve monthly chapters - or should that be "instalments"? - have been published, the complete book will come out in print.  All in all, should be quite an exciting project, and I'll release more details as we go along.

But first ...

Thanks to the lovely Margaret Skea, author of exciting and atmospheric fiction with a Scottish flavour, I have been tigged to take part in a blog hop (although, sadly, it's taken me quite a while to get round to it).  Please take a look at Margaret's website ( for more information about her work.

Margaret provided me with a list of suggested questions regarding a forthcoming project, and I've decided to answer these about Who Killed William Shakespeare? - my second book with The History Press, which will be published throughout the known universe this summer.  So, here we go.  Question 1:

What is the working title of your next book?

That's easy.  It's already on Amazon as Who Killed William Shakespeare? The Murderer, The Motive, The Means.

Where did the idea come from?

I grew up in the southern suburbs of Birmingham.  More or less every Sunday, after lunch, we'd pile in the car and head off to Stratford-upon-Avon for a walk and, if we were in luck, an ice cream (actually, Henley in Arden did the best ice creams).  Little by little, I became more and more interested in acting and English Literature, and I eventually went to drama school (LAMDA) in London, where I trained to become an actor, before I turned professional as a freelance scriptwriter in 1990.  Inevitably, Shakespeare became something of a presence in my life, and I wanted to know more about him - to understand him, and to understand how he became such a literary and theatrical genius.  Unfortunately, most books about William Shakespeare don't really answer those questions, and so I found myself doing my own research.

The book actually started out - about 25 years ago - as a question: where did Lady Macbeth come from?  Was she based on a real person?  Was there something going on in Shakespeare's life when he wrote the part?  That led me into a study of Shakespeare's life (at least up until the age of 41) and, unavoidably, the Gunpowder Plot, which hit the headlines just a few months before The Tragedy of Macbeth was written.  I had begun to notice that books about the Gunpowder Plot referenced Macbeth, and books about Macbeth referenced the Gunpowder Plot, but I was also becoming aware that Shakespeare was an awful lot closer to the plotters than most people were prepared to admit.

And now, 25 years on, I've written my book about Shakespeare's life and - more importantly, perhaps - his death.

What genre does your book fall under?

Historical non-fiction.  Biography.  Literary criticism.  With an investigative dimension.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

Ha!!  That's a toughie.  Many of the "characters" in the book appear in historical portraits - so that we've a pretty good idea of what Ben Jonson, or Sir Robert Cecil, or Queen Elizabeth I looked like.  But some of the more interesting "characters" in the book have left us no portraits - I'm thinking particularly of Jane Davenant, mistress of The Taverne in Oxford, who seems to have been a fascinating personality (probably dark-haired and dark-eyed, witty and vivacious).  I'd be very wary of exercising too much licence in the casting of individuals like the lovely Jane.

As for Will Shakespeare himself, well I've spent many, many hours poring over his portraits - including two of the most famous ones - and in the book I also examine a couple of other items which give us a very good impression of what Shakespeare actually looked like.  For example, I believe he had a sunken fontanelle in the upper middle part of his forehead, which would have been there from early childhood, and would have been quite a distinguishing feature.  But all this means that I'm a bit obsessive about what he should look like if he is ever represented on screen.

One actor I would consider for the Shakespeare role would be Eddie Marsan.  He's everything I think an actor should be - intelligent, intuitive, and capable of shape-shifting between parts.

What is the one sentence synposis of your book?

How about - William Shakespeare was murdered; here's the proof.

How long did it take to write the first draft of the manuscript?

I'd been working on the project for years, and already had various chapters drafted in one form or another.  I sat down to write what became the manuscript of Who Killed William Shakespeare? on 7 January 2012, and The History Press decided that they were going to publish it in February.  The first draft was delivered in September (I think), although if I'm honest I hardly ever submit a first draft.  Every chapter had been rewritten at least twice, and that was on top of the multiple rewrites which had happened over previous years.  So the short answer is probably "I don't know".

What else about the book might pique the reader's interest?

Because I grew up near Stratford, and for the past 14 years I've lived near Stratford, and my wife was born in Stratford, and my brother had a shop in Stratford, I know the area pretty well, and always have done.  This gives the book a very different perspective from that of those Shakespeare books written by people who mostly live in London and only pop up to Stratford for research.  One of the key differences is that I was aware of local traditions regarding Shakespeare which never make it into most biographies.  Following up those local traditions led to some amazing discoveries.  The most amazing of these is a skull.  I don't want to say too much about the skull right here and now - only that I'm 99% certain it is Shakespeare's, and it offers pretty convincing evidence for how he died.

With any luck, this information - and a few other tidbits I unearthed in the course of my research - will have quite an impact on future biographies of Shakespeare.  Most biographers skirt around all the big issues in Shakespeare's life (my book explains why) and do nothing to help us understand Shakespeare and his writing.  What I'd like to think is that my book covers much of this, and at roundabout 100,000 words isn't too daunting a tome (indeed, a BBC reader found it "fascinating" and admitted to having been "hooked" - so this is no ordinary biography of the Bard!).

Okay, that's enough about me and my Shakespeare book.  Now I'd like to thank Margaret Skea for bringing me in on this blog hop business - and urge you once again to check out  I'd also like to introduce two excellent authors of my acquaintance whom I have "tigged" to take up the blog hop baton from me:

Cas Peace is the British author of the triple-trilogy fantasy series "Artesans of Albia", published by Rhemalda Publishing, and also the non-fiction book "For the Love of Daisy".  She is also a folk singer and has recorded two songs associated with her fantasy novels.  Check out her website - - for book news and free music downloads.

Richard Pierce is also a British author of quality fiction, his best known book being the historical adventure "Dead Men", based on Scott's expedition to the Antarctic: the explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes described it as "An expertly-told story that captures the detail and spirit of Antarctic exploration, then and now."  Richard also writes poetry, and a visit to his website - - is highly recommended.

I'd also like to give a shout out to two fabulous writers who, in other circumstances, I would have gladly "tigged" to carry the flame of the blog hop forward: the lovely Gemi ( and the wonderful Lorraine (

And of course, if anyone out there has any other questions they'd like to ask about Who Killed William Shakespeare? or The King Arthur Conspiracy, please don't be shy - that's what the comments section's for!

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