I’m excited to say my book proposal is now out on submission! This means it’s in as good shape as I (and, crucially, my agent Lydia, who knows What Book People Like) could get it, and now she’s sent it out to editors to see if any of them want to buy it. Some of them might be reading this RIGHT NOW which is quite nerve-wracking!
The book is about Shakespeare and the settings of his plays: what they’re like today, what Shakespeare would have known about them, and how stories can change the meaning and even the physical shape of places, and vice versa. Book lengths being what they are, instead of trying to write a very small bit about all 36(ish) plays, we went through and narrowed it down to the 12 plays and places where I felt there was a lot to say, and which make sense together. It includes the obvious biggies like Verona and Elsinore castle, but also some surprisingly rewarding ones like Navarre (Love’s Labour’s Lost) and Inverness and Cawdor Castle (Macbeth). I’m excited to be exploring all of them. People in publishing say that early book titles are very likely to change, but I really like our draft title: Kingdoms for Stages, named after the Chorus in Henry V’s wish for “a muse of fire…A kingdom for a stage, princes to act”.
Something frustrating I found while writing the proposal is that it takes me a long time to write something I like. I used to think of myself as a fast writer, because working in journalism I got great at banging out solid copy on deadline. But IT TURNS OUT there’s a big difference between writing 250 words in seven minutes about eg a bomb attack, and going “Yeah, that’ll do!” and sending it off, and writing eight thousand words about stories and places I know well and really love, that flows well and keeps interest, and is – hopefully – a bit sparkling and re-readable. To get my Shakespeare/travel writing to a place I like, it’s taken three or four rounds of really hard edits – printing everything out, taking a pen and going over it line by excruciating line. It does make the writing much better, but oh my god it’s awful to do!
This month I’m working on the Macbeth chapter, which has been a perfect mood for autumn, and the research led me to the description of the best party I have ever, ever heard about. In 1606 King James VI/I threw a banquet for his visiting brother-in-law, Christian IV of Denmark. The thing is that the Danes had more of a drinking tradition than the English hosts, and by the time the official party kicked off, everyone was totally shitfaced. During the masque, the King of Denmark wanted to dance with the lady playing the Queen of Sheba, but she was so pissed she tripped on the steps to his seat and dropped her tray of “wine, cream, jelly, beverage, cakes, spices, and other good matters” all down his front. (He didn’t mind, but then he also fell asleep face-down on the floor a few seconds later.) Faith, Hope and Charity had to stop their act and run out of the room to vom. And Peace got so angry with people interrupting her speech that she ran down and started whacking them on the head with her olive branch. It basically sounds like the best night ever. I wish I’d known about it before my birthday, so I could have insisted on a recreation for, um, research.
I’m starting to write a monthly Tinyletter (simple email newsletter) about the research and travel I’m doing for the book. Obviously I’ll write about the major stuff on this blog, but there will be a little more book-specific information there (ooh, exclusive*). I’m trying to stick to a research and writing schedule of a different play and place each month. You can subscribe here!
I love autumn because the season feels like new projects have an engine. This isn’t a new project – I’ve been thinking about it and working on it on and off for a few years – but it’s the first time it’s starting to come together as A Real Thing, and I’m incredibly excited about working on it properly for the next year.
*not actually very exclusive