Book proposal: it’s out!

Book proposal

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”.

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just a little white whale on the go

Stay with me here. Raffi is releasing a new album, which I found out about via this slightly odd Vulture article that fixated on whether he’s slept with any adult fans. (come on, it’s RAFFI. RAFFI WOULD NEVER.) I read this over Christmas and was plunged into a sea of feelings and memories about the song Baby Beluga, his big song. I remember being very young and really feeling what was going on with that whale – and especially seriously communing with the line ‘you’re just a little white whale on the go’. I WAS that whale and I WAS on the go! Specifically I remember waving my bottom around in what I felt was a whale-like way, so happy that a song had managed to capture my ME-ness so perfectly.

When I looked up the lyrics to sing the song to Ewan, I found these lines, which I had forgotten:

Baby beluga, oh baby beluga, sing your little song,
Sing for all your friends, we like to hear you

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Benito and Juliet: fascism and Shakespeare in Verona

Last month I did a talk about Romeo and Juliet, Verona, tourism and fascism at History Showoff, a fun night where a bunch of historians get up in a pub basement and have exactly nine minutes to share something interesting with the audience. Although I am not a proper historian, the organiser let me have a go anyway (thank you Steve!), and I think it went well. There’s a video on YouTube (and below), although I could only watch 30 seconds of it before turning it off, because I hate hearing my own voice!

Here’s the gist of it, adapted from my notes, though I realised while putting this together that I didn’t really keep track of citations, since I wasn’t thinking past the presentation (see again: not proper historian). So there are some parts in the talk that aren’t here (mostly jokes about TripAdvisor) and some parts here that aren’t in the talk (mostly because I was nervous and forgot).

If you want to read more from actual researchers, my main sources were: The Renaissance Perfected: Architecture, Spectacle and Tourism in Fascist Italy (2004); ‘Form Follows Fiction: Redefining Urban Identity in Fascist Verona through the Lens of Hollywood’s Romeo and Juliet’ in New Perspectives in Italian Culture Studies: The arts and history (2012); and, of course, Letters to Juliet (2006).

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Gloucestershire: Berkeley Castle and Britain’s Best Pub 2015

It’s a golden Tuesday in September and I’m the only person in my carriage on the 9:15 train from Paddington, going west. The inspector comes by after a quiet three-quarters of an hour, and I hand him my ticket. “You’ve been there before?” he says. It isn’t really a question; it’s to a tiny station in Gloucestershire, where there’s no good reason to go unless you know what you’re doing.

“Oh – no,” I say.

“Someone picking you up? It’s out in the sticks, mind.”

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Dover Castle and the White Cliffs of Dover

I was in Dover last week as the Shakespeare setting for King Lear, where I found a crumbling postwar seaside town with Roman history and lots of confusing nationalism (many asylum-seekers and migrants from Europe enter the UK here). It’s actually a pretty good fit for the apocalyptic play, if maybe not a first pick for an off-season holiday. When my B&B host picked me up from the station, she asked if I were headed to Calais or Canterbury for a day trip, as “There’s not a lot to Dover, Kerry.”

Dover Castle

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Richard II: Flint Castle, Wales

It’s either ironic or very appropriate that I’m writing this from Paris as the sun sets and the sky turns from blue to pink to gold; Wales was rocky grey and green and very dull. Not all of Wales, of course! Hay on Wye is rightly famous for books and Hereford for cider. But the north coast of Flintshire is neither inspiring nor interesting, especially in January, which is when I went. After a sunny Saturday afternoon lunch in London with friends and lots of fizzy wine, I got on the Tube and sat across from two women with no overnight bags who I realised were getting the same train I was. “It’s at four forty-six, do you think we’ll be all right for seats?” one said.

“Yeah,” the other said, with an undertone of obviously. “Not too many people going up to the coast this time of year, are they? All cold and wet and black?”

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