Last week, I taught for the Arvon Foundation at Totleigh Barton in Devon. It was a massive thrill for me to be back there as a tutor. The last time I was there was as one of the students, the very youngest on the course at just 15. Teaching a residential week for Arvon is just one of a long list of dreams-come-true that have materialised in my life over the last three years, and follows hard on the heels of getting a permanent job in the English Department at Goldsmiths and selling my second novel, Devotion, to Oneworld.
None of these things would be possible if I hadn’t written The Marlowe Papers. And believe me, there were quite a few moments between 2006 and 2011 when I thought it was never going to get written. Or that it would be terrible rubbish, and no-one would want to read it, let alone publish it. Now, wherever I go – and last week’s Arvon was no exception – people ask me “How on earth did you write it?”
I have several answers to this question, and I usually offer a few of them, one after the other, and yet I find my questioner often continues to be unsatisfied. And it’s true, that even when all of my stock answers are added together, something absolutely critical is missing. The part I tend to miss out is the most important part of all. It is the daily practice that moved me out of frozen terror (when I realised the enormity of the task) to steady progress and eventually into – dare I say it? – genuine ease. It’s the technique that allowed someone who was timid, fearful, and uncertain of her own talents to become courageous, audacious and bold. Here it is: I obliterated all of the psychological blocks in the way of writing it by using EFT.
On Tuesday 26th November 2013, I’ll be releasing the first chunk of Shakespeare: The Evidence, the first book on the Shakespeare authorship question to gather together all the evidence, arguments and counter-arguments for and against Shakespeare’s authorship. It will be in the form of a (searchable, hyperlinked) e-book, available in all e-book formats, and published in instalments via the Leanpub platform (motto: Publish Early, Publish Often).
It will build month on month to become a comprehensive compendium of all the relevant evidence and arguments used by both sides, allowing those already involved in the debate to better understand and answer their opponents, to tell weak arguments from strong ones, and to have a huge amount of complex information at their fingertips. It will be both searchable and hyperlinked, with (at the current count) five appendices supplying source texts. I hope it will be of interest not just those already involved in the Question, but of those who would like to understand better exactly why Shakespeare’s authorship of the works attributed to him has been challenged openly for over 150 years.
This project is generously supported by the Shakespearean Authorship Trust, and 50% of all royalties will be donated to them.
Nice chunk one-hour slot for reading and talk about The Marlowe Papers (with Q & A) at Oxford Literary Festival on Tuesday 19th March.
My first public appearance since the book was long-listed for the Women’s Prize for Fiction. Do come!
Full details and ticket booking here.
On this final day of 2012 I want to acknowledge what an incredible year it has been for me. The publication of The Marlowe Papers in May was the realisation of a childhood dream and in the hardback Sceptre produced something incredibly beautiful that I would adore even if it didn’t have my name on the spine. Launch day couldn’t have been more perfect. Will Self was incredibly generous to give his time and brilliance (especially given the front of his house had just collapsed!) to create a launch event worthy of one of my favourite places on earth, The British Library – and co-create an entertaining and thought-provoking evening. And then the reviews in the press and on the radio: copious and enthusiastic. This was the year that Twitter finally came into its own for me; I loved the fact that readers swept away by the book could so easily let me know and more than one day started with the news that someone, somewhere, was blown away by the words I’d been quietly honing for half a decade.
The highlight for me was probably the Edinburgh International Book Festival: a wonderful experience. I’ve been invited to many literature festivals over the years in my capacity as a poet, but the EIBF beats all others so far in terms of hospitality to its authors. Authors often spend years (indeed, decades) feeling like outsiders; we are observers rather than get-stuck-inners, therefore not great joiners, even though we long (as all humans do) to feel like we belong. Edinburgh managed to generate a feeling of belonging and being appreciated that I have rarely found elsewhere. It spurred me on properly begin (after over a year’s composting) the next novel, motivated by the knowledge that I must write another book to have a chance of being invited again.
Other highlights? It will be hard to forget sitting in a Norfolk farmhouse on May Bank Holiday weekend, surrounded by my extended family, hiding under my hair and barely daring to breathe as I waited for the first pre-publication feedback – the verdict of the critics on Saturday Review. Or the moment where Will Self wittily demolished my father-in-law’s heckle on historical bibles. Or asking an editor at the Bookseller what he thought of reading the book a second time and his answering ‘I haven’t stopped reading it’. Then there was the moment on the train up to Yorkshire where the opening of the next novel arrived unbidden, followed by the wonderful New Novelist’s night in the recently flooded Hebden Bridge.
It has been an amazing year. 2013 sees the book published in the USA, my travelling to Staunton Virginia to deliver a paper at the 7th International Marlowe Society of America conference, running a writing retreat in the Dordogne, and many other exciting things. It feels like life is just beginning.
On Wednesday I read with Samantha Wynne-Rhydderch the Dylan Thomas Centre in Swansea as part of the Dylan Thomas Festival. I was very excited about the invitation, and it was only when the organiser, Jo Furber, asked me about whether Dylan Thomas had influenced me, that I realised why it meant so much to me.
I first remember being aware of Dylan Thomas when I was about eleven and my older brother studied Under Milk Wood at school. He relished the language and humour and started reciting chunks of it at home in his best Richard Burton impression. I’m glad to say his class were listening to it, not just reading it. I don’t think I’d realised before the importance of hearing poetry and the great pleasure of speaking it – particularly so with the kind of poetry that fills the mouth as this does. My brother was thrilled with the ‘naughtiness’ of Llareggub and that made a great impression on me, too. Neither of us realised you could be a serious and respected poet and subtly slip in something so rude (as we perceived it). And there was more, of course. My brother’s enthusiasm prompted my mother to dig out a Dylan Thomas collection from the bookcase, and although some of it was beyond me then, I knew Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night very well by the time my brother died three years later. I know that’s the one villanelle everyone digs out when they’re teaching form – something else that has been immensely important to me – but it remains the pinnacle of that particular form, and for good reason. The containment of strong emotion in the manacles of a tight form gives it great power, and that’s probably the most important thing I learnt from this particular master.
I was thrilled to appear at the Dylan Thomas Festival – a festival where the focus is, thanks both to its namesake and location, so much on a fundamental love of language and its musicality. It’s one of my greatest joys to read poetry to an appreciative audience. For me, poetry is meant to be experienced in the mouth and in the ear, and it’s always a thrill to bring those flat words on the page to life for the pleasure of other language lovers. And I’m sure my brother was there in spirit.
Alliteration alert. I’m a pretty positive person nowadays. It’s policy not to carp, criticize or complain.
I broke that rule in my last post. And what happened? Within hours I had developed a stinker of a cold (the first for two years) and the next day a motorist opened their door and knocked me off my bike. I take that as reasonable feedback. Do what you want with your public art projects. I’ll find of way of getting peaceful with it.
In the meantime, here’s me spouting off again. Many thanks, as ever, to Tim Pieraccini.
One of the reasons I took solace in writing from an early age is because I experienced myself as a social incompetent. Starting with my family of origin, and largely due to the mess of the situation I found myself growing up in, I found people generally difficult: I was always getting it wrong, saying the wrong thing, provoking unwanted reactions. I had things I wanted to say, but opening my mouth and saying them proved, on the whole, to be a terrible mistake, so I would go away to a quiet corner and write them down. And then rewrite them. Again, and again, until I got it right and had found a form of expression that could not be argued with. Like a poem. Or a story.
Edited highlights from the British Library launch of The Marlowe Papers. The shoes, which garnered many comments, are Irregular Choice ‘Can’t Touch This’. Yet another reason (if any more were needed) to adore Brighton.
Andrew Miller, Ros Barber, Jess Richards, Clare Morrall. Chaired by Dr Katy Shaw
To celebrate Sceptre’s 25th anniversary, a selection of its established and emerging authors read from their latest and forthcoming books. Andrew Miller has just won the coveted Costa Book of the Year for his sixth novel, Pure, a gripping evocation of 18th-century Paris. Ros Barber’s The Marlowe Papers pulls off an ‘ingenious and imaginative’ (Hilary Mantell) literary feat, conjuring a coruscating historical thriller – in verse! Jess Richards’ wildly inventive debut novel Snake Ropes invokes the magic realism of Angela Carter in a mysterious tale of an island off the edge of the map. The Roundabout Man by Clare Morrall is an acutely observed slice of modern life that maps the chasm between nostalgia and reality.
Venue: Pavilion Theatre, Brighton
Book tickets here: http://brightonfestival.org/event/719/sceptre_is_25/