The Marlowe Papers at Ledbury Poetry Festival


Ledbury Poetry Festival Event 67

Marlowe expert and poet, Ros Barber,  introduces The Marlowe Papers – hotly tipped to be the read of the summer.

‘Immensely clever, capacious, ingenious and imaginative.’ (Hilary Mantel)

‘Not only a homage to Marlowe but a celebration of poetry – and of its power to allow the dead to speak.’ (Blake Morrison)

Date: Saturday 7 July

Time: 2.30pm – 3.30pm

Venue: Burgage Hall, Ledbury

Tickets: £8/£6

Book here:

Hotting Up


Many exciting things are happening around The Marlowe Papers.  If you’re already on The Marlowe Papers mailing list you’ll know about most of them already, but if not, here’s a round up.

The London launch event is on Tuesday 29 May at the British Library.  The fabulous Will Self and Dr Bill Leahy will be joining me to discuss the book and the wider issues of Shakespeare, authorship and identity.  This is a public event, anyone can book a ticket, so do grab yours now if you’d like to coming along.  More here.

I’m typing this from a farmhouse in Norfolk waiting with bated breath for The Marlowe Papers to be reviewed on BBC Radio 4’s Saturday Review.  I’m a little nervous, especially given that I’m here with 15 members of my family who are insisting I listen to it with then, gathered round the wireless, rather than driving off on my own to listen to it in the car at the end of a country lane.   Added later:  very favourable, and a lively discussion. If you missed it live, you can listen to a recording of this programme via this link (13 mins in).

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The Marlowe Papers London Launch


On 30 May 1593, celebrated young playwright Christopher Marlowe was killed in a tavern brawl in London… or did he re-invent himself as one William Shakespeare?

Award-winning poet Ros Barber discusses her enthralling and hugely acclaimed new verse novel The Marlowe Papers with Shakespearean scholar Bill Leahy and writer Will Self.

When: Tue 29 May 2012, 18.30 – 20.00
Where: Staff Restaurant, British Library
Price: £6 / £4 concessions

Book tickets here:

Book as Fetish Object


 Over the weekend, the cover proof for The Marlowe Papers arrived. I swear it’s the most beautiful object I’ve ever held in my hands. The photograph doesn’t do it justice – the apple, and Fay Weldon’s quote, is in brown foil, the grub and stalk in gold. The spine is beige rather than yellow. The simplicity of the design, the ‘drawn’ lettering on the spine, the hand-crafted feel, the delicious surprise (which I have resisted revealing) on the back cover … I love everything about it. It is wonderful to think that such a beautiful looking object is going to be the container for my words. I feel valued. Which is something I know many authors, and especially many poets, do not particularly feel these days.  And for such a delicious, opulent literary object to be created in an age where people discuss the imminent Death of The Book… it feels truly special.

Perhaps it’s an antidote. I like my Kindle and have nothing at all against e-books (unlike an author friend of mine who says the ‘e’ in ‘e-book’ stands for ‘evil’). Nevertheless I love books as objects, almost to the point of fetishism. I know I would want to own this one, even if it wasn’t mine.

How thrilling, after such a long time researching and writing something I wasn’t always convinced would see the light of day, let alone snare the interest of a major publisher, that the words are so appreciated that my publisher has created something truly exceptional to hold them.  So thank you, Carole, Alice and the design team at Sceptre, thank you Jon Contino, for creating this thing of extraordinary beauty.  It almost made me cry.

Success Story


Here we are at the end of another year.  But not any old year.  For me, 2011 was exceptional. In March, I landed the major book deal I had dreamt about since I was 9 year years old.  In May, I was awarded the doctorate I had worked solidly towards for four years and wanted since my early twenties.    Three weeks ago I was announced joint winner of the Calvin and Rose G Hoffmann Prize for a distinguished work on Christopher Marlowe.  And to round the year off nicely, I received the bound proof of The Marlowe Papers just before Christmas.    Full of typesetter’s errors it may be, but it is still utterly beautiful. 2012 looks very promising indeed.

Anyone who has known me (or of me) for a while will appreciate that something very different is happening.  Up to this point I was the author of three collections of poetry, selling only a few hundred copies each;  a University of  Sussex tutor in creative writing for 12 years for the now (sadly defunct) CCE and, despite some prizes and readings now and again, very much a minor figure on the British literary scene.   But in 2012  my verse novel  is being launched by Sceptre (the literary arm of Hodder and Stoughton) in the UK and St Martin’s Press (part of Macmillan) in the US.   On the back of Sceptre’s proof copy it says, ‘Discover the literary debut of the year’.   So what happened?

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Out with the New, In with the Old


A couple of weeks ago I returned from London with The Marlowe Papers typescript as originally submitted to Sceptre, fresh with the pencil marks of my editor, Carole Welch, and ever since then, I’ve been working on my edits.  Carole likes to do things the traditional way, so I’ve been working in pencil also, which is somewhat unusual for me.  (I’ve been tracking changes in a new Word document nevertheless.)

As I originally conceived it, The Marlowe Papers was supposed to have been a stash of papers written by Marlowe in Elizabethan cipher which I ‘translated’ into contemporary English.  I didn’t want the language to be mock-Tudor, but nor did I want it to be anachronistic.  Nothing, I hoped, would leap out as being too modern.   Of course, I couldn’t stay in the poetic flow while looking up every word, and the work of telling the story effectively in blank verse was work enough, so very often I’d plain forget to consult the OED (online access to which was one of the happiest benefits of my being a student at the time).  But after my own editing passes and those of five writer friends willing to offer opinions in return for an early glimpse of the book I’d been banging on about for four years, I didn’t think there’d be many linguistic wristwatch-equivalents left.

How wrong I was!

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No Money In Poetry?


If I went a little quiet for a while there, forgive me.  My agent was submitting The Marlowe Papers and I didn’t feel it was anything I should be chatting about.   As you may or may not know, we emerged with a very handsome deal from Sceptre.  I’ll be in exalted company.  Sceptre publish lots of very fine writers you’ll have heard of.

The Marlowe Papers is a little different from the other novels on their list, however, because it’s a novel in verse. Not free verse either, but blank verse: 72,000 words (at the moment, anyway) of iambic pentameter i.e.

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate.

As if this wasn’t crazy-fool enough (as ideas go) I was also pretending to be the acknowledged greatest writer of all time.  The idea behind The Marlowe Papers is that Christopher Marlowe didn’t die at Deptford in 1593, but rather faked his death and wrote the works of Shakespeare (yes, that old chestnut)… and that The Marlowe Papers is his verse memoir. The ultimate Marlowe fiction in prose had already been written (A Dead Man In Deptford by Anthony Burgess) so I thought I’d better take different tack.  Several times in the writing of it I wondered what on earth I was doing (and why I had committed to do such an insanely difficult thing) but the truth is, I like a challenge.

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