Sunday, 10 March 2013

How I wrote His Dark Lady

His Dark Lady
His Dark Lady, the sequel to The Queen's Secret, came out a few weeks ago in hardback and ebook, a Tudor novel about Shakespeare and his "Dark Lady". It's always strange, after spending months - sometimes years - writing a story like this, to see it suddenly take shape and become a book. This post will be a little exploration of how and where I worked on this particular novel.

Oddly, I wrote His Dark Lady in a number of different places: at home, in an office, and on solitary writing retreats. I even wrote some of it on holiday in Northern France, in the damp surroundings of a renovated mill in the middle of rambling countryside. Our only visitors were foxes, owls, frogs. My children made improvised fishing rods and caught fish in the millstream beside the house. During that holiday I wrote eerie two-hander scenes aboard a barge on the River Thames, with a smoking lantern and constant rain ...

It seems bizarre, but I can look at a scene in a book I've written and usually remember the exact circumstances under which it was written, sometimes even my feelings at the time. I have a suspicion that my surroundings as a writer have an effect on how and what I write. So some scenes were written out of a very mellow place, and some in a somewhat cooler mood, even analytical.

The cottage I rented at Shottery, a few hundred yards from Anne Hathaway's Cottage, near Stratford, for a two week writing retreat during the long hot summer of 2011
Above is the small cottage at Shottery, just outside Stratford, that I rented for a fortnight while finishing His Dark Lady. It's only a stone's throw from Anne Hathaway's Cottage, as it is known, her family farm in the small rural lanes of Warwickshire. It's likely young Shakespeare used to walk out there from his home in Stratford when they were courting, crossing open fields and the local brook alive with ducks and swans, perhaps in defiance of both their parents, for there was a problematic age difference between them ... 

The guest book told me there was a ghost. Thankfully though, if it was in residence, it never made itself known to me. It was a lovely warm summer while I was there, if a trifle damp at times, and the love scenes between Lucy Morgan and William Shakespeare are correspondingly warm and romantic.

My three young research assistants at Shakespeare's birthplace in Stratford upon Avon, Warwickshire

One scene between Lucy and William, at a London tavern, was written beside the brook at Shottery, outside a lovely cafe with seats beside the water. I took my notebook and wrote longhand, watching the shallow water rush past, listening to the ducks arguing on the banks, and tried to imagine a warm summer evening like that outside a busy London tavern, pipe smoke rising into the air, the smell of ale and roast meat ...

Bankside, just outside the Globe Theatre, near London's Millennium Bridge across the Thames: another place I visited during my research for this novel

Shakespeare's relationship with his wife Anne Hathaway is more fraught in my novel, not surprisingly, given that he was in London much of the year, leaving his older wife to nurse their children alone in his parents' home. I wrote several scenes between them while in the town of Stratford itself, having just come from visiting his birthplace on Henley Street. That was where Anne spent many years cooped up with William's parents and siblings, though granted some privacy by occupying the tiny cottage adjoining John Shakespeare's large town house (in later years, that annex would be occupied by William's widowed sister, Joan Hart). Those scenes have a decidedly more restrained and civic feel, in keeping with their surroundings.

By contrast, many of the court and theatre scenes in my novel were written in a small office I rented for the year in Rugby, Warwickshire, where I was living at the time. They are more far formal scenes, as befits the court of Elizabeth I. The office was in a popular business suite right in the centre of town, so it had a very busy, noisy feel, with people on the phones or passing by, and traffic in the street below, the church spire seen from my window and the sound of bells every hour ...

Although I like to work in isolation, it's also good to keep in touch with the world beyond my novel, and certainly my court and theatre scenes are busier and more populous than those more intimate scenes fitted to being written in a quiet country cottage.

Here's a very short clip from my time at the Shottery cottage, complete with messy writing desk and Diet Coke cans, my addiction of choice.


You can discover more about His Dark Lady from Amazon.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting post! I enjoyed reading about the way writing in different locations and situations affected your newest novel.


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