Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Guest Post by Sue Barnard - Barnard versus The Bard



In honour of Shakespeare’s birthday: Barnard versus The Bard – two alternative versions of a classic tale.

Perhaps that headline is slightly misleading.  Or, at least, the “versus” part of it is.  When I first set about writing The Ghostly Father, it was never my intention to set up in direct competition with the great Mr Shakespeare.  In fact, at the time, it was never even my intention that the book would ever be read by anyone other than myself, and perhaps my nearest and dearest if they were really interested.  I was, in essence, writing the book which I’ve always wanted to read: a version of Romeo & Juliet in which the eponymous star-cross’d lovers don’t die.

Ever since I first saw Franco Zeffirelli’s beautiful 1968 film of Romeo & Juliet, I’ve been haunted by the question: This is the world’s greatest love story – so why does it have to end so badly?  A series of individual and seemingly unrelated events all combine to add up to a catastrophic outcome.  Each of those single events might, in isolation, have been manageable – but the whole was most definitely far, far greater than the sum of its parts.

For years – decades, even – I wondered: what if just one of those contributory events had been different?  How might that have affected what ultimately happened?  This point was made very forcefully in Baz Lurhmann’s 1996 film version of the story – and also, much more recently, in Carlo Carlei’s 2013 film adaptation.  In both cases, the tragedy is given a further ingenious and heartrending twist.  In the suicide scene, Juliet wakes from her trance just as Romeo takes the poison, but she’s too late to prevent him from swallowing it. 
So why, I asked myself, shouldn’t there be another version of the story – one where things work out differently?  And the answer came straight back: Why not indeed?  And if that version of the story doesn’t already exist, then go ahead and write it.

Even then, it took a while for the project to get off the ground.  I’d dabbled with Creative Writing in the past, and had taken a few courses on the subject, but I’d never attempted to write anything longer than poems, or short stories, or the occasional stroppy letter to The Times.  The thought of tackling a full-length novel, even one on a subject about which I felt so strongly, was a daunting prospect.  When I did eventually power up the laptop and start writing, I was writing the book mainly for myself, because it was the outcome which I’d always wanted.  But when I’d finished the first draft (which took about six months), I showed it to a couple of close friends.  One said “I know what I like, and I like this.”  The other said “You really ought to take this further.  It could even be a best-seller.”

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Even so, despite this vote of confidence, it was another year or two (during which time the manuscript was revised several times) before I plucked up the courage to submit it to Crooked Cat Publishing, an independent publisher whom I’d found on Facebook, and for whom I’d recently started doing editing work.  I wasn’t very hopeful, so when I received the email from them telling me they wanted to publish it, I had to print it out and re-read it four times before I was able to convince myself that I hadn’t imagined the whole thing.


The book’s title, The Ghostly Father, is based on a quotation from the play (it’s how Romeo addresses the character of Friar Lawrence), and the story (which is a sort of part-prequel, part-sequel to the original tale) is told from the Friar’s point of view.  I’ve often wondered why, in the play, he behaved as he did – and by giving him what I hope is an interesting and thought-provoking backstory, I’ve tried to offer some possible answers.  Plus, of course, I wanted to reduce the overall body-count, and give the lovers themselves a rather less tragic ending.  And, judging by the number of people who have now bought and enjoyed the book (yes, it did become an Amazon best-seller on pre-order figures alone!), it sounds as though I’m not by any means the only person who secretly thinks that, at long last, the star-cross’d lovers deserve a bit of a break.

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Twitter: @SusanB2011