Sunday, 20 July 2014

Barnard versus The Bard - two alternative versions of a classic tale

Welcome to author, Sue Barnard, who's my guest on the blog today. Over to you, Sue...

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 more succesfully?  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.”

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.

The Ghostly Father
Romeo & Juliet - was this what really happened? When Juliet Roberts is asked to make sense of an ancient Italian manuscript, she little suspects that she will find herself propelled into the midst of one of the greatest love stories of all time. But this is only the beginning. As more hidden secrets come to light, Juliet discovers that the tragic tale of her famous namesake might have had a very different outcome... A favourite classic story with a major new twist.

About the Author:
Sue Barnard was born in North Wales but has spent most of her life in and around Manchester. After graduating from Durham University, where she studied French and Italian, Sue got married then had a variety of office jobs before becoming a full-time parent. If she had her way, the phrase "non-working mother" would be banned from the English language.
Since then she has had a series of part-time jobs, including some work as a freelance copywriter. In parallel with this she took several courses in Creative Writing. Her writing achievements include winning the Writing Magazine New Subscribers Poetry Competition for 2013. She is also very interested in Family History. Her own background is stranger than fiction; she'd write a book about it if she thought anybody would believe her.
Sue has a mind which is sufficiently warped as to be capable of compiling questions for BBC Radio 4's fiendishly difficult Round Britain Quiz. This once caused one of her sons to describe her as "professionally weird." The label has stuck.
Sue joined the editorial team Crooked Cat Publishing in 2013. Her first novel, The Ghostly Father (a new take on the traditional story of Romeo & Juliet) was officially released on St Valentine's Day 2014.  Her second novel, a romantic mystery entitled Nice Girls Don’t, is due for release in July 2014.
You can find Sue on Facebook, Twitter (@SusanB2011), or follow her blog here.

Links: Facebook Events page -
Amazon UK
Here's an excerpt:
The friary clock struck the hour of four.
“May it please Heaven to smile upon this happy union.”
“Amen to that, Father!”
Romeo was pacing around my cell in great agitation.
“But just to be able to call her my wife is sufficient.”
I shuddered. Had I been too hasty in agreeing to perform this marriage?
He loves too strongly, and too soon, I thought. Could he fall out of love just as swiftly and as violently? Heaven forfend…
“Son, even the sweetest things can lose their appeal if taken to excess.”
I gestured towards the half-filled pots of honey on the table.
“So do not wear out your love too quickly. It will last longer, and be stronger, if you love in moderation.”
There came a faint tapping at the door. Romeo froze.
“Come in!” I called.
The door opened and Giulietta entered.
As she bade me good afternoon, Romeo crossed the room in two strides, clasped her tightly in his arms and kissed her passionately – a kiss which she returned with equal fervour. If I had previously harboured any doubts about the strength of their feelings for each other, now I saw them together these doubts were utterly dispelled. Each totally absorbed in the other, it was as though they had already forgotten that I was even there.
I coughed gently to attract their attention, and beckoned them towards the improvised altar. As one they knelt down before it, their faces radiant, their fingers still interlaced.
I opened my breviary:
Ego conjugo vos in matrimonium, in nomine Patris, Filii et Spiritus Sancti…”
Their vows exchanged, and one of Giulietta’s own rings blessed and employed as a wedding ring, the newly-made husband and wife left my cell and reluctantly went their separate ways until they would meet again at nightfall. I watched them go, and murmured a silent prayer for their happiness.
Had I but known what was to befall them ere that very same day was over, I would have said many, many more…


1 comment: