‘Borrowing’ the Bard for a Book – Fay Keenan

Ever since I read Alison May’s fabulous Much Ado About Sweet Nothing, I’ve been dying to have a go at incorporating Shakespeare’s original into a novel of my own. Also, in my other life as an English teacher, I love a bit of the Bard, and I’ve been lucky enough to have taught a fair few of his works over the years. Whether my students consider themselves so fortunate, I’m not sure, but you can guarantee that I, at least, am having a great time in the classroom whenever Will pops up on the syllabus! Not to mention my great love of Shakespeare adaptations, with 10 Things I Hate About You and Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson’s wonderful take on Much Ado being right up there in my affections.

With all that in mind, and having the additional challenge of writing a winter themed book, I needed to make sure that I could ‘tweak’ the source play to fit the winter world of Willowbury, instead of the sun drenched shores of Sicily, so I came up with a kind of panto-play hybrid that might fit the bill. The result, I hope, is a comic retelling of Much Ado within the Willowbury Dramatical Spectacular itself, and lots of allusions to the Beatrice and Benedick storyline in the rest of the novel. At times, I had to do some ‘creative accounting’ to make them fit, but I’m sure Shakespeare wouldn’t be offended; after all, a slightly zany Somerset town certainly isn’t the most bizarre setting for a Shakespeare play, if some of the versions I’ve seen over the years are anything to go by!

And of course, I couldn’t resist including some allusions to my own experiences of teaching Shakespeare to secondary school students in the novel, too, since Florence Ashton, the novel’s heroine, is an English teacher. Many of the lines that Florence and her students speak in the novel are allusions to things I’ve either heard or said over the years, including her attempts to get away from the ‘but I just don’t get Shakespeare, miss!’ plea that I’ve heard so often in the classroom. Much like Sam Ellis, the hero of Snowflakes Over Bay Tree Terrace’, students have to be able to relax into Shakespeare, to breathe into the language, and not get hung up on understanding every single word. Perhaps that’s a metaphor, in the end, for life and love, too…

Source: ‘Borrowing’ the Bard for a Book – Fay Keenan

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