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Friday, June 30, 2023

Crows Nest by Nikki Mottram. St Lucia, Queensland, University of Queensland Press, 2023

 Child protection worker Dana Gibson has had marriage issues after the loss of her own child, and leaves Sydney for a job in Queensland regional town Toowoomba. She visits nearby Crows Nest to assess the children of Sandra Kirby. Soon after, Sandra and her friend Debbie are shot dead in Sandra’s car late at night. Potential killers all seem to have alibis. The police declare it a murder suicide and close the case, but to Dana it doesn’t make sense. She continues to investigate, despite getting into trouble at work over it.There are people who would rather she didn’t…

The novel is set in 1996, mentioning the Port Arthur massacre in the first chapter. 

I enjoyed this novel very much. Dana is someone you can cheer for, though she has many woes. This is the first of a series, so hopefully she will have developed past her troubles by the next novel. There is also a delightful child, Angus, who looks set to be her assistant sleuth in future books; he does pretty well in this one, coming up with ideas Dana hasn’t thought of.

I’m looking forward to future books in this series. It’s a fine debut novel for the author, who is herself a child protection worker. 

Thanks to the publisher University of Queensland Press and Victorian Sisters In Crime for sending me this! 

It’s now available from all good bookshops and websites. 

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Books And Films Featuring Shakespeare As A Character!

 I’ve been rewatching the wonderful Upstart Crow by Ben Elton. It’s a sitcom about Shakespeare. That made me think of all the Shakespeare-related work I have come across over the years - books, films, plays and more. So, let me have a waffle!

One play, by Aussie playwright David Williamson, is Dead White Males, set in academia, in which Shakespeare pops up several  times. In the very first scene, a University academic shoots him down. He does, however, turn up again and there are scenes taken from his plays, which the play’s main characters perform. I know it sounds over the top, but it was very funny and entertaining. 

Shakespeare appears briefly in the Blackadder New Year’s Eve special. A time travelling Blackadder punches him in defence of all the schoolkids who will suffer through his plays. When he returns to the present, Shakespeare is known as the guy who invented the ballpoint pen.

Upstart Crow was written to commemorate the anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. Each episode is centred around one of his plays. It’s especially funny because Ben Elton has a poke at such things as “words created by Shakespeare”; this Shakespeare claims a whole lot of words and sayings he never did create, despite being told he didn’t. Elton also has fun with the entire “Shakespeare didn’t write his plays” thing. In fact, not only does Elton’s Shakespeare write all his plays, he also writes Marlowe’s plays! Kit Marlowe doesn’t write anything, but he does like to be known as a playwright and is always nagging Shakespeare to let him have plays to claim. Sometimes he succeeds…

My favourite book with Shakespeare in it is Harry Turtledove’s alternative universe novel Ruled Britannia, in which the Spanish Armada succeeded in conquering England. It’s seen from two viewpoints, Shakespeare and Lope Da Vega, a real Spanish playwright who actually wrote a lot more than Shakespeare - and was in the Spanish Armada, but never got as far as England in our world. Lope Da Vega is a lieutenant in the Spanish forces but still writing his plays for the entertainment of the Spanish occupiers, but he speaks English, so loves going to the theatre and is a huge fan of Shakespeare. Shakespeare has been commissioned to write a play about King Phillip - and another one he has to keep secret, because it’s to be used after Phillip’s death to inspire rebellion. 

If you get curious about Lope Da Vega, a few of his plays have been translated into English; I found a couple in Apple Books.

Of course, you have probably seen Shakespeare In Love, or at least heard of it. It’s a gentle comedy which starts with Shakespeare having writer’s block while trying to write his play Romeo And Ethel The Pirate’s Daughter. He is inspired by a young woman called Viola, and the film ends with a shipwreck like the one in Twelfth Night.

More recently, there was All Is True, with some big names - Kenneth Branagh, Judi Dench as Shakespeare’s wife Anne and Ian McKellen as the Earl of Southampton. Shakespeare’s theatre has burned down. He has returned to Stratford and his family, vowing never to write again. But the family has its own issues, given how little time he has spent at home over the years. In fact, there is an in joke about that second best bed he left Anne in his will. When he comes home, she makes him sleep in the guest bed(the best), suited to a guest. Later, when that problem is solved, he leaves her the second best bed as their own personal in joke.

Both his daughters have problems of their own and there is still a secret about his son’s death. However, by the end, the worst is over and his wife is learning to read.

It’s a lovely film, well worth a watch.

Shakespeare appears in some children’s books too. Susan Cooper, author of the magnificent Dark Is Rising series, also wrote a lovely novel called King Of Shadows. In it, a teenage American boy in England for a boys’ acting tour in which he is playing Puck, finds himself in Elizabeth’s England, playing Puck to Shakespeare’s Oberon. Shakespeare has lost his son, Hamnet, and Nat, the hero, is an orphan, so they have a father-son relationship. Susan Cooper had a good reason for making her hero American; he comes from North Carolina, where there is a place where people still speak with accents from Elizabethan England. 

Cue For Treason by Geoffrey Trease, features a girl disguised as a boy working as a boy actor in Shakespeare’s company. He figures her out pretty quickly, but doesn’t give her away. It’s well and truly out of print, alas, like most of Geoffrey Trease’s books, but you can get it in audiobook, read by the wonderful Clive Mantle, who played Little John in Robin Of Sherwood

Can you think of another book or film with Shakespeare in it?