Cast Off, my collection of Shakespeare themed short stories, has just been released by Solstice Publishing.
Blurb: Have you ever thought what a Shakespeare character might be thinking or doing when she’s not on stage? Does she like the role that’s been created for her? Would she prefer a different plot? Or love interest? How does she really feel about all that cross dressing? In this light-hearted collection of short stories, the author suggests a few answers to these and other questions.
Now the hard work begins! As I learnt after the publication of my first novel, writing the book, is only one of the tasks expected of a published author. Each author has a big part to play in the promoting and marketing of their work once it has been released. So, apart from several tweets, posts on Facebook, and the occasional blog, I have just done a stint on the local BBC radio channel Here’s the link if you are interested: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p056ffyr#play (I appear approximately one and a quarter hours into the Vic Minett show, at the start of the weekly Book Club).
Other promotional activity to date has included taking part in a creative arts festival – Stone Fest – where I joined other members of the Coventry Writers’ Group to sell our books in the market square. Later I read an extract from Our Mad Sister, one of the Shakespeare stories, in a wine bar. Our Mad Sister is based on the character of Cassandra – the one in Greek legends who is always prophesying (correctly) that things are going to turn out badly. She actually only takes a fleeting role in the play, Troilus and Cressida, but most people know more about her than the characters in the title, and she was fun to write about.
Here is the excerpt I read – if you like it, why not consider buying the whole collection!
Our Mad Sister.
It’s crazy, I know, but it can’t be denied that a single woman of a certain age is invisible. Once I was the talk of Troy for my fine bone structure, my flawless skin, and my tall, graceful figure. Oh, I was clever too, but it was my beauty everyone talked about. I was so beautiful, in fact, that the god Apollo singled me out to be his lover. I was tempted of course – who wouldn’t be?
But I had been cursed from a young age with common sense and wisdom. I may have been King Priam’s daughter, and sister to the mighty Hector and the flighty Paris, but I could sense that for Apollo I would just be a dalliance. I was flattered by his attention, my dreams were full of him. My knees went weak and my heart trembled whenever he was near.
But, always, something held me back. I could foresee that for him I was just a human plaything he could seduce, before moving on to other paramours. So I held back, resisting his most pressing advances, and eventually he grew bored with me and left Troy. My common sense, that he had once found so seductive, had started to irk him. That didn’t stop him feeling angry and resentful. As he left, he settled a final curse on me.
“I leave you Cassandra, a frustrated and disappointed god. Your virtue has defeated me. Long may you continue to be sensible,” he said. “And long may you be able to foretell the consequences of your and your compatriot’s actions. But you have defied me, a god, and, as a mere mortal, you must bear the consequences. I have decreed that no matter what sensible words you have to say, no-one will ever believe you. Mark my words: to them you will just be a crazed and embittered old maid.”
With that he was gone, leaving me bereft, and questioning the wisdom of clinging so tenaciously to my virgin state. Maybe the passing love of a god would not have been so shameful after all? The palace was large, and I had my own quarters. True, my parents were old, set in their ways. But they weren’t unkind, and times change. Certainly, years later, when Paris snatched the beautiful wife of Menelaus, the Greek, my father was very angry with him, but not so angry that he ordered him to send her back. Instead he was willing to let Troy go to war to keep her here. A war I knew was bound to end in our defeat, but no one was listening to me by then.
Oh the irony! Helen, little more than a pretty tart, arrived in our country, and we were prepared to lose some of our bravest soldiers on her behalf. But then, fathers down the ages have had different standards for their daughters. Paris carrying on with another man’s wife, was easier for him to tolerate than his daughter having a baby with a god. Never mind that it would have been the child of the God of Love, a genuine love–child. Later, when he might have been more understanding, my chance of motherhood had gone.
So I witnessed my brothers’ lives moving on whilst mine atrophied. Hector married the boring but virtuous Andromache, Paris hooked up with his vacuous mistress, and even little Troilus grew up enough to want a woman of his own. Like Paris, Troilus had an eye for a pretty girl, and his choice – Cressida – was nothing if not pretty. But she was more a Helen than an Andromache. I knew the kind, beautiful, sexy, generous with her favours, pragmatic in how she bestowed them.
Yes, I foresaw that Cressida would abandon Troilus, and Troy, within days of their conjoining and would join the Greek armies camped outside. To give her some credit, maybe she too had sensed that Troy would soon be overrun. After all, her father had already abandoned the city and joined the Greeks camped all around, the traitor. I could have told my brother all this as I watched him from my balcony making his way stealthily to Cressida’s bed under the cover of a starless night sky. I chose to remain silent. What was the point in running out to stop him – he wouldn’t have believed me. Besides, none of his family was supposed to know about his secret tryst. He would simply have denied what he was up to. And then what was I to do? I was just his mad sister, after all.
That’s what my brothers called me, “Our mad sister,” they used to say to visitors to the palace. I had become old, too old anyway to be a suitable bargaining chip in a marriage arrangement with neighbouring countries, and too ‘odd,’ with my true, but ultimately gloomy prophesies, to be welcome in their quarters as a visitor in my own right. As I grew older I became less and less important. Even my parents sometimes forgot who I was.
I was the crazy one, always foretelling doom, pouring cold water on people’s plans, and muttering that it would all turn out badly. Who wants someone like that sitting opposite you over breakfast? Of course I wasn’t completely left out, but I was like the poor relation you had to invite but you hoped would not cause embarrassment and upset the visitors. And if I did make one of my, to them, tactless and doom filled predictions, they would cover the ensuing embarrassed silence with a laugh, a roll of the eyes and, maybe, a finger briefly touching the temple. Later, when things turned out like I said they would, which they did, they denied I’d said anything, or blamed me for it, as if it was my fault. Sometimes they did both!
It wasn’t long after Apollo abandoned me that my beauty started to fade, and people no longer turned admiring glances on me as I walked round the city. Soon they hardly noticed me at all, and I sometimes had to step off the pavement to let a group of young men through. They never acknowledged this. Why should they? They hadn’t noticed me in the first place.
I started to neglect myself – let my hair grow long and leave it loose and uncombed around my neck. Sometimes I even left it weeks before I washed it. The same went with my clothes. Why worry if no one was going to notice? Instead I wore my old working smocks for months on end. Soon I found that people noticed me all right then. Not in a good way – they would look in horror at my eccentric appearance and, fearful perhaps that I was none too sweet smelling, they would step into the road to avoid me. At least I got the pavement to myself then. Sometimes I would emit a few cackles, as I drew near to them, and cackle louder whilst they stepped further out into the road to avoid me. Often as not I would shout out too.
“Cry, Trojans, Cry!” was one of my favourites. Or, “Lend me your ears, and I will fill them with prophetic tears!” This would get them looking anywhere but at me, and scurrying away as fast as they could go. I was not mad, I told myself, because I knew exactly what I was doing and the effect my behaviour had on others. But maybe only a crazy woman would want to behave like that. Now there’s a thought!
I have plenty more promotional work planned throughout the summer, whilst still trying to find time to crack on with my next book – 10,000 words already, only another 70,000 to go!