I held my breath as the train pulled up the station in Stratford-upon-Avon. I looked out the window and my eye fixed on the sign above the station door. No mistaking, I was here, about to walk in the footsteps of Shakespeare. I am sure I looked the ordinary tourist-type with wide eyes looking around every tree and brushing my fingertips through bushes as I walked up toward the town center from the train, almost as if anticipating meeting the very man himself. Which was fine with me and I freely admit to the giddy swirling in my stomach, especially as I reached the streets where Shakespeare might have actually walked. Well, where he did walk.
My first thoughts – I wanted to stand right there for a moment and not say a word. At each place – the house on Henley Street, his birthplace; the Guildhall, the King Edward’s School, Trinity Church, Clopton Bridge, the Avon River – all places where he might have stood in the very same place.
Walking along the banks of the Avon, leaning against a willow tree and watching the swans glide regally with the current, I wondered how many times he did the same and conjured up one of his characters. As a writer, the thought moved me and inspired me at the same time.
Many people have asked me why I feel such a connection to this city. Honestly, I am not really sure except that I have loved Shakespeare’s writing since I was very young. My grandmother loved the plays and we shared the same affinity for literature and writing. She gave me my first book of Shakespeare’s works, her very own college book, when I was eleven and still to this day I relish seeing the little notations in her own handwriting in the margins about her favorite passages.
Other people have asked me why I decided to write a novel about the possibility that Shakespeare did not write the plays and my answer is always the same.
I am a Stratfordian, and always will be a Stratfordian, but I am also a historical fiction author. When presented with an opportunity and an idea to create a work, I will run with it. I never before even heard of someone else writing the plays, but once, after visiting the Globe Theater, I saw a presentation there of the men who might have written them instead of Shakespeare himself. Christopher Marlowe’s eyes drew me in, and the novel emerged in my thoughts.
With all this being said and all of the words written and published, I still do not question my belief that Shakespeare is actually the man who wrote the plays. After all, who am I to question? I just thought the idea of Marlowe writing other than Shakespeare made for a creative alternative historical story to the one presented as fact.
So, my writing the story did not detract me away from the city, but drew me to it even more. Touching my fingertips onto the surface of the waters, walking slow through the room where he played as a child, standing at the edge of the grave where he is buried – all these things helped me with the writing of my story “Blood and Ink,” the same as walking through Canterbury to learn about Marlowe drew me to him.
It’s what historical fiction writers should do and what I highly recommend. Research on Google is one thing. Stepping your foot on the same ground as your characters is a very different experience entire. I stopped at the Windmill Inn/Pub which is only a few hundred yards away from where Shakespeare lived, so I sat there and imagined him jawing with some of this friends over a pint of ale, perhaps, Burbage? Perhaps, Jonson? And so, I downed a pint of my own and soaked in the literary air, hoping, nay praying some of the artistic inspiration might seep into my own brain.
I must say, as well, the draw of Shakespeare is well founded there, but even without this attraction, the city itself is incredibly beautiful. The half-timbered houses still standing, the gentle flow of the Avon, the peaceful swans… all the while laying back in the grass in the shadow of the Swan Theatre where the Royal Shakespeare Company still upholds the quality and caliber of acting and performance the man, Shakespeare, first envisioned when he set his quill to paper. You will fall in love with this city, when you visit, as did I. And, to be completely honest, I wept as I walked back down Alcester Road to the station that evening. I felt I was leaving home.