(the ultimate response to an ending I didn’t like)
A behind-the-scenes look at this brilliant re-take of a famous love story by Sue Barnard, which is already an Amazon a best-seller, and the e-book launch day, 14th February (how appropriate!) hasn’t even happened yet!
It’s over thirty years since I first saw Franco Zeffirelli’s wonderful 1968 film of Romeo & Juliet. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house at the end, and I came away thinking, more in anger than in sorrow: This is the world’s greatest love story – so why does it have to end so badly? That question has haunted me ever since.
I wasn’t, I hasten to add, angry at Zeffirelli, who had done a wonderful job in bringing Shakespeare’s story so spectacularly to life. Nor was I angry at The Bard himself, who had just taken an existing story (The Tragicall History of Romeus and Juliet, by Arthur Brooke) and adapted it, very successfully, for the stage. But I was angry at the way the events of the story all combined to add up to such a catastrophic ending. Each of those individual events might, in isolation, have been manageable – but the whole was definitely greater than the sum of its parts.
For years – decades, even – I wondered: what if just one of those events had happened differently? What difference would that have made to the outcome? This point was made very forcefully in Baz Lurhmann’s 1996 film version of the story, in which the director adds a further ingenious and heartrending twist to the tragedy. In the final sequence, Juliet begins to stir from her trance before Romeo takes the poison, but she wakes just too late to prevent him from swallowing it.
So why, I wondered, shouldn’t there be another version of the story where things work out differently? After all, it happened for King Lear way back in the late 1600s! And then, I wondered, why shouldn’t I write one?
I mulled over the idea for a while, but it took a while before anything definite happened. I’d dabbled with Creative Writing in the past, and had taken a few courses on the subject, but had never attempted to write anything longer than poems or short stories. The thought of tackling a full-length novel, even one on a subject about which I felt so strongly, was a daunting prospect. Then, in one of those serendipitous moments which really makes one believe in Guardian Angels, whilst browsing in a bookshop in France I came across a novel which took the form of the lost diary of a woman who had been the secret lover of Count Dracula. A voice in my mind whispered “A lost diary? You could do something like this…”
Back at home, I powered up the laptop and started 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 close friend, who 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 underwent several revisions) 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 editorial 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. I hope I’ve succeeded.
I’ve certainly succeeded in overcoming my anger…
The paperback of The Ghostly Father is available to order from Amazon (and yes, it did reach their bestseller list!) and Waterstones. The e-book will be available from 14 February 2014 from the Crooked Cat Bookstore.