When a book’s published, it’s always especially exciting if it ties in with an event, and I’m lucky enough to have two books which tie into events this month.
The first event, which falls on April 23rd, is probably the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare in 1616. ‘Probably’ because no one’s quite sure of the exact date, but highly likely, because we know his funeral was on April 25th. His birthday (again, no one knows the date for sure) is celebrated on St George’s Day, which also happens to be April 23rd! Very neat.
I’d already written a book which featured Shakespeare. Playing With My Heart was my first love story and a lot of the action takes place in and around the Globe playhouse. I really enjoyed researching it, and took loads of photos of the modern Globe theatre to help me visualise the scene.
After I’d finished that book, I was tidying my photos into a new folder on my computer and happened to notice a scruffy-looking boy in one of them. He was on the steps outside, with his face pressed against the gate as if he was longing to go inside.
That unknown 21st century boy gave me an idea for a book about young Billy Watkins, who dreams of acting on the stage in one of Master Shakespeare’s plays. However, his mum has taken him away to the country to escape the plague that’s raging across London, so that’s put paid to his ambitions. But when a company of players arrives in the nearby town, Billy realises that he’ll do anything to make his dream come true, and he has help from a very unlikely source.
Writing these books was a wonderful excuse to watch Globe Theatre performances of Shakespeare’s plays.
The atmosphere in the Globe is amazing, whether you’re lucky enough to be there in person, or watching their stunning DVDs of live plays. I loved weaving references to the plays into my stories! Some are easy to spot, and some not so easy…
The second event is the 90th birthday of Her Majesty the Queen on April 21st.
As Princess Elizabeth, the Queen spent the war years with her family, mostly in Windsor Castle, but also in Buckingham Palace and Balmoral.
When I was asked to write Princess Elizabeth’s diary about those years for Scholastic’s My Story series, I got very excited. I have a huge collection of old newspapers, and I knew it would be fun trawling through them for snippets and photographs. For instance, it was useful to find out exactly what Elizabeth, her little sister and their mother did on particular days and what outfits they wore. (You wouldn’t be envious of those outfits, honest…!)
But then I stopped and thought, Hang on! I’ve been asked to write the diary of a living person! And not just an ordinary living person, but Queen Elizabeth II. I can’t do that, I thought. I mean, suppose she read it? (I know, I should be so lucky!)
The solution I came up with was to persuade the publishers to let me write the diary of the Queen’s younger sister, Princess Margaret. After all, they spent practically all their time together. And Margaret, who died in 2002, was a much livelier, naughtier character than her dutiful, well-behaved sister. I knew it would be fun to write from her point of view – and it was! The result is Wartime Princess and while it’s about both princesses’ wartime experiences, it also tells the story of Elizabeth’s romance with the handsome young prince, Philip. I wonder if she ever imagined, in the 1940s, that she would be spending her 90th birthday with him!
This summer there’s to be a huge Birthday Celebration at Windsor over four evenings, from 12th – 15th May. The final event, which the Queen will attend, is being broadcast live on ITV, so we can all share in her birthday.
And, of course, it wouldn’t be a birthday without cake, so why not get some in!