The Shakespeare Plot: Assassin’s Code

Today is publication day for volume 1 of my new trilogy, Shakespeare Plot: Assassin’s Code. The series is set during the early 17th century, a dangerous time in English history, full of plots, rebellions, spies and secret codes. Yet it was also a glorious time for English theatre, when William Shakespeare was writing his greatest plays. My plan for this series was to bring together the exciting world of Shakespearean theatre and the shadowy realm of spies and secret agents. When you think about it, spies and actors are not so different from each other. They both wear masks of one kind or another. What if an actor in Shakespeare’s company, the Chamberlain’s Men, also happened to be a spy? This was my starting point for The Shakespeare Plot.

 

    

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The Tudors and Brexit

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The dilemma facing Theresa May as she seeks to negotiate Brexit has interesting parallels with the religious question confronting Queen Elizabeth I when she came to the throne. In my recent book, Tudor Kings and Queens, I wrote:

 

Privately, Elizabeth was a Protestant, but with Catholic overtones. For example, she wore a crucifix and was never very keen on Protestant-style sermons. In terms of public policy, she was determined to find a pragmatic solution to the religious question. Her aim was to make England a Protestant nation, but in a way that would not alienate Catholics too greatly. The most conservative Catholics, she knew, would never accept anything she did, as they regarded her rule as illegitimate, and she did not even try to appease them. Neither did she take account of the reformist ideas of radical Protestants, known as Puritans. Instead, she tried to forge a settlement that would appeal to the large majority of moderates in both camps.

 

We could rewrite this as follows:

 

Privately, Theresa was a Leaver, but with Remain overtones. For example, she quite admired Merkel and had never been very keen on Gove’s sermons. In terms of public policy, she was determined to find a pragmatic solution to the Brexit question. Her aim was to make Brexit work, but in a way that would not alienate the 48 percent too greatly. The most hardline Europhiles, she knew, would never accept anything she did, as they regarded the EU referendum as illegitimate, and she did not even try to appease them. Neither did she take account of the anti-immigrant prejudices of rabid Eurosceptics, known as Farageists. Instead, she tried to forge a settlement that would appeal to the large majority of moderates in both camps.

 

The issue, then and now, is Europe. Mary I, the Tudor Ted Heath, took us in by marrying King Philip II of Spain and restoring Papal authority. Elizabeth, like Theresa, faced a country divided between two hostile camps with competing visions for their country’s future – one desiring national sovereignty above all else; the other seeing the country as part of a larger family of nations and happy to follow directives from either Brussels or Rome.

 

I predict a muddled sort of Brexit (perhaps the Norway Model but with more border controls and fewer regulations, and a bigger UK contribution to the EU budget to compensate). It won’t please everyone, and probably won’t actually please anyone very much, but it won’t be so bad as to be totally unacceptable. We’ll grumble, but we’ll learn to live with it – much like the Elizabethan religious settlement, in fact.

 

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The Remington

Last week saw the release of my new novella, The Remington, published by Phrenic Press.

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I’ve always enjoyed writing about people and worlds that exist about five inches to the left of reality. Fantasy fiction about dragons, goblins and elves have never really done it for me. I’m much more likely to write a story about an ordinary person with an ordinary life, except for one niggling little difference, like a cube of nothingness in the middle of his study, or a day in his week that’s mysteriously gone missing. I usually end up labelling these kinds of stories ‘surreal’, though I’m not sure that quite captures their essence. Whatever one calls this genre, The Remington falls squarely into it. The story’s protagonist, Howard, seems in every way ordinary, except for one thing: nothing ever happens to him – literally nothing. We soon discover there’s a reason for this, and it has quite a lot to do with another character, George, and his typewriter, the eponymous Remington.

Praise for The Remington…

‘I know it’s a cliche, but once I’d started ‘The Remington’ I couldn’t stop. What isn’t a cliche is that I would describe this unusual and hugely entertaining (and very funny) novel as written in a style of ‘grounded surrealism’, in places almost ‘Tristram Shandy-esque’ (though it is emphatically not a shaggy dog story). The writing is deft and full of skill and confidence – essential for a plot of this level of intricacy. In true Alex Woolf style, as the story progresses realities begin to blur and merge, revelations leap out at a greater and greater pace, until the final ‘Ah’ of understanding at the very end. Although the second half requires quite a bit of concentration to keep up, it is all in all quite brilliant – likely the most though-provoking novel you will read this year.’
Jonathan Ingoldby, author of The Remembered

A great premise, brilliantly handled, an unlikely but thoroughly entertaining blend of Tom Sharpe and Stephen King. The Remington is a splendidly comic tale that explores the keys to the creative process, and which juggles parallel plots with a brilliantly deft touch. The characters leap from the page, but you’ll need to read the story to appreciate what an achievement that is. One can only imagine that it was written in a single night, in a dimly lit attic with the musical clatter of an old typewriter.
Jason Hook, author of Wendy and the Wallpaper Cat

‘Alex Woolf’s The Remington is both witty and laugh-out loud funny; the story effortlessly combines the comic sureness of touch of PG Wodehouse with the exuberant invention of Flann O’Brien. It also features a gratifyingly large amount of bad weather.’
Martin Jenkins, author of the SF novel A New Science of Navigation

‘Part love story, part parallel-universe drama, and part meditation on the author as god, The Remington is a beguiling blend of food for thought, tender humour, and metafictional playfulness. A treat!’
Dan Brotzel, author of Heaven Bent

The story is available as an ebook for just 99p here.

 

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My busy year!

I realise it’s been a long time since I’ve posted anything – almost a year, in fact. This is due in part to being very busy with work.

This year I’ve worked on an amazing variety of books, covering subjects as strange and diverse as fire, soap, money, poo, vegetables, snot, tea, sugar, salt, chocolate and bees (which is a delicious combo when spread on toast, by the way!). I’ve also written on more traditional subjects like the Tudors, space, great inventors, archaeology and art.

On the fiction front, I wrote an Anglo-Saxon story called the Golden Amulet and a scary fantasy story called Nightmare Island, both for Fiction Express, and I’m currently working on a new series set in Shakespearean times for Salariya.

As I said – busy! 

Also, World Book Week is coming up fast, and I’ll be visiting lots of schools doing workshops and talks,  all of which requires preparation time.

And if that weren’t enough, you may have noticed that I have a new website. That’s right! I thought it was about time for a change. It’s taken a fair few hours burning the midnight oil getting it just right, but I’m pretty happy with it now. My thanks to Phil Burrows of Novel Websites for creating the site for me. I heartily recommend him to any other authors out there.

Okay, enough talk. I’d better get back to work!

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