I’m very excited to announce that my new book, The Shakespeare Plot: Assassin’s Code, is publishing this month. It’s 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 book was to somehow bring together the exciting world of Shakespearean theatre and the shadowy realm of spies and secret agents. The more I thought about it, the more I realised that 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.
To add an extra layer of drama, I wondered if perhaps the actor could have a secret. In Shakespeare’s day, girls weren’t allowed to be actors. Perhaps the actor could be a girl pretending to be a boy so she could be on the stage? I liked that idea a lot. The girl, I decided, would be called Alice, but to everyone else she would be known as Adam. Through Alice, we could get to meet the other characters in the Chamberlain’s Men, including her friend Will Shakespeare.
But how does Alice the actor become a spy? Perhaps she could have a brother who had become involved in a plot against Queen Elizabeth, and then disappeared. While searching for her brother, Alice could stumble upon the plot.
And what was this plot? To answer this question, I did some reading on the history of the period, and pretty soon I hit upon the perfect plot. It was led by one of the queen’s former favourites, the Earl of Essex, and it was perfect because, believe it or not, the Chamberlain’s Men, and even Shakespeare himself, played a part in it!
The part they played was very small, but even so, I was very excited to discover this because it made me realise that the story I was telling could have actually happened.
I won’t tell you how these actors got mixed up in a plot against the Queen of England. I won’t even tell you anything about the plot itself, because it might give too much away. I’ll only say that it was perfect for the purposes of my book.
There was just one more element missing from the jigsaw puzzle: I needed another character – a boy this time – close to the Earl of Essex, who could tell that part of the story. I decided to call the boy Tom.
So Alice and Tom became the main characters of my story. And the story itself was starting to come together. Yet I was still left with lots of questions. Should Alice and Tom ever meet? If so, will they be friends or enemies? Does Alice ever find her brother? Does she foil the plot? And what part does Shakespeare play in all this? I had to answer these questions before I could begin writing. If you read the book you can find out what answers I came up with...
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Alex Woolf · Alex Woolf
I am a published author of over eighty books, mainly for children and young adults. In my non-fiction I have written on subjects as diverse as sharks, robots, asteroids and chocolate, but my passions are history and science. My fiction includes Chronosphere, a time-warping science fiction trilogy, and Aldo Moon and the Case of the Ghost at Gravewood Hall, about a teenage Victorian ghost-hunter, one of Lovereading4kids’ books of the year in 2013, and described by best-selling crime writer Peter James as ‘a real delight, witty, ghostly and at times deliciously ghastly.’ My novel Soul Shadows, about shadows that come to life, was shortlisted for the 2014 RED Book Award. I am also a regular author for Fiction Express, online publishers of interactive stories for schools, for whom I write the popular Time Detectives stories. My most recent novel is a steampunk adventure called Iron Sky. I live in Southgate, North London, with my wife and two children, and our cats, Juno and Minerva.