I’m happy to welcome fellow Crooked Cat author, Sue Barnard, who is on my blog today to tell us about her brand new book, The Unkindest Cut of All, which mixes Shakespeare and amateur dramatics. What’s not to like? She has kindly brought an extract to give us a taster, and purchase links are at the end. Now I’ll hand over to Sue…
Hello, and thank you for welcoming me to your corner of the blogosphere!
The Unkindest Cut of All (released as an e-book on 9 June 2015) is my third novel for Crooked Cat Publishing. It’s a murder mystery (with a touch of romance thrown in for good measure) set in a theatre. The story takes place during an amateur dramatic society’s production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.
To write this book I’ve drawn on my love of the theatre, my own experience of amateur dramatics, and my dim and distant memories of studying Julius Caesar at school for my English Literature O-Level. (For those of you below a certain age: O-Levels are what we had way back in the Dark Ages before the days of GCSEs.) I was extremely fortunate to have an excellent teacher who not only made the play really come alive, but who also managed to achieve the near-impossible task of making a group of stroppy teenage girls appreciate the finer points of Shakespearean tragedy.
The book’s title is based on one of the lines spoken by Mark Antony, in his crowd-turning speech after Caesar’s murder. The actual quotation is “This was the most unkindest cut of all” (according to my English teacher, the double superlative is intended to add extra emphasis), but it was generally agreed that this was perhaps a little too fussy – especially for a book by a writer who is notorious for her insistence on correct grammar!
Here’s the blurb:
Beware the Ides of March…
Brian Wilmer is God’s gift to amateur dramatics – and he knows it. So when the Castlemarsh Players take the ambitious decision to stage Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, there is only one man who can play the title role – even though Brian’s posturing ‘prima donna’ attitude has, over the years, won him few friends and many foes.
Rehearsals progress apace, and the production draws ever closer. But when another member of the cast has to drop out due to illness, local journalist Sarah Carmichael (a stalwart of the Players’ backstage crew) suddenly finds herself called upon to step into the breach at the eleventh hour.
Not surprisingly, Sarah finds that Brian is in his egotistical element playing the mighty Caesar. The fact that the final performance of the play takes place on the infamous Ides of March – the day when, according to tradition, Caesar was fatally stabbed – only adds to the excitement.
But tragedy is waiting in the wings. And when it strikes, it falls to Sarah – with the help of Brian’s personable and fascinating nephew Martin Burns – to uncover the incredible truth about what really happened…
And here, to whet your appetite, is a (slightly adapted) brief extract:
“Drink, Sarah, dah-ling?”
Sarah hadn’t heard Brian approaching as she stood waiting to be served at the bar, and in view of what she’d heard about him the previous evening, she felt more than just a little uncomfortable in his presence. But for the sake of keeping things on an even keel, at least until the end of the run, she turned to face him and forced a smile.
“Thanks, Brian. That’s very kind of you. I’ll have pint of bitter, please.”
“OOOH, a lady who drinks pints?”
Not for the first time, Sarah had to suppress her irritation at having to explain it.
“Yes, I drink pints. I like beer, and there’s no point in my drinking halves. I get very thirsty and they don’t last.”
“Fair point, I suppose, fair lady! And I can’t say I blame you. I’ve worked up a pretty thirst myself. I think I might take a leaf out of your book. Now, you go and find us some seats, and I’ll be right back.”
He strode up to the bar and returned a couple of minutes later with two brimming pint pots.
“Cheers, sweetie!” Brian sat down opposite her, raised his glass and took a swig.
“Cheers. And thank you.” Sarah smiled and returned the gesture.
“That wasn’t a bad audience, for a Wednesday,” Brian went on. “I can’t believe we’re halfway through the run already. How time flies when you’re enjoying yourself!”
“Are you enjoying it?” Sarah asked as she took another sip of her drink. She knew before she asked that it was a pointless question, but all the same it made something to say.
“Am I enjoying it, dah-ling? Tell me, sweetie, is the Pope a Catholic?”
Sarah forced a smile.
“I knew it was a stupid question. Have you done any Shakespeare before?”
Brian’s face creased into a broad grin at the prospect of talking about his favourite subject – himself.
“Oh yes. I started very young, you know. Oddly enough, my first role was in this very play.”
“Really?” Sarah called on her own acting abilities and pretended to look interested. “What part did you play?”
“Lucius. It was a school play. Most of the other parts were played by sixth-formers, but they needed a younger boy to play the servant. It wasn’t a huge part, but it was the first of many. I was well and truly bitten by the acting bug by the end of it.”
“Oh yes? What came next?”
“The following year the school did A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I played Puck.”
“After that, it was The Tempest. That time I played Caliban. Then the following year it was Hamlet, and I was Polonius.”
“Wasn’t he the one who was stabbed through the arras? I always thought that sounded slightly rude!”
Brian chuckled. “So you see, I’m no stranger to the Bard. But until now I’ve never managed to play the mighty Caesar.”
All those Shakespearean performances, Sarah thought. No wonder Brian was such a prima donna.
The Unkindest Cut of All is officially released on 9 June 2015, but is already available for pre-order, at the special early bird price of only 99p. Order it now, and it will magically appear on your Kindle on launch day. There will also be a launch event on Facebook on the day itself, with fun, frolics, quizzes and competitions. Click here to add yourself to the guest list!