The Gentleman Poet: A Novel of Love, Danger, and Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” by multi-published author Kathryn Johnson has garnered rave reviews:
“The Gentleman Poet is the best kind of historical novel–well researched, beautifully written, and wildly entertaining.” Daniel Stashower, Author of The Beautiful Cigar Girl
“A marvelously original story that combines history, adventure…a rich atmospheric tale.” Mary Jo Putney, NY Times best-selling author
Recently, I talked with Kathryn about her new novel.
As a Shakespeare fan myself, I love the premise of your book, tell us how you came up with this intriguing premise and what inspired you to write The Gentleman Poet: A Novel of Love, Danger, and Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”.
Well, I’m a fan of Bermuda, because my husband and I were married on a cruise ship sailing out of New York harbor for a week in Bermuda. And while we were there we visited the maritime museum and found out about the wreck of the Sea Venture, the ship that was carrying settlers to Jamestown and ran into a hurricane in the Atlantic. All 150 on board made it to safety on the island after it ran aground on the coral reef off the eastern shore of Bermuda, which was uninhabited at the time. I thought it was amazing that they lived there for 9 months, built a new ship, and then sailed on to Jamestown. But on top of that, I discovered that an account written by one of the men on board eventually made it back to London, and it’s believed Shakespeare got hold of it before it was published, and this is what inspired him to write The Tempest. Less than a year after the letter circulated in London, he had written and produced his play. And the wording of the storm scene is amazingly close to the account, so the legend is very likely true.
One of my reasons for writing this book was to remove the intimidation factor for readers who have been frightened off from reading or seeing Shakespeare performed. I wanted to make him human and show how much fun Shakespeare could be. Years ago when I suggested we go to see a play at the Folger, my husband got this horrified look on his face. He swore he’d never be able to follow the language and wouldn’t understand a thing. I convinced him that well-trained actors would convey the story in a way he’d be able to enjoy it and not get lost. And he’s become such a fan since that night! When I tell people about the book, I say it’s a cross between a 17th-century Survivor and Shakespeare in Love. And that pretty much sums it up.
I find it Interesting that your website address is the name of your recent novel, The Gentleman Poet http://gentlemanpoet.com/, could you tell us why you chose to do this as opposed to using your author name? Do you do this for each release?
I have a business website that I use to promote my work mentoring other writers:www.writebyyou.com So I could have simply added my book cover and description of the story there. But I worried that it would be less visible and harder to find if people wanted information about The Gentleman Poet, so my webmistress suggested we do a separate site. We had a lot of fun with it–adding a reading guide for book clubs and information about my appearances and book signings, as well as background on the writing of the book.
The book sounds like it has a lot to offer readers of many genres: speculative fiction, history and romance, did you set out to write a book utilizing the different genres?
I guess I set out to write a book that had all of the elements I enjoy in a novel. Since I love mysteries and thrillers, there’s a good deal of that. But I also adore a good love story, and I majored in history in college so my interest in using factual detail to support a plot has always been a factor in my writing. I even found a way to include my love of cooking and experimenting with unusual foods. After reading the 1609 account of the wreck and months on the island, I thought–this is really amazing. Nearly all of their food, including staples like four and seasonings, sugar, and salt were destroyed in the storm. They had to rely on the wild game and foods they found naturally on the island–so how would they adapted the recipes they were accustomed to in England to their new life here? It was fun to let my heroine Elizabeth experiment.
How long did it take you to research this book and what was the most interesting tidbit that you discovered in your research?
It took me a total of 4 years to research and write the novel. I was always running back to the Folger Shakespeare Library to check information or look up something that I’d forgotten to think of before. It’s a wonderful place to do research. And the atmosphere there is so Elizabethan, you just feel you’re diving back into centuries past.
The most interesting tidbit?
Well, there was a murder on the island. LOL! How could I not use that in my book?