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A good friend of mine once said that writers are people who still have imaginary friends as adults. I have always believed this to be true, but it became really obvious when I started writing about Shakespeare. Even though I’m used to having fictional people clamoring for attention in my head all the time, I wasn’t at all prepared for being swept off my feet like I was by Kit Marlowe.
It all began in Liverpool, of all places. My husband and I went to a concert with a singer that he has admired since his teenage years. After the gig, we stalked one of his friends and gatecrashed the post-gig party. Now, I’ve never wanted to meet my idols, since I just know I would make a fool of myself. But my husband isn’t quite such a coward, so he went over and introduced himself. The singer was really nice and talked to him for a long while, and the memory of that stuck with me.
When I started researching for Rival Poet, I came across the only known (alleged) portrait of Marlowe. In it, he looks a lot like that singer. Mulling over the connection, I decided that when Will first came to London he must have met someone he looked up to – a poet, probably. The two most likely candidates for such hero worship were Kyd and Marlowe, both successful playwrights at the time. Simply because of the link in my mind to my husband’s idol, I leaned toward Marlowe. Finally, after watching a BBC documentary where he was depicted as a madcap biker, I knew I had to go with him.
So I decided to write a scene where Will meets Kit and is really awkward – as a kind of flirtation with my own admiration for Shakespeare and how nervous I would be in his presence. It was just supposed to be a minor plot point. Little did I expect that both Will and I would fall head over heels in love with the man. In no time at all, he had completely hi-jacked the story, and in the end, the book was more about him than about Shakespeare himself.
And you know, it’s kind of ironic: I chose this profession because I like having full control over everything – only to end up at the complete mercy of people who don’t even exist!