Yusuf Toropov Guest Post on Shakespeare and Writing


One of the best publishers around is Orenda Books and I’m delighted to be supporting a new publication for them, ‘Jihadi: A Love Story’ by Yusuf Toropov which is out on 24th December 2015 in both paperback and ebook.



A former intelligence agent stands accused of terrorism, held without charge in a secret overseas prison. His memoir is in the hands of a brilliant but erratic psychologist who has an agenda of her own, and her annotations paint a much darker picture. As the story unravels, we are forced to assess the truth for ourselves, and decide not only what really happened on one fateful overseas assignment but who is the real terrorist.

Peopled by a diverse and unforgettable cast of characters, whose reliability as narrators is always questioned, and with a multi-layered plot heaving with unexpected and often shocking developments, ‘Jihadi: A Love Story’ is an intelligent thriller that asks big questions. Complex, intriguing and intricately woven, this is an astonishing debut that explores the nature of good and evil alongside notions of nationalism, terrorism and fidelity, and, above all, the fragility of the human mind.

I was so intrigued by the concept of this novel that I asked Yusuf Toropov about some of his influences and here he tells us about Shakespeare:

Three Things I Learned From William Shakespeare About Writing A Thriller

My debut novel JIHADI: A LOVE STORY is due this month from London’s Orenda Books. As an unrepentant Shakespeare geek, I came back again and again to the Bard’s work during this book’s long gestation period. Here are the three most important lessons I picked up from the master. They may be relevant to other writers in the thriller genre.

Pose a question for the reader and leave it unanswered for a while. Hamlet lectures the players about rogue clowns who, in their improvising, disrupt ‘some necessary question of the play’. This presupposes that such a question has been posed. It doesn’t take much familiarity with Shakespeare’s work to realise that he specialises in the expression and elongation of such dramatic questions. Will Hamlet kill the king? Will Antonio have his heart carved out onstage? Will Othello fall for Iago’s trap? These questions consume vast chunks of stage time, and propel the drama forward. Shakespeare takes his time in answering them. I tried to follow his example.

Align the antagonist(s) with dark thematic references. Iago isn’t just a bad guy. He’s a bad guy who disrupts the order of Venice in the very first scene of the play. The linkage of Othello’s villain to chaos, disorder, and social instability are pervasive, and they’re no accident. My one antagonist and three sub-antagonists connect to similarly ominous thematic chains. (Read the book when it comes out December 24 and Tweet me with your guesses as to what those thematic chains are. I’ll tell you how close you came.)

Stay true to the character and the plot will take care of itself. Nowadays we tend to think of Shakespeare as a deep thinker, and certainly he was, but it’s important to remember that (leaving the poems aside for a moment) every great line he wrote connects to a specific character’s viewpoint. He was a dramatist. He made his living writing dialogue and soliloquy capable of holding an audience’s attention. To get and keep that attention, he chose to follow Macbeth, Iago, Hotspur, Cleopatra, and Lear where those characters needed to go – and sometimes those places were not comfortable or familiar. I had similar journeys, many of them quite disturbing, with the characters in my novel. I didn’t always agree with them, but I did agree to be true to them, and I think that willingness to follow them helped the novel past countless plot holes and across the finish line. (That and the fantastic notes I got from my publisher Karen Sullivan.)

I’d like to thank Yusuf for his thoughtful and helpful advice and for sharing his views on Shakespeare.

You can preorder JIHADI: A LOVE story here.

About the author:


Yusuf Toropov is an American Muslim writer. He’s the author or co‐author of a number of nonfiction books, including Shakespeare for Beginners. His full-length play An Undivided Heart was selected for a workshop production at the National Playwrights Conference, and his one-act play The Job Search was produced off-Broadway. Jihadi: A Love Story, which reached the quarter-finals of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award, is his first novel.

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