Unlocking Shakespeare, a Guest Post by James Hartley, author of The Invisible Hand

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As an ex-English teacher I’m delighted to welcome James Hartley to Linda’s Book Bag today to tell me more about his brand new series of fiction for youngsters, Shakespeare’s Moon, based on Shakespeare’s plays. The first book in the series The Invisible Hand will be released in paperback by Lodestone Books on 24th February 2016 and is available for pre-order here.

The Invisible Hand

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The Invisible Hand is about a boy, Sam, who has just started life at a boarding school and finds himself able to travel back in time to medieval Scotland. There he meets a girl, Leana, who can travel to the future, and the two of them become wrapped up in events in Macbeth, the Shakespeare play, and in the daily life of the school.

The book is the first part of a series called Shakespeare´s Moon. Each book is set in the same boarding school but focuses on a different Shakespeare play.

Unlocking Shakespeare

A Guest Post by James Hartley

Just the name can be enough to make people´s eyes roll back in their heads.

Shakespeare.

Thee, thou, doth, to be or not to be, Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, Hamlet and a weird one set in summer about a bloke with a horse´s head.

Then there are long speeches only rendered bearable by paying close attention to an actor or actress´s facial expressions and intonation. Cramped theatres. Bored teachers. Double English in stuffy rooms, praying your name isn´t called to read. Crib notes and The Globe and the plague – the list goes on.

Although many people do get Shakespeare I´ve always known there were a great number more, mostly young, forced to read the plays for exam purposes, who gave up early. The texts were too daunting, it all seemed irrelevant and, frankly, boring. Who needs that hassle?

I learned to love Shakespeare – Macbeth in particular – at school. I was taught by an enthusiastic teacher who pulled us all into the world of the play, like it or not. As this was my first experience learning Shakespeare – I was about 15 or 16, coming up to my GCSE exams – I took it for granted that´s how it would be. It wasn´t until I was taught Hamlet and King Lear at A-level that I realised how lucky I´d been to have had the teacher I´d had.

I´ve always wanted to try and pass on that energy and passion my Macbeth teacher transmitted to me all those years ago. I saw how everyone in the class, even those who scoffed and messed about until the end of the year, got a taste of what Shakespeare was serving up.

We all learned the “Come seeling night…” speech. We all acted out a scene. We all wondered what we would do if we were promised things by a seer and then, as if by magic, these things started to come true. Would we take it all in our stride or would we try and push things forwards a little? Make those dreams come true at any cost?

Magic, superstition, prophecy, murder – all these are as real now as they were over four hundred years ago. Footballers wag fingers at the sky. People feel they are destined to be together. We touch wood, we don´t like black cats crossing our paths, or walking under ladders or breaking mirrors. We have lucky clothes or routines. We visit fortune tellers. We see our lottery numbers in buses and clouds. Holy wars scar the earth.

So how could I transmit all these things I felt about the relevance of Shakespeare, and most specifically about Macbeth, to someone who might be my age, sitting in a classroom at sixteen, staring down at this strange text, wondering how he or she was ever going to understand it, let alone answer a question about it?

The answer, I decided, would be to take them inside the play. And when I´d got this idea clear, the rest fell into place. There was a boy at a school, an enchanted school where everyone, the teachers, the students and the places, had names linked to literature. There was magic connected with writing and Shakespeare. A young boy, yes, a callow youth of fifteen (who could he be based on?) was at the school and somehow became transported back to medieval Scotland. There was talk of Macbeth and Macduff. A girl appeared there and, somehow, reappeared at the modern school. Prophecies were fulfilled; Macbeth´s and the childrens´.

The response from teachers and educators to the book has been excellent and if there is one thing I wish for The Invisible Hand is that it might fall into the mitts of someone starting out on that same, slightly daunting path which everyone who opens a Shakespeare play encounters, and that it might somehow better light the way for them.

The book might be like a full moon, perhaps. A full moon above a cold, misty heath where three weird sisters appear dancing in the gloaming…

About James Hartley

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James was born on the Wirral, England, in 1973 on a rainy Thursday. He shares his birthday with Bono, Sid Vicious and two even nastier pieces of work, John Wilkes Booth and Mark David Chapman.

James studied journalism in London and later travelled through Ireland, France, Germany and India generally having a good time, before finally settling in Madrid, Spain, where he now lives with his wife and two young children.

James loves writing and reading – the former a compulsion, the latter a pleasure – as well as running, boxing, eating, drinking and trying to see, and enjoy, the good things in life.

You can find out more by following James on Twitter and visiting his website.

4 thoughts on “Unlocking Shakespeare, a Guest Post by James Hartley, author of The Invisible Hand

  1. I’ve taught Shakespeare to secondary classes mainly of children who spoke English as a Second Language, to junior school children and to French PHD students – and they all got it. As long as you provide some sort of intermediary and withdraw when they can manage by themselves, everyone gets it on some level – and it sounds as though James Hartley is one of the very best intermediaries.

    Liked by 1 person

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