Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Shakespeare's Ripper: Templar Knights, East End Frights

'You are the first,' a shadowy brother whispers to a terrified actress before grasping his large hands around her neck and throttling her before dissecting the young girls body to mimic the crimes of Jack the Ripper. 

So begins Naomi Asher Wallace's novel blending the unsolved mystery of the East End's most diabolic denizen Jack the Ripper with a modern Shakespearean tale of shadowy Masonic lore. While the novel is admittedly inspired by Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code and borrows hypothesis from the Johnny Depp film, From Hell, and offers its own Shakespearean revelations, the delight of this mystery lies in the understated charm of the novel's academic protagonist, brainy but unlucky in love Dr Arden James and her American Theatre student protegé Charlie Leder

Opening up Shakespearean London like an insider tour guide, the novel's stagey protagonists sleuth in London's lower caverns of the Thames and Globe theatre.  The passionate students continue their cat and mouse love interest in an annex of the London School of Economics where, Dr James confesses a little possessívely that Leder is her sole pupil; as bars and bridges are scoured, London is revealed the way a well meaning but mysterious Good Samaritan may take an American student under their wing.
Clearly mortified and distancing herself from loud and brash American student, Mary Jo, Dr James takes her magnifying glass and wide eyed student and sets to track down her unpublished academic essay which as gone missing from the archives of Shakespeare's Globe. The gift in Asher's writing is that you feel Dr Arden's sense of outrage and want the essay back for her.

The side characters of Mary Jo and the undercover clutzy cop Peter feel like real life walk ons from musicals of a bygone era, with undercover lover Peter speaking in a Dick Van Dyke/Sam Wellerian mockney (Blast!) and Mary Jo speaking in a voice which would make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end. The comedy works.
At one point you may be forgiven for hoping Mary Jo is the next victim of the accursed 'brothers'. However the understated and humble tone of Dr Arden and her naive but insightful sidekick charts the story's course and we are coaxed into James and Leder's love story and hidden back alleyways around the Thames as they hunt for that missing thesis.

Although at times heavy in plot which suggests the power of the Templar Knights as Masonic puppet masters from the crusades and Elizabethan era through to now, Shakespeare's Ripper is full of intrigue about potential divisions within the secret society which adds to a palpable narrative: is an extremist religious zealot stalking the back streets casting sinister designs and perverting the cause of sacred Masonic secrets?

Careful not to offend (excusing any possibility of Masonic involvement in the Jack the Ripper murder), the dense plot is given vibrancy and wit by the solidarity of the two relentless students while Mary Jo offers stand alone comic relief and steals many a scene, a la Bronson Pinchot in Beverly Hills Cop.

If people have quibbles about Dan Brown taking poetic license with the facts, it hasn't affected his sales and Shakespeare's Ripper is an entertaining ride through the centuries, a winner featuring enduring wit and a sequel would not be out of place and surely find its own slot in a crowded thriller marketplace.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

An Interview with Naomi Asher Wallace author of: Shakespeare's Ripper. A romantic modern day thriller featuring Shakespearean sights, Templar knights and East End frights.  
New York book launch: November 28th

Congratulations on your book and what a spine tingling read!
Thank you!

Q: I can see you have studied a wide range of subjects in your time in university in London and the UK. Did you have a plan to write all along and choose your university qualifications as a way to gain experience or did you plan to study theatre etc and then move into a career in music and did the urge to write take over? How do you conjure characters and where does your muse come from?

A: I seem to always have a lot to say! When I find a subject interesting, I need to know everything I possibly can about that subject. When I was growing up, that involved my memorizing large passages from the World Book Encyclopaedia and Encyclopaedia Britannica. Now, it’s more that I spend ages googling something. My passion for all things ‘English’, especially musical theatre and drama came from a very young age. I grew up watching Joan Hickson as Miss Marple every Sunday on Masterpiece theatre. We would go to afternoon tea (there were places that did ‘English’ afternoon teas in Los Angeles!), and when I was 10, my parents took me to London for the first time. I was completely hooked. We saw three shows when I was 10; Phantom of the Opera (which has literally just opened 32 years ago), Les Miz, and Into the Woods. I had to know everything I could about British Theatre. And the chain reaction from that point on significantly changed the course of my life.  When I was in undergrad in the USA, I did as much theatre as possible and spent a Summer at the Globe doing an education course, which I loved.  It is what made me interested in the Staging Shakespeare Degree program that Exeter offered. I actually was accepted to the Actors Studio in New York for Directing, but I found out about that three months after paying Exeter my deposit so I am probably one of the only people who can say I had to turn the Actors Studio down!
My fascination with Jack the Ripper came out of my own interest in Victorian history. I was reading quite a bit about the Freemasons and the Da Vinci code came out, and with the film, From Hell…  I just wanted to know myself what was true. Of course I became obsessed and needed to become an expert.  I was going to pursue a PhD in Cults and Secret Societies in Elizabethan Drama when I initially moved back to London but that didn’t work out. Probably for the best!
All my characters come from something around me. I can hear them talking (that sounds a lot weirder than it is) but I sort of make them three dimensional in my head. Often I base them on real people. Both Arden and Charlie are based on real people. Peter is based on a real person, as is Mary Jo.  My ‘Muse’ sort of comes from anything and anywhere!

Q: From the beginning of Shakespeare’s Ripper, you do a great job of showing hidden London to the first time visitor and there are comical moments which accurately describe new visitors to London. The ‘American in London’ subtext haunts the opening of book and you open the secrets of London like a tour guide? How does the London you remember from your time as an American student in 1999 influence your tale? 

A: Even now, every day I’m reminded to some extent that I’m American and this is not America. It’s funny really and I’ve always accepted and loved British culture but I think that one mistake many Americans make when the come here is, because the language is largely the same, they think the culture is the same. If they were in Spain for instance, I think there would be some sort of reckoning with the idea of ‘I’m in Spain- I must speak Spanish- it’s a different country’. However, they get off the plane here and think, ‘ Why can’t the signs say ‘Exit’ instead of ‘Way Out’?’.  I’ve seen it really upset many of my fellow countrymen and when I was a student, there were other students that had a horrible time here because they couldn’t understand why things weren’t working in the American way. It was a bit like – well, we’re not in America, now are we. That being said, I live in London which is a very international city. When you go out of the city, things can be much different. My best friend lives in the lake district and her family could not be more welcoming but I went to a wedding in Stockport and the guests were so rude to my mother and I, didn’t speak to us, and had this – “oh, it’s the ‘AMERICANS’ way about them no matter how friendly we tried to be.  There is a ‘dumb American’ stereotype that is not easy to shake no matter how hard you work or how many degrees and certifications you achieve. But we’re not all Mary Jo (and to be fair, the fact that character has a passport really says something). It would be impossible for me to write anything therefore without coming at it from an ‘American in London’ perspective. Also, being American, I find I don’t dance around subjects. British men in particular can be very polite, but don’t know how to, or have been taught not to, say what they feel. I often can’t stop myself from saying what is on my mind and that can highlight the cultural difference in nearly every aspect of life.

Q: Have works featuring historical figures re-imagined in a murder mystery setting been any sort of inspiration? 

You do mention the Da Vinci Code and The Jack the Ripper film ‘From Hell’ in the book when you tackle conspiracy  theories.  Do you have books which cover this genre which have inspired you? I’m thinking here of Peter Ackroyd’s Hawksmoor. 

A: Absolutely. Dan Brown’s books and the film ‘From Hell’ were both inspirational to some extent. I love Phillipa Greggory and Peter Ackroyd. I’m generally a sucker for historical fiction.  Also, I love Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere and Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s Good Omens. I also love how Terry Pratchett’s Ankh Moorpark was a sort of sci-fi version of London. Everything I read and watch influences me to some extent.

Q: I’ve imagined the Porter speech an Macbeth a early take on the Knock knock jokes but had not imagined it may be a Knights of Templar or Masonic Code. How hard is it to weave a tangible and believable narrative when dealing with trying to link up such well trodden historical subject matter ? 

A: When I wrote the first drafts of the book, I was saturated in masonic lore. This was one of the prime ‘examples’ if you will, of the connection to the Knights Templar.  I had spent such a long time, sponging up these sorts of examples, they were going to come out somehow. When I wrote the first draft, I was teaching in Baltimore. It was a crazy winter and we had 9 snow days. I was bored out of my mind so I took my laptop to a café around the corner from my house and basically sat there and wrote for the whole time. It was as if I could just release all of this information that I had ingested and by creating this fictional story, it gave me the freedom to release it in any way I wanted. If I was writing a dissertation, I would have had to prove this example for instance, but because it was something I was weaving into a story, I could let it be another piece of a different puzzle. I love the fact that so many people have spent time working to prove Shakespeare was a freemason and that things like the Porter scene are evidence of that. I don’t want to prove anything- I just want to tell a good story.
Q: You have some great comedic moments with the appearance of the loud American Mary Jo and the cop Peter’s interesting East End mockney accent which sounds to me like a cross between Sam Weller (Pickwick Papers) and Dick Van Dyke. Peter’s regular  use of the use of the cuss ‘blast’ proves a nice comic touch too. 
How hard is it to make the characters come to life and where have you found the inspiration? 
A: Both Mary Jo and Peter are based on real people. It’s funny because being from LA, there really aren’t any people like Mary Jo in my life but when I moved to DC at age 16 and I met the person she is based on, I was shocked that such people exist. As a west end theatre manager, I saw a lot of ‘Mary Jos’. Because I find that type of person so comical, it’s really my writing an exaggerated version of a specific stereotype.  It’s the same with the Peter character. That character is based on someone I met 14 years ago when I was doing some promotional work in Leicester Square. He was a real ‘geezer’ and suddenly I knew what Dick Van Dyke had based his accent on.  In both these cases, when I write them, I sort of hear those specific people talking in my head and write what I hear. That sounds creepy – I’m not hearing voices- but more that I am picturing those people in that situation and remember their sound and their manner and create the words from that. If that makes sense?
(Reading later - Yes, deninitely!)

Q: Any plans on reading London soon or any other readings coming up leading up to the holidays and New Year? If so can you  give details? Where can we get copies of the book? 

A: The book is available on Amazon! We are doing an event in New York at the end of this month. I would love to do more in London but nothing is planned at the moment.

Q:Finally, as you have weaved a compelling and tantalising tale which taps deep into the psyche of Londoner is there a chance of a sequel or are you working on something completely different? 
A: At the moment I have a lot on my plate with work and such, but I would love to write a sequel! Stay tuned!
Naomi Claire Wallace Asher Biography
Originally from Los Angeles, CA, Naomi moved to the UK in 1999 after completing her BA in Art History and Theatre at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, PA. After receiving an MFA in Staging Shakespeare from Exeter University in 2000, Naomi spent three years as the head of the Drama Department at Owings Mills High School near Baltimore, Maryland before moving back to the United Kingdom where she has lived ever since. Naomi worked in the West End first as a box office manager and then a theatre manager before joining forces with her cousins and owners of WixenMusic Publishing, Inc., Randall and Sharon Wixen, to open Wixen Music UK LTD of which she is a co-owner and President.  She recently received a PDip with Merit from Kings College in EU, UK and US copyright Law and also recently co-founded the Independent Alliance for Artist Rights for Neighbouring Rights Representatives.
Naomi has been writing her whole life. Her play, Madman William has received critical success internationally in both the US and the UK.  November 2018 sees the release of both Shakespeare’s Ripper as well as the UK edition of Randall Wixen’s The Plain and Simple Guide to Music Publishing, of which she is a co-author.  In addition, her functionalized autobiographical novel, By Page about her year as a United States House of Representatives Page, is self-published on Amazon. She is a loving mother to her two boys and could not follow her every whim the way she has done without the unwavering support of her family.
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