Audio, Romeo and Juliet

The curtain rises on Romeo and Juliet: A Novel

Here we are at last. Almost two years after we first embarked on this project Romeo and Juliet: A Novel is going live on Audible sites around the world as this post appears. This isn’t the end of the story. Over the coming weeks we’ll be providing further background for those of you who want to find out more about the historical and cultural references behind the story.

For now let me just say thanks. To Richard Armitage for bringing his immense talents to the project. I cannot imagine how this story could have been told by anyone else. As a scriptwriter I am simply an architect sketching out blueprints. It remains to the actor to breathe life into the characters, the world and the story I describe in nothing more than words. Richard’s ability to do that is quite extraordinary. He brings a vast theatrical experience to the performance without ever appearing theatrical. His subtle uses of voices and accents makes the story real. I don’t know how he manages it, or how he appears to make it so easy — which it isn’t. I’m just grateful he does what he does.

romeoBut the two of us aren’t everything. There’s an Audible army behind us too, commissioning editors, directors, sound engineers, musicians, support people… an unseen band of heroes without whom none of this could have been possible.

One of the things I love about working in this extraordinary medium is the courage Audible shows in commissioning material outside the norm — such as wholescale reworkings of stories that have been loved and revered for centuries. That takes guts and vision. There’s a thirst for innovation around this place that you don’t find in many conventional publishing houses where the safe and predictable option is always the easy one to take.

For me Audible first showed their true colours six years ago when, in an outburst of brave insanity, they commissioned my good mate  AJ Hartley and me to write Macbeth: A Novel. Not long after we had Alan Cumming, a magical piece of work, and two Audie nominations. Then they did the same with Hamlet and found Richard for us too and more Audie glitter as well. This kind of courage is rare in publishing these days, and matched by a focus on quality, on getting it right rather than getting out quick, that’s just as exceptional too. The encouragement, support and enthusiasm we’ve had throughout from everyone at Audible from beginning to end has been incredible. I can’t thank you all enough.

And finally the audience, the fans and followers who’ve been with us since this project was announced, with your support, encouragement and boundless enthusiasm. You’re the reason we’re doing this and you matter. When, on occasion, I faltered with doubts while writing R&J — as all writers do mid-project — I only had to tune into the enthusiastic and informed comments from listeners to Hamlet and Macbeth on the Audible sites to give me the spirit to get back into the fray. Without your very vocal support we wouldn’t be here.

Now, as the curtain finally rises, I hope we’ve made the wait worthwhile.

Oh… and this (shields eyes) is me rambling on too. Richard does it so much better.

Audio, Writing

John Scalzi: Writing For Audio Made Me A Better Writer

I like having a new medium to play in as a writer; I want to find out all that it can do and everything I can do in it.

I’m with Scalzi on this all the way. The tricks that make audio work make a lot of general fiction work better too. I’ll be posting some longer thoughts about this later this month. One note: I don’t remove dialogue attributions altogether. Sometimes I think they’re still needed.

Audio, Romeo and Juliet

Beneath Juliet's balcony, Romeo dreams of the future

Thanks for following our competition about the world of our star-cross’d lovers. As a reward to all of you let me offer a peek at the finished work.

We have to have the balcony scene, though it’s not going to go quite the way you might expect. This is a freewheeling adaptation of both Shakespeare and his original Italian sources. It’s not fan fiction or Shakespeare simplified so expect more than a few surprises.

The banquet’s over. Romeo and Juliet have met and had a rather more extended courtship than the nineteen lines allotted to them in Act One, Scene Five of the play.

Romeo’s loitered around the city and been drawn back to the Capulet palazzo, unable to get Juliet out of his mind. We are learning more about him. He’s not quite the head-in-the-air fey lad we met at the beginning, pining for the unavailable Rosaline. There’s a sense of determination about him now. He’s encountered Juliet. He’s decided she’s the love of his life. He’s intent this beautiful prize he longs for will not escape him under any circumstances. She, in turn, facing the forced marriage with Paris, is very taken with this funny, bumbling would-be poet who’s risked his life to find his way into her home.

He’s a likeable young chap. Romantic, dreamy, well-intentioned and, once his mind is set on Juliet, utterly devoted to her. It’s easy to forget in these early scenes that he’s also a creature of his time. Someone who’s grown up on the dangerous streets of Verona and never goes anywhere without his rapier and dagger. Impulsive, reckless, quick to anger if pressed, a teenager through and through in many ways.

Much lies ahead. At this moment his mind is filled with love as he plans to sneak into Juliet’s bedroom and make that clear to her. After that the two of them, with their shared devotion, will heal the rift between Capulet and Montague and end the long vendetta between their two houses. Their good intentions couldn’t be more sincere. But the Wheel of Fortune is always there, ready to grind the most praiseworthy of aspirations to dust.

Though not yet. Romeo steals his way into the Capulet orchard and waits for his moment. Then, as luck would have it, falls fast asleep and dreams…

Audio, Romeo and Juliet

The Romeo and Juliet quest… the winners and some answers

Well that was quite a journey. I hope you enjoyed it even if I did set some stinkers in there. Sorry… but, well, it wouldn’t be such fun if it was a pushover, would it?

We were overwhelmed with your entries, from all over the world too. Most of you got most things right. The toughest question was obviously the last one since so few picked up on the very important punctuation error there even though I flagged it up twice on Twitter like this.

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Punctuation matters, especially in drama.

O Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou, Romeo?

That comma shouldn’t be there at all as I explain below.

If you didn’t make it through… commiserations. But come back here in a few hours (or keep an eye out on Twitter and Facebook) and we will shortly have a little present for you all.

And the winners are… Casey Silverstein (US), Laura Välitalo (Tampere, Finland), Vicki Kondelik (Ann Arbor, Michigan), Julia Koksharova (Moscow, Russia) and Ilaria Tomasini (San Giovanni Lupatoto, Italy). You’ll all be receiving codes to allow you to download the work for free from Audible when it’s released at 3pm US EST on December 6. Look out for the email and… congratulations!

Many thanks to everyone who took part. You will, I hope, find our audio drama just a bit more engrossing for the effort.

Here are our answers…

One

a) Which artist painted the Ursula cycle?

Vittore Carpaccio.

b) Where can you find the paintings now?

In their own room in the Accademia gallery in Venice. If you go to Venice and don’t visit them you need your head examining, and don’t miss Carpaccio’s wonderful dragons in the Scuola di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni either.

c) Why, in a few words, might Juliet identify with the saint?

Because, like her, Ursula was being forced into marriage to a stranger by her father.

Two

a) Who is the ancient poet, born in Verona, that Romeo loves?

Catullus.

b) Why might Juliet’s mother ban his work from the house?

Because a good deal of his works is very rude. Try Googling ‘A Latin Poem So Filthy, It Wasn’t Translated Until The 20th Century’ if you want proof that is definitely NSFW.

c) Dante, Petrarch and our unnamed Verona poet all wrote verses devoted to their individual muses, a woman they adored. Can you name the three muses each addressed in their work? It’s the name used in the poems we want, not, in the case of Petrarch and our ancient Roman, any guesses people might have had about their true identity.

Dante was obsessed with Beatrice Portinari (who couldn’t care less about him).

Petrarch’s muse was Laura, who was equally unobtainable and perhaps imaginary.

Catullus referred to his lover as Lesbia. She is generally thought to be Clodia, sister to a controversial chap called Publius Clodius Pulcher who was murdered after getting into the bad books of Cicero among others in the run-up to the civil war that led to the end of the Roman Republic.

Three

a) Who was the woman who ruled Mantua at the time of the book?

The extraordinary Isabella d’Este.

b) Which notorious sister-in-law did she fall out with badly and why?

Lucrezia Borgia, who became her husband’s mistress for a while.

c) Which famous Venetian artist had to turn out a new and more flattering portrait of her after getting into hot water because his original was too true to life?

Titian (Tiziano in Italian).

Four

a) What was the name of the fiery priest who briefly ruled Florence?

Girolamo Savonarola.

b) Can you name the artist and his muse? Since this is far too easy can you also name the muse’s cousin-in-law who ended up having a country named after him? And the country?

Sandro Botticelli and Simonetta Vespucci. Her cousin-in-law was the explorer Amerigo Vespucci who gave his name to America.

c) What was the artist’s most fervent wish concerning his death — and was it granted?

Botticelli wanted to be buried at Simonetta’s feet. And he is, in the lovely church of Ognissanti where people still lay flowers on his tombstone to this day.

Five

a) What purpose did the Piazza Erbe serve in imperial Roman times?

It was the forum — much as it is today.

b) What’s supposed to happen if someone who tells lies walks through the Arco della Costa?

Trick question. Nothing. But if an honest person were to walk beneath it the rib is supposed to fall on their head. Since this has never happened…

c) What very striking emblem in the piazza tells you Verona once belonged to Venice?

The magnificent statue of a winged lion, visible at the top of the questions.

Six

Name the people in the paintings.

a) Something princely about him even if he was a commoner.

Niccolò Machiavelli.

b) This chap was supposed to be saintly but failed that test on many accounts. He also went by two names. We’d like both.

Pope Alexander VI, better known to us today as the infamous Rodrigo Borgia.

c) Brilliant, bonkers or bad boy, this fellow came to a hot and sticky end in Florence. You might have met him here already.

Girolamo Savonarola again.

d) This noble lady from Mantua is also someone you may have encountered hereabouts. Here she is sketched by an artist she knew personally. One Leonardo da Vinci.

Isabella d’Este again.

Seven

a) One of the best Garganega wines from the Verona region is a dry and often straw-coloured white named after a small comune of fewer than seven thousand inhabitants to the east, now famous worldwide. What’s it called?

Soave.

b) When Friar Laurence has married Romeo and Juliet in this version he proposes a toast from a bottle of his own, a wine you might expect a priest to have at hand. Here are a few lines from the script…

It was the oldest, most precious vintage he had… from Tuscany, made from a harvest dried on hurdles set above the ground then fermented slowly and stored. Ten years old this was. Sweet as honey and much the same colour.

‘The grape’s Malvasia,’ he pointed out. ‘Not Garganega or Trebbiano. So I sit in the middle of your two warring houses and pray with this ceremony those pointless battles may be over.’

What wine — Tuscan, a dessert one — was Laurence offering them?

Vin santo — ‘holy wine’.

Eight

a) Those swallow-tail features on the Castelvecchio battlements, sometimes made with arrow slits, can be seen in different designs in castles across Europe. The feuding Italian factions called the Guelphs and Ghibellines even identified their loyalties by building them in a particular style — the Verona ones are Ghibelline. What are these features called?

Merlons.

b) Why is it unlikely the players in this story, set in 1499, would call Escalus’s fortress the ‘Castelvecchio’?

Because Castelvecchio means ‘old castle’ and in 1499 it wasn’t particularly old at all. Originally it was called the castle of San Martino in Aquaro.

Nine

Why didn’t Charles Dickens mention what we now regard as Verona’s most famous sight, the balcony on ‘Juliet’s house’?

Because it wasn’t there. The ‘balcony’, which is probably a sarcophagus, was placed there in the 1940s by a very canny local council to attract tourists.

Ten

a) When he wasn’t on church duties, what hobby, according to legend, did Zeno love to enjoy in his spare time?

The answer is in the picture of his statue — he liked to go fishing by the Adige river.

b) The famous rose window of San Zeno, with its rising and falling figures in joy and despair, depicts a philosophical concept about the capricious nature of fate. One that resonates with Juliet though many people will also associate it with a TV show. What’s that concept called?

The Wheel of Fortune or Rota Fortunae.

Eleven

Where did the girl in the painting and sixteen other works of art from the Castelvecchio end up on their unexpected journey and why?

In the Ukraine, where they were found after being stolen. They are now home and if you go to Verona and don’t see them you’ve missed a real treat.

Twelve

In Mercutio’s mind it’s highly unlikely that Cangrande I della Scala would have been laughing at death in his last moments because rumour had it he was assassinated. Was Mercutio right? And if so… how did Cangrande really die?

Mercutio was probably spot on. A post mortem carried out on Cangrande’s remains in 2004 showed that Big Dog died from a lethal dose of digitalis.

Thirteen

O Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou, Romeo?

One of the most famous quotations in Shakespeare? Hmmm…

What’s wrong here? Why, briefly,  does it matter?

The real line doesn’t have a comma and should read…

O Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo?

You’d only need the comma if Juliet was addressing Romeo — she isn’t. Nor is she asking where he is. ‘Wherefore’ means ‘why’. She’s wondering why a name should be an obstacle to their love.

Audio, Romeo and Juliet

Romeo and Juliet… some key locations… and a map

The launch of Romeo and Juliet: A Novel is fast approaching so it’s time to start sharing some background material. First up… a few real-life locations you’ll find in the narrative, some of which were previewed on Twitter earlier. I took these photos in February 2015 when I was starting work on this story.

And beneath you’ll find a map of the locations. Click the icon in the top right hand corner to get a much larger version which I think will even let you walk the cobbles of Verona through Street View (though it’s not the same as the real thing 😉).

It’s been a long journey. We’re nearly there…

 

Audio, Romeo and Juliet

The Romeo and Juliet quest: now to the final part

[box type=”info”] This contest is now closed. Thanks everyone for your interest![/box]

Here we are at the end of the journey. I hope you’ve enjoyed chasing some of the puzzles we’ve set. And that when you hear the finished audiobook the quest for the answers makes it just a bit more vivid. Romeo and Juliet is fiction but the real world of Verona and the fascinating history of 1499 lie behind much of the story. Every one of these questions addresses some aspect of that time you will find in our adaptation.

Now to the last question and it’s a very simple one.

O Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou, Romeo?

One of the most famous quotations in Shakespeare? Hmmm…

Something’s wrong here. What is it? Why, briefly,  does it matter?


How to enter

It’s very simple. Send us your answers by email to competition@davidhewson.com. You can copy and paste the questions below then insert your answers. Alternatively use the Word or text file you’ll find at the end to compose your email with the answers, preferably copied into the body of the email rather than as an attachment. You have until November 28 to submit them. There is no rush. You stand the same chance of winning whether you deliver early or late. The five winners will be picked at random. They will be announced on December 1 (so if you’ve won and you’ve pre-ordered you’ll still have time to cancel).

Continue reading “The Romeo and Juliet quest: now to the final part”