Seven Questions with Author Samantha Grosser [INTERVIEW]

Samantha Grosser

Besotted with Shakespeare since childhood, writing about the world’s most famous bard comes naturally for novelist Samantha Grosser. (Photo courtesy Samantha Grosser, Facebook)

After writing several period pieces surrounding World War II and the translation of the King James Bible, novelist Samantha Grosser turns her attention to England’s most infamous playwright, William Shakespeare. In her latest novel, she crafts a story around the play Macbeth and the raffish world within the Globe Theater. In this exclusive interview, I am delighted to discover that Sam is as fascinating as her subject matter. —JRW

1. When did your fascination with William Shakespeare’s work begin and what was it about the time period that compelled you to set your novel in 1606?

I’ve been fascinated by Shakespeare ever since I can remember. As a child I was given adapted versions of Charles and Mary Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare with illustrations by Arthur Rackham which I love to this day. But my first introduction to Shakespeare on the stage was a school visit to see Hamlet by the Royal Shakespeare Company at Stratford-on-Avon. Michael Pennington played the lead and by the time it was over, I was utterly besotted.

The time period chose itself – once I decided to write about the curse of Macbeth, there seemed to be no other possibility. My previous novel, The King James Men, is set at the same time, so it’s a period I had come to feel comfortable writing about.

2. After all this time, why do you think Macbeth remains an audience favorite? 

The themes the play explores are universal – man’s ambition and the lure of corruption are as relevant now as they ever were. Throw in witches, ghosts and swordplay, and you have a recipe for a powerful drama of flawed humanity that has drawn audiences throughout the centuries.

3. How did you go about researching Shakespeare’s Witch, which pieces of history surprised you, and did you learn any fascinating facts that you wanted to incorporate into the novel but weren’t able to?

As always, the Australian library system provided most of the research, although the magic and witchcraft books I mostly got from secondhand dealers.

Finding out about the magic was fascinating – sorcery vs. witchcraft vs. natural magic. Books of Magic, also known as Grimoires, were both feared and revered for the power they contain within their parchment pages. Both recipe books for conjuration and imbued with power in their own right, they were highly prized by those who were willing to brave the dangers of meddling with spirits for love, riches or fame. It was from reading about these books that I got the idea to write a series – look out for more magic books in the novels still to come!

4. Were Shakespearean audiences more superstitious than people today and how did this affect the way you crafted your story?

There was no doubt that witchcraft was real. Like all magic it is, after all, the flip side of the Christian faith. English witches, who tended to work alone rather than in the covens of European tradition, were brought before civil courts, rather than the ecclesiastical trials for heresy that took place on the continent. But the crime of witchcraft was still punishable by imprisonment or hanging, depending on what kind of curse the witch was judged to have performed. This created high stakes for my characters which ultimately shaped the course of the novel. I’m a “pantser,” so I don’t plot my stories in advance, and at one stage I wasn’t sure how I was going to get my characters out the other side of the situation I had put them in! Ultimately, the characters, faced with such desperate choices, took the only course they could.

5. Two of the themes in your novel are sin and sexuality. How have attitudes toward these ideas changed most significantly since Shakespeare’s day and was it challenging to write about these topics with 1600s sensibilities?

Society in Shakespeare’s day was unforgiving of any sexual deviance from the norm of monogamous marriage, and the drama of the day is rife with stories of adulterous women who come to sticky ends. Women were especially subject to rigorous control with regard to their sexuality. After writing my last novel (The King James Men, which is set against the writing of the King James Bible) I was well-versed in the Church’s take on the subject of sin and their condemnation of Bankside, where Shakespeare’s Witch is set, a notorious area of theatres, gambling dens and brothels that was outside the control of the City of London’s regulations.

We tend to take our right to have sex outside of marriage for granted these days, but in fact the change in attitude is really very recent – I can remember from my own childhood the stigma that was attached to children from single parent families. So the challenge to incorporate 17th Century sensibilities was actually less difficult than I would have thought.

6. Sarah Stone seems like a woman ahead of her time. Was she unusual for a woman of her era and why do you think she will resonate with contemporary women?

Shakespeare’s Witch is something of a coming-of-age story for Sarah as she learns to navigate her way through the new and unfamiliar world of Bankside, moving from girl to womanhood in the process. It’s difficult to say if she was unusual for a woman of her time – my guess is that a great number of women chafed against the social bonds that held them, and for many, that desperate grasp for freedom would have led them to a life in the brothel. For others, it would have remained just a dream as they succumbed to family pressure. But Sarah had Tom and Nick and the world of the playhouse to shape and guide her, and a mother who was sympathetic to her plight, which does, perhaps, make her a little unusual. But her wish to follow her heart and make her own way is a desire that I think resonates with most women in a world where even now the odds are often stacked against them.

7. Shakespeare’s Witch is Book One in your Pages of Darkness series. Do you have an idea of how many novels you’ll write in this series and what comes next?

The second book in the series – The Sorcerer’s Whore – takes place 25 years later, and features some of the same characters. The third book, tentatively titled Bridge of Spirits, is set in the Victorian era and is still in its early days. At the moment, I have ideas for two more after that – but really, I have no idea how many I’ll write in the end. As with books, so with series – I just make it up as I go along!

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Samantha Grosser's SHAKESPEARE'S WITCH

Samantha Grosser

ABOUT SHAKESPEARE’S WITCH

When Sarah Stone foresees Will Shakespeare’s latest play has opened doors to evil, she begs the playwright to abandon it. But Will refuses, aware the play is one of his best. And so rehearsals for Macbeth begin.

After her vision, Sarah fears for her life – she has never known the shewstone to lie, and she turns to her brother Tom for comfort. A strange darkness seems to haunt the playhouse, and when Tom sets out to seduce John Upton, the boy actor who plays Lady Macbeth, the boy sees the hand of witchcraft in his own forbidden desires for men. Then Sarah weaves a spell to win the love of the new lead actor, and John, terrified for the safety of his soul, begins to make his accusations.

As rehearsals continue, Sarah and Tom must struggle to convince John he is mistaken and that his sins are his own – their lives and the fortune of the play are at stake. But the Spirits have spoken – will the fate that Sarah foresaw come to pass or is their destiny their own to decide?

Set against the first production of Macbeth in 1606, Shakespeare’s Witch is a seductive tale of the origins of the curse of the Scottish Play.

Samantha Grosser

Samantha Grosser

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Historical fiction author Samantha Grosser originally hails from England, but now lives on the sunny Northern Beaches of Sydney with her husband, son and a very small dog called Livvy.

Combining a lifelong love of history with a compulsion to write that dates from childhood, Samantha is now bringing her passion for telling compelling stories to the world.

Samantha has an Honours Degree in English Literature and taught English for many years in Asia and Australia. She is the author of the wartime dramas Another Time and Place and The Officer’s Affair, and The King James Men, set during the turbulent early years of 17th Century.

Visit Samantha at her home on the Web at SamGrosserBooks.com, like her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Goodreads, and BookBub.

HFVBT_Logo_Banner TwitterSHAKESPEARE’S WITCH
By Samantha Grosser
312 pp. Samantha Grosser. $16.99

Purchase Shakespeare’s Witch at one of these fine online retailers: Amazon US, Amazon UK, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, IndieBound, and Powell’s.

Shakespeare’s Witch is brought to you in association with Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours.

Giveaway: During the blog tour, HFVBT is giving away one ebook and one paperback copy of Shakespeare’s Witch. Click here to enter via Gleam. Please note the giveaway ends at 11:59 p.m. EST on April 17. You must be 18 or older to enter. Giveaway is open to residents in the US and UK only. Only one entry per household. No sweepstakes accounts please. All giveaway entrants agree to be honest and not cheat the systems. Any suspicion of fraud is decided upon by each blog/site owner. The winner has 48 hours to claim prize or a new winner will be chosen.

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About J.R. Wallace
J.R. Wallace is a freelance writer and blogger who enjoys cooking, reading, travel and fitness. He lives in Ohio with his family, two cats and a ferret named Igor.

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