Much Ado About Nothing OR The Trial of 62 Words

2016 seems to be the year when icons become stars in the sky. From David Bowie, to Alan Rickman; from Victoria Wood to Prince. Celebrated artists with unimaginable talent.

Prince’s Diamonds and Pearls will always remind me of my teenage years, listening to that album on a constant loop with my oldest friend. We were sheltered kids living in a small town in the north and I don’t think we quite grasped the meaning of the lyrics. Fortunately, neither did our parents. In fact, my mother preferred Prince to Madonna.

William Shakespeare, however, (who died 400 years ago) will always remind me of exams. Not that I don’t love some of his plays, but, my memories of the Great Bard are of endless quotes and endless notes, reading anything and everything into his words. In fact, bored of the anti-semitic theme of The Merchant of Venice, my friend and I decided that Antonio was gay, desperately in love with Bassanio, a lowly man, who, was desperately in love (yeah right) with the uber wealthy Portia.

A year ago, I signed up to a writing project with the organisation, 26. The project was entitled, 26 Postcodes. 26 of us were to be paired with a mysterious postcode. We then had to find out more about it, visit the place associated with it, do lots of research, and write a sestude – that’s 62 words (no more, no less) of poetry or prose.

62 words: easy-peasy.

However, there were some minor details that I failed to focus on. First, the deadline fell during the second week of August – smack bang in the summer holidays. Second, I was heavily pregnant which had suitably killed off the one remaining grey cell I had left. Third, we were moving house around the time I should’ve been writing 62 words of beautiful prose.

So what was my postcode?

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CV37 6QW: an enigma-like code locating the Stratford-upon-Avon birthplace of William Shakespeare. The Bard. Literary Genius.

Jesus Christ I thought. Actually, I would’ve preferred The Son of God’s postcode because I could have copied something from The Bible. I had writer’s block. My two daughters were driving me nuts. My back was killing me and my brain was like mashed potato.

Confession#1: I didn’t visit Shakespeare’s birthplace.

Confession #2: Actually, I couldn’t bear to waddle through the throng of tourists.

Confession #3: Confession #2 triggered an idea.

Confession #4: I decided to put Shakespeare to one side.

Confession #5: I decided to write about an American tourist.

PT Barnum to be precise: 19th century entertainer and promoter of acts like Tom Thumb. In 1844 he came over to Europe, wowing everybody from Queen Victoria to the penny-paying general public. Amidst the excitement, the self-coined Shakespeare of Advertising visited Stratford-upon-Avon, including Shakespeare’s then neglected birthplace on Henley Street. PT Barnum was so captivated by everything to do with the playwright that he had an agent make enquiries to acquire Shakespeare’s old home with the intention of transporting the place brick by brick to New York.

No! the public cried. Most certainly not! poo-pooed the literati, including Charles Dickens and his cohorts who ensured the house remained in Stratford-upon-Avon, acquiring it for the handsome sum of £3,000.

So I had my angle. All I needed to do was to write 62 words. And that, ladies and gentlemen, was easier said than done.

You can read my sestude together with the 25 others here.

PT Barnum and General Tom Thumb

 

Until next time!

Amna

P.S. My next book event is at Alef Bookstores on Baker Street on Thursday, 5th May at 18:30. Sign up here: www.eventbrite.co.uk

P.P.S. The Silent Children was awarded Silver for best Suspense/Thriller in the 2016 Independent Publisher Book Awards. When I heard the news, I swear I saw a pig flying past the window.

Rated 4.3 stars on Goodreads & 4.6 stars on Amazon.

‘I can’t remember the last time I read a book and just thought, wow.’

‘One of the most haunting books I have ever read.’

‘Very moving and touching.