Alexa from Troubador suggested that I write a short humorous piece for promotional purposes, in which my character William Shakespeare visits their office. I loved the idea and the result is below.
William ‘screwed his courage to the sticking post’ and poked his head tentatively through the open door. He had no idea why he was there. The last he remembered was firelight flickering and Anne droning on about something that Susannah’s husband had done that offended her. It didn’t take much to offend Anne so he hadn’t really been listening.
And then he was here. A squat grey metal building that concealed powder blue carpets, pine coloured desks and busy people.
“Hello,” said one of those busy people, in a not unfriendly manner. Another peered through dark-rimmed glasses over a rectangular contraption on her desk and yet another turned, her arms full of books, and, starting as she saw him, dropped the lot.
“Good dawning to thee, friends. What cheer?” William replied politely, whilst insinuating himself fully into the room. He took a few steps forward, fell to his knees and began to pick up the fallen books, examining each closely as he did so. The young girl had taken a step backward.
The first busy person stood up, glanced at the other two, who shrugged pretty shoulders, and said: “Is there something we can help you with?”
William politely handed the books to the girl who had dropped them and studied the illustration on the wall over a nearby desk. “Troubador…Thou art publishers? Publishers of books?”
He was in awe of this clean, quiet area. In Paternoster Street and St Pauls where the London booksellers, publishers and printers plied their trade, and where he spent some of his happiest times poring over new books and folios, it was a very different scene, one of noise and cramped dirty spaces, shouting, haggling and the ever-present chunter of mechanical printing.
“Yes,” said the girl who had dropped the books. “Are you a writer? Are you looking to have your work published?”
“I am a poet and write much for the playhouse.”
“Oh, poems and plays,” replied the one in the glasses doubtfully. “Well, I suppose you might find a market for them.” She obviously didn’t think it was very likely. “There are competitions for playwrights. The winner usually gets them performed by professional theatres. We could try that.”
“Gramercy, fair lady.” William tugged at his doublet and felt too embarrassed to explain that he was already reasonably successful in this area.
“That is such an unusual outfit,” said the first busy person. The other two nodded, as if they would like to ask more but felt that it would be impolite to do so.
“Tis my second-best doublet.”
“Ah,” they all said.
“So, what sort of plays do you write?” asked the girl with the books.
“Good ones,“ said William boldly, feeling that he would like to be the one asking the questions as his time in this world might well be limited and beyond his control. “Where are the manuscripts, where the vellum, the ink, the type and the presses? And where the men?”
The girl behind the desk scowled. “This is 2017. We women are quite capable of managing our work without men telling us what to do, thank you.”
“Pardon,” stuttered William, realising that he had offended, although he was not sure how. “Mistress Field hath published my ‘Venus and Adonis’ and is a woman of great ability. But is’t not heavy work for maidens? The presses, the….” He decided to try a charming smile. That usually got him out of trouble but the young ladies just stared back, open-mouthed.
“We don’t use presses, or type-set. We are all computerised,” the offended one said.
“Take a look.” William needed no second invitation and moved with alacrity to stand behind her shoulder so that he could clearly see the bright square she gestured to. The other two young ladies also drew close but their eyes were more on William’s eager face than on their colleague’s demonstration. “The text is usually sent to us by the writer via email.”
“Nn-oo. Email. It’s short for electronic mail. And when it arrives we use the computer to set up the pages and make corrections. Like this, see.” The girl’s fingers flew over the spaced letters on the black slab in front of her and words appeared like magic on the glowing white square. “Jesu!” exclaimed William taking an involuntary step backward.
“And we can move it around the page and add diagrams or photos… See.”
William took another astonished step backward.
“It’s just a computer,” the kind girl who had dropped the books said. “Nothing to be frightened of. It makes the work easier…and a lot quicker.”
“’Tis wonderful,” stuttered William. “’Tis a miracle. And the people buy these black tablebooks?”
“Well they can, but we send the finished book to the printers and they run off hundreds or thousands of hard copies.”
“Or,” said the first busy person, “we can sell electronic copies, ebooks, that just get sent straight to your computer.”
“By Hemail?” interjected William, still a little confused but pleased that he had remembered some of these new words that were used so glibly by these astonishingly clever women who could make whole books out of thin air. “Ah, I like this place and would willingly waste my time in it.”
“You’re not from around here, are you?” asked the girl with the glasses.
“Nay,” he answered regretfully. This world offered so many possibilities but already he felt the tug of his own shadowy reality pulling him back. “And I can no longer stay. Maidens, I thank ye.”
“This is one of our newest novels. Please take a copy as an example of what we do.” The kind girl handed him a bright covered book.
“And let us know if you would like us to publish any of your plays,” said the busy person.
“If they are any good we’ll do our best to find a market for them,” added the one with the glasses generously.
They began to fade away and once again he could hear Anne’s sharp tones and the feel the glow of the fireside. He gazed down at the book in his hands and, just before that faded away too, he discerned the image of a woman and two hazy companions who looked vaguely familiar to him…
Emblazoned on the cover was the book’s title, “Elizabeth, William…and Me”.
S. Lynn Scott 28 March 2017