Monday, January 2, 2012

Dr. Rosalind Barber Wins 2011 Hoffman Prize

Dr. Rosalind Barber has been announced as joint winner of the 2011 Calvin and Rose G. Hoffman Prize for a Distinguished Publication on Christopher Marlowe for her verse novel, The Marlowe Papers. Ros spoke to The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection about winning the prize, and about the book, which will be published by Sceptre in the UK (24th May) and St. Martin’s Press in the US (January 2013).

“Obviously, I’m thrilled to be a winner of the Hoffman this year. I’m very glad, also, that the adjudicators were happy to consider a novel in verse, but then it's slightly unusual as works of fiction go, in that it is based on four years of full-time academic research and has twenty-five pages of notes! Not that it's a 'dry' read at all; everyone who has read it has found it a real page-turner; because as many people have acknowledged, the Marlowe-Shakespeare theory is simply a great story. And those who have read The Marlowe Papers say you absolutely forget it’s in verse, because the story just rips along. No one has to read the notes in order to understand or enjoy the book, but they do add another layer of enjoyment for anyone who likes a little history with their historical fiction, as they show the skeleton of historical evidence on which the flesh of the novel is constructed.

"I was inspired to write The Marlowe Papers after watching Mike Rubbo’s Much Ado About Something, where Jonathan Bate, despite finding the idea that Marlowe wrote Shakespeare ludicrous, admitted it would make a great novel. I suspect there were quite a few people that leapt to their keyboards or notebooks after watching that documentary, but I had the advantage of having written three previous novels (all unpublished, but great practice) and three published books of poetry. The idea of being the author of the acknowledged greatest works of literature of all time but not getting credit for them set me alight: how excruciating to be in that position! And Marlowe is such an interesting character to explore, not only a committed writer with a passion for language (something I can relate to), but also tied up in some way with the Elizabethan spy networks. It felt like here, finally, was the idea that had the potential to be a breakthrough book for me, and I seized it gratefully.

"I wrote The Marlowe Papers as part of a PhD in English literature – not the only part, as I wrote a 50,000 word 'critical introduction' on the Shakespeare authorship question and the research behind the book, and published three academic papers on Marlowe. But I knew that to do the idea real justice I'd need to research it properly, and that this would take both time and university-based resources. I am very grateful for the funding I received from the UK’s Arts and Humanities Research Council, which made the project possible. The book took four years (full-time) to write: a year of pure research, then three years of daily writing (with more research along the way).

"The hardest thing about the book, the aspect that made it most difficult to get started, was that I wanted to write it as a fictional autobiography; I had to 'be' Christopher Marlowe. And if that wasn’t challenging enough, the 'Marlowe-wrote-Shakespeare' storyline meant I was attempting to write as - oh dear! – the acknowledged greatest writer of all time! This struck me initially as the most terrifying act of hubris, and I wondered how I could possibly pull it off. But I had been funded to do so and couldn't back out. It helped that I was writing in contemporary English rather than mock-Elizabethan; the conceit being that The Marlowe Papers is Marlowe’s poetic journal, written in cipher and translated into modern verse. And modern verse – iambic pentameter in particular – is something that feels very natural and comfortable to me. So I simply started and – despite a false start, a couple of wrong turns and a couple of 'hit the wall' months – kept going.

"The results have just landed on my desk in the form of a bound proof, which is a thing of loveliness. Unfortunately, unless you’re a UK bookseller or journalist, you won’t be able to get your mitts on your own copy for five months, but I hope when you do you'll agree it was worth the wait. In the meantime you can sign up for news of the book and events around its launch at, which will soon be revamped (when my publisher takes it over) to include short films of me talking about the book and reading extracts. The plans for the UK hardback (I don’t know so much about the US edition yet) are really exciting. The official launch date is 30th May: the anniversary of that fateful day in Deptford when Marlowe died and a new writer - Shakespeare – suddenly came into being.”

© The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection, January 2012

"It’s enough to strike despair into the heart of James Shapiro, author of Contested Will, as well as the hearts of all the other Shakespeare experts who refute the so-called 'authorship controversy'."  (Financial Times)

Click here for the blog's home page and recent content.THE MARLOWE PAPERS


mariner said...

Congratulations, Dr. Barber.

I'll look forward to seeing your book in the United States.

daver852 said...

This was such wonderful news! I can't wait to read the book.

Isabel Gortazar said...

Congratulations, Ros!
I look forward to reading the book when available.

Erika said...

"The Marlowe Papers" is so pretty - whoever did the calligraphy for the title is splendid! I cannot wait to read this book. Congratulations Ms. Barber for writing this book, and for winning the Hoffman Prize.

Like you said, I was one person of many who toyed with the idea of making a book about Marlowe, but alas, I am a teenager who is not that experienced in writing. I am so happy that you did, though, and I cannot wait to read the product!

Maureen Duff said...

Well done indeed, Ros, for winning the Hoffman Prize and for the publication of your book. I'm very much looking forward to reading it.

Dan Sayers said...

Agreeing with the comments above, this is excellent news - and the book cover looks fantastic! Very much looking forward to reading it.