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4 March 2015

Review & Interview: 'The Ghostly Father' by Sue Barnard (2014)

Romeo & Juliet - was this what really happened? 

When Juliet Roberts is asked to make sense of an ancient Italian manuscript, she little suspects that she will find herself propelled into the midst of one of the greatest love stories of all time. But this is only the beginning. As more hidden secrets come to light, Juliet discovers that the tragic tale of her famous namesake might have had a very different outcome...

As an English Literature student, I have read (both willingly and occasionally also slightly unwillingly...) all kinds of classics, from Chaucer to Jane Austen to, of course, William Shakespeare. There are some great classic books out there and I love picking up retellings or sequels to these old stories, providing us readers with a new perspective. So, when author Sue Barnard contacted me about possibly reviewing her novel 'The Ghostly Father', an adaptation of Shakespeare's 'Romeo and Juliet', I couldn't say 'yes' quickly enough. I was really curious to find out what the author had done with one of the most famous love stories of all time, and had my fingers crossed for a good read!

Juliet Roberts is asked by her grandfather to translate an old manuscript from Italian to English for his birthday. The story manages to exceed all Juliet's expectations, as it turns out to be the actual story of Romeo and Juliet, made famous by playwright William Shakespeare. The story of Romeo and Giulietta, told from the point of view of a monk named Lorenzo who experienced it all up close and personal, continues to surprises Juliet with every page and she can't help but wonder whether this might be the actual story of what happened between these famous starcrossed lovers...

I had to read lots of Shakespeare plays at university and 'Romeo and Juliet' was undoubtedly my favourite. However, as a hopeless romantic and a sucker for happy endings, the ending of the story always broke my heart and I love retellings of the tale, to see what other authors do with the characters and the storyline. Thankfully, Sue Barnard has done a tremendous job rewriting a classic like 'Romeo and Juliet' and she has really managed to give it her own twist. The story is quite different from the original, but I won't say much more about it because I don't want to give too much away. Of course, the essence is still the same: two young people fall in love but as they come from two feuding families, they have to fight to be able to actually be together.

The author's writing style is really comfortable to read; well-paced, a good dosage of both description and dialogue, and befitting to the original story and the time in which it is set. I really enjoyed the fact that the story was told from the perspective of monk Lorenzo, whose story was also really interesting and results in the reader being given more than just Romeo and Juliet's tale. I really enjoyed this and I can't wait to see what Sue Barnard will come up with next. 'The Ghostly Father' is a beautiful and captivating retelling with respect for the original story, but with its own twists and style; a thoroughly enjoyable read!
For more information about this book: / / Goodreads

Thanks to the author for providing me with a review copy in exchange for an honest review.

Author interview with Sue Barnard!

I'm really excited to welcome author Sue Barnard to the blog today to tell us some more about her novel 'The Ghostly Father', her own favourite books and her future plans as an author!
Can you tell us something about your novel, ‘The Ghostly Father’?
It’s based on the traditional story of Romeo & Juliet, but with a few new twists and a whole new outcome.  It’s a sort of part-prequel, part-sequel to the original tale, and is told from the point of view of Friar Lawrence (although he’s called Fra’ Lorenzo in this version).  The book’s title, The Ghostly Father, is based on a quotation from the play, and it’s how Romeo addresses  the Friar.
Where did you get the inspiration for your novel? Why did you decide to go with a Shakespeare play as the basis?
I’ve always loved the story of Romeo & Juliet, but hated the way it ended.  
A few years ago, I came across one of those lists of “Things You Should Do Before You Die” – and one of them was “Write the book you want to read.”  
The book I’ve always wanted to read is a version of the Romeo & Juliet story in which the star-cross’d lovers don’t fall victim to a maddeningly preventable double-suicide.  
Why, I asked myself, should there not be such a book?  And the answer came straight back: Why not indeed?  And if it doesn’t exist, then go ahead and write it.
Can you tell us a bit more about the main character, Juliet Roberts? 
Juliet is the modern narrator, who is given the task of translating the old Italian manuscript which contains the story.  By showing her reactions to the tale as it unfolds, she provides the link between the historical narrative and the reader.  
There’s a great cast of supporting characters in the novel as well. Which character did you most enjoy writing?
I think the Friar would have to be my favourite.  I’ve always been fascinated by him, and I’ve often wondered why, in the play, he behaved as he did.  By giving him what I hope is an interesting and thought-provoking backstory, I’ve tried to offer some possible answers.
I also had fun developing the characters of Lord and Lady Montague (or Montecchi, as I’ve called them in the book).  In the play they barely step out of the shadows.  Benvolio, too, is given his own story which is missing from the original version.
Did you do any particular research for parts of the book?
I had to research what life would have been like in a medieval Franciscan friary.  And as the Friar is a herbalist, I also had to learn a little about herb-lore.
Can you perhaps tell us something about your future plans? Are you perhaps already working on a next novel?
My second novel, a romantic intrigue entitled Nice Girls Don’t, was published in July last year.  It’s set in 1982 and is a story about family secrets.
For my third novel I’m returning to Shakespeare.  The Most Unkindest Cut, due out later this year, is a murder mystery set during an am-dram production of Julius Caesar.  As with The Ghostly Father, the title is a quotation from the play.
I’m currently working on a time-slip novel based on an old French legend. 
Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?
Try to write something each day, even if it’s only a haiku.  And believe in yourself.  If you have a story to tell, then don’t keep it hidden! 
What is the last book you read that you’d like to recommend to others?
It’s a while since I read it, but I’d highly recommend That Devil Called Love by Lynda Chater, which was first published about fifteen years ago.  It’s based on the Faust legend, but is brought up to date and told with great perception and humour.  The heroine of the story finds out the hard way that youth, beauty, wealth and fame don’t necessarily hold the key to lasting happiness.
Which book could you not live without?
Facebook!  I’ve made lots of lovely friends on there, and it’s also how I found my wonderful publisher, Crooked Cat.
And last but not least, if you had to describe ‘The Ghostly Father’ in just three words, which words would you pick?
Love conquers all.
Thanks so much, Sue! :)

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