Geoffrey Craig on history, writing, and SHAKESPEARE'S YOUNGER SISTER

Interview by Victor Freed

Author Geoffrey Craig had a successful career as an investment banker before he began writing full-time, but you wouldn’t know it from his youthful enthusiasm. “New ideas,” says Craig, “just seem to pop into my head. I finish one project and say to myself: I’m not going to come up with anything new—and sometimes, as soon as I say that, an idea comes along.”

As for his latest novel, Shakespeare’s Younger Sister, Craig explains that the idea grew from his longtime interest in Shakespeare. He began writing it about two years ago, after coming across The Time Traveler’s Guide to Elizabethan England by Ian Mortimer. Other resources he used include Understanding Shakespeare’s England by Jo McMurtry and Elizabeth’s London by Liza Picard, the latter of which was an invaluable resource on what daily life was like in the period. Says Craig, “It has drawings and a map of London that were very helpful to me in laying out the background, such as the marketplace and certain buildings.”

While Craig clearly did his due diligence in researching the time period, he is adamant that Shakespeare’s Younger Sister is not historical fiction. To Craig, historical fiction requires a level of fidelity to historical figures, modes of speech, and events that is not the aim of his work. “I’m not a historian. I write fictional work,” he clarifies. “But that doesn’t mean it couldn’t have happened.”

Shakespeare’s Younger Sister follows the fictional sister of William, Constance Shakespeare, who joins him in London and proves herself to be a formidable playwright and poetess. She co-authors many of Will’s plays, eventually writing her own works, which are published under his name. Few know of Constance’s secret writing, and even fewer are aware of her budding feelings of attraction to women as well as men—feelings that surprise her and with which she struggles. While in London, she strikes up a passionate love affair with a Duchess who approaches her in the marketplace and, subsequently, seduces her. Their love becomes a source of strength and confidence for Constance as she navigates the difficulties of keeping both her writing and her sexuality secret. In today’s world, Constance might identify as bisexual, though the term did not exist in her time.

Craig explains that Constance’s character evolved organically, including her attraction to women. Beyond that, though, Constance is a brilliant, determined young woman whose good humor and wit shine on the page. She refuses to let the conventions of her time prevent her from using her talent. Craig says, “One thing that drew me to this subject was that the role of women in society, including their rights and independence, was beginning to be considered and discussed in Elizabethan England—I thought that lent credibility to Constance as a writer and as a forward-thinker.”

An interesting aspect of Craig’s characters is that they come, in all their authenticity, from his imagination. According to Craig, he almost never bases his characters on people he knows. “Constance just evolved,” he says, “as did all of the characters in the book—including Will Shakespeare.” While Constance is completely fictional, William Shakespeare is, of course, a historical figure, though the Will we meet in the novel is a fictionalization. When asked about his view on whether a ghostwriter might really have been behind some of Shakespeare’s most iconic works, Craig is noncommittal. “This is just a slant on the old argument as to whether Shakespeare wrote the works or not,” he explains. “I don’t have an informed view on that. I have a fictional view.”

Perhaps one of the most fascinating aspects of the novel is the writing process the reader observes Will and Constance undergoing together. There are a few scenes where Constance reads Will’s first drafts of sonnets and plays, and revises them into the famous versions we know today. What was it like to write “bad” iterations of iconic literary works? Says Craig, “It was fun, but challenging. It was not easy to write a bad sonnet.” And as for the plays, experienced playwright Craig says that Constance and Will’s writing process is very similar to his own. “I tend to have an idea and I sit down and start working on it. I generally don’t do an outline. I revise and revise and revise and revise.” Pausing for a minute to reflect, Craig concedes the similarities between Will’s writing process and his own. With a laugh, he asks, “What else would I know?”

With this most recent novel completed, what’s next for Geoffrey Craig? His latest project is an Irish-themed play that explores the Easter Rebellion of 1916 from an Irish-American point of view. Reflecting on his writing career and where it might go next, Craig says candidly, “I started this process almost twenty years ago; I think the first stuff I wrote was pretty bad. I’ve learned a lot about the craft just from doing, and I think I’m a better writer today than I was when I started. That, in itself, is gratifying.”