Who was the real architect of the Gunpowder Plot? Who was the first person to wear a Guy Fawkes mask? Why was Shakespeare’s Dark Lady dark?
These and many other questions are answered in Graham Holderness’s new novel, which combines historical fiction, psychological mystery and supernatural thriller in a highly original and imaginative re-telling of the Gunpowder Plot.
It is 1604. The Gunpowder Plotters are tunnelling under the palace of Westminster, and confront an immovable obstacle. Guy Fawkes travels to Europe to fetch help, and brings back more than he bargained for. Who is the mysterious Dark Lady? Who is the man in the mask? Why is London over-run by a plague of vampires, and who is going to defeat them?
From a Westminster vault to a Transylvanian mine, from the crypt of Lambeth Palace to the under-stage of the Globe theatre, Black and Deep Desires takes the reader on a tour of historical, psychological and mythical underworlds, delving deep into some of history’s unexplored corridors, into the secret thoughts of Catholic terrorists, and into the dark wellsprings of Shakespeare’s poetry.
In Black and Deep Desires Graham Holderness combines the expertise of an internationally-recognised Shakespeare scholar, the narrative flair of his 2001 novel The Prince of Denmark, and the poetic sensibility that won his verse collection Craeft a Poetry Book Society award.
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Based on title alone, Black and Deep Desires: William Shakespeare, Vampire Hunter might seem to be just another pulpy horror knock-off, but book’s pedigree sets it apart. Black and Deep Desires is the brainchild of the venerable literary critic, Graham Holderness, born out of a larger scholarly, pedagogical, and creative experiment (which I shall let Graham explain more carefully in my next article, an interview with the author) that seeks to explore what occurs when one sets Shakespeare in a “creative collision” with other cultural phenomena. In this case, Shakespeare’s works (and the man himself) are put on a crash course with the gunpowder plot, a small army of vampires, and tops it off with a little bit of movie-style action.
The result of this mash-up is Black and Deep Desires: William Shakespeare, Vampire Hunter. And it is a hell of a lot of fun. Unlike the similarly named Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter, Black and Deep Desires isn’t a slash-and-stake bloodfest, but rather a more carefully crafted narrative that engagingly ambles through Macbeth, Hamlet, Measure for Measure, Dracula, 1001 Nights, “The Wreck of the Deutschland,” and Dante’s Inferno, on its way to a Hollywood-worthy finale. As the novel opens, William Shakespeare, recusant Catholic, joins Guy Fawkes and his cluster of co-conspirators in a plot to dig under the walls of parliament, to plant enough gunpowder to kill the King. When the plotters hit a wall (quite literally), Fawkes heads to Europe to find workers, and is eventually led to a shadowy eastern European aristocrat, who offers him a small company of strange nocturnal labourers, who travel to England in wooden boxes. If you think you know where this is going, you’re mostly right, but don’t get too comfortable. As the story unfolds, to become the play-that-was-nearly-Macbeth, Will encounters the Dark Lady, Robert Cecil, and Simon Forman.
Holderness’ Shakespeare is a middle-aged man in search of something to believe in. His Catholicism, which begins as an unpaid debt to his late father, is not manifest until experience changes his mind (I know that’s Marlowe, but just wait). Will is disconnected, ambivalent about everything but his art, forced into action by the ghostly echoes of his father, and machinations of state authority. Yet, as one might hope from William Shakespeare, he is a quick witted, amiable, lusty fellow, whose response to the demand that he become a hunter of the undead is, “well, to be honest, you know, it isn’t really my line of work” (192).
As the narrative twists and turns to incorporate the Dark lady, the Gunpowder Plot, Simon Foreman, and a delightful cameo appearance by Kit Marlowe, the novel’s wry humor remains an ongoing wink to the reader that is indicative of the gleeful ease with which Holderness plays with his Shakespeare. Holderness’ comfort with the text, and own philosophy on the use of Shakespeare manifests itself in the endless flow of humorous references throughout the book. For example, when William meets Kit Marlowe in the sodomite’s circle of hell, he can’t resist asking him “Hell’s not a fable, then?” Even more enjoyable is Kit’s reply: “I’m still not convinced” (136). These characters are everything you want them to be, and more.
Ultimately, Black and Deep Desires blends criticism, history, and a fast-moving narrative that will keep you turning the pages. It’s a literary scavenger hunt, and terrifically enjoyable read. ~ Louise Geddes, Shakespeare Standard
Black and Deep Desires
William Shakespeare, Vampire Hunter
Shakespeare, the Dark Lady, Guy Fawkes – and vampires!
Prof. Graham Holderness (esteemed Shakespeare scholar and Professor of Literature here at the University of Hertfordshire) has embraced the spirit of 'Open Graves, Open Minds', and created a mash up of Macbeth in which the ‘dark lady’ of Shakespeare’s sonnets becomes rather more sinister and the bard turns vampire hunter! This is a novel in the comic spirit of Anthony Burgess or Kim Newman. And Holderness has more fireworks up his sleeve when Marlowe and Guy Fawkes are thrown into the mix. The Elizabethan underworld, much loved by Marlowe, begins to resemble Dante, and in a nod to Dr Faustus, the theatricals turn phantasmagoria, with Dracula waiting in the wings. Looks like we might have to invite Prof. Holderness to be a part of our new research centre, tentatively called Centre for the Study of the Representation of the Dark Arts !! ~ Lucy Northenra, https://opengravesopenminds.wordpress.com/
BLACK AND DEEP DESIRES, by Graham Holderness, combines everything I love-Shakespeare, vampires, history and a great plot! ~ Lori Handeland, author of SHAKESPEARE UNDEAD and ZOMBIE LAND
What mad excitement ! Gunpowder plotters, Jacobean intrigue, Transylvanian shape-shifters -- all written about and evoked in rich and smoky pungent prose.
It's as if Hilary Mantel, Anthony Burgess and Bram Stoker got together at a diabolical Writers' Conference and, after a few bottles too many in the witching hours, came up with this rollicking manuscript. Graham Holderness, our leading Shakespearean scholar, has had huge fun bringing his historical knowledge to bear upon an unmissable romp. ~ Roger Lewis, author of Seasonal Suicide Notes and The Life and Death of Peter Sellers.
A very clever and well-organised novel, a successful balance of historical fact and apt quotations with a well-timed, ingenious and fun plot … wonderful. ~ Alexa von Hirschberg, Bloomsbury Fiction
In this exciting fiction, Graham Holderness shares and enters some of the passions that swirled round Shakespeare in his lifetime. Religion, politics, and sex are all turned up to a deadly degree. We move from Stratford to Transylvania and into the Inferno, but the intensity is leavened by demonic wit. There's even a posthumous cameo by Christopher Marlowe! This is literary criticism off the leash, and there are many incidental insights. The novel ends with the physician play-goer Simon Forman coyly propositioning the Bard: ‘How do you feel about collaboration?’ And of course Holderness himself is winking as he does so....
~ Ewan Fernie, Chair, Professor and Fellow of the Shakespeare Institute (University of Birmingham) and author of The Demonic
Holderness’s novel looks at a familiar Shakespearian world through a glass, darkly. His plot shimmers with the unexpected, and represents a creative response to that fascinating place where biography, history and fiction all meet.
~ Paul Edmonson, Head of Education, Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, University of Birmingham. General Editor, New Penguin Shakespeare, and co-editor of Sh
Graham Holderness’s ‘historical fantasy’ unnervingly places the character, William Shakespeare, within a gothic landscape in which the many mysteries associated with the playwright, one by one, are revealed. Holderness’s story mixes fiction with fact and Shakespeare’s writing with a host of others, from Dante to Stoker to Joyce, using familiar tales in a story that never fails to surprise. This is a novel that will make readers laugh and marvel at how seemingly incompatible narratives and genres are brought so convincingly together. ~ Professor Deborah Cartmell, Director, Centre for Adaptations, De Montfort University, author of Adaptations in the Sound Era