Posted by: Natalie Hatch | November 2, 2009

Author Interview: Tania Roxborogh – Banquo’s Son

Tania Roxborogh has taught high school English for over 20 years and throughout that time has developed a love of all things Shakespeare, so it’s only fitting then that she write a novel continuing on the support players lives after Macbeth has been defeated. I received this book in the mail last week and once I started reading found it very hard to put down. I’m not one who can sit through an entire Shakespearean work and not go “what are they on about” at least once or twice. The language Tania uses and her style of throwing her characters into dangers untold and castles unnumbered, well, it’s riveting. Tania agreed to come over today from New Zealand and answer a few of my pesky questions.

  • Shakespeare is hard for many teenagers to come to grips with, the language seems to lose at least half the usual English class before the first act is finished. So how then have you been able to write such a great novel and yet kept quite close to Shakespeare’s characters?

Firstly, I would argue that, the way I teach Shakespeare, none of my kids get lost. I’ve presented a few times to English teachers about really effective ways of introducing Shakespeare (and his language) to students and I think I get it right.

You’ve hit on the key thing, though. It’s all about the characters. Harold Bloom argues in his book Shakespeare: the invention of the human that all personality types were nailed by Shakespeare; that he looked around at people and created characters which were recognisable. I will often ask a roomful of teachers this question: which Shakespeare character do you think you are (sounds like a Face Book quiz). Me, I’m Macduff: emotional, loyal, incredibly faithful and far too trusting but with enough guts to fight to the end. Why mess with what Shakespeare’s already started. Although I don’t think my Donalbain is what he had in mind.

  • Banquo’s Son is a tale of revenge, loss, love and respect, set in medieval Scotland ten years after Macbeth’s disastrous reign. Can you tell us a little of the type of research you had to do to get the novel historically and geographically correct.

It’s hard finding information about 11th century Scotland because there’s so little written. I have a book which outlines the kings from England and Scotland before and after the time I’m writing; my brother-in-law John Roxborogh is a retired theologian and a world expert in Scottish church history – he gave me this amazing resource: an historical atlas of Scotland from around 400 AD till about the 1600s. It has things like where roads were, churches, thanages, forests! And towns etc. Very cool.

I watched Polanski’s film ‘Macbeth’ because, even though it was filmed in Wales, the costumes and food and castles were deemed to be pretty authentic. I also bought a huge map of Scotland which I have on my wall. I asked lots of experts like my daughter’s riding instructor about things such as ‘how far can a horse travel in a day?’

Mainly, though, I kept the story to the fore and ‘coloured in’ parts when I needed to by going searching. A friend of mine from northern England became my ‘researcher’ and would happily trawl through stuff to answer questions like ‘did they use soap?’ (yes they did), ‘were there potatoes?’ (no, there wasn’t), and one of my students is involved in medieval combat and was able to give me heaps of detail about using a claymore

  • You wove a great many morals into this story which at first are hidden by the action, was that a conscious thing?

I actually think it’s the wisdom of the bard. Because I’ve been teaching Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets for over twenty years, I have so much of his ‘advice’ floating around in my head. Here’s an excerpt from Bloodlines (book 2) in which Fleance’s house guest (brother in law to William of Normandy (who will become William the conqueror) is giving the young king some unwelcome advice. Can you recognise which play it comes from?

Henri smirked and raised his goblet. ‘Si vous insistez,’ he muttered, drinking deeply. ‘Mais, you are a young man and you are a young king. This, as you say, was all thrust upon you. Mon papa would often tell us that some men are born great, whether that be in status or holiness; some achieve greatness, through great feats or overcoming adversity, and some, which he considered the poorest of the three, have greatness thrust upon them – often unprepared and ill-equipped.’

All the food had been eaten but Henri continued to lick his finger and stab at the crumbs and small remains. He did not look at the king when he spoke but there was something in his tone which warned the young sovereign to listen. ‘I care little for your tantrums.’ He paused and the weight of his words cleared the room of humour and warmth.  Fleance at once felt his face flush hot with shame and then indignation. How dare he…?

Henri interrupted his thoughts. ‘But, I do like you and I do not believe, even in the short time I have been living here, you are neither unprepared nor ill-equipped.’ Henri looked up and stared hard at the king. ‘You are royal. And, you have lived the life of a peasant. You are intelligent, healthy and strong and a most fierce soldier if the reports are to be half believed. Avoir plus de foi. Have more faith, oui?’

Henri’s advice comes from the comedy 12th Night (Some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them) when Maria has played a trick on Malvoleo.

As to it being a ‘conscious thing’, the characters seem to have their own guiding lights, if you will. Margaret, for example, is very wise although her advice at the end about the three types of love was told to me by a Y12 student (your Y11) years ago. Such wisdom from such a young lady.

  • You brought the three witches directly into this story, did you ever sit there at your computer and try a cackle or two? Recite any lines while you tapped away? ‘Bubble, bubble, boil and trouble’ type thing?

No but they’re creepy eh? I did work hard on the prophecies – very hard. They needed to be like ones in ‘Macbeth’ with that ambiguity

  • What advice would you give teens who are trying their hand at writing?

Get into a writing group of like minded people. Read books on writing (I recommend Bird by Bird by Annie Lamott). Read the types of books you want to write; poems; short stories. And, this advice from my website: What I have found necessary, apart from talent, is the need to persevere with the actual task of writing as well as the beauty of what is being created. Just like pregnancy, a story or poem is conceived but needs time to incubate in the womb (your mind) and then grow and develop (birth and the rest). Don’t be in too much of a hurry. The best works come when time is given for them to live, breathe, be.

  • Now I note that you’ve got a sequel or two planned, can you share with us a little of how you write your stories?

Manically. Sometimes, I have the whole story in my head and write out a synopsis and maybe even a chapter breakdown. Other times, I just have a scene or a character and a sense that there is a story to explore and off I go to investigate. As I teach full time, I tend to write in the weekends and during school holidays although, when I’m right into a story, I may get up in the middle of the night to write. When I am doing the business, I aim for 1000 words a day even if it’s not great stuff. I don’t necessarily write chronologically – usually the strongest scenes get written. I type straight onto the computer. I touch type and type as fast as I can talk slowly.

  • And the last but not least question – have you finished the next one yet? No pressure, just you know, Fleance, Rachel, Rosie…. need to know these things and all that.

Grin – yes, I’m getting pressure. I’ve completed 27,000 words so far of the anticipate 120,000. Here’s the opening of chapter one: He looked asleep not dead. Paler but, apart from a blueness of his lips, looked to be dreaming.

Thanks again for stopping by our blog. Tania is published in Australia by Penguin and her book is available now.

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Responses

  1. Very nice, thankyou.

    Brendan
    Author of Shakespeare for Kids books

  2. thanks for stopping by Brendan

  3. I’m totally hooked. Can’t wait to read this. It sounds fabulous.

  4. […] including: Michael Gerard Bauer, Melanie Nilles, Kim Miller, Richard Harland, Kirsty Eagar, Tania Roxborogh, Kathy Charles, Scott Monk, Jacinta di Mase, Rebecca James, Jack Heath, Paul Collins, and Gwendolyn […]

  5. if your looking for a builder in kings heath then look in the kings heath builders directory


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