The best books to take you backstage when you’re in the mood for a spot of Shakespeare

The Books I Picked & Why

Entertaining Mr. Pepys

By Deborah Swift

Book cover of Entertaining Mr. Pepys

Why this book?

Entertaining Mr. Pepys explores the world of British theater during a time when women were finally allowed on stage as actresses. I loved it because of how the author explored her main character’s fascination with acting, which reminded me very much of how Grace in my own book is captivated by the stage and willing to go to any lengths to become an actress. I have read several of Swift’s novels and credit them with inspiring me to write my own novels based on women in the arts.


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Shakespeare's Rebel

By C.C. Humphreys

Book cover of Shakespeare's Rebel

Why this book?

I loved this swashbuckling tale of Shakespeare’s fight master because it took me back to Elizabethan England and right on to the stage at The Globe theater. There’s plenty of action and intrigue (the main character’s not only an actor and fight master but a spy!) that inspired me when I was writing the action scenes in my book. The author fills the pages with an impressive amount of historical detail while maintaining a brisk, page-turning pace.


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Burning Bright

By Tracy Chevalier

Book cover of Burning Bright

Why this book?

Tracy Chevalier writes the novels I want to write! I’ve read just about all of them and was particularly excited to discover Burning Bright. Chevalier’s depiction of London in the early 19th century is masterful, and hugely inspiring for me. Burning Bright is a coming-of-age story that centers around two children’s interactions with the great poet William Blake. I met Tracy Chevalier at the Historical Novel Society Conference in Oxford where she made my day by graciously agreeing to accept a copy of my first novel The Towers of Tuscany which was heavily inspired by her novels and even insisting that I sign it! 


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Shakespeare for Squirrels

By Christopher Moore

Book cover of Shakespeare for Squirrels

Why this book?

Christopher Moore’s Shakespeare-themed novels are a hoot! He takes the hallowed works of the Bard and turns them into hysterical adventures starring Pocket (King Lear’s fool), Drool, and their pet monkey Jeff. The second in a trilogy is Shakespeare for Squirrels, Moore’s take on A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It’s irreverent and hilarious and left me breathless with admiration for Moore’s incredibly fertile imagination.


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Theatre and Disorder in Late Georgian London

By Marc Baer

Book cover of Theatre and Disorder in Late Georgian London

Why this book?

This academic work rarely left my side when I was writing The Muse of Fire. It provides an in-depth and well-researched overview for readers who want to know more about the Old Price Riots of 1809—the central historical event in the novel. For me, a huge bonus was that the author, Marc Baer, very graciously consented to read and provide feedback on my book before it was published to ensure I got my facts right about the longest-running and most disruptive riot in British theatrical history.


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