Lots of things spark story ideas for writers. Yes, even the odd dream or overheard conversation. I’d like to share a little story with you. It’s not momentous, life-changing or side-splitting hilarious, it’s just one of those little anecdotes out of the blue.
You may (but probably don’t) know that I’m finishing the final rewrite of a manuscript, a story for young people, McAlpine & Macbeth. I started it around eight years ago and after many redrafts and changes, I think I might be there (touching wood, to keep away the rejection fairies).
The story is set in the Depression year of 1929, in a regional town in Australia and is the story of 11 year-old, Kate McAlpine’s quest to find her missing parents, both Shakespearean travelling actors. (Not such a strange thing on the dusty roads of the Australian outback.)
Kate fears they may have abandoned her, considering she is living at Matron Maddock’s Home for Abandoned Children, but of course, there are far more hazards in store for Kate and her cockatiel, Macbeth.
You might think this is just another story about an abandoned girl – albeit it one who’s red-headed, a talented singer and a natural on the stage. NO, THIS STORY IS NOTHING LIKE ANNIE (the musical)!
For a start, McAlpine & Macbeth is Australian and Kate is no Annie-character. And Macbeth’s talent goes far beyond acrobatics, being Kate’s accomplice in defying Matron Maddock’s regime, and quoting Shakespeare. You see, Macbeth, being one of the ancient land spirits, can really talk. Until he and Kate had been left at the Home, his life had been filled with Shakespearean drama, actors, life on the road and Kate. Now, it’s just Kate. Macbeth, being an astute bird with a fine appreciation of drama senses something is wrong in the State of, no not Denmark, but Matron Maddock’s Home.
Her parents should never have left her in this place. Could they not sense the mist of lies coming from the woman’s mouth when she spoke? Did they not see the shifting eyes of her shadow-man? Why did they not recognise Matron and Parris for what they are – humans who prey upon the trust of children, sucking dry their hopes and dreams?
Like the flicker of a dragonfly’s wing, this pair of parasites conceal their true selves behind the mask of good manners; performances to equal any Shakespearean production. O, how they excel in deceit.
Ha! If this be what passes for humankind, methinks those two should return to that primordial soup from where they came. (Macbeth – McAlpine & Macbeth) © Sheryl Gwyther
I seem to have strayed from the subject! What sparked the idea for McAlpine & Macbeth?
This is a true story about family ancestors who lived in the early 1900s. Daniel McAlpine and his beautiful 16-year-old daughter, Lavinia (Lily) were travelling actors in the late 1890s in New South Wales. One night, before a performance in a country town’s town hall, the stern-faced Daniel called out to the audience for a replacement to read a main character’s part for a sick actor. Richard, a young dairy farmer from the Comboyne Plateau immediately jumped up on the stage – he hadn’t been able to take his eyes off Lily from the moment she’d entered from Stage Left.
Three years later, they married – and one of their 10 children produced my husband, Ross.
I don’t know if the company were, like Kate’s memory of her missing parents, performing Romeo and Juliet at the time, but I like to think they were.
Like Kate and Macbeth, I have a special connection to Shakespearean drama – in my case it’s the great Aussie Shakespearean actor, Geoffrey Rush. It started when I was 16 and living out the ‘back of beyond’ of north-west Queensland, but that’s a story for another time.