Inspiration and Us – Childhood Books – Shakespeare’s Stories.


Touchstone the Jester from “As You Like It.

Inspiration and us – that’s the name of a new category for the blog.  The reason I am calling it inspiration and us, instead of inspiration and me is because I want you to think about how our lives and our children’s lives inspire us.  I would also be extremely grateful to hear of your inspirational experiences.


As a child, I had many books which I loved but as this is about what inspires us, I shall be mentioning the main sources of inspiration.  One of my favourite books was one which was passed onto me.  I regret to say that I have no idea where it came from.  It was a big book which had many stories in it.  My favourites were some of the stories from Shakespeare’s plays.  They were the plays written in story form with some illustrations.  I read them over and over.  One which sticks in my mind is As You Like It.   It was pure escapism.  The idea of people running away from their everyday lives and living in a forest, appealed to me greatly.  As a child, I loved the idea of dressing up and being in disguise.  Subsequently, when Rosalind dressed up as a boy and pretended to be Ganymede, I was in the story with them.  This is a story which explores sibling rivalry, romance, has a wrestling match and a court jester named Touchstone.  I am proof that the story appeals to children.  If the play had been thrown at me at the age of nine, I would have been put off by its beautiful, poetic language.  However, I was lucky enough to have the plays as stories first and so Shakespeare‘s work was adored by me even before I had read a play or a sonnet.


illustration of William Shakespeare reciting h...

illustration of William Shakespeare reciting his play Hamlet to his family. His wife, Anne Hathaway, is sitting in the chair on the right; his son Hamnet is behind him on the left; his two daughters Susanna and Judith are on the right and left of him. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)



So how has this childhood book inspired me?  First of all, I think the greatest proof is that my son is called Will after Shakespeare.  Incidentally, one of his main ambitions is to play Hamlet at the Globe Theatre.  He has never had Literature forced fed to him.  I was worried that I would do that so I have always been careful and introduced it as the fun, mad and exciting subject that it is.


My educational route would suggest that Shakespeare’s stories also inspired me as I have an Honours Degree in Literature and an M.A. in Creative Writing.  However, I think that the most telling aspect of it is in my writing.  In my children’s book Will Blyton and The Stinking Shadow, I have a small boy trapped in a stone called Hamnet.  He has had a curse put on him by the powerful magician Corspehound.  Not only is Hamnet trapped in the stone but the curse is on his tongue.  He can only insult people.  Hamnet is actually Shakespeare’s son who died at the age of eleven.  The Bubonic Plague was rife at the time.  Little is known about Hamnet and so I wanted to keep his memory alive by re-writing his story.  Instead of perishing before his young life had really begun, I have him living on as a huger than life character.


An illustration of an undertaker during the Bu...

An illustration of an undertaker during the Bubonic plague. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


I have already written about introducing children to Shakespeare by using insults.  Children love language if they allowed to be playful with it – this is why they love insults – they are naughty and delicious.  This was part of my enjoyment when reading A Midsummer Night’s Dream in my story book.  There was great emphasis on the argument between Hermia and Helena.  It is Midsummer, they are lost in the forest, it is a time of misrule and chaos and they are arguing over men.  Hermia calls Helena – “You juggler! You canker-blossom!” (The Arden Shakespeare – Act III, Scene II Line 282)  Later in the heated argument, Hermia also calls Helena “Thou painted maypole.” (The Arden Shakespeare – Act III, Scene II, Line 296) The enjoyment of the insults as a child turned to inspiration as an adult.  In Will Blyton and The Stinking Shadow, Hamnet is a master of insults; most of them are aimed at Will.  The first thing he ever says to him is “thine intestines wilt be mine.”  This is quickly followed by “thou wilt regret this warty nose.”


Washington Allston's 1818 painting Hermia and ...

Washington Allston's 1818 painting Hermia and Helena. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


We cannot change our own childhoods.  However, we can be inspired by what was thrown at us and mould it.  As writers, we can turn our experiences into what we want them to be.  Although we cannot change our own childhoods, we can guide our children’s inspiration and education.  Catch them early on with Shakespeare in the form of his stories.  Talk to them about the funny characters like Bottom, from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, who gets the head of an ass for a time.  If you missed out on Shakespeare first time around – you might be surprised at what you find.  Who knows, you or your children might end up being so inspired that you write a book too.


Emil Orlik: Actor Hans Wassmann as Nick Bottom...

Emil Orlik: Actor Hans Wassmann as Nick Bottom in Shakespeare's A Midsummernight's Dream, 1909 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)



Filed under Creative Writing, Education, Inspiration and Us, Parenting

15 responses to “Inspiration and Us – Childhood Books – Shakespeare’s Stories.

  1. Hi,
    I totally agree with you about children learning Shakespeare, I love your idea of using insults, I can see how this would get their attention, well thought out. A very interesting read.

    • Thank you very much. I love to see children enjoying themselves whilst learning at the same time. Actually, I like my own learning processes to be the same. Maybe I’m just a good time girl.


  2. I think the main reason why kids are put off by Shakespeare besides maybe the language is that it is force-fed to us in school. And in school they usually seem to focus on the tragedies-Hamlet, R&J and Macbeth et al, for some reason.

    I wish we had done Midsummers, the Tempest or Twelfth Night instead. I actually read Twelfth Night by myself without any aid when I was 16 and its by far my favourite. The people who devise the school curriculae forget that kids are kids and that comedy in various forms is just as important.
    I love your point about the ‘Insults.’ I’m sure every child would love read a good banter!
    Ps. Canker-blossom? Ha ha, that’s a good one. I think I’m going to use that one day! LOL.

    • You are so right! Kids love comedy and when you think about for instance Sir Toby Belch in Twelfth Night or Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It is all there for the taking. Gosh, it makes me so mad, I could shout Canker-blossom at them all! ( To the people who decide what will be studied, I mean, not to the children.)

  3. I was one of the ones put off Shakespeare in schools! As a small child dare I own up to be an Enid Blyton lover! I also loved fairy stories and there was a series which had a book for each colour – The Green Fairy Story Book, The Red Fairy Story Book etc – I read them all. Now, I am inspired to write by the things I am passionate about – parenting and kids and how they’re treated, the natural world, finding jewels in everyday living, and of course other writers!

    • Thank you for commenting and telling us about your childhood reading. I am hoping that lots of people will eventually do this on the Inspiration and Us posts. Funny you should mention Enid Blyton as that is the next post! I was totally inspired by her. She often gets a bad press these days and I am going to have my say. In fact, she inspired me so much that Will’s middle name is Blyton. I didn’t get to read The Green Fairy books etc.. I think I would have enjoyed them. Your passion comes through in your writing. I think this is what makes it so special.

  4. I’ve never been a great fan of Shakespeare, I’m afraid. My own inspiration as a child and later adult came from writers like Astrid Lindgren, Erich Kaestner, Roald Dahl and Michael Ende for example. One of my enduring inspirations comes from Erich Kaestner’s The Flying Classroom (Das fliegende Klassenzimmer), which in many ways is perhaps the very first “cross-over” book ever written. I first got it when I was 8 and have re-read it many times since. It never fails to move me and the way in which EK weaves the stories of children and adults together has left such a long-lasting impression on me that it’s always at the back of my mind when I write for children. Great post, thanks for sharing so much with us.

    • Thank you for sharing your childhood books with us. This is what is wonderful about literature – it is as diverse as its readers. It is so important that we remember this, that it is not a science and therefore should not be treated as such. I think that some people forget that these days when they try to impose restrictive rules on what is essentially an art.

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  10. mefinx

    This is close to my heart. I recently finished an MA in Shakespeare Studies at the Univ of Birmingham (more specifically the Shakespeare Institute at Stratford-upon-Avon – lucky me!) and my dissertation topic was the portrayal of Shakespeare in children’s books. By this I mean stories like “King of Shadows” where a child meets him, rather than retellings of the plays, although they do overlap to some degree.

    I adore the idea of your Hamnet and look forward to checking out your book. Stephen Greenblatt writes in “Will in the World” about the ways in which the deaths of both his father and his son might have fed into Hamlet – it’s all conjecture but it vastly enriches one’s understanding of the play (Sorry, I’m talking like the Queen here!)

    • Your M.A. sounds absolutely fascinating. I haven’t read “Will in the World” but it sounds really interesting. I shall be on the look out for it Thank you for the comment, it is greatly appreciated..

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