Ros Barber faced 'hostility' over The Marlowe Papers

By Tim Masters
Entertainment and arts correspondent, BBC News

image captionRos Barber's The Marlowe Papers has won the £10,000 annual Desmond Elliott Prize for debut fiction

Award-winning author Ros Barber spoke on Friday about the anger her debut novel had provoked with its controversial treatment of Shakespeare.

Barber's The Marlowe Papers won the £10,000 annual Desmond Elliott Prize for debut fiction on Thursday.

In the book, playwright Christopher Marlowe is revealed as the true author of Shakespeare's plays.

The judges described the novel - written entirely in verse - as a "unique historical conspiracy story".

The debate over the Shakespeare authorship question has gone on for decades.

Some academics argue that the Bard's plays were actually the work of someone else, with Francis Bacon, Edward de Vere - the 17th Earl of Oxford - and Christopher Marlowe among the most popular candidates.

"I've had more hostility early on and, as the book's become more successful, people have been less unpleasant about the underlying premise," Barber told the BBC, after her win was announced.

"I don't get emotional about it myself," she added. "I don't get cross with people if they lose their temper. If they feel exceedingly strongly about it, I say you can believe what you want to believe.

"It's a work of fiction. You can believe that Shakespeare of Stratford wrote the works and still enjoy it."

Barber said she was "thrilled, and a bit overwhelmed" to win the £10,000 Desmond Elliott Prize, which is named after the publisher and literary agent who died in 2003.

"The fact that it's in verse has caught a lot of people's attention," she said. "I know a lot of people are put off by the idea that it's in verse, but I hope the win will encourage them to read it."

Writing in blank verse, she added, had enabled her to give an "authentic sounding voice" to her characters.

"When I told people it was a story about Christopher Marlowe they'd say it sounded really exciting, and then I'd say it was in verse - and there would be a silence."

The former computer programmer worked on the book for four years as part of a PhD, and even remortgaged her house to help fund her studies.

Barber is now working on a second novel - "not in verse, and not historical" - and also a non-fiction work that presents the arguments - both for and against - in the Shakespeare authorship debate.

"There are poor arguments and bad evidence used on both sides. I felt like I wanted to clear it up in a succinct format," she said.

"One of the things that fascinated me most, was to discover, when I started researching the novel, that it's completely taboo.

"It was made very clear to me that if I wasn't researching it in order to write a work of fiction, I would not be allowed to research it at a British university at all."

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