Today we're talking with Christopher Grey, author of Will Shakespeare and the Ships of Solomon
FQ: How long did you research for this book before you started writing?
GREY: There were really three different levels of research that occurred with Will Shakespeare and the Ships of Solomon. Firstly, the details and nature of the secret societies the book explored including Knights Templar, the Freemasons, secret orders of the Catholic Church, the Rosicrucians and Golden Dawn (to name a few) came from research I’ve done over the years beginning in about the mid 90s when I was first introduced to the “masonic conspiracies.” Secondly, the specific conspiracy theories in this book were derived heavily from Pirates and the Lost Templar Fleet by David Hatcher Childress. I was absolutely compelled to bring these fascinating conspiracies to life in a novel. The book went into detail about the identity of Shakespeare, the arrival of Scottish masons to Canada before Columbus, as well as the more exciting scenes surrounding Oak Island and ultimately the Holy Grail’s final resting place in Bermuda. The last layer of research was in location and period. All in all, it took years, but much of the fact-checking occurred after the novel was written in the editing phase. That said, the conspiracies and secret societies discussed in this book are, long term, in the same literary world as my other existing and long-term works so, fortunately, much of the heavy lifting has already been done.
FQ: There can be many different versions of the facts when researching these secret societies and conspiracy theories. How do you decide what to include in your books?
GREY: I think that the word “fact” gets thrown around too much in the world of conspiracy theories. I am, through my fiction, working hard to dispel the hysteria and disinformation enforced by the conspiracy theory community. So, to that end, my focus is on a plausible approach to conspiracies using a realistic depiction of the secret societies. I’ll go so far as to accept secret societies have more control and influence than I believe they actually do, but in the vein of providing context for who they are and why they exist.
Ultimately, my formula for determining what should be included is that it must be plausible (or difficult to disprove) and it must be consistent with the other theories and plot points that I am using. In my fictional world, many secret societies exist above society, but do not necessarily work against society. That is a unique position amidst the conspiracy theory community.
FQ: A few times in this book the conversations are given in foreign languages such as French, are you fluent in these languages?
GREY: It’s interesting to me that so much of my fiction ends up using French. This book, due to its location in Montreal and Nova Scotia, a recent short story about a haunting, and the novel I’m currently working on set in New Orleans all require the use of French. That is one language I am not confident in and had to triple-quadruple check with editors on my use of it. Given the location, it was important French was included and given the content, Latin was required as well. I believe that, especially for American readers, paying honest tribute to languages can add color to a story, but beside that, it would have been odd in Ships of Solomon if Will and Dorothy didn’t run into at least one French-Canadian.
FQ: What was the most enjoyable part of working on this book, the research or the writing of the story?
GREY: For me, it is all about the story. There may be a misconception that by dealing with the topics that I do that I have a hidden agenda—whether it be academic or philosophical—to bring issues or theories to light. I think, for instance, Dan Brown is very much compelled by this. My interest, however, is in telling a good story and I use the large breadth of conspiracy theories out there to find really good ones. In a way, I think it’s cheating—so much is out there, I have to do very little in conceiving the story. My task then is to lay out a narrative, make it interesting and fun, and then end with a punch.
FQ: During your research were you able to gather your information from interviews and written documents, books, etc.?
GREY: Almost all of my research was from books—and from secondary sources. If I were writing academically, or even in the literary genre, there would be value in going deeper than I did. However, since my focus was really at the same depth as a traditional pulp action/adventure, I focused more on the plot and character structures.
FQ: If you were able to use both types of information, while researching for this book which was more helpful, the interviews or the written documents?
GREY: I did conduct an email dialogue with a master mason, which was very helpful. In the future, I can definitely see the benefit of doing more of this type of research, as it adds authenticity and color to the narrative. Depending upon the novel’s objectives, in my case, to entertain and only secondarily to educate, run-of-the-mill book research was certainly adequate. It also helps to have a first-hand account of the subject matter. I spent a great deal of time looking at maps, reviewing photos and reading travel guides to get a good sense of Montreal and Bermuda, since I’d never been. I’m finding that in my current novel, set in New Orleans—a place I’m rather familiar, it is coming much easier for me, even if it is set in a different time.
FQ: Robert Louis Stevenson was mentioned when Will and Dorothy came upon treasure in one of the caves. Was Treasure Island a book you enjoyed in your childhood?
GREY: I’ve always been a very big reader of speculative fiction and adventure. I was a fan of classic adventures such as Treasure Island, Swiss Family Robinson, and almost anything Mark Twain and Jules Vern wrote. I think, however, I was mostly influenced by Piers Anthony, Douglas Adams, and more contemporary stories that wouldn’t have fit as a reference in this novel. Of course, if it isn’t completely obvious, film is a huge influence and I view my work on this novel and future ones as an extension of the Indiana Jones genre, a banner I proudly carry.
FQ: History can be a tough subject to write about as sometimes it is not viewed as very exciting by some. How do you personally go about creating an intriguing story combined with history?
GREY: As my career progresses, it is likely I will be known for being a historical fiction novelist, and generally I’m okay with that. I have always been eagerly fascinated by history and find a tremendous amount of inspiration from it. Few stories can be told better than actual events. Ships of Solomon deals quite a bit with history—the first Europeans to arrive to the New World, the true nature of William Shakespeare, the role of Francis Drake and Francis Bacon in the development of a Utopian ideal that would eventually become the United States of America, etc. It was important for me to address these ideas in a contemporary light, so that it could be relatable to the readers. It was also important to put it in a genre that was easy for a reader to navigate. I chose the post-war period as a setting, because it was consistent with the pulp adventure genre, and also avoided getting lost in the quagmire of advanced technology, complex world politics and falling into the spy genre. In answer to the question, history is an intriguing story, the trick for an author is to find the narrative and run with it.