Shakespeare’s Rebel – The Play!

Tis true! My novel has become a play of the same title.

ActualcoverSHAKESPEARE’S REBEL opens at the amazing Bard on the Beach theatre in Vancouver, British Columbia, on July 12th 2015.

So John Lawley – sometime actor, brilliant swordsman, occasional drunk and William Shakespeare’s oldest friend is taking to the stage. It’s a comedy of players, a drama of Elizabethan politics, a romance of queen and noble, of landlady and drunkard. And its going to have great swordfights!

You can read more HERE. Better still, come on down!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Play’s the thing – ‘Shakespeare’s Rebel’ takes to the stage

I’ve been holding off sharing this. Contract still to sign, and so forth. Haven’t even cracked the champagne. But since this I am going to the second read-through on Monday, and the play’s been announced on the theatre’s website…

… I suppose this thing is happening – my adaptation of my 2012 novel, ‘Shakespeare’s Rebel’ is having its world premiere at the very successful Vancouver Shakespeare Festival, Bard on the Beach, Summer 2015.

ActualcoverI am totally thrilled on so many levels. It’s my first play since ‘Touching Wood’ had a staged reading in London in 1999. I began my writing career as a playwright, with three productions of two plays: ‘A Cage Without Bars’ (Vancouver New Play Centre, 1993 Finborough Theatre, London, 1998) and ‘Glimpses of the Moon’ (Lunchbox Theatre, Calgary 1996)

Then there’s the special place that ‘Rebel’ holds in my heart. A play about actors, Shakespeare, Hamlet, London… swords! For those who’ve not read the novel, you can read more here:

Essentially it about Will’s fight choreographer and oldest friend, John Lawley, who only wants to get sober and reclaim his wife and son but gets drawn into the last tragic act of Elizabeth’s reign –  the rebellion of her last great love, the Earl of Essex.

It was hard work getting a novel compressed into a play – many of my darlings slain in the process! But I had the brilliant help of Martin Kinch, one of the top play development people in Canada. And the encouragement and support of my friend, Christopher Gaze, the artistic director at Bard. To be returning to that theatre is a thrill (I played Oberon in ‘Dream’ there in 1991, my first job in Canada). And having the play put on by people I know means that I can be involved in that vital first production – attending rehearsals,working with the players, honing the script up to and including its first contacts with the public. Hope you can all come. It promises to be fun!

And I will tell the story of how this all came about in my next post!




Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Kind words on The French Executioner!

UScoverHad some rather nice reviews in the US for my first love, my first novel, The French Executioner, at last out there.

Publishers’ Weekly

Humphreys (Jack Absolute) breathes life into 16th century Europe with this fascinating tale of adventure and mystery as Anne Boleyn’s executioner must fulfill his promise to the queen who has been marked for death. Executioner Jean Rombaud didn’t expect Anne Boleyn to have ask for anything from him when he was summoned to England to execute her, but when Anne requests that he bury her six-fingered hand at a sacred crossroads in France, he agrees. There are others who believe in the magical powers of that hand and will do everything in their power to keep Rombaud from getting the hand. As he journeys to the destination, he becomes a prisoner on a ship, where he makes the acquaintance of two friends who assist him in his task. Humphreys has creatively combined historical fact with mystical fiction: the severed hand seems to have a life of its own and causes irrational behavior in those seeking it. Humphreys’s characters are well drawn and deeply empathetic, and Rombaud’s mission remains entertaining throughout. Agent: Jessica Purdue, Orion Publishing Group. (Oct.)

Two other trade reviews:

“Set against the backdrop of the Protestant Reformation, his superbloody Princess Bride-like adventure is, at its heart, a tale of redemption, well earned and hard-won.” – Library Journal

“This unusual tale conjures visions of an Errol Flynn-type Hollywood swashbuckler…the tale’s well-told, engagingly written, and includes a colorful immersion into a time when life was cheap and danger or death literally waited around every corner. A gory but fascinating…look at the world in the early 16th century.” – Kirkus

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Lessons I learned from The French Executioner – and friends!

Lesson One: A man (and a character) reveals himself slowly.

Jean is surrounded by colourful friends and enemies. Haakon, the huge ax-wielding Viking. The Fugger, with his one hand and madness always a reach away. Beck, the girl dressed as a boy. Archbishop Cibo, the classic debauched churchman and villain. These were all easier to write as they were so extreme. Jean – well, I was dealing with an executioner to start with. Many people would not sympathise with his profession. So I wanted to make him very closed off to the world. He lost his wife and child to plague. So he took up a trade he was good at. He’s not in any way a sadist. He does a job. But his vow to Anne Boleyn – to take her six fingered hand at the same time he takes her head and then get rid of the famous relic – begins a journey of redemption. He comes alive again. Hard to show that, fascinating to try.

Lesson Two: Courage is being terrified and still leaping into the darkness.

Jean has to go through so much – battle, enslavement, torture. But faith in his vow keeps him going.

Lesson Three: Love conquers all.

Eventually you have to stop mourning a relationship that is over and open yourself up again to the possibilities of love. Jean does this, and see his love of Beck as a reward for being true to his cause.

Lesson Four: Don’t throw your sword at someone unless your certain you’ll hit him.

Otherwise he has two swords and you have none.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Lightning Strike: the idea for my first novel, French Executioner



I remember exactly what I was doing when the idea for The French Executioner hit me like a bolt of lightning. I was working out. I was living in Vancouver at the time. Making my living as an actor. I’d written a couple of plays. But my dream from childhood had always been to write historical fiction.

I wasn’t thinking of any of that, on that day in a gym in 1993. I was thinking about shoulder presses. Checking my form in the mirror.


This is what happened. (It also shows you the rather strange associations in my brain!)

I lift the weight bar.

Me, in my head. ‘God, I’ve got a long neck.’

Lower bar.

‘If I was ever executed,’ – Raise bar – ‘it would be a really easy shot for the ax.’

Lower bar.

‘Or the sword. Because, of course, Anne Boleyn was executed with a sword.’

Raise bar. Stop half way.

‘Anne Boleyn had six fingers on one hand.’

Flash! Boom! Put down bar before I drop it. It came together in my head, as one thing: the executioner, brought from France to do the deed, (I remembered that from school). Not just taking her head. Taking her hand as well, that infamous hand – and then the question all writers have to ask: what happened next?

I scurried to the library. Took out books. I knew it had to be a novel. I did some research, sketched a few ideas. But the problem was, I wasn’t a novelist. A play had seemed like a hill. A novel – well, it was a mountain, and I wasn’t ready to climb it. So I dreamed a while, then quietly put all my research, sketches, notes away.

But I never stopped thinking about it. The story kept coming and whenever I was in a second hand bookstore I’d study the history shelves and think: if ever I write that novel – which I probably never will – I’ll want… a battle at sea between slave galleys. So I’d buy a book on that subject, read it. Buy another, read it.

November 1999. Six years after being struck by lightning. I’m living back in England and I find a book on sixteenth century mercenaries – and I knew the novel I was never going to write would have mercenaries.

Twenty pages in, I turn to my wife and say: “You know, I think I’m going to write that book.”

And she replies, “It’s about bloody time.”

I wrote. The story, all that research, had stewed in my head for so long, it just poured out. Ten months and I was done. I wondered if it was any good. I sent it to an agent. She took me on and had it sold three months later.

I was a novelist after all.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Mightier than the sword? I wouldn’t use my pen to parry!

Fun article today in the Canada’s National Post.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Plague is coming… coming… come! To TV!

Plague on the road!

That’s me, not the virus. I’ve just gone across Canada in launch week, and many people have caught the disease. I’ve had to scarify so many buboes I’ve run out of acid. (If you read the book that sentence will make sense)

Vancouver was my first launch in my fave bar, the Fringe Cafe. In Calgary, I sat in the Owl’s Nest (Bookstore). In Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan I was second in sales to the memoir: ‘I am Hutterite’ (Can’t beat Hutterites on the Prairies. It’s illegal.) And then in Toronto, well, this:

There have been some fun reviews which I shall post later. Here are some snippets though:

‘Think 48 Hours in the 17th century… Plague is almost an embarrassment of riches… the sort of book you open when you have a spare couple of minutes, and look up from hours later, only after the last paragraph is read.” Robert Wiersma, Vancouver Sun and nationally.

“This novel screams “summer reading.” – Susan Cole, Now Toronto.

“With kings and cripple, rats and rotters, Highwaymen and loose women, you’d never think a lethal virus could be so much fun.” Jon Wise, Sunday Sport UK

Stand by all. Plague is coming… to a city near you!


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment