About The Onion Stone

When Ardie Davendish advertises for an assistant to help with his research on the authorship of Shakespeare, he has no idea of the consequences that will follow. All it takes is a few letters and a secret from the past and history is transformed.

The Onion Stone is about pre-conceived ideas and traditional viewpoints and the sense of shock that occurs when these are challenged. It is also about envy, rivalry, ambition and ruthless tactics. The two elderly academics in the story have spent a lifetime striving to outdo each other with a literary ‘scoop’ about Shakespeare. As one of the other characters says about them, they are ‘two old men at death’s door, fighting over a dead man to make themselves a living reputation.’

Parallel with these themes is a love story — the relationship between Gilbert Shakespeare, the true author of the plays and sonnets whose identity is kept secret and Anne Cecil, the unhappy wife of the Earl of Oxford.

The events in the story are revealed through two time scales: present day events showing the rivalry between the Shakespearian scholars, Ardie and Ellis, and secondly a series of extracts from Elizabethan times, in the form of journals and letters, showing the mystery and scandal surrounding Gilbert Shakespeare and Anne Cecil. The secrets are revealed gradually and the final revelation kept hidden until the end.

The character of Gilbert Shakespeare is fictitious, though William Shakespeare did have a brother of that name about whom little is known, but all other characters in the diaries and letters are based on people who lived at the time. Much of the background research for the historical parts of the book has been found in the works of A.L.Rowse — who had no doubt that William of Stratford was the playwright and genius — and Charlton Ogburn who spent a lifetime trying to prove that the real author was Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, the husband of Anne Cecil. Somewhere, between these two beliefs, in the hidden spaces, I have come up with my own ‘theory’.

The title of the book, The Onion Stone, is taken from the poem by Robert Browning: The Bishop Orders his Tomb at St Praxed’s Church. This, with its depiction of two rival churchmen competing for the best tomb and keeping an eye on each other throughout eternity, sums up the characters of Ardie and Ellis and hints at their squabbling over Frances, Ardie’s wife, in earlier years.