The Player's Craf
The Timony Trilogy Book 2
By: Kell Cowley
Genre: YA LGBTQ, Historical Adventure
The Borders, Scotland, 1601
Timony may have embraced his damsel in distress roles in Makaydees’ theatre, but at the close of their autumn season, the strolling players are thrust into a fresh unforeseen drama. On the run from the law once more, they flee into the deadly Scottish borders, where reiver gangs and rumours of witches have stirred up suspicion in all who dwell there. Astray in a lonely valley under the shadow of Quarm Castle, the vagrant actors are drawn to the gentry within its walls, seeing a chance to raise their theatre out of the mud.
Flitting between the role of lad and lady, Timony sets about wooing the castle’s inhabitants, determined to gain a writ of patronage for his company. But with his master, Makaydees angered by this reckless quest and his relationship with Rum fracturing due to a new fondness for Lavern, Timony risks becoming an outcast in his troupe, rather than their saviour. And that’s just one of the perils surrounding him, as wise women and mercenary men recruit the young player into plots of their own. Can Timony weave a web of deception around all of them? Or will he become tied up in a tragedy he can’t escape?
Makaydees sat on a stool, his arms crossed over his chest. I turned back to Rum, who had plainly conspired to lead me into this ambush, baiting me with false promises. He merely shrugged, forcing a rough kiss to my cheek before he bounded away.
I glanced back at my master and with one look I knew I wouldn’t be stepping off this wagon again tonight. His stare was stern, but there was a weariness about him too. So many lines and shadows under his eyes. I wondered if I’d put them there.
He rose to his feet, gesturing to the footstool.
“Don’t start. Just sit down.”
I blinked. “What for?”
“Your hair looks like a bird’s nest.”
I ran a hand through my scraggly curls and it took a moment to pull my fingers loose again. When they came free, they brought with them a cluster of straw and twigs. Makaydees took a comb from his pocket and stroked its bristles like he were testing the sharpness of a blade. I shuffled over to the dreaded seat and he set about raking the comb through my long locks, ripping apart its tangles and threatening to pull its roots from my scalp.
“If I had a wig…” I hissed, “I wouldn’t have to go through this torture every time. Real actors wear wigs.”
“And what is a real actor, pray?”
“An actor who treads the boards of playhouses and palaces instead of roadsides. An actor who wears dresses with farthingales and furbelows, ruffs and puff sleeves. An actor who has fame, riches and roles that’ll be known through the ages.”
Tears stung my eyes as I took another stroke of the comb. My master shook his head, snorting in derision.
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The Vagabond Stage
The Timony Trilogy Book 1
The West Country, England, 1599
Timony is a born actor before he even knows the meaning of the word. A restless farmhand with a yearning for the wider world, he is already seeking escape when he catches his first glimpse of a band of travelling players. His dramatic temperament makes an impression on the playwright, Makaydees, who takes him on as his new apprentice to enact the female roles. And Timony soon learns there will be worse things to brave than stepping on stage in a frock and wig.
At a time when the law considers unlicensed actors to be no better than criminals, the players live in constant threat of arrest and are forced to travel in the same channels as more dangerous outlaws. While Timony is still struggling with his role as the girl in the player’s gang, he finds himself propelled on a journey through the Elizabethan underworld. After the troupe becomes embroiled with one of the most wanted highwayman in the land, Timony must learn to act for his life on a precarious road where disguise and deception may be his only means of survival.
The Vagabond Stage is a queer picaresque adventure novel exploring transgender identities in Tudor times, aimed at ages fourteen and up.
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How did you come up with the title of the book?
The titles of both The Vagabond Stage and The Player’s Craft have a duel meaning, in that they reflect something about the main character Timony’s journey and also hint towards each novels’ wider themes. The Vagabond Stage follows an unlicensed theatre company on their journey through the Elizabethan underworld. It is a time when actors without patrons were seen as no better than idle beggars. They moved in the same channels as dangerous criminals and could be arrested and placed in a correction house just for putting on plays. For Timony, the troupe’s new young apprentice who’s been hired to enact the female roles, this is the penniless artist stage of his career, where performing is a means of survival.
The Player’s Craft is set two years later. Between books, Timony has become very proficient in playing the leading ladies. Its title reflects that improved stagecraft and growing ambition to be recognised as a serious thespian, no longer the apprentice but the driving force behind a bid to earn a wealthy patron. The second meaning to the ‘craft’ part of the title refers to the fears of witchcraft in the Elizabethan era. Over the course of the story, Timony learns how women must hide their ambitions for fear of being demonised and punished for them. All characters in this novel are putting on pretences, not just the actual players.
What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?
In my third year of my writing degree, I was set a contexture project to explore and set a piece of work in a new place that I travelled to. So I decided to go backpacking through Scotland, a country on the doorstep of northern England where I live. I travelled to many different Scottish cities, islands and remote locations, studying the countries culture and folklore. One of the places that I visited was a fortress castle in the Borderlands called the Hermitage. It was such a striking piece of masonry. I stayed there for a whole day, just absorbing how lonely and forbidding the castle was.
The Hermitage ended up being my inspiration for the main setting of The Player’s Craft. The Quarm castle I describe in my story has a different shape and function to the fort I visited. It has its own invented history and comes with a surrounding hamlet. But I wanted the castle in my novel to have the same exact feel. For me, that’s the main purpose of visiting a location for literary purposes. To soak up its atmosphere and then conjure it up in your own writing with lashings of imagination mixed in. It’s not about copying every detail of a given setting. It’s a matter of blending authenticity with creativity.
What’s the most difficult thing about writing characters of other genders?
I don’t think it’s any more difficult to write characters of other gender identities, than it is difficult to write characters of different ages, body types, or cultural backgrounds to me. In all cases, you must use a mixture of research, observation, and empathy to depict characters with a different lived experience to yourself. I don't think writers should see people of the opposite gender, or trans/non-binary people, as alien beings that they can’t possibly relate to. Always put yourself in the character’s shoes, rather than othering them.
In The Vagabond Stage my main character Timony is what a modern readership might term as ‘gender questioning’, an insecure and effeminate farm boy, who goes through a personal awakening about their identity and sexuality when they get hired to play the female roles in a travelling theatre company. In its sequel novel, The Player’s Craft, Timony is more what I’d describe as ‘gender fluid’, using their acting talent and androgynous looks to present as male and female at different times in the story. When talking about these novels, I’ll often use this contemporary terminology to describe Timony’s gender identity. I will use a mixture of ‘he’, ‘she’ and ‘they’ pronouns depending on how the character identifies as the story progresses. But my novel a set in the Elizabethan age. So, within the story world, these terms did not yet exist. Genderqueer people have existed throughout history, but as a writer I have to express Timony’s self-discovery without the use of modern labels.
Chester author Kell Cowley wrote and illustrated her first novel at age eight, telling the story of a runaway radish escaping from a salad bowl to explore the far reaches of the garden. She has been perplexing her friends and family with her weird stories ever since. She holds a BA in Performance Writing from the wildly experimental Dartington College of Arts, won a novelist’s apprenticeship with the Adventures in Fiction development scheme and is the co-founder of 'Odd Voice Out' press. When she occasionally closes her laptop or latest reading obsession to spend time in the real world, she will likely be found shambolically running a school library, attempting to act in local plays or eco-warrioring her way towards the apocalypse.
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