Inspiring young writers with the magic of Shakespeare

James Hartley with Charlotte Bean, 9, and Annabelle Froud, 10.

By Ben Lugg, Stratford Herald, Stratford-Upon- Avon

An imaginative author is hoping to use the magic of Shakespeare’s Schoolroom to inspire local schoolchildren to take an interest in creative writing and the Bard.

James Hartley’s new novel, The Invisible Hand: Shakespeare’s Moon Act I, follows the time travelling adventures of two teenage boarding school pupils, wrapped up in the story of Macbeth.

Earlier this month James hosted a special creative writing taster workshop at Stratford’s Guildhall, during which pupils were invited to take part in a competition with a very special prize.

Older pupils will be able to submit entries for a short story competition, whilst younger ones will draw scenes from Shakespeare’s plays.

The winning entries will win another workshop from James for their whole class, but just as importantly, the author has promised to include the winning pupils as characters in his next book.

He intends to write another four novels in the series, each based around a different Shakespeare play.

James’ visit is part of a project called Creative Will, which is intended to nurture creativity in local schoolchildren.

James said: “I want to use the inspiration that is in this building to encourage the children to take an interest in creative writing. I thought the children were fantastic at the taster workshop, really engaged and imaginative, they always come up with new and different ideas. Children’s imaginations are endless.

“I believe passionately in the power of creativity, which can help children in so many different ways with their learning.  And there is no stronger influence on the craft of storytelling and language than the legacy of Shakespeare.  For young minds we need to make Shakespeare relevant, approaching it with the same energy and passion that the Bard himself had.  I’m very excited to be working with Shakespeare’s Schoolroom, which as a writer and English teacher is one of the most exciting places to visit imaginable.”

Sarah Jervis Hill, from Shakespeare’s Schoolroom & Guildhall, added: “We want to bring to life the inspiration that has lived and breathed in the Schoolroom for hundreds of years and rekindle the magic from when Shakespeare not only attended school here, but also had his first professional theatrical experiences.  We’ll be doing this through a programme for children called Creative Will, which hopes to nurture and develop creativity in lots of different ways.

Sitting Where Shakespeare Sat

Shakespeare´s Schoolroom is a fantastic, evocative tourist attraction right in the heart of Stratford-Upon-Avon, and that´s where I was, launching a new, nationwide competition, last week.

The Schoolroom, which includes the Guildhall – most of that longblack and white building behind me – was where Shakespeare was taught. I was back there with a group of local schoolchildren to launch a new competition. Full details can be found here.

Can´t wait to start reading the entries – winners get their name in Cold Fire, the next Shakespeare´s Moon book (about Romeo and Juliet) – so please share if you know anyone between the ages of 11 and 17 who might want to take part.


“It was emotional and shocking, and one of the better cliffhangers I’ve ever read…”

A review of THE INVISIBLE HAND from Carchardon Books, Australia.

Hartley has provided a perfect gateway for children and teenagers to experience Shakespeare from a young age. Shakespeare isn’t remedial literature and certainly difficult at times, but with a strong character and a realistic environment, Hartley has created a conduit that gently introduces complex themes that parallel the life of a young teenager. While some of Shakespeare’s more severe themes are sacrificed to appeal to a more juvenile audience, a strong sense of mystery, a time-travelling twist and an unexpected conclusion come together to satiate the reader’s expectation.

The historical aspects of the story resonate strongly, and with each shift back to Shakespeare’s past, I found myself giddy with anticipation. Hartley’s simplistic prose captures the aesthetics of an ancient world with surprising ease, and scenes of endurance flow with a nature flair that left me in awe. Timeless scenes from Macbeth are reiterated with hypnotising exposition, and some curious and titillating theories—such as the reason behind Lady Macbeth’s lack of children, and the motive of the three witches—are proposed to keep the gears in the reader’s mind turning. These theories add relevance to the narrative, and with the focus on a younger audience, they offer a critical point of view that will encourage readers to think outside of the box, a mandatory skill when approaching Shakespeare.
Although the modern school scenes are grounded in out reality, the castle itself is no less mysterious. When Hartley takes the reader on an expedition through the school, there is a reminiscent quality that harkens back to Rowling’s Harry Potter, which offers moments of tranquility between the madness of the past. A small romance also blossoms between the two core characters, and it’s sweet sprinkle of sugar that adds just enough to the story without taking away from the focal narrative.
At the risk of nitpicking, I have two minor complaints I must bring to the table. Firstly, I would have loved for more time to have been spent in the past, delving into extended Shakespearean elements. Secondly, the age of the characters while in our world is far too limiting. At the tender age of thirteen, they are allowed to be more curious toward their mysterious circumstances, though it also stretches the imagination too thin. Sam, our main protagonists, often acts far wiser than any adults around him. Perhaps if they had been a few years older, with a little bit of expected maturity, it wouldn’t have caused such a dissension. I understand their ages are intended to reflect the target audience, which keeps this issue a minor one, and it never reacts corrosively upon the rest of the story.
The conclusion was excellent, and while I was convinced I had unravelled the inevitable twist early on, I was still taken by surprise—a rarity for a young adult novel. It was emotional and shocking, and one of the better cliffhangers I’ve ever read. The epilogue also offers a charming and poignant taste of the narrative to follow, and I have to be honest: I’m excited! Hartley has established a complex and intriguing world with many threads neatly woven together, and his adept ability to tell a convincing frame story should allow future instalments to impress in all the right ways.
This book earns four stars easily, with full stars for its great World Building, Story and Writing Style.
Buy THE INVISIBLE HAND from Amazon US or Amazon UK
Read 3 Chapters FREE at INSTAFREEBIE.COM here.

World Book Day

Had a brilliant World Book Day, starting at the Oak Centre for Young People, which is part of the Royal Marsden Cancer Hospital and has wards run by the Teenage Cancer Trust. Was an absolute pleasure to meet some of the talented young people being treated there and talk books and ideas with them. This is me with Ella Hallpike who, like everyone at the Centre, does a brilliant, brilliant job.

After that it was on to Box Hill School, my old stomping ground for some workshops with Year 7 and 10 students, making up stories and enjoying their imaginations. Again, inspiring stuff. Many thanks there to Miss A, Ms B and Sam B – and everyone at the school, which is a great place in a lovely part of the country.


Yes, indeed! It´s now available everywhere!

Yes, now you, too, could be as thrilled as my kids with this fantastic, internet-smashing news. This morning I had to force them to put the book down so they could go to school and learn about less interesting, useless things! Grab a copy before Amazon breaks and you are left with a feeling of gut-clenching desolation.

They´re actually thinking, “Now maybe dad´ll shut up about it”.

If you´re still undecided and fancy the bookish equivalent of window shopping – or if you´re just plain tight – you can read 3 free chapters at Instafreebie or join nearly 900 people at the Good Reads Giveaway or – sod it! It´s Friday! – you could buy the damn thing from Amazon UK here orAmazon US .

It´s also in many good bookshops and a few disreputable ones, plus there´s a few copies lying about my house if anyone wants them. I live in Madrid so warn me first if you´re coming. I´ll put some coffee on. Be warned, though, Spanish coffee is strong. Which reminds me, I´ll have to clean the bathrooms later.

If you´re still reading, what´s the weather like where you are? And what about Trump, eh? And those seven new planets? Imagine if this exact post is being read by someone there – how depressing would that be?

Get onto Facebook to win a signed copy which I will kiss for luck before I send out – and you can also win 50 pounds, dollars or baht for a charity of your choice.

Remember, all new subscribers to my page get sent a FREE St Francis´ School story. The form is to your left. It´s well worth it. The story is nuts and it makes some of the stuff in the book make sense.

Young Writers!  Give up now, while you can. Do something worthwhile! No, I´m joking: look out for new competitions to be posted here shortly. Sign up to my newsletter to make sure you don´t miss out. Keep writing. Keep reading.

Is anybody out thereeeeee?

Win 50 dollars, euros or pounds for a charity of your choice!

This Friday marks the worldwide publication day for THE INVISIBLE HAND, the first in a new series of Young Adult novels from Lodestone Books.

Launch events are planned at Shakespeare´s Schoolroom in Stratford Upon Avon, Box Hill School, in Surrey and at the Teenage Cancer Trust Unit at the Oak Centre in Sutton.

On the launch day there´ll be a competition on Facebook to win a signed copy of the book and 50 euros/pounds or dollars to the charity of your choice. All you have to do is like and share one of the posts put up on James Hartley Books on Friday for a chance to win.

Like and join my page on Facebook now by clicking here or by clicking on the link at the bottom of this page.

You can read 3 free chapters at Instafreebie or join nearly 700 people at the Good Reads Giveaway or pre-Order the book from Amazon UK here orAmazon US here. All new subscribers to my page get sent a FREE St Francis´ School story. The form is to your left.

Young Writers look out for new competitions to be posted shortly. Sign up to my newsletter to make sure you don´t miss out.



The Invisible Hand is now being stocked in bookshops around the world, including the National Theatre in London, Shakespeare & Company in Paris and Christopher´s Books in San Francisco.

In the UK it´s at Heffers in Cambridge, Blackwell´s in Oxford, Mrs B´s Emporium of Reading Delights in Bath, the Totnes Bookshop in Totnes and the Edinburgh Bookshop in Edinburgh.

You can read 3 free chapters at Instafreebie or

Join the Good Reads Giveaway or

Pre-Order the book from Amazon UK here or

Amazon US here

If you are a bookseller, please get in touch about ordering for your store. The book is available through Gardners and all the major distributors.

Mrs B´s Emporium of Reading Delights, Bath

THE INVISIBLE HAND – Giveaways, Freebies, Goodies

Very atmospheric, very readable, and in the best sense very educational.  Charles Nicholl, author of The Lodger: Shakespeare on Silver Street

THE INVISIBLE HAND, the exciting first part of a new Young Adult series about children who get involved in the plots of Shakespeare´s plays, is released in a month. Find out what happens when Sam, a pupil at St Francis´ School, travels back to medieval Scotland and gets wrapped up in the plot of William Shakespeare´s Macbeth.

Get a FREE copy by entering the Good Reads giveaway here.

Get 3 Chapters FREE from Instafreebie here.

Pre-order the book on Amazon UK here

Pre-order the book on Amazon US here

Visit my Good Reads page here


Some reviews:

“Time travel, Scotland and Macbeth? Oooh…yes please!!! I love all three to tiny pieces and was totally interested when I started reading this book. The story takes place at a boarding school in Britain where the main character, Sam, has basically been dumped as his parents are either too busy working or too ill to look after him. One night, Sam awakes to find himself in another person’s body and in the middle of a Scottish battlefield. Is it a dream? Will what happens in the past affect the future? I really liked Sam! The poor thing…I just really wanted to give him a million hugs throughout the story, especially as more was revealed about his family. He was shy, adorable and quite brave considering the circumstances that he constantly found himself in. There’s a scene where he finally makes a connection between his own time traveling and the events in Macbeth that made me smile. He shouts out about how he was there and everyone thought he was absolutely crazy. And why wouldn’t they? But that just endeared him to me even more. Super cute! I am interested in seeing how the author will mix in the other plays. I also just realized there’s a prequel set at the school during World War II called Heart of Winter. Gothic tale about the macabre? OK! Let’s do this…” ~ Jacquie Atamanuk, Rattle The Stars

“This first in the new series Shakespeare’s Moon looks to be a great way to get younger teens enthralled by Shakespeare as they’ve never been before. The fast-paced first installment The Invisible Hand follows a boy called Sam as he finds his rather monotonous life at boarding school suddenly interspersed with vivid dreams set in medieval Scotland, and he can’t stop thinking about these flashes of colour dragging him from his grey life in England. When Sam’s class start studying Macbeth and a new girl arrives at school who he recognises, he realises that there’s more to his dreams than he thought. The parallels between his dream travels to Scotland and Macbeth are too strong to ignore, and he soon becomes entangled in a gripping plot that not only brings Shakespeare’s play to life but also teach him about his family’s past. The gloomy feel of medieval Scotland and a dreary English boarding school were perfect for reading during December, when the weather where I live was taking a step toward a true wintery cold snap. Seeing Sam go on a personal journey rather than just living out the events of Macbeth really helped to bring this book to life, and I think will certainly engage younger readers. An interview with the author that I read recently mentions his love for stories within stories, and I have to say it shows in this book, with the way that events are retold, and all of the characters have a link back to either Macbeth or some other literary origin. I’m certainly interested to see what the rest of Shakespeare’s Moon will be like, as each one is apparently set in the same boarding school as Sam’s, but based upon different Shakespeare plays.” ~ Lucy Russell , Parasol Pirate

“In my opinion,  as a classroom text the book would be most suited to Key Stage 3 children (11 to 13).  Whilst there are lots of twists and turns that require the ability to follow a complex plot, the language is accessible and there is an old-school charm and innocence to it.  The boarding school setting would appeal to those who already enjoy Harry Potter stories. I also think that it could be used as an extension text for Key Stage 4 students to read in their own time and support their understanding of the play.

I really enjoyed how you have captured the sense of place and enjoyed spotting references.   You have created an original narrative whilst embedding elements of the play’s narrative throughout.  I worried that the two would clash or that, knowing the play as well as I do having taught it so many times, there would be little room for inventiveness with your plot but I am pleased to report that wasn’t the case.  There was still room for mystery and ambiguity e.g. Leana as Lady Macbeth’s daughter.  I also think that both Sam and Leana are strong characters who would appeal to both boys and girls.”

Katharine Bryson, Head of English, Box Hill School, Surrey, England.

Eve´s Christmas FREE for 5 days on Kindle

Eve´s Christmas is a new, bittersweet short story about a young girl at a magical boarding school who finds out she´s not a real person but a character in a story.

It forms a prelude to the Shakespeare´s Moon series of books which will begin in February with The Invisible Hand.

For the next 4 days Eve´s Christmas is FREE on Kindle – click here to get your copy now. It´s perfect for Christmas. If you would like to read the beginning of the story, read on…

It´s Christmas at St Francis´s School…

I was alone one day at the furthest end of the empty, frosty playing fields when a hole in the ground opened before me. A strange man who would later identify himself as Master Maia appeared from the frosty hatch and beckoned me over. I glanced back at the fogged-over fields and the ghostly image of the school and walked across to where the Master was clapping his gloved hands together.

“Quick as you like, my dear,” he was saying, his breath rising in a cloud.

Below the playing fields, at the foot of the ladder, was a cavernous tunnel warmed by glowing electric railings. The Master pointed out a small wooden table and asked me to sit on the stool tucked beneath it. When I´d done so, he passed me a piece of paper. On this I read:

She is lonely and weird. No-one likes her. She prefers characters in books to real people. She prefers being alone to being in the world. She

The piece of paper was smaller than my hand and torn at one diagonal edge. There were some faint blue lines beneath the text which I recognised as those in the notebooks we used at school. “I´m sorry, I don´t understand what you want me to do,” was the only thing I could think of saying.

“That note was written this morning,” the Master told me.

“But what does it have to do with me?”

“It is you,” he replied. The Master was a strange man, calm but nervy; young and old at the same time. He looked familiar but, as I examined him closely, became a total stranger. I realised that his face was constantly, subtly, changing. This was odd but not frightening. Up above him I saw hundreds of worm tails wriggling from the tunnel ceiling.

“Me?” I looked down at the scrap of paper again.

“There´s no more to the note, only what you have in your hand,” the Master told me. He leaned across to pick a magnifying glass off a shelf suspended by chains from the clay wall. “That scrap was thrown into a rubbish bin. We retrieved it, identified you and brought you here.”

“So…what? You´re saying I´m invented?” I laughed. “I´m not real?”

The Master nodded. “That´s right. But don´t be alarmed. I´m not real either.” He swept a hand around behind his head. “Rest assured, my dear: you´re among friends here.”

The Guru and The Kid


The Guru is standing with his arms crossed, watching the sparring. The gym is dingy, lit by artificial light. Outside it´s autumn, upstate New York. Downstairs is the town police station. In comes The Kid, led by a huge Irish man with a broken nose held together by a thin white plaster.

The Kid is a bundle of darkness. He´s small and thick with a lisp, thirteen years old, a petty thief, sociopath, damaged goods. He´s got pigeons and hasn´t been to school, except to eat, in years. Last few months he´s been boxing with the Irishman. It was he who broke the big man´s nose. He´s come here to spar.

The Guru can´t believe The Kid is thirteen. He has a weird tingling somewhere in his soul. Could this be the one? He´s been waiting too long. He gets a momentary taste of what it must be like to lose the bitterness he´s been feeling for the last thousand years. He watches his trainer lace up The Kid´s gloves. The Kid´s short but stocky. Hole eyes.

Over the sound of ropes whipping the boards and heavy bags clanking, the bell rings and The Kid and Irishman go at it. They´ve been working together in The Kid´s last-chance correctional facility for a while. The Irishman was cynical at first but he´s never been hit by such power. The Kid is full of rage and evil heart. They exchange blows and The Kid´s face gets cut up and The Guru calls time but The Kid begs to finish the three rounds. They do.

At the end of it, the room stinking with rising, visible sweat, The Guru says to the Irishman: “This is the next heavyweight champion of the world”.


The Kid moves to upstate New York to live in a house with The Guru and his wife, an old Ukrainian woman who cooks well and calms The Guru down when he shouts at the TV. The Guru gets straight to work on The Kid, telling him, “I hope you know your mind is not your friend”. The Guru´s from the streets, too. He´s taken punches. He has enemies, internal and external.

The Kid continues to rob, drink and smoke, sometimes from his new friends, but he also gets addicted to the fight game. He trains hard. He studies the greats. He starts to build a persona for himself, stand outside himself and see himself, see how he wants to be when he´s remembered, when his name will echo down through time.

He wants to be immortal. He wants to be feared and loathed. He wants to strike terror into the hearts of his opponents.

Every time he steps into the ring he´s the little kid with the lisp who got bullied and humiliated. That anger, born of total humiliation, will never go away and he clasps it to his soul like fire and makes his fists burn with it. Like a Pitbull he comes out of the corner at the bell flying, swarming, blasting punches into the body and face of his opponent. After his first fight he stands on the prone body of the fallen boxer and salutes the crowd.

The Guru is always watching. He wants no show of emotion. Destroying other fighters is what should happen. The Kid should not be surprised when his supreme skills and ferocious force fell the weaklings put in his path to global renown. This is what should and must happen. This is not to be celebrated, this is simply to be achieved. This is what we know happens. What is going to happen. What has to happen.

“You´re keeping me alive,” The Guru tells The Kid one day. “I never thought I´d get second chance like this. I´d be dead now if it wasn´t for you. Watching you do this is keeping me alive. You´re what I´m living for.”

One day, The Guru tells The Kid, he´d been in a mean fight and had come close to getting destroyed. First few rounds he´d been down and out but his trainer had lifted him off the stool and pushed him out onto the canvas. Something had happened in the third round. Suddenly he´d been up above the ring, looking down, watching the fight. He´d sensed the punches, watching them as if in slow motion. He´d separated his mind from his body; become a machine.

“That is what I want from you,” he told The Kid. “Keep working on it. Automatic. Keep talking to yourself. Telling yourself the things we´ve been saying. You´re gonna have crowds cheering your name. Royalty is gonna want to meet with you. People will fight with each other to carry your mother´s shopping bags. Your name will be known across the globe. You will go down as the greatest fighter who ever lived!”

The Guru, only human, dies with the finish line in sight. His lungs throw in the towel.

The Kid is a fierce mix of grief, determination, momentum and rage. There is no way he will be stopped. He becomes the youngest heavyweight champion of the world but his Guru is not there.

The Kid stands on the top of the world but it´s cold. The view is great but it´s lonely. There´s no-one up there with him. Nowhere to go. Nothing to do.

He stays for a bit, shadow boxes a while, hopes his Guru can see him – although now the clouds are below him, not above – and starts down.