Photo credits: The “standing stone photo” and “spiral stone photo” are both of the Long Meg stone in Cumbria, and have not been published elsewhere. The second “castle photo” is of Helmsley Castle, and it was published originally with another interview with YATopia.
Meet Amber Elby.
Amber Elby is a Shakespeare fangirl and the author of Cauldron’s Bubble, a fantasy YA retelling of Macbeth, Hamlet, and The Tempest. She was born in Grand Ledge, Michigan but spent much of her childhood in the United Kingdom enjoying Bagpuss the cat and Flower Faeries. She began writing when she was three years old and created miniature books by asking her family how to spell every… single… word. Several years later, she saw her first Shakespearean comedy, Much Ado About Nothing, in London. In fourth grade, she won her first writing award for a fairy tale about a girl who fell into a magical well and was rescued by a talking swan. In fifth grade, she met her future husband in German class but has little memory of him and no memory of German; they began dating many years later at the relatively older age of seventeen. Upon graduation, she studied Creative Writing at Michigan State University’s Honors College before earning her Master of Fine Arts degree in Screenwriting at the University of Texas at Austin. She currently resides in Texas with her husband and two feisty daughters and spends her time teaching college, traveling domestically and abroad, and getting lost in imaginary worlds. She still enjoys Bagpuss the cat and Flower Faeries. Her favorite Disney princess is Rapunzel; her favorite biscuits/cookies are Bourbon Creams; her favorite tea is Yorkshire Gold; and her favorite spelling of “favorite” actually includes a “u.”
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Let’s start with something fun. List five fun facts about Shakespeare. Go!
William Shakespeare might have died on his birthday (the exact dates of his birth and death aren’t recorded, so this is based on the records of his baptism and funeral).
Shakespeare had a son named Hamnet who died when he was eleven, several years before Hamlet was first performed.
In his will, Shakespeare left his “second best bed” to his wife, Anne Hathaway. Some people mistakenly think this was an insult, but it was probably his wedding bed and was a romantic gesture.
There’s a recreation of Anne Hathaway’s cottage in Epcot in Walt Disney World. It serves as a Twining’s Tea shop called The Tea Caddy.
Shakespeare is the most widely credited source in the Oxford English Dictionary, but it is unclear if he actually created the words in question or if he simply was the first to use them in a lasting way.
(Bonus fun fact!) There were no toilets in Elizabethan theatres, so groundlings simply went where they stood. The theatres were packed, so it was quite common to leave a performance with a wet leg.
Describe using five words your experience of seeing Much Ado About Nothing for the first time.
I didn’t get the jokes.
Why do you think the classics deserve attention, especially now, in the literature world?
In the United States, literature has been pushed aside as our education system has become more focused on high-stakes testing and STEM fields, so it is not uncommon for students to graduate high school without ever reading an entire book. This is morally and educationally irresponsible. How do we expect young people to know how to navigate life if their only experience comes from the real world? All literature – especially classics – prepare students for the trials of adulthood by showing “what ifs” and guiding readers to happy endings. When you read classics, you learn how to live in the future by examining the past.
Was Cauldron’s Bubble meant to be a YA all along or did it transition as you wrote and edited into that age range?
I first developed the idea for Cauldron’s Bubble when I taught ninth grade English at the Liberal Arts and Science Academy in Austin, so I wrote it for young teens who had never read Shakespeare. I had hoped that my nine-year-old daughter, who was a reluctant reader, would enjoy it someday; I was surprised when she read it shortly after publication because it was the longest book she had ever read, and I’m proud that it helped her become a more avid reader. There are quite a few “mom fans” of Cauldron’s Bubble, too, and I have heard many complaints from children about parents stealing their book, so it does appeal to all ages. Plus there are some Shakespeare references that Bard fans will hopefully appreciate and young readers won’t understand until they’re older.
Tell us your journey on self-publishing publishing Cauldron’s Bubble and how it come to be?
I live in Austin, Texas, which is a city of entrepreneurs and independent thinkers. I am lucky to have many artist friends who create, produce, and sell their own work. I knew when I was developing Cauldron’s Bubble that I wanted substantial creative control, so I became involved with a start-up publishing cooperative called Verdopolis Press. It is basically a collective of highly educated, selfless individuals who work together to edit and revise written works. At the end of this rigorous process, the books are printed on demand and distributed to local bookstores and online to international booksellers. It operates as an Indie Press but allows writers to have more authority in the creation process.
Can you share anything about your next book releasing this autumn?
The sequel to Cauldron’s Bubble is called Double Double Toil. It begins six months after Cauldron’s Bubble on the summer solstice, so the first chapter is entitled “Midsummer Night’s Dream.” I don’t want to provide too many spoilers, but I will say that Alda meets Puck within the first ten pages.
Is there anything you’d like to share with the readers today?
All of my chapter titles are taken directly from Shakespeare’s plays, and I love intertwining Shakespeare’s words with my own descriptions and dialogue. I also draw inspiration from my life and from my family, so the name “Alda” is derived from a combination of my daughters’ names, and my husband is my primary source for Dreng’s worldview and internal angst. Even though my immediate family helped during the creation of Cauldron’s Bubble, I didn’t tell most of my friends that I was writing until it was published, and I didn’t tell my mother about it, even though we are close, until I handed her a printed copy. I know that keeping it secret was the best choice because now I have to refuse my friends’ requests for secrets about the future books, and I am not especially good at keeping secrets.