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Interview with Ezra Harker Shaw

     Today, I have the pleasure of interviewing Ezra Harker Shaw. Ezra Harker Shaw is the author of the upcoming novel, The Aziola's Cry, which will be released on May 7, 2024. Ezra Harker Shaw gives us insights into the lives of two legendary figures, Percy and Mary Shelley. These two lovers lived a life of literature and love while being on the run from a world that has often misunderstood them! Thank you, Ezra Harker Shaw!

What drew your interest in the love story of Mary and Percy Shelley?

When I was about sixteen years old, I lived in Dublin. I'd dropped out of school and I was drifting without any real direction in my life. I used to wander down Nassau street in the mornings on my way to the internet cafe where I would write to my friends and work on stories. There was a lovely little bookshop I often used to pop into, and one day, quite on a whim, I bought a thin Dover Thrift edition of Percy Shelley's poems for 2€. 

Over the years I kept dipping into it: I loved the magic and fantasy in his works that's evident from first glance, and when I read them deeper I was fascinated by the philosophy behind the words. 

After a few years I found myself where I belonged -- as a university student studying English Literature. I attended a lecture on Frankenstein and learned that Mary Shelley was the wife of the poet I loved.  It was given a lot of time in the lecture, just a detail quickly passed over, but the idea of these two amazing writers working side by side, maybe discussing their work, absolutely fascinated me. I can remember sitting in that lecture. I wanted to know what that relationship was, to imagine what those conversations might have been.  

How did you conduct your research on the Shelleys? Was there anything that surprised you?

I started writing a PhD thesis on their creative collaborations, so I was looking at their manuscripts, reading academic works, and biographies. One thing that really pleased me was seeing their different handwriting on the same page using the same pen, and, judging by where the ink ran thin, writing at the same time. What a special relationship that must have been, to share your work with someone as you were writing it, with no embarrassment or need to get it right. There are a couple of occasions where the handwriting switches in the middle of a sentence. 

What were the challenges of The Aziola’s Cry?

I didn't just want to get the truth of their stories, I wanted to get some sense of their voices in my writing. I read all their letters and creative writings so their vocabulary and syntax was instinctive to me. This book certainly isn't an attempt at an exact recreation of their voices, because it is a twenty-first century novel, and I've written it with a modern reader in mind, but I did want to give some flavour of their voices in my narrative. 

Finding those narrative voices certainly took quite a lot of trial and error!

What is your perception of how Frankenstein changed the horror genre? How much of Mary Shelley’s pivotal work influenced writers in the 1800s?

I regularly give lectures on the history of Gothic literature, and in these I cannot over-emphasize the significance of Frankenstein. Frankenstein starts as a conventional Gothic novel, and then suddenly everything changes, because the 'monster' gets to speak. So much of subsequent Gothic and Horror has had that sympathy-for-the-devil, right through to today's Goth culture. 

What were the most heart-wrenching events that the Shelleys experienced that touched you personally?

Mary Shelley's depression at the loss of her children really struck my heart. I've deliberately presented this difficult time for her from a modern understanding of mental health. When I read her writings from this time, especially her novel Matilda, I found the attitude there very familiar. 

With all of the tragedies, the Shelleys are known for a successful marriage until Percy Shelley’s untimely death. Why do you think their story has captured the hearts of so many? 

In later years, their marriage was definitely under strain. Mary's prolonged depression and Percy's energetic nature were at odds, and they certainly weren't always happy. I think one of the great tragedies of their love story is that they were torn apart at a time when they needed reconciliation. 

People love a love story, and these are two incredible people, two of the greatest writers in the English language tradition. How can you not be fascinated by them? 

How did Lord Byron influence the writings of both Mary and Percy Shelley?

Byron is a fascinating figure in the Shelley story. He's larger than life, a celebrity and a literary titan who the Shelleys suddenly find themselves swept up with. Although Byron and Percy Shelley were especially close, I think Byron has more of a positive influence upon Mary Shelley. Percy Shelley is an idealist, and optimist battling against a world that often lets him down, while Byron is very cynical. Shelley's poem, “Julian and Maddalo”, is a fictionalized version of the two of them arguing about how they see the world. 

I believe Mary and Byron actually had quite a similar outlook, although she definitely disapproved of some of his more debauched behaviour. He encouraged her, was incredibly impressed by Frankenstein, and she helped him with transcriptions of his works after her daughter's death. 

His friendship was invaluable to them both. 

Do you think Mary Shelley overshadowed Percy Shelley or are they both equally celebrated in literary history?

These days, yes, Mary overshadows Percy. For most of their history, it's been Percy Shelley in the spotlight, and Mary wasn't really seriously studied. There will always be an element of fashion in who is read and studied when, and I think that pendulum will keep swinging! 

With so many novels on the Shelleys, what unique qualities does The Aziola’s Cry brings to readers?

The poetry was incredibly important to me, as it presents the Shelley story in his medium as much as hers, and it gives an opportunity to express what these two are really feeling, in a space of imagination beyond daily reality. 

Most important to me is that the novel is a balanced telling, weighing both sides of the Shelley story and favouring neither over the other. 

What is your next project?

Mary After Shelley is the title of my next book. The Aziola's Cry is only the story of their marriage; I really want to share Mary's incredible life after Percy's death, because it's so much richer than most people know, and I think some of what she gets up to will really surprise people!

About Ezra Harker Shaw:

     Ezra Harker Shaw lives in London. Ezra Harker Shaw is a poet, playwright, and novelist. While working on their PhD, they explored the writings of both Percy and Mary Shelley, which led the author to write The Aziola's Cry, will be released on May 7, 2024. For more information, please check out the author’s page from History Through Fiction website.


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