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Publication date: January 2019
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Billy's a clone of William Shakespeare. So is Bill. Neither of them know that the other one exists. Today they're going to meet.

Shakespeare clone and would-be playwright Billy has just arrived in an English seaside town with his sister Sally, who was cloned from a hair found on the back of a bus seat. All Billy wants is a cheap B&B, an ice cream, and a huge hit in the West End. Little does he know that their fellow clones Bill and Sal are also residents of this town. Things are about to get confusing. This modern update of The Comedy of Errors is what you get when Gods Behaving Badly author Marie Phillips decides to write an important, scholarly work about the life of William Shakespeare, reads the complete works, including the long poems nobody likes, and then decides to turn it into a short, silly farce that you can probably finish reading in an afternoon with two tea breaks.

Marie Phillips is the author of the international bestseller Gods Behaving Badly, and The Table of Less Valued Knights (longlisted for the Baileys Prize). With Robert Hudson, she wrote the BBC Radio 4 series Warhorses of Letters, which was also a successful Unbound book, and Some Hay in a Manger. Under the name Vanessa Parody, she and some friends who prefer to remain anonymous wrote Fifty Shelves of Grey, a spoof of Fifty Shades of Grey that was surprisingly popular in Russia.

"As if Jane Austen were rewriting Terry Pratchett" - The Guardian.

At the far end of the not very large town, Billy and his sister Sally had just stepped off the train. Although Sally was smaller than Billy, she was wearing the oversized rucksack, while Billy dragged the case on wheels, because of Billy's back. There was nothing wrong with Billy's back, but it was important that it stayed that way.

"What do you think?" said Billy.

They looked around the station car park. There were several parked cars, and a cab rank with a waiting cab, the window half rolled down and a curl of cigarette smoke emanating above the No Smoking sticker on the glass. Here and there the tarmac was cracked and some weeds poked through. There was a thin layer of sand on top of everything, and an angry seagull sitting on top of a lamp post, although seagulls always looked angry, thought Billy. He wondered whether this counted as an original observation.

"Nice," said Sally, which was the right answer. Billy smiled.

"Why don't you take the bags," he said, "and find us a B&B. I'll head to the beach, soak up the atmosphere, get the old creativity going. Rolling," he corrected himself, liking the feel of the word on his tongue, thinking it was a better word, and then changing his mind, 'going' was better, less try-hard.

Sally headed off up the hill into town, the huge rucksack above her short, stocky legs making her look like a dung beetle, thought Billy. Although didn't dung beetles carry the dung balls upside-down? Maybe he meant another type of beetle. A scarab. But then beetles' legs were spindly, not stocky. No matter what the type. So he probably didn't mean a beetle at all. She just looked like Sally, carrying a big rucksack, and dragging a wheelie case behind her.

The beach wasn't far from the station. Even on a Friday, it was packed, it being the school holidays. Billy stood at the top of the strand wondering whether or not to take his trainers off. Walking on the beach in shoes felt wrong, but he hated putting his socks and shoes back on over sandy feet, and he could never get all the sand off no matter how much he tried. Then the sand would get everywhere in his hotel room, and later, if they moved into a flat, it would somehow get there too, spreading and spreading like… Germs? Butter? The Chinese? No, that was appallingly racist. He decided to take his shoes and socks off anyway. If he wasn't going to feel the sand beneath his feet, he may as well not have come.

He walked towards the water. The sand wasn't yet hot enough to burn. He enjoyed the way it felt, the soft yielding and yet the firmness beneath, the slight crunch. He scanned the horizon, took in the rise and fall of the waves, the pounding as they hit the shore, the inchoate cries of the seagulls as they swooped above - yes, he told himself, yes, this is it, finally, the place where I can write! But it was impossible to ignore the all-too-choate sounds of the human beings around him, babies screaming, kids demanding ice creams, teenagers pleading to go to the arcade, husbands and wives arguing over who forgot to bring the sunscreen. Also, he wasn't sure that choate was a word. It should be. If Shakespeare can make up words, he thought, so can I.

This made him think of his mother. He checked the pockets of his shorts. He had just enough change either for an ice cream or for a postcard and a stamp. He did send his mother postcards so that she would know he was still alive. He tried to choose ones that were vague enough, that gave the name of the county, rather than the specific town he was staying in. He never wrote much on the postcards. He couldn't bear to think of her analysing them, the way she used to with his school essays, comparing them to him: the original Shakespeare. A few generic phrases were enough. So that she would know he hadn't bothered to try.


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Wednesday, 14 February 2018

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So just to reassure you, the process is underway, it just takes longer than you…

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