Pewter Rose Press

The Onion Stone

Mandy Pannett

Ardie Davendish advertises for an assistant to help with his research on Shakespeare. When Henry Shakspeare arrives with some new and startling ideas about the authorship no one foresees the consequences that will follow. Ardie and T. Townsend Ellis, friends and rivals from schooldays, have spent a lifetime striving to outdo each other with a literary ‘scoop’ about Shakespeare. And Henry begins to play them against each other.

Interwoven with the modern rivalry is an Elizabethan love story showing the mystery and scandal surrounding Gilbert Shakespeare and Anne Cecil, the unhappy wife of the Earl of Oxford. Secrets about the identity of Shakespeare are gradually revealed, leading to the final revelation.

Read an extract here.

What people think of The Onion Stone

"I’ve known Mandy for a long while now online as a superlative poet; well known for both her intensely erudite yet accessible poetry that draws its inspiration from the earliest poets to the modern day, and also as a respected and sought after judge for poetry competitions. I had no idea she wrote prose as well. If I’d thought about it, I’d have assumed she would write absorbing text books on Anglo Saxon poetic forms, or maybe intriguing new insights into Shakespeare’s sonnets. I’d have been part right, as ‘The Onion Stone’ has the age old question of who really wrote William Shakespeare’s works as one of its themes, but it is so much more than merely a re-hash of the latest theories woven into some sort of a detective story. Goodness knows enough authors have been down that road. No, what Mandy Pannett does here is something quite different. She has created an utterly absorbing tale of two women; Anne Cecil and Frances Goodbody; one young but centuries old, the other elderly but living today. Both have to deal with monsters – Anne with Edward De Vere, Earl of Oxford, and Frances with her appalling husband Ardie, along with an old lover who has his own streak of destructiveness – Ellis. Ardie and Ellis were friends (or thought they were) in their youth, but a combination of professional and personal jealousy has soured them and turned the once brilliant young men into vicious old ones. And then there’s Gilbert, but you’ll find no spoilers here, so I won’t say any more about him. Amongst the intriguing dramatis personae there is also the somewhat creepy Henry Shakspeare in the present day, and the long suffering William Cecil, Lord Burghley, in the past, who for me is one of the more sympathetic characters. So what happens when a poet writes a novel? Does she slip into rhyming couplets? Become wholly obscure? No, not even slightly. The poet creeps into the writing through the sense of place, the wonderful though brief descriptions of Sussex, Warwickshire, London etc. This feel for the countryside along with the pace of the story-telling put me in mind, quite randomly, of Margery Allingham. On the other hand, the depth of characterisation is much more Iris Murdoch. And running through it all, there’s more than a hint of Virginia Woolf. Three very different writers. Put them together, stir well, and out comes Mandy Pannett wearing her novelist’s hat. The only problem I have with this book is the length. It is far too short. I wanted it to be four times as long so that all the themes could be developed further. I wanted more scenes in both the present and the past; I particularly wanted to witness conversations between Anne and Gilbert, and between Anne and Edward, but in a little under 200 pages, there just isn’t room. I wanted to read Frances’ book. Maybe Mandy will write that next. And I definitely wanted to give Ardie and Ellis a good slap."

Catherine Edmunds

"‘People love their mysteries’ thinks one of Mandy Pannett’s characters in The Onion Stone, and her novel holds several of them. What was the nature of the relationship, dating back to their university years in the 1930s, of Ardie, Frances and the third member of their triangle, their friend Ellis? How are the consequences of that relationship playing out in the present? Who will win the ultimate prize and write the book revealing the real Shakespeare? Can Ardie’s new assistant, Henry Shakspeare, be the great playwright’s true descendant? And, in a second narrative, snaking through the first, we have the Tudor mystery itself: who was the real Shakespeare? Working through multiple voices, internal and external, past and present, the author leads us through the puzzle.
The two principle twentieth century characters are an ageing academic couple, conscious of time passing, of their fading powers. After many years of marriage their relationship is now made up of a mix of irritation and affection interspersed with poignant wisps of longing for the passion of time past. The interwoven sixteenth century chapters are extracts from letters and journals of key protagonists and anonymous onlookers, of ‘tumbling boys’ and noble ladies. Mandy Pannett is a published poet and she clearly revels in sixteenth century prose, which glitters with the rich imagery reminiscent of literature of that period. Her writing fully inhabits the world of Tudor England without falling into the trap of heavy pastiche. She has a light touch and her use of short chapters and good pacing pulls the reader effortlessly towards the final revelations.
Themes are reflected back and forth between the time spans. We think of the Tudor era as a time of intrigue yet a leading university college may hold ambitions equally intense within its walls today. A noble lady in an arranged marriage in the sixteenth century may have had less freedom than a highly educated twentieth century woman, yet both have to manoeuvre within their social confines. Themes of envy, rivalry, love and disillusion are reflected in both eras and the intense passions of the past still have an impact down the centuries. This novel of just under 200 pages encompasses a greater expanse of time and ideas than many much heavier tomes, while remaining a highly enjoyable novel."

Caroline Maldonado

Let fame, that all hunt after in their lives,
Live registered upon our brazen tombs
"Those words, spoken by the King at the opening of Love’s Labours Lost, kept resonating in my head as I read this highly engaging new novel, for in different ways, all of its chief protagonists are driven by the pursuit of fame: two rival academics vie to be the recognised authority on the authorship of the works ascribed to William Shakespeare; one of them has a long-suffering wife who, though recognised in academic circles, has been overshadowed by her husband’s celebrity and secretly yearns to be recognised as a novelist in her own right; a research assistant stakes his claim to fame by announcing a startling ancestry - and further back, for the novel alternates between the 21st and 16th centuries - we have a William Shakespeare who appears to secure the reputation he has enjoyed for nearly 450 years in a most unexpected way.Disputes about the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays have rumbled on for a very long time. Alternative candidates have included Francis Bacon, a mysteriously resurrected Christopher Marlowe and, of course, Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford, the latter having a significant part in this new story. But in an ingeniously constructed plot, Mandy Pannett comes up with another potential candidate – and a very surprising one at that. It would be unfair for a reviewer to reveal the twists and turns of the literary whodunit or the teasingly ambiguous conclusion. Suffice to say that the way in which the author layers the accumulation of evidence and surmise across two very different centuries is genuinely suspenseful. In the narrative of the modern world, the voice is that of the author as storyteller, whilst the events of the sixteenth century are revealed in a series letters and diary entries. This requires two very different styles of writing and Mandy Pannett reveals an extraordinarily good ear for the rhythms, cadences and inflexions of Elizabethan English alongside her ability to tell a clear, modern story. In a relatively short novel of just under 200 pages, there is a particular challenge for the writer : how to make the characters (the 21st century ones, at least) rounded human beings and not merely instruments of the plot. For the most part, Mandy Pannett manages this adroitly, giving her central protagonists a shared back-story relevant to the present and weaving around important events the kind of domestic detail that makes the reader feel ‘there’ - paying attention to the weather, for instance, or noticing birds hopping in the garden. If there is a bit of an indulgence, it is in the detailed description of the visit to an exhibition of classic cars at Brighton. True, it gives the irascible Ardie a rare opportunity to be in a good mood and his wife an opportunity to reflect whilst he is engrossed – but I felt that here the author was lovingly describing an experienced event which was fairly tangential to the plot. Not to quibble, however: The Onion Stone is a well-written and thoroughly engaging novel with a vital subject at its heart."

Paul Ward

"I'm left with a kaleidoscopic impression of a dreamlike dual-time story, with parallels and motifs that reflect back and forth in a gradual revelation of one cleverly-imagined solution to an age-old mystery."

Rebecca Tope

"Who was the real Shakespeare? This intriguing story is full of surprises and is beautifully written in modern and Elizabethan English. The author brings together a few eccentric old academics and weaves her tale round their past love affairs, their ambitions, rivalries, secrets and failures. I strongly recommend this book."

Susan Skinner

"This is not just another 'who was Shakespeare' book.  It is a novel that works on several levels, telling stories of ambition, intrigue and greed, love, sacrifice and loss within a beautifully structured framework.  The author moves with uncanny ease back and forth between the 20th and the 16th centuries;  this is due to her love of history and accurate research but also to crisp narration and an ability to make what is imagined (often in real settings) very tangible for the reader."

Pansy Maurer-Alvarez

"Mandy Pannett draws the threads – those of long-burning rivalry, those of passion and jealousy – from both modern academic circles and from the 16th century of Shakespeare's world. She weaves them together into an intriguing tapestry, spices them with historical revelation and a cry for recognition from long-hidden descendants. Finally she draws the threads together for the finale, reminds us that 'All the world's a stage' and in masterful delivery makes you pleased, that just for a while, we watched the players on an intricate stage."

Douglas Pugh

"In The Onion Stone Mandy Pannett has written an extraordinary story. The plot gathers pace with an interweaving of the sixteenth and twentieth centuries as intricate as the knotwork that she creates in the lives of the protagonists, and with great scholarly knowledge she draws us into a tale of intrigue, counter-intrigue, treachery, love, rivalry, loss – and questions about the identity of the greatest playwright England has known (but possible answers do not alight on the usual suspects). The author's ear for language is perfectly attuned to the Elizabethan era. When I came to the end I wasn't sure what was fact and what was fiction; but I knew that all of it was intelligent and gripping. This is a rich and wide-ranging read, much bigger than its length in terms of pages."

Roselle Angwin

"Conflict and conspiracy in the academic world; a multi-layered tale of mystery and intrigue, claim and counter claim, infidelity and loyalty, thwarted hopes and lost dreams, complex and flawed characters spanning centuries and connected by a claim from Henry Shakspeare that he is a descendant of Gilbert Shakespeare.
The Onion Stone is a compelling jigsaw of character conflict with Frances, her husband Ardie, and Ellis in a love triangle to mirror the historical ménage a trios of Anne Cecil, her husband the Earl of Oxford, and Gilbert Shakespeare.
Ardie and Ellis are childhood friends whose friendship later turns into rivalry in the academic world, particularly over the question of the identity of Shakespeare, and in their love of one woman - Frances.
For Ellis "the very thought of [Ardie and Frances] hurt like splinters." Ellis has become a slightly reclusive, almost a Morse-like character, self-contained, obsessed with work but still yearning for a lost love, "a girl with rain in her hair". Ardie's charismatic youth has collapsed into a compulsive preoccupation over his rivalry with Ellis. Between the two men, Frances struggles to find her own recognition that has been so long subordinate to her husband Ardie's career. The characters of Ardie, Frances and Ellis are believable and engaging to the point where it felt like they needed told off and that more than one of them was in need of a shake - especially Ardie.
The language of the Shakespearean extracts is poetical and lyrical as well as very accessible to the modern reader. The Earl of Oxford comes across as a selfish, thoughtless, ruthless character, but a man of his time nonetheless. ... The cruelty and brutality of the times is apparent where women are pawns in marriage and life is lived precariously. The inter-woven intrigue between past and present is excellent and gives depth to the story.
There are some tantalizing questions in both storylines. ... Most importantly, who is the real author of the Shakespearean plays and sonnets?
Although aspects of The Onion Stone are open-ended, the unanswered questions leave the reader thinking about the book long after they have finished reading it, which leads me to hope that a sequel will soon be on its way. These characters are crying out to be heard further."

Eilidh Thomas

"I could write fifty adjectives praising this book but I will just say that I was genuinely surprised by this debut novel from an incredibly gifted author. It only took a couple of pages for me to feel completely at home with the principal characters. I love the story set in the 16th and 20th centuries, the Shakespearean mystery and the way the author describes everyday events to which I can relate. What an imagination. What an ending! I would recommend it to anyone. An outstanding debut novel and I look forward to reading her next book when she writes it. I will be first in the queue."

Charles Gaan

"Two academics locked into rivalry, personal and professional; a young man claiming descent from the Shakespeare ... who really wrote the plays; a compilation of Tudor documents – these are the ingredients of Mandy Pannett’s intriguing story.
Onion stone, a type of marble with a layered effect, is an apt title for this tale in which the present is laminated over layers of the past, a past that shifts and shimmers.
It’s difficult to like Ardie Davendish and T. Townsend Ellis, the professors whose bitter academic arguments stem from personal choices made decades ago.
‘Why can’t you combine on this one? Get together for once and bury your differences.’ is Francis Davendish’s complaint.
Despite his own obsessions, ‘You cannot bind me with the past,’ is Ellis’s retort.
Intertwined with the contemporary story come glimpses of the Tudor world, a world where the story truly begins. In tantalising prose, Mandy Pannett presents us with Gilbert Shakespeare, with Anne Cecil, sad daughter of Lord Burghley, and the Earl of Oxford, her discontented husband.
The end of the story adroitly connects past and present though whether these links constitute Truth, only the reader can decide."

Heather Shaw