Today is release day for my novel In the Mouth of the Wolf – hooray!
The book is a re-release of A Year of Light and Shadows, with a fresh new cover that I love. I decided to change the title, too, to reflect the fact that one of the big themes of the story is superstition.
I’m not a superstitious person – or at least, that’s what I tell people. In fact, I do have some secret superstitions. I’d never put a pair of shoes on a table, for example. I hadn’t heard of that superstition until a friend’s mouth dropped in horror when she saw me put a box containing new shoes on my kitchen table. I laughed off her dismay. After all, it sounds ridiculous. What difference could it make? But then bad luck dogged me, not just for days, but the following years were some of the unhappiest years of my life. Now I make quite sure no pair of shoes ever touches a table in my house.
Actors are renowned for their superstitions, and so are the Scots. My heroine, Lizzie, is a Scottish actress, and Macbeth is the play she’s rehearsing with her theatre group. Right from the start, Lizzie feels the play is bringing bad luck. She tells the hero, Léon:
‘It’s well known the play is cursed. For us actors, it’s a nightmare. We have to remember not to say the name “Macbeth” in rehearsals, because if we do, something terrible is bound to happen. We have to call it “the Scottish play” instead. And if any of the actors forget, they have to go outside the rehearsal room, turn round three times, and knock on the door to be let back in.’
Later in the story, one of the actors does say the name “Macbeth” backstage by mistake – and even though she goes through the ritual of knocking, bad luck surely follows…
As I was writing this story, I grew more and more curious to know why actors are so superstitious about this play. Here are some of the things I’ve discovered.
Some actors believe the spells in the play are actual spells used by witches in Shakespeare’s day. There’s a legend that a coven of witches were so enraged by this, they cursed the play for all time. If you’ve ever been to see Macbeth, you’ll know the witches can be terrifying when they first appear out of the mist, and the words they speak are chilling. It’s easy to see how this superstition grew up.
And it’s true that bad luck dogged Macbeth from the first. Shakespeare wrote the play especially for King James, who was Scottish and a believer in witchcraft – but the King hated the play so much he banned it, and it wasn’t performed again for five years. There are many accidents
associated with the performance of the play. Stories go that in the very first production, a prop dagger was replaced with a real one, and an actor died. In 1947, the English actor Harold Norman – who didn’t believe in the superstition – was accidentally stabbed during the performance and later died of his wound. There have been lethal riots, fires, broken limbs, and when Laurence Olivier himself played the part of Macbeth, he was almost killed when a heavy weight dropped to the stage, narrowly missing him.
Of course there are more prosaic reasons why the play attracts such bad luck. There are more fight scenes in Macbeth than any other Shakespeare play, and – since it’s now over 400 years old – it’s inevitable that there will be a number of accidents and tragedies associated with it.
My hero, Léon, certainly doesn’t believe in the superstition. Léon‘s mother was Italian, and he uses a phrase that sums up his philosophy on superstition exactly:
‘Do you know how we say “break a leg” in Italian?’ I shook my head, and he told me, ‘In bocca al lupo. It means “In the mouth of the wolf.” And if ever someone wishes you good luck in this way, you must never say “thank you,” because that is guaranteed to bring you bad luck. You must answer only crepi il lupo. It means “to hell with the wolf.”’
‘To hell with the wolf’ – I love that expression! It’s perfect for Léon, because he’s seldom afraid of anything…except for Lizzie’s safety, which becomes clear as the story progresses.
The saying ‘In the mouth of the wolf’ comes from the fact that female wolves carry their young in their mouths to protect them. The person saying it is wishing someone safe-keeping. It’s a lovely expression!
In the mouth of the Wolf is available here on Amazon for Kindle and in paperback. Here is the blurb:
When actress Lizzie Smith is asked to stand in for a real Mediterranean princess, she’s thrust into a world of intrigue and danger. Alone in a palace by the sea, isolated from her friends, Lizzie is forced to rely on her quiet bodyguard, Léon, to guide her. But who is Léon really protecting? Lizzie … or the princess?
On her return to Scotland, Lizzie begins rehearsals for Macbeth … and finds danger is stalking her through the streets of Edinburgh. Lizzie is once again forced to turn to Léon, for help – and discovers a secret he’d do anything not to reveal.
From the heat of the Mediterranean to the atmospheric, winding streets of Edinburgh, In the Mouth of the Wolf will take you on a journey of mystery and romance. Perfect for fans of Mary Stewart, Victoria Holt and Daphne du Maurier.
Do you have any superstitions, or any particular superstitious sayings you use? Do you know of any curious superstitions in other countries? If you have any comments at all, I’d love to hear from you!