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Book One: The Hands Behind Shakespeare's Pen

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To Pluck a Crow

Character Sketches

Sarah Churchill

Twenty-six years old, Sarah is a Canadian Masters Student whose thesis centres on the historical Mary Sidney Herbert and the close relationship she had with her brother, Philip Sidney, the famous courtier to Queen Elizabeth I, writer and poet.  Sarah is a self-defined "bookworm" and she is not to be underestimated.  When she gets the chance to do research in England, she jumps at it.  There she meets her match, Janek, who works at the British Library, and also has an interest in the Sidney siblings.  The two form an alliance in their mutual research, while searching for clues about Mary's secret life.  Could she and Philip have written some of the works later ascribed to William Shakespeare?   Their quest leads them through the British countryside, where danger and romance ensue, as they are followed by unknown "watchers".

Janek Wieczorek

Also in his late twenties, Janek is of Polish ancestry. Librarian at the British Library by day, sleuth by night, his private research has led him to believe that Mary Sidney Herbert and her brother Philip are the "hands behind the pen of Shakespeare".  When he offers to help Sarah, the two quickly become friends, or is it more than that?  Things become complicated quite quickly.  Janek has been threatened and followed for many months because of his research.  Now Sarah, by association, is being harassed, beginning with the theft of her laptop. Though Janek has a high-powered girlfriend, Sybil, he finds himself drawn to Sarah, who is also beginning to develop feelings for him.  The two journey to Carisbrooke Castle on the Isle of Wight, hot on the trail of a historical clue to Mary Sidney's real life, but they are followed by two characters and there their lives take a turn….


Janek and Sybil have been involved romantically for close to three years before Sarah enters on the scene.  Though we do not actually hear from her, we hear about her, through Janek and others.  Sybil is a high profile person, with a rich father, and she works in the public relations and event planning industry, organizing galas and fundraisers for large organizations such as Doctors Without Borders.  She is fashionable, expects Janek to fit into her lifestyle, and is basically quite unavailable to him, due to her jet-setting career and lifestyle.   She is bothered by Janek's intellectual obsession about the Shakespeare Authorship debate and generally does not seem very interested in the things he is passionate about.  Yet he feels he is content to carry on with the relationship….that is until he meets Sarah.

Mary Sidney Herbert

The heroine of the tale, we flashback to see Mary first as a young girl, then as a married woman and subsequently as a developing writer coached on by her poet brother, Philip.  We follow her to Elizabeth I's court, gaining a  glimpse into another time and place in history.  We see Mary forming a writers' conglomerate, the famous Wilton Circle of Writers, which boasts many of the best writers of the day.  She and Philip write plays together, based on their life circumstances, and these look very much like Shakespeare's works.  In fact, their lives parallel some of the plays.  We watch as Mary develops into a brilliant woman, as educated and worldly-wise as Queen Elizabeth herself, but outmatching her with a heart as big as the known world, fed by her brother Philip's travels and insights.  We witness a woman blossoming into a powerful writer, chronicling her times with its intrigues, romance and political wrangling.

Philip Sidney

Though history has painted him as a respected courtier and writer, we are shown other dimensions to the complicated Philip, with his sorrows in love and a disappointing career.  He feels thwarted at every turn.  It seems his only solace is in spending time creating plays with his younger sister, Mary, who has married one of his best friends.  We see Philip torn by the politics of his day, caught between his relationship with the Queen and her lover, his uncle "Robin" or Robert Dudley. He has a burning need to promote his fervently held Protestant beliefs while his romantic poet's soul fights for expression.   

Elizabeth I

We see the Queen in a different light, from the perspective of the book's main historical characters, Mary Sidney-Herbert and Philip, their parents and their famous uncle Robert Dudley, the Queen's lover, her "Robin".  Although very manipulative, we see reasons for this trait, her fears and insecurities, her great disappointments in love and her childhood history, through the eyes of those who really knew her.

Story Behind the Story:  The "Watchers"

The other main characters are the two "watchers" who are tasked with following Janek and then Sarah, to insure that they either abandon their curiosity about Mary and Philip Sidney, or, at the very least, lead the watchers to clues about the Sidney siblings' real identities.  Someone else has commissioned these two watchers.  This mysterious person does not want Sarah and Janek to get the "glory" for their discovery of Shakespeare's true identity, a feat that would knock the literary world off its feet.  This someone is willing to steal valuable clues from Sarah and Janek, to gain the recognition and the power that this knowledge could bring.  Such is their investment in this discovery, that the watchers are ordered to harm our heroes if they find it necessary. 

The book's chapters alternate between the present and the past, weaving a curious story that spans centuries.  You will find mystery, history, romance and intrigue in these pages. 

Why the title?  The expression "to pluck a crow" originated in the thirteenth century and was used in one of Shakespeare's plays.  Its meaning, to resolve a conflict, fits with this story, where the author presents an alternate history to answer the question "who was the real Shakespeare," a mystery that interests many people to this day.