In November of 2013, I was madly scribbling my way through a National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) draft of my second novel, A Matter of Time, anxious to hit that 50,000 word goal in the 30 days allotted. I was also high off my recent trip to London, in which I’d not only gotten to visit many famous Regency places I’d read about, but in which I also met and received a high-five from Colin Morgan, the British actor who played Merlin (brilliantly, I might add) on the BBC show of the same name.
I’d had, uh, more than a passing infatuation with the show and its two lead characters, Merlin and Prince Arthur, for nearly a year. I was neck-deep in a fandom, and loving every minute of it. I still do, and still hold great admiration for the acting talents, and yes, the visual appearance of Colin Morgan and Bradley James. So it only seemed fitting, as I typity-type-type-typed my way through chapter after chapter, that I add in characters that might bear more than a passing resemblance to those two fine men. I put them in as a lark, figuring it would amuse my best friend, who was reading what I wrote as fast as I sent it to her. I’d take them out later, surely.
But…but…instead of whittling the characters down, I expanded them. Made them the perfect foil for the occasionally-a-little-too-broody Deveric Mattersley. I gave them names: James Bradley, the Duke of Arthington, and Morgan Collinswood, the Marquess of Emerlin. I added in a few Merlin Easter eggs for anyone who’s seen the show. And I fell in love with them all over again.
They are minor characters, to be true, showing up only occasionally in A Matter of Time. But never fear – each will, at some point in the future, star as the hero in their own book. Because I love them too much to let them go. Here, just for the fun of it, is a small excerpt in which Eliza James meets the Duke and Marquess for the first time:
After a few moments, two gentlemen—one a tall, lanky fellow with a mop of black hair, the other a bit shorter and more muscular, with sandy blonde hair and a square jawline—approached.
“Lady Amara,” the blonde one said. He nodded toward Deveric’s sister, but his sky-blue eyes fixed on Eliza.
Wow, they really knew how to grow them in the Regency.
His exquisitely carved lips parted into a snaggle-toothed smile that somehow rendered him even more appealing; men with perfectly straight, obsessively white teeth always seemed unnatural to her.
She peeked at the taller one. He was perhaps not quite as classically handsome as the blonde, but his wide-set blue eyes crinkled as he greeted Amara, his lips cracking into a grin that revealed dimples to die for.
So – what do you think? Did I do them justice? And if you read A Matter of Time, I’d love to hear what you think – and what kind of women you feel the two men ought to end up with (sorry, Merthur fans – in my future novels, they’re getting the girl!).
Here’s a very brief blurb:
A modern-day Austenite’s dream comes true when she lands in the arms of a Regency duke, only to discover some fantasies aren’t all they’re cracked up to be when he proves less than a Prince Charming.
Ostensibly I went to London to do Regency research for future romance writing. And I did make an effort to see lots of Regency-era things (blogs about that coming soon!). But everybody, including my husband, knew the REAL reason I wanted to go so badly this fall was to see Colin Morgan, who’s currently starring in the play Mojo, playing at the West End’s Harold Pinter Theatre. Anything else was just gravy.
My obsession with Mr. Morgan is a relatively new one. A friend started raving last spring about the series “Merlin” that she’d been watching on Netflix, and how much she loved the title character.
Given that I’ve always had an interest in and an affinity for the Arthurian legends – although it’d been years since I’d read anything – I decided to give the show a go. I quickly fell in love with it. It didn’t hurt that the two lead figures – Merlin and Arthur – are played by the quite handsome actors Colin Morgan and Bradley James. But plenty of other shows have handsome actors. What hooked me so deeply was the caliber of the acting, the sweetness and intensity of their characters’ friendship, and the principles the show espoused.
I have to admit at the beginning I wasn’t sure about Mr. Morgan, this actor my friend couldn’t stop raving about. Yeah, he was cute – but he was so YOUNG! And Mr. James, with that snaggletooth, caught my teenage girl’s affections at first. I still admire Bradley James, think he’s quite handsome, and would love to meet him in real life. He seems like he’d be a lot of fun.
But there’s something about Colin Morgan… some kind of intoxicating charisma he has that few other actors have (at least for me). Maybe it’s that he comes across as more reserved, more introverted, possibly even shy. Maybe it’s his lovely voice. Maybe it’s that he seems, at least from interviews I’ve read and watched, like a genuinely nice guy, but one that holds much of his life close to his vest. I don’t know – there’s an allure there I can’t quite pinpoint.
To my surprise, I started blogging about the show. I started a Pinterest board. And I couldn’t keep my mouth shut on social media, so soon all my Facebook and Twitter friends knew about my obsession. My husband mocked me for behaving like a 14-year-old girl… again. He knew I’d gone gaga in the 1990’s over young Elvis Presley (who, sadly, being long deceased, I had no actual chance of meeting), and then was quite the Twimom in the latter part of the last decade – the initial reawakening, actually, of that silly part of me that does indeed behave occasionally like a fan-struck teenage girl.
But this is the first time I truly considered myself part of a fandom. At 41 years old, happily married and with two kids, I’d become… a fangirl. I clearly wasn’t/am not the only one. My girlfriends and I swooned over Merlin. We scoured the internet for news and pictures of Colin when he was playing Ariel in the Tempest over the summer. When we heard he was starring in a new play, Mojo, this fall along with a number of other big name actors such as Brendan Coyle, Rupert Grint, and Ben Whishaw, my friends and I joked about going to see it. Until one friend stopped joking and announced she was going for real. Then my other friend said she knew it was crazy, but she never ever did stuff like this and she was going to go, too. And the lust for London, a place I’ve always wanted to visit, burned anew.
I started talking up my husband, asking if there were any way I could go with them. I knew it would be expensive. I knew it was crazy. But I really, really wanted to. Unbelievably and extremely luckily for me, he told me he’d ALREADY been planning a trip – he had a paper to give at a conference in London in November, so he’d been working on getting childcare arrangements so that I could come, too! Unluckily for him, I’d spoiled his grand surprise, but I. WAS. ECSTATIC. I was going to LONDON! Sure, I was also going for the research I first mentioned, and I pretty much fangirled out about all those Regency places, too, but this blog is all about the Mojo experience, baby!
Now I admit it was a bit of a tightrope to walk, wanting to freak out about seeing Colin Morgan while not offending my beloved husband. For the most part he was quite patient with me, and I in return did not hang around the theatre as much as I probably would have had I been there with girlfriends. We did, however, walk by it on Monday, the day after arriving, and he kindly took a pic of me in front of the theatre. We ate dinner at the Pizza Express right nearby and hoped for a random star sighting, but no such luck. Oh well – I was still giddy just being there.
On Tuesday afternoon, we stopped by the theater around 5:00 p.m. to pick up our tickets early, before dinner. Peeking down Oxendon Street toward the alley, we saw a few people hanging around. Were they stage dooring already? Waiting for people to go in? I have no idea.
After dinner, we headed back to the theatre. I spied two girls standing down near the stage door, so we went down to quiz them about what they knew regarding stage dooring: how many people were generally here? When did the actors typically come out? Who was regularly appearing? In truth, I wasn’t thinking I would get to stage door – there’s only so much a woman should put her poor husband through, and we had to be up early the next morning for a day trip outside of London. My hubby has never really been a theatre person anyway, and here I was, dragging him to a play featuring only men, knowing that the reason his wife wanted to go was to ogle another man… I mean, really, the guy deserves an award for his patience with nutso me.
Anyway, the girls were Americans, like us. They were there to see Rupert. They answered my questions as well as they could, not knowing much more than I did. The funniest part of my interactions with them came when we were asking who had come out and greeted fans in recent days. They said one night it’d only been the two famous ones. “Colin Morgan?” I asked, and they BURST OUT LAUGHING. One girl said, “He’s not famous.” It cracked me up. I guess one girl’s obsessions is another one’s ‘Who?’ But, yes, girls, he IS famous – maybe not as much in America, but he very well could be. He’s got that, pardon the pun, mojo working in his favor!
Around 6:40 we headed in the front doors of the Harold Pinter Theatre. There was already a small crowd inside, even though seating wouldn’t begin until 7:00 p.m., but it wasn’t too bad. After plunking down the £4 for the program, I walked over to wait by the left side entrance, where our seats were, and chatted with the usher, who was quite friendly. I asked if she had interacted with the actors much, to which she replied, “No, not really – mostly we see them from afar, unless they need something and come up here.” I don’t remember what else we talked about beyond her mentioning that the cast did like to play volleyball. “In the theatre?” I said. “Yes,” she answered. “Sometimes we have to move things around for them.” I confessed I was there mostly to see Colin Morgan. She said he was quite good, especially in the second act.
Soon an Irish girl started chatting with me about how excited she was to be there, too – hooray! Another fan girl! And clearly there were more of us lurking about, as once we got to our seats (which were fantastic, dead center in the stalls on the floor 9 rows back, but then again I’d bought early and paid dearly for them!) I started chatting with the two women to my right – one was a young woman from Southern California who was there to see Ben Whishaw, and the other was another American, probably closer to my age, who said she loved anything Jez Butterworth wrote, but that seeing Brendan Coyle wouldn’t hurt, either. It was hard to contain my excitement – I was actually sitting in the Harold Pinter theatre! I was close to the stage! And I was about to see all these famous people live!
Then the theatre got dark and the curtain went up. And there was Rupert Grint – Ron Weasley to me – on stage. It was bizarre and surreal to see these famous people appear, one by one, right there, on the stage, live!
And here is where I overstepped the fangirl boundaries, much to my shame. I tried to snap some pictures with my iPhone (I thought it might be the only proof I’d have that I’d been there, that I’d seen Colin Morgan live). At intermission, two audience members chided me and an usher came over, telling me I had to delete the photos, which I did immediately. I am a fangirl, people, but I am also by and large a people-pleaser and rule-follower, so I felt awful. I was so contrite. If I could do it all over again, I wouldn’t. I was just an obsessed American fangirl wanting a picture of Mr. Morgan.
O.K., onto the play Mojo itself. What did I think? It was a bit hard for me to follow at times, both because the rapid-fire conversation spoken in accents to which I wasn’t fully accustomed was sometimes difficult to understand, and because the play used lingo and expressions with which I wasn’t familiar. The story line didn’t always make sense to me, either – I wasn’t quite sure how these characters related to each other and didn’t understand the dynamics between some of them.
What I WAS sure of and what I DID understand was that the acting was brilliant. Really, every actor is very, very good – I was impressed with the explosive verbosity of Daniel Mays, with whom I wasn’t personally familiar (although I understand now he’s quite a theatre mainstay). Ben Whishaw was dynamic and dangerously charismatic, all over the place physically and emotionally with his character. Rupert Grint was quite good and funny and played well off Mr. Mays, and Brendan Coyle was a delight to see as a rather brash father figure to the motley group. But it was, of course, Colin who stole the show for me.
I’d read a few reviews and knew his acting was receiving high accolades (not a surprise), that as Skinny he was nothing like his Merlin character, hardly recognizable, and exquisite in his performance. Yes, yes, and yes. I loved how he threw in this tic of squeezing his eyes compulsively. My husband hadn’t noticed, but for me it added to Skinny’s nervous, jumpy character. He was funny and sad at the same time. He cried – real tears – on stage. This always got my friends and me while watching Merlin – his ability to cry, to display such emotion – and it was the same watching him on stage. The final moments with him were both expected and unexpected in the way they were done (refraining from spoilers as much as I can here), and I think everyone in the theatre was moved. Brilliant!, I wanted to shout. I didn’t, though, still feeling quite chastised from the photo debacle.
When friends asked afterwards about the play, this was my short answer: “The acting was excellent! The play itself was just meh.” With apologies to Jez Butterworth and with full awareness that maybe I just didn’t ‘get it’, that’s the reaction I still have. There were hilarious parts, for sure. Perhaps it was accent/lingo barriers, perhaps it’s because I was admittedly distracted by trying to focus mostly on Mr. Morgan, but I had a hard time getting the relationships between some of the characters and understanding why some of them behaved as they did. But that’s O.K. – I don’t have to get the play to get the fact that I witnessed really excellent acting by all involved. Also, yes, the 14-year-old in me was awestruck by Colin Morgan’s naked legs in the first act and his bare shoulders in the second. There, I said it. The man is buff, although I’d still like to fatten him up with some pasta or something, as he is, true to his character, quite skinny. 🙂
As the actors left the stage, the curtain came down, and the lights came up, I asked my husband what he thought. “I didn’t like it,” he answered in his no-nonsense style. But I didn’t expect him to, really. It was O.K.; he’d come for me, and for that I was eternally grateful.
But not as much as for what happened next. As we were leaving, I said, “Can we just peek around the side to see?” I assumed it would be a mass of people there and so it would be obvious that stage-dooring wasn’t an option. To my delight, it wasn’t – there was a ring of people around the barrier, but only 1 person deep at that point, so without really asking hubby, well, I skipped on down ahead. I actually found a small space between two women – not enough for me to be belly to rail, but enough for me to stand and be able to reach my program right over the barrier gate – an excellent spot! Hubby came to stand beside me, and soon the space filled in behind and around us. It still wasn’t, I think, a HUGE crowd – maybe 3-4 people deep in spots? The two women to my right, with whom I struck up a conversation, said it was NOTHING like Saturday, in which the crowds had been massive and during which they hadn’t been able to even get close. So they’d come back that night, hoping to meet Brendan Coyle and Rupert Grint. They were happy to know that my appearance, as someone who’d just seen the play, meant the production was over for the evening, as they’d been waiting for a while. We made small talk for a bit, and I chatted with hubby. I handed him my iPhone, as he agreed to take pics so I could concentrate on the actors.
The first to appear, and quite quickly, I might add, maybe only 10 minutes after I got out there, was Rupert Grint. It felt so odd to see one of the Harry Potter stars out and talking with people. Yes, I’d just seen him on stage, but there was still obviously a barrier there – he was up doing his thing, acting, and no one (not even crazy American photographing lady) was going to go up and bother him. Here, he was smiling politely and signing autographs and even snapping a few pics with fans. I asked hubby to video it – and soon I had my first celebrity autograph ever! I spoke a bit with him, and was delighted!
Next Brendan Coyle hopped out the door and started more toward the other end of people. Very shortly after he appeared, Colin Morgan came out quickly and headed toward the people right in front of the door. People had been excited to see Rupert and Brendan – the noise rose noticeably when they appeared, but I can tell you gasps went out when Colin Morgan emerged. I remember literally hopping up and down and shaking my arms and saying something like “Oh…oh…oh…”, to the point where the people behind me said my reaction was the best (I think that’s on the video). I watched him start making his way down the row toward me, not believing it was really him and he was really there.
He looked relaxed and happy, that intoxicating dimple and those unbelievable cheekbones on full display. He moved quickly, signing and making little comments, some of which I could hear, many of which I couldn’t. As he was getting closer, my husband said to me, “You need to think of something to say to him!” “I know, I know,” I said, jumping up and down again. Finally he was there – COLIN MORGAN WAS THERE – right in front of me, signing my program. I said something like, “You were fabulous, Mr. Morgan.” As he looked up at me briefly, I added, “I came all the way from Virginia to see you!” To which I think he said, “Did you? High five!” And the man raised his hand and HIGH-FIVED me! “Thanks a million, cheers,” he said as he moved along down the row. I turned to hubby in shock, almost darting away until I realized, whoops, Brendan Coyle was right behind Colin Morgan and I was missing it! So I turned back around and spoke briefly to him – embarrassed again that I had done a stage door no-no in turning away from the other actors once I’d spoken to Colin Morgan. Had I just dissed BRENDAN COYLE? Oh my God Oh my God. On the video it doesn’t look so bad, but I wanted to apologize; I was just so bewildered by getting a high-five that I blanked for a second.
After Mr. Coyle, we did turn to leave since no other actors were out, backing up a bit to let some of the people behind us get to the front. Then I stopped and said to husband, “Wait! Keep videoing! Colin Morgan is still here!” He did as Colin Morgan worked his way down the row. Just as I said, “Maybe we should switch and try to get some pictures,” Mr. Morgan turned and zipped back into the theatre. He didn’t even go to the other side of people; just went back into the theatre with a small wave. Maybe he’d finally gotten cold, being out there in just a T-shirt. My husband had said he himself was freezing, but I, dressed only in a sweater and jeans, never noticed the temp.
All-in-all, I think Colin Morgan was only out for maybe 2-3 minutes, not long at all. But I, I had managed not only to talk to him and make eye contact, real eye contact, but I’d gotten a high-five (here’s a video from someone else who was there, in which you can see my arm)! I got to touch his marvelous hand and hear his delicious voice!
This middle-aged fangirl’s day, year, life was made!
Eternal thanks go to Husband of the Century, for taking his wife to ooh and aah and geek out over another man, for going to the play with me, and for videoing the whole encounter so that I could relive the moment again and again…and again. Although he might now only be Husband of the 99 Years, since once we got home to Virginia, he took a look at my program and offered to throw it away, saying we didn’t really need it anymore, right?
And a final note… Mr. Morgan, I’ve read that you dislike the internet, so I’m sure there’s no way this little blog will ever come to your attention… but if I’d had more time, what I wanted to do was invite you to come see a play at our American Shakespeare Center in Staunton, Virginia. I’d love to get your impressions, and would be happy to take you to a show and dinner beforehand at this delightful cafe, Cranberry’s, which is right around the corner and serves up scrumptious vegetarian and vegan food – and also has peanut butter.
Oh, peeps. If you don’t already watch this show, you must. It is simply extraordinary. Not because of the plot, necessarily – some of the maneuverings there will most likely drive you nuts. But the writing itself and the actors are excellent in conveying great emotion and the depths of friendship. Plus, yes, it has pretty boys.