Cruel Brother – prologue


Weep no more for what is past, 
For time in motion makes such haste 
He hath no leisure to descry 
Those errors which he passeth by. 

from The Cruel Brother, Sir William Davenant, 1630
Genealogy, n.    An account of one’s descent from an ancestor who did not particularly care to trace his own. 

Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary



This is not how a story should start. But there it is. We have broken the seal and out it comes. We must tell it as we find it.

There is writing, the sound of it. This happens before: back a little and far into the past and yet still present. Letters assembling. Rhythm pause scratch. Reaching for ink, feeling for the pot with practised fingers. Clicktintinclick of button and spring, barrel and casing, retractable point. There are readers too, so many of us. Inside and outside the story.

Stories in stories. Stories broken open, ransacked, sliced and segmented, used and reused and stolen, magpied, of self and other, true and unfaithful, real and false.


This is how we find Ned. His knees creaking on carpeted floor, hands inside a cardboard box. There are other boxes, all of them sealed, labelled, piled up in this room, a room lined with empty bookshelves, single straight-backed chair, bare blonde-wood table, angle-poise lamp devoid of bulb hanging deflowered above it, cable coiled at its base.

Ned has opened the box, broken the seal, this box with his name on it, written in his mother’s hand. Found a letter. A letter tucked inside a book: Shakespeare’s Sonnets, cover sun-faded, spine a bleached strip, pages yellowing to mustard.


I should have looked for something: I should have noted the page. But I didn’t. It was just an old book with an envelope in it. There were other envelopes, one containing tatty press cuttings about things that must have meant something to you at some point, but not to me. Another with a bookmark, York Minster. A faded programme sheet from a concert somewhere. One of mine? From early choir days? A photograph of me, aged nine or ten, tan cardigan and black-rimmed glasses, one corner of my mouth lifting in a smile. Christmas, a tree behind me – that cardigan, a present from Aunt Alice. Just like your father. And the Sonnets envelope, with my name on it.

Dearest Ned, 

This may prove a hard letter to read. It is certainly one of the hardest I’ve had to write. My dear boy, you must have always had a sense of it, but now I can tell you outright. Your father was not your father. Hate me - you have every right to it. I was not young and foolish, or easily taken in, but I did wander. Briefly. His name was Will. Will Davenant. He wasn’t a particularly kind man, but he had a quality. You have it from him. You often wondered, didn’t you, where the music came from? I turned the pages for him once, many years ago. 

I’m sorry my dear. Not for what I did, because I’ve never been one for remorse or regret, and I’m certainly not sorry for having you. I am sorry that you didn’t know him, though. I wasn’t sure what to say to you about it, or when. I did plan to tell you when Jack died, but I couldn’t face it. I was a coward. I was afraid that you might begin looking. 

Don’t try to find him, Ned. It would be unfair, after all this time. Let it be. I never made any claim on him and we never kept in touch. Don’t go bothering him now. 

There. I can stop fretting and get on with the business in hand. I don’t want you boys to have too much trouble about my things. I want to get them all parcelled up, ready. When you find this, you can dispense with the rest. Edward will know what to do with the books and so on. Don’t waste time looking for your father in those boxes, Ned, there really isn’t anything to be found. Whatever there is, you have it already. 

Goodbye, my boy. Try not to be too angry with me.

Your loving



Cruel Brother – digital serialisation

Welcome to the digital serialisation of my novel Cruel Brother.

The novel was released over the course of a year as part of Shakespeare 400. The first instalment went live in the early hours of Shakespeare’s birthday, 23rd April 2016, and the full text was viewable until 23rd April 2017.

The epilogue and opening chapter remain here to give a taste of the novel and the digital project.

NB Feel free to share this text with friends, but please respect the usual copyright courtesies. Cruel Brother is the property of the writer Sonia Overall. No unauthorised publication or reproduction. For all enquiries please contact the author through this website.

writers’ coffee morning & workshop

coffee_cup_saucerSunday 24th April 10.30am
The Beaney House of Art & Knowledge, Canterbury

meet in the Beaney café

Informal workshop and meet-the-artist opportunity as part of my residency, writing in response to objects in the Beaney collections. Find out about the items that have inspired me and try some writing exercises in the museum. Suitable for all abilities. Bring a notebook and pen.