Evaluation of Romeo &Julio &Friends

This novel was written for William Shakespeare lovers and members of the LGBTQ community. Aimed at men, women, teenage boys, and girls, LGTBQ allies, advocates, lovers, and campaigners.

This can also be an alternative to a young student who is studying ‘Romeo & Juliet’, as a GCSE or A Level. I knew from early on that I didn’t want to keep the same dialogue as the original but wanted similar themes to the original story. I was certain that it had to be a dramatic and tragic 21st century love story.

The original was well known for the families feuding. I didn’t put that in it because it was what made that great back then. However, I did know that my story needed love and forbidden love just like the 1597 original.

On Saturday the 13th of May 2012, I was doing some fine art and after two years of having the title ‘Why can’t Julio & Romeo?’, I wrote the ending of the new character Julio’s wedding to teenage sweetheart Sam, but original and updated character Romeo interrupts the wedding and convinces Julio to leave Sam for him. It had a happy ending of Romeo and Julio marrying a year later. This was instead of the tragic ending where Romeo and Juliet both take their own lives. I did this at around 12pm -1pm. In my house my mother was playing a range of music from 2000s and 1990s. I vividly remember hearing D’Angelo and Tony Rich.

I named Julio’s fiancé Sam after an old friend who I knew when I was around 15 -16 called Sam at secondary school. At university London College of Communication,

I befriended another Sam called Sam Cope who identified as a gay man in his late teenage years.

By coincidence one of my earliest childhood books I read was called ‘Sam to the rescue’, with a character called Sam.

I posted the ending on my blog leoakuwudike.blogspot.com on Wednesday 16th of May 2012.

The reason why I wrote it was in college in 2008, I was advised to retake my GCSE English and I took a writing class and wrote a story about a teenage boy called Ben who suffers from low self-esteem although it appeared he was very happy, in a popular crowd and with a girlfriend.

During those years I was listening to a lot of gay American singer Adam Lambert and his first album as well as a movie called ‘Is it just me?’, that was about a gay writer called Blaine, who changes his shy ways to find true love.

For four months after the blog, I conceptualized storylines to complete the story from beginning to middle. I created the love triangle between Romeo, Julio, and Poppy, but at the time I didn’t have Poppy’s name. I just noted her down as Romeo’s bad girlfriend. I originally scheduled to finish it by 2014 but I went back to university and that took all my time as well as work.

In recent years I was watching reruns of Footballers Wives and was obsessed with Tanya Turner with her love triangle with Conrad and Amber as well his gay relationship with Noah.

At the time of posting the ending of gay marriage in May 2012, only civil partnerships were legal and only two years later gay marriage became legal thanks to politician Nick Clegg.

I had the storylines for Julio’s relationship with Jake and the harassment from his emotional abusive ex-Husband Hassan. I had the names already planned with the storylines. I did notice a bit of a similarity with Jake and Julio’s relationship with Bella and Jake in Twilight, however I named Jake in respect to Brokeback Mountain and Jake Gyllenhaal. I did see it on TV over the years but in July 2012 I watched the movie in full, while taking notes and I thought his characters death, or the imagination of his death was awful.

I wasn’t inspired by it but the storyline of Shelley and her emotional abuse at the hands of Charlie in Coronation Street in 2004 impacted my views on relationships.

I had the idea of Rowan’s Husband and his bigamy. But I didn’t know what his Husband’s name would be at the time.

I also created Romeo’s backstory of him being a playboy and having an affair with his brother Patrick’s wife.

I created the characters Candice, Sabrina, Juliet (based on the original) and Rafia.

In the story published online I already had the characters Rowan, Warren, Jay, Elle, Sionne and Josh.

In June 2012 I focused on Julio and Romeo with a fact file filled with storylines complimenting each other. For Julio I created the explicit affair, his attempted sexual assault, the gay bashing, his banishment at the hands of Poppy inspired by the 1597 original of Romeo’s banishment after murdering Tybalt. I also created the reunion with Romeo, them marrying. I originally had a friend of Julio’s die of cancer, but I cut it out. I put in Hassan’s harassment at the same time as Julio’s affair with stripper Jake to make it dramatic but sensitive. After Romeo was assaulted by Poppy, I was going to make a storyline where Romeo has a drug problem but, in the story, he just suffers side effects and seeks counselling.

After Hassan murders Jake I was going to write that Julio suffers from depression and runs away then becomes a prostitute.

However, I didn’t think it would be realistic and I wanted to pay respect to the original story.

Originally, I wrote that Hassan kidnaps Julio and Romeo’s son Adrian out of his obsession to have a son with Julio, but I later in 2015 or 2016 created the character Guppy who was the nanny who was really Hassan’s brother and kidnaps both twins while Julio is finally reunited and engaged with childhood sweetheart Sam.

In June to July 2012 I watched the movies The Talented Mr Ripley, MILK, J.Edgar and Twilight.

I made Julio with a South African descent due to gay marriage legal in that part of Africa.

I did my research into stories with gay marriage and there was the American comic book ‘Archie’.

To generate stories, I did a brainstorm of what could keep both Romeo and Julio apart.

In the beginning I originally had it in my mind that Julio would be a Black British mixed raced man, but I changed it to him being Black British.

In my mind I thought it would be a big deal with the gay ‘Romeo & Juliet’, as well as it being an interracial relationship while it being a strong, black lead with the extended and improved character of ‘Romeo’.

Early on I knew I wanted to address homophobia within the characters but not make it the lead storyline. Let it be in the narrative but not the issue.

I also did research into Peter Tatchell and Stonewall. I thought of all I could remember from the character John Paul in Hollyoaks and was very impressed while also engaged by the character Ste Hay with his recent LGBTQ storylines at the time.

I created the backstory of how Julio and Juliet know each other from Julio’s elder sister Bonnie.

I researched movies Bridget Jones, Dear John, Letters to Juliet, Mamma Mia, Love.
Actually and Maid in Manhattan.

For the character Elle and her brother Xan they were going to have their abusive father involved in the story but that was scrapped. Early on I had the idea of Rowan’s son being sick.

I researched characters Christian Clarke and Syed Masood from Eastenders, Andrew Van De Kamp from Desperate Housewives, Simon and Tony with Tiffany in Eastenders, Jackson and Aaron in Emmerdale, Craig Dean in Hollyoaks and Sean Tully in Coronation Street.

The whole gang of friends in the story was inspired by the TV show ‘As If’ that I used to watch around aged 12 in 2001.

In 2012 I created a fact file with a backstory of Josh and Sionne’s relationship and how they have been together for 5 to 6 years.

I also created the storyline of Kano and Diamond’s unexpected friendship with his transition that Kano supports.

Around this time, I gathered a lot of names and bought a baby name book for characters.

In July 2012 I had the idea that while Romeo was in a coma his girlfriend Poppy meets his brother and sleeps with Patrick in revenge. But it didn’t fit with reality and so I scrapped it.

I created the character Harry Stones in June 2012 and had it in mind for him with Julio to begin a friendship and have a one-night stand after winning his boxing match.

Originally, I was going to make Romeo Japanese but thought it would be best to make him British and Italian like the original story. I knew I had my mind made up on Julio’s age being 25 and Romeo 29. This was based on an old friend whose age was the same as Julio and he had the same initials as Juliet.

After intensively focusing on this from May to September 2012 due to work, I worked on it gradually on and off from 2013 to 2017 developing scenarios and dialect. In 2014 -2015, I took part time classes at Theatre Royal Stratford East under Jan Sharkey Dobbs, and she guided me in my writing.

To write this story and gather research I followed a past brief of writing from my studies at London College of Communication.

For a present my sister bought me a notepad and from 2014 I wrote more stuff in it.

I knew I had to make Romeo a Father. Because of the original and him dying so young there was so much he could have been. He has twins Adrian and Carly with Julio, a surrogate for his ex-girlfriend Nina called Olivia and Tybalt in a one-night stand with Juliet. On the day of the 2012 Olympics, I placed the ending that was online with my notes to The UK Copyright Service. I wrote the story in March 2017, I had other titles such as ‘ROM30 & JUL30’, and the current title ‘Romeo & Julio & Friends’. I chose this title due to Romeo and Julio’s relationship having a huge support from their friends and family. I knew that ‘Why can’t Julio & Romeo?’ was just for the blog to prove to myself I can write a story at a level. The title was going to be changed right from the start.

In 2004 to 2005 I studied William Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo & Juliet’. In 2005 I took the GCSE English exam and passed receiving the grade in August 2005 just after my sixteenth birthday. In 2006 in sixth form, I was advised to retake my GCSE to ensure I get a place in university. While doing this class I watched the 1996 Baz Luhrmann’s ‘Romeo + Juliet’ starring Leonardo Dicarprio and Claire Danes.

In January 2009 for graphic design on the Foundation Diploma in Art & Design I was given the art project ‘That is the Question’, where I had to design the theatre graphics for an RSA performance of any William Shakespeare story. I chose ‘Romeo & Juliet’, due to being familiar with the story. In April I received a pass grade and got very positive feedback.

In July 2010 I created the character Julio and had the idea of Romeo being a gay man.

It was perfect for me to write it as I was a young, Black British, gay man living in the 21st Century. In 2010, aged 21 I was confident but still shy within myself. In October 2021 I attended a live show in Stratford, Westfield that was produced by old childhood friend from secondary school Christella ‘Wonsa’ Matoko. The show inspired me a great deal to take the initiative and encouraged me to write my own story.

From all of 2017 I sent the story around to literary agents. For personal reasons and after receiving a positive but negative letter of feedback I stopped in 2018, then started again in 2019 with good feedback that kept me going and eventually found my place with Austin Macauley Publishers in 2019 November and signed it straight away without legal advice as I was just so excited and happy to have my story published. To this day I am truly grateful to Austin Macauley Publishers for all that they have done for me.

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