LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, BOYS AND GIRLS... welcome to the big top blog of Douglas McPherson, author of CIRCUS MANIA, the book described by Gerry Cottle as "A passionate and up-to-date look at the circus and its people."

Monday, 12 February 2018

Circus books for teenagers and children

Do kids still grow up wanting to run away with the circus? They might after reading Bunty Armitage Circus Girl by former circus performer Pixi Robertson.

This lively Young Adult adventure sees the life of an everyday high-schooler turned upside down when she reluctantly accompanies her glamorous friend Cilla to an open audition for a part in a television mini-series.

Cilla doesn’t get the part, but the producers immediately latch onto Bunty, because of her uncanny resemblance to Louise Ireland, an historical circus performer that the series is about.

Things get really weird, however, when Bunty finds herself on set wearing Louise’s old costume... and is mysteriously transported back in time to an Australian circus a hundred years earlier.

The tale was inspired by Robertson’s friendship with the late nonogenarian circus pioneer Alice Evelyn Hyland and is packed with atmospheric insight into the life on a travelling show in the early 20th century.

Photos of Robertson riding circus horses in her younger days (that’s her on the cover) help to bring the spirit of the big top alive, while the sparky teenage voice of Bunty, the narrator, creates an engaging mix of past and present that will keep you turning the pages to the end. Click here to buy the paperback or ebook.

There’s more circus magic in Robertson’s Young Adult romance Tempo, which comes with a great cover illustration of Australia’s Flying Ashtons painted by Mitzi Allison Tilley.

Lina Casamiro, just back from college, is struggling to fit into her family’s flying trapeze act, which forms the centrepiece of their traditional travelling circus. She becomes more focused, though, when the dashing multi-millionaire Giles Deglorian, owner of an international Cirque du Soleil-style enterprise, arrives on the scene with a plan to hire Circus Casamiro and make Lina the star of his next equestrian spectacular.

Once again, there’s plenty of insight into circus life, and in particular circus life in Australia, which adds its own layer of interest to the story. The issue of animal rights is explored in some depth, although the animal rights protesters are perhaps overly caricatured - circuses find them a much harder foe to deal with in the real world.

This is, however, an escapist romance and it rattles along with enough intrigue, skulduggery and excitement to make life under canvas look like an appealing career choice for any teen. Click here to buy the paperback or ebook.

Finally, for much younger readers, Robertson has written A Book of Circus - an alphabet book in which A is for acrobat, B is for balancing and big top, C is for clown and... well, you get the picture.

This A4-size, landscape shape book has a soft cover and, with a page for each letter of the alphabet, is crammed with colourful photos of circus life. It’s a pro-circus animal book with elephants, giraffes, horses and monkeys, and comes with a two-page section at the back to explain to children (and their parents!) how well the animals are looked after. Even the study by behaviourist Dr Marthe Kiley-Worthington is mentioned.

There’s also a two-page section telling the history of the circus and, particularly, the circus in Australia. Did you know the first circus performances down under were performed by Robert Avis Radford in 1847? Or that bushranger Ned Kelly was a circus fan who visited Ashton’s Circus on many occasions?

Such facts, and the fact that the photographs are from Australian circuses such as Ashton’s, Webers and Stardust will make the book of interest to grown-up circus fans in other parts of the world, too. Click here to order by messaging Pixi via Facebook.

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

"Circus Mania is a brilliant account of a vanishing art form"

But don't take my word for it, take the word of Roger Lewis who said that about it in Britain's biggest-selling Sunday paper, the Mail on Sunday.
Click here to read the full review.

Friday, 12 January 2018

Circus Mania author Douglas McPherson on TV

My thanks to Fabiana Cacace at That's Norfolk TV for interviewing me about Circus Mania, the stories that inspired the book, Norwich and Great Yarmouth's historical claim to be jointly one of the Six Cities of Circus, and the new updated edition of Circus Mania released to celebrate 250 years of life and death in the sawdust circle.

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Norwich Castle lit up for First Day of Circus

(Credit: Norwich Evening News)

Here's Norwich Castle lit up with Sir Peter Blake's Circus250 logo to celebrate the birth of the circus, 250 years ago on 9 January, 1768. And when BBC Radio Norfolk announced the light show on the 4pm news... they included a sound bite from "Circus Mania author Douglas McPherson...!"

The quote was taken from my earlier on-air chat with Stephen Bumfrey. You can listen to the whole interview here (I'm on just after the 3pm news, introduced, naturally, with that unmistakable piece of circus music Entrance of the Gladiators!)

In our wide-ranging chat about all things circus, we talked about Norwich's own historical circus star Pablo Fanque - Britain's first black circus proprietor during the 19th century - and Stephen played the Beatles song Being For The Benefit of Mr Kite, which was inspired by John Lennon coming across a poster for Pablo Fanque's circus in an antique shop window.

Click here to read 15 Facts about Philip Astley - the man who invented the circus!

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

First Day of Circus to light up Britain for Circus250

The Great Yarmouth Hippodrome
will be lit up for #firstcircusday

Today, January 9, marks the 250th anniversary of the very first circus, and the Six Cities of Circus will be lighting up Britain by projecting the Sir Peter Blake-designed Circus250 logo on prominent buildings including Norwich Castle, the Blackpool Tower, the Great Yarmouth Hippodrome, the Derry Walls in Belfast, the We Are Curious science centre in Bristol and the Guildhall in Newcastle-under-Lyme, where Philip Astley, the inventor of the circus was born.

The illuminations are expected to begin at about 4.20pm when it gets dark.

Circus fans and circus companies, meanwhile, will be marking the launch of the year-long Circus250 celebrations by taking to social media to share news of their plans, coming events and all things circus under the hashtags #firstdayofcircus and #Circus250.

The Six Cities of Circus are:
Newcastle-under-Lyme - Birthplace of Philip Astley, the Father of the Circus as we know it. Click here to read 15 Facts about himNoFit State Circus premieres their new in-the-ring show Lexicon under their big top in March and Astley’s Astounding Adventures – specially commissioned for Circus250 year - opens at New Vic Theatre in July.

London - Birthplace of Philip Astley‘s first circus - the first circus in the world, in fact! - and home of the National Centre for Circus Arts (Read all about the former Circus Space here). CircusFest – the Roundhouse’s month-long celebration of contemporary circus – kicks off in April. The V&A is one of many major London museums joining in the celebrations with a Friday Late Circus – Past, Present and Future.

Launch of the Circus250 logo
in London
Bristol - Home to more circus companies than any other British city. The Royal West of England Academy Circus250 exhibition Sawdust and Sequins opens in Bristol in March accompanied by performance from Bristol circus school Circomedia.

Pablo Fanque
plaque in Norwich
Norwich and Great Yarmouth (joint) - Norwich is the 19th century birthplace of Britain’s first black circus proprietor Pablo Fanque. Events in Norwich will include The Lord Mayor’s Celebrations featuring a circus parade with life-sized elephant puppets winding through the streets in July, and Famished, the new show by Norwich-based Lost in Translation, opens. The seaside town of Great Yarmouth, meanwhile, is home to the Hippodrome, Britain’s only surviving complete circus building. Click here to read about the fateful encounter in this legendary circus building that inspired Circus Mania - The Ultimate Book For Anyone Who Dreamed of Running Away With the Circus.

Blackpool - Home of the Tower Circus staging shows since 1894. The town comes alive with circus celebrations, from the traditional Tower Circus to the cutting edge Grundy Gallery.

Belfast - Throughout the Troubles in Northern Ireland, circus schools were places where the two communities met to create great work. Contemporary Tumble Circus’s Christmas show closes the Circus250 celebratory year in Belfast’s Writers Square.

For details of forthcoming events visit

As we head into circus' biggest year for 250 years, get your circus on by reading Circus Mania by Douglas McPherson - a backstage journey through a secret world of clowns, jugglers, tiger trainers, sword-swallowers, trapeze artists and showmen. 

Click here to read the 5-star reviews on Amazon of the book the Mail on Sunday called "A brilliant account of a vanishing art form."

And may all your days be circus days!

Saturday, 30 December 2017

Scotland and Ireland ban wild animals from the big top as the traditional circus slowly disappears

Thomas Chipperfield presents the last big cats
to grace Peter Jolly's Circus, in 2014

“I remember the elephants - just.” Those are the words with which I began Circus Mania. From the first line there was a whiff of nostalgia about my survey of the circus world, even though the focus was not on the history of the big top but a journey through the circus scene as it exists today. The Mail on Sunday called the book “A brilliant account of a vanishing art form.” Naturally I was pleased to use the quote in publicity, although some circus aficianados objected to the word “vanishing”. Surely, they argued, the contemporary circus scene is flourishing? A ‘circus hub’ at the Edinburgh Festival and ‘national’ status for the former training school, Circus Space, which became the National Centre for Circus Arts in 2014, reflects a new appreciation for an age-old form of entertainment in today’s arts scene.

But as we enter 2018 - Circus250! - the 250th anniversary of Philip Astley’s first circus, a large part of the circus tradition is vanishing - the tradition of animals as a major part of the traditional circus bill.

The circus was born on horseback - Philip Astley was a trick rider who built his show around equestrian skills. Lions, elephants, sea lions and chimps’ tea parties became, by the mid-20th century part of everyone’s idea of what a circus is.

Today, though, the animals are disappearing fast.

As PT Barnum biopic The Greatest Showman hits cinema screens, the show that bore his name, the 146-year-old Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus is no more. Legislation meant it could no longer tour with its elephants and without them it couldn’t sell tickets.

In Britain, meanwhile, just two weeks before the start of Circus250, the Scottish parliament unanimously signed off a ban on wild animals (by which it means all non-native species) in travelling circuses.

Scottish Conservative MSP Donald Cameron said the legislation meant "we will finally and at last truly be able to say Nelly the Elephant has packed her trunk and said goodbye to the circus".

It is the first such ban of its kind in the UK, but will it be the last - and will it end with wild animals or prove to be the thin end of a wedge that eventually squeezes even horses - the animal upon which the circus was founded - from a sawdust circle literally designed for four-legged entertainment?

Martin 'Zippo' Burton
(on the right)
Zippos Circus owner Martin Burton, representing the Association of Circus Proprietors, told the Scottish Parliament that a law based on the proposed ethical grounds "will eventually close your zoos".

He said: "The economic impact on animal displays in shopping centres, on displays at outdoors shows of hawks and wild birds, on reindeer and Santa, and eventually zoos will be massive.

"Once you start banning things, particularly on ethical grounds, it is clear that this will spread, because if it's ethically not right to have a wild animal in a circus, then it is ethically not right to have a wild animal appear at a gala or a county show, and it is ethically not right to have a wild animal appear in a shopping centre, and it is ethically not right to have a wild animal appear in a zoo.

"It is clear and logical that that is the only way an ethical ban can go. You can't choose your ethics, you're either going to say it is ethical or it is not ethical."

Burton’s words are being bourn out in Wales, where the Welsh government is currently planning to introduce a new license for Mobile Animal Exhibitions (MAEs). The legislation is aimed at circuses, but because of the difficulty of defining a circus in a way that separates it from other animal exhibitions, the Countryside Alliance and Kennel Club have raised concerns about the effect on other ‘MAEs’ from cattle shows and dog shows to falconry displays.

Across the Irish Sea, the Irish government decreed in November that wild animals would be banned from travelling circuses in Ireland from January 1, 2018.

In England, a ban on wild animals in the big top proposed by David Cameron’s government has so far been staved off with a successful licensing scheme, although the Scottish ban will give fresh ammunition to the animal rights groups pressing for a ban south of the border.

But even without a national ban, local council legislation has reduced the number of ‘wild’ animals in Britain’s big tops to a handful of camels and zebras spread across Peter Jolly’s Circus and Circus Mondao, while only two or three more circuses, such as Zippos, still have even horses or dogs.

The news reminds me of how lucky I was, as a late convert to the appeal of the big top, to visit the Great British Circus during the writing of Circus Mania and be able to report upon the elephants and tigers that I saw there. At the time, it felt like a rare glimpse into a disappearing past. Re-reading that chapter today, with the Great British Circus now five years closed, I wonder if it was the last glimpse of such a circus that any of us will ever see in the UK again.

Is the disappearance of the animals a good thing for the circus? It's an issue I grappled with during the writing of Circus Mania. I was brought up to believe it was a cruel tradition, but as I interviewed animal trainers and show owners and saw more shows, my understanding grew. By the time I wrote a new chapter for the updated 2018 edition of the book and described my visit to Peter Jolly's Circus my opinion on this always contentious subject had changed a lot from the one I had before I saw my first circus with animals. Perhaps yours will, too.

Click here to buy the updated, new edition of Circus Mania and read about my journey through a world that is disappearing fast.

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

The UK's Six Cities of Circus announced for Circus250

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, the UK’s Six Cities of Circus – the places with the most significant circus heritage and best of today’s circus performances - have been revealed for 2018, the 250th anniversary of the very first circus.

They are - and let’s have a drum roll please...

Bristol - Home to more circus companies than any other British city. The Royal West of England Academy Circus250 exhibition Sawdust and Sequins opens in Bristol in March accompanied by performance from Bristol circus school Circomedia.

Great Yarmouth Hippodrome
Read all about it in
Circus Mania!
Norwich and Great Yarmouth - Norwich is the 19th century birthplace of Britain’s first black circus proprietor Pablo Fanque. Events in Norwich will include The Lord Mayor’s Celebrations featuring a circus parade with life-sized elephant puppets winding through the streets in July, and Famished, the new show by Norwich-based Lost in Translation, opens. The seaside town of Great Yarmouth, meanwhile, is home to the Hippodrome, Britain’s only surviving complete circus building:

Philip Astley
An illustration from
Circus Mania!
Newcastle-under-Lyme - Birthplace of Philip Astley, the Father of the Circus as we know it. NoFit State Circus premieres their new in-the-ring show Lexicon under their big top in March and Astley’s Astounding Adventures – specially commissioned for Circus250 year - opens at New Vic Theatre in July.

London - Birthplace of Astley‘s first circus - the first circus in the world, in fact! - and home of the National Centre for Circus Arts. CircusFest – the Roundhouse’s month-long celebration of contemporary circus – kicks off in April. The V&A is one of many major London museums joining in the celebrations with a Friday Late Circus – Past, Present and Future.

Blackpool - Home of the Tower Circus staging shows since 1894. The town comes alive with circus celebrations, from the traditional Tower Circus to the cutting edge Grundy Gallery.

Belfast - Throughout the Troubles in Northern Ireland, circus schools were places where the two communities met to create great work. Contemporary Tumble Circus’s Christmas show closes the Circus250 celebratory year in Belfast’s Writers Square.

For more on the culture of the circus, click here to buy the new updated second edition of Circus Mania - The Ultimate Book for Anyone who Dreamed of Running Away with the Circus.

Friday, 15 December 2017

Order Circus Mania for Christmas!

Roll up! Roll up! See the wondrous new face of Circus Mania, 250 years in the making! Full of the remarkable tales of circus life that made it a classic on its first outing. Learn about the origins of the circus from Roman times, to the colourful characters that make the circus the international phenomenon it is today. Circus Mania 2.0 is bigger, better and couldn't be timelier.

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Circuses to see this Christmas!

If you'd like to visit the circus this Christmas, there's probably one not far away! Here's a list of an incredible 23 shows around the country, according to the Circus Friends Association. (There's probably a few more out there, too!)

Big Top Christmas Circus - Floralands Garden Centre, Catfoot Lane, Lambley, Nottingham, NG4 4QL.
16th to 31st Dec.

Blackpool Tower Circus - Mooky Doolittle circus pantomime.
The Promenade, Blackpool, Lancashire, FY1 4BJ.
25th Nov to 21st Jan.

Charles Chipperfield Circus - Christmas Spectacular.
Sandwell Valley Farm Park, Salters Lane, West Bromwich, West Midlands,
B71 4BG.
2nd to 24th Dec.

Circus Funtasia - Winter Wonderland Manchester, Event City, Phoenix Way, Manchester, M41 7TB.
9th Dec to 1st Jan.

Circus Ginnett Christmas Circus - Plowmans Garden Centre, 392 Christchurch Road, West Parley, Ferndown, Dorset, BH22 8SW
16th to 31st Dec.

Circus Normandie - Stansted Park Garden Centre, Rowlands Castle, Hampshire, PO9 6DX
16th Dec to 3rd Jan.

Cirque Du Soleil presents OVO - Royal Albert Hall, Kensington Gore, London, SW7 2AP.
7th Jan to 4th March.

Yarmouth Hippodrome
Hippodrome Christmas Circus Spectacular - St Georges Road, Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, NR30 2EU.
10th Dec to 8th Jan.

John Lawson’s Circus - Squires Garden Centre - Badshot Lea. Badshot Lea Road, Farnham, Surrey, GU9 9JX.
25th Nov to 31st Dec.

John Lawson’s Circus - - Squires Garden Centre - Washington. London Road, Washington, Pulborough, West Sussex, RH20 3BP.
25th Nov to 31st Dec.

John Lawson’s Circus - Squires Garden Centre - Shepperton. Halliford Road, Shepperton, Middlesex, TW17 8SG.
25th Nov to 31st Dec.

John Lawson’s Circus - Squires Garden Centre - Stanmore. Common Road, Stanmore, Middlesex, HA7 3JF.
25th Nov to 31st Dec.

Matt Ryan Day presents Circus Spectacular Christmas Show - Flitwick Village Hall, Dunstable Road, Flitwick, Bedford, MK45 1HP.
9th and 10th Dec.

Cirque Berserk - Winter Wonderland, Hyde Park, London, W2 2UH.
17th Nov to 1st Jan.

Moscow State Circus - Ealing Common, Uxbridge Road, Ealing, London,
W5 3TJ.
20th Dec to 7th Jan.

Paulo’s Christmas Circus - Sanders Garden World, Bristol Road, Brent Knoll, Burnham-on-Sea, Somerset, TA9 4HJ.
2nd Dec to 1st Jan.

Planet Circus - Christmas Spectacular - Bypass Car Boot site, Hucknall, Nottinghamshire, NG6 8AB.
17th Dec to 7th Jan.

Santus Circus presents Le Cirque de Noel - Polhill Garden Centre, London Road, Badgers Mount, Sevenoaks, Kent, TN14 7AD.
14th Dec 5th Jan.

Slava’s Snowshow - The Southbank Centre, Belvedere Road, London, SE1 8XX.
18th Dec to 4th Jan.

Wookey Hole Christmas Circus - Wookey Hole Caves, near Wells, Somerset, BA5 1BB.
18th Nov to 7th Jan.

Zippos Circus - Winter Wonderland, Hyde Park, London, W2 2UH.
17th Nov to 2nd Jan.
Circus in Ireland.

Fossett’s Christmas Circus - Tallaght Staduim, Whitestown Way, Tallaght, Dublin 24.
14th Dec to 7th Jan.

Tumble Circus presents Winter Circus 2017 - Writer’s Square, Belfast, Northern Ireland, BT12 2HB.
8th to 27th Dec.

To Keep up with circus news, join the Circus Friends Association.

Friday, 24 November 2017

A Midsummer Night's Circus - short story

A Midsummer Night's Circus
As it first appeared in My Weekly

To bring some sunshine into the dark nights of winter, here's a heart-warming short story about a gang of young dreamers who decide to start a circus in the 1980s...

“A circus, eh?” With face and hands as red as raw meat, the burly butcher stared at Summer Day’s beautifully designed, hand-printed poster. “How many elephants ‘ave you got?”
“I’m afraid we don’t have any elephants.” Summer, a 20-year-old vegetarian, tried not to feel queasy amid the split carcasses hanging from every wall.
A mince-splattered transistor radio in the corner was quietly playing the summer’s big hit, There Must Be An Angel Playing With My Heart by the Eurythmics.
“Oh, that’s a shame.” The butcher’s sausage-like fingers were leaving bloodstained creases on the poster’s edges. “I love the elephants, when Smart’s come to town. Have you got any lions?”
“We don’t actually have any animals,” Summer admitted.
“No animals?” The shopkeeper’s meaty features shifted from disappointment to concern.
“It’s a different sort of circus.” Summer could feel her cheeks becoming as red as his. “A new sort of...”
“Any clowns...?” The butcher asked with little hope.
“Ahem.” Summer pointed two index fingers at herself.
She was wearing bib and brace overalls decorated with multi-coloured patches, a hooped t-shirt and Doc Martin boots spray-painted with metallic purple and silver swirls. Her top hat had a large plastic daffodil sticking out of the band.
The meat vendor looked her up and down and frowned.
“So where’s your red nose?”
Summer sighed as she left the shop. It had been the same story up and down the high street. Although most of the retailers had let her put a poster in their window, their reactions made her wonder why she was spending the holidays promoting a show that defied everyone’s expectations of what a circus should be.
The reason, of course, was Raphael, the dashing, raven-haired English Lit student she’d met at the university’s juggling club. The always inspired and contagiously inspiring Raphael, who had decided to combine his passion for Shakespeare with his new love of circus skills to stage Romeo and Juliet with stilt-walking, fire-eating, a tightrope and clowns.
“Can I be a clown?” she’d heard herself ask, and the moment Raphael’s dark eyes and warm smile turned her way, her fate was sealed.
Oh, Raphael, Raphael! Wherefore art thou, Raphael?
Just the thought of him melted her innards like a Curly-Wurly left in the sun, and brought the skip back to her step as she headed to the park where their tent, a former wedding marquee, stood bedecked with bunting in the sunshine.
Olly was outside, wearing a court jester’s costume as he balanced on a unicycle and juggled with three clubs in a effort to draw attention. None of the passers-by were taking any notice of him.
Still, it was hours until show time, Summer consoled herself. She was sure an audience would come, because Raphael’s idea was such a brilliant one.
“Is Raphael around?” Summer asked, keen to tell him she’d placed all her posters. Maybe it would make him fall in love with her, she thought, giddily.
“Um, not sure.” Olly’s face was strained. Summer thought he sounded worried, but put it down to him trying to keep his balance.
She went into the tent and found it empty apart from its mismatched chairs, standing unevenly on the grass, and the plywood scenery that she’d spent so long carefully painting - picturing Raphael’s sublime features as she applied every stroke.
As well as directing the production, he was starring as Romeo, and Summer doubted that anyone had ever been better cast as Shakespeare’s most famous lover.
Blinking as she re-emerged into sunlight at the back of the tent, she saw the van and minibus that they’d borrowed from uni. The sliding side door of the ‘bus was open and the sound of giggles drew her to it.
At first, she thought there was no one inside. Then she saw a tangle of limbs writhing happily on the back seat. Raphael and Nicole, who played Juliet in the show, were doing a lot more than rehearsing their lines.

“Are you alright, Summer?” Olly asked.
She was sitting alone on a park bench, in the warm, still darkness at the end of the evening. The only light was a pale glow from a nearby streetlamp around which moths fluttered fruitlessly.
She was still wearing her bib and braces and holding her top hat with its plastic flower in her lap.
“Fine.” She looked away from him, her frizz of dark brown curls shading her smudged makeup, as Olly sat down beside her.
For what could she say? Neither Raphael nor Nicole had done anything wrong. There had never been anything between Raphael and Summer except a hope in her heart. But hope, she’d learned, was the most painful thing to lose.
“Beautiful show, wasn’t it?” Olly pulled the ring from a can with a ftt. “Shame no one turned up.”

Back at uni, Summer stopped going to the juggling club, and could offer no real reason when Olly asked her why. Luckily, she, Raphael and Nicole were reading different subjects, so she didn’t have to hang around and watch their relationship unfold. But it still brought her up short, like a punch to the heart, whenever she turned a corner on campus and unexpectedly saw them laughing together or talking closely, so clearly a couple.
For a while, she went out with a boy called Aide, but like a moth she found herself drawn back into Raphael’s orbit.
At a graduation party in a noisy pub, she was surprised to hear Nicole regaling her friends with her plans for a gap year in India - apparently without her Romeo.
“So what have you got planned?” Olly asked Raphael, who was looking distinctly sidelined.
Raphael shuffled his stylish winkle-pickers and looked up shyly from under his black fringe as he said, “I’m thinking of giving the circus a proper go.”
“You’re kidding me?” Olly had a job lined up with a city bank, his juggling days behind him.
“No, I’m serious.” Raphael stood straighter, his chin level. “If I can get a tour of arts festivals I think it could work.”
“Course it will,” said Summer, daring to move closer. “Shakespeare and circus is a brilliant idea.”
He turned, smiling gratefully, as if he hadn’t seen her for a long time. With an inward sigh, Summer wished she hadn’t that very morning accepted a job in Spain, teaching art to primary school children.

It was two years and a broken heart later that Summer found herself back in England. With the job market tougher than she’d expected, she was strolling through the sunny park when she heard shouts and saw the flapping colours of a small circus tent being erected.
With memories of juggling balls bouncing out of her past, she headed towards the small group of longhaired young people struggling with their ropes and poles.
Her heart quickened when she saw a single-decker bus painted like a rainbow, with the words Shakespeare’s Circus emblazoned like graffiti on the side. Then a raven-haired man straightened up from tying a rope, to wipe his glistening brow.
“Raphael!” Summer exclaimed.
Tanned and broad-shouldered from working outdoors, he glanced her way and did a double take.
“Summer!” His beaming face radiated health. “Long time, no see!”
He hugged her, and his muscular manliness left her light-headed.
“How’s it going?” she asked.
“Hand to mouth,” he admitted. “Still get ten people a day ask where the elephants are, but we’re getting there.”
“Need any clowns?” Summer asked.
“Got too many!” Raphael laughed.
At that moment, two men and a pole fell to the grass and the far side of the tent collapsed.
Raphael grinned at her and said, “I could use a good designer, though.”

Three years later, the orange and blue-striped big top was set up in the corner of an arts festival field. With Jimmy Sommerville singing You Make Me Feel Mighty Real on the sound system, people were milling around enjoying pre-show drinks and food.
“Summer, can you take over the barbeque a moment?” Raphael called.
“Sure.” But when she reached the smoking grill, the sizzling fat turned her stomach.
“’Scuse me!” Hand over her mouth, Summer dashed for the Portaloos.
“Summer...?” Raphael stared after her.

“So when are you and Summer going to tie the knot?” asked Olly, when the burger queue had died down.
“You can’t keep a woman waiting forever.” Nicole fluttered her hand to show off Olly’s ring.
“It’s alright for you two,” Raphael joked. “You’re both loaded.”
“If only!” Olly laughed, but everyone knew he was making a mint in the city. Nicole, meanwhile, was a successful TV producer.
The previous year, Nicole had made a documentary about Raphael using circus tricks to make Shakespeare accessible to underprivileged communities that wouldn’t normally experience the bard.
Raphael sighed and said, quietly, “Between you and me, we’ve been going through a rough patch. It might be time to call it a day.”
Nicole looked at him curiously, remembering how mildly he’d taken it when they broke up at uni. They’d both been young and flighty then, but she’d come to think he and Summer were much more serious about each other.
“Ah, here comes Summer now,” Olly cut in, too brightly.
Stunned and pale, Summer looked at the three troubled faces.
“Feeling better?” Raphael asked, nervously.
“Fine,” she said, quietly. “I better get changed for the show.”

The next morning, as the cast were taking down the tent, Raphael came up behind Summer and wrapped his arms around her.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” he asked.
Summer wriggled free.
“I’m just tired, okay?”
“Aren’t we all?” Raphael huffed.
“I have to get something from the shops,” Summer said, without looking at him.
“Whatever.” Raphael headed back to help the others.
As Summer walked into town, her mind replayed for the thousandth time what she’d overheard Raphael tell the others about calling it a day.
He was right, they had lost the magic. They’d been preoccupied, trying to get the grant or sponsorship that would let them give up their part time jobs as supply teachers and run the circus full time. There hadn’t been much time for each other.
But if things were that bad, why hadn’t he said anything? Or was he just plotting his escape, the way that sneaky Miguel had in Spain?
Summer recalled the first time she and Raphael had fallen into each other’s arms, one scented summer night after a show. They hadn’t discussed the future, because it felt so right she’d taken that for granted. Now she wondered whether, to Raphael, their relationship had been just a convenience all along.
At the local chemist, her fingers trembled as she bought a pregnancy test. She knew it was more than a stomach bug that had put her out of sorts for the past week.
Sitting on the edge of a fountain in the town square, not wanting to go back to the circus to face her fate, she wondered what she would do if all her suspicions were correct.

That evening, with the circus packed away, Summer went into their little caravan to find Raphael had laid a table for two. A fine-smelling dinner was on the stove.
“What’s the occasion?” she asked, nervously.
“Take a seat,” Raphael said solemnly. “I need to talk to you.”
Feeling faint, Summer was glad to take the weight off legs that had suddenly gone weak. Her stomach tightened as he sat opposite, his smile tense.
Was this it, then? she wondered. The big break-up speech?
“I know things haven’t been so smooth between us lately,” he began. “And it’s probably my fault. We’ve been so busy trying to get funding...”
Her chest tight, Summer wondered if she should get her news in first. Would knowing she was pregnant change what he was about to say? Knowing Raphael, she reckoned it would. But she didn’t want to live a lie. If he was tired of her, she wanted to know.
“But this isn’t about the circus,” Raphael was saying. “It’s something I’ve been meaning to say for a while. Nicole made me realise I can’t put it off any longer.”
He reached out and took her hand. “Summer, my darling, will you marry me?”
“Marry you?” she spluttered. “I thought you were going to split up with me.”
“Why on earth would I want to do that?”
Tears sprang from Summer’s eyes. “I heard you tell Olly things were rough... you wanted to call it a day.”
“You heard...? I meant the circus!” Raphael protested. “I love what we’re doing, especially taking Shakespeare into schools. But unless we can get proper funding... I don’t want the way we’ve been struggling to come between us.”
“Nothing could ever come between us.” Summer tearfully squeezed his hand in both of hers. “I love the circus as much as you do.”
“Is that a yes, then...?” he grinned, hopefully.
“Of course it’s a yes!” Summer laughed. “And by the way, I have some news, too...”
Before she could finish, their chunky mobile phone rang.
“Hold on a moment... Oh, hi, Olly.” Raphael listened with an increasing look of disbelief, then clicked off the phone and beamed at her.
“Olly’s finally talked his bank into sponsoring us! We can do the circus full time, on a scale like never before!”
For a long time, Raphael talked excitedly about his plans for their next show. Summer watched him happily, full of the admiration and love she’d felt when he first had the idea of staging Shakespeare with circus.
She loved the way it had never been just about him or making money. His motivation had always been finding ways to help other people enjoy and understand the bard’s timeless beauty as much as he did.
Recently, he’d been so down, because it had seemed they’d taken their mission as far as it could go, but suddenly it was like a weight had been taken off his back and he was flying again.
Summer’s heart soared with him.
Eventually, Raphael said, “So what were you about to say?”
Summer blushed and said coyly, “Only that if we’re going to get married, perhaps we should do it sooner rather than later.”
Perplexed, his eyes flicked from her face to the hand on her belly, then the penny dropped.
“You’re not...?”
She nodded, smiling.
Raphael raised his eyes and spread his arms to the heavens as he declared, “Oh, the news just gets better!”
They both stood and she melted into his arms as he kissed her passionately.
“This calls for a toast!” Raphael pulled a champagne bottle from the fridge and popped the cork off the caravan’s ceiling. “To you! And to us!”
“And to Olly,” Summer reminded him.
“And to Olly, of course. It’s good of him to remember his old friends isn’t it?”
“It’s not just the sponsorship,” Summer grinned. “Didn’t he ever tell you? He only took me along to the juggling club in the first place in the hope that I’d distract you from Nicole!”
Raphael laughed and raised his glass. “In that case, here’s to Olly! And here’s to Shakespeare’s Circus!”

A Midsummer Night's Circus first appeared in the popular women's magazine My Weekly. If you've ever fancied writing for the women's magazine market, try my ebook How To Write and Sell Fiction to Magazines. Click here to buy it from Amazon.

If you're in the mood for another circus story, click here to read Murder at the Circus.