ReluctantBerserker-The300

Can we talk about that cover for a moment? It’s probably my favourite cover out of all my books and is by the inestimable Kanaxa

We worked hard on getting this cover right – by which I mean that Kanaxa worked hard, and I kept saying things like “can you make that helmet look more like a spangenhelm,” and “can we make it a round shield please?” But as a result of that unflinching back and forth we ended up with a cover that is not only beautiful but is also a kind of microcosm of the book itself.

Say “Early Medieval England” or “Viking Age England” and most people will think “Dark Ages.” It conjures up visions of grim horsemen, battleaxes, snake-prowed Viking ships running up the beaches, disgorging angry armoured men. Burning villages, looting, rapine, war. A bit like the Vikings TV series where everything that isn’t bloody is brown.

That would naturally make you think of dark colours, maybe some battlements, flames against a lowering sky and an atmosphere of oppression and threat.

And that was exactly what I didn’t want for the cover of this book.

I understand why so many people who write books set in this period focus on the battles between Saxon and Viking, the war and terror that that implies. After all, they tell you as a writer to focus on conflict and what more obvious conflict is there than two bunches of people trying to kill each other with swords?

But I wanted to do something that was a bit less obvious.

You see I love the Anglo-Saxons. I have done ever since I discovered that they were the closest thing to the Rohirrim you could get in the real world. I studied Anglo-Saxon art and archaeology at university and did a Masters degree focussing on the Saxons’ pre-Christian beliefs in magic, medicine and the gods. As a result of which I read most of their extant literature (in translation.) I even learned to read Old English, although I have thoroughly forgotten it by now, so that I could begin to appreciate the way they used their beautiful language.

For the last twenty years, I’ve been a member of the Saxon, Viking and Norman reenactment society Regia Anglorum, which has certainly helped me when it came to getting the small details of this book right. For example, here I am by the fire playing the same kind of bone whistle that Leofgar carries up his sleeve in the book:

And yes, I know exactly what it’s like to sit in a longhall on a cold winter’s night with your eyes streaming from the smoke, smelling like you’ve been kippered, and hearing the wolves howl outside. Even the wolf part is true – Regia has a longhall in Kent, just outside a nature reserve on which there are wolves. Close enough to hear it when they sing.

I love the Saxons’ art, the amazing colours and brightness of their illuminated manuscripts, the gold and glitter and garnet of their jewellery. I wanted some of that sense of light and colour in my cover and by Jove I think I got it.

I love the thoughtfulness and romantic melancholy of their poetry. They felt that they lived in a diminished age, that great things had happened in the past and nothing now lived up to it. They built their wooden halls in the shadows of Roman walls and made songs about “the ancient works of giants.”

They had a cooperative and really quite egalitarian society – much better for women’s rights, social mobility and the treatment of peasants and slaves than the Norman culture that replaced them.

So what I wanted in this book was to show that society working, in the last years before the Viking raids began to turn into a Viking invasion. I wanted to show that society at peace, so that I could look a bit closer at the kinds of things that war doesn’t leave time for: music, magic, gender and the social construction of masculinity.

We know very little about how the Anglo-Saxons treated gay men, so I’ve had to borrow from what we know of the Vikings’ attitude. I feel OK about this, as the Angles were essentially the same stock as the Vikings, they shared the same gods and many of the same words. They shared a past. It’s not a stretch to think that their beliefs about sex were similar.

It’s both good news and bad news. On the one hand no one is thinking same sex relationships are unnatural, illegal or damned. On the other, it’s a proof of your masculinity to be the top, but woe betide the bottom. He is the object of ridicule and the same kind of contempt that Victorian society dealt out to fallen women.

So there’s a conflict. How the hell do you negotiate a relationship of equals in a culture that’s preoccupied with the assumption that one of you must be the bitch? If you’re a well respected, high born, dangerous warrior, can you ever dare to be some man’s boy? And if you’re poor and beautiful and dependant on charity from your local warlord – like an itinerant bard – how do you get him to accept that you will never submit to him because you’re just as much of a man as he is?

These questions and many more are answered in the story, which does in fact contain numerous sword-fights, fist-fights and other types of conflict both magical and mundane. War, after all, isn’t the be all and end all of everything. Even a society at peace is not necessarily free of bandits, backstabbers, supernatural horrors and men with lethal levels of entitlement.

~

Alex Beecroft is an English author best known for historical fiction, notably Age of Sail, featuring gay characters and romantic storylines. Her novels and shorter works include paranormal, fantasy, and contemporary fiction.

Beecroft won Linden Bay Romance’s (now Samhain Publishing) Starlight Writing Competition in 2007 with her first novel, Captain’s Surrender, making it her first published book. On the subject of writing gay romance, Beecroft has appeared in the Charleston City Paper, LA Weekly, the New Haven Advocate, the Baltimore City Paper, and The Other Paper.

She is represented by Louise Fury of the L. Perkins Literary Agency

You can find her at her website, or on Facebook or Twitter.

In False Colors John Cavendish’s relationship with his mum, although off screen, is a big factor in the way he approaches life. It’s one of the many things he has to work through in the process of allowing himself to fall in love.

~*~*~*~

As everything paused on a high note, clear and perfect, John’s delight escaped in a gasp of breath, and at the sound Donwell’s eyes snapped open.  With a convulsive heave backwards, he drew the flute to his chest as if to protect it, slamming his heels into the sea-chest and scrabbling to rise.  “Oh!  Oh, I’m….  I’m sorry sir, I didn’t know you were there!”

 “No need to apologize, Mr. Donwell.”  John smiled, not only the music making him radiant.  It was pleasing to have the upper hand for a change; to wrong-foot his over-bold lieutenant.  “Rather I should ask your pardon for disturbing you in the middle of a performance.  I have a most untutored reaction to music.  What was it, may I ask?”

“Surely you know Telemann, sir?” Donwell’s dark brows arched with surprise as he straightened up, freeing space enough for John to walk in.  In his new mood of confidence, John did so, and found it pleasant to revert to the comradely visiting he had done on board the Admiral’s first rate.  There, they had been in and out of one another’s cabins all the time, borrowing books and stockings, taking a cup of coffee or a glass of wine with each other.  It had been, indeed, a little too sociable for John’s tastes, but now, after a fortnight of solitude, he thirsted for company. 

“It is not possible to underestimate what I know about music.”  The canvas partition wall creaked beneath John’s weight as he cautiously leaned against it.  A small part of him quailed at opening the details of his family life to such a stranger, but Alfie’s honest, good-humored amusement encouraged him.  Whatever else he felt—this itch of over-awareness which made every conversation a little too intense—distrust was not part of it. 

Indeed, the desire to put Donwell on the next ship to China weighed equally against the desire to tell him all and keep him close.  If it puzzled John which instinct to trust, he thought he should probably choose the more humane.  “My mother did not approve of it.  ‘Snare of the devil,’ she said.  It was not played in our house.”

“Your mother did not approve of music?”  Donwell had clearly been very startled indeed; his face only now began to change from boyish openness to the urbanity of an adult.  In all the layers thus revealed, John was startled to see pity. 

His temper flared instinctively. “Why should she?  Is it not used to set the scene for debaucheries?  Balls, where young people may lose their innocence.  Theatre and opera and dancing that dazzle the senses and make the heart forget true morality?  It would be a more steadfast, sober world without music.”

In his zeal, John stepped forward.  Donwell did not retreat, but stood there, apparently relaxed, his thumb moving gently over the curve of the flute.  “And a poorer one.”

Fists tightening almost against his will, physical fury swept through John, clear and glorious as the music.  Breathing hard, he could almost feel the smack of his knuckles into Donwell’s mouth, where a small, startled smirk turned in the end of the man’s lips.  Infuriating!  How dare he?  How dare he laugh at me?  They stood so close he could feel the warmth of Donwell’s shin on his own calf.

Watching that little knowing smile light up Donwell’s smoky amber eyes, John breathed in sharply and turned away, fighting down the urge to wrap his hands around the other man’s neck and choke some reason into him. 

What the…?  Where had that violence come from?  Shame flooding him, he stepped back, head bowed, appalled at himself.  It wasn’t even as though he didn’t agree.

“Forgive me.  ‘And a poorer one, sir.’”  Donwell too retreated, hopping up to sit on his cot, ceding John the two paces of floor and the sea-chest seat. 

For a man who has given in, he looks altogether too triumphant, John thought, sitting down on the chest with trembling legs and a tender conscience.  “You might be right.”  As his racing heart slowed, he attempted a reassuring smile.  God alone knew what Donwell must think of him!  He himself had no idea.  “Though it shows a filial impiety in me to allow it.”

John’s mother disapproved of many things in which he himself could not see the harm.  Had the music not – only a moment ago – made him feel closer to God?  Prompted him to worship?  How then could anyone say it was a snare?  It disturbed and grieved him that she made her life more unhappy than it needed to be, but at times it was hard to avoid the thought.  “I do sometimes fancy it is ungrateful—in our quest for purity—to disallow ourselves the things which were created to give us joy.”

I am rather ashamed to realize how few of my characters seem to have mothers! But here, from Captain’s Surrender, is Peter Kenyon working through his grief at apparently having lost his lover, while remembering to reassure his mum that although he’s a prisoner of war, he’s still doing fine.

~*~*~*~

“May I write to my friends in Bermuda?” Peter asked after another pause in which both men felt they should be saying something but neither knew what. “I…there is unhappy news to tell to many, which I would wish them to hear from a more sympathetic source than the naval gazette.”

His calm began to fracture at that sentence; he could feel the cracks spreading out from it, as they spread from an incautious foot stepped on thin ice. He was fragile at present, but beneath him the cracks were widening above the plunge into icy depths. He tried to ease away from the flaw but could not. It spread and spread beneath him, and he tensed for the sudden final break.

“Of course. Just go on into the drawing room. I’ll have Nancy bring you paper. I heard about the fight, of course. Don’t let my wife hear me say this”—he shook his head at the thought, his eyes shining—“but that must have been something! A French ship of the line and a little, tiny thirty-two? Hoo! I don’t mean to be unpatriotic, but that was a brave man.”

“Yes.” Peter was startled into a small smile. “Yes, he was. He was my particular friend, but I had no idea he intended anything so rash or so…so glorious.”

“Your friend, was he?” Ward rocked back on his heels. He wore no wig, so to Peter he seemed always informal, but the look in his pale eyes was unmistakably kind. “Well then, I won’t say that all this could have been avoided if Westminster had chosen to treat with us like civilized men. How they ever thought they could beat us into submission is probably as much a mystery to you as it is to me. So go and write your letters, son, and mourn your dead. You won’t be the only man doing the same.”

 

Peter considered the justice of this rebuke as he worked his way through the letters of condolence. His handwriting grew progressively shakier as his grief insinuated itself under his guard.

He had never failed in anything, and yet when had he ever done anything but what was expected of him? He had great sympathy for the colonists’ desire for self-rule, but when had he ever said so? When had he ever stood up for those things that really meant something to him? He had not. He had chosen always do to what everyone else thought was right, not what his own heart told him.

And in doing so—he put the pen down, rubbed his stinging eyes, telling himself it was fatigue that made them burn—he had rejected the one thing in his life that had ever made him completely happy.

He looked out at the sea, the ships in the harbor visible and yet so far away, and wondered if he could pray. He wanted to pray, “Oh, God, please, don’t let him have done this because of me, because I hurt him, because I put an end to something that he said must end.”

Pulling a fresh sheet of paper towards himself, he took up the pen again and began to write. My dear Mr. Summersgill, I am happy to inform you that I am alive and well, though confined. I am under house arrest in the dwelling of a worthy gentleman of Boston named Mr. Ward. I am quite comfortable and lack nothing but my freedom.

I am including here my wish that you should have power of attorney over my small estate in Bermuda and beg leave to ask you to see that my servants are paid and are not in distress in my absence.

Peter wondered if he should express some conventional sentiments of attachment to Emily, but his disordered thoughts rose up against such base hypocrisy. When the world lay at his feet, it had seemed natural that every prize should be his, but now he wondered if she even liked him, and more, he wondered if—beyond a basic physical appreciation of her charms—he even liked her. How much did he know about her? Not half so much as he had known about Josh, and he had cared not half so much to know.

Please pass on my love to my mother, and the reassurance that I am as well as it is possible to be, though I may not be able to send her the bird-of-paradise feathers she asked for in her last. My regards to Emily, and I remain, sir,

Your most obliged servant,

Peter Alexander Kenyon.

Although I’ve done a number of historicals now – enough to say I am a ‘historical novelist’ – I still feel that not all historical eras are equal. People have said to me ‘the Tudors are very popular. I’d like to see you do something set in Tudor times.’ I nod politely, because there’s no predicting where my muse might take me next. But inside, I’m still going ‘ew, the Tudors. They’re all torture and paranoia and witch burnings.’ I can’t really imagine wanting to write in an era where my nation’s best battleship sunk because someone forgot to put the plug in.

This is slightly hypocritical of me, because I like the Anglo-Saxons a lot, and they are not without brutality either. Plus, their technological level is much lower. But they nevertheless seem more civilised to me – a thoughtful, religious, melancholy people with less tendency towards burning women alive. Maybe I’m reading too much from the example of King Alfred and the Venerable Bede – both the sort of humane intellects I wouldn’t mind meeting in real life.

The 18th Century, though, is still my favourite. Part of this is the clothes. I can’t take Henry VIII seriously in his padded bloomers, but when we’ve moved on to tricorn hats, poet shirts, tight waistcoats and frock coats with swirling skirts; tight breeches and men in white silk stockings, showing off their toned calves to the ladies, well, then you’re talking.

But it’s more than that. I prefer civilization to savagery – I like to write in a world in which I would not find it unbearable to live – and the 18th Century is a time in which it’s possible to exist as something other than a warrior. More than that, it’s a time of great exploration. The world was opening up before Western Man, and as a result the spirit of the age is one of excitement. New things are being thought of every day. New places are being discovered. The world and the human spirit is expanding, and for the first time people are beginning to think about freedom and equality and the rights of man. An awful lot of what we take for granted nowadays was first being thought of in the 18th Century and it’s fascinating to watch it blowing their minds.

I read a lot of 18th Century journals as part of my research, and I find no difficulty in liking these people. They are urbane and amused, confident and surprisingly open minded. They have none of the self-righteous imperialism and prudery of the 19th Century, and while you’d have to cover the ears of the sensitive, because of their vulgarity, I wouldn’t feel a qualm about inviting them around for dinner. The tendency to fight a duel at the drop of a hat would be worrisome, I suppose, and they do drink and quarrel a lot, but they’re never quite what you expect. I think Jane Austen, who was that little bit later, would be shockingly disapproving of them. But in a fight between Lady Mary Wortley-Montague, lady of letters, who travelled the world, wrote letters from Turkey, and invented an early form of smallpox inocculation, and Jane Austen, my bets are on Lady Mary. She, at least, had attended the Empress of Austria when the fine ladies of Austria exhibited their honed pistol marksmanship. I think she’d be the one to walk away from that duel.

BlessedIsle_200x300

Blurb:

For Captain Harry Thompson, the command of the prison transport ship HMS Banshee is his opportunity to prove his worth, working-class origins be damned. But his criminal attraction to his upper-crust First Lieutenant, Garnet Littleton, threatens to overturn all he’s ever worked for.

Lust quickly proves to be the least of his problems, however. The deadly combination of typhus, rioting convicts, and a monstrous storm destroys his prospects . . . and shipwrecks him and Garnet on their own private island. After months of solitary paradise, the journey back to civilization—surviving mutineers, exposure, and desertion—is the ultimate test of their feelings for each other.

These two very different men each record their story for an unfathomable future in which the tale of their love—a love punishable by death in their own time—can finally be told. Today, dear reader, it is at last safe for you to hear it all.

You can read an excerpt and buy Blessed Isle here at Riptide.

Author Bio

Alex Beecroft was born in Northern Ireland during the Troubles and grew up in the wild countryside of the English Peak District. She studied English and Philosophy before accepting employment with the Crown Court where she worked for a number of years. Now a stay-at-home mum and full time author, Alex lives with her husband and two daughters in a little village near Cambridge and tries to avoid being mistaken for a tourist.

Alex is only intermittently present in the real world. She has lead a Saxon shield wall into battle, toiled as a Georgian kitchen maid, and recently taken up an 800 year old form of English folk dance, but she still hasn’t learned to operate a mobile phone.

You can find Alex on

her website,Facebook,Twitter or her Goodreads page

 

A Pseudo-Medievalist’s Guide – to Fire.

 Image

Clearly there are many advantages to reading bad books. One of these is the inspiration to write blog posts in an effort to make sure it never happens again.

There are several aspects of medieval life which are easily researchable, but which sometimes writers think they can make up on the fly. I can hardly blame a writer, who has grown up with movies and TV series in which the pseudo-medieval people sit round a blazing fire of leaping yellow flames, which comes on and goes off as if at the flick of a switch, for thinking that that’s how it really is.

 But you know what, kids, it really isn’t, and writing shows up your ignorance more than any brief glimpse of setting in a movie ever could. Worse, more than enough of your readers will have dealt with camp fires, will have open fires at home, will be blacksmiths, reenactors and twisted firestarters to know you got it wrong and to laugh at you for it.

Here, then, is a cheat’s guide to the common camp and hearth fire.

First of all, to address the scene in the book I just read, if you stumble into a clearing where someone has had a fire which has been left to burn itself out and is now cold, and you want to light one yourself, do not try to set fire to the ‘powdery stuff’ which is left. That stuff is called ‘ash’. Ash is the waste product of fire, and while good for tanning leather and making soap it is not flammable.

So, how do you relight someone’s fire (sounds like a romance plot)?

First of all, you rake the cold ashes out of the place where they made the fire. Ash forms a fluffy, inflammable barrier which prevents air getting to your fuel – so it actually chokes the fire. You want a nice clean start on which to build, because making a fire is hard, and unless you give it the best chance you can, you will fail to get it started at all.

 First of all, consider your terrain. Are you in a very dry place? What’s the soil like? If you start a fire on top of an unprotected soil largely made of dry peat, you may end up setting fire to the ground under you. This is a bad idea.

Check, therefore, to see if the previous camper lined the firepit with stone or clay, or whether the ground is wet enough to reduce the danger of roasting yourself and the county you sit in. If not, find stones or clay yourself and make a floor of that to start the fire on.

 Next, sort through the raked out mess of the previous fire. There are some parts of a burnt out fire which will be helpful – any largish chunks of wood which are partially but not wholly burned are likely to be slightly more inclined to catch alight than completely unburned wood would be. These don’t go on the hearth (technical term for the floor you’ve made for your fire) yet, though.

 Now you want to give the infant fire some baby food to help it grow up strong before it can move on to the solid food of big logs. You cannot just drop a spark on a log and expect fire to result, unless you’re in ‘hello forest fire’ conditions, in which case do not light a fire at all!

 Ideally, your sensible pseudo-medieval traveller is carrying a carefully protected bag of dry hay, small dry twigs, and a half a dozen larger dry split sticks. (This is a job for the evening before – drying out enough wood to start the fire next day.)

 Arrange the small twigs in a lattice arrangement (any shape you can manage which leaves plenty of space for air to get through, and a hollow in the middle into which you will insert the fire. Arrange the larger twigs on top of that – still carefully preserving the air-flow. Support the larger dry sticks and partly burned pieces on top of that.

 Make sure there is a good pile of further wood already gathered and preferably cut up into hearth-sized lengths waiting to go on when the time is right.

 OK, so that’s the easy bit done. Now, the prepared pseudo-medieval traveller takes out her tinderbox. The tinderbox contains a small lump of flint and a steel strikealight. It also contains a piece of pre-prepared tinder. This can be a kind of dried fungus, or the fluffy seed of bullrushes, or several small pieces of linen that have been cooked in an airtight box until they’re black.

 I’ve never used fungus or bullrushes, but this is how it goes with linen. When absolutely everything is ready, you hold one piece of linen and the flint in the same hand. Strike the steel against the flint until a spark falls on the linen. The spark will hopefully catch and create a little glowing red spot of slow burning on the linen. When this happens, you put the flint down, keep the spot glowing by blowing gently on it, pick up the straw. Place the glowing linen into the centre of the straw and blow hard into the centre of the ball of straw and linen.

 Hopefully the straw will catch alight. Encourage it by further breathing on it. Not too soon, but not so late that you burn your hands off, push the burning ball of straw into the hollow you created for it in the lattice of what will become your fire. Get your face as close to the fire as you can and breathe air into the flames – gently and steadily.

 Hopefully, the twigs will begin to burn before the straw burns out. Hopefully the larger twigs and pieces of branch will begin to burn before the smaller twigs burn out. If so, the careful lattice will slowly settle into itself and begin to create glowing embers.

 You cannot walk away from the fire at this stage. It needs another hour or so of feeding it larger logs while being careful not to crush or smother the air out of it before it’s self-sustaining enough to be left for a short period. But even then, you will need to check on it every quarter of an hour or so to make sure it isn’t running out of fuel and threatening to go out, or alternatively to make sure it hasn’t ventured out of the side of the hearth and decided to explore your whole campsite.

 Fire needs to be cosseted and nurtured and tenderly nursed, and watched relentlessly to be sure it isn’t going to make a break for it. Fire is not an electric light or a space heater, controllable at the flick of a switch, and it’s a tricky, sneaky creature on whom you have to keep a careful eye.

 But, you may say, my pseudo-medieval traveller was robbed of all his equipment and is stumbling through the forest naked. He starts a fire and…

 How’s he going to do that then? I say. Naked, eh? So he’s got no flint or steel to create a spark? And he’s got no knife to create a fire-drill? Um… Is there flint or rock around he could knap into some kind of cutting tool? More to the point, is he the kind of character with the survivalist knowledge necessary? Does he know which kinds of trees to make his fire-drill out of? Could he recognise the right kind of fungus for tinder? Is it the right season for the bullrushes to be in seed?

 And I really hope it’s not raining, because even if he has the ability to make the spark, if the fuel it ends up on is wet, it will put the spark out.

 Your average pseudo-medieval peasant is likely to know how to start a fire at home, using dry everything under optimal conditions, just as you are likely to know how to start a fire using matches and a couple of firelighters. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re any better than you at lighting a fire in the wild without matches/tinderbox and kindling.

 Your naked forest-wanderer may still be saved if he stumbles over the remains of someone else’s fire. But – here is the key bit – he must do so before it has completely burnt out. If he gets to the fireplace and the ashes are still warm, then there is a chance that there are still small embers alight in the ash-bed. Then, if he can find dry tinder (straw, dry pine bark, paper etc), small dry sticks and larger dry sticks, he might be able to find an ember in the ash which will take the place of that elusive spark (another good romance title).

 It still has to be not raining, though.

~

Alex is only intermittently present in the real world.She has lead a Saxon shield wall into battle, toiled as a Georgian kitchen maid, and recently taken up an 800 year old form of English folk dance, but she still hasn’t learned to operate a mobile phone. You can find more of her blogging and all of her books at her site: http://alexbeecroft.com

Just a short one this week.  Many thanks to Lee Benoit for sending in a link to this

possibly the first ever onscreen m/m kiss.

And to Syd McGinley for this link to a blog featuring some historical hunks:

Bangable Dudes in History

A short but fun one today:

Passed along by Syd McGinley, this interactive Victorian role playing game will allow you to see if your character would have been welcomed at the Gentleman’s Club or cruelly cut at the Ballroom.

http://www.mccord-museum.qc.ca/en/keys/games/game_0/

 

Recommended by Erastes, a very nice vintage book blog

Bali Hai’s Blog

and two links found at physorg.com

“Gay rights movement born in 19th century Germany, scholar says”
http://www.physorg.com/news/2011-02-gay-rights-movement-born-19th.html

“Eighteenth century writings of first gay activist discovered”
http://www.physorg.com/news96733007.html

And in keeping with this week’s more entertainment-based theme (what, we’ve got games and everything!) but for Brits only, I’m afraid, unless you can get your browser to conceal your location, a moving TV programme about Frankie Howerd – “Rather you than me.”
http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b009s7gv/Frankie_Howerd_Rather_You_Than_Me/#recommendSource=tv_episode_page

Drama starring David Walliams as the comedian Frankie Howerd, looking at the relationship with his long-term, long-suffering manager and partner, Dennis Heymer.

~

If you have an article which you think fits with our subject matter (gblt and historical and/or writing) and you’d like us to share it with our readers, just send it along to alex@alexbeecroft.com

“Historical” by our definition means pre-Stonewall, so pre-1969.

From Syd McGinley
http://www.etymonline.com/index.php

This is a map of the wheel-ruts of modern English. Etymologies are not definitions; they’re explanations of what our words meant and how they sounded 600 or 2,000 years ago.
The dates beside a word indicate the earliest year for which there is a surviving written record of that word (in English, unless otherwise indicated). This should be taken as approximate, especially before about 1700, since a word may have been used in conversation for hundreds of years before it turns up in a manuscript that has had the good fortune to survive the centuries.

~

Two links from Erastes:

from lgbtukmonth

http://lgbthmuk.blogspot.com/2011/02/secrets-out-on-hidden-life-of-gay.html

hidden life of gay victorians

and

glbt objects in the Victoria and Albert – (disappointingly only 21!)

http://www.untoldlondon.org.uk/article/get-our-free-lgbt-trail-british-museum

~

and some vintage cross dressers:

from the Bilerico project, a young male impersonator

http://www.bilerico.com/2011/02/boi_from_a_bygone_era_vintage_male_impersonator.php

and from the blog A Gender Variance Who’s Who, Ross Hamilton as Marjorie

http://zagria.blogspot.com/2010/05/ross-hamilton-1889-1965-female.html

I see I forgot to do a Friday post last week.  My apologies!  However, that does mean that I’ve got an especially good selection of links this week.  So, without further ado:

Ever had your historical character sigh and stare at the wall, only to wonder exactly what he was seeing?  Have a look at these historical wallpapers discovered in a renovated house:

http://ht.ly/3SdYn

I haven’t yet looked at the rest of the site, but that looks pretty interesting too.

~

This is an absolute must bookmark site for anyone doing stuff set in the Victorian era:

http://www.victorianlondon.org/

several thousand pages of Victoriana, available free to the general public.”

~

Some evocative photos of London during WW2

http://www.howtobearetronaut.com/2010/06/london-blackout-february-1944/

I liked these photos in particular, but I follow the Retronaut on Twitter because it’s consistently interesting and inspiring with regular little glimpses into different eras and historical subjects.

~

And now for something completely different – some writing resources!

Ever stuck for a new story idea?  This may help:

http://www.creativity-portal.com/prompts/imagination.prompt.html

~

Oh no! My historical gay romance character has put on a deerstalker and is insisting he’s a detective, what can I do?  I know nothing about plotting mystery novels!

Fret not, but check out

http://ticket2write.tripod.com/mysplot.html

~

And for a bit of fun, and in case you were absolutely yearning for a banyan of your own

http://www.lacma.org/art/ffpatterns.aspx

downloadable patterns for a man’s banyan, a sleeved waistcoat, an unsleeved waistcoat and a late 18th Century man’s coat.  (Well, I can’t be the only one in the world who saw this and went “I want one!” can I?)

Valentine’s Day letter from Garnet Littleton to Harry Thompson from Blessed Isle

Lo!  When the rosy fingered dawn
Her gentle light in at the casement shine
And from the Stygian depths, new-born,
She draws this soul of mine,
I contemplate with grateful breast
The manly bosom whereon I rest.
Shaped for the Titan’s herculean task,
Yea, as of marble fairly wrought,
By a master’s hands, and though most dearly bought,
Containing every blessing I might ask.

Here beats a heart of Attic kind,
Fit for the ancient heroes’ company,
Here slumbers quiet a lively mind,
That I would bend with kisses upon me.
And, Harry, though I think you’d blush
I dream with greatest pleasure of the power,
The thrust and elevation of that tower,
About whose proper name I must say “hush”.

So, sleeping warrior, awake
The day of lovers taps upon the glass
And of its nectar let us now partake.
The deed of Venus we should soon surpass,
When the angry god of war she overcame
In swooning bliss.  The lion most tame
Lay with the lamb.  Just so, with you
My nature wild you effortless undo
And make me answer only to your name.

Reply from Harry to Garnet
My dear fanciful lad, you are of the two of us the eloquent one.  Though I should try my hardest to string together fine words – to somehow attempt to reply appropriately to such a poem, a great deal of which, I may say, went over my head – I could not do better than to answer plainly “I love you too.”  I will endeavour to show you by actions what I cannot express in speech.  Today and always,

Yours,

Harry.

Well, I could argue that it’s fairly vital for defending yourself against an aggressor, but that’s not an argument I want to get into at this time.  From a writer’s point of view the thing it’s best for anyway is as a background and setting for fiction. 

It’s easy to see why this should be the case.  Put your heroes in uniform and send them off to fight, and immediately the stakes are raised – people are actively trying to kill them all day long.  If the war is a total war like WW2, they will be facing the risk of death from bombardment even in their places of safety. 

The author has the benefit of characters who are already facing the horrors of death and the worst that humanity can do to itself.  If those characters are heroic, or even simply decent, if they can manage the smallest acts of kindness, then those things will stand out against the darkness of the background like lights, and love will blaze like a star.

War too has its own strange fascination.  I will admit to being in love with my great war machines.  I began writing Age of Sail fiction because of two vivid moments in the cinema – the appearance of the two-decker HMS Dauntless out of the fog in Pirates of the Caribbean, and the magnificent, heart stirring sound of a cannon ball fired from the Acheron at the frigate HMS Surprise in Master and Commander.

master-and-commander3

A line of battle ship was the greatest weapon of mass destruction the 18th Century knew.  Its broadside of cannon fire could level citadels and forts on the shore line from a mile away, and I won’t deny that that stirs my heart.  There is definitely a part of me that would love to have the power to sail up to my problems and literally blow them out of the water. 

I got into World War Two the same way.  I thought it was too modern for me to feel any poetry in it, too much like real life.  But then I discovered the Lancaster bomber, and once more I fell in love with a machine of war, and by extension with the men who flew it.  As with the crew of a tall ship, the men of a bomber crew suffered great hardship, endured terrifying experiences, kept going through situations where you would expect frail human flesh to fail.  And in both what resulted was friendships and loyalty more intense than could have been created by the strains of normal life.

I’ve been reading a book called Bomber County: The Lost Airmen of World War Two by Daniel Swift, and he obviously doesn’t share my slightly worrisome ability to rejoice in destruction, because he says that one may write poetry about a sword, but that there is something too obscene about the killing power of a heavy bomber to permit a person to feel the same awe and admiration for it as one would feel for a blade.

I think that’s rubbish, for a sword too is a thing designed with only one purpose in mind – to kill people.  A Lancaster merely does it on a larger scale.  If a sword can be admired for its beauty, despite being created to deal death, so can a Lancaster.  Both are implements for the exercise of force – the same power that we admire in an alpha hero taken to its logical extreme.  The power to stop what you don’t like, obliterate it, burn it to the ground; to run terrible risks, face and conquer fear and adversity, and to triumph.

Lancaster-bomber-004

But of course, what comes arm in arm with this heady, glorious violence, (or what should come with it) is an awareness of the horror of it.  Of how -yes- how obscene is the ability to rain fire on old men and women and children sleeping in their beds.  On how the men you can’t help admire for their courage and their self-sacrifice, their kindness to their friends and their willingness to die to ensure that we, their descendants, could live in freedom, are the same men who bombed towns until the pavements melted and the fleeing inhabitants sank into the liquid tarmac and were horribly burned to death.

War is not simple, and it is hard to separate out the good from the bad.  There’s much talk about there being no glory in war, but to my mind that’s as false as saying that it’s all glory and no horror.  A man climbing out of his plane while it’s under attack by fighters, clawing his way along the wing without a parachute in order to put out a fire in the engine and save his mates’ lives… Don’t tell me that’s not glorious or heroic.  The Germans offering to safely escort a plane flying a replacement artificial leg to Douglas Bader – even though they must have known he’d try to escape the moment he got it.  Don’t tell me that’s not so humane and chivalrous it warms your heart.

It’s like every day life turned up to the maximum volume, confusing and morally gray, full of ugly things and also full of some beautiful ones.

And that – although I hesitate to say it, because it seems disrespectful – is another good reason why it is such a blessing for a writer.  It is full of emotions and all of them are cranked up to an intensity unavailable in peace time.

I am grateful that it’s there to be written about.  But I’m even more grateful that it’s something I haven’t had to live through.  I have the armies that have protected my country from invasion for a thousand years to thank for that.  And that’s another good reason to write about them as heroes.  But for Nelson’s navy, but for Harris’s bombers, I might not have the freedom to write at all.  The moral ambiguity of war is a gift for a writer, but a degree of fannishness helps too.  And it’s far safer for everyone involved if I spend my time imagining what it would be like in a gun turret with four Browning machine guns at my command than it would be if anyone actually provided me with them in real life!

Quite a different take on the Aubrey/Maturin novels of Patrick O’Brian here

http://www.tor.com/blogs/2010/10/re-reading-patrick-obrians-aubrey-maturin-series

a weekly read-along and discussion with a group of SF/F authors and fans.  I include it here because PoB is the very model of a modern major general historical fiction writer, and we can all learn something by pouring over the good stuff.

~

Not sure if I’ve linked to this before, but a great way of finding out those little details that make your historical writing so authentic and fully immersive is by joining a historical reenactment society.  You can get quite new perspectives on stuff by handling the artifacts and wearing the clothes yourself.  Here is a list of reenactment societies in the UK

http://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/LivingHistory/LivingHistorySocieties.htm

and one here which has some US societies and some international ones

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_historical_reenactment_groups

~

I thought this was funny and very instructive at the same time:

The impotence of proof reading (proving that the penis mightier than the sword.)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OonDPGwAyfQ

~

On a more serious note, if you ever feel moved to demand satisfaction in an 19th Century style, the full code covering duelling is available from Gutenberg.org

THE CODE OF HONOR;

or

RULES FOR THE GOVERNMENT

of

PRINCIPALS AND SECONDS

in

DUELLING

by John Lyde Wilson

Published in 1838, but containing material from 1777

http://www.gutenberg.org/files/6085/6085-h/6085-h.htm

~

And some very not safe for work vintage photos and illustrations of gay sex

http://classicgay.canalblog.com/

~

Anyone with any interesting links concerning writing, history or gay history please do share them with us.  Thanks!

 

First of all, I apologize for the absence of the Friday links over the last fortnight.  Almost everyone in the Macaronis has been busily doing NaNoWriMo, and it’s hard to squeeze anything else in.  However, I’ve now finished my novel, so I hope that it will be business as usual here in future (at least until I get to the OMG, I must finish this right now stage of the next thing.)

As usual with our Friday links, the Macs are not responsible for the content of other sites, nor do we endorse any products or services they provide.  All the links prove is that we thought there was an interesting article here. (more…)

Picture of Sisyphus, by Titian

In November a young writer’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of NaNoWriMo.  This annual event with the ugly acronym is the National Novel Writing Month, during which a bunch of mad writers attempt to crank out a 50,000 word novel in thirty days.  It’s not too late if you want to have a go!  Sign up is here, and I’m reliably informed that the tighter the deadline, the easier it is to rack up the words. (more…)

Another eclectic round-up of links which may or may not be useful to your research.

Erastes says that she wishes this had been available when she was writing Transgressions, as Jonathan from that book was partially inspired by 17th century Puritan writer Nehemiah Wallington:

Journal of the Witchfinder General

A whole bunch of links to articles on io9.  I follow this blog because I’m a big Science-fiction and Fantasy fan, but they also occasionally come up with some fascinating historical trivia, and today was obviously a good day for it, as they have articles on:

18th/19th Century coffin technologies that protect you from being buried alive

Eerie listening – the theremin (invented in 1920)

55,000 years ahead of their time – a group of early humans in South Africa

And I’ve been noodling around looking for sites with information about society’s attitude to homosexuality during World War Two, for my next book, and came up with these:

Wikipedia, while not a good place to rely on, is often a good place to start, and I thought this was at least a nice succinct summary:

Timeline of LGBT history

And then I got distracted reading about The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall, which was interesting in itself and convinced me that moving to Paris might be a better post war strategy for my lads than staying at home.

This seemed like a good book for anyone researching for a WW2 story set in Canada:

Paul Jackson. One of the Boys: Homosexuality in the Military during World War II.

And this looked like an absolute godsend for me, with my story set in my back yard around Mepal and Witcham in the UK:

BBC – WW2 People’s War, an archive of WW2 memories, written by the public, gathered by the BBC

particularly when it contained this:

A Gay Soldier’s Story “They used us when it suited them, and then victimised us when the country was no longer in danger. I am glad I served but I am angry that military homophobia was allowed to wreck so many lives for over 50 years after we gave our all for a freedom that gay people were denied”, said Cave.

Well, it’s still Friday in my part of the world at least!

Here’s a lovely 18th Century medical text digitised by Google books:

Medical essays and observations by the Philosophical Society of Edinburgh

Lots of amusing snippets from late 19th Century to early 20th Century newspapers, which you can follow on Twitter.  What a sad world we live in nowadays that has no teams of trained sturgeons to pull our boats!

Tweets of Old

I’ve read many books set in Anglo-Saxon England that would have benefited from the author having access to this list.  There’s almost nothing more jarring to me than a 10th/11th century character with a name from the wrong era or race.

List of Saxon (Englisc), Viking (Norse), Norman and Welsh names.

Will nobody write me an Etruscan m/m romance?  They were the more liberal, happy go lucky, artistic predecessors to the Romans, and seem like a nice people to have belonged to.  Here’s a good site to start you off on them:

The Mysterious Etruscans.

And as I’ve had a number of reviews complaining that the reader can’t make head or tail of some of my nautical dialogue in False Colors, here’s a nice list of nautical terms that should make everything clear.

Useful Nautical Terms

If anyone has any other interesting historical links they would like to share, do comment with them!  We want to try and keep this up indefinitely, so we’re probably going to need your help :)

During the week, the members of the Macaronis yahoo group are forever coming across interesting things in the course of their researches.  We decided that it would be a good idea to share these interesting articles with the readers of the blog.  There is no particular rhyme or reason to these links, it’s just a tossed salad of fascinating things.  Dive in at will, and hopefully there will be something here to inspire or amuse you.

Threads of Feeling – an article about identifying tokens left with abandoned children at London Foundling hospital:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture/2010/oct/09/foundling-hospital-museum-threads-feeling

No sniggering now chaps, but this must surely fit into someone’s plot:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/8015180/MI6-used-bodily-fluids-as-invisible-ink.html

Jeremy Brett in frogging.  Authentic military uniform or just an excuse to brighten up your day?  You decide:

Wonderful clip of a 1920’s polo match:

http://www.britishpathe.com/record.php?id=21757

50 greatest works of GLBT literature?

http://www.accreditedonlinecolleges.com/blog/2010/50-greatest-works-of-lgbt-literature/

The medical perils of a life at sea in the 19th Century

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1316428/19th-century-Royal-Navy-medical-journals-reveal-perils-life-sea.html

Transgender Memoir of 1921 Found

OutHistory.org includes a main entry on the manuscript discovery at:

Earl Lind (Ralph Werther-Jennie June): The Riddle of the Underworld,
1921

http://www.outhistory.org/wiki/Earl_Lind_(Ralph_Werther-Jennie_June):_The_Riddle_of_the_Underworld,_1921

Additional entries about Lind are on OutHistory.org at:

Earl Lind: The Cercle Hermaphroditos, c. 1895

http://www.outhistory.org/wiki/Earl_Lind:_The_Cercle_Hermaphroditos,_c._1895

Ronald Sell: Encountering Earl Lind, Ralph Werther, Jennie June

http://www.outhistory.org/wiki/Ronald_Sell:_Encountering_Earl_Lind,_Ralph_Werther,_Jennie_June

The Macaronis blog received the One Lovely Blog Award from Elisa Rolle’s wonderful reviews and news blog. This is a community-generated award, like a meme, in which operators of historical fiction and related blogs bestow the award on their favourite blogs and then tag the recipients to pass it along and recognize other blogs in the field.  A great opportunity to spread some goodwill and recommend some good blogs :)

I nominate

The Duchess of Devonshire’s Gossip Guide to the 18th Century

Why gossip about the boring celebrities of our mundane century when you could be picking apart the outfits and scandals of a more gorgeous world?

Got Medieval

For all your vital medieval advice, like what to do with unexpected dragons and when to expect unexpected bears.

Chaucer Hath a Blog

Possibly not exactly informative, but very amusing, and there’s nothing like a bit of Middle-English to uplift your spirits in the morning:

I here neyther that ne this, for when my labor doon al ys and have made al my rekenynges I goon hom to my hous anoon and, also domb as any stoon, I sitte at another book tyl fully daswed ys myn look. Certes, I oghte to get outte more. Thou kanst fynde myn feede for liveiournale at the username ‘chaucerhathblog,’ sum swete soule hath sette yt vp for me.

Anglo Saxon Aloud

A daily reading of the entire Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records,which includes all poems written in Old English. By Michael D. C. Drout, Prentice Professor of English at Wheaton College, Norton, MA.  I no longer understand it without being able to see the text, but I find it very relaxing to listen to.

The Period Movie Review

Unfortunately on hiatus at the moment, but it’s well worth going through their reviews and checking out their opinions on the costuming, which are informed and always interesting.

These are the ones that I follow.  How about the other Macaronis?

As Erastes’ post on Gay Historical Art is consistently our most popular post to date I thought I would do a follow on with some of my own favourites.

Clicking on past the cut indicates that you are old enough in your own country to see images of nudity and some sexual content.

(more…)

A Middle Way

I’ve been thinking about realism in historical fiction recently as a result of a discussion on the Macaronis yahoo group in which I was in the unusual position of arguing for less of it.

I do think that my opinions about realism versus fantasy in fiction have shifted a little towards the middle, so I’m going to subject you to me thinking out loud about what has changed in my head and why.

I’ve been reading a lot of Age of Sail romance recently, and have noticed that many of the books which I have found difficult to read because of the lack of historical realism are still books which are thoroughly enjoyed by some romance readers.  I wondered how that could be.  Didn’t they care about realism or quality?  Did they want only wallpaper history?  Did they actively prefer stories in which the unpleasant things about the past were brushed under the rug?  What was going on?

Last weekend I went to the re-enactor’s market up near Coventry, and it occurred to me that re-enacting was like historical fiction in the way that re-enactors attempt to portray people from other historical periods but can never get away from the fact that they are, underneath, as 21st century as anyone else.

We drive to shows, we wear modern underwear, we sleep on modern camp beds and bring out the camping gas stoves in the evening to make our instant coffee.  Some of us (heresy) machine sew the invisible parts of our clothes and only hand sew the bits you can see.  And we have modern ways of looking at the world and understanding things, which we have to painstakingly put aside in order to try and see things as our ancestors would.

In addition to my 18th Century group, the Mannered Mob, I belong to a re-enactment society called Regia Anglorum, which recreates life during the Anglo-Saxon and Viking periods:

Both of these societies are well known in their respective fields for the extreme seriousness with which they take the idea of presenting an accurate picture of their period of choice to the public.  Both have officers whose job it is to check people over to make sure they are not wearing or using or being seen with any out of period artefact, even if that’s as easy for the public to miss as rubber soles on your shoes.

One of Regia’s clothing rules is that black clothing is right out.  No one gets to wear black.  This isn’t in fact strictly historically accurate.  It is possible to dye cloth a dense black with the methods available at the time.  But it was extremely expensive and it was not at all colour fast, so it rapidly faded to grey.  The society’s rule is in place because, before they had that rule, everyone said “oh, but they could produce black cloth, so I’m doing nothing wrong” and everyone wore black.  With the result that, overall, the society ended up giving a false impression of the kind of clothes that would be in general use at the time.

In the same way, the Mannered Mob is well aware that there were some women in Georgian society who disguised themselves as men and entered the Army or Navy.  It would be historically accurate if they were to allow their female members to cross dress in this way. But they don’t.  And they don’t for the same reason as Regia – because if they did, everyone would do it, and the overall level of realism would go down.

So what’s this got to do with fiction?

Well, what this made me think about was that (another heresy coming up) possibly strict accuracy was not what fiction is actually aiming for.  After all, to realistically portray even a contemporary event, we would have to include the parts where the main characters went to the toilet, spent five hours playing Farmville because it was Sunday and they were bored, spent six hours of their day every day at their job and the remainder worrying about their bills.  Even contemporary fiction abstracts from the real world only those things which make a good story.  It just presents them in a way where the reader doesn’t even notice they’ve gone.  It gets across the impression of contemporary life, while actually severely restricting and re-ordering incidents in a way that never would happen in real life.

That goes double for historical fiction.  Realism might seem to demand that the story be told in the original language.  My Saxon freedom fighters should be speaking Old English.  But then the modern reader wouldn’t understand them at all.

My 18th Century gentlemen, if they’re going to be typical of their breed, should be fat, have bad teeth and the pox, keep slaves, cheat on their wives as a matter of course, loathe sodomites and enjoy nothing better than a public execution.

But, frankly, then they wouldn’t be very heroic.  Of course, I could write heroes who are the embodiment of every modern virtue, and excuse those heroes by saying “well, some people in the 18th Century had surprisingly modern attitudes.”  And that’s true.  But in a way, it’s like the black cloth.  If you’re going to do it at all, you have to do it sparingly or you give a false impression.  Some middle way is required – a way to write heroes who are men of their time and yet still sympathetic, likable characters.

So I think the aim in fiction, as it is in re-enactment, is not complete re-creation.  I think that it is to create verisimilitude.  To keep the past and present in the kind of dialog where they’re working together to create an impression that “it could have been just like this.”  To give the reader enough detail, enough accuracy and enough flavour of the period so that they feel they are really there.  And to do that without either giving a false impression of the historical period, or damaging the flow of the story, so that they not only feel they are really there, but they’re having a whale of a time while they’re at it.

That brings me back to the puzzle I talked about at the beginning: Why are some readers so tolerant of such a low standard of historical accuracy in fiction, whereas some throw the book at the wall if the writer gets the thread count of the knotwork on the character’s epaulette wrong?

Well, verisimilitude is one of those things that depends as much on the reader as it does on the thing being read.  Suppose your reader is someone who loves romance, doesn’t care that much about history and has a powerful imagination of their own.  It isn’t going to take much historical detail to create an impression of verisimilitude for that reader.  Throw in a cutlass and everyone saying “yarrr” and their imagination has probably already leaped in to supply the rest, leaving them happily transported to their vision of what it must have been like on a pirate ship.  The reader is still experiencing that feeling of being swept away to a different time—it just didn’t take a lot of effort on the part of the writer to achieve that.

The problem for the historical romance writer is that while it is easy to create an impression of a cool historical setting for readers who are prepared to suspend much of their own disbelief, some readers are reading historical romance because they like to learn about the history as well as the romance, and those readers already know a lot and expect the writer to know more.

For those readers, creating the illusion that they are right there in that historical time is going to take a lot more historical accuracy from the writer.  Those readers are the ones for whom it’s necessary to check your facts and get your details right.

The more an author knows about a historical period, the more of those picky, knowledgeable historical readers he or she can sweep away under the enchantment of “I feel like I’m really there”.  The trick, of course, is to do it without turning off the reader who doesn’t like history and is only in it for the love story.

If you can suspend the disbelief of both sets of readers and give both of them a satisfying love story too, well, you’ll have twice the readers.  If you’re a writer who doesn’t particularly care about the historical details and only wants the atmosphere of the time, it’s still got to be worth putting in that extra bit of historical research, because it will mean that your stories appeal to a whole new audience.

If it’s difficult to keep up to date with the Macs on Word Press, you can now follow us on Twitter or friend us on Facebook and have the latest posts automatically twittered to you, or displayed on your Facebook wall.

The Macaronis on Twitter can be found here: http://twitter.com/themacaronis

And on Facebook we are here: http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?ref=profile&id=100000781807455

Feel free to join either or both, and pass the information along to anyone who might be interested :)

A Feather In My Hat: The Macaroni Prints
By Kenneth N. Kurtz

Yankee Doodle went to town,
A riding on a pony.
He stuck a feather in his hat,
And called it Macaroni.

Most American children, upon hearing the lyrics of our country’s first patriotic song, “Yankee Doodle”, ask why sticking a feather in Yankee Doodle’s hat made him into a noodle. Too few adults can answer that in the eighteenth century “macaroni” was a term that the English borrowed from the Italians to mean a very frilly (and often silly) version of the urban dandy. It was only later that a curlicued form of pasta took on the name.

I learned this because my parents, who loved to summer in the Scottish Border town of Selkirk, found a set of Georgian fashion prints in a book shop in Edinburgh. Mother had them framed and hung in the foyer of our home in Grosse Pointe, Michigan. Now, more than fifty years later, as the eldest of three brothers and scion of the family, they hang in my foyer here in Miami. Recently I had them photographed in honour of this delightful blog.

These are eight of a set of twenty-four Macaroni fashion plates drawn by one of England’s first caricaturists, Mary Marley, and engraved and printed by her husband, Mathew Marley, in 1772. I’m willing to bet that Mary herself did the hand water-colouring of the prints. Originally they worked out of a shop on the Strand, but the subject became so popular that a second shop was opened in the West End, run by Mary, and popularly named “The Macaroni Shop.” Her husband achieved his own claim to fame by drawing and engraving the illustrations for Thomas Chippendale’s Gentleman and Cabinet Maker’s Directory.

I wonder what my parents’ reaction would be at the thought that in purchasing and hanging these prints that they were forecasting not only their eldest son’s gayness, but also his happy association with a fine web site named after the Macaronis.

(Kenneth Kurtz is the author of Here, And Always Have Been, a collection of gay historical short stories, written under the pseudonym of Kenneth Craigside, and available at Amazon.com)

It is quite often that we hear of the launch of a new epublisher, but Bristlecone Pine Press is not your typical epublisher and its raison d’etre and modus operandi are both unusual and (in my opinion) a pretty damn good idea.

Bristlecone Pine Press are producing the ebook versions of Frost Fair, Ransom and Winds of Change in tandem with the print release from Cheyenne Publishing. I grabbed Leslie and put the same questions to her as I had asked Mark:

What made you want to get into publishing?

A number of factors came together at the same time; it was, as they say, “a perfect storm.” First, I bought an Amazon Kindle in 2008 and was excited about the new technology. Although ebooks have been around for many years, widespread acceptance has been slow in coming but I think we are finally at the tipping point. Amazon has been supportive of small publishers by having minimal barriers to entry to distribute Kindle books through their catalog. Second, I own my own business (Maine Desk LLC, founded in 2001) so creating a publishing imprint as a division of the business was easy to do and a natural fit as a new venture of the core business. Third, I am, by profession, an editor (and nurse), so I know the nuts and bolts of the publishing business. Last, over the past few years I have been more involved in fiction (writing my own as well as editing/supporting others). Bristlecone Pine Press provided an outlet to distribute some of these products.

What’s it like on the other side of that publishing/writer divide?

To me, the publishing side is where I’ve been for years and years. I am having more fun exploring fiction writing and getting my feet wet in that department.

What made you choose these books for your big launch?

Mark’s answer to this question really sums it up. Because of our collaboration on the military history anthology, as well as his bringing out L.A. Mischief in paperback, we knew we worked well together. When the opportunity to take on these new titles presented itself, I said to him, “Let’s go for it.” He agreed and we did.

Where do you see your firm in five years?

Right now, Maine Desk is the core business and Bristlecone is a very small part of it—almost a sideline. I’d like to get to the point that BCPP is generating 50% of the revenue for day-to-day business expenses, so that I can really spend the time I want with authors and their books, helping them produce very high quality products.

What do I do if I want to submit a book to Bristlecone Pine Press?

My original vision for Bristlecone was that I would publish ebooks for print books that did not have an ebook counterpart. The very first book I published was L.A. Heat by P.A. Brown, which fell into that category. I published a few others and then Pat surprised me by telling me she had an original, unpublished Chris and David story (main characters in L.A. Heat). I read it and it was very good, so I decided to publish it, even though it was not in print. That book is L.A. Mischief. Six months after the ebook was published, Mark and Cheyenne Publishing brought it out in paperback, and I am pleased to say, it’s been selling like hotcakes.

That’s a long answer for saying…if an author has a published print book that doesn’t have an ebook counterpart, please follow the guidelines at http://www.bcpinepress.com/htdocs/submissions.html to query me. If an author has a new, original book that has not been published, send a query to publisher@bcpinepress.com and pitch the idea to me. I might take it on if it tickles my fancy.

It’s not often there’s a new publisher in town, and even less often when you consider that this is a publisher specializing in GBLT historic fiction. I managed to catch Mark on the eve of Cheyenne Publishing’s relaunch of some of the most prestigious novels of the m/m historical romance genre to ask him a few questions about this new direction. In addition to being the owner of Cheyenne Publishing, Mark is the author of The Filly, the gay YA novel which was one of the books at the center of the Amazonfail bust up this spring.

Many thanks for agreeing to this interview, Mark.

What made you want to get into publishing?
First and foremost—my love of good literature. My mother was a voracious reader and she instilled that value in me when I was very young. Secondly, because gay-positive books were not readily available when I was growing up, I wanted to do something to fill that void. So I wrote a gay young-adult novel of the type that I would have liked when I was younger. The publishing part came about when I wasn’t able to get my story published; I decided to start my own publishing house and then later, when people started asking if I would consider publishing others, I thought, why not?

What’s it like on the other side of that publishing/writer divide?
Well, having been on the other side I know what it’s like to have door after door after door shut in your face with a flippant “Sorry, not for us” tossed at you. And now I have authors contacting me to consider their work. So here I am in a position I really don’t like where I have to turn authors down, and I know how frustrating it is for them. But on the other hand, finding a fresh new talent is very rewarding. The submission call I did in collaboration with Bristlecone Pine Press for the military anthology, turned up a very talented young writer, Jordan Taylor, who hadn’t been published before and was selected over many other applicants who had been previously published.

What made you choose these books for your big launch?
I was acquainted with Erastes and Lee Rowan though some online writing groups that we all belong to, and I’ve been a fan of their work. Frost Fair and Speak Its Name were books that I personally felt were examples of some of the best historical gay fiction that had been published in the last few years. I heard that they were looking to move these books to a different publisher. Leslie Nicoll of Bristlecone Pine Press and I were collaborating on a couple of projects where Cheyenne was publishing the print books and Bristlecone was publishing the digital counterparts, so she and I discussed it and mutually decided to make an offer to pick up all of Erastes’ and Lee’s books from this other publisher. And we were quite overjoyed when they both accepted our offer.

Where do you see your firm in five years?
Probably not where you’d guess. I don’t want Cheyenne Publishing to have grown into some huge company that gets bought out by another bigger publisher. No, I’d still like to be running a small publishing house, but to have attracted enough of a consumer base to be able to grow some. In five years I hope to have built up a strong line of gay young-adult titles that are predominately rooted in the historical genre. I’d hope that maybe by then when readers are chatting in forums about gay historical books, the name Cheyenne would be one that gets mentioned often as a favorite.

What do I do if I want to submit a book to Cheyenne Publishing?

For Cheyenne Publishing, all you need to do is email a query letter with a brief synopsis. If I like what you have to offer, I’ll invite you to send in a partial or perhaps even the full manuscript.

Making History Sexy

I don’t do a lot of historical romance. Not that I don’t love history — history is one of my passions, as a matter of fact — but I find that my single historical romance — Snowball in Hell — doesn’t sell as well as my other titles. It’s not, as my natural insecurity would lead me to believe, unique to me. I hear from a number of romance publishers that historical can be a hard sell — so many variables, you see. Readers tend to have preferences for time periods, so while a reader may adore Age of Sail, she may not be so hot on the Jazz Age. Regencies were huge for a long time, but the market was flooded and for a while there you could sell Stone Age more easily than Regency (although Regency is once again experiencing a resurgence). Like real history, these things go in cycles.

Anyway, I’ve always been partial to the rich dramatic possibilities of World War I. The tragedy and horror, the romance and chivalry — forty million casualties — and the dawn of a new age. In particular I’ve been fascinated by the aerial battles and the aces — the canvas falcons. There’s a lot of potential there for powerful storytelling. So I finally decided to write a novella about a WWI ace. It’s called Out of the Blue, and it’s coming from Liquid Silver sometime in August, from what I hear. It’s a nice little crime story…with wings. But the thing is, I have to make a living at this, so I had to find a way to take this historical tale and make it sexy and modern and appealing to contemporary readers, of which, I hope, there will be many.

Easier said than done, perhaps. Part of the difficulty is the early Twentieth Century itself. Westerns, Medievals…they’re far enough back that they almost have a fantasy quality to them. And stories from the 1930s and 40s…well, who hasn’t seen The Maltese Falcon or at least Chinatown? These stories have a sort of vintage cachet to them. But the early 1900s…it’s tricky. It’s modern enough to be a little less romantic than, say, the Victorian period, but it’s so…quaint.

There’s a danger of parody as with this letter from British ace, Albert Ball, to the folks at home.

Cheerio, dears…Really, I am having too much luck for a boy. I will start straight away, and tell you all. On August 22 I went up. Met twelve Huns….

A little of that goes a long way. Obviously, to keep it real, you do want to sprinkle in a few “old beans” and “jolly goods,” but it’s got to be done sparingly or the modern reader begins to feel too detached, like she’s watching characters in a play. In good fiction, we’re in the moment with the characters, we’re living each scene with them — flinching at the bullets singing past, laughing at the jokes, blinking back the tears at the death of a beloved friend.
Part of how we achieve the goal of keeping the reader in the moment with us — even if the moment is April 1916 — is by staying focused on the humanity of our characters. Humans haven’t changed as much as you might think (and hope) since the dawn of time. Okay, our hygiene is better. Our hair is definitely better. But though our definitions may change, but we still need to feel successful, to love and be loved. We still experience the same emotions: joy, sorrow, jealousy, triumph, fear…

Fear is a good one for m/m romance because western society’s views on homosexuality have altered significantly throughout history — from generation to generation. Passionate but platonic male friendship was the order of the day during WWI. Homosexuality carried a potential death penalty. So we can play on that paranoia, we can use that fear effectively, and the modern reader can identify with that — can certainly identify with the need for love and companionship, and from there can empathize with the strain of having to disguise your true nature, the difficulty of hiding your needs…indefinitely…from those closest to you.

In order to write comfortably about the past, you need to know your stuff. That means doing your homework. But when the time comes to share that knowledge with the reader — to build the stage upon which your characters will play — it’s got to feel real and casual. Historical romance should never be clinical or textbookish. And part of how we keep it real and avoid reading like a sexy syllabus is by putting in the sensual details. No, I’ve never taken a bi-plane for a spin, but I do know how the icy wind feels blowing in my face, what petrol smells like, what a sunrise looks like, or how ale tastes.

Details matter — and never more than in historical fiction. Do not put your Knights Templar riding into battle in 1315 or have Apaches attacking in Ohio. Mistakes are not sexy.
And the last and most obvious way of making your historical sexy is…er…putting in a lot of sex. As much as makes sense. Yes, I know it sounds crass, but when it comes to historical romance, take a tip from those old bodice rippers of the 1970s. Sex sells. Sex is one of those universals, and there seems to be a certain amount of kink inherent in seeing people from the past doin eet. Maybe it’s the costumes. Maybe it’s the suspicion we all have that our parents couldn’t really have done that. Whatever the charm, romance readers — m/m romance readers in particular — like sex. If there’s one thing history teaches us, it’s that some things never change.

 

I’ve been noticing recently that almost every historical to cross my path has a Regency or possibly Victorian setting. I’m sure there’s a good reason for this – those ages are more modern in their outlook, and are also very popular in costume dramas on the TV and the movies.

But there are other eras to choose from. Here’s a little list. In fact I grew exhausted by the end, so here is the start of a little list, and I’ll carry on with the Iron age in another post!

Stone Age

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This is a long, long period of time, during which all sorts of exciting changes in human society occurred. Modern humans interacted with Neanderthals – there were two different kinds of human on the planet! Amazing. Agriculture was invented. America was discovered and colonised. Stonehenge was built.

How about a gay Clan of the Cave Bear? Lots of things to discover, invent or fight for the first time. Was there homophobia in the stone age? I suspect we really don’t know, so this might be a good place for a happy ever after. And men in leather, hunting mammoth for a living, can’t be a bad thing.

If you can’t live without a city, however, how about Çatalhöyük a stone age city in Turkey. It would make a change!

Wikipedia starter on the Stone Age

Bronze Age

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In Britain, you have the mysterious Beaker people, who arrive and establish friendly relations with the indigenous stone age inhabitants. They ‘improve’ Stonehenge and build their own massive earth and stone circles. Classic stranger in a strange land territory; love across the divide of culture. This is also the age when textile production starts. Surely there’s a f/f story there somewhere?

In Mesopotamia you have the Akkadians, the Babylonians, the Assyrians and the Sumerians. But this is also the great age of ancient Egypt, which is a setting made for romance.

You’ve got Persians, Anatolians, the Canaanites, the Hittites. You’ve got the Minoans – bull dancers and minotaurs and carmine stained pillars in cool palaces on the Greek islands.

There’s the Seima-Turbino Phenomenon, where a mass migration of people from what is now Russia and China ends up leaving cultural and metallurgical traces in Finland. Surely there’s a story there!

There was an Indus Valley civilization in India, and Chinese civilization is going strong. There’s the fascinating Dong Son culture in Vietnam. There’s all sorts of stuff going on with the Tumulus people in central Europe, and in the Americas the Inca civilization developed bronze independently and simultaneously (or did they…? Might the knowledge have been brought over by a shipwrecked Cornishman in a Dover bronze age boat?)

Wikipedia starter on the Bronze Age

Iron Age

Now we’re really motoring!

This is a good age to be a Bantu-speaking native of East and South Africa, who discover iron and use it to drive out the stone-tool using hunter gatherer peoples they encounter on the Savannah. I’d like to read a story about that from either pov or both.

I have dibs on the Etruscans, my favourite not-quite-Romans, whose morals scandalized the ancient world:

A Greek historian’s account of the behaviour of Etruscan women.
Theopompus of
Chios, 4th cent. BCE (Histories Book 43)

Sharing wives is an established Etruscan custom. Etruscan women take particular care of their bodies and exercise often, sometimes along with the men, and sometimes by themselves. It is not a disgrace for them to be seen naked. They do not share their couches with their husbands but with the other men who happen to be present, and they propose toasts to anyone they choose. They are expert drinkers and very attractive.

The Etruscans raise all the children that are born, without knowing who their fathers are. The children live the way their parents live, often attending drinking parties and having sexual relations with all the women. It is no disgrace for them to do anything in the open, or to be seen having it done to them, for they consider it a native custom. So far from thinking it disgraceful, they say when someone ask to see the master of the house, and he is making love, that he is doing so-and-so, calling the indecent action by its name.
When they are having sexual relations either with courtesans or within their family, they do as follows: after they have stopped drinking and are about to go to bed, while the lamps are still lit, servants bring in courtesans, or boys, or sometimes even their wives. And when they have enjoyed these they bring in boys, and make love to them. They sometimes make love and have intercourse while people are watching them, but most of the time they put screens woven of sticks around the beds, and throw cloths on top of them.
They are keen on making love to women, but they particularly enjoy boys and youths. The youths in Etruria are very good-looking, because they live in luxury and keep their bodies smooth. In fact all the barbarians in the West use pitch to pull out and shave off the hair on their bodies.

And who have a very fine line in tomb-decoration:

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Thanks to http://www.mysteriousetruscans.com/theopompus/index.html

But I think they may deserve an entry of their own.

I’ve suddenly realized that this is a topic which is going to stretch on and on, so I’ll draw a line there and do part two another time!

I have to recommend this blog

Got Medieval

because my life was not complete without ambulatory genetalia.  I particularly like the one on stilts, and the girl power one with the crowned vagina being carried on high by three phalluses.  I swear that one in the hat is wearing roller skates, though.

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But it isn’t all pudenda. The Medievalist can be funny on practically any aspect of his chosen area of study. I have this blog bookmarked and it gives me a giggle every time. But watch out what you use the word for! You don’t want him going all medieval on you ;)

Let me tell you all about my grand adventure on Wednesday…

Window

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captain_cook

There are lots of modern myths about the past which it’s very easy for us as modern people to buy into. I was thinking about this today because I’ve recently acquired a number of reprints of 18th Century journals, and I keep coming across sentiments which are startlingly at odds with what popular thought believes about 18th Century people.

We’re accustomed to the idea that the past was a different place from the present – that people thought in ways which are at odds with our modern understanding – but I think that our tendency is to make that a value judgement. The people of the past were old fashioned and wrong. They believed things which no progressive modern person would ever believe. They were, in short, not as good as us.

One of the joys of reading original sources, however, is the way that they challenge this assumption. Yes, the past was different from the present, but it was often different in ways we don’t really suspect, and in ways that challenge our casual assumption of modern superiority.

For example, the idea that women in the past were somehow less critical of men; they were passive wallflowers without a thought of their own, in comparison with modern, kickass heroines.

By contrast I just found this opinion in the correspondence of Mary Delany (published as ‘Letters from Georgian Ireland’ edited by Angelique Day)

Dublin 17 January 1731/2

Would it were so, that I went ravaging and slaying all odious men, and that would go near to clear the world of that sort of animal; you know I never had a good opinion of them, and every day my dislike strengthens; some few I will except, but very few, they have so despicable an opinion of women, and treat them by their words and actions so ungenerously and inhumanly. By my manner of inveighing, anybody less acquainted with me than yourself would imagine I had very lately received some very ill usage. No! ’tis my general observation on conversing with them: the minutest indiscretion in a woman (though occasioned by themselves), never fails of being enlarged into a notorious crime; but men are to sin on without limitation or blame; a hard case!

It’s a complaint I hear daily echoed around my Livejournal communities, and so startlingly familiar that I laughed out loud. Who would have thought it – we’ve been complaining about the double standard for over two hundred years. Of course, in the next line she breaks that familiarity by continuing – not the restraint we are under, for that I extremely approve of, but the unreasonable licence tolerated in the men. How amiable, how noble a creature is man when adorned with virtue! But how detestable when loaded with vice!

These days we would rather argue for the right of women to behave with the licence she detests in her men, rather than the duty of men to behave with the self restraint she hopes for in women, but still it’s apparent that our foremothers were not quite as uncritical as they are sometimes supposed to be.

Another myth that doesn’t quite stand up to the evidence of the original sources is the idea that the 18th Century explorers went out with a doctrine of Imperialism and certainty of superiority, intent on dispossessing the peoples they found of their culture and lands.

With hindsight developed from watching the ghastly results of that first contact, we work backwards and assign the original explorers motives and world-views that are quite inaccurate. In doing so – in our haste to make it plain that as modern people we abhor imperialism in any form – we misrepresent the attitudes of the time.

This is Captain Cook exhibiting his feeling of cultural superiority in Tahiti

We refused to except of the Dog as being an animal we had no use for, at which she seem’d a little surprised and told us that it was very good eating and we very soon had an opportunity to find that it was so, for Mr.Banks having bought a basket of fruit in which happened to be the thigh of a Dog ready dress’d, of this several of us taisted and found that it was meat not to be dispised and therefore took Obarea’s dog and had him immidiatly dress’d by some of the Natives in the following manner. (Cook describes cooking in a hole in the ground.) after he had laid here about 4 hours the Oven (for so I must call it) was open’d and the Dog taken out whole and well done, and it was the opinion of every one who taisted of it that they Never eat sweeter meat, we therefore resolved in the future not to despise Dogs flesh.

Cook on the superiority of Christianity to Tahitian religion:

Various were the opinions concerning the Provisions &c laid out about the dead; upon the whole it should seem that these people not only beleive in a Supream being but on a futurue state also, and that this must be meant either as an offering to some Deitie, or for the use of the dead in the other world, but this last is not very probable as there appear’d to be no Priest craft in the thing, for what ever provisions were put there, it appear’d very plain to us that there it remaind untill it consum’d away of it self. It is most likely that we shall see more of this before we leave the Island, but if it is a Religious ceremoney we may not be able to understand it, for the Misteries of most Religions are very dark and not easily understud even by those who profess them.

My emphasis added. Do these sound to you like the opinions of a man certain that he was the spearhead of civilization? I’m not for a moment denying that his arrival in many of the places he visited was the start of a disastrous and appalling period of exploitation and oppression. Nor that the Imperialism and cultural superiority followed, but the myth tends to be that the first explorers arrived with ill intent. When you read the man’s actual thoughts it’s much harder to keep hold of that.

Cook is not what you expect. And he’s not what you expect in a different way from what you might expect, because although many of his entries read with an almost Star Trek ‘strange new worlds’ delight in discovering new things which I for one find easy to empathize with, in many other places he is as archaic and strange as you can imagine. Here’s his entry in the log for a tragedy early in the voyage:

In the morning hove up the Anchor in the Boat and carried it out to the Southward, in heaving the Anchor out of the Boat Mr Weir Masters mate was carried over board by the Buoy-rope and to the bottom with the anchor. Hove up the anchor by the Ship as soon as possible and found his body intangled in the Buoy-rope. Moor’d the ship with the two Bowers in 22 fathom water, the Loo Rock W and the Brazen head E Saild his Majestys ship Rose. The Boats imploy’d carrying the casks ashore for Wine and the caulkers caulking the Ships sides.

As modern people we would expect at least a conventional expression of emotion here, but there is none.

To sum up; the past is strange, but it’s strange in ways that we don’t expect. If it’s possible at all to find original sources there is no substitute for them in correcting the assumptions we take for granted as modern people. In many respects, once we start to hear the genuine voices of people from the past it becomes much clearer that we aren’t superior to them; that we, like them, are subject to our own culture’s prejudices. Original sources – there’s nothing like them for broadening the mind and the sympathies. (And in Cook’s case, also the spelling. I’m going to have such trouble not writing clowdy and intangled in future!)

The Language of fans.

No, I don’t mean OMGWTFBBQ! Or ‘squee’! Though I’m sure a post on the language of media fans in the 21st Century would be invaluable to the historical novelists of the future. No, I’m talking about the kind of fan you use to cool your face, particularly in the ballrooms of Regency novels, and the suggestion that they were used to convey coded messages through a well known repertoire of gestures.

Since I’m concentrating on the language of fans, I’ll pass over the other uses of fans throughout most of history by cunningly referring you to this handy website: Life was a Breeze with Fans

So… Googling on ’18th Century fans’ will inevitably turn up a number of sites like this

http://www.ideco.com/fans/language.htm or this http://www.fortunecity.com/victorian/riley/200/fans.html

which give long lists of different fan positions and the different meanings which are to be attached to each. This struck me as extremely cool. But the lists were sometimes quite different from each other – sometimes dangerously contradictory. It’s a bit of a disaster to drop your fan, meaning ‘let us be friends’, only to discover you’ve really said ‘I am yours forever’. Suppose your right arm gets tired? Then you only have the choice of getting really hot or saying ‘do not flirt with that woman’ to your entire acquaintance.

This led me to wonder how much truth there was in the idea of a formalized language of fans at all. Sadly, a bit more digging brought to light the news that the well known language as practiced in Georgian ballrooms was actually an invention of a 19th Century fan maker named Duvelleroy. He printed out a sheet of instructions and enclosed them with his fans as a marketing gimmick. See this exhibition of the language in use in the delightfully named ‘Fan Slang’ page of the royal collection.

For people who are determined that there must have been an earlier version of this language in existence, some hope is held out by the fact that Duvelleroy is said to have adapted (and vastly expanded) an original German version of a pre-existing Spanish guide.

Liza Picard, whose ‘Dr. Johnson’s London’ seems to me to be a very reliable guide, mentions fan language, and gives a much shorter list of meanings, which comprises just fifteen gestures, including ‘yes’, ‘no’ and ‘hush, we are being overheard’. I wondered where she had got this from – whether this was the original pre-Duvelleroy list – but sadly there doesn’t seem to be a reference in the back of the book or a footnote to give her references.

So I thought I’d see what the people of the period have to say. Here is Addison in 1711 with a tongue in cheek proposal to set up a new academy of the fan for genteel young ladies:

Mr Spectator – women are armed with fans as men with swords, and sometimes do more execution with them

I’ve linked that because it’s long and well worth reading in its entirety. But clearly Addison, in mocking the use of the fan to express its bearer’s emotions, has no idea at all that it might be used for sending coded messages. I’m inclined to think that if it had been so used at the time, he would have known about it.

It wouldn’t have been a very good language if none of the men you used it with recognized its existence. I’ve actually got a scene in False Colors where Mrs. Deane is attempting to tell the hero, John, that he is being indiscreet, and that the two of them will be good friends. But sadly John is entirely ignorant of the existence of fan language and doesn’t even notice that she’s trying to say something. If Addison is to be believed that may not be too off the mark!

Fans could be used for other communication, however – all sorts of information could be painted on the backs of them. This site has some lovely pictures of a fan with samples of botanical classification, another with dance steps, and another with a calendar of saints days marked on. They could also be used to demonstrate political leanings or patriotism – for example this fan commemorating the Battle of the Nile.

Of course there’s nothing to prevent there having been the occasional informal use of a fan to send pre-arranged signals – in fact it seems unlikely that that wouldn’t have occasionally happened among groups of friends or a certain ‘set’. But still, on balance I would be wary about including too much general knowledge of any ‘language of the fan’ before the 19th Century. I don’t think it was the popular phenomenon that some websites would have you believe.

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