This is Tom’s mother from Promises Made Under Fire. Very different kettle of fish from Mrs. S.

Mother met me at the station, full of smiles and news. Father’s back playing up, her head much better, thank you, scandal about the neighbour’s son, who’d somehow mysteriously moved to Ireland.

“And your friend Ben—he asked me to apologise for his not being here to meet you but the silly boy’s gone and got mumps.” She slipped her arm in mine. “So he’s strictly persona non grata.”

She didn’t need to add why—any of my platoon could have told you the risk to a man’s wedding tackle. What the hell had I done to get such a run of luck?

“Have you any plans? Apart from rattling around at home?” Mother squeezed my arm, her hand seeming so tiny against my uniform coat. I patted it.

“I’ve a commission to fulfil. No, don’t worry.” I patted her hand again. “It’s not the army. You remember Foden?”

Of course she did, the way she paled at the mention of the name and gripped my arm tighter. She’d have remembered my tears, too. I hailed a cab and carried on. “He left a letter asking me to make some visits on his behalf. Least I can do.”

“You always were a good lad,” Mother said as we bundled into the cab and gave the driver our address.

Good lad I might be, but I wasn’t looking forward to doing this particular duty. “He wanted me to visit his mother,” I said, looking out of the window, unseeing. “Do you think I should write to her and make an initial introduction, rather than just turn up on her doorstep?”

“It would depend on her character. If it were to bring her distress rather than comfort, she might prefer one dose of it.”

Only one dose of discomfort for me, too; I’d forgotten how wise Mother was. “I have no idea. She’s a cook, up in London.”

“A cook?” A brief look—surprise tinged with quickly hidden disdain—crossed her face.

“It will have hurt her as much to lose her son as it would the lady of the household.” The anger I felt shocked me.

“I’m sorry. You’re quite right. You’ve always said that bullets don’t make any social distinctions.” She suddenly produced a mischievous smile. “And since the ‘to do’ with the lad next door, even Father says you can’t tell how brave someone is from the school he went to. He’s very proud of you, you know.”

From Lessons in Discovery. Orlando has lost his memory following an accident and can’t remember what Jonty’s Mama is like. He has a shock coming.

“Jonathan! Orlando!”

A voice that seemed to have been designed to penetrate concrete at two hundred yards rang through the college court. It was Sunday morning and the broomstick had obviously landed successfully. Its arrival had been anticipated by the two fellows so they were lurking around to greet the pilot.

“Mother,” Jonty whispered to his companion, before saying in a tone as hearty as hers, “Mama! You’re looking ridiculously well. What has the doctor been giving you to make you look so young?” He was scooped up into his mother’s arms and had the breath squeezed out of him.

“Looking thin again, dear.” Mrs. Stewart always seemed to think that her son was on the brink of starvation, even though he was more muscular and well set up now than he had been this last year. “Dr. Coppersmith, you look positively emaciated.” She grabbed Orlando and squashed any answer out of him, too.

Orlando was stunned. His own mother had never shown any such physical affection for him and the perfume-soaked, genial embraces of this ample lady were a complete shock. He knew he’d met her before although he had no recollection of the events and he’d no time now for reflection, with Mrs. Stewart thrusting an arm through those of both her son and his thin and starving friend and insisting that they go immediately to the Blue Boar for a jolly good feed.

She was most sympathetic over lunch, a meal taken in a quiet room away from the noisy masses so that the recovering invalid shouldn’t be overwhelmed. She’d asked, with great concern, about Orlando’s condition, gently talking him through the times he’d been her guest, the pleasure it had given her to receive him. “Because it has always been a delight to us whenever Jonathan has brought you home. I think of you rather like a son now, which of course must seem very odd today when you no doubt regard me as a stranger. But one day you’ll remember everything, dear, and then it will be like old times.” She beamed.

Orlando thought how much Mrs. Stewart resembled Jonty and how lovely she must have been at the same age. A sudden, small voice in his head informed him that his friend was beautiful now and when he looked at Jonty he realised it was quite true, which was another terrible shock. He had never really considered before whether anyone was eye-catching and he’d now done it for two people within a minute.

They finished their meal with a wealth more gossip and made their way back to Jonty’s set for a cup of tea to refresh them and to give Orlando a chance to collect his thoughts.

Mrs. Stewart insisted that there was nowhere better to take a cup than in front of one’s own fire. She was now ensconced on Jonty’s sofa and her thoughts ran to old acquaintances.

“So you met old George le Tissier on Jersey. I wonder if he remembers me?”

“I don’t think that anyone would ever forget you, Mama.”

“Especially true in this case. Not my most shining moment, Jonathan, I positively disgraced myself.” Mrs. Stewart blushed, something that seemed out of character.

“Whatever did you do?” Their interest was piqued, their appetite whetted at the thought of what revelation might come from this lady’s lips. Jonty in particular was intrigued at the thought of his mother disgracing herself in any way.

“It was a grand ball. A very big occasion, all the handsomest young men were going to be there, including George who was a subaltern at the time. Not that I had eyes for any of them except your father—that’s why I was so excited. Richard Stewart was going to be present and we’d arranged in advance to have several dances together. Got out my best bib and tucker and set off. Within a quarter of an hour of arriving there, a young man I’d taken a waltz with, I can’t remember his name, the ill-favoured surly thing.” She glanced surreptitiously at the often surly thing on her left but he was looking remarkably sweet and kind today. “Anyway, he drew me off into a corner, said he’d never loved anyone the way he adored me, proposed a marriage within three months and when I refused to take up his offer, threatened to kill himself. I spent twenty-five minutes trying to talk him out of it. Meant that I missed my first dance with your father, so I was rather miffed. When I tracked Richard down to apologise he hooted with laughter. He said he knew the chap and that he’d done the same thing numerous times—the suicide threat was all a big bluff of course. I was livid. Your father had to hold my hand and try to get me to calm down. I was all for going and tweaking the chap’s ear, but I suppose the hand-holding made it all worthwhile.”

“It always does.” Jonty smirked slightly and there was a suggestion of a blush on Orlando’s cheeks. How odd, Jonty reflected, wondering if the embarrassment was due to subconscious memories.

Mrs. Stewart sailed on undaunted. “Then blow me down if three dances later a similar thing didn’t happen, though I remember the chap’s name this time. Samuel Parker, and he was a toe-rag. We were walking through the portrait gallery at the back of the house en route to get an ice when he plighted his troth. I gave him the old ‘thank you but no thank you’ and he pulled me behind the arras—I can see you sniggering, Jonty and it doesn’t become you—and started to take the grossest liberties. All he got was a black eye—it was a real shiner, I was rather proud of myself—and he departed. Then I had to go and find Richard again and explain why I’d been late for our next dance. Had the suspicion that he thought your dear mama was a bit of a flibbertigibbet, but he held my hand once more and called me his ‘dear little peach’. I can see you smirking again, Jonty, and if it happens a third time I will have no hesitation in taking you across my knee and spanking you. Anyway, I was furious, furious beyond all measure. So when poor George le Tissier came up all beaming with excitement and asked for my hand, I forgot myself entirely. It was pent-up anger, and I am not proud of myself. Now, are you ever going to make me that cup of tea or will you watch your poor mother sit here, wasting away parched and drained?”

“Mother, I won’t even put the kettle on until you tell me what you did that was so bad.”

“Laid him out, dear. One great big punch and goodnight sweetheart. Now that ends that trifling matter and you need to address the greater one of my desiccated throat.”

When Mrs. Stewart was watered sufficiently to be able to attempt the return journey, Summerbee, the porter, found a cab (she wasn’t inclined to fly the broom). With many a kiss, hug and wave she was sent on her way.

Here’s the old warhorse herself, Mrs. Stewart, in surprisingly mellow mood, expressing her Mothering Sunday wishes for her son, Jonty.

To Jonty, aged 4

I wish you joy, my golden child, laughter and happiness and length of days.
I wish you sunshine, in skies as blue as your eyes. Snow to play in, wind to fly kites, mud and grass and cold salt sea.
I wish you someone at your side to share them all.

To Jonty, aged 14

I wish you strength to fight whatever ails you, my boy who once laughed so readily.
I wish you courage to share it; with someone, if not with us.
I wish you the return of your smile.

To Jonty, aged 24

I wish you a sense of direction, my lad, a new beginning.
I wish you a companion to share the journey, a hand at your elbow and a smile at your side.
I wish you someone for whom you are the whole world, but who’d never make you aware of the fact.

To Jonty, aged 34

What do I have left to wish you?
I wish you health and length of days, of course, a warm hearth and a table set with food.
But you have all that any man could desire, in the person who sits in the chair beside yours.

Various historical (and maybe hysterical) mothers from Macaronis authors’ books will be dropping in tomorrow, some in the form of excerpts from gay romances and some in new material. They are a law unto themselves so why not drop in and see what’s going on?

The last post in this series sees three more writers revealing their musical inspiration.

Elin Gregory 

I’ve had masses of inspiration from music over the years. Jethro Tull’s Songs From The Wood inspired a long bildungesroman that I would love to work up into a novel. It’s about a hill with a wood on it flanked by two villages, King’s Norton and Brynlas, where the villagers protect the secret of the wood – a fully functional shrine to the celtic god Nodens – and in return benefit from the god’s protection. High jinks ensue when one of the hereditary protectors turns out to of a lavender persuasion. But there is sheep and beer, darts and village against village football and general good times to offset the edgy bits. I have 90k words of it, some of which I stored on Skyehawke. Cup of Wonder has most of it in it.

But these days I prefer something with a more epic scope and less recognisable lyrics so *blush* I quite enjoy listening to Two Steps From Hell aka Nick Phoenix and Thomas Bergersen. They write music for computer games and are – did I mention epic? They are the most epiccy epic in the history of epicness!  Best of all, since I don’t play computer games I have NO mental images to go with the music so can apply them to anything.

This one – Heart of Courage – has everything one might need to give a story a boost nicely compacted into 2 minutes.

I’ve also been listening to uillean bagpipe music for my Romano-Celts. Dark Slender Boy seems appropriate with its minor keys, especially since most of the story is a bit on the down side…

1940s swing music hits the spot for Sam Hobbs, my lame shepherd, and I have a whole playlist of 1920s songs for Winstanley Briers Winstanely and Miles Siward.

But usually I don’t play anything while I write. The music works away on my subconscious while I do other things – like ironing or driving – and I have memories of the feel of it later.

Louise Van Hine 

I wrote one book in the form of a symphony in five movements, and another book in the form of a set of etudes.

BTW I stole the idea from Anthony Burgess, a composer/novelist who wrote “Napoleon Symphony” as a sort of a spoof of Beethoven’s “Emperor” concerto and “Napoleon Symphony” – the Fifth which was dedicated originally to Napoleon, until he crowned himself Emperor.

Charlie Cochrane 

I always have something on in the background when I write – favourite music of the moment, sports commentary or sometimes an audio book. While I’d find it hard to say (with one exception), “Oh, that song inspired that character/story”, the music itself makes me want to write, if that makes sense. Vaughn Williams’ Variations on a Theme by Thomas Tallis gets my creative juices going every time.

The exception is a song called “Boeotia”, by Matt Alber (track six here). When I heard that song I had to write a story based around it. I don’t know enough about the time when Alexander and his father were conquering half the known world, so I cheated a bit by having the historical bits happen within dreams – that’s how “Dreams of a Hero” was born.

Alex Beecroft:

Music doesn’t seem to work that way for me. For a start, I don’t listen to much music these days, except when doing housework, and that tends to be trance music without any words. I did listen to a lot of 18th Century sea shanties when I was writing my Age of Sail books, and they were excellent for letting me know the kind of things that the sailors of the time thought and said about themselves and their lives. I also listened to classical music of the time, so I could hear the soundtrack of the officers’ lives. I think that gave the overall setting a bit more texture, but nothing really became part of the story in such a dramatic way that it could have said to have inspired scenes or plot points.

Oh… oh, I lie (or at least, I have just remembered something.) Actually I did watch a TV programme about the castrati, which featured male soprano Michael Maniaci, whose voice is amazing. Listening to him sing inspired me to make John Cavendish in False Colors a countertenor and gave rose to the scene in which Alfie persuades him to sing and is awed by the result.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z8GnxqotJiw

KC Warwick:

The music running through my mind while I was writing ‘Prove A Villain’ was Vaughan Williams ‘ Fantasia on Greensleeves’.  ‘Greensleeves’ always reminds me of Elizabethan times, though I must admit that I smile to myself when I remember Michael Flanders’ wonderful monologue on  ‘Green Fleeves’, (this chap Anon’s writing some perfectly lovely stuff, but no one seems to know who his agent is…) Sorry, I digress.

Erastes:

I’ve never been one to constantly have music on, I’ve never owned a walkman or an ipod or anything like that. I seem to have entirely skipped the CD generation and most of my records are vinyl. And I have nothing from this century, either, to the horror of the children of a friend who visited once!

It seems entirely incongruous but while I was writing Transgressions I was addicted to Billy Holliday and would play her obsessively on repeat while writing. The era is completely wrong but the “he was my man and he done me wrong” soulfullness was entirely right at the time.

Mozart’s Requiem sparked a plot line in Standish where Rafe’s son dies and he holds an enormous funeral where he meets up with Ambrose again. But I never actually wrote that, because it seemed entirely out of character for Ambrose to allow such a tragedy to bring them back together. So I dumped the entire idea which broke my heart as I adore that particular requiem.

I can hear a piece of music and have it paint pictures in my head as to what is going on–there’s a piece of music  (Polovetsian Dances by Borodin from Prince Igor) which very clearly tells me the story of a war-hardened warrior and him falling in love for a young recruit all bare chest and no chest hair. I haven’t allowed myself to watch the ballet, because I know jolly well there’s no such plot line in it. But it has sparked a bunny and the notes have gone into my “to do later” file.  Probably around the time of Ghenghis Khan. Oh great. More research.

Charlie Cochrane

I was having a google chat with Elin Gregory when (as often happens) things took a daft turn and we decided it would be a good idea to ask some of our favourite historical authors whether music inspired them to write – and how. Turns out it wasn’t such a daft idea – we had some great responses, which I’ll post here over this week.

Anne Barwell:

I’m one of those individuals who puts together soundtracks on occasion but the music isn’t exactly reflection of the time period, more the characters/storyline. “Sounds of Silence” – Simon and Garfunkle, “All It Takes” – Stellar (NZ band), “Touch of Your Hand” – Glass Tiger, “There You’ll Be” – Faith Hill.

Lee Rowan:

Hm… It’s seldom a single song. Andrea Bocelli’s “Con Te Partiro” (the original, not the duet with Celine Dion) is pretty much the theme song for the Royal Navy series. I almost played Bocelli’s “Romanza” album, and Bryan Adams’ “So Far So Good” and Al Stewart’s “Year of the Cat,” to pieces. And Jackson Browne’s “Lives in the Balance.” Totally out of period, but the right emotional note.

Winds of Change, Eye of the Storm — The soundtrack for Master and Commander. Also Romanza and Sogno, Bocelli, (What can I say? I don’t understand much Italian, but the flow of words and a strong tenor… mmmm. and October Project’s two albums.

Home is the Sailor – mostly Enya, for some reason.

Walking Wounded, Mellissa Etheridge’s “Yes, I Am,” and Bocelli, again — also Carlos Nakai, a Navajo flute player.

Tangled Web was a mix of all of the above, and Chanticleer, and the Windham Hill Solstice albums. And, in all cases, probably several things I’ve forgotten.

Finding the right music really helps.

Ruth Sims:

I have to say that music has influenced everything I’ve written (admittedly a very small list). Music, in particular the music of the 19th century Romantics such as Chopin, Liszt, Mahler, Debussy, Tchaikovsky (I never said I could spell the blasted name!) and perhaps first, of course, Mozart and Beethoven. That shouldn’t surprise anyone who has read either The Phoenix or Counterpoint: Dylan’s Story. Music that digs deep into my emotions always makes me write. And often cry. Song on the Sand, my favorite of my short story-ebooks, was completely inspired by the lovely song by the same title from my favorite play, La Cage aux Folles. While writing Counterpoint, I listened day and night to violin music, especially that of Josh Bell. Of course that gave me an excuse to have lots of pictures of Josh Bell all around.

Charlie Cochrane

Tommy Walker, “Toad”, took a quick look over the edge of the ditch.  “Coach is comin, Jack,'” he whispered to his friend as he struggled to pull up his pants.
“Bugger!” Jack exclaimed, scrambling up from his knees and fumbling with his own attire.  “Schedule must be off for sure.  The bloody thing shouldn’t be along for another . . .”  He glanced at the timepiece dangling from his waistcoat.  “Half-an-hour, at least.”
“Not to worry, love,” Tommy said.  “We’ll finish up after they’ve gone by or those chaps with the pistols on the other side of the road have done their business with them.  Don’t think I could keep it up if there was any shooting and yelling.”
Here are Charlie and Owen from the Dr. Fell series transported back in time to some anachronistic and unspecified College Compleat with random Captalization and Over-Excited Verbs.  Plus, some Extraneous Authorial Actions and Meta-Moments and an UnWarranted Instrusion from the Wrong Tom Brown.

Non amo te, Dickus Spotticus

Charles T Winkerton inspected the contents of his package glumly.  His assignation with a Burly Brute down by the waterfront had left traces, nay, irrefutable evidence, nay, the Mark of the Beast was upon him.

He rebuttoned his placket, and whimpered.  His bosom buddy and boon companion would be here at any moment and he was afflicted! Sorely stricken!  And there was the small matter of his twice-skipped meeting with his Nemesis Tutor, Dr. Benjamin Rock. His Sensible Cousin, Richard Winkerton, should have arrived last night to rescue him from his Muddle. It wasn’t like Cousin Richard to be late.

“Woe!” wailed Charlie.

There was a tap at the door, and Charlie bit his pouting lips and flung the door open.  At least he would look blooming and pink-mouthed for his Best Friend, Owen, and would not be reproached for being Out of Looks.

“Beloved Boy!” he trilled, and then gulped.  It was his Formidable Landlady, Katherine de Medusa. 

“Hello Kitty,” simpered Charlie, hoping his Charms would be Lucky. 

“You’ve been summoned. The Proctor has had enough of your dockside exploits, playing hooky, and all around failure to be a Serious Student.”

“Hooker!” wailed Charlie. “But I’m free!” He frowned. “Wait! How does he know?  How do you know?”

“I read his note,” said Katherine, and tossed Charlie a crumpled piece of paper covered in a crabbed black hand.  “And the proctor knows all!”

She flounced away passing Owen DeCoverly on the stairs.

“Well,” said Owen. “She’s in a fine taking!”

“Owen!” wept Charlie.

“Heavens,” said Owen. “Are you still declaring, declaiming, denouncing, and…”

“Oh hush up!” snapped Charlie. “I am very into verbal.”

“I think you mean oral,” corrected Owen. “A common conflation of the two words. Damn! Now you’ve got me doing it.  I should never listen to you.”

“That,” sniffed Charlie, “is aural. And, I’ll have you know, I never talk dirty!”

Owen walked backwards out the door and re-entered. “Good morning, Charlie!  How are you this fine morn? I see the roses are blooming in your cheeks!”

Charlie rechecked his placket. “Owen! I am in a Terrible Situation!”

“Again?” said Owen, resisting his urge to yawn his reply.

“Yes,” said Charlie, so distressed that he forgot to Verb.  He flopped into a chair and then sprang up again as the Burly Brute’s Bestowal Bit him in the Butt.

Owen sniggered. “Another Fundamental Problem?”

Charlie checked his placket yet again.  “Stop it, Owen!”

“Let me get to the Bottom of the Matter,” giggled Owen taking over the verb duties.

Charlie rolled his eyes and huffed. “Owen! Cousin Richard promised he’d take my Oral Exam for me and he’s not here! ”

Owen’s chortles crescendoed and cascaded and Charlie Tossed the Dictionary out of the window.

“Plain speaking,” he exhorted, and glared at the final Said Synonym as it Sailed towards Defenestration.

Owen nodded, and took a deep breath. “Carry on,” he said. 

Charlie and Owen paused to check for Verbs, and then they continued. 

“And now I’ve been summoned to the Ologist’s Office!”

“I don’t think you should call him that,” said Owen. “A Slip of the Tongue could be your Doom.”

“Very well, The Proctor wants to see me.  I think my Tutor has sent me to have all my crimes dealt with in One Fell Swoop.”

“Oh dear,” said Owen. “He’s going to switch you?”

“No, pay attention!  I was going to switch with Richard!”

Owen put his head in his hands. Conversing with Charlie made his brain hurt.

“You’ll have to face him.  Tell him the truth about whatever he asks. You know what he’s like about Fallacious Boys.”

“Owen! I never – “

“That’s not what Dr. Benjamin Rock’s valet says.”

Charlie blushed.  Was his prowess Common Knowledge?

Owen patted his arm. “Charlie, no one thinks you passed your first year exams any other way.”

“Oh! Oh!  So not fair!  I did pass them!  I’m a pineapple of perspiration and knowledge.”

“I think I need a verb back,” hooted Owen. “Charlie, go to his study and see what he wants. Remember: a switch in time saves nine!” 

“Oh, hush up,” whimpered Charlie succumbing to a verb.  “If only Richard were here.  He knows how to Handle a Pickle.”

Owen hooked his arm in Charlie’s and walked him across the quad. 

“I’m going to my execution! I’m going to be beheaded!”

“Doing it a Little Too Brown,” said Owen as they paused while a man flashed by in pursuit of a Tom cat.

“I’m like Lady Jane Grey!” wailed Charlie. 

“You’re nothing like her!” said Owen. “She was only a queen for nine days.”

They paused at the Door of Despair.  Charlie quavered and quivered.  He raised his hand to knock. “I do not like thee, Dr. Fell,” he whispered. “The reason why I cannot tell… wait yes, I can!  It’s because you are Mean and have a Switch.” 

Owen grabbed his wrist. “Wait! Charlie! I think I’ve Spotted your Dick!”

Charlie checked his placket and sighed in relief. He was still buttoned and, oh!, his Sensible Cousin Richard was crossing the quad.

He would not have to face the Proctor without his Stalwart Supporter after all.

www.SydMcGinley.com

www.InLocoDomini.com

Apologies for the Faint Smell of Fish (starring the actor laddies from Home Fires Burning)

“Apologies, apologies, apologies, apologies. For the faint, for the faint for the fai-ai-ai-ai-aint, for the faint smell,” the singer paused imperceptibly and took breath, “for the faint smell…of fish. Of fish. Of fish. Apologies, apologies, for the faint…” and she was off again.

Toby groaned. Modern avante bloody guard opera? You could go and stuff it. Give him a nice Gilbert and Sullivan patter song, any day, or something swish by Cole Porter, but not this load of old cobblers’.

“Remind me why we’re here,” he whispered into Alasdair’s ear.

“Supporting the boss.” Alasdair grimaced, making his heavily insured eyebrow dance an expressive jig.  “Surely you can’t have forgotten his protégée? She’s loud enough.”

“Protégée? Is that what they’re calling it this week?” The girl didn’t have a bad voice, she was pretty enough—in a Junoesque way—but why on earth had she decided to launch her career in such a dire production? The Fishmonger’s Daughter. Even the title made your flesh creep.

***

“This should earn us plenty of credit.” Toby sighed. The relief of the interval, the even greater relief of the bar and a glass of red wine, the greatest relief of their companions for the evening having gone to powder their noses—at least he and Alasdair could steal one moment of quiet pleasure.

“Not the best faux-girlfriends they’ve ever foisted on us.” The eyebrow flew up again.

“More ‘protégées’, do you think?” Toby shrugged. “Still, if we smile for the cameras and applaud in all the right places, we’ll get to go to the bucks’ do.”

Boxing, Bethnal Green, black tie and not a woman in sight. Landseer actors out in droves to promote the new film about a gentlemen boxer of Victorian times. Toby couldn’t wait. Maybe there’d be pre-bout singing—it couldn’t be worse than what they’d had to endure in the first few acts here.

“I’ve never been to a boxing match before.” Alasdair seemed equally delighted at the prospect. “Will there be lots of blood?”

“Gallons, I imagine. And styptic pencils and grease and all sorts of black arts being practiced in the corners.” Toby laughed. “Good, honest sport. None of your sissy rubbish.” The last remark had not been just for the benefit of bystanders. Gay they might be, but effeminate they were not—which was all to the good as far as the studio was concerned.

“I’d like to see you try it.” The glint in Alasdair’s eye—the same glint he’d used in their pirate film—spoke volumes.

“Me in shorts, dripping sweat?”

Alasdair swallowed hard, concentrated on his wine glass and whispered, “Stop it” from the corner of his mouth.

“Landseer wouldn’t let me. Spoil my looks.” Toby grinned. “And here come the girls.”

“Maybe that’s a lucky rescue, for once.” Alasdair got his best welcoming smile ready.

The five minute bell sounded.

“Seconds out, round two!” Toby said, brightly. “Prepared for more haddock, ladies?”

The girls giggled, Alasdair rolled his eyes. Business as usual.

Although Toby could have sworn a certain voice breathed, “Wait till I get you on the canvas”, in his ear as they sauntered back to their seats.

Slippery When Wet by Blaine D. Arden

“You’re nuts!”

“Oh, come on. I know you’re dying to try it out.”

“N’uh-uh. No way. Your brother—”

“Won’t be back for at least another two hours. Besides, he asked me to put it up for him.”

“For the kids, Alex, not for us to… fool around on.”

“One quick rinse with the water hose and it’ll be as clean as it was before.”

Seth shook his head. He and Alex had done some crazy things, but this… “There is no way you’re going to get me up that thing to…” He froze as Alex dropped his sweat pants, and nearly started drooling as he noticed the heavy cock ring, the one he’d bought Alex for their tenth anniversary. The sudden spluttering of the pump saved him from making a fool of himself. He should never have told Alex about wanting to fuck him on a slide. He should have known Alex would remember.

Alex sauntered over to check it out. Seth bit his lip to keep from groaning as he watched that bubble-butt walk away from him and spotted the black marble coating of his favourite butt plug clenched between his cheeks. Behind Alex the inflatable slide rose and rose and rose. Seth swallowed as he imagined Alex face down on top of it while he pounded into him. For two seconds Seth panicked and patted his pockets for a packet of lube, until he remembered Alex bringing a backpack.

Seth found the backpack near the back door. In it, he found the much needed lube, as well as rope, cuffs, two dildos and a crop. Alex had planned this. The sneaky bastard had planned it from the start. Seth grabbed the lube, but left the rest of the toys. His pushy little bottom was in for a surprise if he thought he could manipulate him like this. Two could play this game.

Alex was still watching the pump and the slide, wiggling his butt, but not even once looking back at Seth. Seth shook his head and made his way to the tiny shed next to the terrace where he knew the kids’ toys were kept. It didn’t take him long to find the table tennis paddles.

Seth stuck the paddle between the waistband of his jeans and his back, pulling his T-shirt down to hide it, and walked back to Alex. He stood behind Alex, pressing his coarse jeans into Alex’s butt, rubbing against him as he grabbed Alex’s hips to keep him from moving.

“I knew—”

Seth clamped a hand over Alex’s mouth and ignored the mumbling. “You think you’re clever, don’t you, boy?”

Alex froze. Seth smiled at Alex’s effort to keep from moaning. He swallowed the ‘good boy’ comment he was about to utter. Alex had done nothing to deserve it… yet.

Seth studied the slide and shook his head. This thing didn’t even have proper rungs, just a strange set of scattered foot rests. There were two he though were the right height for him, but that would leave Alex with no foot rests at all. Seth grinned. The idea had some merit, after all. “As soon as that pump is done, you’re going to remove the rest of your clothes and drape yourself over the top of the slide.” He took his hand away from Alex’s mouth. “Is that understood?”

“Yes.”

Alex bounced on the balls of his feet as he kept an eye on the slide and the pump. Seth stepped back and watched him, shaking his head at the realisation that he was actually going to do this in Chris’ back yard. Two hours, Alex had said. They’d better make them count.

Seth enjoyed watching Alex undress as fast as he could once the slide was ready—maybe Seth should have told him to go slow. Watching him scramble up the slide was even better. Especially when Alex lay down and tried to find purchase with his feet, only to realise he couldn’t quite reach any of the foot rests.

Seth kept his expression blank when Alex looked at him, but smiled as Alex let his legs hang awkwardly. He only took his shoes, socks and shirt off before going after Alex. Once he reached the right height, he bounced up and down to make sure he wouldn’t slide down once they began. It wasn’t perfect, but it would have to do. At least on this side there were ropes he could hold on to, as opposed to Alex. “Are you comfortable?” he asked Alex, while he rubbed a hand across Alex’s butt.

“Yes,” Alex said without hesitation.

Alex didn’t move, didn’t wriggle, not until Seth slid a hand down to his balls and cock and tsked. Alex’s cock was pointed up and trapped between slide and his belly. That just wouldn’t do. Without a word, Seth rectified the situation, freeing Alex’s cock and moving it so it was pointed down and rested against the slide between his legs. He gave it a couple of tugs until Alex’s breath hitched just the tiniest bit. “Are you ready, boy?”

“Yes.” Again, no hesitation.

Seth grabbed the paddle with his left hand, while he wrapped his right hand into the rope. He bounced once to check his feet were still firmly planted into the foot rests and turned the paddle in his hand, getting a feel for its weight. Alex would expect the crop or his hand, maybe, and Seth smiled as he imagined Alex’s reaction.

When he issued the first slap, he wasn’t disappointed. No movement, aside from Alex’s butt muscles contracting in reaction to the slap. But Seth caught a surprised gasp that Alex only just kept from turning into a moan. Seth knew Alex was already trying to figure out what he was using. Maybe after a nice set, Seth would let him guess.

Though the angle was awkward, Seth managed to settle into a rhythm, hitting Alex’s cheeks, but avoiding hitting the butt plug, and by the time Alex was moaning continuously, his butt had a nice red glow and his cock was dripping. Alex even tried to push his butt up when Seth stopped. Seth knew his boy wanted more, and he would get more, but his butt was red enough… for now.

“You have one chance to guess what I’m paddling you with. If you’re right, you choose. If you’re wrong, I will.” Seth didn’t need to spell it out that he meant where the next slaps would hit. Alex would know.

“Cricket bat.”

“Nice try, but no.” A good try, since they’d bought the kids the cricket set on their last trip to the UK. “Spread your legs.”

Alex moved his legs sideways, brushing against Seth’s knees. Alex’s legs trembled slightly. Without anything to rest his feet on, it wouldn’t be easy to hold them like this, and Seth was about to make it even harder. He slapped the inside of Alex’s thighs, left and right, listening to Alex’s breaths, alert to any sounds that indicated he was struggling.

Alex lasted longer than Seth thought. His legs were severely trembling, and his breathing was fast and laborious, but no signs of stress whatsoever, and Alex’s cock was still happily dripping pre-cum. Still, Seth let the paddle fall to the ground. He trailed his free hand across the reddened thighs, brushing Alex’s balls as he moved to the other leg. He enjoyed the heat and the trembling beneath his hands. He kept touching, soothing Alex with his touch until his breathing slowed. Then he moved his hand towards the butt plug and gently eased it out. Alex sighed loudly as it slipped free.

Dropping it, Seth checked his footing again. He leaned his knees against the slide and unwrapped his hand from the rope. He unzipped himself and freed his hard cock from its confines. Grabbing the lube was next. Seth worked some into Alex’s crack and used a generous amount on his own cock, before letting the bottle join the paddle and the plug on the ground.

“Ready?” he asked as he grabbed the rope with his free hand.

“Yes.” Alex voice wasn’t much more than a whisper this time.

Seth entered Alex slowly, ignoring the pleas for more and faster. Alex seemed to have forgotten where they were, but Seth couldn’t. One wrong move and they could both fall. Besides, he loved going slow. As much as Alex was wont to cry for more, Seth knew going slow, hitting Alex just right, was much more effective.

And Alex responded so well. He moaned, he gasped, he pleaded, and every change in pitch told Seth how close he was. Seth wished he could touch Alex, could feel the sweaty body tremble beneath his hands, but he needed to hold on to the ropes. He closed his eyes and bit his lip when Alex clamped down on his cock. They were both getting close.

His thrusts lost rhythm after that. Alex’s hole kept clenching around his cock, and he was almost keening now. Seth grabbed the rope tighter and thrust deep, once, twice. He came, gasping and grunting, as he hung onto that rope for dear life. His fingers felt numb as he let go of the rope and let himself fall forward onto Alex’s back. Alex’s strangled cry of release echoed in his ears.

“Oh, God,” Alex said, voice hoarse. “That was so much better than I thought it would be.”

Seth kissed Alex between his shoulder blades. “Been thinking about it a lot, have you?”

“Ever since Chris told me he hired the bloody thing.”

Which was weeks ago, Seth was sure. No wonder he’d been so horny lately. Not that Alex was ever not horny, but he’d seemed needier these past few weeks. Seth kissed Alex again, smelling and tasting his sweat. Seth smiled. “Maybe we should buy one.”

“And put it where? In the attic?”

Seth snorted. “Yeah, I get your point.”

“I think we’d better move, if I want to rinse it down before they come home.”

“We’d better.” Seth straightened up and let his cock slip free, enjoying Alex’s moans as he did.

He knew Alex was going down the slide as soon as he felt Alex’s legs push against his. He was lucky to have hold of the ropes or he would have lost his balance.

With a “Whoop” Alex slid down the slide into the grass, softer than Seth would have expected, laughing and rubbing his chest. Seth didn’t think he’d sweated enough to ease the path.

“Come on. It’s fun.” Alex rose and waved him down.

Seth was about to refuse, when he realised he, at least, was wearing his jeans. Bracing his knees against the slide, he tucked himself away and zipped up before hoisting himself up to the top and sliding down in a sitting position.

He nearly swiped Alex off his feet, but Alex jumped aside just in time, still laughing. He dove on top of Seth and kissed him, mauled him more like, until they were both breathless. Alex sighed into Seth’s mouth and pushed himself up a bit.

“So, what was it, really?”

“What?”

“What you paddled me with?”

Seth brushed his lips against Alex’s and smiled. “Table tennis paddle.”

“We’re taking that one home. I’ll buy Chris a new one in the morning.”

“God damn, son of a bitch!”   Corporal Chet Herbert usually watched his language when he was working with a jump class, but with no officers or ladies present, he felt free to express himself as the tiny figure suspended from its silken canopy drifted further away from his pursuing Jeep.  Chet hadn’t expected all the trainees to hit the target zone on their first drop, but how the hell had Valenti managed to not only miss the field, but wind up miles away, in the only clump of trees downwind of the base?

On the other hand, it was a beautiful June day, and if he’d been given the choice of helping a bunch of green paratroopers recapture their chutes and stuff them into ditty bags or taking a quiet drive out into the countryside… he’d have chosen to be right where he was.

The chute went into the trees about a mile from the road—but it did not emerge on other other side.  Chet downshifted, leaving the paved road for gravel, hoping the little bastard wasn’t caught too far up to get at.

Of all the men to jump today, it would be Valenti.  PFC Eddie Valenti, small but tough, snapping black eyes and a ready grin, the only guy in the bunch who had the nerve to read poetry off-duty, a book he claimed his mother had sent with him. “Ma used to teach school,” Valenti said when another would-be paratrooper challenged him. “She says I should read some good books. You tellin’ me I shouldn’t listen to my mother?”

And the crazy thing was – Valenti pulled it off.   “This guy Whitman, he was a real man.  Listen to this:

‘An Army Corps on the March

With its cloud of skirmishers in advance,

With now the sound of a single shot snapping like a whip,

And now an irregular volley,

The swarming ranks press on and on, the dense brigades press on

Glittering dimly, toiling under the sun—the dust cover’d men

In columns rise and fall to the undulations of the ground

With artillery interspers’d—the wheels rumble, the horses sweat

As the army corps advances.”
Yeah, well… Chet knew that book, parts of it by heart.  He knew there was a lot more in there besides military poems and “Oh Captain, My Captain.”   There were love poems in there, love poems written from one man to another, and sometimes when Valenti  caught Chet’s eye, he smiled as though they shared some kind of secret.

Eddie Valenti was handsome as the devil.

Eddie Valenti was dangerous.

But, Chet reminded himself, training wouldn’t last forever, and before too long, Eddie Valenti would be shipped off to Korea, while Chet, with his slightly crooked spine that would not stand up to a march with full pack, would stay here to help train young men to jump out of airplanes without killing themselves in the process.  He would be lonely, but he was used to that.  It was better than worrying about a court-martial.

His foot hit the clutch and he was braking almost before he recognized the flash of white that had to be the missing parachute.

A few minutes of plowing through underbrush brought Chet to the base of a bur oak tree, its massive branches reaching almost to the ground.  He could see the fabric of the chute wrapped around a branch some twenty-odd feet up, but nothing else. “Hey, Valenti, you up there?”

“Herbie, that you?”

Chet hated being called Herbie.   “You okay?”

“Yeah, but I’m stuck.  Can you come up and give me a hand?”

“Yeah, hold on.”  For a man who’d spent most of his boyhood climbing trees on the family farm, this old patriarch wasn’t even a challenge.  The limbs were perfectly spaced for a climb, his boots dug into the rugged bark, and it was cool and pleasant up here in the breezy shade.

He spotted Valenti and had to laugh.  Somehow or other, he was lying atop a limb nearly as wide as his own body, head-downward.  His chute was caught on a dead branch just below him.  “How the hell did you do that?”

“You got me, buddy.  The tree snagged it and I got flipped up here –the damn harness is so tight I can’t get my hand into my pocket for my knife, and I think the quick-release is jammed.”

“Just as well.  You’d drop straight down.”

“Yeah, I thought as much.  Now you’ve had your laugh, how about you get me outta here?”

Chet made sure his own knife was where he could reach it, and inched out onto the limb.  Studying the situation, he realized it wasn’t going to be as easy as he’d thought.  “Look, Valenti, you have to roll over so you can hang on while I cut you loose, otherwise you’ll slide right off the limb and probably take us both down.”

“No can do.  Can’t get hold of the tree.  Can you brace me?”

“Guess I have to.”  Chet crawled out farther and found himself staring straight into Valenti’s face, and found himself uncomfortably aware of the other man’s scent—sweat, and maybe a little fear—and had the brief thought that Eddie Valenti looked good enough to eat. “Okay—”

His words were cut off as Valenti grabbed his head and pulled him down into a kiss.  Stupid, dangerous… but he couldn’t let go of the tree and he really didn’t want to push Valenti away.  After a moment’s hesitation, he thought, the hell with it, and let his lips part, tasting the sharp mix of emotions on the other man’s mouth.  Finally, with a shiver, he pulled back.  “You crazy bastard.”

“You complaining?”

Without answering, Chet wrapped his legs around the tree limb and  got a grip on Valenti’s shoulders.  Even in a mild breeze, the chute was tugging at the jump harness.  This could be tricky. “Okay, loverboy, I’m going to shift you to the side.  You get hold of that branch and hang on, or we’ll be up here all day.”

“Suits me.”  But he cooperated, inching around until he was lying face-down and holding on for dear life.

“Okay, now raise up a little so I can hit the quick-release.”

Valenti laughed.  “Thought you’d never ask.”

Sliding his hand under Valenti’s body felt a lot more personal than Chet had intended.  But, thank God, he felt the ‘click’ and the release of tension as the swaying of the tree pulled the riser lines away from the harness.   It’d still be a pain in the ass to get that chute back, but at least he wouldn’t be hauling back a casualty.

“Now what?” Valenti asked.

“Now I back off, you follow me, and we report in that you need to repeat suspension training.  You can’t steer for shit.”

Valenti looked up from his nose-down position, his grin back and as cocky as ever.  “The hell I can’t.”   He looked Chet up and down from a distance of about a foot.  “I think I got exactly where I wanted to be.”

“Oh!” Don put the Sunday paper on the coffee table and got up. As soon as Rick had entered the living room he saw something was wrong. “What’s the matter? Bad news.”

Rick put his mobile beside the paper with a peevish little click. “The boss. I’m going on a training course.”

“What?” Don shook his head. “But why?”

“Some new computer programme we all have to use. As if that’s going to make an already shitty job any better.”

Once they had decided to move in together, they had managed to find the perfect flat to rent, nice and close to the school where Don was head of Physics. But Rick had had to take what he could get in the way of employment – data processing for some faceless international corporation. Sure there was a gym in the basement of the building were he worked, but no discernable soul amongst the middle-management.

“Apparently I have to have the bit of paper before I can go up to the next grade where I might do something that requires a brain,” Rick elaborated with a wave of his hand. “So it’s the course for me. Thursday.”

“That’s short notice,” Don scowled. “But at least it’s just one day. What?” Rick was shaking his head.

“Thursday first thing through to lunchtime Saturday.” He shrugged. “I’ve got no choice but at least it’s all expenses paid and the hotel should be a good one.”

“London?” Don asked.

“No, down on the south coast.” Rick grinned. “You could come with me. I’ve opted for a double bed with no sharing.” He patted his belly. “Claimed I need my space, see.  Some of the other guys are taking spouses so there’s no reason why you can’t come.”

“And what would I do while you’re doing whatever? I’d sooner stay here. Make ready to give you a really warm welcome when you get home.” Don raised his eyebrows suggestively.

“You could keep me warm down there,” Rick protested. “Come on. It’s a nice place.”

“Where?”

“Bognor Regis.”

“Bognor? No, I’m not going.” Don folded his arms with a scowl. “God awful  place that’s stuck in the 50s. Walk down the street holding hands and corseted matrons have the vapours and call for the Peelers.”

“Exaggerating much,” Rick said. “Oh please yourself. This crap job hasn’t got many perks so excuse me if I make the most of this one.”

Don went to make supper, feeling guilty but not yet prepared to apologise, while Rick sorted the laundry with more force than necessary. Neither job was improved by sulking.

By the next morning they were at ease with each other and when Rick asked again Don had an answer that couldn’t possibly cause offence.

“You know we’ve been meaning to give the hall a coat of paint. I can do that Friday night after I get in. You wanted that soft green, didn’t you?”

“Okay.” Rick smiled, kissed Don good bye and went to catch his bus.

Rick asked again on Monday evening just after they had gone to bed. “Are you sure you won’t come?”

“I think I’m bound to if you keep doing that,” Don replied with a gasp.

“No,” Rick snickered. “I meant Bognor?” But he didn’t stop and he didn’t get a sensible answer either.

Don assumed that the matter had been dropped. Rick made the occasional comment about ways and means. He was getting a lift with a colleague. Ellie would pick him up from the house at 6.30 on Thursday morning which should give them plenty of time to be there by ten. The hotel was a modern one – Rick had checked it out online – very plush.

Don provided satisfactory responses but was still adamant. “I’ve just got too much on,” he said. “Between the office and home – no, I can’t spare the time. You get your sleep.” He raised his eyebrows. “You’ll need all your energy when you get back.”

“I thought I might go out on the town,” Rick said.

“In Bognor?” Don snorted. He too had looked it up online. “Good luck mate. I can recommend the music hall. Dan Leno, Marie Lloyd, Nosmo King and Hubert are still playing down there.”

“Exaggerating,” Rick sang out again but this time he was laughing.

Thursday morning,  Don got up early to see him off on the doorstep. “Take care,” he said and drew him close for a farewell kiss.

Rick sighed. “I’ll miss you,” he said. “Last chance? You could come down by train?”

“You don’t give up do you,” Don said and gave Rick a squeeze. “Off with you. I can hear a car.”

Ellie came to the door – a bright twenty something in impossible heels that didn’t seem to slow her down at all.”

“Ready?” she asked. “Got your glad rags?”

“Hardly,” Rick said. “I plan to do a lot of reading.” He waved his Kindle.

Ellie snorted. “Silly man.” She rolled her eyes and grinned at Don. “Didn’t they tell you that the venue had to cancel? They rang last night. Dry rot or salmonella or something. We’re not going to Bognor. We’re going to Brighton instead.”

“Brighton!” Rick and Don’s voices meshed perfectly in yelps of delight and disbelief.

Rick turned to Don. “Changed your mind?” he asked.

“You betcha, big boy,” Don replied with a grin.

Bugger Bognor. Brighton was more like it!

~

Elin is fairly new to official authordom; Alike As Two Bees, her historical gay romance, was only published in March. Links to her work can be found here.

Arising out of Obscurity

 

by Bruin Fisher

I was walking the dog, an innocent enough activity, you would think. It should have been half an hour along the canal towpath and then over the bridge and back along the other side, getting home, towelling Tardy down if he’d been in the water and then a doze on the cane sofa in the conservatory with a nice caramel latte out of the machine. That was the plan.

Tardy is my Springer Spaniel bitch and I adore her, although today’s escapade will take me a while to forgive. She is the daughter of Bonny, the dog I grew up with, the last of a litter of five, which is why we called her Tardy, or Tard for short. She’s not yet two years old, hardly more than a puppy, and she’s excitable and mischievous and adorable. Since I’ve been single again she’s my companion and she loves me unconditionally and what more could you ask of a dog? Well, a bit of common sense might come in handy…

We set off on our walk, Tardy pulling at the lead in her excitement to get going, and made it down to the canal without incident apart from the lead getting tangled round my legs a few times as she ran rings around me. Down on the towpath she calmed down a little, she loves to sniff around, checking on the badger paths and the holes of the water rats. Occasionally we see an otter, and she gets almost as excited as me. I’m fascinated by wildlife, which is why I always take my binoculars with me when we walk the canal. Anyway, on this particular day we’d gone maybe half a mile to the point where the towpath narrows and runs under a road bridge. You have to duck as you walk the path through the tunnel because the bridge curves down leaving less headroom than you’d like.

When we got to the bridge, with the main road into Guildford running over it, we were both interested to see that some repair work was in progress. There was a big mechanical digger on the opposite bank, with its grab partly extended and resting on our side of the canal. Work had clearly stalled, there was no-one around, and we paused in our walk to take in the evidence of weed-clearing. Along the opposite towpath were regular piles of slimy-looking green stalks, pulled from the bed of the canal by the long tines of the digger’s grab. It was a long-overdue bit of maintenance; the water beyond where the digger had reached was clogged with lily pads and bulrushes, and the water was green and opaque. Where the digger had been the water was running more swiftly and you could see through it down to the bed, and even the occasional little fish swimming against the current. A big improvement.

We should have continued our walk, but at this point I decided I needed a pee. The stone wall of the bridge runs up the steep bank above the canal path, and there’s a massive thicket of brambles covering the bank, but there’s a small gap between the bridge and the thicket, enough to slide into, and it gives cover so that you can relieve yourself without being overlooked unless someone up on the bridge were to lean right out over the parapet. I’ve used it before.

So, there I was, with my tracksuit bottoms and undies around my knees, my binoculars in one hand and my other, er, directing proceedings. Tardy was sniffing around on the towpath and I ignored her, the lead is not quite long enough for her to get to the water from where I was so she couldn’t get into trouble that way. Tardy has never had any difficulty getting into trouble, though, when she wants to.

Absorbed in what I was doing, watering the stonework, I was only slightly irritated when my hand was tugged away from its duty by the loop of lead around my wrist, causing my stream to swing wildly, including a splash on my shoes. I gave the lead a tug to remind her who’s boss, which didn’t feel right – there was no ‘give’ in the lead, and after that everything happened very fast.

My arm was pulled vertically upwards, caught by the loop of dog lead. If I’d thought fast enough I might have wriggled my wrist free of it, but I was taken so much by surprise that I didn’t think of that and by the time I realised what was happening I was lifted off my feet and rose ten, twenty, thirty feet in the air, above the parapet of the bridge and into full view of passing motorists and pedestrians alike, my trousers and pants around my knees and my t-shirt hiked well up my torso. I was wriggling around desperately trying to reach with my untethered hand down to the waistband of my jogging bottoms, without dropping my valuable binoculars in the process. All I achieved was to draw attention to myself.

An excited barking from above caused me to look up, to see Tardy looking down at me from the safety of the inside of the digger’s grab, one of the metal rings of her lead caught around a tine of the grab. Hoist by my own pet, Tard!

It took very little time for the digger driver, who’d returned to work without checking to see that there was no crazy dog sitting in his grab, to realise what had happened and lower me back down to the towpath, where I pulled up my trousers, massaged my sore wrist and slunk off without, to my shame, apologising. But I’m home now, and I don’t know how long it’ll be before I dare show my face in public again. I’m certainly never going to show any other part of me in public again. I wonder whether Tardy actually knows today’s April 1st?

© Bruin Fisher March 2012

When I booked to do this blog, I was going to do a write up of the RNA Christmas party, but plenty of people have reported back on that so I decided to muse about a conversation I’d had just last weekend over lunch with two fellow authors. How can we expand our relatively small part – historical – of a growing but still relatively small genre – GLBT romance?

I’m worried that when we promote, through all the usual social media from facebook to yahoo groups, we’re promoting to the same, small audience. Often we’re promoting to each other. Not that there’s anything wrong with that – most of us authors want to keep an eye out for new books to read and the core audience of  avid readers should be valued and cosseted. They’re our life blood.

But I’m convinced there’s a bigger market. Look at the success of Mary Renault’s books or Pat Barker’s Regeneration trilogy. Look at how many people watchedBrokebackMountain. Think about all the fans of boybands who go crazy when there’s the slightest hint of romantic interaction (real or imagined) between the band members. Or the ladies of a certain age (classic romance readers!) who go all gooey at John Barrowman concerts when he talks about his partner Scott. How do we get these potential readers to know about our books?

Well, there’s the question and if I could answer it effectively I’d be very rich. I’m sure that attending events or being members of writing organisations which are not primarily for writers of GLBT books must help. It gets our names and our genre ‘out there’, hopefully reaching new readers with the help of the accompanying promo opportunities these organisations provide. Being alert to things which are outside our usual run of things and being brave enough to take advantage of them – posting at a different yahoo group, a chance to do a reading at a library, getting an article into a trade magazine, etc – could and should be things we look out for.

But could we be doing more, and is it something we could be doing more effectively together? Who’s up for making 2012 the year we push the boundaries out?

I’ve read all E M Forster’s novels, starting with Maurice and working my way through the rest in no particular order. I’ve even read the fragments of novels he left behind, unfinished. They were all intriguing, some – Maurice and A Passage to India – were stunning, and the experience left me wanting more. There isn’t “more”.

After A Passage to India the novels ceased. I’ve read various theories as to why, for example his late flowering discovery of physical love somehow stifling his ability to write. There were a few short stories, of course, and I’ve been working through as many of these as I can get my hands on. Some of them are brilliant – such as the  delightful The Celestial Omnibus and the amazingly slashy Story of a Panic – while The Machine Stops is an incredible piece of science fiction which predicts the world of the webcam and the ipod. But I knew there were some stories I’d not tracked down so, when I came across The Life to Come and Other Stories, I was really excited. This collection contains some of Forster’s hitherto unpublished gay fiction: better than that it contains a highly informative introduction by Oliver Stallybrass.  

His theory about why EMF had given up writing novels is simple, and based on the writer’s letters. What he wanted to write was unpublishable at the time and what was pubslishable he didn’t want to write. He still worked on short stories, with varying degrees of success in terms of getting them accepted, and some of these were evidently for his own gratification. A number of these “indecent” stories were destroyed, as he believed they were inhibiting him artistically (what a loss!). What remains, and has made it into the collection, are some extraordinary pieces. 

Consider Maurice. Would you imagine its writer constructing tales in which a respectable married couple meet a couple of sailors at the seaside and each go off for a bit of rooty-tooty in the bushes?  Or a widower having a liaison with an amateur rent boy in the woods of the house where he’s a guest? Where the son of a late Romanic English family undergoes the “rape turns to love” trope? Or a son of the empire indulges in a liaison with a man of mixed race – a man he vilifies in public, behind his back – then kills his lover during sex, after which he commits suicide? 

As a reader I was surprised at what I found – so out of keeping with the rest of the canon – although given what I’ve read about Forster, I should have known better. There are a number of echoes in these tales of his life and his desires; do look them out if you can.

Tripped up by words. 

In my one Regency story I have a charcter talking about how hard the snow is falling; he calls it a blizzard. Nice, traditional English word, I thought. Imagine how cross I was to recently discover that not only is “blizzard” a late nineteenth century word as applied to weather, it’s American in origin. What right had it to trip me up like that? 

Trouble is, it’s too easy to just assume things about language. Yes, I look up brands to see if they’re contemporary for my heroes (that’s why Orlando can’t snaffle jelly babies) and I check out phrases, too (which is why Helena couldn’t say “Goodnight Vienna”) but some words seem so obviously “old” that I don’t bother. Perhaps I should, but when to stop? 

I guess for most of us there’s an internal sort of check which means we’re fine if we’re writing post 1700. If the word/phrase is in Shakespeare or the King James Bible, then we’re safe.  So I can use punk, “eye for an eye”, ‘’beggars description” and the like to my heart’s content. Plumber, spectacles,  barricade, shuttle; they’re all nice safe words.  Some are surprises, too – skyscraper goes back to the Age of Sail, and was then used as a nickname for things like tall hats. Dunce, admiral, stationer – all these words can be traced back a surprisingly long way.

Clearly there are some obvious words which a writer could never use in a story set earlier than the twentieth century – bikini, Quisling, green in the sense of concerned for the environment, gay in the sense of sexuality., tank in any sense other than a storage receptacle. But there are some phrases which could catch you out. “The cat’s whiskers” comes from the days of radio, so couldn’t be used to describe something really good in Regency days. Nor could your Victorian spy be brainwashed. He could, however, have gone to see a floodlit rugby match, although they weren’t necessarily called floodlights then. 

Aren’t words confusing, or is it just me getting old?

I’m hugely indebted to Lee Benoit for mailing me with some pictures she noticed in an archive for the athletic departments at her old university.

These lovely – and very modern looking lads – appear to be the 1870 baseball team. The guy sitting down, second from right, looks just like Steve Borthwick.

And this lad from 1880 looks like he could just have stepped out of my Sky Sports screen!

I picked up the book British Greats at a charity stall; it’s a real gem. As I flicked through, I came across this picture – the bloke second from the left at the back really caught my eye. “That’s Mallory! I had no idea he was so striking!”

The story of Mallory and Irvine’s bid to climb Everest is the stuff of which British history is made, especially the attitude that using oxygen to aid climbing was somehow unsporting! Did they scale the mountain three decades before Hilary and Tenzing? How did they die? The haunting account of them being last seen disappearing into cloud as they attempted the summit has me welling up even as I type.

Andrew (Sandy) Irvine, even if he’s traditionally more handsome, doesn’t cut it for me.

Mallory’s my boy.

Lytton strachey thought he was pretty hot, too.

My hand trembles, my heart palpitates, my whole being swoons away at the words — oh heavens! I found of course that he’s been absurdly maligned — he’s six foot high, with the body of an athlete Praxiteles, and a face — oh incredible — the mystery of Botticelli, the refinement and delicacy of a Chinese print, the youth and piquancy of an imaginable English boy. I rave, but when you see him, as you must, you will admit all — all!

Maybe the picture featured here is the reason. Mallory seems to have had a hankering for being in the nude – how cold must he have been doing this?

I’ve spent a lot of time over the last few years reading books and poetry by and about the WWI poets. I’ll start by saying that I’m not going to be extolling either the beauty or the virtue or Rupert Brooke or Siegfried Sassoon. Despite the way that women raved about their looks, I find neither particularly attractive physically and the more I read about them the more I dislike their personalities.

Instead, let me squee about these lads:

Ivor Gurney is one of the almost forgotten poets of WWI, in comparison to Brooke, Sassoon, Graves and Owen. He seems to have had some sort of mental disorder, not just the almost inevitable shell-shock, and died tragically young,  leaving behind a legacy of such poems as “To His Love“.

is body that was so quick
Is not as you
Knew it, on Severn river
Under the blue
Driving our small boat through.

And then there’s my favourite, Wilfred Owen

I have on my computer cart a WWI Manchester’s cap badge, ourchased solely because Owen was with one of the Manchester regiments (the seller gave me a discount because I mentioned that). Complex, charming, a touch immature, shy, talented, Owen comes across wonderfully well – better, indeed, with everything I read about him. There’s something so gentle and wistful in that gaze, something to make me go weak at the knees.

He’s retained his place in the heart – and the English curriculum – of the nation, although I do wonder what some teachers would think if they knew he’d written about rent-boys as well as life in the trenches. I’d recommend that anyone who wants to understand WWI, and early twentieth century Engalnd, reads his work. I’ll go back to sighing…

At the Macaronis authors’ group we were discussing handsome men (par for the course) and got onto hotties from days gone by. Some of us will be sharing our favourite historical hotties over the weeks ahead.

I’m starting with some sporting heroes (well, there’s a surprise!) I like men’s tennis, so I was astonished to discover that there were two British players who dominated Edwardian tennis, worldwide, and I’d never heard of them!

Laurie and Reggie Doherty between them won every Wimbledon singles tournament from 1897 to 1906, bar 1901. They had wins at the US championships, won doubles titles in the US and UK and garnered Olympic gold, including in London 1908. And they were gorgeous.

Then there’s Ronnie Poulton-Palmer. He scored four tries in an international against France (shades of Chris Ashton and Italy!) and was killed in the trenches, his last words apparently being, “I shall never play at Twickenham again”.

His death inspired a poem, by Alfred Ollivant, in The Spectator:.
‘Ronald is dead: and we shall watch no more
His swerving swallow-flight adown the field
Amid eluded enemies, who yield
Room for his easy passage, to the roar
Of multitudes enraptured, who acclaim
Their country’s captain slipping towards his goal.
Instant of foot, deliberate of soul -
All’s well with England, Poulton’s on his game.’

I’m off to have a lie down and a weep.

I’ve posted here on many occasions about how wonderful the Romantic Novelists’ Association  is. They have a members’ magazine called Romance Matters, so Alex beecroft and I gathered up our courage and submitted an article about writing gay historical romance. It appeared in yesterday’s issue!

This is the original, uncut text, which we clipped to 500 words for inclusion in the magazine.

 “Not Your Mother’s Historical Romance”

 …was the cover quote from Josh Lanyon (creator of the Adrien English Mysteries) for the book Speak Its Name, an anthology of gay historical novellas. The book contained Charlie Cochrane’s debut story and the quote greatly amused her teenage daughters as that absolutely was their “Mother’s Historical Romance”. But it got her thinking about the differences (and similarities) between straight and gay romances written within a historical setting. So she asked fellow Romantic Novelists’ Association member Alex Beecroft to share her ideas on the subject. 

 Charlie: I suppose the first difference in gay romance is the general lack of bodices. I mean, many of my characters have them but none actually get ripped. How about your gals? 

Alex: Well, Emily certainly has one and mentions it in Captain’s Surrender, but her beau is too nice a guy to spoil a good dress.  But yes, Captain’s Surrender is the only one of my books (so far) where I’ve had a male/female romance as a sub-plot to the male/male.  Having said that, Victor Banis’s Lola Dances features a cross dressing gay man, so I wouldn’t rule bodice ripping out entirely.  Breeches ripping certainly happens (I believe I even have a breeches ripping scene in False Colors,) but I wouldn’t say that represented the entire genre.  I couldn’t see your kind and gentle young men dealing out violence to each other – even to each other’s clothes.

Maybe it’s the extent of having a wide variety of heroes and not putting as much emphasis on the overpowering nature of the hero that makes gay romance not “your mother’s romance”?  What do you think?

 Charlie: I think romance in general has moved on from my mother’s day and there’s a wide variety of heroes in gay and straight historical romance. I think one of the main differences is that we can’t have a “traditional” happy ending for our leading men. No “Reader, I married him,” moment, no big wedding or even engagement. The best we can do is to find some situation in which they can try to live together without being shunned by society or reported to the police. My Edwardian lads are living under the shadow of the fairly recent Oscar Wilde trials; at least they have a Cambridge single sex college to live in so they can hide in plain sight. How do you solve the problem?

 Alex:  That’s very true about romance moving on.  There’s really something for everyone’s tastes, these days.  But yes, it certainly presents an interesting problem, finding a happy ending which has the weight of a marriage in an era when our heroes could have been imprisoned or even executed it their relationship was suspected.  I think the male/male equivalent of the wedding is the point where the characters make a commitment to face whatever might come in the future together.  They may figure out a cover story which enables them to live together without arousing suspicion, or they may simply make that commitment to each other, leaving the reader to deduce from their prior adventures that they are cautious and clever enough to get away with it.

 Of course, the lack of a socially sanctioned wedding doesn’t mean that they can’t privately offer one another similar vows.  They can have every bit of the same emotional impact.  Even more so, perhaps, since the reader knows what an act of love in the face of all odds they represent.

 I know too that there are some readers of gay romance who might regard the traditional Happy Ever After = marriage ending as worryingly heteronormative.  What are your thoughts on that?

 Charlie: I think you’ve made a great point and, again, one that applies to straight romances, where a big white wedding isn’t necessarily everyone’s idea of the “must have” happy ending.

 Another aspect of romances is the “tension along the way”, you know, the complication/estrangement that has to be overcome en route to the HEA. I suspect that’s an area where gay fiction has an inbuilt advantage, especially historical, as the relationship was illegal and generally viewed as immoral. Actually, in some parts of the world either or both of those would apply today.

 Of course, that doesn’t mean we can be lazy and just use the ‘how do we avoid discovery’ as our only cause of dramatic tension; we have arguments, misunderstandings, temptations, all the story threads that crop up in straight romances. What’s your favourite “boy temporarily loses boy” moment from your books?

 Alex: I’d say it was the incident in John’s cabin in False Colors, just after the ship has almost sunk in the Arctic.  The two heroes have been alternately pursuing each other and spurning each other for a while now, and Alfie, feeling terribly bitter due to bereavement and misunderstanding, makes an absolutely disastrous attempt on John’s virtue in order to teach John a lesson.  John – who’s a highly strung mixture of very sensitive and very proud – realizes that Alfie is doing this to put him in his place and goes ballistic with outrage.  It’s hard to explain in one paragraph, because there’s a whole book of misunderstandings and hurts that lead up to it, but it’s simultaneously their lowest ebb, and a sign that things are beginning to thaw between them and that there’s hope there still.

 How about you?

 Charlie: I’ve got two. One of them’s in my ongoing Cambridge Fellows series, where Jonty and Orlando finally seem to have settled into a nice, comfortable “looks to the outside world like a bachelor existence”, only for some awful events from Jonty’s past to rear their heads. The lads have to work through a lot of emotional and ethical complications together, but emerge stronger. The other’s a bit more light hearted, from an Austenesque short story, The Shade on a Fine Day, where it needs ghostly/angelic intervention to get my leading man to pluck up the courage to act.

 It’s been fun picking your brains – anything you want to add about the differences you’ve found between gay and straight historical romance?

 Alex: Well, thanks for having me!  It’s an interesting topic and I’m glad we got to talk about it.  I’m inclined to cheat on this last question, though, and say that despite any differences occasioned by the fact that you’ve got two men instead of one man, one woman, still the ways in which they are similar outnumber the differences.  After all, a romance is about two people falling in love and committing to that relationship despite the problems they face.  The external problems the characters face may be incomparably greater due to society’s disapproval, but internally I don’t think that love is any different.  Nor is the process of two independent personalities learning to live with each other any less complex when it’s two men (or two women) together instead of one of each.

Ever come around a corner and seen a vista so perfect it literally took your breath away? Ever been in a place with such a perfect combination of setting, weather and atmosphere that you almost cry for the sheer perfection of it and the feeling that you’ll never get that moment back again? I’m sure most of us have had times like that and if you haven’t I’m genuinely sorry. They’re priceless.  

So how do you capture them forever? One way is with a photograph, or a video, although they only capture the look of things and not the feel. Another way is to use them to inspire a piece of writing which, although it doesn’t preserve the physical impression perfectly, can at least convey what things felt like.

When our children were younger we spent a morning on this beach:

It was perfect, unspoiled and there were only two other people on it. We’ve been back since and all the world and his wife have discovered it; we’ll never have those perfect moments again (unless we get down there crack of dawn).  But Jonty and Orlando can experience what we did when they visit Jersey, so I’ve sealed our feelings safely away in their story by using the beach as their special place.

Another holiday moment happened at Arromanches. We parked the car on a clifftop car park, walked over a little ridge and saw this:

The ruins of the Mulberry harbour out at sea, and in the foreground a field of barley with poppies. It was the poppies which got to me and I was soon in tears. That sight inspired several bits of AU fanfic, and has been weaved into another very short story, almost as if I have to keep writing that sight, and my emotions, out of my system.

This is the next ‘special moment’ I have to capture in a story:

Anyone else got ones they want to share?

This Monday just gone saw the first local Romantic Novelists’ Association lunch of 2011. Good food, good company, always something to learn and always a great chinwag. This time we didn’t have a speaker. Instead we all read the first 250 words from one of our works (finished or yet to be) and discussed them. In total there must have been about 14 offerings, from authors with dozens of books under their belts to the newest newbies. 

What amazed me was how different they all were. All good, but as varied as chalk, cheese and chewed pen lids. Within that small amount of words (a double drabble and a half) the tone of the story was set, the writer’s “voice” was instantly recognisable, you could get a pretty clear idea in all bar a couple of cases about where the story was going to go and you knew the era/seeting even where there hadn’t been a Cambridge 1907 type heading at the start.

And – maybe most important of all – I think you had a ninety percent chance of knowing whether you wanted to read more. While all the intros were good, not all of them piqued my interest enough to think, “Read on, read on!” Which led me to think about submitting stories and the importance of them making an instant impact.

I remember, on the I Do and I Do Two projects, how we could pretty well tell by the end of the first page whether a submitted story was a ‘goer’. The same applies where submission calls ask for a chapter or three. It’s not helping your cause to say, “The first few chapters are a bit slow” or “they don’t represent the story as a whole”. They’re the first bit the editor will see and if he/she isn’t sold, what chance have you got of nabbing a reader? Do we have the patience to plough through three chapters of intro to get to “the good stuff”?

By permission of Alex Broughton, whose works these are.

Discalced
 To Mr HH on the sweet privilege that is his unclothing.
 
Discalce? Your feet, by habit shod and neat,
I loose to run with mine on sea-damp sands.
I both address and undress you, and meet
prevarication with a kiss, the while my hands
further with gentle and determined skill
 their appointed course to divest you. Heart
and head as much as garments fall, yet will
you yield me all your glorious self? No part
reserved, recalcined and remote? I see
With every limb revealed, the gift of grace
and suddenly am still, awed; just to be
here, now and stripped of artifice. Your face
is mirror true to mine. Then two are one
and  love lies open, and envious is the sun.  

AK,  Sandy Bay, Gibraltar, 1797
 

Demi -paradise
 To Mr HH, co –creator of the demi- paradise
 
Not yet Arcadia, not yet Eden bright;
not far from both , as we both love and love.
Paradise is here, held within the sight
your beauty brings, the heart whose all you give
to mine. Though both are bruised and shy of trust
Love has within it faith , and ours is love
enough to shape a world new-made, which must
raze past harm to dust, and yet may move
grief’s mountain, levelled by honest open
speech. There is in you such strength of will, in
me of hope. Together much is spoken
of how we change the world. For us to win
each other is to win the whole. Your heart,
my world, mine yours, elation every part.

 AK,  Sandy Bay, Gibraltar, 1797
 

Laid up in ordinary
A phrase heretical when used of you.
Lying with you, in confined space and dark
Constrained by circumstance to silence, do
What fate will with us, still remains the spark-
Your alchemy- that makes of every bed
narrow, thin or mean, a holy ground, fit
haven both to body and to soul. Led
by love and lust and laughter , I would sit
beside you, singing in a wilderness
for, were you there, the barren earth would
turn to pillowed  rest, arid sand to gold, less
desert than harbour,  where for my every good
I sail within. Laid up in warmth, in love
In extraordinary you, I move.

AK, Indefatigable  st sea, off the Biscay coast.

Love letters from Orlando to Jonty

1911 style

My dearest Jonty

I wish I didn’t have to attend this conference, but needs must. I shall be thinking of you often while I’m away; I hope this note will serve as adequate communication until I return. The spirit is willing although I suspect University College’s flesh is weak in the matter of telephones. I will try to write a letter but the programme of work suggests I’ll be hard put to find the time.

I love you with all my heart. Should the train crash as we hurtle through Ware, please remember that fact.

Your very own

Orlando

1961 style

Jonty

Don’t go getting into any mischief while I’m away. I know it’s a few nights up in the smoke for me, but it’ll be all work and no play. Anyway, what fun will it really be, without you at my side? The lights are never as bright, the film never as good and the steak never as tender as when I have you to share them with. 

I’ll try to ring, although it’s always difficult from a public call box. I’m always afraid I’ll be overheard and we never say what we really mean, do we? And when I press button B I never get my money back.

Lots of love

Orlando

2011 style

A record of an MSN conversation between:

Orlando

<OCoppersmith1@cantab.net>

and

Jonty eat Tempest, drink Hamlet, live the sonnets

<hotcrumpet@hotmail.co.uk>

Jonty eat Tempest, drink Hamlet, live the sonnets says:

Hi :)

Orlando says:

Hello; are you well?

Jonty eat Tempest, drink Hamlet, live the sonnets says:

Fine. How R U?

Orlando says:

Very well, thank you. I gave my paper today.

Jonty eat Tempest, drink Hamlet, live the sonnets says:

:)   Go OK?

Orlando says:

Much better than the last time I was invited to the equivalent conference. I took your advice and tried to address the back of the hall and not my notes – it was extremely successful. I had several questions at the end and

Orlando says:

Sorry – I forgot about the limit on characters.

Jonty eat Tempest, drink Hamlet, live the sonnets says:

U always do. Missing U.  :)  ♥ U.

Orlando says:

I love you too. Must you use those stupid abbreviations? And those even more ridiculous little pictures?

Jonty eat Tempest, drink Hamlet, live the sonnets says:

Yep. I like them.

Orlando says:

      They give me a migraine.

Jonty eat Tempest, drink Hamlet, live the sonnets says:

      Aw. Shan’t use any more emoticons.  :(

Orlando says:

      Thank goodness for that. LOL

Jonty eat Tempest, drink Hamlet, live the sonnets says:

      you used an abbreviation! *dances around the room*

Orlando says:

      ‘You’ needs a capital. I miss you.

Jonty eat Tempest, drink Hamlet, live the sonnets says:

      Idiot. I miss you too. GTG. ♥♥♥ you lots.

Orlando says:

      You too. XXX 

Jonty eat Tempest, drink Hamlet, live the sonnets says:

      XOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

When I was little, we were always told to put butter on a burn to soothe it. Of course, if you do that, it fries the skin, so you end up with a worse scar. Cold water and lots of it is the best first aid. I also remember the advice about putting a key down your back for a nosebleed, or sitting with the head forwards. Not sure about the former, but the latter puts extra pressure on the blood vessels and hampers clotting. Head straight upright is best.

Old wives and their tales, eh? Some of them may have proved to be excellent – red sky at night really does mean you’re likely to have good weather the next day, it’s been meteorologically backed up – but some of them are a positive menace. Wrap up a fever patient. Well, yes, I suppose you sweat the infection out (it’s part of the body’s reaction to bugs) but you might perilously overheat the poor patient in the process. And where the heck did the ‘wisdom’ come from that it was dangerous to wash your hair during your period? Anyone else remember being told that little gem?

Not just the medical stuff has changed, though. What was presented as ‘fact’ (or what I remember as fact) is not longer factual. Dinosaurs don’t have two brains, one in their heads and one in their pelvis. White spots on your nails aren’t due to calcium deficiency. There are no canals on Mars and, despite what my granny told me, I won’t get the smit if I rub my face against a cat. No wonder I’m bewildered.

I guess one of the problems is that some of these pronouncements (like the Martian canals) come from scientists. Cool, objective, logical, infallible (or so they like to present themselves) scientists. Except, of course, scientists can make as much of a cock-up as the rest of us. They get things wrong, sometimes because they’re so besotted with their pet theory they can’t or won’t recognise anything which contradicts it. Clearly knowledge moves on, so we can look back at scientists who pronounced that rail travel couldn’t work as people would be suffocated if they travelled at speed and laugh. We wouldn’t be so silly! Or would we…

Take eggs. When I was younger, they were good for you. Experts said so, the egg marketing board told you to go to work on one (an egg, not an expert). Then they were bad for you – experts said so. Then they were good for you again because…you get the drift. Now I don’t know if they’re bad for me or good for me, although I do know they’re delicious. Almost weekly there seems to emerge a new bit of research that contradicts another recent bit of research; if I’m struggling to keep up (and I’ve got a degree in applied Biology) how does everyone else cope?

Maybe we don’t try to. Maybe we just go along and do our own thing, relying more on old wives than New Scientist. Now, what colour’s the sky today?

Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun was an extraordinarily talented painter of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. Ken Craigside has recently written a play about her being commissioned to paint likenesses of Ben Franklin, the Chevalier D’ Eon, and Marie Antoinette.

He’s had to cut out this wonderful monologue (in rhymed couplets) he wrote for a portrait of George Sand to be delivered over a piano piece played by Frederick Chopin while Elizabeth paints. It celebrates a woman who, taking on a male name and mode of dress, dashingly succeeded in what would be viewed as a man’s world. As Ken says, “And many Macaronis have also done that, at least in terms of name (and skill).”

Etude Au Nu

You’ve painted, he’s played,
For most of this week,
Yet I’ve heard every word
That you two did not speak.

The slap of your brush,
And the plunk of his keys,
The sigh as you paint,
His cough…and his wheeze.

You asked for my silence.
Let him play, let you paint.
But I itch to scratch silence,
With a spoken complaint:

Of the fact that his music
Can say more with a phrase,
Or you with a line
And a daub or a glaze,
Than a writer could write
Were he writing for days.

Delacroix painted us,
Monsieur Chopin and me.
Dear Frederic played music,
While I sat at his knee.

Chou-Chou had the light.
I sank in the shade.
Mere woman enraptured
By a glow quite man-made.

But now I have the light,
And you paint in the shade,
While He plays out of sight,
As MY portrait is made.

My gender engendered in such gentlemanly ways.

He plays.

You paint.
And I…repose.

He hears.
And let’s us hear love songs.

You see.
And let us see loveliness.

But I feel…everything…and try with all my heart to craft those feelings into words.

Delacroix, in the mode,
Paints society’s cream,
Just as you did, my dear,
For the Ancient Regime.

You might wonder, Elisabeth,
Why I chose you to portray
Madame George Sand
Dressed up in this way.

With Delacroix handy,
Why take you off the shelf?
Well, remember the portrait
Which you made of your self?

I can still see that girl
In a white cotton dress,
Uncoifed, unaccoutred,
In a way that says “yes,
If a portrait needs doing,
I’ll do it the best.”

You crafted your image
In paint with a frame.
While I crafted mine
With clothes and a name.

And you wrote, in your memoirs,
Which I’ve avidly scanned,
That your sitters’ apparels
Were most carefully planned.

That a face and a posture
Could give keys to one’s soul,
But the subject’s own costume
Might best speak of one’s goal.

So…my cigar and top hat,
My long pants and strong nose.
Can you paint truth, my dear,
Of such items as those?

Women’s clothes
Are our virginal fortress.
Bodice guarding our breasts,
Skirts girding our loins,
Veils shrouding our manes.

Donning our dresses in hopes of addresses
That change Mademoiselle to Madame.

Men’s clothes
Allow them to climb mountains.
Allow riding astride;
Legs grabbing the saddle,
Hands grasping the reigns.

At my Grandma’s chateau,
Every girl that I knew
Wore her brother’s old pants,
When out riding she’d go.
It wasn’t risqué.
Just the smart thing to do.

For we found, as we rode
With our legs round the horse,
As we raced up each hill
With the wind in our hair,
That we might, that we could,
That we would, that we will!

And then, as a woman,
When Paris I’d visit,
I found it constraining
To be so exquisite.
Ladies lounged in the loges,
Or the boxes above;
Restrained from the stage,
With its passion and love.
Décolletage camouflaged,
And hands hid by silk gloves.

Men’s clothes
Were a ticket of entree
To the pit and Parterre,
To a world without care
Where no one dared to stare
At a man’s somber coat.

Knowing Monsieur is Monsieur is Monsieur
Despite one’s vocation in life

Men’s clothes
Were a sort of a passport
To anonymous treats,
And the life of the streets,
Where a person might stride
` Rather than float.

So I fled from our fortress
Garbed in top hat and pants;
Free from the censure
Of propriety’s glance,
Free for life’s pleasure
And danger…and chance.

Masculine is a Mask.
That is all, just a mask.
But it says, no it shouts,
In a plain-spoken way,
That he might, that he must,
That he can, that he may!

Now you should understand,
There was never a plan
On my part, to dress up as a man.
Just a logical change,
Increasing the range,
To allow for the strange and the new.
To investigate life,
To observe human strife,
And do all that a writer must do.

Oh Elisabeth, I wanted an author’s name
There for all to see on a title page.

But it had to be, as it always was,
A man’s name inscribed on that page.

First I wrote with a man.
Jules Sandeaux was his name.
Not a lover. Those were others.
Just a hack on the wane,
But a way to give credence to covers.

When I split with Sandeaux,
Then I split Sand from eaux,
For a name I might groom,
With a George for his Jules.
Thus George Sand, give a hand
For my proud Nom de plume!

My new name.
My top hat.
My cigar.
My success.
My career!

All my books, all my plays,
Read by those who will pay.
My town house, my chateau,
And my life, with Chopin.
That I might, that I could,
That I would, that I will.
That I dared, that I did,
And I have, yes, I have!

He plays.

You paint.
And are almost finished?

I write.

My life,
Or should I say…I mold my mask?

Delacroix’s a Romantic
Who will paint what he feels
But your style, being antique,
Must concern what is real.

So here is George Sand
With her masculine mask.
And a writer’s illusion.
Is your new painter’s task.

To see past the façade?
Find the female within?
Show the mother, the lover,
The saint…and the sin?

I revere your self-portrait,
Madame Vigée-LeBrun,
Self filled with the thrill
Of heroic homespun.
That you might, that you could,
That you must and you will!

Your figure quite swathed
In that plain cotton way,
And your palette held out
Like a girl’s fresh bouquet.

But that too was a mask…
Of ambition t’would seem…
Whose viewer might bask
In the light of your dream,

Eyes aglow ‘neath the shade
Of that simple straw hat.
And I’ll hope that today
You’ve made…something like that?

That we might, that we could,
That we dared, that we did,
That we would, that we will,
That we have, yes, we have!
Oh my dear, we both have.

Mid November I attended my first big authors’ bash (big as in there being two hundred people there, as opposed to the authors being either physically big or big names, although there were both of those present!) It was the Romantic Novelists Association Winter Party, at the IMechE library in Birdcage Walk (a street which now makes me grin madly in the context of its mention on last week’s Garrow’s Law).

I managed to pluck up the courage to go and talk to strangers and not (I hope) look or sound like an absolute goon. I chatted with aspiring writers, established writers, publishers and booksellers. Did I ‘network?’ No, I don’t think so; certainly not in terms of trying to sell myself or my books. And it was a real novelty, for someone who still thinks of herself as both a newbie and entirely accidentally published, to be dispensing ‘wisdom and tips’ to wannabee authors.

Something I did sort of network was the fact that I write gay fiction. And that I’m published in both e-books and paperbacks. I suspect I was in the minority for the latter and unique for the former. Had to collect a few jaws as they headed towards the floor as I explained what genre I wrote. However, I didn’t have my pen pulled out of my handbag, name tag ripped from my chest and get sent from the room is disgrace. I surprised myself at my sheer degree of brass neck in terms of not hiding in a corner or “umming and ahing” about what I write. Mind you, as a fifty two year old woman wearing her teenage daughter’s cocktail dress and side lacing boots, I suspect my degree of “don’t care any more” is pretty high.

Pictures here, luckily none of me.

I did end up at one point talking to an ex-RNA president (I’d been steered in her direction, much to my embarrassment) who was adamant that gay romance was equally eligible for the RNA award categories. Mine isn’t as it’s by an American publisher but it was a heartening thing to hear.

So what did I achieve by going? Other than a night out in London on my own and some blessed hours of peace and thinking time on the train journey? Well, writing can be a lonely business and talking to other writers and listening to their experiences is both educational and comforting. Sometimes you just like to know that you’re not the only person with that problem or finding this difficult. And I’m convinced that, for many of us, this business is not just about what you know, it’s who you know (that’s been very true for me and it seemed a bit depressing to have to share that with some of the aspirant writers). Friendships and connections made at bashes like this – who knows where they’ll lead?

I had 1914 in mind when I wrote this, but with DADT it could apply in the USA today.

It will not be the same

It will not be the same for us as for other lovers.

There’ll be no babe born when you’re nine months absent,
Six of them maybe spent under cold clay.

Nor will I share your picture with the men.
They’ll say, “This is Mary.
And young Tom.”
We’ll smile and say he’s the image of his dad.
“This is my Dora. We’ll be wed, soon as I’m home.”
We’ll toast them with watery tea, trying not to show
We don’t believe he’ll ever get back.
They’ll never hear,
“This is my Freddie. Isn’t he a peach?”

And yet our blood is just as red
And it’ll flow just as freely when the bullets fly

We’ll give our lives the same
For our country
For our families
For the sake of those who condemn us and want us dead
We’ll die to keep them safe,
Not to satisfy a god they’ve made in their own image.

It will not be the same for us as for other lovers.
But you are no less a man because of me
And I am not diminished because of you.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 855 other followers