Charlie Cochrane


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

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.

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…

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”?

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?

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.

Authors writing themselves into their works is nothing new. Many people think the young man who slipped out of his linen clothes to elude his captors and ran away naked from the garden of Gethsemane was the Apostle Mark himself. And, in As You Like It, there’s a slightly dim-witted countryman called William who seems to have no real purpose in the play – is this the Bard making game of himself?

You can see I’m not talking Mary Sues here, although some self-inserted characters come perilously close. I find the wikipedia description of these women or their male equivalent, the Gary Stu – useful, that they’re primarily functioning as wish-fulfillment fantasies for their authors. Many of the ‘author appearances’ make the feet of clay all too apparent and so don’t fit into this category.

Autobiographically inspired novels like ‘On the Road’ clearly portray the writer and his/her friends, foibles and all, to some extent or other. Sal Paradise is Jack Kerouac, ‘Jeannette’ in ‘Oranges are not the Only Fruit’ is Jeannette Winterson and Philip Carey in ‘Of Human Bondage’ may be Somerset Maugham, more or less. Paul Morel in ‘Sons and Lovers’ could be the young D H Lawrence and elements of Dickens’ life appear in David Copperfield.


E M Forster


Not E M Forster (and not too much like the Maurice Hall of the book?)

Sometimes, though, the reader sees what he or she wants. E M Forster insisted that Maurice Hall wasn’t him, although the similarities in appearance, Cambridge background and sexual awakening by a man of ‘lower class’ has made fans of ‘Maurice’ wonder. Harriet Vane is evidently based on Dorothy L Sayers – similar educational background, similar unhappy love affair – although she possesses too many faults to be a Mary Sue. Except in one thing; Sayers was infatuated with Eric Whelpton (one of the models for Peter Wimsey), but to no avail. Could Harriet’s happy ending with Peter have been a bit of wish-fulfilment?

Certainly in fanfic the wish-fulfilment element looms large. In Age of Sail stories, there’ll be a young woman who’s beautiful, talented, clever, witty; a right pain in the bum. She’s the best shot on the ship and can probably outdo the officers at swordplay. She might even be in disguise as a man, some very capable second lieutenant. I’m struggling to think of an equivalent character in a major novel written by a woman, although two male characters spring immediately to mind – James Bond and Stephen Maturin. This pair of bold adventurers need no introduction, nor do their stories. Ian Fleming based Bond and his adventures on various people and incidents, including his own – for example some of the scenes in Casino Royale reflected his own attempt to scupper some gamblers he thought were Nazi agents.

Maturin fascinates me, as does his creator, Patrick O’Brian. It would be easy to overegg the similarities between the two – secrecy, dissimulation about background, a daughter with special needs – but the fact remains that Maturin at times feels like a Gary Stu, despite his faults. Brilliant shot, wonderful espionage agent, a bit of a super hero (he takes a bullet out of his own abdomen and survives torture, storms, abandonment on a scorching hot island, a night on a freezing cold mountain, etc). I can’t help wondering if O’Brian was using Maturin in part to be what he’d wished to be, (or pretended he’d been) including a spy, an Irishman and a wonderful father to his disabled child.


Sayers/Vane

Vane/Sayers

Self inserted characters exist today. There’s a lady in my Cambridge Fellows books who bears more than a passing resemblance to me and I know that there are others knocking around. Of course, the tendency is, when I’m reading something, to try to spot a character who might just be the author in disguise. I daren’t say anything because of the risk of a suit for libel, but might that beautiful lady in the latest book by xxxx really be her and can that ridiculously sexy man, the one all the blokes fawn over truly be yyyyy? And will you share your favourite ‘self-inserted’ characters in the comments?

Last Monday was our local Romantic Novelists Association lunch. They’re a great bunch, a mix of published (mainstream press) and semi/wannabee published authors, nine of us in all. At the last lunch we’d been chatting and they discovered I was an e-book author so they asked me to be the guest speaker this time – on that very subject.

In preparation, I asked for feedback about the pros and cons of e-book publishing and got some fantastic answers, which I’ll share (verbatim) here:

Pros
Readers
• the convenience of being able to carry a lot of books on my laptop
• easier to store the books as well since they don’t take up as much physical space. Great if travelling or relocating temporarily.
• my favourite thing is being able to search the doc. I’ll have forgotten who a character is when he pops up again. Then I can search for one or more spots that name was used in the book. Paper books requires a very good memory (for some) or a lot of dog-earing.
• Instant Gratification (don’t have to look for a bookstore, can buy anytime)
• “embarrassing” book covers (romance/erotica)
• Privacy – eg adult books are harder for others to know what you are reading – no covers!! discrete
• More genres have a venue (GLBT/Erotica/BDSM to name a few)
• Cost of books is usually cheaper (but eligible for VAT!)
• Better for the planet (ecology)

Publishers
• Publish shorter stories viably
• Fewer on-costs (like POD)

Authors
• Gives more authors a voice
• Enable self publishing
• Sell shorter stories viably
• Royalties – in the region of 40% cover price, often quickly paid

Cons
• For portability need an ereader, cost still high – also accessibility issues (socioeconomic – anyone can read a print book)
• lack of an agreed ereader format
• Publishers versus Retailers causing fluctuating pricing
• Problems with some entering the market (Apple’s Ipad has only one format?)
• Traditional publishers still reluctant to use for all books
• ereader can be dropped and broken and you either have to repair or purchase new one. Lose all the books in the process – less likely to set library on fire!
• I do still like to hold a print book (and the smell is great)
• Can’t mark pages/make notes/etc
• Can’t lend a book to a friend
• Cons-power dependent,
• equipment and/or software failure may lead to loss of the books,
• can’t share them with friends and family unless they live in your household(not legally),
• harder to read in bed/bath
• Publishers see piracy as an issue more with ebooks

The reaction from my audience was definite interest (especially when we looked at the level of royalties and the relative speed of going from mss to sellable form). One of them had already seen some of her books go print to e-book and others saw this as a way of getting into the market. Another author also saw an advantage that I hadn’t picked up – that e-books aren’t stuck on a particular shelf in a shop but can be advertised online across genres.

You’ll be pleased to know that I don’t think I disgraced myself, especially when ‘gay romance’ got mentioned.

Posted by Erastes

I’m proud to introduce you to Last Gasp – a four novella anthology of gay historical romance published by Noble Romance.

The book is available as an ebook at the moment, but will be out in print at some point, if not this year, definitely next.

When Noble Romance approached me about collating a gay historical anthology I was a little stumped, I knew I needed a theme but wasn’t sure what. Chris Smith suggested “civilisations on the brink of change–a last gasp kind of idea” which I knew was perfect.

The stories I had submitted — particularly the three I chose to accompany mine — surprised me. I was expecting the obvious “lost civilisations” like the Incas or the Deep South pre the American Civil War, but I didn’t get those.  After all, I suppose all civilisations are lost, aren’t they?

Still, I think you will enjoy the stories–they are all from eras and places on the globe that haven’t been dealt with before: Syria in the Edwardian era, the Yukon Gold Rush in 1898, Hong Kong’s first Opium war in the 1830′s, and Italy between the two world wars.

Here’s the blurbs of the stories:

Tributary by Erastes

It’s 1936 and a generation of disaffected youth waits in the space between a war that destroyed many of their friends and family, and a war they know is bound to come. Guy Mason wanders through Italy, bored and restless for reasons he can’t even name, and stops at the Hotel Vista, high in the mountains of Lombardy. There, he meets scientist James Calloway and his secretary, Louis Chambers, and it’s there that the meandering stream of Guy’s life changes course forever.

The White Empire by Chris Smith

Edgar Vaughan sincerely believes that six-thousand miles is enough to give him a fresh start. Escaping in 1838 from the drawing rooms of Belgravia and the constraints of his landed family, he takes up missionary work in the trading post of Hong Kong. On arrival, he finds the region on the cusp of war; the Chinese Emperor has outlawed the importation of opium — the key link in the trade of the East India Company. Between Edgar’s sense of isolation, the sight of the puling opium addicts, and one memorable encounter with a man in a peacock waistcoat, Edgar finds himself embroiled in the very marrow of the British Empire’s machinations. He finds himself torn between espousing the expeditious whilst protecting his new acquaintance, and doing what is right and risking the wrath of the British Empire.

Sand by Charlie Cochrane

“Safe upon solid rock the ugly houses stand: Come and see my shining palace built upon the sand.”

People come to Syria for many reasons; tourism, archaeology, or because they need to leave Edwardian England to escape potential disgrace. Andrew Parks is one of those, burying past heartache and scandal among the tombs.

Charles Cusiter has travelled here as well, as chaperone to a friend whose fondness for the opposite sex gets him into too much trouble at home. Out in the desert there aren’t any women to turn Bernard’s head – just the ubiquitous sand.

The desert works its magic on Charles, softening his heart and drawing him towards Andrew. Not even a potentially fatal scorpion sting can overcome the power this strange land exerts.

The Ninth Language by Jordan Taylor

Thousands of outsiders descend on Canada’s Yukon Territory during the 1898 gold rush, wreaking havoc on the landscape and the indigenous people who live there. Amid the backdrop of this once pristine land, a man struggling against the destruction of his home and culture finds himself indebted to one of the men causing it. These two strangers discover solace and wholeness where they least expect it: each other.

Want to know more? All four authors will be over at the Speak Its Name yahoo group today, sharing excerpts doing giveaways, asking questions and answering any questions you may have! We’ll also be offering a giveaway of the anthology during the chat – but I’ll also offer one here, to one commenter.  All you need to do is comment and I’ll announce the winner in 24 hours.

Hope to see you at the chat later – starts at 12 noon UK time!

As before, two men and a title. The rest is lunacy.

Robert Scoville and Jonty Stewart in The Shade on a Fine Day (Charlie Cochrane)

Tall, slim and devastatingly handsome Robert Scoville has only one rival for the title ‘Britain’s bluest blooded stallion’ – Jonty Stewart. Jonty has eyes as blue as Laurence Dalaglio’s manties and hair the colour of Strongbow cider. His chiselled good looks send women into ecstasy and men into Boots the Chemist for a facial kit.

Will their rivalry erupt into violence? Or will the dreadful secret they both hide – that they’d both rather run with the geldings rather than the mares – be revealed by sulky temptress Charlie Cochrane who wishes either or both of them would come and share her jelly babies?

Garnet Littleton and Jack Darling in Lessons in Prevarication (Alex Beecroft)

Charming but feckless rich boy, Captain Garnet Littleton is being
blackmailed for his affair with the First Sea Lord by the Sea Lord’s
corrupt manservant, Jack Darling. But when Garnet sends the Impress
service after Jack, dragging him on board ship and imprisoning him in
the hold, the tables are turned. Will he enact a bloody (and possibly
titillating) revenge on the man who threatened his life for so long?
Will they succumb to the fellow feeling of men who have both suffered
the stigma of silly names? Or will Garnet just put off dealing with the
problem for so long that Jack starves to death in the dark? Find out in
the psychological thriller, Lessons in Prevarication.

Orlando Coppersmith and Etienne Beauchene in Aftermath

When brilliant but moody Etienne Beauchenne, star of the Sorbonne Applied Mathematics department, loses his lover in a duel over the correct way to pronounce Moet et Chandon, he flees Paris for Brighton. There he finds Orlando Coppersmith, once a numerical genius but now a curator at the geological museum, heart-broken because his lifetime love has run away to join the Tiller girls.

Will Etienne’s steady hand make itself felt on Orlando’s Arsinoitherium? And will they discover that there is, indeed, life after math?

And this one has to be today’s winner, for the last line if nothing else.

Jack Darling and Garnet Littleton in Lessons in Prevarication

Jack spots Garnet across a crowded auction floor and falls desperately in love with his bloodshot eyes and his air of lank Byronesque lassitude. He can’t bring himself to broach the subject of his infatuation but goes home and writes letter after letter none of which he posts. Desperate for Dutch courage, he takes brandy laced with laudenum, finds the muse within him, writes and writes letter, none of which are perfect, but still he strives for the PERFECT words to express his love for the beautiful Mr Littleton.

Sadly, the drug takes hold, he forget to eat and drink and he’s found
crushed to death beneath a hundred weight of shifted papers he was too weak to push off – and clutching a badly drawn picture of Garnet.

The story is told in blank verse.

You know the form. Take two random gay historical romance heroes plus one random title. Add nutty authors.

Robert Scoville and Jonty Stewart in The Shade on a Fine Day (Alex Beecroft)

High powered government scientist Robert Scoville is trapped when his lab is hit by mysterious objects falling from the sky. Rescued by handsome fire-fighter Jonty Stewart he falls head over heels in love at first sight. But the falling objects are debris from a huge comet hurtling towards the earth, blocking out the sun and causing tidal waves and earthquakes throughout the globe. And it might be love, but they’ve only got 14 hours to save the world…

Edward Easterby and Adam Hayward in Hard & Fast (Charlie Cochrane)

When Edward Easterby suffers a career-ending injury to his sideburns and has to retire from first class rugby, he seeks to end it all by drowning himself in a vat of Magners’ cider. As he suffers the slow death – emerging for the third time to go to the loo – he encounters smoulderingly sexy Adam Hayward, who’s had to sell his body to see his little sister through drama school.

Their roller-coaster romance takes them through the back streets of Derry and the front pages of the tabloids when it emerges that Adam is really the long estranged heir to the HardnFast SuperGlue empire. Will they stick together or is the solvent of distrust too strong?

David Archer and Hugo Lamont in Mistaken Identity (Charlie Cochrane, who really needs to get a life…)

Hugo Lamont has it all – brains, looks, money, and the biggest didgeridoo this side of Bell’s Beach. But his urbane frontage hides the painful secret of a heart broken in several places, at least one of which was Cardiff.

David Archer hasn’t got nuffink. One minute he was on a Georgian frigate, warming the captain’s hammock, and the next he’d found himself in Plas Roald Dahl, being touched up by a handsome man with botox and a military greatcoat who thinks he’s someone else entirely. Only Hugo can rescue him from a fate worse than playing for Newport Gwent Dragons.

Can love really blossom between two such disparate souls? And will a Mr Whippy 99 with chocolate sauce be the catalyst to romance?

And, possibly the star of today’s offerings:

Aftermath – starring Ioan Griffith as Orlando Coppersmith and Gerard Depardieu as Etienne Beauchene (Bruin Fisher)

Shy academic Orlando Coppersmith, having survived the First World War with the loss not only of his eyesight, one leg and most of his lung capacity as a result of surviving a mustard gas attack, is now searching for his greatest loss, his lover and life partner, Professor Stewart of Cambridge University.

In France without a guide, his search initially leads him round and round in circles until he chances upon the massive bulk of Etienne Beauchene, local baker and gastronome, who clasps him to his bosom in the mistaken belief that he is his long-lost cousin from New York. Thus begins an unlikely relationship which blossoms into near tolerance as the two find ways to communicate, although neither speaks a word of the
other’s language, Orlando is blind and Etienne is very deaf.

Follow the story to see how Etienne bakes his world famous croissants, how Orlando learns to ride a bicycle despite his shortage of limbs, how they both career through the rural French countryside with strings of
onions over their handlebars and how true love gets jammed between the spokes.

On April Fools’ Day, some of the Macaronis were playing at Speak Its Name, taking various pairs of historically romantic lovers, mixing them up and allocating them to the Macronis’ book titles (some real, some ridiculous).

We were inordinately proud of our efforts at plots and blurbs which ensued and would like to give the world the benefit of our lunacy.

For your delectation, batch one:

Nehemiah Gillis and Gideon Frost in False Colors (Charlie Cochrane)

When feisty Nehemiah Gillis opens ‘No Fail Nails’ in the sleepy backwater of Echidna Creek, how can he know that fate will deal him the equivalent of a smack in the puss with a wet sock full of sand?

How will stunningly handsome, if myopic, Gideon Frost cope when he enters the nail salon mistaking it for the local branch of Ladbroke’s?

And will their love survive the shocking discovery that Gideon doesn’t suit Kylie Pink?

Harry Thompson and Finbar Thouless in Transgressions (Alex Beecroft)

Uptight hell-fire preacher Harry Thompson is determined to stamp out
vice across the Bible Belt of America. So why is it that everywhere he
goes there’s a bank robbery, a rash of break-ins, a sex scandal and a
prison breakout? Could it have anything to do with his PA, the soft
spoken Irishman with the laughing eyes, Finbar Thouless? And why does he find himself so reluctant to find out?

David Caverly and Rafe Goshawk in Ransom (Erastes)

David Caverly falls asleep in a fairy ring and wakes 200 years later to find that he’s still hot and his hair has grown back and yay! no-one speaks in thees and thous any more.

While admiring his hot self in a river he’s discovered by Rafe Goshawk, who mistakes him for a river nymph and thinks “well, if it’s not human, it’s not TECHNICALLY infidelity” and much shaggage is had and no-one bothers to get David any clothes.

When Rafe’s live in lover, Ambrose disturbs their smexxing he curses them and the fairy king emerges from the river and takes them off to fairy land saying that only a Ransom of a true heart and sacrifice will save the pair of them.

Will Ambrose recant and work to save the man who has betrayed him AGAIN? What do you think?

Last year I posted here about my experiences as part of the acquisitions team for the I Do charity anthology of stories in support of marriage equality. I focussed on making a story as ‘sellable’ as possible, maximising the chances of a prospective publisher not saying ‘No thank you’ almost within the first thirty seconds. Having been lucky enough to work on the follow up, I Do Two, I wanted to share another aspect of the experience – authors who ‘add value’ to a project and those who don’t.

Now, I’d like to say that all of our authors (and the editors, proofers, etc) added value to I Do Two because they gave their time and talents freely, for no other recompense than ‘doing the right thing’. So who didn’t move the project forward? Same as last time – the prospective contributors who hadn’t read the submissions guidelines well enough (at all?) and whose stories we spent time reading only to discover they were completely unsuitable. You know, if we said ‘no fanfiction’ that really meant we didn’t want it. We got it.

Conjugated irregular verbs as used by unhelpful authors, number 1:

They wrote fanfic.
You wrote fanfic.
I wrote homage.

We said ‘M/M, F/F, Bi and transgender stories are welcome. There is no strict theme, but we have certain things we do *not* want to see, for example stories which undermine the purpose of the anthology’. Perhaps we should have specified that we didn’t want stories which involved a woman having a heterosexual extra-marital dalliance or a woman having an affair with her pet dog. ‘Cos we got them.

Conjugated irregular verbs as used by unhelpful authors, number 2:

They have no right to break the rules.
You should keep to the rules.
The rules don’t apply to me.

So ‘adding value’ means not wasting other people’s time. It means being professional and getting edits/contracts back on time so there aren’t any holdups. It might mean going above and beyond the call of authorly duty, rather than relying on everyone else to do the slightly distasteful business of selling.

Conjugated irregular verbs as used by unhelpful authors, number 3:

He should do more to sell our book.
You should organise that chat to sell our book for the date I can attend.
I was far too busy with other more important things to turn up for the chat but I’ll take the royalties.

I’ve been privileged to have stories in collections with lots of different authors and some of them have been shining examples of ‘going above and beyond the call’. They’re the ones who organise the chats and blogspots, who produce the giveaways, who man the stands at events and press flyers and bookmarks into the hands of all and sundry. They’re the ones who help get the book sold.

And they never patronize other authors.

Conjugated irregular verbs as used by unhelpful authors, number 4:

She made a fool of herself slagging off that reviewer.
You shouldn’t take it so hard when you get a bad review.
No-one should insult my story like that!

I’ve been hugely privileged in working with my book-bedfellows (come on, how could anyone get a better start than being in a book of stories alongside Lee Rowan and Erastes?) and I look forward to working with many more good eggs.

I recently bit the bullet, coughed up my forty quid, and joined the Romantic Novelists Association. (Please note – the qualifications were just about length of book published and type of publisher, nothing to do with whether it was het or gay material.) So, when it was time for the bimonthly lunch of the local chapter (why does that make us sound like Hell’s Angels?) this Tuesday gone I didn’t feel quite so much of an intruder.

Not that they’re ever anything less than welcoming – they’re a lovely lot, mainly ladies of a ‘certain age’ (and that includes me and I was the youngest present) with one or two gents. We didn’t have a speaker this time, so we took it in turns to talk to the rest of the group about the books we’d read recently – good and bad. I praised Dominic Hibberd’s excellent biography of Wilfred Owen, and was less than polite about a novel I’d had from the library (the third book in a series and woefully self-indulgent and ‘clever’ whereas the first two had been light hearted and witty). No names, no pack drill, in re the latter.

We talked exclusively about print books and it was interesting to hear people level the same criticisms against the bad ones they’d read recently – poor editing, unappealing characters, porn without plot – that get levelled against e-books (more of which anon). It was particularly interesting to find out that three people present reviewed for the Historical Novel Society. Charlie will have to mind her p’s and q’s in the future.

The chat is always good with these lads and lasses, lots of interest and enthusiasm and the continual question “Are you writing at the moment?” Beware how you answer such things if you’re in a similar position – I was explaining to Angela and Geoffrey about the Cambridge boys, what sort of books they were, e-book before print and all that. The next thing I know, Angela has me down to speak at the next meeting about a) e-publishing and b) gay romance. (That’s me, a real sucker for saying “Yes, I’ll do that, no problem”.)

I’ll let you know how it goes. I’ll be keeping the venue and date secret just in case anyone decides to gatecrash…

1918 Your leading man has just come back from Mons and wants to buy his nephew a clockwork train set. How much would it cost? 22/6, from Gamages.
gamages ad
1944 before embarking for Normandy, your hero is arranging for his mother to move. Who should he contact? Why not Pitt & Scott Ltd, ‘phone City 6474.

It’s Victorian times, and your poor, impoverished poet is starving in a garret and desperate to get the roof asphalted. He’ll have to stump up a penny per square foot.

How do I know all these things? Because the adverts tell me so. I’m a great believer in getting the feel for and flavour of a time and so I collect old original and reproduction newspapers and, rather than looking at the headlines, I scour the adverts and personal columns, the radio or theatre listings – anything which gives me a clue to what ordinary life was like. Often this is the hardest thing for the historical novelist to research. We don’t necessarily want dates of battles, we want to know what the grocer’s boy brought in his basket!

cherry blossom
In the pages of the papers I find the comfortably familiar, like Boots the Chemist, Cherry Blossom boot polish, as much a part of my life now as they were to the people of 1918. I also find the novel and the downright odd (I wonder what Doans backache kidney pills really contained or why Britannia in her chariot appears to be at Verdun handing out Cameron Safety self filler pens to the troops).

I love old adverts everywhere I find them. One of my prize possessions is a first edition Novel Notes by Jerome K Jerome and the endpapers are full of the things, not all of which are advertising books. Fancy a Hairless Author’s Paper-pad (not sure if the pad is hairless or the author)? Or some Stickphast paste? (Which, according to the blurb is the only thing which Ellen Terry would use for sticking paper, so there.)

cameron

I have to thank Erastes for pointing out this resource and pandering to my secret vice. Ah, the hours spent looking up old jelly babies adverts and the like.

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