The news recently has been so full of heartbreaking stories of kids taking their own lives because of bullying they’ve received because of their sexuality. I wanted to share some good news for a change.

Here in the UK we have a government body called the Equalities Office. This has “responsibility within Government for equality strategy and legislation. GEO takes the lead on issues relating to women, sexual orientation and transgender equality matters.”

This year, the Equality Bill began to roll out, simplifying. amalgamating and extending existing equalities law.

What does this mean in practice? Here’s an example -
For a transgender person, “You will be protected against discrimination and harassment by your employer or a service provider because you are a transsexual person. You will also be protected from discrimination and harassment, for example, by a teacher at school, by someone exercising a public function (such as policing), or by a private club.
You will also be protected from indirect discrimination, where an apparently neutral rule, policy or practice particularly disadvantages transsexual people and cannot be justified.”

You can’t legislate against people’s attitudes, but one step at a time…

Novelist Nan Hawthorne

Novelist Nan Hawthorne

As a new member of The Macaronis team I would like to introduce myself.  I am a historical novelist and have been a professional writer for several years.  I wrote my first short story when I was seven years old, but it was not until the 1990s that I started to write as a career.  For many years I divided my work between my first book, Loving the Goddess Within: Sex Magick for Women and, later, hundreds of articles published on the web about nonprofit management and employment issues related to disabilities.  Though I had written a notable amount of fiction as a teenager, I did not touch fiction other than a couple stories for such magazines as WomanSpirit and Albatross, until 2006 when I seriously considered writing a novel.  The immediate result of that choice was my first novel, An Involuntary King: A Tale of Anglo Saxon England, published via BookSurge.  You can find links to most of my books on my web site, www.nanhawthorne.com.

In the meantime I discovered that I was not the only woman in the world who likes to read romances involving gay men!  It turns out, of course, that there is a whole genre, maybe even more than one, so dedicated.  I happen to have a severe visual disability, so picking up a paperback and reading it is no longer possible, but ebooks in general and the Kindle 3 in particular have allowed me to start reading all the M/M romances I could ever want.

My first novel itself is not in that genre, though there are gay male characters that play an important role.  One of the chapters featuring these two men will be published in the December 2010 issue of Wilde Oats.  I have just completed a novel with a lesbian protagonist whom I created mainly to experience writing a female character I could relate to, strong, capable and not defined by the nature of her genitals.  This novel takes place during the Crusade of 1101 with the main character joining it disguised as her own late twin brother.  It is an adventure, but there is romance within it.  I have some more mainstream novels in the works, but plan to concentrate on writing M/M romance in the near future. 

 One thing that has proved empowering to me is the Internet.  Thanks to the help of what is called assistive technology my lack of any central (fine) vision I can write, read, discuss, research, and network very nearly like a fully sighted person.  I am like a kid in a candy store at times and have several blogs that I have loved creating.  I choose to continue to write about the characters in An Involuntary King, characters a teen friend and I began developing back in the 1960s, on a blog of the same name.  I explore opportunities for accessible reading and review historical novels on another.  In another I provide an extensive blog list. Of course, there is also my own personal and professional blog that I call Nan Hawthorne’s Booking History.  On this last I make a point of providing other novelists with a place to expose their work (Historical Fiction Roundup) and discuss hot topics (Burning Issues in Historical Fiction), both regular features on that blog.

 For fun I participate in the collaborative writing tool, Ghostletters, which I originated in 1994.  I warmly invite anyone and everyone to check it out.

 Lately I have become involved in more gay and M/M publishing, being a new member of the editorial teams for Wilde Oats, The Macaronis and other online publications.  I am also the originator of Bosom Friends, the lesbian companion to Speak Its Name.  My activities are not limited to the literary, however, as I own and operate an Internet Celtic music radio station, Radio Dé Danann, at Live365.com, enjoy what I call “yarn paintings”, and squeeze in between all that my greatest passion, listening to books on audio and text to speech readers.  I am a member of the board of the Independent Authors Guild and a North American member of the Historical Novel Society.

I am proud to have been included in The Macaronis and hope to be a useful, informative and fun member of the group.  I will be happy to say more on any of these subjects if you have questions.  Just leave a comment below or write to me via my web site, www.nanhawthorne.com

Some of my blogs:

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

I nominate

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

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

Got Medieval

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

Chaucer Hath a Blog

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

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

Anglo Saxon Aloud

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

The Period Movie Review

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

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

Charles Dance stars as Jack Wolfenden in this drama by Julian Mitchell which tells the human story behind the so-called Wolfenden report.

Fifty years ago, a Home Office committee chaired by Wolfenden, then vice-chancellor of Reading University, recommended the decriminalization of homosexuality. But behind the scenes of what was to become a turning point in British social history, there was an even more extraordinary story. Jack’s son Jeremy, then a brilliant undergraduate at Oxford, was himself gay, something his father could not bring himself to acknowledge.

From the corridors of power in Whitehall to the squalid public toilets of a Reading park, this is a story of fathers and sons, ambition and prejudice, gentlemen and players. Also starring Sean Biggerstaff, Samantha Bond, Haydn Gwynne and Mel Smith.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b007y9gx/Consenting_Adults/ (sadly only available to the UK, but well worth seeking out on DVD.)

Consenting Adults is a BBC Production which was made in 2007, and for some reason I’ve completely missed until yesterday. Just over an hour long, it’s an absolute must for anyone who has any interest at all in gay history.

It’s a simple enough story–pretty much based entirely on true facts–which relates the reasons for the instigation of the famous “Wolfenden Report”  (more correctly known as “Report of the Departmental Committee on Homosexual Offences and Prostitution (1957″)

You’d think that a story of a dry committee, sitting for months and discussing this subject would be incredibly dry as televisual matter, but it couldn’t be further from the truth. As often happens, truth is stranger than fiction and the work done on the report is brought into sharp focus as we discover that Jeremy Wolfenden, the son of John Wolfenden who headed up the report, is homosexual. The relationship between father and son is hugely typical of that time and place – the young  man much more confident and striding (or at least on the outside) and desperate for father’s approval and attention–and neither man able even to touch each other in friendship. Wolfenden senior tells Jeremy that he’d better stay away from home while the enquiry is on.

I learned something too–like many many people I’d been pronouncing it homo (as in go go) when it should be pronounced homo (to rhyme with dom-oh) because it’s from the greek which means “same” and not the latin which means “man.” Coo, the things you learn off the telly, eh?

The Report had been commissioned to see if any changes in the law were required, not only in homosexual cases, but in the matter of prostitution, as street prostitution was increasing, causing more people to be arrested, which hit the newspapers, creating moral outrage. With homosexuality, more and more men were being arrested for sodomy, attempted sodomy, public indecency and other acts under the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 –which had not been altered since the infamous Labouchere Amendment of 1885–making every homosexual act illegal, in private or no. The Labouchere Amendment had created “A Blackmailers Charter” and because men were turning each other in through fear, or, when they were arrested themselves, their phone books were finding many other men of the same inclination.

It seemed to the public at large that homosexuality was increasing in huge leaps and bounds, whereas it was simply the law, and enthusiastic police regimes which were causing the perceived growth. More and more public figures were thrown into the spotlight, having been arrested for “public indecency.”  Oscar Wilde was famously the first, but many others followed, and in the fifties, famous cases were splattered all over the headlines.

Sir John Gielgud

In 1953, Sir John Gielgud, was arrested after trying to pick up a man in a public toilet who turned out to be an undercover policeman. He was found guilty of “persistently importuning for immoral purposes.

In 1954, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, then a 28-year-old socialite and the youngest peer in the House of Lords, was jailed for a year, on a charge he has always denied. He was convicted along with the Daily Mail journalist Peter Wildeblood and the Dorset landowner Michael Pitt-Rivers in a sensational case that made headlines around the world. It is thought today that these three arrests, following on from Geilgud’s cottaging scandal,

Peter Wildeblood

brought about the instigation of the Report.

(For additional viewing, the tale of Peter Wildeblood and Lord Montagu’s trial is told in a 2007 Channel 4 drama-documentary, A Very British Sex Scandal.)

What I found fascinating was the people who were elected to be on the Report’s Committee.  Certainly at first glance, these people seem to be the very worst of those that could have been chosen. MPs, the leader of the Girl Guides, Church leaders, psychiatrists and doctors. If you’d asked me to bet (were I to live in that time) I would certainly have said that the law would have been strengthened, not lessened, but perhaps it goes to show that even I shouldn’t take things on face value.

This committee, despite most of them being revolted by homosexuality, voted almost unanimously (James Adair, former Procurator-Fiscal for Glasgow being the only objectee) to change the law in England and Wales, that as long as homosexual behaviour was behind closed doors, between Consenting Adults (over 21 at the time, although the age of consent was eventually lowered to today’s 16) then it should not be an offence.  The law did not take into account the Merchant Navy or the Armed Forces, an oversight that has caused much grief, and one that was only righted very recently.

Sadly, and Laird’s reaction was an omen of this, Scotland and Northern Ireland did not take the crime of homosexuality off their statute books until 1980 and 1982 respectively. And it has to be said – even England did not race to take on board the recommendations of the Report, and it took a good ten years for the recommendations in the Report to become law with the new Sexual Offences Act 1967.

Wolfenden’s son, Jeremy, was a startlingly intelligent young man and was approached for recruitment as a spy by the Secret Intelligence Service whilst he was doing his National Service. It is stated in the film that they knew he was “queer” – and it’s more than probable that they did. He eventually accepted their offer and went to Moscow, but his drinking eventually killed him. He was found dead in his bath at the age of 31. It is suspected that he died of suspicious causes, particularly as was playing a dangerous double game between MI6 and the KGB, that he became friends with Guy Burgess (infamous defector and fellow homosexual) whilst in Russia, and that he had been a victim of attempted blackmail after pictures were taken of him in bed with a Russian man.

What is particuarly poignant about the film is that it does not shy away from the fact that prosecutions continued vigourously up to and after the Report. Sodomy could result in life imprisonment, attempted sodomy in ten years. There are two particular stories in the film which show how sad and desperate men’s lives were in the era. Highly recommended.

by Leslie H. Nicoll

The first cover in the Vintage series features the painting “Football Hero” by J.C. Leyendecker, completed in 1916. I thought readers might be interested in learning a bit more about the artist’s life and work on this, the anniversary of his death in 1951. Leyendecker was the pre-eminent illustrator of the early twentieth century, painting more than 400 magazine covers and hundreds of advertising images for diverse clients including Cluett, Peabody & Co. (Arrow Shirts), Interwoven Socks, and the US military. His paintings are iconic and instantly recognizable even now, a century after he first came to prominence.

J.C. Leyendecker in 1895

Joseph Christian Leyendecker—Joe to his friends and J.C. professionally—was born in Montabaur, Germany in 1874. He was the third of four children. In 1882 the family emigrated to the United States and chose to live in Chicago. His father worked in a brewery owned by a relative and from the limited information available, it sounds like they quickly settled into a comfortable, middle-class life

The three Leyendecker boys were all artistic. Older brother Adolph moved to Kansas City, Missouri, in 1894 and established himself as a stained glass artist. J.C.’s first commission came at age 11, when he designed a beer bottle label for his great-uncle’s brewery. At 15, he became an apprentice at J. Manz & Company, a Chicago engraving firm, eventually becoming a Staff Illustrator. He also enrolled in evening classes at the Art Institute of Chicago. He worked hard and saved his money and in 1896 traveled to Paris, with his younger brother Franz (more commonly known as Frank or F.X.), to study at the Académie Julian. They spent two years in France, refining their skills, rubbing shoulders with other artists, and, sadly for Frank, acquiring a serious drug and alcohol habit that would eventually kill him at the age of 45.

Vintage Leyendecker

J.C. and Frank returned to the US and set up shop as artists and illustrators, first in Chicago and then in New York, where they moved in 1900. They rented a shared studio on 32nd Street and a large townhouse in Washington Square. Their sister Mary lived with them and took on the role of hostess and housekeeper in lieu of a career or family of her own.

Charles Beach (cover image from the book by Cutler and Cutler)

Busy as they were with their advertising and cover commissions, J.C. and Frank needed models and a regular parade of good looking young men made their way to their studio door. In 1903, Charles A. Beach walked into the studio and into J.C.’s life—never to leave. Beach became J.C.’s model, business manager, lover, and life partner. They were inseparable from the moment they set eyes on each until Leyendecker’s death, forty-eight years later. J.C. was 29 when they met; Beach was 17.

Shortly after meeting the Leyendecker brothers, Beach moved into a small apartment on 31st Street, one block from the studio. In 1910, the Leyendeckers took a step up, renting a large studio in the Beaux Arts building at 40th Street and Sixth Avenue. Beach established his residence in the studio and became its manager. Joe, Frank, Mary and their father Peter had moved out of the city in 1905 and were living in New Rochelle, although from the sound of it, J.C. stayed most of the time at the studio with Beach. In 1914, J.C. and Beach designed and built a fourteen room home on a nine acre estate on Mount Tom Road in New Rochelle. Beach officially moved in in 1916, shortly after father Peter’s death.

Like his brother, Frank was also gay but there is no record of him having a regular lover or long-term relationship. Interestingly, he was the one who hired Beach but he probably came to regret that decision. He and Mary both resented the influence that Beach had over J.C. There was a family falling out in 1923 with both Frank and Mary moving out of the Mount Tom house; Mary’s final act of defiance was to spit in Charles Beach’s face. Frank was dead a year later; Mary spent the rest of her life at the Martha Washington Hotel in New York City, dying in 1957.

Brian Donlevy

While Beach was J.C.’s most frequent and favorite model, he did paint other men, including Brian Donlevy and Neil Hamilton, both of whom went on to careers in the movies and television. Donlevy appeared in numerous Arrow collar ads and although it is not documented, I think he may also be the model in “Football Hero.” Hamilton also was the model in several Arrow advertisements and was the Doughboy (World War I soldier) in the 1918 Thanksgiving cover for the Saturday Evening Post. Leyendecker later gave Hamilton the painting—an unusual and gracious gesture on his part. Leyendecker only gave away two Post cover paintings in his life and never sold any of his original paintings—just the images. As an aside, readers may remember Hamilton as Police Commissioner Gordon in the Batman TV series in the 1960s. He appeared in all 120 episodes.

Neil Hamilton as Police Commissioner Gordon

Leyendecker was friends with many fellow artists and illustrators, the most famous of whom is probably Norman Rockwell. Depending on which biography you read, Rockwell was either a conniving businessman who stole Leyendecker’s ideas and commissions or he was a lifelong friend who considered J.C. a mentor. I prefer to believe the latter. Rockwell lived near Leyendecker in New Rochelle; they collaborated professionally and Rockwell was a pall bearer at Leyendecker’s funeral. Why then is Rockwell better known and well remembered? Probably because he has wives, children, and grandchildren to perpetuate his memory and legacy. J.C., Frank, and Mary were all unmarried and childless; Adolph had two children who likely never met their famous uncle since there seems to have been a family rift that occurred when he moved to Kansas City. There is speculation that it was because both of his brothers were gay but there is no way to determine if this is true.

An elegant lifestyle depicted in art

While Leyendecker was successful from the minute of his first commission at age 11, probably the pinnacle of his career came during the 1920s. His pictures, and those of his contemporaries such as Cy ­­Phillips, were everywhere, and illustrated a lifestyle that was emulated by many and imagined for more. In an interesting intersection of life and art, Leyendecker and Beach became the “it” couple, attracting people to their New York City haunts and later their home. Beach became known for organizing popular and risqué parties at the Mount Tom estate that were de rigueur among the celebrity and social set. Walter Winchell, the gossip columnist, was a regular, and his reports of the goings-on helped set fashion trends, smoking and drinking fads, and even deigned which automobiles acceptable—J.C. drove a Pierce Arrow. No one reported about their relationship, however, even though J.C. and Charles were clearly lovers and affectionate with each other in front of friends. How were they able to maintain such media silence? Apparently the simple threat of, “You won’t be invited back” was sufficient.

Charles Beach

The Roaring Twenties ended with a crash and Leyendecker and Beach also began to scale back their opulent lifestyle. Changes in the entertainment and publishing industries also took a toll and by the late 1930s, commissions for illustrated magazine covers were dwindling—not because Leyendecker’s talent was diminishing (or Rockwell’s fame eclipsed his, as some have suggested) but rather, because photography had reached a point of being faster, easier, cheaper and most importantly: more popular. The golden age of illustration, which lasted from the turn of the century until the mid-thirties, had passed. Leyendecker still held the distinction of being its premier artist.

The Mount Tom Estate

Charles Beach, up close and personal

For the last decade of their lives together, J.C. and Charles lived a quiet, modest life—a radical change from the lavish Twenties but also a reflection of a nation struggling with a depression, war, and its aftermath. J.C. died on July 25, 1951, in his lover’s arms. The post-mortem diagnosis was an acute cerebral occlusion. Charles followed him in death six months later. J.C. is buried in the Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx. The location of Charles’ remains is unknown.

Upon his death, Leyendecker had instructed Beach to “destroy everything”; Charles began to do this, getting rid of letters, diaries, correspondence, and records. Fortunately, he realized that burning J.C.’s paintings and sketches would be a serious mistake and saved those from the bonfire. Later, he sold many at a yard sale with the most expensive painting fetching seven dollars. After Beach’s death, Mary inherited what was left—sixty paintings that were eventually donated to San Joaquin Pioneer and Historical Museum (now the Haggin Museum) in California.

I wonder how many of those yard sale paintings are tucked away in attics, waiting to be rediscovered. My attic has been well and thoroughly cleaned, but I can dream for others…

Joseph Christian Leyendecker
March 23, 1874 – July 25, 1951


Cutler, L.S. & Cutler, J.C. (2008). J.C. Leyendecker: American Imagist. New York: Abrams.

Wikipedia entries on J.C. Leyendecker, Norman Rockwell, Brian Donlevy and Neil Hamilton

IMDb entries on Brian Donlevy and Neil Hamilton

Last summer at a yard sale,  the corner of an old book caught my eye.  Old books always do.   To me, there are few things that tell more about a time than the facts and ideas that people saw fit put in print.  Buildings, maybe, as they’re even more lasting.   I dug the little volume out from under a bunch of plastic robots, saw 1907 on the cover, and bought it right away, but I didn’t actually look at until weeks later—the short Canadian summer is for gardening, not browsing century-old reference books.

 But when the weather started closing in toward autumn, the little book became a fascinating time capsule. Fact #1:   They liked long titles that told you exactly what to expect:  1907 C. Regenhardt International Guide for Merchants, Manufacturers, & Exporters:  A Directory of the best accredited and most reliable firms of Banks, Bankers, Commission and Forwarding Agents, Lawyers, Notaries, Solicitors and all the Consultants of the Globe, Containing also many commercial Statistics and indicating for each place of any importance a trustworthy firm that gives direct information.

 Yes.  That is all on the title page.

 This book has all kinds of businesses and brand names, also currency equivalents for European and US money, the various calendars (European, Greek/Russian, Jewish, and Muslim) various advertisements (it has a little pencil loop and an accordian-fold pocket on the back cover, that still has a bookmark-size slip advertises “CP Goerz prismatic binoculars, (theatre and miltary styles”).

 My favorite ads so far are for the “Ideal” type-bar typewriter–it “causes sensation!”  (Especially, I guess, if you get your finger caught in the type-bar…)  and the Frister & Rossmann Schnellschreibmaschine (quick-writing machine, sort of a high-rise typewriter.)  The technology really has evolved in the last 102 years. I look at these ads sitting here beside my notebook computer, and the mind boggles.    The F&R ad didn’t photograph well, but type-writing machines were a hot item–Blickensderfer has one, too:

Ja, das ist ein Schreibmaschine!

The foreign currency exchange table is wonderful.  One silver piaster in Arabia was worth 3 marks, 52 pfennigs, or 89 cents American, or 3 shillings sixpence.   One gold Balboa in Panama was worth 4 shillings, 2.5 cents, or $1 American, or 4 marks, 19 pfennigs.   In Siam—shades of Anna and the King–1 tikal was worth 60 cents, or 2 shillings sixpence.

 Worried about European taxes on your merchandise?  The rates are listed for all bills of exchange, for dozens of countries.  You can check the size of your market—for instance, Hungary’s population is listed at 19,254,559, with an area of 125,000 square miles.   The minutiae are amazing. 

In honor of Hercule Poirot--All About Belgium!

And it’s a business directory, so of course it took advertising.  Got a cold?  Try the Bath of Ems, Germany, best cure of catarrhs of the Respiratory organs, the digistive (sic) organs, the Female organs, Urinary Systems, & Rheumatism, Gout, Asthma. Season from 1st May to 15th October.. Drinking & Baths Cure, Inhalation, Pneumatic Chambers, &c.    Get on the road without a horse or carriage with a Brennabor bicycle, Germany’s best, from the Brennabor Works in Brandenburg, Berlin, or Hamburg.  Oldest and largest cycle works of the Continent!  Need Licht? You can find the most up-to-date modern gaslight systems installed by Louis Runge, whose business may be found on Landsbergerstrasse in Berlin. 

 The typefaces are old-fashioned, perfectly suited to the antique illustrations—which were up-to-the-minute modern at the time.  Even the owner’s name, in old browned-out ink, is in an elegant European script… Thank you, EJ Beammon.  He must have dealt with Germany quite a bit–the book falls open to those pages, and some are dog-eared.  Not surprising–this area was settled by German farmers; many old people still speak it as their preferred language, and until WWI the town was Berlin, Ontario.  There’s only one disappointment – Mr. Beammon never used the blank memo pages at the end of the book, so his name is all the record he left of his activities in 1907.

 I wish I’d had this when writing Gentleman’s Gentleman–lots of hotels all over the world, and unquestionable authenticity.  And.. yep, the Neil House Hotel in Columbus, Ohio is listed here.  I was there once, back in the 80’s, for a sci-fi convention.  The Neil is gone now, torn down a couple of years later.  In 1907 it was ritzy enough to get a listing in this book.

 It’s strange and wonderful to hold, in my own hands, a book that might have belonged to my Gents characters.  It would be just the thing for a traveler who might want to find a bank or an embassy in a hurry.   The only risk, I think, would be allowing my enthusiasm to create an info-dump.  Sherlock Holmes might ask Watson to check the train schedule in his Baedeker, but he’d hardly want to know what patent nostrums were advertised in the back pages.  

I’ve always loved historical fiction, but in school history was one of the most deadly boring subjects.  I think that was mainly due to how it was taught, all memorization of dates and battles, nothing about how people actually lived.   It’s a shame that so little has been done to bring the past alive, to make things real to students.  I’m probably excessively optimistic, but I have to hope that if people realized how many of the stupid mistakes we see today have been repeated over and over, there might be a chance of avoiding a few of them.

Or maybe not… still, I’m staying on the lookout for tattered old books—there are others I’ve snagged at library sales—and having looked at Regenhardt again  I may have to nudge Lord Robert and Jack Darling to get into trouble so I can use some of these interesting gadgets. 

If you’re working on something that needs info I may have here, feel free to drop me an email!

When people ask me what I write, I usually say: “Penny dreadfuls. But they cost more than a penny and aren’t dreadful.”

A historian might point out that this statement is not really correct (and some may argue that, indeed, my writing is quite dreadful), because penny dreadfuls firmly belong in the 19th century, while I aim for an 18th century feeling. Amandine de Villeneuve’s woodcut-like illustrations for my books are in the style of the 18th century, too. And in the 18th century, it was the chapbook that ruled the readership.

Penny dreadfuls were stories published in parts over a course of several weeks, costing one penny each. And for that, the 19th century teenager got Adventure! Drama! Swordfighting! Highwaymen! Pirates! Vampires! A damsel in distress! Spring-heeled Jack and Knights of the Road!

The Victorians did a pretty thorough job at cleaning up the act of the “Penny Merriments”. There was also a shift in the readership. While chapbooks had been read by all ages and classes, penny dreadfuls were mostly aimed at male teenagers with a working class background.

The origins of the chapbook can be tracked back as early as the 1600s, and it could be just about anything from religious pamphlet to printed gallows speech to folk tale to coverage of the Great Fire of London. The natural lifespan of a chapbook was short; due to its very poor paper- and print-quality, it usually ended as toilet paper. It was intended for quick consumption and disposal. As a consequence, much of our knowledge is guesswork. Luckily, Samuel Pepys was an avid collector, so at least a few copies survived the centuries. His collection is held at Magdalene College in Cambridge.

Given the nature of many chapbooks, it’s not surprising that Samuel Pepys, naval administrator, diarist and Lothario was so fond of them.  To quote Steve from “Coupling”:  “When man invented fire, he didn’t say, “Hey, let’s cook.”  He said, “Great, now we can see naked bottoms in the dark!” As soon as Caxton invented the printing press, we were using it to make pictures of, hey, naked bottoms!”

Some months ago, the national press reported of a rare and exciting find:


“They often contained rather saucy and even rude tales, which were found to be very amusing by their 18th century readers.”

Here’s an excerpt from “The Crafty Chambermaid”, dating back to 1770; the tale of a chambermaid who tricks a young man into marrying her/of a London merchant who tries to romantically pursue a chambermaid (it depends on one’s point of view, I suppose…)

The Merchant he softly crept into the room,
And on the bedside he then sat himself down,
Her knees through the Counterpane he did embrace,
Did Bess in the pillow did hide her sweet face.

He stript of his cloaths and leaped into bed
Saying now lovely creature for thy maidenhead,
She strug led and strove and seemed to be shy
He said divine beauty I pray now comply.

Love and lust, presented in a raunchy, saucy and rude manner – what sells today also sold back in the 18th century. From erotic to pornographic: the chapbook catered to a great variety of needs and interests. And as this is the Macaronis-blog, the question begs to be asked: were there chapbooks with gay, lesbian or bisexual content as well?

Answer: as with so many details in history, we can only guess. There are some indications that such content was published, but one has to read between the lines, and there’s a significant difference in the way same-sex experiences were portrayed: what might have been acceptable for women was absolutely taboo for men.

Sexuality between women often featured in heterosexual erotica and pornography. However, this wasn’t a portrayal of sexual orientation, it wasn’t about lesbian or bisexual women: the ladies would always end up with the dashing hero in the end. The stories left no doubt that they were 100% heterosexual, and any same-sex experience only served the purpose of preparing a woman for “the real thing”, as an introduction to sexuality and preparation for her future (male) lover, often with the help of a more experienced woman.

In her book “Lascivious Bodies – A Sexual History of the Eighteenth Century”***, Julie Peakman writes:

“Thus, in erotica, the reader is guided through the rules of sexual initiation in a three-stage process: masturbation, lesbian sex and, finally, heterosexual intercourse.”

Women were expected to be loving and affectionate, so being loving and affectionate in public was normal. Correspondence between women that we’d think to be “love letters” today were not unusual. Society would often turn a blind eye when it came to very close friendships which may or may not have been of a sexual nature as well, especially if the ladies were discrete. The case was different for women who tried to wear the breeches (especially if those were equipped with artificial “yards”!) and threatened the superior status of men in society, though. But that’s for another day and article.

Now, even if scenes of lesbian sex were written with the erotic imagination of male readers in mind, I think it’s pretty safe to assume that they were consumed and enjoyed by female readers as well. In any case it was much easier for a woman to get her hands on such content than for a man to find erotica involving male-male sex.

Homosexual men – “sodomites” – were almost universally despised. In the hierarchy of society, they were at the very bottom. Sodomy was a crime punishable by death, so it would have been very risky to publish erotic material which portrayed male-male love in a positive light.  “The most detestably sin of buggery” was sometimes brought up in a satirical way, but the connotation was always negative.

However – where there are customers, there are suppliers. Morals are good, but so is money. If a business could be made, it was very likely made, though not in public. An underground press for homosexual erotica – why not? After all, there was a potential audience. No matter how harsh the punishments and how determined the guardians of public virtue were in the prosecution of gay men: they still met, they still loved, they still had sex.

And if one looks at the professions of those “sodomites” who were brought to court, I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if we’d learn one day that, among the butchers and blacksmiths and clerks and furniture makers, there also were a typesetter and printer who weren’t caught…

*** Review to follow.

by Leslie H. Nicoll

Every time something new comes along, be it invention, fad, or changing social more, a backlash from those who resist the change immediately follows. From where I sit, it seems that the current “scourge on society” (at least US society) is same-sex marriage. Having lived through the (unfortunately) successful “Yes on 1” campaign that repealed our same-sex marriage law here in the great State of Maine, I can tell you firsthand that there is a very large group of folks who rabidly believe that if two men or two women are allowed to get married and set up housekeeping together, the Atlantic Ocean will rise up in fury and wash the entire state away, taking the whole lot of us, saints and sinners both, into its icy depths, never to be heard from again.

The sting of the election has worn off a bit so I can joke—albeit lamely—and hold fast to the mantra to “stay the course,” knowing that this is an issue whose time has come and we will prevail. But thinking about the moral degradation of society made me delve back into history a bit to see other issues that have inflamed the masses to overheated rhetoric.

Fifty years ago (May 11, 1960), Searle received FDA approval to sell the first birth control pill in the US: Enovid. Women had been taking the drug since 1957 for severe menstrual cramps; interestingly, there was a dramatic upsurge in the number of women suffering from this disorder when Enovid came on the market. Of course, it was an open secret that one of the side effects of the drug was that it prevented ovulation.

Once “the pill” was approved and sold legally as a contraceptive, sales boomed, climbing from 400,000 in 1961 to 3.6 million in 1965. Not unexpectedly, concerned citizens raised issues, ranging from “Is it safe?” to “Will we have an epidemic of insecurity and impotence?” in men confronted by a brigade of newly liberated and sexually empowered women. U.S. News and World Report had a cover story in 1966 that wondered if availability of the pill would lead to sexual anarchy, with “mating as casual and random as among the animals.” This obsession with animals intrigues me. Traditional marriage proponents like to argue that opening the door to same-sex marriage will inevitably lead to a plethora of non-normative marriage practices, including polygamy and bestiality. Last fall, in the heat of the No/Yes on 1 campaign, one blogger wrote, in all seriousness, that same-sex marriage might lead to a person who would choose to marry an asparagus plant and that we’d have no legal way to stop it. Asparagus?

You’d think we’d learn from history, wouldn’t you? The pill has been around for 50 years and last time I looked, people are still falling in love and staying with their beloveds, women are still having babies, and the Catholic Church is still standing.

Going back a little further, what are some other issues that have stoked the public’s passion? Of course there causes like Prohibition and Women’s Suffrage, but how about something really serious—men’s chests exposed on the beach!

Men’s swimwear was first commercially produced starting in the 1880s and from the start, their bathing ensembles were designed to be modest and reveal little of the wearer’s body and more importantly anatomy, particularly in the genital and gluteal areas. I found several references online to a document entitled “Men’s Bathing Suit Regulations” published on May 17, 1917, although I couldn’t determine what august body developed these rules. Still, they were quite clear, specifying, for example that men’s suits had to be worn with a skirt or have at least a skirt effect.  The skirt had to be worn outside of the trunks. By the late 1920s, newer style suits were made with synthetic rubber yarn that provided a slimming and trimming effect; however, the chest was still required to be covered and bare chests were frowned upon. By the 1930s, however, bold men began to take off their tops, inspired by Olympic swimmer Johnny Weismuller who played Tarzan as a bare-chested, scantily clad man in the movie of the same name. Weismuller was also the advertising model for B.V.D. swim trunks. Even so, change didn’t come easily or quickly and as late as 1936, numerous topless men were banned from the beach in Atlantic City for public indecency.

Going back even further in history, to 1890, I found an amusing anecdote in The Straight Dope about another new craze that threatened to rip apart the moral fabric of society: gum chewing! Chiclet gum was invented (by accident) in 1870 by Thomas Adams of Staten Island, NY. Adams was trying to come up with some sort of rubber or glue. In a moment of divine inspiration (or perhaps desperation) he put a square of the stuff in his mouth and voilà! Chewing gum was born. Business people and financial backers didn’t quite see the potential but Adams persevered and by 1890, had a six-story factory with 250 workers churning out a mountain of the stuff. A fad was born, leading the New York Sun to opine:

“The habit has reached such a stage now that makes it impossible for a New Yorker to go to the theater or the church, or enter the street cars or the railway train, or walk on a fashionable promenade without meeting men and women whose jaws are working with the activity of the gum chewing victim. And the spectacle is maintained in the face of frequent reminders that gum-chewing, especially in public, is an essentially vulgar indulgence that not only shows bad breeding, but spoils a pretty countenance and detracts from the dignity of those who practice the habit.”

My grandmother would never let me chew gum, calling it vulgar. Now I know where she got it from.

And so, as we gear up for the next election, with a pro-equality gubernatorial candidate who already has my vote, I hope we get to the day, sooner rather than later, when issues around same-sex marriage are found to be as silly as those surrounding oral contraceptives, men’s chests, and chewing gum.


Nancy Gibbs. May 2010. Love, Sex, Freedom and the Paradox of The Pill. ebook, ISBN: 978-1-60320-369-2

Everything Swimwear. The Evolution of Men’s Swimwear.

From Swimwear to Himware, A History.

Cecil Adams. May 14, 1976. The Straight Dope: The Amazing History of Chewing Gum.

China has a long history of tolerance towards homosexuality, beginning from the first references to same-sex relationships in the records of the Shang Dynasty (16th-11th centuries BC) and ending (after a rather shaky period from 1740 onwards) with the persecution of homosexuals during the Cultural Revolution. That’s over three thousand years of a society that occasionally celebrated same-sex love, occasionally denigrated it, but more often than not, just let people get on with it.

In typical elliptic style—because direct talk of sexual matters was considered unbelievably vulgar—Chinese literature referenced homosexual acts by means of phrases such as ‘cut sleeve’, ‘bitten peach’, or by name-dropping gay historical figures. The most famous stories are of Mi Zi Xia and his royal lover, Duke Ling of Wei, who shared a peach (yutao, ‘leftover peach’); and Emperor Ai, who cut off his sleeve to avoid disturbing his sleeping lover Dong Xian, which created a court trend whereby everyone went around cutting their sleeves (duanxiu, ‘breaking the sleeve’).

Qu Yuan, an admired poet of the Warring States period (340-278 BC), wrote poems to his lover, the King of Chu. Historical documents such as Sima Qian’s Memoirs of the Historian and the exhaustive dynastic records of the Han dynasty list scores of male favourites of the ruling monarchs. Throughout the Western Han dynasty (206 BC-23 AD), ten of the thirteen emperors took male lovers in addition to the necessary wives and concubines. Sima Qian wrote that the male favourites were often admired more for their skills in war, administration, or cultural pursuits than for their beauty.

My favourite of the Western Han emperors, Han WuDi (‘the Martial Emperor’)—or Liu Che, to give him his real name—was one of these ‘bisexual’ emperors. Liu Che liked to keep things within family units, too—his male lovers included an uncle and nephew, plus the famous musician Li Yan Nian and Yan Nian’s sister, Lady Li. My novella Fall of a State (available now from Dreamspinner Press) is a somewhat fluffy version of the relationship between Liu Che and his musician. Li Yan Nian is credited with writing the ‘Northern Beauty’ song (a version of which appears in the film House of Flying Daggers when Zhang ZiYi performs for Takeshi Kaneshiro), which—due to the Chinese language having no gender for its nouns and pronouns—means the Beauty could refer equally to a man or a woman. In my story, it does both.

During the period of disunion (265-589), in which six separate dynasties ruled and overlapped, the historians of the Liu Song dynasty record that homosexuality was as common as heterosexuality:

“All the gentlemen and officials esteemed it. All men in the realm followed this fashion to the extent that husbands and wives were estranged. Resentful unmarried women became jealous.”

Efforts were made during the Tang dynasty (618-907) to restore more of a ‘traditional’ moral order. Somewhat ironically, the first Crown Prince of the dynasty, Li Chen Qian, was gay. He was later removed from succession, though not for that reason.

By the time of the Song dynasty (960-1279), an increase in urbanisation and the introduction of paper money caused a growth in prostitution. A law was passed against male prostitution, but it seemed not to have been enforced with any rigour. The merchant classes, suddenly given a voice in the historical and literary records, had money to spend and lusts to fulfil. With their respectable wives raising families at home, the merchants went out partying with pretty young sing-song boys.

[Rest of the post cut because of explicit historical erotic images - NSFW!] (more…)

“I should have been a more famous writer if I had written or rather published more, but sex prevented the latter.”

In case anyone missed this, The Sunday Times had an interesting article on the reason EM Forster didn’t (or rather, couldn’t) write anything after the publication of A Passage To India in 1924 – because he connected his creative output to the repression of his sexuality, and once he’d lost his virginity, at the age of 38, to ‘a wounded soldier on an Egyptian beach’, the creative urge was no longer quite so urgent.

Read the article in full here.

I particularly liked his diary entry that says:

“Now I am 85 how annoyed I am with society for wasting my time by making homosexuality criminal. The subterfuges and the self-consciousnesses that might have been avoided.”


Call for Submissions: Vintage

Pictures and photographs capture our faces and preserve our memories. Generations later, they spark our imaginations, making us wonder: Who is in the picture? What are they doing? How are they feeling?

Vintage is a call for written works inspired by pictures or photographs. We are looking for authors who will tell us the story behind those two men on the beach…or standing next to bench…or staring out a window…or looking oddly shy in each other’s presence. We want high quality, original fiction that will draw the reader into world of the photo or picture, to share and reminisce.


Length: Short novels, 10K to 50K words

Theme: Historical love stories that feature a relationship between male same-sex couples, inspired by a picture or photograph. While the actual taking of the photograph (or painting of the picture) does not need to be included in the narrative, the picture/photo does need to be included in the storyline. If you want examples of what we are thinking of, you might want to read Our One and Only by E.N. Holland or Lover’s Knot by Donald Hardy (see in particular, pp. 259-260 and p. 324).

For the purposes of this collection, “historical” is defined as any time in history in which a photograph or painted picture could be produced, with a cut-off date of 1985. Love stories, to us, are those stories that tell of a relationship in a realistic and meaningful way. We do not have a requirement for a “happy ever after” or a “happy for now” ending although that certainly would be acceptable. We recognize the challenges that same-sex couples have faced in the past (and continue to face, but that’s another story) and that can be portrayed, although we also would like these relationships shown in a loving and positive way, to the extent that is possible, given time and circumstance.

Characters can be any age from 15 on up. For stories that feature characters under the age of 18, the relationship must be consensual and presented in a positive light. Teenagers exploring a first, forbidden love would be fine; an older man raping a younger boy would not. It should go without saying but we’ll say it anyway: no incest or bestiality. No vampires or werewolves, no paranormals, although if a story featured a ghost in the old fashioned, classic definition of a ghost story, that would be considered. Again, Lover’s Knot is a good example of the latter.

As these are love stories, scenes of characters making love can certainly be included but we do not have a requirement for a set number of sex scenes or level of explicitness. Let your own judgment be your guide: if it is important to the story, include it; if not, leave it out. In general, we are looking for books written for an adult audience that will appeal to a wide variety of readers.


Query: Send an email to publisher@bcpinepress.com . Include Query: Vintage and the proposed title of your book in the subject line. In the body of the email, include a one paragraph (150-200 word) synopsis of the story. Attach to the email: 1) the photo/picture that inspired you; and 2) the first 5000 words of your story, in a Word doc or PDF. Manuscripts do not need to be complete to be submitted. If an incomplete manuscript is accepted, the completed manuscript will be due two (2) months after the final contract is negotiated and signed. Publication will be two (2) months after a final, completed, edited manuscript is signed off by the author and accepted by the publisher.

Please include your contact information including name, address, email address, and phone number. Queries can be submitted under a pen name, if one is used, although a legal name will be required for a contract, if one is offered.

Queries will be acknowledged upon receipt. A final decision on acceptance/rejection will be made within two (2) weeks. If you do not receive an acknowledgement, please re-send, as messages do get lost in cyberspace.

Photograph/Picture and Cover: All books in the Vintage series will use the template cover, as illustrated here, substituting the author’s name, book title, and photograph/picture. Photographs/pictures must be in the public domain or you must have documented permission for its use.

Production, Sales, and Payment

Production: All books will be edited by BCPP staff. Books will be assigned an ISBN and listed in Books in Print. Covers, as noted above, will use the Vintage template.

Format: eBook only. BCPP produces books in a variety of formats that can be read on multiple devices, including laptops/PCs, smartphones/PDAs, iPhones/iPads, the Nook, the Sony e-reader, and the Amazon Kindle. Books are sold in several outlets including Amazon, All Romance ebooks, and OmniLit. We do not sell in the Sony store, although books are sold in a format that is readable on the Sony e-reader. Plans are in the works to sell in the AppleStore.

Pricing: Books will priced and sold according to length: up to 15K words, $2.99; 15K to 30K words, $3.99; 30K words and above, $5.99.

Royalties and Advances: BCPP is a traditional royalty paying publisher. At the time the book is deployed for sale at the outlets through which we sell, an advance (against royalties) will be paid, based on length: up to 15K words, $25; 15K to 30K words, $50; 30K words and above, $100. After that, royalties are paid quarterly at a rate of 40% of the net proceeds to the publisher.

Marketing: Marketing is a joint effort between the author and the publisher. All Vintage books will be featured on the Bristlecone Pine Press website (www.bcpinepress.com) and included in our catalog. We will submit review copies to popular review sites, including Speak Its Name and Reviews by Jessewave. We hope that the Vintage books become a recognizable and popular series that readers will look forward to and purchase impulsively.


This is an ongoing call for submissions. At present there is no deadline. Submissions are welcome at any time. Please feel free to direct questions about this call to the publisher, Leslie H. Nicoll, at publisher@bcpinepress.com.

The Bristlecone Pine Press editorial team looks forward to hearing from you!

Published 1821 (this version) I think there were earlier ones.

Be as wise as serpents, and as harmless as doves.

AT GOOGLE BOOKS – full view – and available for download.

This is a quite fascinating book -and I love the idea that a parent would buy their son this book, shove it into his hands and probably consider that was their responsibility dealt with.

Here’s the contents. I don’t even know what some of this stuff MEANS.

Directions for Epistolary Correspondence…
Reduction of Decimal Fractions
Religion and Religious Sects
Behaviour and Manners
Heraldic Terms and English
Useful Receipts in Art
Miscellaneous Articles
I’m quite sure that there’s a wealth of inspiration to be found! Enjoy!
I was alerted to the book on the Inkspinners group, where one of the members, Joanna Waugh, converted some of the purchases to today’s money.  She says:

I took some time today and converted a few of the prices Kat shared with us from A Young Man’s Companion. I had to use 1830 values and a conversion date of 2008, but it still gives us an idea of the relative value of these items today. If I made any mistakes in the calculations, I apologize. I rechecked them before posting but I was never very good at math!

2 dozen of men’s 2-thread alted thread stockings…2. 8.0

£182.26/$338.02 or £7.60/$14.08 a pair

2 dozen of ditto 3-thread fine marble ditto… 4. 4.0

£318.95/$591.52 of £13.30/$24.65 a pair

9 six-thread superfine breeches, at 10s6d… 4.14.6

£358.82/$665.47 or approx £40/$74 a pair

6 four-thread superfine ditto, at 7s 6d…. 2. 5.0

£170.86/$316.88 or £28.48/$13.20 a pair

6 pair of silk ribbed stockings, stout at 14s… 4. 4.0

£318.95/$591.52 or £53.16/$98.59 a pair

6 pair of spun silk stockings at 5s6d…. 1.13

£125.30/$232.38 or £20.88/$38.73 a pair

15 yards of flowered ribband, at 2s…. 1.10.0

£113. 91/$211.26 or £7.59/$14.08 a yard

2 pair of chicken gloves, at 7s. 6d…. 0.15.0

£56.96/$105.64 or £28.48/$52.82 a pair

4 pair of fine lamb ditto, at 2s. 4d….. 0. 7.0

£26.58/$49.30 or £6.65/$12.33 a pair

2 fans, French mounts at 3s. 6d. …. 0. 7.0

£26.58/$49.30 or £13.29/$24.65 per fan

6 yards of Mechlin lace, at 12s …. 3.12.0

£273.38/$507.01 or £45.56/$84.50 per yard

1 Gauze cap and trimmings ….. 1. 2.0


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

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



* Sadly not yet published by Mills and Boon.
* Covers. Started naff – getting better all the time.

* Many buttons
* Interesting lube possibilities

* There’s not enough of it, for a start.
* Some Gay Historicals address the very real problems of being gay in a time when it wasn’t just unacceptable, it was reviled and illegal. (Basically after Christianity kicked in) However, there were times when man on man love wasn’t just acceptable, it was a normal part of everyday life. (Οι Έλληνες είχαν μια λέξη για το έργο)
* Thankfully, due to pronouns they are not called things like “The Mediterranean Tycoon’s Depraved Heiress” (With thanks to the Random Romance Title Generator)


Not too different from the heroes in other historical romances. They are generally aristocratic (tall and handsome goes without saying – plus they are ALWAYS – always hung like horses, this is the law.)

So, create your character: Rich? check. Commanding? check. Handsome? check. Cock of unusual size?  Check and double check.
OK, you can stop checking now. Hello! Stop checking!


Now here you can play around a little. You can either make your other hero a match for your arrogant alpha in every sense of the word (and sit back and watch those sparks fly and those buttons go flying (gotta have flying buttons, more later) OR you can create a sensitive little soul. A downtrodden artist, perhaps, or an impoverished tutor. A kidnapped sex slave or an abused and rescued young man. As long as you get a vast gulf between your alpha and your omega, it doesn’t really matter. Any excuse to make that boy cry his little heart out because the rough tough alpha doesn’t know how to handle him. Or rather – he doesn’t know how to handle his feelings – he knows how to handle him all right. (hur hur)

The important thing is the desecration of innocence™ – but don’t worry. No matter how nasty the alpha is, your sensitive soul will fall in love with him as he tops from the bottom.

* Buttons. Oh GOD the buttons. I’ve coined the term breeches ripper before, but for me waistcoat ripping is far more exciting. Also cravats. You can have a LOT of fun with cravats.
* UST. (No, no, not there, Unresolved Sexual Tension. Buckets and buckets of it. “I’m homosexual!++ Argh! God he’s pretty. I wonder if he’s homosexual too? How can I let him know? What if he’s not? All right… so he is – he’s sleeping with Lord [Whossit] – how can I get him?”A writer of gay historicals have immense fun torturing her characters – making every glance count, and when one’s passing the port (to the left, of course) at dinner, fingertips are just bound to brush against each other.
* It’s much easier to get men together on a day-to-day basis. Whereas a hetero historical writer will have to write about dances, and chaperones and perhaps elopements men can simply hang out with each other, ride in each other’s carriages (and no, that’s not a euphemism!) without anyone fainting or ruining anyone’s reputation. Of course it’s pretty difficult to get them into sexual situation, but that’s another post…
*I think I may have already mentioned buttons…

* Buttons! Ok, Is it just me and the buttons?
* Appreciating that the author knows exactly what the difference is between a sailor’s whipping and a double fisherman but that you don’t need to know anything as silly as long as the hero gets tied up.
* Sponge baths.
* Cocks! (sorry, but it did have to be said.) Lots of ‘em. Members, yards, rods, poles, perches, arbor vitae, gaying instrument. (yes, really.)

TOP TIP: beige…biscuit…blasé bleeding anachronisms

Check check check. You may think that it’s all right to say your hero’s breeches are beige but it wasn’t so and any eagle eyed reader will Mock You. They will, however realise if you are trying and make a small slip-up, but they won’t appreciate sloppy (or no) research, modern day speech patterns and contemporary men in fancy dress.


* “Where’s the lube?”
* He climaxed, spunk spurting over his fingers.
* “I want to fuck his sweet hairy ass.”


* “Spit, and have done, man.” (other lubricants are available…)
* I’m learning something! Oooo… cocks….

Over to you…

* What gay historicals would you like to see?
* What cliches are you sick of?
* Do you want better covers?
* Anything else?

++homosexual is also anachronistic until the early 20th century, too.

(Previously published on Lust Bites)

Last week I read a discussion on a mailing list in which an author asked for opinions on mpreg. It’s not a genre I pay much attention to, not since a scarring experience several years ago with a LOTR fanfic involving Legolas and Aragorn, but the recent discussion reminded me of what could possibly be the very first recorded mention of mpreg in literary history.

As with most non-fandom examples, the context is science fiction… of a sort. The author is Lucian of Samosata (c.125-180), a noted satirist who wrote dozens of rude and witty works, many of which served as a somewhat caustic commentary on the religious, political, and social mores of the provinces of the Roman Empire. In particular he poked fun at the beliefs of the Greeks, especially in his romance (in the oldest sense of the word!) A True Story—a spoof travelogue that’s regarded as the earliest known sci-fi text.

In his prologue, Lucian informs his readers that they’re about to read a bunch of fibs. He’s read so many stories purporting to tell the truth when they blatantly tell lies that he’s decided to have a go at writing his own completely fictional worlds:

I did not find much fault with [several named Classical authors, including Homer] for their lying, as I saw that this was already a common practice even among men who profess philosophy. I did wonder, though, that they thought they could write untruths and not get caught at it. Therefore, as I myself, thanks to my vanity, was eager to hand something down to posterity, that I might not be the only one excluded from the privileges of poetic licence, and as I had nothing true to tell, not having had any adventures of significance, I took to lying. But my lying is far more honest than theirs, for though I tell the truth in nothing else, I shall at least be truthful in saying that I am a liar.

Thus warned of the falsehoods awaiting them, the readers plunge into a crazy adventure in which Lucian and his heroic companions sail through the Pillars of Hercules and are blown off-course. Their ship is carried into the air by a giant waterspout and they land on the Moon, where they get involved in a war between the Moonites and their arch-enemies, the people inhabiting the Sun, over the rights to colonise the Morning Star.

Like any good travel writer, Lucian spends some time observing the inhabitants of the Moon and Sun. He writes about soldiers who fly on three-headed vultures, a bird made of grass with lettuce leaves for wings, archers mounted on gigantic fleas, infantrymen armed with mushroom shields and asparagus spears, and dog-faced men who fight from the back of winged acorns. During the war, Lucian is taken captive by the Sun armies but is later released, to the delight of the King of the Moon:

He wanted me to stay with him and join the colony, promising to give me his own son in marriage—for there are no women in their country.

Lucian goes on to describe gay marriage and mpreg amongst the Moonites:

First of all, they are not born of woman but of man; their marriages are of male and male, and they do not even know the word ‘woman’ at all. Up to the age of twenty-five they all act as females, and thereafter as husbands. Pregnancy occurs not in the womb but in the calf of the leg, for after conception the calf grows fat. After a time they cut it open and bring out a lifeless body, which they lay with its mouth open facing the wind, and thus it comes to life.

This section of A True Story is an artful commentary on Greek modes of life, specifically the tall tales of armchair historians such as Herodotus (known as the ‘Father of Lies’ for the inclusion of various mythological creatures and races in his history of the Persian Wars), and homosexuality within a given set of social constraints—age, in this case, which suggests that Lucian is modelling his Moonite society on the particular ‘state sanctioned’ form of homosexuality practiced in classical Athens, flourishing some 500 years before Lucian wrote his story.

It also takes a swipe at religion and mythology, pointing to the peculiar nascence of some of the gods (the Moonites being born from the calf seems to be a reference to Dionysos, who was born from Zeus’ thigh), and it also dismisses the philosophy of wind-fertilisation, an ancient belief first recorded in the Iliad that was considered ‘probable’ by no less an authority than Aristotle, who believed the wind could influence the gender of an unborn child.

The young Moonites are born dead; their life comes only from the wind, which, according to popular beliefs right across the ancient world, teems with the souls of those already passed into the afterlife. This neatly attacks both the philosophical element and the homosexual, suggesting that a male-male union is sterile and needs outside support in order to generate future lives, while dismissing as a fantasy the whole concept of wind-fertilisation.

Like all writers, Lucian had a point or two to make with his works. While those who write mpreg today in a sci-fi or fannish context may do so from an interest in gender equality, Lucian was more concerned with raising a laugh amongst his audience, albeit with a sly didactic twist:

Men interested in athletics and in the care of their bodies think not only of condition and exercise but also of relaxation in season; in fact, they consider this the principal part of training. In like manner students, I think, after much reading of serious works, may profitably relax their minds and put them in better trim for future labour. It would be appropriate recreation for them if they were to take up the sort of reading that, instead of affording just pure amusement based on wit and humour, also boasts a little food for thought.

Read Lucian’s A True Story in all its mad glory here. The m/m Moonites can be found at Book I.22 of the text.

As one of the hundreds of thousands whose travel plans were scuppered by Icelandic volcano ash, I thought I’d make this post before making the most of what was left of my holiday (curse you, unpronounceable Icelandic volcano!).

Etna erupting in 2001

Long before the recorded eruptions of Eyjafjallajökull, Krakatoa, Etna, Vesuvius, and sundry other volcanoes that have caused chaos, destruction, and provided fertile soil for really good wine, there was the mother of all historic eruptions on the Cycladic island of Thera (Santorini).

The island of Thera today

Located at the south-east of the Hellenic arc (a less volatile version of the Pacific ‘Ring of Fire’) that starts at Kameino Vouno on the Peloponnese, Thera was, until the first part of the Mediterranean Late Bronze Age (beginning c.1600 BCE), an island of roughly circular shape. During the Late Cycladic I (c.1600-1500 BCE) period, Thera had a thriving population with strong cultural and trade links to the Minoan civilisation on Crete, which lies 70-odd miles to the south.

The exact date of the eruption is still contested (see below), but the magnitude of the event is fairly certain. Following a series of earthquakes over a two-year period, the volcano erupted, sending a rain of pumice up to five metres thick to cover the island. This initial explosion was followed by a plume of ash around 30km high when the side of the volcano exploded outwards as seawater mixed with the magma. Rocks were hurled out of the volcano and acted as ‘bombs’, destroying buildings. Surges of ash, pumice, and stone blocks were expelled laterally over the weeks following the first eruption, causing the volcano to collapse in upon itself to leave the distinctive half moon-shaped island we see today.

The eruption triggered a tsunami of an estimated 35-150m height that smashed into northern Crete, variously affecting several of the palace sites. Ash and pumice from the eruption have been found across the Aegean region and into south-western parts of Turkey. Prevailing winds blew the ash cloud to the south-east, though the heaviest ash-fall on land is to be found slightly to the north/north-east of Thera. A large wodge of tephra dating from the eruption has been found outside the Straits of Kythera (the area between the southern Peloponnese and westernmost Crete), dumped there by the currents running through the central Aegean.

On the Volcanic Explosivity Index, the Theran eruption is estimated at a 6-7 (on a scale up to 8). It threw out four times the amount of rock and ash as Krakatoa’s eruption in 1883. In comparison, Eyjafjallajökull’s recent eruption registered at a piffling 4.

The volcanic island Nea Kameni in the Theran caldera erupting in 1950

Specifying the exact date of anything during the Mediterranean Bronze Age is troublesome to say the least, relying in the main on the relative chronology of the Minoan, Helladic (mainland Greece), Cycladic, Cypriot, and Caananite civilisations, all of which overlap to varying degrees (e.g. most of the Late Minoan II-IIIa covers the same chronological phase as Late Cycladic III).

Based on relative chronology, archaeologists suggested a date for the Theran eruption of LMIa/LCI/LHI —around 1500 BCE. This was contested by scientific study of tree-ring dating and radiocarbon analysis. As evidenced by samples taken from North America and across Europe, normal tree growth was stunted in around 1628 BCE due to climactic change, a result of the colder temperatures that usually follow a major volcanic eruption. Carbon dating on wood, seed, and bone samples from the Aegean, including an olive tree buried beneath the lava flow on Thera, point to a date between 1627-1600 BCE with a 95% probability of accuracy.

However, as with almost everything in the field of archaeology, this is not certain and opens up a whole new can of worms as the scientific date contradicts archaeological findings that place several Egyptian artefacts discovered on Thera to a later period. Egyptian chronology is reckoned as being generally sound, though arguments have been made for its dates to be reassigned. If the radiocarbon dating is correct, the chronology for the Mediterranean Bronze Age would need to be reassessed.

The town of Oia, perched high on the caldera cliffs

The Theran eruption obliterated the Bronze Age settlements on the island, including the ‘town’ of Akrotiri, seemingly the centre of Minoan influence within the southern Cyclades. Most inhabitants of Akrotiri (and presumably the rest of the islanders) had fled following a massive earthquake that partially demolished the settlement. There is evidence that some people returned to Akrotiri as squatters (no real effort was made to rebuild the damaged properties), but by the time of the eruption, the majority of the inhabitants had left the island.

The layers of ash and pumice that covered Thera effectively killed off every living thing, turning the island into a barren wasteland. Thera remained uninhabited for almost 300 years.

Across the sea in Crete, the effect of the eruption is another hotly debated point. Originally, prehistorians believed that ash-fall blighted the eastern half of Crete, causing crop failure and starting a migration of the population. However, the actual ash-fall on Crete has since been found to be insignificant. Another theory is that the tsunami was the cause of the destruction of the Minoan sites and palaces on the northern (especially the north-eastern) coast of Crete, many of which suffered extensive fire damage. Stone walls at some sites were moved by the force of the tsunami, but it’s unlikely that the wave caused the wholesale destruction found across Crete—instead, it’s probable that the damage was due to the massive earthquake preceding the eruption.

Regardless of the physical destruction that may or may not have been wreaked by the volcano, the psychological effect must have been far more devastating. Minoan power was waning during the Late Bronze Age, and as the Minoans were a major sea power at that time, it’s likely that many of their ships, naval and mercantile, were destroyed in the aftermath of the eruption. It’s believed that the Theran eruption provided the impetus for the newly emerging Mycenaean civilisation to expand southwards. Certainly by LMII (1450-1400 BCE), the Mycenaeans had conquered the Minoans and held control of Crete.

Of course, one can’t talk about Thera without mentioning Atlantis. For millennia, people have discussed whether or not this island kingdom, mentioned by Plato in his dialogues Timaeus and Critias (written in 360 BC), actually existed. Some of Plato’s successors believed Atlantis was a real place; others thought it was allegorical. The same debate continues today, with many people believing that Atlantis is/was Thera or Crete.

Atlantis is described as an island ‘larger than Libya and Asia’ (Asia being what is today Turkey) amongst other islands, surrounded by an ocean and ruled by a confederation of kings—a description that (apart from the size!) matches the Minoan civilisation. According to Critias, his account of Atlantis originated with the sixth century BC lawgiver Solon, who visited Egypt and heard the tale from a priest. The empire of Atlantis, Critias says, flourished 9000 years ago (i.e. 9600 BCE) before coming to a messy end:

But at a later time there occurred portentous earthquakes and floods, and one grievous day and night befell them, when the whole body of your warriors was swallowed up by the earth, and the island of Atlantis in like manner was swallowed up by the sea and vanished; also the ocean at that spot has now become impassable and unsearchable, blocked up by the mud which the island created as it settled down.

It is entirely possible that the Theran eruption and the destruction of the Minoan civilisation was preserved as a folk memory and passed down through the centuries until Plato recorded it in this form as the myth of Atlantis.

A Middle Way

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what’s this got to do with fiction?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Ruth Sims

I’ve noticed that when most of us, myself included, use the term “writer” what we really mean is “writer of fiction.” But that’s really just a category of writer. “Writer” also refers to the journalists, biographers, playwrights, picture book authors, literary authors, erotica authors, sports writers, etc. In forgetting this, we also forget that across the world, both today and historically, writers have been persecuted, imprisoned, even killed for daring to express themselves.

Most of us, again including myself, write to please readers, to entertain, and perhaps even to teach them of other cultures, or historical times, or our ideas of the future. Most of us don’t have to worry that police will search our homes and confiscate our computers or typewriters or

unpublished manuscripts. Sure, that happened in Hitler’s Germany, or Communist Russia or Franco’s Spain or the Spanish Inquisition (well, ok, they didn’t confiscate the computers or typewriters during the Inquisition but still…), but it’s so unlikely to happen today that we don’t even think about it. We go happily forward with our works in progress, without ever considering how precious and tenuous freedom of expression is.

I’ve been musing on this lately, after having read the memoirs of Reinaldo Arenas (more on him in a minute). I’ve decided to put together this little reminder for myself and anyone else who is interested, readers as well as writers.

Most people are at least familiar with the name of Salmon Rushdie, whose long, complicated literary novel, “Satanic Verses,” set off a tsunami of controversy which led to threats not only on his life but on the lives of those associated with the publication of the book. The book was banned or burned in several countries. For many years Rushdie lived under police protection.

Salman Rushdie: Threatened, book banned and burned

In Spain under Franco, playwrights, novelists, and poets were routinely imprisoned; some were tortured. Spanish poet and dramatist Federico García Lorca was hounded by the government–and then he vanished. It’s believed he was murdered by soldiers of Franco’s government, though his body has never been found.

Spanish poet/ dramatist Federico Garcia Lorca 1898-1936 believed to have been murdered

“Before Night Falls” is the memoir of Reinaldo Arenas, the Cuban poet and novelist. Like Lorca, he was a gay man in a country where gays were routinely imprisoned and tortured. He was also a creative mind, something every despot hates, and he was also critical of Castro. He was harassed, his writings were destroyed. Some of his works were smuggled out and published abroad to great acclaim, but he was either in prison or living in abject poverty, unable to read his own books because they were banned in Cuba. At one point he was imprisoned in the Morrow dungeon. By falsifying his name slightly he managed to escaped Cuba in 1980 during the boatlift.

Cuban novelist/poet Reinaldo Arenas 1943-1990

Chinese writer Liu Xiaobo was jailed in 2008, for daring to write about political reform and human rights and charged with trying to “subvert state power.” He was sentenced to 11 years in prison. Before that, in the late 1990’s he spent 3 years in prison.

Chinese writer Liu Xiaobo, 55, Imprisoned

In Camaroon, singer/songwriter Lapiro de Mbanga was fined $640,000 (US dollars) for writing a song critical of Cameroonian President Paul Biya and sentenced to three years.

Cameroon Singer/Songwriter Lapiro de Mbanga Fined & jailed

Two writers who paid with their lives: Russian journalist Natalya Estemirova, who was abducted from her Grozny apartment in Chechnya and murdered in July 2009, because she wrote about horrendous violations of human rights.

Natalya Estemirova Russian journalist 1958-2009 Murdered

Mexican anthropologist and author Miguel Ángel Gutiérrez Ávila, was beaten to death in Guerrero state in July 2008; he frequently criticized government violations of free speech. The world has treated his death with a thundering silence.

Miguel Ángel Gutiérrez Ávila Mexican writer & anthropologist Beaten to death, 2008

As a young author, Victor J. Banis, whom most of us know and respect, learned first-hand about US government interference, censorship, and harassment. Get a copy of his memoir, “Spine Intact, Some Creases.” It’s funny, frightening, and eye-opening. And it even has recipes.

Just a few of the countries where writers have been persecuted, prosecuted, imprisoned or killed in recent years: Cuba, South Korea, Turkey, Yugoslavia, Vietnam, Somalia, Sri Lanka. The work of the authors targeted include every kind of writing: short stories, plays, novels, journalism.

It’s such a serious, widespread problem that there is a global organization, Cities of Refuge, which has created a network of safe cities where there are designated safe streets or houses specifically for persecuted writers. One such city is Arhus, Denmark. In Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania there is a street: Sampsonia Way on which there are several safe houses. An annual grant from the estates of novelist Dashiell Hammett and playwright Lillian Hellman is given specifically for the help and support of persecuted writers.

And lest we in the US think “it can’t happen here,” I offer a snippet of history that happened in my lifetime. In the 1950’s, during the Cold War, there was a senator named Joe McCarthy’s, a power-hungry idealogue (how often those two go together!). His House UnAmerican Activities Committee (HUAC) went after filmmakers, playwrights, novelists, poets, and anyone else who had an imagined or youthful and long-vanished tie to Communism, or who wrote antiwar literature, such as Dalton Trumbo’s incomparable “Johnnie Got His Gun.” FBI dossiers were kept on thousands of US citizens. Careers were destroyed by suspicion and questioning. Lifelong friendships were ruined because people were bullied and threatened into naming names to the committee. Gifted authors and playwrights were forced into exile, or they worked anonymously, or, as Trumbo did, publishing under another author’s name. If McCarthy had not been stopped, United States writers today might be living in a very different atmosphere. No one knows how far he would and could have gone. Could it happen again? You bet, especially when it comes to books dealing sympathetically with gay issues, people, and stories. If you doubt, watch the news and see what the intolerants in the country are up to.

It’s said the pen is mightier than the sword. The pen and the sword have been replaced by computers and guns, but it’s still true. Free expression, especially the written word, is anathema to any dictator, whether religious or secular. It’s a two-way street, of course. I have the freedom to write a gay love story, and someone else has the freedom to write “Can Sarah Palin Save America?”

A good source, always up to date, is the PEN: A World Association of Writers http://www.internationalpen.org.uk/

Want to learn more? Go to http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2009/10/11/banned-censored-harassed-and-jailed

and read about the 34 writers from 19 countries who received the Hellman/Hammett grants in 2009.

So whether you write, read, or both, appreciate and celebrate the freedom to make your own choices. And take a moment to think about the past and present writers who take their freedom and sometimes their lives in their hands with every word they write.

Ruth Sims is a liberal Democrat born and raised in the conservative Republican US heartland, surrounded by cornfields. Was it something in the water?

She has one novel in print: “The Phoenix,” from Lethe Press 2009. Another is under consideration: “Counterpoint.” She is proud to have a short story, “Legend of the Mountain Ash,” in the just-released “I Do Two” anthology to benefit marriage equality. A fun and exciting new venture is short story ebooks released by Untreed Reads. The first is The Lawyer, the Ghost, and the Cursed Chair. Only $1 for a story that will make you laugh. She has six novels in different genres, in various stages of development. If she lives to be 140 she may get them all finished. Website: http://www.ruthsims.com. Sign up for the newsletter on the front page. She loves to hear from readers. Ruth.sims@gmail.com

One of the stories I’m working on at the moment is set in the Tang Dynasty, arguably the cultural high point of China’s history and a time when paper money began to be used for large transactions rather than the cumbersome strings of cash (also known as coppers) that most people used as currency. One of my characters, a sword-smith in the southern provinces, is mistrustful of the newfangled paper money offered to him by a noble from the capital Chang’an and prefers the reality of copper cash. For his sake, I’ve dug through my collection of Chinese coins to present a brief overview of the development of hard currency in China.

The first types of currency in use in China during the Shang Dynasty (c.1600-1100 BC) were cowry shells and farming implements. Towards the end of the dynasty, symbolic tokens made of bronze, copper, or iron in the shape of spades, hoes, and knives were used in transactions.

Here’s a (modern fake) example of a round foot spade coin (the more usual form has a square foot) of the type found in the city of Lin in Shanxi during the Warring States period (475-221 BC). Lin was inhabited by non-Han (mainland Chinese are mostly Han, though about 20% of the population are from ethnic minorities or mixed ethnicities) people and traded with the tribes of what is now Inner Mongolia. The city was razed to the ground by the Qin army.

Under the First Emperor (Qin Shi Huangdi, 221-210 BC), the Qin state annexed its fractious neighbours. Though Shi Huangdi is a controversial figure at the best of times (he is vilified for the Burning of the Books and the mass execution of Confucian scholars who disagreed with his beliefs), there’s no denying his incredible achievements: He ordered the construction of the Great Wall, built 4700 miles of roads linking the provinces, standardised weights and measures, imposed a single currency, and perhaps most importantly, imposed a single script, which is still in use today.

It was during Shi Huangdi’s reign that the round copper coin was introduced as standard. Round to symbolise Heaven with a square hole in the centre to symbolise Earth, the hole also enabled several cash to be strung together to create higher denominations. A string of 1000 cash was the equivalent of one tael (liang) of silver or 24 zhu (or 2400 grains of millet!). The most common coin was the half-tael (ban liang), which circulated until it was replaced by the wu zhu in 118 BC.

The wu zhu (wu means ‘five’) is the most common coin in ancient China, cast continuously from 118 BC-617 AD. Its design didn’t change at all during that time, and so it’s very difficult to date wu zhu coins with any degree of accuracy.

The Tang Dynasty (618-907) introduced paper money and promissory notes as well as ‘food tickets’ for the military. Soldiers could buy bills worth a certain amount of grain in their home towns, then exchange the food ticket for the equivalent value of grain when they reached their provincial posts. Merchants could buy ‘flying cash’—certificates issued by the government for specific amounts that could then be redeemed for the same value in hard currency at any provincial treasury in the empire.

The first printed paper money was issued from Sichuan in 1024 during the Northern Song Dynasty. Rapid economic expansion brought a heavy demand for coins—in 1073, six million strings of 1000 cash were cast—and paper money went some way towards relaxing the burden of the mints. Most of my coins date from the Northern and Southern Song dynasties (960-1279), due not only to the large amount of cash in circulation but also because the vast majority of my collection was bought in and around the city of Hangzhou, the former capital of the Southern Song.

At this time, coins often didn’t have anything minted on the reverse. On the obverse is a standard formula of four characters in Seal script, Grass script, orthodox script, or a combination of two or three scripts (it’s impossible to date a coin purely on the basis of the script employed). The characters on coins are read top, bottom, right, left. The first two characters are the name of the emperor (usually his reign name rather than his temple name, which enables more specific dating), and the other two characters indicate that the coin is currency (the final character is always bao, which means ‘treasure’).

For example, the coin shown above dates from the time of the Northern Song emperor Zhenzong (998-1022) during the years when Zhenzong’s reign title was Tian Xi (1017-1021). The characters are written in orthodox script: Tian Xi Tong Bao. This is an iron coin, which helps us determine where it was cast. There were around seven mints in China at this time, and the three mints that cast iron coins were all located in Sichuan.

Here’s a coin from the time of Emperor Shenzong (1068-1085), minted in the first part of his reign (1068-1077). The characters are written in Seal script: Shen Zong Yuan Bao.

This is a coin from the reign of the same emperor, but from a slightly later date when his reign title was Yuan Feng (1078-1085). Again the characters are written in Seal script: Yuan Feng Tong Bao.

This is an interesting coin from the Chong Ning regnal period (1102-1106) of Emperor Huizong (1101-1125). The characters are in orthodox script: Chong Ning Zhong Bao. This is actually a 12th century counterfeit made in bronze rather than iron—it’s probably a provincial copy rather than government issue.

Unfortunately I have no Yuan or Ming dynasty coins, which mostly follow the same pattern established by previous dynasties, sometimes including the symbol of the provincial mint on the reverse of the coins. However, I do have a decent amount from the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), whose emperors came from Manchuria. Qing coins are the most straightforward of all Chinese coinage, as most of the emperors used only one reign title on the coins—and the reign titles are the names Westerners are most familiar with, e.g. Kangxi, Yongzheng, Qianlong, etc. On the reverse of all Qing coins we find the mint marks in Manchurian script and later in both Manchu and Chinese:

Obverse: Qian Long Tong Bao (Emperor Qianlong, 1736-1795). Reverse: Boo Yuan (Beijing mint, Board of Public Works).

Obverse: Wen Zhong Tong Bao (Emperor Xianfeng during the reign title of Wenzhong, 1850-1861). Reverse: Boo Fu (Fuzhou mint in Fukien province).

Obverse: Wen Zhong Tong Bao (same emperor/reign title as above). Reverse: Er Shi Boo Fu (20 cash, Fuzhou mint). The Manchu script is echoed by Chinese characters.


Emperors and mints also issued charms for religious or propagandising reasons. Most of the charms in my collection date from the Qing Dynasty, such as this one issued by Emperor Daoguang (1821-1850).

Although it says Dao Guang Tong Bao on the obverse, this is a charm minted for internal use within the imperial palace rather than general circulation. As such, it’s a piece of propaganda rather than currency, as on the reverse we see the characters Tian Xia Tai Ping (‘An empire at peace’). Daoguang was a weak, indecisive ruler whose son Xianfeng had to deal with the Taiping rebellion, which makes the phrase on this coin rather ironic.

Other charms have religious motifs such as these two examples featuring the animals from the Chinese zodiac and the eight trigrams.

Charms like these could be worn or hung on strings inside or outside the house as protection against evil influences and bad qi.

We have to acknowledge that in this day and age – as it has forever been – beauty matters. Our definition of beauty is based on the media saturation which we are bombarded with on a daily basis. For instance, the idea of tanned = gorgeous has only appeared recently — it would stand to reason that with all the lead-based paints and powder that was used, pale was beautiful as it indicated that you had no need to stand about in the sun all day. As a society, we perceive people who have traits which we consider admirable: self restraint, indefatigable dedication to an idea, sacrifice to epitomise the current standards of beauty – mirrored so closely in the way we view the working world. So we end up with the size zero models and body-builders with ripped stomachs and veined arms as a societal idea.

Personally, all that leaves me completely cold. I find the rabid insistence in gay stories – but most especially gay historical – that people should conform to the current societal archetype of beauty slightly mad. Let’s be honest, it is not ALL that likely we see the majority of people conform to this ideal – if we did, it would be damn unlikely to be an aspiration! I like to see real people in books – be they consumptive clerks with weak arms and eyes from peering over the books all day, be they well-upholstered married aristocrats whose only exercise is taken between the front door and the handsome cab. While a cavalry solider would have a fantastic rear-end and muscled thighs, and depending on his weapons a certain amount of muscular development in the shoulders and back (Medieval knights looked like Props in rugby – muscle upon muscle with a massive amount of shoulder and neck development to support all the armour and thick solid waists to enable them both to shift and move and to take the impact of a swords’-blow).


why yes, that is a plastic knigget on a my little pony

Of course, lacking a tardis, I can’t go back in time and drag examples of said bodies to parade before you. And – as any artist knows – when one is being painted, one likes to be flattered – so I can’t really tell you that the painted historical record holds true of anything other than the upper-class archetypical view (think of today, you’d think we’re all size 0 if you believed Cosmo), but what it can do, with a bit of extrapolation, is provide a basis for what was revered, and the obvious counterpoint of what was the norm.

For the time periods, I’m shamelessly nicking the structure of “The List” from Speak Its Name. If perchance you’re a new Macaroni (fresh-mac? mini-mac?) you may want to go and check out this fantastic and pretty exhaustive list of MM fiction here: http://speakitsname.com/the-list/

By virtue of available and accessible historical documentation, a lot of this going to be western-centric. Note that this is a VERY ROUGH OVERVIEW and is taking the overarching concept rather than the nitty details.

CAVEAT: This deals with beauty in the ideal form, and what was admired as can be extrapolated through art. This therefore, while based in fact, does have a certain amount of interpretation, so feel free to discuss. However (as always) discussion should pertain to the point of this, which is a holistic overview of beauty rather than the detailed nuances. If people find this interesting, I may do a post on how jobs/circumstances affected musculature which would have changed how people were actually built and how they would have looked — as Alex Beecroft pointed out — sailors for instance would have had amazing upper body strength but relatively undeveloped lower bodies from all their wandering up and down the rigging (I am sure there is a technical term for that).



A youth - Roman Statue from Tripoli

Statue of Hermes with Dionysus -- Greek

In the ancient world, transport and war were both pursuits carried out predominantly on foot and with an emphasis on speed. Between this and the idealisation of young men, it is therefore relatively obvious that the idealised young man would be one who was lightly muscled, had low body fat, and was developed in an equal fashion across his body. He had only light armour — if any — and so did not require a heavy shoulder musculature to keep weighty armour up. The advent of the Olympics as a trial for men (as well as the ‘unspeakable vice of the Greeks’) fed into this perception of male beauty. Note that while these statues are both lightly defined, there are no striations or veins that would be the hallmark of a body builder. Instead the physique is of someone who improves themselves through normal pursuits.


rugby-player-cameron-6-742x1024Shoulder musculature – really.

Plate Armour

Now, besides this being a post for me to wave about half-dressed rugby players (YAY!) and write the word “Knigget”, there is a serious point on the musculature of people who wore plate or chain mail armour, as did the Knights in the Dark Ages. The weight of the armour hung about the neck, as illustrated above. Now, while they were on a horse, this was probably not so much of a problem, but just think about moving around in that weight, in that heat, swinging a clunking great sword with all that pulling down on your shoulders. No bloody wonder a knight needed pages — they were built like – if you pardon my French – a brick shithouse, and had the same ability to move!



A youth by Caravaggio

clip carvaggio

Detail of Doubting Thomas by Caravaggio

This was a time when there was little to eat, the peasants were being pushed on all sides –by their Lords and their Churches, who needed their tithes, and to support the great peregrinations such as those of Henry VIII (such as the Field of the Cloth of Gold) and with the massed court that travelled with them. Between this and the incessant feudal and national wars meant that the average person was unlikely to be very well nourished. One therefore finds that the style of masculine beauty tends to an almost angelically clear and smooth skin, with a slight fleshiness that belies poverty.


Hand of Michaelangelo's David, Florence4

Detail of David's Hand - Michaelanglo


David - Michaelangelo

The renaissance was — as the name suggests — an obvious return to classical ideals. Great founts of knowledge were springing up, and the old Greco-Roman notions of patronage and taking someone under your wing (with all that entailed) reared up again. There was a near-worship for creation, for genesis. This ideal of young, male beauty was pulled to the fore, both because it suited classical ideals, and because some of the easiest models for a master artist to get their hands on were their young male apprentices. We can see from the statue to the side, though, that while there is greater definition than in the Middle Ages, it is nothing that someone who was able to do a great deal of physical labour would not have. Note the lack of striae on David’s stomach, and then contrast that with the detail of his hand — it is not that there was an accepted fluidity in the portrayal that allowed details to be glossed over. Rather, the six-pack did not exist in the idea of fundamental male beauty.


17th century dress a

17th Century Dress


Louis XIV

We now move onto the 17th century where it became one’s duty is to look prosperous and well fleshed in clothing. Observe the way the coats on the 17th Century dress patterns are strained. It is quite difficult to find 17th century statues without clothing — this was the era of empire building , and the idea of nudity became associated not with the cleanliness of the Renaissance, but with the savages of the new world. There was a duty in the western world — promoted both by church and state — to show one’s superiority, which was greatly fetishized in the ridiculous accoutrements which denoted statues (see sumptuary laws). One’s body appears to have become wither a tool, or something shameful. This is one of those periods in history where you’d be more likely to consider the fact that someone is well fleshed as a positive thing.





Regency Family

The eighteenth century was very much a continuation of the same morals and ideas promulgated in the 17th, as the scope and vastness of the empires grew, but the essential avariciousness behind them didn’t. A Highly formalised pragmatism came to be seen in male dress, while women were very much idealised as ethereal virgins. In response to the growing middle class being able to ape the fashions of the elite, the dress of some members of society who were able do the Grand Tour took to aping the more outlandish continental fashions of the day. Contemporary sources cite the macaronis as being those completely jaded by life — it sounds like Pratchett got it right when he parodied it as The Grand Sneer. From a physical point of view, as the paintings show, there was still an appreciation of people being well fleshed to indicate prosperity.



Beau Brummel


Another Dandy

The 19th century was dominated by the rise of the middle class. A differentiation both in dress and in physical characteristics was therefore required. Enter the concept of the dandy — a much more subdued offshoot of the macaronis. With the idea of being beautiful for beauty’s sake, the ideals of the dandy went back to those of the renaissance. But *grin* with a little bit of help, it was in this century that the Cumberland corset etc. became common wear for men to create that pinched-waisted look that was so prized and the mark of a man who had to do nothing for his money but exist. The men shown epitomise this physical aspect, it is almost effete and feminine, which would mean they’d have little time to build muscle — that was the preserve of those who had to work for a living.

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

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

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.)


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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the spirit (no pun intended) of the spooky dark nights drawing in here in the UK, I decided to do a post about William of Newburgh’s medieval stories about English vampires. Now these aren’t your usual bloodsucking beasties with fangs, capes, and a dodgy Transylvanian accent – in fact, they’re revenants, close kin to the Balkan and Greek vrykolakas, created from sin and used in a didactic manner by the historian who recorded these tales.

William of Newburgh (1136-1198) was an Augustinian canon at Newburgh Priory in Yorkshire. His work Historia rerum Anglicarum (otherwise known as the Chronicles) was written in the latter years of William’s life and is a philosophical history of England from 1066 until 1198. Modelling himself on the Venerable Bede and pouring scorn on chroniclers like Geoffrey of Monmouth (“he lies in almost everything,” William rants in his preface), William nevertheless includes several accounts of men rising from the grave and wreaking havoc amongst the living.

Le Vampire by R de Moraine, 1864

In Buckingham (Chronicles V.22), a man died and was buried but later returned from the grave and got into bed with his wife. This continued for three nights, until the wife stayed up late with her friends in order to drive away the revenant, who then went wandering around harassing anyone it could find. Interestingly, William states that the revenant walked about in daylight, yet only appeared visible to one or two people even if a group was aware of its presence – thus making the revenant seem to fit with modern ideas of a ghost.

The desperate villagers appealed to the church to put an end to the random perambulations of the revenant, and the matter came to the attention of the Bishop of Lincoln. His Grace asked his learned colleagues for advice, and was told that the corpse should be exhumed and burned. The bishop found this idea “indecent and improper”, and instead wrote a letter of absolution. The villagers opened the dead man’s coffin and placed the letter upon the corpse, and the revenant wandered no more.

This, the first of William’s revenant tales, is perhaps the most striking because the dead man has no reason to rise from the grave. As we shall see, revenants usually return to deal with unfinished business, or because they were thoroughly unpleasant types during their lifetime. The Buckinghamshire revenant seems to be more like a confused spirit, unaware that he’s died and trying to continue with his daily life. The letter of absolution also underlines the fact that the dead man was harmless – as the Bishop of Lincoln was told, evil revenants were exhumed, hacked to pieces, and burned.

William follows this tale with another three examples of similar events. A rich man in Berwick (V.23), described as “a great rogue”, returned from the grave and strode about accompanied by a pack of barking dogs. The townsfolk hired ten young men to dig up the corpse, chop it to bits, and throw it on the fire.

Melrose Abbey

In Melrose (V.24.2), a chaplain who was rather too secular in his living came back as a revenant, haunting the monastery walls and terrifying the noblewoman to whom he’d been a confessor. The lady appealed for help, and a group of men sat in the graveyard and waited for the shambling monster. Midnight came and went, and three of the men decided it was too cold to hang around any longer. As soon as the last man was left alone, the revenant awoke. But the man attacked it with an axe, driving the creature away. Later, the chaplain’s corpse was exhumed and a gaping wound was discovered in the body. With the chaplain’s evil proved beyond all doubt, the corpse was burned and the ashes scattered.

Finally, a man of “evil conduct” from York (V.24.4) fled the city to a place called Anantis (either Annan in Dumfries & Galloway, or possibly Alnwick), where he continued his nefarious doings. He married a local woman and soon became convinced she was having an affair. Pretending to go away for a few days, he hid amongst the roof-beams of his bedroom and spied on his wife, and sure enough caught her in bed with a neighbour. The shock was so great he fell from the roof and became ill. His wife told him he was mistaken in what he’d seen, and when a priest urged the man to confess and receive the Eucharist, the wife convinced her husband not to do so. The man died that very night and became a revenant, bringing with it a pestilence. The locals dug up the corpse and tore it to pieces, ripping out its heart before setting fire to the remains.

In these three tales, the revenant is a sinner during life, and his sin follows him even beyond the grave. Since each of the men had escaped punishment for their wickedness while they lived, becoming a revenant was the ultimate penalty. These men were effectively denied a Christian burial, and more than that, they were denied their human form when their corpses were exhumed, divided, and burned. A revenant was cast out of the Church and therefore out of society, and without a body and a grave, these evildoers would be permanently locked out of Heaven on the Day of Judgement – and in the twelfth century, this was a terrifying thought.

What’s also interesting is the geographic bias shown in the stories. The revenant from Buckingham is non-threatening and settles into its grave after Church intervention. Surely it’s no coincidence that the three troublesome and evil revenants are all to be found within the Scottish Borders – Berwick, Melrose, and Alnwick. William was fully aware of Henry II’s skirmishes against the Scots in 1174 (II.32-34), when the English won a decisive victory at Alnwick, of all places.

The didactic theme of William of Newburgh’s revenant stories is clear enough. As William himself remarks (V.24.1), such events are “not easy to believe” due to their “amazing and horrible” nature, but he adds that if he were to record all such examples of these stories, “the undertaking would be beyond measure laborious and troublesome”, and so he contents himself with these few tales “as a warning to posterity.”

While the lack of revenants wandering down your local high street today is no doubt due to the rise in popularity of cremation, in places such as the Greek islands where it’s customary to inter the dead, the belief in revenants rising at dusk to stalk through the night still persists…

I’ve just been writing a review of “Fellow Travellers” by T.C. Worsley for Speak Its Name (review will go up on 25th, not there yet, I’m scheduling them for one a day, which is working out well, I think) and I was struck by the similarity to part of the plot (based on real people and real events) to David Leavitt’s While England Sleeps.

Worsley’s book is based on novelist Stephen Spender and his friends and lovers in the 1930’s.

With a little digging, I found out why it seemed so familiar, when I discovered this on Stephen Spender’s Wikipedia page:

Spender sued author David Leavitt for allegedly using his relationship with “Jimmy Younger” in Leavitt’s While England Sleeps in 1994. The case was settled out of court with Leavitt removing certain portions from his text.

I found this rather interesting, because it’s often a concern of mine about putting real facts about people (changed, obviously) into gay historical novels.  In this case even though While England Sleeps was a work of fiction, no similarity to anyone living or dead, yadda yadda, the facts were similar enough for Spender to insist that the book was changed.

(It should be noted that Spender notoriously censored his own work, changing the line of one of his poems from:

Whatever happens, I shall never be alone. I shall always have a boy, a railway fare, or a revolution.


Whatever happens, I shall never be alone. I shall always have an affair, a railway fare, or a revolution.)

Which is rather sad.

But my point is that I’ve taken instances of real-life happenings and used them in my books, I’m sure we all have.  I’ve seen other writers discuss the same, and I wonder whether this caution I’m now feeling should only extend to living people?

I personally think it was a bit cheeky of Leavitt to pinch the salient details of Spender’s affair with “Jimmy” (Tony Hyndham) as it wouldn’t have been at all difficult to mangle the facts sufficiently to avoid a court case.

I am gratified at least, that it was settled out of court–and I have no doubt that this was a deliberate move–because it would raise a dangerous precedent which could result in many people complaining that their life stories had been pilfered for fictional purposes.

What do you think? Is there any legal beagle out there who can define the law involved?

Should we all be a little careful when taking facts from life, especially within living memory?

In the interview posted yesterday, I stated that the very first book the Bristlecone Pine Press published was L.A. Heat by P.A. Brown which was wrong. Two months prior, I had launched Bristlecone with The Erotic Etudes by E.L. van Hine, a lyrical and deeply moving story about Robert Schumann, imagined from his diaries and writings. Erastes favorably reviewed the book on Speak Its Name; her review can be read here.

The Erotic Etudes can be purchased in a Kindle version from Amazon.com; for a variety of devices from Mobipocket.com and in print, also from Amazon.

My apologies to the author, E.L. van Hine for the error and oversight. Certainly I should have known better!


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

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

What made you want to get into publishing?

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

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

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

What made you choose these books for your big launch?

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

Where do you see your firm in five years?

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

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

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

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

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

Many thanks for agreeing to this interview, Mark.

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Leslie H. Nicoll

If you want to be a Macaroni, you have to be a stickler for historical accuracy. Not to scare anyone off, but to me, half the fun of writing historical fiction is doing the research. I love looking up things and learning new tidbits of information. Doesn’t everyone?

This is on my mind because I just finished The Help by Kathryn Stockett. While it was a very good book and I enjoyed it very much, there were a couple of historical anachronisms that I picked up on instantly. Imagine my amazement when I got to the Acknowledgments and Postscript and the author actually admitted to them! Worse, she did not give a reason for why they were included and why she did not change them.

The errors, as she states, were, “Using the song, ‘The Times They Are A-Changin,’ even though it was not released until 1964 and Shake ‘n Bake, which did not hit the shelves until 1965.”

Certainly Bob Dylan is an iconic folk singer, but there were plenty of folkies on the radio waves in 1962 and 1963 (the principal time of the action in the book). If she wanted to stick with Dylan, why not use “Blowin in the Wind,” released in 1963, which certainly addresses issues of freedom and change. Peter, Paul and Mary would be another choice, with hits such as “Lemon Tree” (maybe not too applicable, although the character listening to the music does have a rocky-to-non-existent love life) or “If I Had a Hammer.” My point is, while “The Times They Are A-Changin” is compelling, I don’t think it is compelling enough to rewrite history to include it.

Then there’s the Shake ‘n Bake error. Shake ‘n Bake is mentioned three times in the book, in two different scenes. The first:

Miss Celia puts a raw chicken thigh in, bumps the bag around. “Like this? Just like the Shake ‘n Bake commercials on the tee-vee?”

“Yeah,” I say and run my tongue up over my teeth because if that’s not an insult, I don’t know what is. “Just like the Shake ‘n Bake.”

So the maid is teaching her employer to cook and the employer (Miss Celia) is all about shortcuts and making it easy. Fine, but does it have to be Shake ‘n Bake, three years before it was invented? How about a Duncan Hines cake mix or Betty Crocker brownie mix? Or, it the author wants to subtly address issues of race and class (the overarching theme of the book), why not have her suggest Aunt Jemima pancake mix? That would certainly be insulting to the maid, Minny, moreso than Shake ‘n Bake, which didn’t even exist.

The other time Shake ‘n Bake is mentioned in the book is in this line, “Wondering if, for no good reason I started thinking about Sears and Roebuck or Shake ‘n Bake, would it be because some Illinoian had thought it two days ago. It gets my mind off my troubles for about five seconds.” Just draw a blue line through that Shake ‘n Bake. No need to even include it.

As I said at the beginning, I enjoy doing the research for writing a historical story. I just finished a 33,000 word novella (due to be published in six months). The story takes place in the era of World War II and after.  Some of the things I learned while researching various facts for the book:

  • Western Union delivery methods, in both the city and the country. In the city, they had delivery men who rode bikes. Out in the country, the Western Union operator was responsible for delivering telegrams, usually in the afternoon after receiving the telegrams in the morning.
  • Gone With the Wind premiered in December, 1939, but did not go into wide release in the US until 1941. For six months in 1940, it was in shown in “reserved seat, roadshow engagements,” a format for showing movies that was very popular in the 1940s and 1950s, but is non-existent now. (Note: Gone With the Wind doesn’t even show up in the book. The characters go see The Wizard of Oz, instead, which came out in the summer of 1939.)
  • In 1942, the Queen Mary was transporting more than 15,000 US servicemen to England, in preparation for the D-Day invasion. Off the coast of Ireland, the Queen Mary collided with—literally sliced through—one of her escort ships, the HMS Curacao. The Curacao quickly sunk and 338 men perished; only 102 of the crew survived. This tragedy was not made public until after the war ended. Even now, it is sort of hushed up. It is not a proud moment in British and US naval history.
  • US families who had loved ones killed in Europe in WWII did have the option to have the soldier’s body sent home to the US for final burial, although it was a complicated and time consuming process that could take years.
  • Gay bars in New York city in the early 1960s were dingy, dark, dumpy places that served overpriced drinks, didn’t meet basic sanitation codes, and were run by the Mob. There was a crackdown on all sorts of “undesirable activity,” including known homosexual hangouts, in New York in 1962 and 1963, as Mayor Wagner was trying to “clean up the city” for all the visitors who were expected to come to New York to attend the World’s Fair. Reading about gay bars got me off on a tangent about bath houses and I learned a lot about those, too. In the end, my character didn’t even go to a gay bar, he just went to the bar in his hotel. The logistics of getting him from Madison Avenue and 45th Street to Greenwich Village, location of most of the gay bars, was just too convoluted.
HMS Curacao

HMS Curacao

Those are just a few facts off the top of my head—I could come up with plenty more. My point is, if you are going to step up to the plate to write historical fiction, then you need to accept the fact that part of the writing process will involve research and fact checking. If you skip this important component of the process, you run the risk of making finicky readers—like me—unhappy.

Kathryn Stockett, shame on you.

Leslie H. Nicoll writes fiction under the pen name of E. N. Holland. Her novella, Our One and Only, will be included in the military history anthology, Hidden Conflict: Tales from Lost Voices in Battle, due to be published in January 2010 by Bristlecone Pine Press and Cheyenne Publishing. You can learn more at her Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/leslie.nicoll or LiveJournal, lazylfarm.livejournal.com.

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