Viking society – or rather Old Norse and Old Danish culture, since the ‘Vikings’ were merely the subset of that culture which went raiding – is well known for being extremely macho. A great deal of emphasis was placed on independence, toughness, and the kind of bloody-minded aggression that seems almost pathological to us in our gentler modern society. Would we, for example, praise a son who raked the equivalent of a dozen stiletto blades down his father’s back because he was tired of doing a job he thought was for milksops? Probably not. But in Grettir’s saga, this is seen as an early example of Grettir’s indomitable spirit, very suitable for a hero.

A man’s reputation was worth more to him than his life. I’m trying to remember the name of the saga, but hopefully better informed readers can tell me the one I’m thinking of; the hero has been captured and held as a servant by a strong household. Eventually, he contrives to escape without anyone in the household knowing about it. He’s on the brink of getting entirely away when he thinks to himself ‘what am I doing, sneaking out like a slave or a woman?!’ Horrified at the thought that everyone will know he behaved like a coward, he turns back, kills everyone, and then escapes, happy that this time he has dealt with the matter like a man.

This was a culture which valued men for their hardness, and where reputation was all. As a result, there could be no worse thing that your enemies could do to you than to publically insult you and call you soft. In fact, the Vikings were extremely touchy about the whole subject of insults.

To quote from Gunnora Hallakarva, whose essay is the best treatment I’ve seen on the subject:

The Old Norse word used in the law code and literature for an insult was níð , which may be defined as “libel, insult, scorn, lawlessness, cowardice, sexual perversion, homosexuality” (Markey 75). From níð are derived such words as níðvisur (“insulting verses”), níðskald (“insult-poet”), níðingr (“coward, outlaw”), griðníðingr (“truce-breaker”), níðstöng (“scorn-pole”) (Markey 75, 79 & 80; Sørenson 29), also níða (“to perform níð poetry”), tunguníð (“verbal níð”), tréníð (“timber níð”, carved or sculpted representations of men involved in a homosexual act, related to niíðstöng, above) (Sørenson 28-29). Níð was part of a family of concepts which all have connotations of passive male homosexuality, such as: ergi or regi (nouns) and argr or ragr (the adjective form of ergi) (“willing or inclined to play or interested in playing the female part in sexual relations with another man, unmanly, effeminate, cowardly”); ergjask (“to become argr”); rassragr (“arse-ragr”); stroðinn and sorðinn (“sexually used by a man”) and sansorðinn (“demonstrably sexually used by another man”) (Sørenson 17-18, 80). A man who is a seiðmaðr (one who practices women’s magic) who is argr is called seiðskratti (Sørenson 63).

Calling a man by any term which suggested he played the ‘passive’ or ‘feminine’ part in homosexual sex was considered an insult so severe that the person who had been insulted had the right to avenge it in combat. Just the insult itself might be enough to get a man outlawed.

There is no apparent equivalent derogatory term for a man who played the ‘active’ part in homosexual sex. Indeed in ‘Guðmundar saga dýra’ Guðmundar plans to rape a male captive in order to break his spirit. This reflects badly on the slave, but not on the rapist, who is merely demonstrating his manliness.

Both castration and rape of defeated foes was seen as a good way of making them more effeminate, and therefore easier to control.

In this context – where the penetrator is regarded as perfectly normal and admirable, but to be the one being penetrated is to be shamed, broken, treated as a slave and ridiculed thenceforth as unmanly – it’s hard to imagine many m/m relationships existing as between equals.

There certainly seem to have been the Viking equivalent of call-boys, but they were cheap and low status, and regarded as essentially slaves. In this the Vikings were very similar to the Romans – it didn’t matter who you fucked, but if you were to be regarded as a real man it mattered very much that nobody fucked you.

Despite this attitude, some ‘passive’ homosexual men may have gained a certain amount of power by practicing seiðr magic. This was a traditional form of women’s magic that seems to have involved ritual sex. No doubt the seiðmaðr were ridiculed as other ‘soft’ men were, but this may have been counterbalanced by a fear of their uncanny powers.

Aside from being ridiculed, insulted and regarded as being on a par with slaves, I’m not aware that ‘argr’ men were punished for it before the introduction of Christianity. Toleration with contempt seems to have been the order of the day.

To sum up, it’s a perfect society for a master/slave, BSDM sort of relationship, but there are big psychological and cultural problems for any couple who want to think of themselves as equals.

For a much fuller treatment of the subject, I highly recommend

Gunnora Hallakarva:
The Vikings and Homosexuality:


The Shearers’ strike of 1891 is a pivotal event in Australian history which was responsible for the inception of the Australian Labor party and is also commemorated in Queensland by Labor Day which falls in May.

Why it happened

There is a widely held, but erroneous view that the Shearers’ strike of 1891 started when, in response to falling wool prices, agriculturalists attempted to lower the shearers’ wage, which was already low enough at one pound per hundred shorn.

The average shearer today can shear between 200-250 sheep in a day, but he is working with the advantage of electric or ‘machine’ shears.

In 1891, shearers used hand operated shears. Imagine trying to shear 100 sheep using these:

Old Style Hand Shears

Hand Shearing

How it Started

On the 5th of January, 1891, Charles Fairbairn, the manager of Logan Downs Station near Clermont attempted to get shearers to sign a Pastoralists Association contract of free labor in an attempt to reduce the influence of the shearers’ union. None of the shearers would sign, and they all declined to work under any agreement other than the verbal agreement of their union which included “continuance of the existing rates of pay, protection of their rights and privileges under just and equitable agreements, and a “closed shop” to exclude scabs or Chinese labor.”[1]

The Worker A prominent republican paper of the time, issued by the famous William Lane, carried the following rallying line in one article: “you can take all social injustices and industrial inequalities and vested interests and strangle them one by one with your million muscled hands.” which reflected the radical republicanism of the times, especially in the city of Brisbane.

In February 1891, the center of the strike moved to Barcaldine, an advantageous place to mount a strike because it was the terminus of the railway line from Rockhampton and at the center of the Mitchell district, the richest pastoral area of the colony which held some thirty farms, including Beaconsfield Station, one of the largest sheep farms in Australia.

Within a very short time, the Shearers’ camps at Logan Creek and Blue Bush Swamp swelled to between 400-500 men.

By March of 1891 the battle lines were firmly drawn when the Pastoralists Association brought in ‘free laborers’. These free laborers were referred to as ‘scabs’* by the shearers’ and faced booing and jeers from the striking men, with many of them being persuaded to join the strike.

This was not to be tolerated, and the colonial authorities ordered troopers to protect the free laborers. Troopers rode from woolshed to woolshed, driving off the strikers. When striking unionists were arrested, woolsheds and crops were burned in retaliation.

Unionists marched at Clermont and Barcaldine under the proud Southern Cross flag of the Eureka Stockade Diggers and when the military mounted parades of their own in response, the situation grew so tense that shots were close to being fired.

The Eureka Flag

The End of the Strike

In June of 1891 troopers rode to the camp at Capella to arrest unionists involved in the jostling of George Fairbairn at Clermont Railway station. The Union office at Barcaldine was surrounded by 120 mounted infantry who arrested the strike committee.

The committee members were charged with sedition and conspiracy. They each received three year gaol terms, and the further punishment upon release of two hundred pound, twelve month good behaviour bonds.

It was a crushing blow to the movement, and by the end of June, the strike had collapsed.

The end of the strike, however, was not the end of the argument, so to speak. Calls for a political party to protect the interests of the Australian Worker became more insistent as time wore on, leading to the creation of The Australian Labor Party which still exists today and is currently the party holding majority in Australia with the election in late 2007 of Labor Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd.

Whether the Labor party as we know it today would pass muster with the proud and indomitable shearers of 1891, is a matter for conjecture and not within the scope of this article.

The actions of the shearers in 1891, though, are worthy of commemoration. May 6th marks the anniversary of this turbulent and pivotal time in Australian History remembering the men who fought to see all workers in Australia get a fair go.

Meg Leigh (C) 2008

Suggested Reading:

1. http://members.ozemail.com.au/~natinfo@ozemail.com.au/1shearer.htm

2. http://www.nationmaster.com/encyclopedia/1891-Australian-shearers%27-strike

3. http://jackhowe.com.au/index.htm

*Scab is a derogative term still used in Australia today, to refer to anyone who agrees to come in and work on a site that is affected by a strike.

Waltzin’ Matilda, Waltzing Matilda…

G’day possums – this week we shall be mainly celebrating things of an Antipodean flavour. Nom!

On Tuesday, Margaret Leigh will be discussing the Australian Shearer’s Strike of 1891. Bonza!

And on Thursday we’ll be sharing some of our favourite Aussie films!

See you during the week!

To be fond of dancing was a certain step towards falling in love – Pride & Prejudice

We’ve all seen them, the costume dramas where dancing takes place but have you wondered how accurate they are or how much fun they’d really be?

For a start, dances in the 18th and 19th century were complicated. I remember doing country dancing when I was at school and it took just about all my concentration to “strip the willow” or to do a “dashing white sergeant.” So I’m doubly in awe of Elizabeth Bennett – who knocks off a neat cotillion or quadrille – while pausing now and then to partake in witty banter. My bonnet’s off to you, my dear.

If you agreed to dance with a partner you would “stand up” for a “set” of 2 dances – and this was generally about half an hour. Plenty of time to get to know each other a little, and you can imagine why it was considered scandalous to dance too many sets with the same person. Not only was it selfish, and the partner didn’t get passed around (still not enough men to go around) but you would be considered to be getting too familiar and that led to trouble.

What is often omitted in these costume dramas (for obvious reasons that it would probably clash with the dialogue) was that there was usually a caller – same as there is in American Square Dancing (which sprang from these dances after all) who explained the changes in movement just before they were performed. Not an easy task, I can tell you!

La Coquette

If you can make head or tail of these dancing instructions you are better macaroni than me, Gunga Din. However – these people can – and here they are dancing it.

Can I express how happy the sight of men in breeches skipping makes me?

The Cotillion

The cotillion is a square set formation for four couples. The chorus (or figure) is danced between each “change” which means the dance changes slightly. There were generally 9 changes but they weren’t all danced at once or you’d be dancing all blooming night.

The Quadrille

Again, danced by four couples in a square (and if you’ve heard of riders doing a quadrille, well yes, this is where it came from – people wanted to try the complicated movements without horses) The head couple in a square would perform their movements and then these movements would be repeated by the other three couples in turn

The Mazurka

Dances from Europe travelled as soldiers returned from war, this one had spread from Poland and was particularly lively. Excuse the costumes here, as they are more Victorian – but the dance was made popular in Paris as early as 1775.

The Waltz

The waltz evolved from the stately turning dances of Alpine Europe, and like the Mazurka, spread during and after the Napoleonic wars. It was adopted by Almacks in the early 19th century but was still considered quite shocking by much of society that didn’t requent that club. Some hostesses barred it from their houses.

Ernst Arndt observed the waltz being performed in 1799:

The dancers grasped the long dress of their partners so that it would not drag and be trodden upon, and lifted it high, holding them in this cloak which brought both bodies under one cover, as closely as possible against them and in this way the whirling continued in the most indecent positions: the suppporting hand lay firmly on the breast, at each movement making little lustful pressures; the girls went wild and looked as if they would drop. When waltzing on the darker side of the room there were bolder embraces and kisses. The custom of the country: it is not as bad as it looks, they exclaim. But now I understand very well why there and there in parts of Swabia and Switzerland the waltz has been prohibited.

Again – this video is the wrong era for dresses etc – but you can imagine just how shocking it must have seemed after the “gentle on the eye” country dances where everything is neat and symettrical – this must have seemed like Babylonian chaos.

No sooner than this dance had been universally accepted, when a further horror was perpetrated on the genteel set…

The Polka


And then – it’s all downhill from there!!

“As well-bred as if not married at all”
~ Lady Mary Wortley Montagu on the Hervey marriage

Sweet, pretty Mary Lepell was one of Princess Caroline’s “Virgin Band,” as her Maids of Honour were known. The royal chaplain had complained to the princess that her maids were causing distractions during his sermons. When attempts to discipline them failed high panels were erected around their pew to prevent them making eyes at the gentlemen of the court.

Bishop Burnet perceived that the beautiful dames
Who flocked to the chapel of hilly St James’
On their lovers alone did their kind looks bestow;
And smiled not on him while he bellowed below.

~ Lord Peterborough

Lady Mary Lepell (known as Molly) won acclaim at court for her beauty and amiable character. She was unusually well educated for a woman of her day, and developed intellectual interests which she shared with correspondents and friends.

She met with the infamous bisexual Lord John Hervey at court and was very soon his companion.

Lady Molly was one of the most popular of the Virgin Band and was celebrated in verse by great men of the day such as John Gay, Alexander Pope and Voltaire. In 1720, Gay wrote of the couple, “Now Hervey, fair of Face, I mark full well, / With thee, Youth’s youngest Daughter, sweet Lepell!”

However, unbeknownst to John Gay, the couple had actually been married in secret for six months. Despite the later scandals of homosexual behaviour by Lord Hervey, it can be assumed because the match was secret, and both parties were relatively impoverished, that it was a love match. The proof that Lord Hervey was not simply a homosexual followed shortly afterwards as Lady Molly bore him four children in swift succession.

However Hervey appears to have bored of his wife and sought amusements in London and Bath, and it was there, in 1727, that he met the man who was to shape the larger part of his life, Stephen Fox, universally known as Ste. Lady Molly knew both Stephen and his brother Henry but her opinion of Stephen was not high. He was a country mouse rather than a town one and as she wrote to Henry Fox, “Ste is such a country gentleman that unless one could be metamorphosed into a bird or hare he will have nothing to say to one.”

She was, literally, abandoned–ordered by Hervey to remain in Ickworth, Suffolk, whilst he and Ste socialised from London to Bath, but this did not seem to dampen her love for her husband as her outpourings of letters seemed to prove. However, she could not help but sound a little bitter, adding in one, “yet I think I should in his case rather have desired, than forbid, one I loved to be with me.”

Even when Hervey went abroad with his amarato, she played the dutiful wife and wrote to Ste, rather than to Hervey himself asking for news of his ill-health. If she resented Ste’s affections with her husband she was sensible enough not to speak openly of it. This loyalty paid off, as upon Hervey’s return to England they were temporarily reunited, and nine months later, her fifth child was born.

This was the pattern of her life, and some have said, that her willingness to be so estranged from Hervey bored him more. Hervey’s relationship with Fox continued until 1742, after which Hervey retired to Ickworth and to his wife, to die.

After her husband’s death in 1743, Molly moved to a beautiful little house off St. James’ Park where she entertained some of the great names of day, such as Chesterfield, Horace Walpole and Thomas Carlyle.

She remained good friends with Stephen Fox until she died in 1768.









I’m Lee Rowan, I write gay romance (mostly historical), and my apologies for this post coming in just under the wire.  The nights are getting chilly already here in Ontario, the list of outdoor jobs to do is longer than it should be… and we had a dry, sunny day, so there’s now a young oak tree waving proudly in the backyard and a stack of fence sections painted.


I’d rather introduce almost anyone other than myself.   Being raised in the pre-diva era, I find it much easier to wax enthusiastic about how interesting someone else is.  However, as a friend pointed out, seeing as my wife and I left our native country to move to Canada so we could be legally married, that does qualify as same-sex romance, so in that sense at least, it’s ‘write what you know.’ But the domestic adventures of a mathematician and a massage therapist-turned-writer don’t provide much real excitement, except when the dog’s eaten something she shouldn’t have or the cats  stage a re-enactment of ‘Ninjas Attack!’ at 2 am.


My stories are the sort of thing I enjoy reading, and to some degree come out of things I enjoy reading.  I’ve always been fascinated with sailing ships, and the A&E “Hornblower” series caught my attention a few years back… then someone introduced me to Patrick O’Brian’s magnificent Aubrey-Maturin series.  When something catches my interest, I tend to start reading any related material I can get my hands on, and when there’s a critical mass of information, the “what ifs” start turning into stories.


That’s where Ransom came from.   It seemed likely to me that young men raised on board ships from an early age would be inclined to become attached to their friends once the hormones kicked in. (As Dave Barry put it, a teenage boy can get aroused thinking about linoleum—and when there are no women around, a fellow midshipman is a lot prettier than linoleum, especially since it hadn’t even been invented yet.)  But just falling in love wasn’t easy, either—given the Articles of War and the death penalty,  a young man couldn’t just say “hello, Sailor” to his messmate without risking more than a punch in the chops, especially if the other young gentleman has dueled with and killed the last fellow who made an improper advance.   And the situation’s even more complicated if the smitten midshipman had been raped by that same man, Correy, and has a cargo of shame over it.  This setup did give David Archer a lot to overcome, but I think that’s what appeals to many readers—he does manage to survive and triumph.

David and the man he loves, Will Marshall, are accidentally caught up when their commanding officer, Captain Smith, is kidnapped.   Their abductor, a manipulative sociopath named Adrian, decides that David looks appealing and takes him out of the cell to demand sex.  When David refuses, he has Will beaten, and threatens to kill him.  After David capitulates, Adrian seems to change his mind and appears to choose the unknowing Will as his victim, then  orders David brought to his cabin:


“…Never mind that Will had been alone, that he had no way of knowing that Correy was a bully who only attacked when he was sure of winning; Will simply stood up for himself, even though his life had been on the line.

In this situation, though, he’d dare not fight. William would risk his own life, but not theirs. He would ultimately be forced to submit, and Archer had no doubt that his determination would hold…but it would damage him, take some last bit of innocence he probably didn’t even know he had.
And that’s not a problem for me, is it? Not anymore.
At any rate, this was not Marshall’s demon. It was his own, and no one else could face it for him.

A fatalistic calm settled over Archer as he wiped his face, put on his jacket, was muffled and escorted above. His hands felt like cold stone, his mouth so dry he might have been chewing cotton. What was it Captain Smith had said, a thousand years ago, in the waggon? “There are some circumstances that put us entirely at their mercy. And sometimes there is no mercy to be had.”

“Let him think he’s won,” Will had said. “Play for time.” I hope to God the Captain’s plan is working. I hope he really has one.

Fourteen steps from the hatch to the quarterdeck. Down three steps. And the cloak came off and one guard knocked at the door and Adrian waited within with that smug, self-satisfied smile.

No mercy to be had.

I’ll just have to manage without it.





And he does, of course, very bravely, and (since this is a romance) Will comes to realize that there’s a lot more to the friendship than he first thought.  And there turned out to be more to their story than would fit in one book, which is where Winds of Change (and very soon Winds of Intrigue) come from.  The boys also had a shared-dream fantasy in my otherwise het trilogy Sail Away, as well as secondary roles in one of the m/f stories, and they exchanged Christmas presents and affection in a story in Heroes Unwrapped – the one don’t-ask, don’t-tell m/m story in LBR’s 2007 holiday anthology.  There’s at least one more book in their story arc, and they’re pretty persistent, so there’s no telling if they’ll show up again in the future.






I had a stroke of incredible good luck with Ransom.   Linden Bay Romance wasn’t the first publisher I sent it to, but the query package arrived just as they were considering expanding into m/m stories, and having a complete manuscript right on hand must’ve helped them decide the experiment was worth a try.   And I’m still amazed that Ransom won Linden Bay its first EPPIE award, in the first year that EPIC had a GLBT category.

Walking Wounded was kind of a kiss-it-make-it-better story.  I’d seen so much factual and fictional misery about the wars of our time, both in the former Yugoslavia and the mess in Iraq, and I wanted to write something with a happy ending and some happy sex. 

(excerpt)  He slipped the briefs down Kevin’s legs, marveling at that trim, masculine body—strong shoulders, beautifully muscled limbs, strong but not overdeveloped, neither too much body hair nor too little.  If he were set to design a picture of male perfection, he could not improve on what lay before him now.  The beauty of it took his breath away.   “Jesus, Kev,” he said.  He let his fingers drift through a sprinkling of chest hair that looked like pure gold where the morning sun touched it, and tried not to notice the little scars that hadn’t been there before.  “I don’t know where to start …  No, maybe I do.  I’ve learned a thing or two since the last time.”


“I thought you said you hadn’t —”


“I learned something that is almost better than sex.   Roll over.”


“That doesn’t sound like ‘almost,’” Kevin said, but he did as John asked, plumping a pillow under his face and glancing back over his shoulder.   It was, as John’s grandmother had once said in reference to something else, a picture no artist could paint.


John sighed.  “I will never get tired of looking at your arse.”


“Flattery will get you somewhere, but it’s not better— oh!”

 John had settled one hand on each cheek and begun to slowly rotate them, pressing lightly with his palms.  “For a while,” he said, “Quite a long while, I was so dissociated I hardly realized I had a body.”   He glanced around the room and located what he was looking for over on the storage chest.  “Stay put.”


 “That was nice, but —”


 “I’m not finished.”   He found the bottle of sandalwood-scented oil he’d bought ages ago, poured a little in his palms, and rubbed them together as he settled himself between Kevin’s legs.   He reached up to Kev’s shoulders, spreading the oil down, pausing for a deep breath of the intoxicating combination of scents, especially the part that was clean, healthy male… the man he had never thought to see again, to lie with again…  He was astonished at his own sudden lust.  He had gone without for so long that his body had gone into sexual hibernation, but right this moment he only wanted to throw himself on this beautiful man and fuck them both into a stupor.  


 And if he touched Kev’s arse right now, he would do just that.  Slow the hell down!  he told himself sternly.  Taking a deep breath he started at Kevin’s heels, kneading the soles of the feet with his thumbs.   Kevin groaned.


 “Does that hurt?”


 “Are you crazy?  It’s wonderful, don’t stop!”



WW is set in England because not only is it a country that participated in both those actions, it’s got legal domestic partnership.  It’s my only contemporary m/m so far, and the reason I mention it here is because this is the real ‘happy ending’ for Will and Davy, too.  A few readers have guessed from the hints in the story, and yes, John and Kevin are the same two souls, reunited in a world where they can be together openly.

Gentleman’s Gentleman was just sheer fun.  I’ve always loved the Sherlock Holmes universe, with dashing gentlemen dashing (literally) around in trains and carriages, solving puzzles and foiling the baddies.  Jack Darling was inspired by two things:  the inimitable Captain Jack Harkness on the BBC’s Torchwood, and a fireplug.  Our new home has a fire hydrant right beside the driveway, forged in 1952 by the Darling company.  A fine old English name like that is too good (and to perfect for the character) to let it just go to the dogs.   I think there will be other stories with Jack and Lord Robert, too—I was a huge Man from UNCLE fangirl, and the late Victorian era is perfect for cloak-and-dagger adventures and derring-do.  Gents is a romanticized version of the time, of course, but I think there’s room enough for all sorts of fiction and this is definitely escapist… a few streets over from 221B Baker, in that time of fog and gaslight when a gentleman’s personal gentleman was one constant in a changing world.


Gentleman's Gentleman






Things were changing between them. Robert didn’t know what was going to happen. That was unsettling, but he didn’t mind. He could not imagine going to bed with Jack as a subservient partner. Or anyone, really—but especially not Jack. Their roles would have to be reconsidered, somehow.

They had already shifted; he suddenly found himself unable to think of the man beside him as “Darling.” Yes, that was his name, always had been, but in the privacy of Scoville’s his own mind it now sounded more like an endearment. He wondered what they would call each other when they were alone.


But they were not alone yet, so they went through the rest of the bath ritual, declining a massage but submitting to being sluiced down by the shower-room attendant. At least they had the choice of warm water or cold, and Lord Robert saw no point in subjecting himself to a case of goosebumps.


He permitted himself a quick peek at Jack’s nicely shaped backside while they were dressing. He’d seen it before—the Army left no secrets—but this was different, too. He was no longer just another soldier having a wash. Scoville wanted very badly to touch, and had to turn his mind firmly back to their mission. His mind was obstinately resistant to such discipline, and his body wasn’t doing much better. He pulled his trousers up with only seconds to spare.


Retracing their steps, they stopped at the desk for the room key and the briefcase. Scoville had his suspicions about the silver box that it contained and he felt certain Darling shared them. He hoped to hell he was wrong. He didn’t want to have to bother with any other business tonight. He wanted to sit down with Jack—better, lie down with him—and explore the future that was opening up for them. He really, most sincerely, wanted to be wrong.


Neither of them said anything on the way back to their rooms. Jack put the key in the lock, pushed the door open, and turned up the light. He froze, and turned to Scoville wordlessly, his jaw set and his eyes angry.

“Damnation.” Scoville followed Jack inside, pushing the door shut behind them.


He had not been wrong.


That was clear from the devastation that greeted them. The bed’s pristine coverlet had been ripped away, sheets and blankets knotted in a lump on the floor, the mattress pulled half off its frame. All the dresser drawers had been yanked out—not just removed, but thrown. They lay several feet from the dressers where they belonged. The little table, the nightstands, anything light enough to lift, had been overturned and flung. Chair and sofa cushions had landed at odd angles all over the place.


“The damned fool,” Darling said. “He threw a bloody tantrum.”


“That’s exactly what it looks like.” Scoville glanced around the wreckage. The door to the adjoining room was closed. “Shall we check your quarters? I’m not about to make the same mistake twice.”


“Yes, my lord.” Darling fished the briefcase key out of his breast pocket and unlocked it; he handed Scoville his pistol and took the second one himself.


“The room’s bound to be empty, you know,” Scoville said.


“I hope so, my lord.”


They moved toward the door, Scoville going left, Jack right. Interesting. In a crisis, they left the uncharted ground of what might lie ahead and slid effortlessly back into their roles of officer and noncom.


To no point, as it turned out. The intruder was long gone, but he had spent some time here; this room had been ravaged even more completely than Scoville’s. A long streak of bay rum stained the carpet and spilled onto the polished floor, a shaving mug lay in shards below the marble windowsill where it had been smashed, and their luggage was tumbled everywhere.


Jack walked over to the window and picked up a curved piece of heavy porcelain, the handle of his mug. “I got this when I joined the Army,” he said in a curious light tone. “It was advertised as nearly unbreakable.”


“We’ll find you another. And the hotel’s bound to have a barber.”


Jack let the handle fall; it hit the sill and cracked in two. “I could grow a beard.”


They were back in terra incognita. For some reason, Jack seemed truly distressed at the loss of a bit of cheap crockery. “I’d really rather you didn’t,” Scoville said. “I like your face just as it is.”


Jack shook himself slightly, and glanced around the room as if seeing it for the first time. “Shall I ring for assistance, my lord?”


“I’d just as soon ask for different quarters,” Scoville said. “But we can’t leave these rooms yet. Our visitor will be here in half an hour.”


“This room needs a mop and bucket,” Jack said. “The other doesn’t, not really. Let me ring for help, and we can get that room set to rights in fifteen minutes.”


“So quickly?”


“I didn’t think to bring a stopwatch, my lord, but yes, if we’re quick about it. Our guest needn’t see any disorder at all.”


That last sentence had an edge to it. “Good thinking.” Scoville pulled the cord for the bellboy himself. “Let’s not waste time. You and I can put the mattress back on the bed and bundle my things into this room.”


Jack grinned. “Not the exercise I’d been hoping for, my lord, but it’s a step in the right direction.”


Thank God he was back to normal. And, even better, flirting. “By the way, Sergeant, do you mind if I kiss you?”


“Not at all, my lord.”


Scoville had thought it would be a difficult thing to initiate; as it turned out, the only difficulty lay in stopping. The touch and taste of lips opening under his sent a jolt through all his limbs and straight down his body; he felt like a steel splinter beside a magnet. His self-control counted for nothing. One kiss wasn’t enough. A thousand wouldn’t be enough. And damn two layers of clothing all to hell.


Hands slid down his back, squeezing his arse, and they rocked together as he surged forward. Why had he expected Jack to be shy or diffident? He was a volcano. All that pent-up heat and power—how could he have hidden it so well? Scoville’s arms went around the man as their bodies melded together—no, they couldn’t do this, not now. They’d already rung for assistance. But he simply couldn’t stop.


“Bellboy,” Jack mumbled, turning his face away so his temple rested against Scoville’s cheek. “We can’t. No time.”


Scoville drew back enough to look at him. Jack’s mouth was reddened and soft-looking; his pupils were so wide his eyes looked almost black, and he was breathing hard.


So was Scoville. Reluctantly, he released the body pressed so sweetly against his own and took a careful step back. “You’re right. Let’s get to work.”


And speaking of fun, doing this project with Erastes and Charlie was tremendous fun–Erastes’ mad websearch skilz turned up that beautiful cover photo, which our editors accepted with glee, and Charlie reminded me of a fact I’d forgotten:  the “Scoville” scale is used to measure heat… in chili peppers.   I can just imagine what Freud would make of that!


I post here at The Macaronis from time to time, have a Live Journal, http://lee-rowan.livejournal.com,  a website: www.lee-rowan.net, and a Yahoo group that I do not give nearly the attention it deserves:  http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Action-Adventure-Romance .

My books can be found at http://www.lindenbayromance.com/storeSearch.html?searchBy=author&qString=Lee+Rowan  and on Amazon, and if you have any questions, complaints, or good Age of Sail book recommendations, I can be reached at lee.rowan@yahoo.com.


It’s not that I don’t like modern art…

Ok, that’s a lie. I don’t like modern art. I don’t want a dog poo on a dish to tell me of the human condition and if an unmade bed is worth a lot of money then my entire house deserves to be framed and I should be the richest person on the planet.

I digress – and so early!

I like rich, deep paintings with thick varnish, deep colours; I like symbolism and a story you can get lost in. I like unusual pieces, and portraits that look straight back at me. So here are ten of my favourite art pieces with a homoerotic theme.

Placing this entire post under a cut, and if you click on it, you confirm you are old enough to view art. ;)


A fourteen year old girl gets raped. A man attacks his parents with a blade. A thirteen year old is kidnapped and taken to a brothel. An abused woman tries to kill herself and her child. A nine year old boy murders a six year old. The news doesn’t get any better, does it? Or perhaps it doesn’t get any worse, because all these stories were printed in The News of The World, not from September 2008, but Sunday October 1st 1843. That gives the lie (which you didn’t believe, did you) to the story that Victorian times were halcyon days of goodness and peace. Pfft.

I have a small collection of old newspapers (original and reproduction) and they are a continual source of interest and information. Not only do they give you a factual background – assuming that you remember that, like all sources, they are written for a certain point of view and for a certain audience – but they give a wonderful flavour of the time they’re from. I never really thought anyone actually did seriously report that there’d been laughter in court, but the Daily Telegraph does, in 1855, in a paternity case concerning a Mrs Thatcher (I kid you not).

I would adjure you to be careful about the matter of accurate reporting; that’s something else which hasn’t changed much over the years. I refer you to The Daily Mirror of April 16th 1912 . “Montreal, April 15 – It is now confirmed here that the passengers of the Titanic have been safely transhipped to the Allan liner Parisian and the Cunarder Carpathia. The Virginian is still towing the Titanic towards Halifax.” So now you know the truth.

And it’s the little snippets which are so fascinating. Do you know what was showing in the London theatres on D-day? I do. You could have seen, among others, the lovely Robert Donat in Wilde’s An Ideal Husband. Or would you have preferred (perhaps more apt for this blog) Ivor Novello’s The Dancing Years? I know, because my paper tells me so. And I bet the reports about ‘what’s on’ are more accurate than some of the news items.

I love the adverts, as well. A wonderful source of information on fashions, prices, ‘lingua franca’. Fancy your hero in a nice pair of men’s poplin pyjamas from Selfridges? They’d only cost you 5/- (that’s five shillings to you youngsters, i.e. 25 pence) in 1935. Now, writers beware, those adverts might just catch you out, if you have your hero reading the headlines on the front page of the paper, because for most of the time The Macaronis are writing in, the average British newspaper might well have had adverts/notices on the front of it. Research needed before you commit the faux pas.

You might also be caught out if your 1950’s hero can’t sleep and decides to get up and watch middle-of-the-night TV. Even in 1966, UK TV programmes ended at 11.20 pm and didn’t start until 9.00am the next day. (According to the Telegraph of Sunday July 31st 1966. Prize to anyone who

can spot why I have that particular paper.) Actually, as it was Sunday, ITV didn’t start until 11.00am. Still, if you had Southern region, you could watch the film ‘Captain Horatio Hornblower’ in the evening so it wasn’t all bad.

So, if you want to add a little authentic touch to your tale, why not get your hands on a newspaper from the time/location of your story? You can find some of them online, e.g. at http://archive.timesonline.co.uk/tol/archiveand specific issues can sometimes be purchased directly from the publishers. It’s cheaper to root them out at things like jumble sales, or buy reproduction copies. Or ask me if I’ve got just the one you want.

I’m off now to puzzle over what story lies behind “LENA-Balham tube 12 today-CLANCY” and whether “Bar assistant man, wants job” ever got one, or if the death of John F Kennedy the day before rather overshadowed the intrigues of the personal column.

Do you know your ogles from your luppers? Could you tell a naff from a dish? If you were a gay man in England from the 1930s to the ’70s, using the gay slang Polari (also known as Palari, Palare, Parlaree) was often the only way, in public, that you could communicate the things you thought about other men without being overheard – and running the risk of blackmail or arrest.

Many words have filtered into English from this language, like cottaging (seeking sex in a public toilet) and mince (to walk affectedly). Polari began to decline in use as gay men became more accepted. Most famously with two very camp (from KAMP = Known as a Male Prostitute) characters in a radio show Round the Horne called Julian and Sandy (mentioned here by Charlie Cochrane) who slipped Polari words into their dialogue. With that, however, the secret was “out,” excuse the pun, and the language began to wane in popularity – leaving only a few remnants of itself here and there in our everyday speech.

1. ajax – near, nearby (from adjacent)
2. bona -Good
3. basket – the bulge of male genitals through clothes
4. charper – search; charpering omi – policeman
5. ecaf – face (backslang) eek – face (abbreviation of ecaf)
6. fantabulosa – wonderful
7. gelt – money
8. jarry – food, also mangarie
9. khazi – toilet, also spelt carsey
10. naff – not desirable, bad, drab (not available for f***ing)
11. omi-polone – effeminate man, or homosexual
12 palare pipe – telephone
13 troll – to walk about (esp. looking for trade)

Further information:
Lexicon of Polari
Bringing It Back

The past. From my (admittedly not very extensive) experience of reading historicals and watching historical movies, I get the impression that for many people the past is conveniently grouped into four or five basic blobs which serve as settings for the majority of historical fiction:

You’ve got ‘prehistoric’, inhabited by cavemen who may or may not hunt dinosaurs, live in caves, wear furs and go ‘ug’.

Then – passing over most of the Bronze Age – you have ‘the Romans’. The Romans generally have an Emperor, wear togas and/or armour and wear red-crested helmets. Often they fall in love with slaves/native princes from far flung corners of the empire such as Britannia.

‘Arthurian times’ come somewhere between the Romans and the Medievals. But where exactly – whether it’s one extreme or the other or somewhere in the middle – is up to the writer. This movable era also tends to house most of the ‘Celtic’ period and – passing over the Saxons and early Normans – segues gently into ‘medieval times’.

We can tell when something is set in medieval times because it has downtrodden peasants, evil barons in castles, maidens forced into marriage despite their chastity belts, trailing sleeves, pointy shoes and possibly noble outlaws based on Robin Hood. If a ‘medieval’ story deals with ‘Highlanders’ they will naturally wear kilts and possibly woad too. (‘Braveheart’, I’m looking at you.)

After medieval times comes ‘the Regency’ or possibly ‘the 18th Century’ – these terms are often taken to be synonymous. During the Regency everyone was aristocratic, lived in big houses, dressed like Mr.Darcy, were obsessed with manners and the marriage market and had no visible means of support. Politics were unimportant and the rest of the world (outside Britain) did not exist.

There are also specialized little space/time bubbles for things like ‘the Caribbean pirates’, ‘the Arabian nights’ etc, each of which comes with its variety of things which are ‘known’ to happen in that setting.

To a certain extent this is all a convenient shorthand, and in a reader it does no harm if you have no idea which year the Pope banned shoes with extravagant toes, or which half of the century Catholics were burning Protestants rather than the other way around. But I can’t help feeling that writers should be held to a higher standard.

Why do I feel that? Am I just an anal killjoy who can’t get into the spirit of things? Well… maybe. Maybe it doesn’t matter if your Scotsmen have stolen the Picts’ woad and are wearing kilts that won’t be invented for another two hundred years. Maybe it doesn’t matter that your heroes are blithely saying and thinking things that their society would suppose to be unthinkable. Maybe it doesn’t even matter if their society itself is unaccountably modern in its attitudes. But where does it stop? When the account of the fall of Rome features Visigoths in tanks and Napoleonic horsemen with rocket launchers? When they’re all thwarted because the Romans send out a cute little puppy and they realize that they can’t bear the cruelty of war any more and they want to go grow Afalfa in the Pyrenees?

Actually I might quite like that, particularly when the Saxons turn up in their helicopters, only to be thwarted when the platoon of highly trained attack dinosaurs rally to the defence of the Parthenon. At least it wouldn’t be fooling anyone that it was supposed to be true, like the majority of pseudo-historicals out there.

What we tend to find when we look into the past is that our original picture of, say ‘the 18th Century’ proves to be sometimes accurate in part, for certain circumstances, for certain years and for characters of certain backgrounds. But within this big picture there are innumerable exceptions, changes and details which you didn’t see at first, but which tie you down to a specific date.

Are you before the French revolution – in which case the clothing fashions will be x and not y, your characters will probably believe in the divine right of kings, society will be certain about what can be expected from different classes of men – and therefore relatively relaxed about it? Are you just after the French revolution – in which case fashions will be y and not x, all the young folk and the workers will be filled with a feeling that liberty and a brave new world are just round the corner – and the government will be clamping down hard to stop the same thing happening in Britain? Are you pre or post American Independence – with all the psychological and cultural changes that that entails? Are you early in the century, when boozing, fighting and whoring were seen as normal, healthy activities for gentlemen, or late in the century when people were looking back on their parents’ unrestrained behaviour with moral horror?

Attitudes, clothes and technology can change from year to year, whatever time period you’re writing. Some Romans for example didn’t have an emperor at all – some had the Senate, some had a military dictator, some had a triumvirate and some had an Emperor, and all that change occurred within one lifetime!

So it’s worthwhile for a writer to pick the year first and then research the society in that year rather than saying ‘oh it’s Georgian’ and throwing in facts from the reigns of all three Georges. Not only does it narrow down your research, but it also has the benefit of making your ‘Regency’ (or whatever) that much more real, authentic and therefore unique.

And you can still bring out the Saxons in helicopters for that Fantasy novel you were planning!

If any readers happen to be in the Toronto area this Sunday near Church & Wellesley Streets, you’ll see the Macaronis’ first public appearance.  Well, one Macaroni, anyway, hopefully without cheese.  I’ll be at a booth at the Writing Outside the Margins Queer Literary Arts festival, selling my books and passing out The Macaronis Sampler CD.  Look for our gorgeous Macaronis mini-poster (designed by Alex Beecroft) and an assortment of bookmarks, postcards, and a few goodies like fridge magnets. More info here:   http://www.xtra.ca/writinginthemargins/

This is a significant event–the guest artists will be John Cameron Mitchell, creator of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Lambda Award winner Michelle Tea, and Canadian musical artist Kinnie Starr.   Last year’s festival was covered in both print and tv news… frankly, it’s a much bigger event than I expected to start with, and I really wish there were some fellow Macaronis planning to attend.   But I have to say that if it hadn’t been for Alex’s mad graphics skilz, Erastes’ assist with the CDs and Charlie’s general all-round moral support, I would be dithering at this point.  As it is… well, I’m still crossing my fingers that the (local, gay-friendly) printer will have the bookmarks ready tomorrow – the proofs were gorgeous.  I’ll be taking pictures … News at 11, but not til Monday…  

I’m hoping for good weather!

Writing Outside the Margins

Queer Literary Arts Festival 2008

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Underwear in the 18th Century.

As The Costumer’s Manifesto say:

Many authors of modern historical Romances have a way of meticulously costuming their 18th Century heroines for their activities in the ballroom and drawing rooms, but conveniently forgetting the awkwardness of such attire in the bedroom. In order to live up their racy titles and covers, Romantic fiction portrays 18th Century passion as occurring as rapidly as if every dress seam was merely closed with Velcro, and corsets were fastened with zippers.

This is obviously not a good thing, so here is a short run down of what 18th Century ladies and gentlemen would be wearing underneath their gorgeous outer clothes, and what that means in terms of bedroom activity.

Ladies first, naturally:

The basic undergarment is a shift (aka a ‘chemise’ if you’re French, or a ‘sark’ if you’re Scottish.) A woman in her shift is ‘undressed’ for the purposes of the 18th Century. Though covered, she would no more walk about in it than a modern woman would walk to town in bra and pants.

The shift comes to somewhere just below the knee – short enough so that it does not show under any of the petticoats. Nothing is worn underneath except for stockings. Knickers did begin to come in towards the end of the century, but were regarded as being for prostitutes and women of loose morals only.

Stockings are not the sheer, lacy-topped things we are accustomed to in the 21st Century. They are knitted like hiker’s socks. In the best cases, however, when they are knitted of fine silk, they can be fine as a thick pair of modern tights. They are put on like modern stockings, but there is no suspender belt to keep them up. Instead, garters are tied around the leg just below the knee, and the top of the stockings can be folded down to sit comfortably on top of it. This means that in practice ladies’ stockings look like knee-socks.

Once she’s got her stockings on, the next thing a lady would put on would be her shoes. It’s much easier to do it at this point, while she can still bend in the middle!

Next comes the first of her petticoats (pleated skirts)

Then on top of the first petticoat comes the stays (corset)

(These stays by http://www.TheStaymaker.co.uk).

These are laced up the back, ideally by someone else. If the laces are long enough, you can put the stays over your head while loosely laced and then tighten them up yourself, but it’s much harder to make sure the lacing is evenly tight throughout. An upper class woman will have a lady’s maid to do this for her, a lower class woman will either have to do it herself or have a mother/sister/daughter do it for her.

A woman wearing a single petticoat and stays over her shift is regarded as being dressed. That is, a working class woman who had no outer garments would not be chastised for being indecently dressed if that was all she wore. It would be a mark of extreme poverty, though, not to have at least one outer layer.

If the lady is upper class, she may now put on hoops or panniers, to give her that fashionable galleon in full sail look:

If she wears panniers, she’ll tie her pockets underneath them. If not, the pockets tie on directly over the stays. The pockets are little bags tied onto a ribbon which ties around the waist. The lady will be able to reach them through slits made in the sides of her upper petticoat.

They are very capacious. She could easily carry a little dagger in one of them without disturbing the line of her dress at all.

On top of that goes a second petticoat, with the slits lined up above the slits in the pockets.

On top of that goes a fichu – a large square neckerchief folded into a triangle with the point down the back, which protects the gown above it from the unwashed skin beneath. It also conceals the cleavage, for modesty, and protects the lady’s assets from the vulgar tanning effect of the sun.

On top of that goes either a gown or a short jacket

In this case the gown is being worn on top of a petticoat made of the same material as the gown. The ruffles are sewn onto the sleeves of the gown and are not part of the underclothes.

The gown will be pinned shut, possibly over an embroidered stomacher

The whole dressing process takes at least three quarters of an hour – more, if the lady is wearing higher status clothes. So it goes without saying that she will not be willing to undress lightly.

The Gentlemen

The gentlemen get off fairly easily. Their basic undergarment is the shirt

This – like the woman’s shift – comes down to roughly knee-height.

Unlike women, a man may wear drawers under his breeches – cut and shaped like the breeches, but made of thin linen. (Still trying to find a picture of these. I know I’ve seen one somewhere!) Gentleman’s stockings are rolled as far up the leg as they will go (mid thigh) and secured with a garter around the knee, just as women’s are, but their breeches will stop the top part of the stockings from rolling down.

The gentleman then tucks his shirt between his legs and puts on a pair of breeches:

Breeches can be fly fronted (as these are) or drop fronted. In both cases the front of the breeches can be undone without undoing the waistband. In addition to being buttoned at the waistband and fly, they are also buttoned or buckled at the knee, often tight enough to pinch and restrict movement.

A gentleman wearing shirt and breeches is considered to be undressed. Though modestly covered by modern standards, by 18th Century standards he is considered to be in his ‘small clothes’ – his underwear. If he wants to take off his tight, movement-restricting coat anywhere where he might be seen, even in his own house, he will replace it with some other piece of outerwear such as a banyan (kimono-style dressing gown).

With his breeches and shirt on, he then ties a neck-cloth such as a cravat around the neck. On top of his breeches goes a waistcoat (with numerous buttons, all done up) and then a frock coat. The frock coat is cut in such a way as to pull the shoulders back and give an upright posture.

This young man has rolled his stockings over the cuffs of his breeches rather than wearing them underneath – that’s a fashion from early in the century.

But though restrictive, the gentlemen’s clothes are easier to get on and off than the ladies’. They probably could strip off with relative ease if they wanted to. Evidence suggests, however, that generally they didn’t care to:

Pornographic prints from the 18th Century almost always depict the people who are having sex as at least partially clothed. But 18th Century porn is a whole new post. I can recommend

if you want to delve into that a bit deeper. If not, there is an interesting sample, very much not safe for work, here:

Naval Naughtiness

I haven’t gone onto wigs and powder, cosmetics, or hats, because that seems like a subject for another post too, but here is a gorgeous snippet from ‘Dangerous Liaisons’ which demonstrates the process of getting dressed in such a way as to show that the clothes themselves have a slightly pornographic appeal.

I’m excited to be able to announce that my second historical novel, Beyond the Veil, was recently released by Phaze Books. It seems I’ve been waiting for this to be published for ages, but when the release finally happened RL played an unkind trick on me and I wasn’t at my best, so I’m a little late with my notice.  However,  I’m posting the Blurb below, together with the first few paragraphs to give a taste:


Captured by the aggressive pirate captain of a Barbary corsair ship off the North African coast in the latter half of the eighteenth century, David Jordan faces a life of slavery of the worst kind when he is taken to the specialist markets of Tripoli.  However, the enigmatic man who finally buys him is not at all what David expects.

Robert Charteris has a very personal reason for fighting against the iniquity of slavery and, in disguise, witnesses the disposal of the slave cargo from a captured English ship and, for the first time in fifteen years, Charteris feels an interest in another man.

His decision to rescue the young man has repercussions he could never have expected in this tale of high passion and forbidden love.


David was forced to duck yet again as a cannon ball screamed overhead, this one slamming into the ship’s mast, the cracking of the wood drawing everyone’s attention, but miraculously it held. More cannon balls whizzed and shrieked as they tore through sails or broke off some of the smaller spits holding the shrouds aloft.

Slipping further back into the shadows, David cursed his stupidity at ignoring the perils of travelling in the Mediterranean as he watched the Barbary Pirates pouring across the ship’s tilting deck, its surface already awash with blood. The crew manfully attempted to fight the pirates back but they were not only outnumbered, they were outfought. David had no weapon and weighed his chances if he tried to help.

His attention was drawn by the angry bellowing of a pirate who was chasing Miss Bateson, her long blonde hair coming loose from its tortoise shell grip and streaming out behind her. As she looked back over her shoulder, her eyes showed fear yet her mouth was set in a determined line. David was debating his options when he saw young Tom Bateson struggling with one of the pirates.

Almost immediately David understood that Tom had been attempting to help his sister, who ducked hoping to avoid another pirate trying to intercept her.

Without a second thought, David ran out of his hiding place and launched himself at the pirate who shook the sixteen-year-old youth like he was a rat in the teeth of a dog. The man was huge, his bare arms bulging with muscles where the split sleeve of his shirt fell open, his legs braced with a wide stance. David landed on the pirate’s back but the man was not even unbalanced. He dropped Tom instantly though, and twisting from his shoulder he reached back and cuffed David upside the head.

David hung on even though his head was spinning and his ears were ringing. With a growl, one of the man’s beefy hands gripped David’s right arm and his vice-like hold broke David’s grasp as if it was nothing. He yanked David towards him and his other hand slammed into David’s chest, throwing him clear across the deck where he landed heavily, his head ringing.

Suzanna Bateson’s forward rush came to an abrupt halt when she ran into a solid object. Strong arms wrapped around her, keeping her from falling. For a moment she looked grateful for the help, until she glanced up and gasped in shock.

She was held tight in the grip of another pirate. A tall man whose dark eyes were all that could be seen of his face, the rest of it covered by a black veil edged in silver attached to his burnous, and the long hooded cloak favoured by the Turks, which was also edged in silver. The burnous fell over loosely fitting black pantaloons and a loose silver shirt worn split open to the waist where it was tucked inside the wide waistband.

“What have we here?” he asked in English but with an odd accent.

The woman struggled in his grip, but he merely pulled her closer to him. “I like a woman of spirit. I think I might keep you,” he said as his eyes swept over her.

He leaned in towards her, obviously intending to kiss her and she shouted in shock, “No!”

Ignoring his increasing dizziness, David attempted to roll to his side to try and get his knees underneath him but just then Tom Bateson barrelled out of his hiding place among some fallen sails and leapt at the tall pirate.

“Leave my sister be, you bastard!” he yelled as he attempted to land blows on the man’s kidneys.

The tall pirate swirled the girl away into the arms of her erstwhile pursuer while he grabbed up the fair-haired youth. “I can clearly see you two are related,” he said with a smile, his oddly accented voice warm with amusement.

David just managed to hear the captain say, “Take them to my cabin, Achmed,” before everything dimmed and he gave in to the pain pounding behind his eyes, momentarily losing consciousness.

A rough voice calling out in a language he knew he ought to recognize dragged David’s attention back to his surroundings. He tried to open his eyes but swiftly closed them again as the brightness seared his pupils. He tried to listen to what was being said, but at first he could not even remember which language it was, let alone interpret it.

However, he realized it was the pirate Captain speaking and with growing horror he did recognize a few of the foreign words, “…kill the injured men too. They’re no use as new crew and even less use on the slave block.”

<end excerpt>

Buy today from Phaze: http://www.kingcart.com/Phaze/product=Beyond+The+Veil



My Publishers:



We’re hoping that this will be a new regular feature. As we all write, we are simultaneously researching, so each week we come across useful, interesting, or just downright bizarre sites. We’re going to post a selection of them every Friday for your delectation ;)

A list of British Army Officer casualties in the Peninsula War

Lots of fascinating information about

Medical Services
Treatment of Wounds
Medical Hygeine
Evacuation of the Wounded
Amputation Instruments and Chart
Causes of death in British Army hospitals 1812-1814

but I chiefly find it useful as a mine for men’s names and surnames.


which is a wonderful site full of old maps and original papers from the 11th Century onwards.

“Hello, I’m Julian and this is my friend Sandy…”

Those were the words heard by many a family on a 1960’s Sunday afternoon as we huddled around the radio to hear ‘Round the Horne’. Not only was the show hilarious, it introduced the nation to some of the first, if not the first, gay characters to feature in family entertainment. This was at a time when homosexual acts were still illegal, Round the Horne running from 1965 to 1968 and decriminalisation happening in 1967. As Julian aptly said in the episode in which he and Sandy were lawyers, “We have a criminal practice that takes up much of our time”. To listen to this weekly sketch within the show was to immerse yourself in three or four minutes of references to gay culture, much of it really filthy if you knew what the words meant. As an eight year old I didn’t, and the references shot over my head as they must have done for most of the listeners. It’s only now I understand that “a miracle of dexterity at the cottage upright” didn’t necessarily refer to Julian’s piano playing.

However, much as I still love Jules and Sand, that love comes with a degree of disquiet at the stereotypes they portray; gay men obsessed with clothes, manicures, and The Marine Commando Club, Paddington. That stereotyping persists today, perhaps not in mainstream British TV/novels where there are, and have been, homosexual male characters who resemble their peers in everything except who they hold hands with. But watch any re-run of “Will and Grace” where Jack and his pals are holding centre stage and we’re back to the 1960’s vision of what it means to be gay. Now, we need to be very careful here. If the argument is to take issue with “Gay men always (favourite stereotype here)” then we need to be careful not to be getting into the equally subjective “Gay men never…” This is something over which you can’t be simplistic whether in the modern setting or the historical. I rather like John Barrowman’s definition of a gay man as someone who finds other men attractive. All the rest (including whether they find women attractive, too) depends on their personality and lifestyle.

Of course there are gay guys who like dressing as women and flouncing about, but there are others who dress like your bank manager (may well be your bank manager) and like to spend their weekends packing down in the second row of the scrum. Somehow (and no doubt ‘helped’ by the media) the general feeling is that things like cross dressing must be an indication of homosexuality and vice versa, despite the fact the plenty of straight guys indulge in it. But we like to have things neatly tagged and labelled, and the crux of the thing can be hard for people to get their minds around, i.e. that gay men are as varied in their tastes, interests, and way of life as any other people. There are gay men who are scene, non-scene or who totally hate the scene. There are ones who do drugs and go cruising, others who go to church, referee rugby internationals or fly out to Cambodia to design orphanages.

So what’s the implication for the writer of m/m historical romance? On the one hand there’s complete freedom; your characters can be what you want them to be, do what you want them to do, as long as they keep within the spirit and legal/social rules of their times. If you have your two Victorian era leading men walking hand in hand down Whitehall, snogging in broad daylight outside the Houses of Parliament and then going into Westminster Abbey to have their union blessed by the Archbishop of Canterbury then you’re not doing anyone any justice, least of all you and your credibility. On the other hand, there’s the temptation to say “Ah, but it has to be like this” then giving your viewpoint on things, whether within a story or in discussion of the genre, as if your view must be the only truth. Just because a story has one of the characters getting married because of social pressure, that doesn’t have to be the pattern for all gay men to follow.

Let’s look at the novel ‘Maurice’, which might just sneak under the wire of being historical fiction because, even though it was written contemporarily, it wasn’t published until years later. There are three characters that fall within the definition of “finding another man attractive” and each plays out that feeling in a different way. Maurice seeks both physical and spiritual love with Clive and when the latter eschews bodily pleasure and obeys the expectations on him to marry, Maurice’s life becomes a turmoil of seeking help to be rid of his desires, making a disastrous pass at a woman and indulging in a night of bliss with Alec. Alec himself makes all the initial running with Maurice and, when it seems like he has been simply used and discarded, resorts to a half hearted attempt at blackmail, before he and Maurice realise that they really do love each other. Three different responses to the way the men feel, all realistic within the mores of the time, not one of the protagonists portrayed as a stereotypical gay man.

One of our greatest contemporary historical novelists, Patrick O’Brian, was equally adept at weaving men who found other men attractive into the fabric of his stories without any labels attached to them. Indeed, Jack Aubrey can’t believe the tales that circulate about his sailing master William Marshall because the officer is manly, handsome and exceedingly competent. O’Brian does have at least one pair of officers being court-martialled for breaking the articles (Jack, as one of the presiding officers employing the wonderful phrase from Stephen Maturin, “No penetration, no sodomy”) but he has others who are sufficiently discreet, such as Admiral William Pellew, to have their inclinations tolerated. And O’Brian is also realistic enough to realise than an indiscreet, indiscriminate captain who takes lovers from among his forecastlemen (as does Duff in The Commodore) is a danger both to himself and the rest of the fleet. O’Brian first and foremost understands people and presents us with consistent believable characters, whatever their inclinations.

So our challenge, in writing m/m historical fiction, is to emulate O’Brian and make our heroes fully rounded people, not ciphers or stereotypes. By all means have an aesthete swanning around Victorian London wearing his green carnation, but remember that there’ll be plenty of other gay men in the same environment who’ll be indistinguishable from the other men around them. If you want to have a Georgian frigate captain choosing all the most handsome foremast jacks to crew his cutter, so be it, but don’t forget the other similarly inclined officers who won’t be drawing such attention to themselves. Have your Edwardian hero marry because his family expect it of him, but don’t assume that every gay man of the time was either under the same pressure or felt disposed to respond to it.

And please remember that we’re still not immune, in these so called enlightened times, of falling into the Julian and Sandy trap. If John Barrowman really was rejected, as the story goes, for the part of Will in “Will and Grace” because he was too straight acting, then we’re still stuck with preconceptions that are loathe to go away.

Thanks to all for entering – here’s the answers!  And here’s a link to the online version of the book if any one doesn’t have it bookmarked.

1. What would you be doing if you were cocking your organ?

Smoking a pipe. You didn’t fall for it, good for you!

2. “She’s an owl in an ivy bush” – is this a good thing?

Not a bad thing. She’d have bushy hair. But that obviously wasn’t attractive in the day.

3. “The flashman bounced the swell of all his blunt” – Is this something you’d want to do?

No, you wouldn’t – unless you were a thief used to frightening people out of their money!

4. What would you be doing if you were riding a horse foaled by an acorn?

Being hanged

5. If someone told you that your beau had been seen in his altitudes the night before, would you break off the association?

He was drunk – your call!

6. Someone’s just told you that your youngest daughter has sprained her ankle. Would you call a doctor or throw the baggage from the house?

A doctor in both cases, perhaps. It’s slang for being pregnant.

7. Is Arbor Vitae the Latin name for a tree? Or something else?

Woody! A penis.

8. You see a gorgeous man at the ball, and you overhear one rake say to another that the object of your attention is a great backgammon player. Surely that’s a good thing?

Definitely one of those. A sodomite

9. How many rolls ARE in a baker’s dozen?

According to Grose – 14. It must be the recession.

10. What would you wear to a Balum Rancum?

Nothing! It was a ball attended by prostitutes and everyone was naked.

11. Wow-wow Sauce – Invented by the Regency or by Terry Pratchett?

Regency – It contains port, wine vinegar, pickled cucumbers or pickled walnuts, English mustard and mushroom ketchup in a base of beef stock, flour and butter.

12. What’s a beau trap? An eager spinster? or something dirtier?

It was one of those paving stones that wobbled and squirted water up your legs.

13. Your husband announces he’s off to Bedfordshire. You don’t have any estates there and it’s dark! Where’s he really going?

To Bed!

14. Where would you dance at Beilby’s Ball?

At the end of a noose.

That was fun – I’ll have to do it again one day!

Yes – that’s him.

As a fun post I thought I’d ask you all some questions based on Captain Grose’s Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (1811) and see how many you get right.

No cheating now!!

1. What would you be doing if you were cocking your organ?

2. “She’s an owl in an ivy bush” – is this a good thing?

3. “The flashman bounced the swell of all his blunt” – Is this something you’d want to do?

4. What would you be doing if you were riding a horse foaled by an acorn?

5. If someone told you that your beau had been seen in his altitudes the night before, would you break off the association?

6. Someone’s just told you that your youngest daughter has sprained her ankle. Would you call a doctor or throw the baggage from the house?

7. Is Arbor Vitae the Latin name for a tree? Or something else?

8. You see a gorgeous man at the ball, and you overhear one rake say to another that the object of your attention is a great backgammon player. Surely that’s a good thing?

9. How many rolls ARE in a baker’s dozen?

10. What would you wear to a Balum Rancum?

11. Wow-wow Sauce – Invented by the Regency or by Terry Pratchett?

12. What’s a beau trap? An eager spinster? or something dirtier?

13. Your husband announces he’s off to Bedfordshire. You don’t have any estates there and it’s dark! Where’s he really going?

14. Where would you dance at Beilby’s Ball?

Brutes, Wimps and Heroes.

The alpha male, the beta male and the chivalric ideal.

“Thou wert the meekest man that ever ate in hall among ladies; and thou wert the sternest knight to thy mortal foe that ever put spear in the rest.”*

I’ve been wondering about the ‘alpha male’ recently and why I find him such an inadequate ideal for a hero. Several things have come together to spark off this post, one of which was finding the essay by CS Lewis on ‘The Necessity of Chivalry’ from which the Mallory quote above was taken. Another was watching an interesting TV programme on the BBC recently called ‘Last Man Standing’. Both of which seemed, to me, to contrast the alpha male with the chivalric ideal.

My understanding of the ‘alpha male’ is that an alpha male is a man who is completely without doubt as to his ability to handle a situation. He’s arrogant. He knows best – or at least, he believes he does. He is physically strong and doesn’t hesitate to use that physical strength to get what he wants. He is prepared to over-rule anyone who opposes him. He does not feel, let alone express, fear or weakness or admiration for others. He gets what he wants, and if he wants a heroine or beta male, that person had better learn to like it, because they are not going to get away.

The alpha male is ruthless. He is not riddled with guilt or doubt, and weakness in others attracts his contempt. He doesn’t give quarter. If you bank on his pity, you’ll be in for a nasty surprise.

In short, the alpha male is a barbarian. He’s like a Viking hero who, having captured a bishop and being unable to understand what the educated man is talking about, beats him to death and thinks he has won the argument. He’s like Achilles in The Iliad, for whom nothing matters but his own glory. Snubbed, he’s willing to sit by and watch his friends die because someone took away the captive he was going to rape and thereby proclaimed that they were more powerful than he was.

This is not the sort of man I want to have to deal with, either in writing or in real life.

But what does that leave me with in terms of my own heroes? Must my heroes be ‘beta males’?

Well, I have to say I don’t really understand what a beta male is. I presume, from the fact that you typically have an alpha/beta pairing, that the beta male is a man who doesn’t mind being constantly overruled, controlled and dominated by his alpha partner. As he fulfils the role of a heroine, perhaps he’s meant to be more emotional, less self-assured, maybe a little passive? Is he a bit of a pushover? Maybe inclined to cry and hope for someone to come along and solve all his problems? Is he, in short, something of a wimp?

I’m sorry, but are these really my only choices? Brute or wimp? I don’t want either. I’m – to quote the song – holding out for a hero.

So what exactly do I mean by that?

Well, what I’m looking for in a hero is the chivalric ideal. It’s not my own invention – it came into Western culture in the Middle Ages – and it is epitomised by the quote by Mallory up there. My hero is a man who is ferocious at need, who can be an alpha male if the situation requires it. A man who is the fiercest and most deadly warrior on the battlefield, accustomed to death and hardship, sure of himself, strong. A man who wins.

But – and this is the clincher – he’s also a man who can then come home, get cleaned up, and discuss the curtains with his maiden aunt. Who can weep over a sentimental film and be trusted to look after a child. A man who listens to others, respects the rights of the weak and is gentle with those who need help. He doesn’t boast or dominate. He is meek, and by his restraint he allows others to exercise their own power. He is both alpha and beta at once, depending on what the occasion requires.

But, you may say, Launcelot wasn’t real. No real man could fulfil such an ideal. It would be completely unbelievable.

At which point I drag out my copy of ‘Men of Honour’ by Adam Nicolson and direct your attention to the battle of Trafalgar. This is of particular relevance to me because the naval officers who fought at Trafalgar are the role-models, the real life examples from whom I’ve taken Peter and Josh in ‘Captain’s Surrender’ or John and Alfie from ‘False Colours’.

Nicolson describes Admiral Nelson thus:

Nelson’s victory at Trafalgar would not have occurred unless he had allowed and encouraged free rein to the less conscious forces of devastating aggression, the desire to excel, the desire for prizes, the desire to kill and the desire to win.

But this is what Admiral Collingwood, who was second-in-command of the British fleet says of Nelson:

There is nothing like him left for gallantry and conduct in battle. It was not a foolish passion for fighting for he was the most gentle of all human creatures and often lamented the cruel necessity of it, but it was a principle of duty which all men owed their country in defence of her laws and liberty.

Collingwood himself, who was at war most of his life, wrote long gossipy letters home to his sisters and was devastated at the death of his dog, Bounce.

The violence and overwhelming bloodshed of Trafalgar are well known, but what is less well known is that immediately following the battle, the British fleet did everything humanly possible to save the lives of the French, during the three day storm that broke over them all.

Violence and gentleness coexisting, switching from one to the other when needed. Proving, if you like, that the chivalric ideal is something which is very far from being unobtainable.

Indeed, it’s not even a phenomenon of the dim and vanished past. ‘Last Man Standing’, which takes six modern young men out to compete against the warriors of various different tribes at their own particular forms of sport/ritual combat, showed that the ideal was alive and well. I’m thinking particularly of Richard and Rajko, who – when forced to kill animals for food – mourned. They were self-effacing, they spoke of their doubts and hesitation rather than boasting about how inevitable it was that they would win, and they attacked the challenges with every bit as much aggression as the ‘alpha males’ on the show. Rajko’s stepping up to the mark in Trobriand, despite a half-severed toe, and taking his team to victory against all the odds was a ‘Chariots of Fire’ moment I’ll not soon forget. All the better for being real and not fiction.

So I have no hesitation in making John Cavendish from ‘False Colours’ the sort of person who would blush in real discomfort on hearing a dirty joke, and take on a dozen men with an axe in the next breath, nor in letting Alfie Donwell beat up the boatswain of a rival crew and weep inconsolably over a dead bird.

If this means that both of my heroes are alpha and beta males at the same time I can’t help but feel that not only is that historically accurate, but that it makes for an interesting dynamic. There should be a back and forth – and a potential for conflict – there that just doesn’t exist in a less equal relationship.

Plus, of course, they both get to be awesome, and they both get to be tender. Twice the value! They know, as Captain Anselm Jon Griffiths says in his ‘Observation on some Points of Seamanship’ published in 1809

The man who endeavours to carry all before him by mere dint of his authority and power would appear to me to know little indeed of human nature.

You tell it how it is, Captain! No one likes a smart-arse or a bully ;)


The Accolade by Edmund Leighton

*Thomas Mallory; ‘Le Morte D’Arthur’. Sir Ector is describing Sir Launcelot.

Jeez, but this is an intimidating bunch of people! (g) I mean that in a good way. I don’t post often because everyone else has so much to say that is interesting, pithy, and intelligent and … well, actually that’s the reason I don’t blog much anywhere.

I was reading a bunch of recent posts and trying to catch up, when I noticed this (and, forgive me, I don’t remember who said it but I thought it was interesting):

“I think it’s the killing of one of the main characters that throws a story completely out of the romance genre.”

I think you’re right. Which will make it a puzzle how to classify my next book Counterpoint. It’s really a love story and the most romantic one I’ve ever done, but there is a main character who dies midway through. I tried rewriting it for many years to avoid having him die but in the end it was unavoidable. I would have saved myself a decade of frustration if I’d just listened to my Muse. (How’s that for sneaking in a reference to another thread?) I suppose if it’s ever published they’ll classify it as historical romance and then some romance reader will get mad at me because of the death.

I’ve been very much enjoying catching up on everyone’s comments!

Best to all.



author, The Phoenix

That’s quite a question and one I decided to have a go at answering because I’ve had short stories published in the Sci-fi and fantasy genre, and a couple of contemporaries. My latest submission was my first stab at a paranormal fantasy novel. I’ve given this question quite a bit of thought and I decided one of the first things I had to ask myself was: why do I like to write historical stories? I thought if I could answer that, maybe it would give at least half the answer to whether there is a difference. I’ve loved history for as long as I can remember. It was just about the most enjoyable class for me in school and I used to ply the teacher with questions all the time. I’m one of those people who can remember dates, never know why but I was always very pleased that I could. It still bugs my husband now, he loves history too but he never seems to be able to remember dates:) Heck, I seem to be going off on a bit of a tangent here.

What I was trying to lead into was that because I like the subject it seemed the ideal jump off point when I wanted to write original characters – oh yes, like so many others have mentioned, I too started off writing fan fiction. However, in my case, my fandom wasn’t book based, it was TV and TV science fiction at that, yet when I wanted to write original fiction it never occurred to me to go that route.

The first two pieces I wrote were an historical novel and a novelette, and it was only while I was waiting for my first publication – chomping at the bit for it actually – that I decided to write another short story. However, this time, probably because of that impatient chomping, I wanted the immediacy of something I could produce with less effort and complication than writing an historical piece. Don’t get me wrong, you still have to get your basic facts right, I mean it would hardly do to have your spaceman open the airlock and not be in his spacesuit :)

However, what I really enjoy when writing science fiction, or fantasy, is that you can let your imagination run riot and you don’t have to worry if such a thing were possible during that era, or if a man might risk his life to make love to the man he desired above all else. I can paint a picture of a world where men can be together without risk, with acceptance, in fact without even a second thought and the only danger or risk in their lives comes from anything and everything but their sexuality. There is a freedom in that kind of writing that you don’t have when you need to research so much of what you want to put down on paper.

So, for me, it’s good to be able to have that freedom to write in easier worlds than the men of history faced. I suppose you could say that very freedom makes me appreciate the bravery and forbearance of those men from out of our past who were prepared to risk all for love. It makes me want to tell their story.

So, yes there is a difference but I’m not sure it really matters. There is a place in fiction for every genre out there, some people have more of a feel for one kind, others want to have a finger in every pie, and yet others simply want to experiment, to stretch themselves. Those authors who want to concentrate on writing historicals do so because they love the subject and the research necessary to write a good story is part of whole process and part of that love – and it shows through in the writing of a good historical novel.

Muse n.1 (Muse) Gk& Rom. Mythol.any of the goddesses who presided over the arts and sciences. They were the daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne, traditionally nine in number (Calliope, Clio, Euterpe, Terpsichore, Erato, Melpomene, Thalia, Polyhymnia, and Urania), though their functions and names vary considerably between different sources. 2 (usu. prec. by the) a a poet’s inspiring goddess or woman. b a poet’s genius or characteristic style.

I was – heh- musing on the subject of muses the other day. On a long drive down to the longhall my re-enactment society is building in Kent, I switched on the radio to discover a presenter interviewing a famous soprano.

My knowledge of opera is such that I had never heard of her and immediately forgot her name. However, the programme went on to explain that she had a composer whose music was written specifically for her to sing. This composer was invariably inspired by her voice – inspired to the extent that in a long career almost every piece of his work had been written specially with her voice in mind.

The presenter was evidently slightly awestruck and charmed by the idea that he was meeting a living muse. The soprano on the other hand did not like to think of herself that way, and preferred to think of it as a partnership in which the work of each of them inspired the other.

I come from a writing tradition where ‘the muses’ is used to mean the voices of the characters – usually the one character from whose POV the story is told. We speak of ‘our muses’ wanting us to tell one story or another, wanting us to illustrate their good points or their bad. Sometimes demanding that they be given more of a starring role, at other times stopping us in our tracks while they force us to write down a story it feels as though they’re dictating to us.

Although this doesn’t initially fit with either of the above dictionary definitions, I wonder if this is the modern interpretation of the voice of the goddess or the muse in sense 1.

We get to know our characters so much that they begin to lead a shadowy sort of independent life in our heads. I have, once or twice, had the experience of a character telling me ‘I am going to do this…’ and me going ‘no! No way! There’s no way you can get away with that!’ I have actually been shocked with what they come up with.

It’s a strange experience, to have characters you know you have created yourself suddenly start answering you back and refusing to obey you. When it happens, most writers rejoice. Like Dr. Frankenstein, watching the lightning crawl over his creation stitched together from a thousand corpses – watching it stir, begin to breathe, open its eyes – we cry ‘it’s alive!’ Possibly with the addition of a slightly manic laugh that makes the rest of the world sidle away, doubting our sanity.

In fact it’s an apt metaphor. We have stitched together this character from scraps – a model’s fine eyes, the nice things our husbands do on a good day, the annoying-but-funny habit from that woman we speak to on the train in the morning – and at some point the breath of life has mysteriously entered into this motley collection, fusing it into a real person.

Nowadays, post Freud and psychoanalysis, it is easy to accept that this almost miraculous coming to life is a product of our own subconscious. Having got enough dead details, our 90% unused hindbrain steps in, fits the pieces together, extrapolates what a person like this would behave like in other situations, and presents it – live and argumentative – to the surface of our minds. A wonderful feeling, but not in any way supernatural.

But now imagine what that would feel like if you had no concept of the subconscious. Pre-Freud. You’re a writer, an artist, a lyric poet, and you struggle with the words just as modern writers do. But every so often something – a breath of something mystical, unexplainable – brings your characters to life, whispers into your head thoughts higher and more complex than your own thoughts, presents fully made solutions to problems you had thought were insuperable.

No wonder they thought it was divine!

We are lucky – modern writers – when our words dry up and writer’s block comes on us, at least we have the comfort of knowing that everything we need for writing is within us and is unlikely to have suddenly left us. It must have been a thousand times worse for the writers of the past who believed they really were writers merely at the whim of a sometimes capricious goddess. We can do exercises to stimulate our minds, with the hope of dragging out our creativity from where it has gone to ground. They could not count on the goddess to stay, nor coax her back if she had decided to go. And every time she did abandon them, they must have felt ‘this could be the time she never returns.’

The thought of being at the mercy of genuinely supernatural forces for your creative inspiration reminds me of the debate I’ve been having with Ann Herendeen, over how much self-reflection/self knowledge the people of the past could have achieved without the apparatus of psychology. Imagine that you do not have a concept of the subconscious, and now picture those occasional berserker rages you can get when you feel lifted out of yourself or – if you’re not as violent as me – those moments where fear or joy seemed to come on you from the outside and overwhelm you.

Surely for the ancient pagan these must have been the voices of the gods – Woden, the god of rage and poetry, Hermes, the messenger, telling them something, acting through them. To a certain extent for them the more inspired they were, the less they themselves were acting. Something else worked through them, taking them up into the supernatural world, absolving them of personal responsibility. No wonder Homer’s battlefield was full of gods and goddesses. There too, in the exhaustion and stress of the battle, the warrior’s mental state would have been exalted, open to possession and inspiration.

As for the muse in sense 2: a poet’s inspiring goddess or woman, I will admit that it amuses me no end that yet again our language assumes that men are the only people in the world.

I say this because I have had several muses in sense two over the years, and they have been, without fail, men. Presumably the dictionary writer did not suspect that poets (or writers) could be women? Or that a woman could be inspired, by the mere existence of a particular man, to create art or literature.

Or perhaps it’s just that I’m weird?

Before I realized that my muse was in fact a muse, I would have had every sympathy with the soprano I was talking about earlier. I would have thought there was something slightly sordid about it. After all, so many of the great painters’ muses were also their mistresses, and there’s something so… incestuous about that.

And here I am, a straight woman, being inspired by young men? It doesn’t seem unlikely that there’s a sexual component in that. But what I can say is that that’s not what it feels like from the inside.

My current muse is an actor who is pleasant looking, but would never find his way onto the cover of a romance novel. What makes him a muse, for me, is the fact that he does not seem to be able to act a role that doesn’t light the ‘must tell a story!’ blue touch paper in my head. There are undoubtedly better looking men out there. There are possibly better actors. But I don’t know of anyone else who can act a minor role in a soap opera in such a way that I suddenly need to write a book.

I have no desire to get to know this bloke at all. On a personal level I would prefer him to remain a complete stranger, but something about him triggers my creativity. And this is – to me – much more of a mystery than the way the characters come alive, or the plots shake themselves and suddenly make sense. That’s all inside my head, but this, this free gift of inspiration, or dependency, depending on how you look at it, isn’t. I am as enthralled – literally in thrall – as Dante to his Beatrice, and I don’t know whether to accept it gratefully or resent the fact that I’m not complete unto myself. (Not that I’m comparing the quality of my output to Dante! If only!)

Of course, there is always the possibility that I am simply weird. This article in the New York Times certainly seems to proceed from the idea that muses are always female:


But although I write about a time when that might have been true, I’m also a modern, feminist, female writer of gay love stories. I believe in equality between the sexes. Surely it’s entirely appropriate in that case to stand the tradition on its head and to have a male muse? Can inspiration really only come in one gender? Am I honestly the only one?

Speak Its Name


Expectations riding on a generation of young Englishmen are immense; for those who’ve something to hide, those expectations could prove overwhelming.

When shy Edward Easterby first sees the popular Hugo Lamont, he’s both envious of the man’s social skills and ashamed of finding him so attractive. But two awful secrets weigh Lamont down. One is that he fancies Easterby, at a time when the expression of such desires is strictly illegal. The second is that an earlier, disastrous encounter with a young gigolo has left him unwilling to enter into a relationship with anyone. Hugo feels torn apart by the conflict between what he wants and what he feels is “right”. Will Edward find that time and patience are enough to change Hugo’s mind?

Gentleman’s Gentleman
Lord Robert Scoville has lived in a reasonably comfortable Victorian closet, without hope of real love, or any notion that it’s right there in front of him if he would only open his eyes and take notice of his right-hand man, Jack Darling. Jack has done his best to be satisfied with the lesser intimacy of caring for the man he loves, but his feigned role as a below-stairs ladies’ man leaves his heart empty. When a simple diplomatic errand turns dangerous and a man from their past raises unanswerable questions, both men find themselves endangered by the secrets between them. Can they untangle the web of misunderstanding before an unknown attacker parts them forever?

Hard and Fast
Major Geoffrey Chaloner has returned, relatively unscathed, from the Napoleonic War, and England is at peace for the first time in years. Unable to set up his own establishment, he is forced to live with his irascible father who has very clear views on just about everything—including exactly whom Geoffrey will marry and why. The trouble is that Geoffrey isn’t particularly keen on the idea, and even less so when he meets Adam Heyward, the enigmatic cousin of the lady his father has picked out for him… As Geoffrey says himself: “I have never been taught what I should do if I fell in love with someone of a sex that was not, as I expected it would be, opposite to my own.”

From Josh Lanyon, author of Adrien English Mysteries

“Dashing spies, bold Regency bucks, and the flower of English manhood vie for readers’ attention in this smart, original and engaging trilogy.This is not your mother’s historical romance!”


Aftermath by Charlie Cochrane

Easterby laid his hand on Hugo’s shoulder, not knowing any words that he could share. He felt that he should be making some wise pronouncement either to offer comfort or to persuade Lamont that all his guilt and distaste was stupid, but he’d no idea what would work in either case. By accident he hit upon exactly what Hugo required; not gabbling words or advice, pious or otherwise, but a quiet companionship. All the comfort that Hugo needed, he found in that light touch upon his back; all the counsel that he sought was in the gentle breath playing upon his cheek. After a moment or two, he looked up at Edward and smiled wanly as if he was broken in heart and spirit. “I know it’s a simple choice, but it’s one I can’t make. Part of me says I should say farewell here and now, taking myself away from you and all the temptation you bring. And the other half says you’re the thing I treasure most in all the world and I should just stay with you and risk everything.” He shrugged and merely patted Easterby’s back. “I’m sorry. It’s me. I’m hopeless and that’s all there is to it.”

Edward remembered all the college stories about Lamont that he’d heard when he first come up to Cranmer—Lamont being held up as the shining example, the man that all other men should aspire to. Seeing him so distraught, so lacking in any confidence in his own powers, was untenable. “You’re not hopeless. Far from it.” He tried to catch Hugo’s eye. “It’ll be all right. It will.” The words sounded so vapid, so utterly useless, but somehow they sparked a slightly happier smile from Lamont.

Gentleman’s Gentleman by Lee Rowan

Jack said nothing. He didn’t dare. The truth was stirring in him like a living thing, but he simply did not know what to say. No, he wasn’t mistaken. I would love to have you take advantage of me! That would hardly do. In fact, he was grateful for his lordship’s integrity. How wretched it would have been to serve under an officer who expected sexual favors, if the attraction were not mutual.

But was it mutual? Jack could not deny what he himself felt. And hope stirred again, a tenuous thread of possibility. A man who would not take advantage might be exercising self-restraint, not indifference. Did he dare speak?

Lord Robert was still fuming, oblivious to Jack’s dilemma. “He must have thought me absurdly naïve. I suppose I was. It had never occurred to me that anyone would stoop so low as to make such an assumption about me. Or about you!” He looked up, his eyes full of some unspoken emotion. Anger? Guilt? “My dear fellow, I am deeply sorry. You must believe I never intended to subject you to anything like that. I can’t do a damned thing about my own nature, and I’m grateful beyond words for your tolerance. I had no idea you would be offered such an insult.”

“Insult, my lord?” Jack’s chest felt tight, and his heart was suddenly pounding. Here it was, then—the chance of fulfillment or the destruction of all he had come to know.

“That you were my—that I would—” Lord Robert flung a hand into the air, helplessly.

“The only insult Captain McDonald offered,” Jack said carefully, “was the assumption that I would be willing to lie with him.”

It was Lord Robert’s turn to hesitate. “I’m not certain I understand.”

Their eyes met once more, and Jack could not look away. “He was not mistaken about my nature.” And, since at this point there could be no going back, he added, “Nor my feelings for you.”

Hard and Fast by Erastes

I stepped forward to him. “Your nature,” I said, between gritted teeth, “has been nothing but unnatural since the first moment we met.”

He didn’t move a muscle, didn’t take his eyes from mine; for all his apparent fragility, he certainly didn’t appear to be intimidated by me.

“Perhaps,” he said, almost idly, as if he weren’t being towered over by a furious and insulted major, “it takes one to know one.” It was as if our intimacy had not taken place and we were swapping insults in a card room.

I grabbed him then, with hands long schooled to denial; not to take what they wanted, not to fire at civilians, not to touch what it should not touch. I crushed him to me; I heard his cane fall to the floor and felt him waver in my arms as he struggled to support himself. All this in a moment, and all I had registered from him was the sudden intake of breath. No complaints, no barbed wit, no exultation—nothing that I had expected.

I felt nothing of the giddiness I had heard poets sing about. I felt like Hercules, his last task completed. I felt fierce and victorious, swept away with the madness of the moment. His hair was against my cheek, the scents that had haunted my dreams were more real and more delicious than I had remembered. He clung to me; his right arm around my neck for support, his left arm snaked around my waist. I shuddered in pleasure as he turned his face a little and his skin touched my face. Gooseflesh sprung around all over my body as he touched my cheek with his lips.

There was no thought in what happened next; I remember every second of it, but I remember most clearly of all that I made no decisions in my actions. Everything I did was ordained …


“To our wives and sweethearts—may they never meet!”

–Captain Jack Aubrey (Traditional toast in His Majesty’s Navy)


“The society of well-educated ladies is sure to add dignity and refinement to the character of a young man.  Without such society his manners can never acquire the true polish of a gentleman, nor his mind and heart the noblest and truest sentiments of a man.”

–The Young Man’s Own Book, A Manual of  Politeness, Intellectual Development, and Moral Deportment, Calculated to Form the Character on a Solid Basis and to Assure Respectability and Success in Life.  Key, Mielke, and Biddle, 1832.


The book’s title is only ten words shorter than the advice, but this excellent resource for writers of fiction set in the 19th-century spends a chapter extolling the virtues of the fair sex and the importance of treating them with the proper respect, always bearing in mind the desirability of holy wedlock.


So where does that leave a writer whose protagonists are men – and gay men, at that – who see wedlock as a consummation devoutly to be avoided?


The Young Man’s Own Book says, “The influence of the female sex on a young man must be something, may be much….”   and I think that goes for gentlemen of either persuasion.   The stereotype of a homosexual male as a man who hates women does, like all stereotypes, probably hold true for a few individuals.  On the other hand,  men whose emotional character is defined by hatred are not the most sympathetic candidates for the starring role in a romance. 


But love of one gender doesn’t require hatred of the other.  As people operating in human society, gay characters would at least have to interact with mothers, sisters, and other female relatives.  Given social expectations, they might also have wives… in many cases, women they may have married before they were even aware of their same-sex inclinations.  Oscar Wilde is probably the most well-known example, but others can be found in abundance in the headlines even today, often claiming that they’re not gay at all. 


Of course, in a gay love story, women may be peripheral characters, if they appear at all.  But writing about men who love other men doesn’t mean that women can or should be ignored or treated badly.  So many of us who write m/m romance are women ourselves, it would require an odd sort of self-loathing to bash female characters, and it would be weak craftsmanship in any case.


So what’s different about writing a female character?  Or, at least, what do I find different?


Apart from the plumbing…  not all that much.  And the best way I can think of to illustrate how the process works for me is to use a couple of examples from my stories.


One caveat:  I must admit I write from the perspective of a born tomboy.  I think of myself as a human being first and a woman second, and  I expect any character I write to behave in a humanly reasonable way (except, as Mark Twain might say, in the case of lunatics.)  In many historical settings, a woman has fewer options than a man, but that’s no reason to assume she has less intelligence or less nerve.  Anybody willing to say “I do” and risk the horrors of septic childbirth is not, in my opinion, lacking in courage.


I haven’t yet written a story where one of my characters finds himself with both a male lover and a wife, and the shipboard romance of the Ransom universe seldom allowed much room for the ladies.  But their influence does appear – in David Archer’s first ill-chosen romance with a girl below his social station that precipitated his entry into the Navy, in his correspondence with his mother and sisters, even in the Christmas gift he gives his lover—warm woolens knitted by those ladies and sent in quantities that far exceed his own needs. What we see, reflected in his attitude, is a general liking and respect for women and concern for their welfare.  The odd son out, bookish,  intelligent, and considerably more sensitive than his father, Davy’s affectionate nature was shaped by his mother and elder sisters.  We don’t actually meet the ladies in Ransom or Winds of Change, but a few of them will appear eventually.


David’s cousin Christopher is more conventionally appreciative of female charms; his love story is told in my novella “See Paris and Live,” in the trilogy Sail Away, which also features Will and David some time before they’ve become lovers.  Writing the heroine, Zoe Colbert, was a bit of a challenge.  She was a French girl, gently reared; to make her a strong character in her own right, able to take the huge step of making herself known to a strange gentleman, took some consideration and a little more deliberate construction of background and motivation. 


Christopher—Kit—needed a wife who was respectable enough to marry a Baron and be able to execute the responsibilities required of that position.  And she had to be resourceful, intelligent, and capable—as well as willing to take chances—because his life would depend on her intervention at a critical point.  So I put her in the position of being mistress of her father’s house, her mother having died when Zoe was younger; this allowed her to be comfortable with making decisions, at least routine ones.  Since her father was a doctor (again, to save Kit’s life) she was not unfamiliar with life-and-death crises.  She was also a girl living through the convulsions of a society tearing itself apart and attempting to re-form, in the literal sense.  I felt that the extraordinary times could provide enough of a push to make her take chances she never would have ordinarily. With death a possibility at any time, and the young men she’d known dead or vanished, she had motivation enough for her to reach out to Kit when he crossed her path.  A girl—or boy!—who doesn’t expect to live long enough to grow up is more likely to take a risk for even brief happiness.  And a hero(ine) has to have the courage to make a leap of faith.


Kit himself turned out to be the kind of young man who really needed a strong partner—he’s young, only 18, so he had time to grow up during the course of the story.  He was not, at its beginning, his own master.  His ill-fated trip to France was on his mother’s orders, and she’s a forceful character within her own domain. 


Constructing the dowager Baroness was interesting.  I didn’t want to make her just a caricature of the clueless upper-class lady, but for the sake of the plot she had to nag Kit into a trip to France that he really should not have attempted.  Why did she do that, if not on a silly feminine whim?  Well, she was concerned about maintaining her hospitality.  War with France would cut off supplies of wine and spirits, and she did not want to patronize smugglers if she could avoid it.  I thought this could be a legitimate concern for someone whose occupation in large part consisted of organizing social affairs.  Sheltered from politics as many women were, she could very well be ignorant of the danger she was sending her son into.  Her more irritating feature—her insistence that Kit marry and produce an heir as soon as possible—was also understandable given the social structure.  Protecting the succession, through her son, was also part of her job—and the only thing preventing her eviction from the place that had been her home since she married Kit’s (deceased) father.  


For a minor character, the Dowager required a lot of underpinning.  And with all those annoying traits, she had to have a redeeming one, so I made her marriage to her late husband a real love match—something that Kit was influenced by, something he wanted for himself.   That worked out well in the overall story arc, too—when Kit has found love with Zoe, it gives him the insight to recognize a similar connection between his cousin David and Will Marshall, and motivates him to give them a precious space of time together at his estate in the West Indies, in Winds.  This may be an unusual attitude for the era… but no individual can be totally defined by his (or her) society.  If a clergyman could bless gay couples—and there was one such known at the time—then why couldn’t Kit recognize that his favorite cousin had found love with an unconventional partner?


In my new novella “Gentleman’s Gentleman,” I’ve given my hero Lord Robert Scoville another managing mother—but though he loves her, he’s a younger son, he has no obligation to secure the succession, and he knows what a disaster it would be for him to marry.  “I can’t bear the idea of marrying a woman I dislike just to satisfy my family. And tying myself to an unsuspecting woman that I did like—like, not love—would make two people miserable.”  (His soon-to-be lover, Jack, is enormously relieved to hear this!)  But Robert does recognize that his mother is acting out of concern for his well-being, so he and Jack come up with a creative way to discourage her matchmaking.


In today’s terms, I suppose Lord Robert would be at the far end of the Kinsey scale—absolutely uninterested in women—whereas David Archer would probably be near the middle (his first attraction was to a woman) but slightly more attracted to men.  As for Will Marshall…  he’s smack in the middle. Will, I think, fell in love with Davy because no one had ever loved him before and he’d been in the company of men all his life.  He’d had a brief attachment to a girl, in his teens, but he never got up the nerve to do anything about it.  I’m not sure whether Will would’ve wound up as happily married as Captain Smith if things had not gone pear-shaped when he and Davy were kidnapped.  I think both the Ransom boys are functionally bisexual but basically monogamous—content with a single relationship.  (Again, that’s my own perspective seeping into my characters—if my wife had been male, we’d have kids in college by now.)  Of course, Will’s going to have his ideas of monogamy challenged in the next couple of books… with both sexes.  Poor baby.  He never met a woman as sweet and smart and interesting as Davy is – not yet.  But that’s another story.


So to get back on topic and finish up, the most significant thing I’ve found about writing women in a m/m universe is that it just takes a little more time and attention.  I think any woman can identify with that—any woman who’s ever tried to get a degree in a “man’s” field, land a job in an occupation that is generally considered a man’s domain—in fact, to accomplish anything and be taken seriously in a world, past or present, where men are expected to look for action and adventure and the ladies are expected to be the trophy for the alpha male.  Writing complete, believable women in gay romance is more or less dancing like Ginger Rogers, who did everything Fred Astaire did, but backwards – and in high heels.   It may not be easy, but it’s definitely worth the effort.


Ann Herendeen


Alex Beecroft’s last post, on Romance vs. Research, leads neatly into this topic. From discussing historical factual research, such as shoe buckles and weevils in ships biscuit, she progresses to something intangible and hard to define: the question of people’s beliefs, outlooks and attitudes in the past—their psychology. Beecroft rightly points out that we don’t want to create fictional characters who are merely modern people in costume, that we need to give our historical characters appropriate ways of thinking for their time. But I wonder how much we can know of people’s inner lives in the past, or whether we can know at all.

During most of the recent past, few people wrote memoirs as we define the term, or were deeply introspective on paper. And chances were, if they did leave anything revealing behind, a relative or friend had the presence of mind to destroy it. Even if nothing scandalous was recorded, it was nobody’s business. Privacy was all-important; self-knowledge merely vanity.

As writers, we have to extrapolate from the facts, which often means choosing between two diverging paths of interpretation. We know that in most previous centuries the level of infant and child mortality was high. But what did this mean for people’s emotional lives? Did parents stoically accept the deaths of their children, perhaps even shrug off the losses as a common occurrence? Or did most parents live in a constant state of grief and mourning? An article in The New York Times comparing modern Americans’ health and vital statistics with those of their Civil War (1860s) ancestors, brought out a remarkable finding: not only did most 19th-century people die in their 50s and 60s, but many relatively young people lived with painful undiagnosed or untreatable ailments. Rheumatism, arthritis, heart and lung disease, hernias and a host of unknown complaints—the sort of misery we wouldn’t put up with for five minutes—was the chronic condition for the majority of adults only a hundred and fifty years ago. But how did this affect their outlook on life? Did they consider their lives wretched? Or could they not imagine a different way of existence?

No, it’s not the facts that are missing; it’s the insight. Anybody trying to get a sense of how people thought in the past comes up against the almost complete lack of reflection. People confessed their misbehavior in diaries (like Samuel Pepys’) in meticulous, often coded detail, and wrote encyclopedic volumes of letters dissecting every social event, stray remark and shortcoming of friends, relatives and acquaintances over a long, verbose life. But too much concern with oneself was just…wrong. It was like cheating at cards or spitting in front of ladies. A gentleman (or a lady) didn’t do that. Most people of every class didn’t do that. It wouldn’t have occurred to them.

One of the oddest innovations of the modern world, the byproduct of our exposure to the disciplines of psychology and psychiatry, is our acceptance of constant, routine self-analysis. Not only do we ask probing questions of ourselves, but we discuss them endlessly with each other and keep journals and blogs for fear a waking moment should go by without our striving to understand ourselves better, and we keep dream diaries, searching for clues to what’s going on in our sleeping brains.

We are so accustomed to the idea of hashing over our every thought and emotion that we can’t imagine a time when people didn’t. People a mere two or three hundred years ago couldn’t be fundamentally different from us—could they? But it can be astonishing how “other” they can appear. When we read Samuel Pepys’ account, totally lacking in irony, of beating his boy servant—a child of perhaps ten—so hard and for so long that Pepys was only forced to stop because he hurt his own hand; when we see the 1742 portrait of the young Thomas, Baron Mansell, shotgun and dead partridge in one hand, his other hand holding his blind half sister’s, their fingers touching over the bird’s bloody wound, we know we’re dealing, on a psychological level, with some very different people, or at least people who haven’t spent hours on the analyst’s couch.

Once we get into the subject of gay historical fiction, the question becomes even more complicated. Sometimes it seems as if we can only speculate, and it’s not easy to know when we’re simply projecting out own outlook onto our characters. The facts are grim: capital crimes leading to threats of blackmail and arrests; suicides, emigration, hangings, the pillory and jail; lives ruined or led in fearful secrecy. Combine repressive laws with our instinctive feeling that people’s basic psychology hasn’t changed in the past two hundred years, and we can come up with some pretty depressing stories. Most of us, and certainly a comic novelist like me, can’t work with characters who are so severely demoralized as to be incapable of romantic feelings or heroic acts, or lack the self-confidence to be witty, sexy and brave on occasion. But can we justify any other way of being—and thinking—for our historical characters?

Many people I speak to about my work wonder aloud whether gay people existed in the past at all. The idea that there were not only self-identified “sodomites” or “mollies,” but that they had a vibrant, thriving subculture usually comes as a big surprise. If we set our story in 1700 or later, we can be true to the period while allowing our heroes, at least those who lived in a large city, to recognize their same-sex feelings for what they are and to identify, in a very modern sense, with a community, not just an individual relationship or sexual act. Once we establish that there was a gay identity similar to the modern one, many readers might logically assume that “gay” men of 1790 thought about their “sexual orientation” in the same way as gay men of 1990 did. But the world of 1790 was not much like the world of 1990—or 2008—and I’m not convinced the inhabitants of that world looked at it the same way we look at ours.

Alan Bray, in Homosexuality in Renaissance England, writes of a time, before the late seventeenth century, when the urge to have sex with one’s own kind was seen as natural to men. Men are superior to women; it is only to be expected a man will prefer another man. But “natural” didn’t equate with “right.” The urge was sinful, and must be suppressed. This attitude continued to find adherents well into the eighteenth century. Rictor Norton quotes a letter-writer to the newspaper who complains that if sodomy were not strongly punished, all men would choose it over marriage to women and the human species would go extinct. So, if we’re writing of a gay man in 1600 or even 1650, we might decide that he saw himself as having a strong natural, if sinful, urge that he must conceal, but was not really different from other men.

By 1700, Bray writes, “what had once been thought of as a potential in all sinful human nature had become the particular vice of a certain kind of people, with their own distinctive way of life.” This was the molly subculture so thoroughly documented by Norton. There’s a much more modern feel to this world, and it seems logical that our gay characters might have shared some of our own existential or at least psychological worries when faced with brutal, repressive laws that criminalized their natural sexual expression. Did they hate themselves? Deny their sexuality? Or did they swagger boldly through life defying the authorities, ending up on the gallows and shouting, “Kiss my arse,” before submitting to the hangman’s noose? Amusing as that last choice is, it’s highly improbable, difficult to justify for writers of realistic fiction. But it’s not immediately clear from what we see of the historical record that the first two are much better.

Reading of the men who committed suicide and those who felt the need to emigrate, it’s easy to conclude that they were the broken, demoralized people I rejected as desirable heroes for my writing. But is this the right way to see them? We know today that many suicides occur, not because a person wants to die or thinks he deserves to be dead: it’s simply that he can’t find another solution to his problem. Tragic as these stories are, they’re not proof that these men hated themselves. They were victims, but they defended themselves the only way they could.

And the emigrés—well, they were the ones with enough money to say “The law be damned” and live abroad on their own terms. William Beckford, who spent years in Portugal, kept scrapbooks of newspaper clippings about homosexual scandals, making sympathetic notes in the margins on the “poor sods.” James Ogilvy, 7th Earl of Findlater, who spent most of his life in what are now Germany and Austria, was “outed” at his death in 1811 by his relatives, not for reasons of morality but for his estates worth 40,000 pounds a year, which he had left to his lover. These are the men saying, “Kiss my arse,” as they board the boat and watch the White Cliffs of Dover fade in the distance.

What about the majority of men, the ones not wealthy enough to live abroad? Surely these men were timid, cautious, even depressed or downright miserable a lot of the time. This is where I think we as writers have to make an imaginative leap of faith. Yes, the laws criminalized some sex acts between men. Yes, a man could be hanged if convicted of committing “sodomy” (anal sex) with another man. Yes, even if penetration couldn’t be proved, he could be pilloried, fined and imprisoned—almost a death sentence for anyone frail, old or just unlucky—for “attempted sodomy.” He could be arrested for being in a molly house during a raid, or for walking in a known cruising spot and being accosted by a mugger who could then accuse his victim of being a sodomite. And yes, he could be investigated, blackmailed, informed on, his life ruined, just for living in his own house with his boyfriend, bothering nobody.

But…here’s the interesting part: we know this because men did do all these things. They went to molly houses and danced and drank and had sex with other men. They visited the streets and parks and public toilets frequented by men looking for casual sex. They bought men drinks in taverns and went upstairs with them to private rooms; they hooked up with soldiers and sailors; and they lived with their boyfriends and didn’t get married (to women). We know this because some of them were arrested and put on trial and we can read the records.

And when we read the testimony, very little of it sounds like intimidated, miserable suicidal losers. Some of these men were ignorant of the law, but most were, like most of us, just hoping that they won’t get the speeding ticket this time, that the employer won’t check to see if I really have that Ph.D. from Harvard, and that a tube of mascara in my bag won’t set off the alarm, and besides, the checkout line is so damn long and so slow, I shouldn’t have to pay for this overpriced junk anyway. Yes, the stakes were much higher for the mollies, but when we look at all the drunk-driving fatalities today we can see that risk-taking hasn’t disappeared from our psychology; it’s just moved into other arenas.

In most of the past, as now, people did what they had to or what they could, or, occasionally, if they were very fortunate indeed, what they wanted to. If it was illegal or dangerous or sinful, they made some sort of mental adjustment. Many obvious dangers (to us) like drinking unfiltered water without boiling it first, or being bitten by malaria-carrying mosquitoes, or going horseback riding without wearing a helmet were either unavoidable or not perceived as dangerous. Life was dangerous—and violent—in the past to a degree unimaginable to us. Even the concept of sin could be construed in various ways, like our modern, “It’s wrong in general but right for me.” Sex outside of marriage was a sin, but there were far more female brothels in any large city two and three hundred years ago than now.

Another factor to consider is how astonishingly (to us) naïve many people were about basic sexual acts. The eighteenth-century physician telling of his patient who contracted a sexually–transmitted disease from being fellated by another man—who did it by choice—has the same breathless, semi-apologetic tone as today’s gullible friend who passes on every e-mail urban legend and Internet scam. “Yes, I know it sounds incredible, but I heard it with my own ears.” The modern mind, sexually overexposed from early childhood, reels. But this was the emotional and sexual universe our characters inhabited. George MacDonald Fraser, author of the Flashman books, put an excellent example of this dissonance in the first novel, when the antihero narrator relates his future wife’s pleasurable loss of her virginity. “Was that what the minister means when he talks of fornication?” she asks afterward. Told that it is, she wonders, “Why has he such a down on it?”

Norton makes a compelling argument that the increasing number of raids and arrests as the eighteenth century progressed and into the nineteenth was due, not to a growing population of “mollies,” or more molly houses, but to the public’s greater awareness that homosexuality existed. The sixteenth century and most of the seventeenth saw very few prosecutions. Of course gay men existed before 1700; they simply had not yet developed a visible culture. As Bray tells us, after the Buggery Act (1533) was established during the Protestant Reformation (part of Henry VIII’s campaign to give the secular court prominence over the ecclesiastical court), the crime of “sodomy” came to be associated by lawmakers, and in the popular imagination, with witchcraft, treason and heresy. But on the individual level, who in his right mind would connect his loving friendships or simple lusts of the body with such demonic offenses? Throughout the next 150 years, as the gay subculture developed, I doubt many gay men lost much sleep over where they belonged in the witchcraft-treason-heresy-sodomy continuum.

When I set out to write this post, I was convinced that gay men of the Georgian era were freer psychologically before the mid-nineteenth century’s “medicalization” of homosexuality, in Norton’s phrase. Being a criminal or outlaw sounds less emotionally damaging than suffering from mental illness. A pirate or a highwayman can be glamorous, a popular hero; someone who’s sick is a patient at best, more likely a lunatic, or a bedlamite—or just pathetic. But as I reread Bray and Norton’s work, I changed my mind. Sodomites were never admired like highwayman; they were despised by the mob and treated worse than other offenders. Each era characterized the “problem” of homosexuality appropriately for its own way of viewing the world. As the dark, religion-dominated seventeenth century gave way to the Enlightenment, so sodomy moved from being a sin to “just” a crime. By the later nineteenth century, with the recognition of how natural homosexuality was in a biological sense, it seemed more humane to call it a disease, a condition beyond the sufferer’s control, rather than a sin or a crime, behavior that a sinner or criminal could change.

And so it is with gay “psychology” in the past. There can’t be one answer that fits all; neither diverging path of interpretation is always Right or always Wrong. Some parents mourned their dead children and sank into despair; others conceived more babies, and hoped. Some of the young sick people took on the persona of the “invalid;” others soldiered on uncomplaining. Some gay men internalized society’s views; many others accepted their sexual orientation as innate, perhaps even reveled in it. Norton cites examples throughout the eighteenth century and on into the twentieth of men who knew themselves to be gay and ignored the attempts by religious leaders, lawyers, judges, doctors and psychologists to “explain” what was as natural as breathing. As William Brown, arrested in 1726 and facing ruin, said at his trial, “I think there is no crime in making what use I please of my own body.”

Creating gay historical characters and writing queer historical romance gives us the perfect opportunity to do what novelists do, what writing fiction is all about: make stuff up. When I first set out to discover what the gay world of 1800 was like, I never in a million years expected to find that precursor of the late 1970s disco age I encountered in Rictor Norton’s work. Maybe his interpretation is slanted by his agenda of gay empowerment. Or maybe not. But I believed it. I hope, in my writing, to do a good enough job that I can make my readers suspend their disbelief, disregard the prejudices of the modern world, whatever they are, and convince them, for the length of the book, that this is how it was.



Alan Bray’s work, He published “Homosexuality in Renaissance” England back in 1982.


Rictor Norton’s website:


I also used his out-of-print “Mother Clap’s Molly House: The Gay Subculture in England 1700-1830.”. There’s a new edition out last year.

Another source I like is the glbtq encyclopedia:


The perils of a historical novelist, part two: Romance versus Research

Parker hanged

This struck me as a necessary follow on to my post about research (The perils of a historical novelist, part one). I’d like to think that we’re agreed that research is good; that it’s always preferable that an author pays attention to real history and doesn’t just make things up, and that real history is more interesting than fake history any time.

As writers of historical fiction, we don’t want our characters to be modern people playing dress up, let alone modern people playing dress up in badly made polyester capes and sneakers. No doubt there are readers with such powerful imaginations that they can conjure up a dazzling scene of elegance and glory from a selection of cliché characters wearing bad live-role-playing costumes but, alas, for the rest of us something more is needed. And that leads right back to the importance of researching both the big trends and the small details of your setting.

However, after you’ve done your research and accumulated these details, that, unfortunately, is not the end of it. Once your head is stuffed with facts and your computer is bristling with bookmarked sites about the correct boning of a corset and the height of that season’s shoes, and your bookshelves are groaning with scholarly tomes on social mores and miscellanea, that’s only where you start.

Can you ever have too much research?

The short answer to this is ‘yes and no.’ I’m not sure that you as an author can ever do too much research, but not all of your research needs to find its way into your book.

And he who strives the tempest to disarm
Will never first embrail the lee yardarm.

For example, you may have spent hours pouring over sailing instructions, figuring out exactly how your ailing, scurvy-wrecked crew would take in the sails in a storm. But now that you know, you also need to consider the enjoyment of your readers.

How many readers are likely to be engrossed in a storm scene—to feel the howling of the wind, the surging of the seas that sweep across the deck in unbroken sheets of freezing water, while the men cling with all their strength to the rigging and the sails whip-crack through the air—if your characters are spending pages and pages of dialogue in an argument over whether to take in the lee or weather clew first, or let go the tack and risk the sails blowing through the buntlines?*

You may want to get this information into the book because dammit, you did all this work! You can’t help feeling that it would be nice if everyone knew the kind of lengths to which you had gone to get your facts right. In the same vein you may be tempted to stop the action every so often to explain the history behind the Boxer Revolution, Harold Godwinson’s trouble with his brothers, the careful fashioning of the staves in the barrels used for the Gunpowder plot etc etc. But this is a temptation you have to rein in hard.

Heavy handedly shoehorning in your research, where it isn’t necessary for the story, is almost as bad as not doing the research in the first place. Firstly because you will bore the socks off your poor readers, and secondly because—paradoxically enough—drawing attention to your historical facts will actually make your book seem less authentic.

What? It’s sort of like homeopathy – the research isn’t there any more but you can still reap the benefits?

Well, in a way, yes. I know I’ve said ‘study everything; nothing is too small to be just the right detail to establish the background’, and that’s true. The art here is to introduce enough small details to convince your reader that you know loads, without randomly spraying around information which isn’t relevant to the story. We want enough history to firmly set the story and reader in a different time, without making the novel read like a textbook.

There are all kinds of tricks as to how to do this, but probably the easiest is to remember that none of these little details are unusual for your characters. Their surroundings are normal life to them. Explanations of things, drawing attention to things because they’re historically accurate, are actually going to give less of an impression of verisimilitude than merely treating them as unremarkable facts.

For example, rather than saying ‘when cut steel buckles were introduced in (whenever) they had proved very popular with officers who couldn’t afford silver,’ which is an awkward info-dump and tosses you straight out of your immersion in the story, just say ‘the cut steel buckle glittered as he hurled his shoe across the room.’ It doesn’t get in all the facts, but it adds just that tiny pinch of historical detail to keep the reader rooted in the era, and it does it without slowing up the action.

bread beetle

Weevils are a good example of this. I was watching both the Hornblower TV movies and the film of ‘Master and Commander’ over the past month, and their treatment of weevils (a kind of flour grub/beetle which regularly infested the bread aboard ship) seemed to me a very clear lesson in how to do it well, and how to do it very badly indeed.

The Hornblower series had Pellew sitting at his desk eating a piece of hard tack which was covered in white maggots. The camera zoomed in on the maggots and you saw him tapping them off onto the table while he and Hornblower grimaced in a sort of ‘ew, the things we have to put up with!’ way.

The equivalent scene in Master and Commander; everyone’s eating, chatting, Jack indicates a couple of weevils that have fallen out of the hard tack on Stephen’s plate and sets him up so that Jack can make a joke about ‘the lesser of two weevils.’ Stephen rolls his eyes at Jack’s attempt at witticism and everyone laughs.

The Hornblower one is bad because Pellew and Hornblower have grown up in the Navy. It’s out of character and out of period for either of them to even notice the weevils unless the biscuit is so infested that it’s fallen to dust. This ‘OMG! Disgusting creepy crawlies on the food! Ew! That’s horrible!’ scene is entirely set up for the modern viewer, not for the benefit of the characters themselves. It’s the movie equivalent of an author writing ‘because of the poor methods of preservation in the 18th Century, even the dried bread on board ship was attacked by a variety of pests such as weevils and bargemen. My hero, because he is really far more sensitive and advanced than anyone else in his century, thought that this was disgusting.’

(It’s also bad because those are obviously bargemen, not weevils – but that’s another story: http://www.hms.org.uk/nelsonsnavymaggot.htm )

The Master and Commander one is good because it achieves the same thing – informs the watcher that ships biscuit often came with added weevils – but it does so without fanfares. It does so without a neon sign going ‘oh, look, fascinating historical fact here!’ It gets the information across without making the characters act out of character. Not one of them, for example, is surprised or disgusted to find a weevil on the plate. That in itself is a glimpse into a different world, a different attitude than our own.

But it also combines this with a bit of deft characterization of Jack as a man who is overwhelmed with joy at his own cleverness in being able to make a rather simple joke. And it does this inside a scene which is also making a point about conviviality, the irrepressibility of the human spirit, the tendency of the navy to be drunk in charge of large warships and the fact that this would be a life it would be possible for a person to live and love not merely to endure.

One rather lengthy diversion later, and I try to sum up by saying that part of writing historicals is maintaining that balance whereby you can manage to tell the modern reader what they need to know without info-dumping or violating the characterization or historical integrity of your characters. If your research is visible, calling attention to itself, it’s probably doing more harm than good.

In this way we can also solve the perennial problem of ‘oh, but they must have had terrible hygiene/smelled/been infested with parasites etc. Do I say so, or do I pretend otherwise?’

In fact there is no need to talk about whether your characters smell or not, because everyone would have smelled. It would have been normal for them and they would not, therefore, have even noticed it. A man who washed every week, changed his shirt every day and wore pomade and cologne would have been, by the standards of his day, a paragon of cleanliness. It’s more authentic, then, to treat him as such.

Just as most people nowadays don’t notice their bed-mites until they cause a problem, why would your historical characters need to notice their parasites unless they caused a problem? By all means if you’re going to have an outbreak of the Black Death in chapter 9, mention the troublesomeness of the characters’ fleas in chapter 3, but otherwise, if they’re not pertinent to the plot, your characters are probably not going to be noticing them. You can put them in if you want, or leave them out if you want, depending on what you are trying to achieve.

I personally like to include a bit of filth where it’s appropriate – walk on parts for people with visible syphilis, people who have lost limbs, people who have lost teeth to scurvy or bad dentistry, etc – because it is part of the flavor of my setting. I like the great big, lively, unwashed, squalid sprawl of Hogarth’s gin lane, through which gentlemen in lace and peacock silk hurry with one hand on their sword hilt and the other on their purse. But if you really can’t bear the thought of a hero who doesn’t wash every day, you can always either make his mania for cleanliness a character trait, or set your story in a setting where they were big on bathing – like the Romans.

What if it’s not just washing, though? What if it’s something worse?

To me, the cleanliness problem seems quite a minor example of a more far reaching problem caused by trying to be realistic in your romance. It isn’t only in matters of washing that the past sometimes causes a modern reader to go ‘oh, that’s just wrong!’ Sometimes it’s a more moral issue.

Suppose we’re writing a book set in the Viking age, in which a Viking warrior falls in love with the Irish warrior he captured in a raid on the town that will at some point in the future become Dublin. It sounds great, until research indicates that the standard Viking tactic for dealing with defeated warriors was to rape them in order to humiliate them and break their spirit. Do we allow our hero to be authentic – and a rapist – which, in my opinion, and I believe that of many modern readers, is not a good start for a happy ever after? Or do we somehow fudge the issue?

And once we have fudged that issue, how do we deal with the problem that the Vikings (like the Ancient Greeks and Romans) considered it shameful to be the bottom in a m/m relationship? It’s probably not a problem if you’re writing yaoi or d/s, but if you’re attempting to show a reciprocal relationship of equals then I’m sorry, sir, but he really won’t respect you in the morning.

What about slavery? I’m sure that in the 18th Century there were people who honestly and sincerely believed that slavery was ordained by God, as a method of civilizing savages, saving them from damnation and introducing them to the possibility of education. Allowing them to better themselves. Why it was practically an act of generosity!

But will any modern reader be able to accept a hero who believes such a thing?

As a writer there is a big temptation to say ‘well, I’m going to go with what was historically realistic at the time.’ After all, you’ve done the research and you understand how all these attitudes looked to the people of the time. And you care about being authentic. It’s important to your professional pride.

However, I do personally think that this is another place where a balancing act is required. Ignoring the historical attitude and making everyone behave like moderns in frock coats results in plastic history and a story that is just not believable. But lobbing in the historical attitude wholesale results in a story where everyone hates your hero and wants him to die. Neither of these are good things ;)

For example, in Captain’s Surrender, when Peter was finally forced into a position where he couldn’t avoid thinking about what he and Josh were up to, his reaction was to seriously consider turning his lover in to be hanged. He hadn’t had time to think through the implications – he went with the reaction society had instilled in him. And this example of him being a morally upstanding citizen (by the standards of his time) rightly made many people dislike him. Equally, Adam Robinson’s refusal to allow Emily to support them both with her money made him seem – to a modern reader – pig headed, chauvinistic, stupid, whereas at the time it would have been proof of his good character and honorable intentions.

This is where you have to perform a delicate high wire act of getting enough of the historical attitude in to make your characters realistic by the standard of the times, but not so much that your modern readers will hate them.

Fortunately there are at least two good workarounds for this problem.

1. Make your character peculiar by the standards of the time. Patrick O’Brian’s Stephen Maturin is a good example of this. He’s a natural philosopher, and he has the most outrageously liberal opinions about just about everything. He can get away with this without appearing to be blatantly anachronistic, because the other characters make it quite clear that they are merely humoring the Doctor’s peculiar little ways. They like him, and they consider him a harmless weirdo.

Without the support system of all the other characters making it plain that Maturin’s attitudes are odd, (not to mention the places where he really is odd by anyone’s standards) he would come across as anachronistic. As it is, he comes across as charmingly eccentric and believable.

The disadvantage of this method is that you can’t use it for more than one or (at a pinch) two characters without undermining the believability of your whole world.

2. Make your character think through the issue. You want your Viking warrior to decide against raping his captive? Give him a father who was killed in his sleep by a vengeful slave-girl, years after he thought all the resistance was kicked out of her. Help him to connect the dots. It may be that getting him to the point where he realizes that he can’t force his captive to love him takes up half of the plot. That’s great! It means you’ve got a plot that arises out of an authentic historic situation and character. And then you can tackle the whole ‘well I’m not going on the bottom’ thing for the second half!

Both 1 and 2 are very plot and characterization intensive. But that’s OK because the issue of the characters’ historical attitudes is not one you can sweep under the carpet without sweeping away much of your realism as well.

So there you go. In the Realism v Romance stakes, my position is that you need to thoroughly know what would be realistic. You need to have done the research and faced the occasional place where history is just plain nasty. And then you have to somehow take that history and make it entertaining and romantic. There are things you can fudge, things you can overlook because the characters themselves would not notice them, and things you have to work through to come to a compromise which will appeal to your historical purist and your romantic softie equally. But that’s half the fun of the thing!


*(Example frivolously borrowed from Falconer’s poem ‘The Shipwreck’ via ‘Seamanship in the Age of Sail’ by John Harland.)

More from Alex on her website

Lace and Blade is accepting submissions for its second anthology of “elegant, sensual, romantic fantasy, emphasizing sharp verbal repartee as much as sharp pointed weapons, rapier rather than broadsword.

Editor Deborah J. Ross is interested in “characters – both men and women – with vibrant personalities, complex, dashing, and very sexy. I’m particularly interested in stories that have magic and action, but
in which conflict is resolved not by violence but by insight, creativity, and compassion. I’d love to see “win-win” endings, sense-of-wonder, plot twists and turnabout.

Alternate sexuality is welcome; eroticism a definite plus; exotic, non-Western European settings also encouraged. Please read the first volume to see what I’m looking for.” The deadline for submissions is
August 1, 2008. There are no minimum or maximum lengths, though Ross says longer stories must be “extraordinary.” Ross will pay a 2 cents a word advance against royalties. The book will be released Valentine’s Day, 2009. Complete guidelines are available at http://www.norilana.com/norilana-lb-guidelines.htm

Macaronis say: No reason why the fantasy can’t have its feet in history! (and Erastes would like to drool as the slashiness of The Duellist picture below)

Mots people would recognise Brighton as being possibly the gay capital of England. (And like Provincetown, MA,  it combines this with being a family friendly resort.) 

The Brighton Museum has an exhibition on until August 31st called ‘On the Pull’ has a number of references to the town’s development as a place where gay people felt at home.

If you’re in the area, I’d recommend a visit - the museum is entirely free to enter and has a number of excellent permanent and changing displays.



I’ve managed to get my mitts on a the most wonderful academic essay – “Prosecution for Sodomy at the beginning of the 19th Century” by D Harvey from The Historical Journal Vol 21 No 4 Dec 1978- pp 939-948 and it’s not only wonderful enlightening reading, but it also shores up a lot of the research I did when writing Standish and other regencies.

The trouble is, that I did the research for Standish so long ago, that I used the facts I knew, absorbed most of it like a sponge, weaved it into the book and then promptly forgot about the research. Not the facts, so much, but where I’d got them all from individually. I should have, I realise now, have cited them all in the back, so at least I looked like someone who had actually worked their socks off on the period, rather than some moron who made it up as they went along!! But, lesson learned, and I’ll certainly not make that mistake again. I did acknowledge Etymology Online and Rictor Norton both of whom I spoke to via email and both of whom couldn’t have been more helpful.

Anyway, this article: I’m going to mention some of the salient points, not bang my way through the article because I’m sure some of you will be as interested in the period as I am, and might find the facts surprising. Direct quotes are in italics

It was the case that in the first third of the nineteenth century, trials and executions for sodomy were much commoner than they had been in any earlier period

That is to say that fifty men were executed within that time, and trials, punishments and executions were more common than at any earlier period.

This reached a peak in 1806 when more men were executed for Sodomy (6) than for murder (5). Not huge amounts but rather telling when compared with the murder figures.

HOWEVER – these figures don’t take into account the Naval Courts Martial which of course dealt with these matters themselves and produced a steady flow of cases similar to that in the civilian courts. An average of two or three were sentenced to death for sodomy each year.

The article also goes to state (thank you article!!) that it wasn’t just the hoi-polloi and the rabble who were subject to the full force of the law, the aristocracy and wealthy were just as vulnerable.

It was a naval captain, Henry Allen, convicted of sodomy and hanged on board the Adventure on 15 May 1797 who had the unfortunate distinction of being the most socially prominent victim of his society’s intolerance in this period.

The most notable civilian to be hanged for sodomy in these years seems to have been Isaac Hitchen, one of a homosexual coterie at Warrington which was prosecuted in 1806; he was said to be one of the richest men in Warrington , worth £60,000.

There were also rumour concerning even more distinguished personages such as the earl of Leicester, afterwards Marquess Townshend, and King George III’s unpopular 5 th son, HRH field marshal the duke of Cumberland, afterwards king of Hanover. One of the most notorious scandals of the time was that involving the fabulously wealthy William Beckford, M.P. for Wells, and the Hon William Courtnay, afterward Viscount Courtenay and earl of Devon in 1784. Both Beckford and Courtenay spent the following TWENTY FIVE YEARS virtually ostracized by society and in 1811 Courtenay was forced to flee from his ancestral home at Powderham Castle and go into exile to avoid prosecution for sodomy. The nearest a member of the aristocracy came to indictment for homosexuality in this period was in 1822 when the bishop of Clogher, the Hon Percy Jocelyn son of the first earl of Roden, was caught buggering a Guardsman in a public house and escaped trial by jumping bail and fleeing to Scotland.


So Rafe was lucky, really. I was not hard ENOUGH on him in a true historical context – particularly as he was not entirely English and NOT a member of the aristocracy.. But I imagined that he’d stay in Wiltshire afterwards. Perhaps. .

This single article might not show that men were in danger in their own houses, and I don’t think they were – not in the way that the police (such as there was) would break in to arrest them as they did do after the Labourchere Amendment – but they were very much in danger if they went into other “private” establishments to have sex.

The laws against buggery and sodomy have nearly always been known as “The Blackmailers’ Charter” (see the wonderful film “Victim” for that, filmed before sodomy was legalised) and this was no different here. A lot of prosecutions (as in Ambrose’s case) were begun with letters. Many men would succumb to blackmail rather than face their chances in court, for obvious reasons – a lack of social standing – being excommunicated from society must have been almost as terrifying as the risk of prison or death.

The article goes on to try and explain why there was so much more legal and punitive activity at this particular time and says that it is unlikely that increase of prosecution was merely an index of the increased frequency of homosexual acts. – After all, it’s not as if homosexuality was fashionable, like cuff frills.

The essayist purports that it wasn’t a case of more men being homosexual, but more that it was a case of urbanization, where they concentrated together and were able to form a sub-culture for the first time. And such a “large” proportion of homosexuals in a city (there were 20 houses of male resort in London, compared with 80 years later when there was only four) was more likely to draw attention to the authorities (and the people who would denounce them) than two men living quietly together in more remote areas.

Public opinion was violently against homosexuals at this time and the subject was an extraordinarily emotive one.

In the 1780s, when 15 Exeter homosexuals, ‘most of whom were men of rank and local situation’, were tried and acquitted, they were burnt in effigy by the mob, and in 1810 when 30 homosexuals were arrested in a raid on the White Swan, Vere St, London, those discharged for want of evidence were so roughly handled by the crowd as to be in danger of their lives.

The hardening of sexual stereotypes also, sexual slander became rife at this time, sexual knowledge become more widespread – more people were learning about such “Unnatural acts” which then led to sexual intolerance.

“Damn the fellow! Now I think of it, I never remember his having a girl at college!” remarked an acquaintance of a man who had brought a charge of malicious prosecution against a solider who had accused him of attempting an unnatural act.

There were other reasons, too, all of which helped – The Evangelical Revival probably helped spread the intolerance, the overhaul of the whole system of law enforcement, public pressure (letters to the papers, etc) which all helped to bring the “problem” to the public eye, calls were made to “do something about it.”

All of which goes a long way to explain why – instead of being more tolerant in the early 1800′s, things were actually a lot lot worse.

Never mind boys! It will soon be the Victorian Age..

*rolls eyes*

Why research?

I could wish that it wasn’t necessary to ask this question; that all historical novelists naturally came with an inbuilt desire to learn all about their setting before they tried to publish a book about it. However, experience of reading historical romance proves that there are some writers who think that—for example—if they want to write about Highlanders all they have to do is watch Braveheart a couple of times.

I choked on my tea one day on reading the blurb for a book the hero of which was a handsome Scottish Highlander by the name of Seamus O’Hennessy. Possibly there was a reason for the fact that he had such a very Irish name, but the blurb did not hint at it, so I felt free to point and laugh. Seriously, that’s bad! Getting the nationality of the hero’s name wrong means that almost any reader will know, just from the blurb, that the author knows nothing about what they’re writing about, and the book is not worth reading.

There is one reason to research right there. It may be that you have a scorching tale to tell; your characters are fascinating and your plot is breathtaking. But if you get your historical facts wrong there are readers who will throw your book across the room nevertheless. Then they will ridicule it to their friends. There are readers who will pick it up in the bookshop and mock it aloud. You can guarantee that every review you get will pick up at least one mistake and shake its metaphorical head with disappointment over it.

Or to put it in a more positive way, if you do research and get things right you will garner critical acclaim. The Powers that Be will gush over your details and praise you for your erudition, and you can justifiably feel proud.

A second – and IMO better reason – is that research is (a) interesting and (b) a fantastic source of ideas.

If you’re not finding a historical period interesting – if you’re not going ‘ooh, that’s cool!’ or ‘oh, fantastic, they made false teeth out of wood!’ or ‘hee! ‘jonquil’, what a great word, I wonder what colour it is?’ – you may be better off not writing in that setting at all. It’s hard enough writing a book when you enjoy the world it’s set in. It must be purgatory writing in one you don’t.

If you’re enjoying yourself with your research, looking up more stuff than you actually need to just soak in the culture of the age, you may find inspiration hits you from the most unexpected places. Need to get Edward to Bath in time for his worthless beau to dump him in favour of a rich widow, but can’t think of a believable excuse he can tell his guardian? While you’re idly reading up on 18th Century Opera it may come to you in a flash that Edward is a big fanboy of the castrato Farinelli, and that him asking to go to Bath to see his musical idol would seem perfectly innocent. And now you also know that Edward is musical. And you can wring some extra angst out of him being dumped in front of his hero.

If I was asked that perennial question; ‘where do you get your ideas’? ‘Historical research’ would come close to the top. Researching Native American tribes for ‘Captain’s Surrender’, for example, made me aware of the massive complexity of the situation in 18th Century America. I wasn’t able to get any of it into ‘Captain’s Surrender’, but boy do I now know that there’s a fascinating setting there that I would love to explore for a future book.

When should you research?

Because research gives me inspiration I prefer to do a lot of it before I even start a book. If I don’t know what the inside of a Roman house looks like, or whether they eat breakfast in the morning or how many hills Rome is built on, I don’t feel equipped to start. I like to soak up enough for a broad brush picture before I set pen to paper. Often at this stage I will discover things which are too cool to be left out, and figuring out a way to get them into the book will influence the development of the plot.

I do know people who start writing and research as they go along, stopping to check that everything is correct as they proceed. This probably cuts down on the amount of irrelevant stuff you have to read and makes the writing process faster.

But I don’t recommend writing the book first and researching afterwards! While this approach would certainly cut down the amount of research you need to do, it will inevitably lead to big re-writes when you realize that nope, plot points x, y and z couldn’t have happened like that, characters a and b are unbelievable, and settings i-xii all have to be thrown out.

Where should you research?

Places you can go to find out more about your era of choice:

1. The Internet.

A Google search will usually turn up something of use. Sometimes it may even be exactly what you were looking for.

Advantage – it’s quick and easy.

Disadvantage – except when it isn’t.

There is a lot of information out there on the internet, but not all of it is accurate, sometimes it’s downright wrong. Sometimes it’s misguiding – without being wrong itself, it leads you to a wrong conclusion. If you need something specific, like the date when something was first invented or built, check it in at least three places before you start to believe in it.

If you’re looking for more general information, then scrutinize the facts carefully – don’t be tempted to use the cool thing you’ve just discovered until you’ve checked that it was actually known in your time, in your area of the world, and by more than the one person who invented it. Just because a thing was technically available doesn’t necessarily mean that it was actually used. (For example, 18th Century doctors could have used laudanum to anaesthetise their patients during operations, but they didn’t use it because they thought it was better that the patient be awake.)

Sometimes it’s also frustratingly impossible to find something specific on the internet – you’ll get hundreds of sites telling you hundreds of versions of the same thing, and never actually the thing you want. This is often the case when looking up information about facts specific to gay or lesbian subcultures, because sex as a whole is an area of embarrassment to the essay writing segment of the internet. If you try looking up ‘the gay subculture in medieval England’ the chances are that you’ll get porn – and it won’t even be medieval porn.

2. Google Image Search

Advantage – they say a picture is worth a thousand words, and I find that’s often true, particularly for describing scenery or costume. Image search also often turns up more interesting articles than just searching on text.

Disadvantage – all the same disadvantages as plain Google search; make sure your image is of what you think it is!

3. Books

Advantage – generally what goes into history books has been checked for factual accuracy by at least a couple of people. (Don’t believe anything that doesn’t cite its sources.)

Books are also short on the ‘white noise’ factor which you find on the internet. The information they contain tends to be more condensed, more in depth, and more relevant to your needs as a historical writer than an internet article. Obviously there are exceptions, but this is what I find in general.

If you have other history mad friends it’s always a good idea to compare the books you’ve got on hand and see if you can lend or borrow anything.

Disadvantage – books are not cheap. They may not be available from your local library, or if they are, you may have to wait months for them to arrive. And of course they still may not contain the answer to that question you’re trying to get answered. There may not even be a book in print that deals with the specific thing you are interested in.

4. Contemporary Sources

Pictures, books, plays, poetry, paintings, artefacts, even film from the era in question.

Advantage – nothing can more accurately give you an insight into the mindset of the people than reading a book, play or poetry written at the time. Want to know the kind of thing an educated Roman might have thought during Augustus’ time – read Horace or Virgil. Want to know whether your 18th Century hero can get away with an assignation at an inn – read Fielding’s Tom Jones. You cannot get more authentic than that.

I would say that it’s essential to at least look up the pictures, paintings, chairs, furniture, dress styles, tableware and general paraphernalia of living for whatever era you’re writing in. Visit the stately homes and the museums, look at the flea traps and the tassels on the swords. Nothing is too small or obscure to ignore because any of it might be useful for just adding that touch that convinces your reader they’re in a different time.

Disadvantage – this may take some effort and time. Possibly expense too. But if you love the period enough to want to write in it, it will also be good fun.

5. Find an expert

Many of the larger public libraries in the US have people who will do searches on request–some of them are very helpful.

If you have a museum or university near you (or even somewhere you can look up on the internet) it may be worth emailing and seeing if there is a postgrad student or friendly professor who would be willing to answer questions for a mention in the dedication and a free book.

Other places to look

Writer’s groups – someone may have already looked this up for their book.

Local History Groups

Churches/church wardens/college secretaries (for details on Oxfordcolleges for example)

Local Libraries (ie local to the place you need)

Historic houses

Tourist information offices

Your friends-list – someone may have already looked it up, know where to look, or have local knowledge.

Yahoo groups – somewhere out there is probably a group of enthusiasts already discussing the problem. Need to know whether the Great Western Railway carried a post van? – ask a group of trainspotters.

Re-enactors – these are people who live and breathe the period they re-enact. They will often know more about the nitty-gritty of day to day life in that period than anyone in a museum, and they can give you hands on experience of what a musket/corset/hangarok/longbow etc felt like to use or wear. Chances are there is a group somewhere out there re-enacting your period of interest. You can start by looking up your local SCA on the internet, or if you’re in the UK by going to a re-enactor’s market: http://www.reenactorsmarket.co.uk/

Again, the only real disadvantage to all of this is that it takes time and effort.

6. Ask the Macaronis,

We’re not guaranteeing we’ll know, but we can always just have a good grumble together. But check on this list first, because there are an awful lot of useful sites available here: http://erastes.com/historical-research-links/

To conclude: Research is your friend, and sometimes it’s also a wonderful form of cheap entertainment, and inspiration. Good luck!


Thanks to Erastes for the wonderful resource list, and to all the Macaronis for the suggestions on how and where to research, which I’ve incorporated above.

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