February 2011

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

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

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

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

From Syd McGinley

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


Two links from Erastes:

from lgbtukmonth


hidden life of gay victorians


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



and some vintage cross dressers:

from the Bilerico project, a young male impersonator


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


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

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


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


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


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


Some evocative photos of London during WW2


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


And now for something completely different – some writing resources!

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



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

Fret not, but check out



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


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

Marbodus (ca. 1035 – 11 September 1123) was archdeacon and schoolmaster at Angers, France, then Bishop of Rennes in Brittany. He was a respected poet, hagiographer, and hymnologist.

I have to smile wryly at the last instruction in the last two lines. But then if the young lover had kept these to himself, we’d never had seen them.

Horace composed an ode about a certain boy
Who could easily enough have been a pretty girl.
Over his ivory neck flowed hair
Brighter than yellow gold, the kind I have always loved.
His forehead was white as snow, his luminous eyes black as pitch
His unfledged cheeks full of pleasing sweetness
When they gleamed bright white and red.
His now was straight, lips blazing, teeth lovely,
Chin shaped after a perfectly proportioned model.
Anyone wondering about the body which lay hidden under his clothes
Would be gratified, for the boy’s body matched his face.
The sight of his face, radiant and full of beauty,
Kindled the observer’s heart with the torch of love.
But this boy – so beautiful, so extraordinary,
An enticement to anyone catching sight of him –
Nature had molded wild and stern:
He would sooner die than consent to love.
Rough and thankless, like a tiger cub,
He only laughed at the gentlest words of a suitor,
Laughed at a sighing lover’s tears,
He mocked those he himself caused to die.
Wicked indeed, this one, and as cruel as wicked,
Who with this vice in his character keeps his body from being his glory.
A handsome face demands a good mind, and a yielding one,
Not puffed up but ready for anything.
The little flower of youth is fleeting and too brief;
It soon witherws, falls, and knows not how to revive.
This flesh is now so smooth, so milky, so unblemished,
So good, so handsome, so slipper, so tender.
Yet the time will come when it will become ugly and rough,
When this flesh, dear boyish flesh, will become worthless.
Therefore, while you flower, take up riper practices.
While you are in demand and able, be not slow to yield to an eager lover.
For this you will be prized, not made lsss of.
These words of my reques, most beloved,
Are sent to you alone; do not show them to many others.

From Pieter in the North to Sebastian in the South (from Cane and Conflict)

14 February 1861

I’m lying here in bed, not ‘my’ bed because that is wherever you are and we are many hundreds of miles apart. I know it was my choice to leave as I can’t fight for the South if war does come, but that necessity doesn’t make me miss you any less or my wish any greater that we were lying in each others’ arms.

It’s only by chance that I discovered today is Valentine’s Day, but it matters not; I love you with my whole heart each and every minute of each and every day.

I will come home as soon as it may be possible; months – years, I will come, I swear. I pray you will still want me when that day finally dawns. Know I will always love you, always.


Richard to Julian (from Smoke Screen)

14th February 1802

You were restless last evening and you got up and went to the balcony. You thought I was asleep but I missed your warmth almost immediately. I lay there and watched you, entranced as the moon slipped from behind a cloud and bathed you in its light. You’re always beautiful to me but in that moment you were ethereal and I had the insane idea that perhaps you weren’t of this world, that you were but a dream that visited me when I needed to know that love was real.

Then this morning I awoke to find you in my embrace, your arms wrapped around me. Then you opened your eyes, smiled at me, and whispered, “Happy Valentine’s Day, my love.”

If you are but a dream then I am happy to forever share it with you.

I love you.



"..through rain and snow you stand alone by the water's edge..."

Seeing Poems Written by Yuan at the Blue Bridge Inn

On your return last spring
you stayed in the Blue Bridge Inn;
wen the wind sweeps down
from the Qinling Mountains, I head
the other way; each time I
come to an inn I dismount first
eagerly looing on the walls to see
If you have hung any poems there.

In Rewi Alley’s book, “Bai Juyi-200 Collected Poems,” there’s this intriguing note:

“Durng the early part of his official career, Bai made close friends with Yuan Zhen, young scholar and poet also in his twenties… the two poets’ relationship was most intimate.  Their friendship was famous in literary history, and it was said taht whenever the two went out riding together, crowds gathered to watch them pass…”
and yet.. many of their poems vanished, and
“whereas it had been the custom for outstanding poets to be granted a posthumous title, this hoour was denied Bai by the emperor.”
Alley believes this was because the poet wrote verses criticizing the government, and that might be true.  But I wonder.


Sending Summer Clothes to Weizhi(one of Yuan’s courtesy names)

Upper garment white in colour
woven fine as mist
cotton cloth for trousers
thin as a cloud; don’t think that
these are too light; please
wear them, for I fear you
will suffer from the heat at Tongzhou.

The two poets planned to live together as Taoist recluses after they retired.   Yuan Zhen died before this could happen.  Juyi wrote dirges and songs for the funeral.

Night deep–the memorial draft finished;
Mist and moon intense piercing cold.
About to lie down, I warm the last remnant of the wine;
we face before the lamp and drink.
Drawing up the gren silk coverlets,
Placing our pillows side by side;
Like spending more than a hundred nights,
To sleep together with you here.

From David – to Jonathan (characters from Transgressions)

Oxford, 1652

Disguised, his true form, home of subtle planes,
When draped in cloth, chameleon when dressed.
But bare his skin and verity remains,
True beauty glows when all his shields divest.
This skin, which sallow-shudders to my touch,
Throat’s hollow siren, calls my mouth to kiss,
Lips, hands, those guardians of much,
Cannot prevent the press of mine to his.
If I could give him these adoring eyes
So he could see the glory that I see;
Pride would battle shyness and he would
Believe the golden prize he is to me.
My Jonathan, your blackest scowl is mine.
Forget thy past, and be my Valentine

I think I may have posted this before, but some people may not have seen it, and its slightly amended to suit the sender.

Alvisi to Rafe (characters from Standish)

Thou ‘minds me, love, of nothing more than autumn;
a grey November dull with sullen mists.
That vacuum secret month, when senses grow numb,
but yet this taboo spark for thee exists.
When in thy presence something o’ertakes me,
an acid etchéd line ‘twixt want and hate;
compulsion both to hold thee and to kiss thee,
or strike thee down and take thee to my mate.
Greater men than thee have made me harden,
other lips than thine have touched this skin,
so why should I attempt to seek thy pardon,
when other lips fulfil what you begin?
So sneer sweet Rafe, and on with this vendetta,
It only serves to make me want thee better.

By permission of Alex Broughton, whose works these are.

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

AK,  Sandy Bay, Gibraltar, 1797

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

 AK,  Sandy Bay, Gibraltar, 1797

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

AK, Indefatigable  st sea, off the Biscay coast.

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

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

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

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

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



Love letters from Orlando to Jonty

1911 style

My dearest Jonty

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

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

Your very own


1961 style


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

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

Lots of love


2011 style

A record of an MSN conversation between:




Jonty eat Tempest, drink Hamlet, live the sonnets


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

Hi 🙂

Orlando says:

Hello; are you well?

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

Fine. How R U?

Orlando says:

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

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

🙂   Go OK?

Orlando says:

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

Orlando says:

Sorry – I forgot about the limit on characters.

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

U always do. Missing U.  🙂  ♥ U.

Orlando says:

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

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

Yep. I like them.

Orlando says:

      They give me a migraine.

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

      Aw. Shan’t use any more emoticons.  😦

Orlando says:

      Thank goodness for that. LOL

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

      you used an abbreviation! *dances around the room*

Orlando says:

      ‘You’ needs a capital. I miss you.

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

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

Orlando says:

      You too. XXX 

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

By T.J Pennington

As a professional freelance editor, I’ve learned to dread the appearance of certain things in manuscripts. Colons and semi-colons, for example, seem to confuse almost everyone. Misspellings are headaches in and of themselves, given that the rules for spelling in English differ depending on what country the writer is in—and what’s considered standard English for that particular country.

But the two things that make me headdesk the most are coyness and historical inaccuracy. And I feel so strongly about both that I think each deserves its own article. So let’s start with coyness.

I will start by saying that there is a time and a place to be coy about sexual matters. If the person speaking is a maiden aunt, or a lady or gentleman trying to discuss sexual matters publicly without shocking or offending society, a young teen whose upbringing has been so sheltered that she simply doesn’t know any other words to use…yes, coyness would be appropriate then, for it would indicate something of the way the character spoke, thought and felt.

But there are also times when euphemisms simply don’t fit the character’s point of view. I have vivid recollections of a book I read (but did not edit) whose main character was a pirate captain. The pirate described in gory anatomical detail all the tortures he would visit on his captives—and then stopped to wax poetic about the “delicate pink rosebud” of a nearly naked and well-muscled young prisoner.

Now, the pirate also went into raptures about the captive’s “ivory” complexion—keep in mind that the captive was supposed to be an experienced sailor on a merchant vessel and that this was roughly three hundred years before sunblock—and the defiance in “his sea-blue eyes”. However, the “delicate pink rosebud” was what really got me. Because the character didn’t have any problems swearing, threatening violence or being violent. He was a realistic sea-going thief and murderer, and I loved that. But every time the young blond captive appeared, the pirate turned into a little milk-and-water miss from the Regency, babbling bad poetry (“Phoebus-kissed locks of my belovéd,” anyone?) and unable to call an arsehole an arsehole. Or a cock a cock, for that matter. I shudder to recall that Pirate Pete blithered on about his boyfriend’s “impressive foremast,” instead.

So if I were drawing up a list of rules, that would be number one–make sure the character’s language fits his or her personality. Because honestly, if you’ve got a rough, tough, hard-drinkin’, hard-livin’ guy as your point-of-view character, he’s probably not going to think of his penis as “my bald-headed butler” on a daily basis. And if another man is pressed up against this tough guy in a crowd and Tough Guy can feel the other man’s dick, he’s most likely not going to be thinking,”I could feel the stranger’s monstrous, mountainous manhood against me.”

(I particularly dislike “manhood” as a euphemism, as there’s a lot more to manhood than merely possessing a penis. I’ve known plenty of people who possessed penises who were, and who remain, dicks rather than men. And yes, pun very much intended.)

Now, there are some publishers who–understandably–encourage euphemisms; you’re not likely to find much profanity or vulgarity in an inspirational romance, for example. But most of the time, the dreadful euphemisms that are so at odds with the rest of the characterization are the responsibility, not of editors, but of the writers themselves. Why? For one, some or all of the following reasons:

1) They want to send a signal that the sex is an expression of love.

Since sex physically operates the same way whether the parties involved love each other or not, the writers often resort to having one character finding unexpected aspects of another character attractive. I’m not certain why this is supposed to tell me that the characters love each other, as it’s possible in real life to find someone gorgeous and not love him or her in the slightest. But in fiction, it seems to be a kind of shorthand: sex + finding the other person beautiful/handsome = True Love.

2)  It’s the only way that they’ve ever seen sex scenes written in the books that they’ve read.

Whether coyness is still common in het romances, I don’t know; it’s been a long time since I read any. But I used to read them at my grandmother’s—mostly because during the summer after my mother’s death, I got dropped off at her house daily while my aunt went to work. And there was nothing else there to read. So I remember the emphasis on manhoods and lotus blossoms and raped women consenting and not consenting. (I was quite surprised later to find that was a quote from Shakespeare.)

And this happened even in books where both the hero and the heroine were modern businesspeople and supposedly sophisticated members of society. Somehow, the same paisley language kept being used, whether it was appropriate for the characters or not.

I have a feeling that many writers, especially many new writers of male/male romances—both men and women—simply haven’t realized that there are other ways of writing romance, and that same-sex romance does not have obey opposite-sex romance tropes.

Nor is this surprising. I’ve read that painters used to paint horses with human-like eyelashes framing their eyes–even though horses do not have human-like eyelashes—because horses had always been painted that way. If you ask a child to paint a stream flowing through a wood, the child will probably crayon the stream in blue, even though water is not blue. It only looks blue in photographs where it’s reflecting the sky. We see things, not necessarily as they are, but as we are used to seeing them. It’s a trick, not of the eye, but of the mind. And it’s very, very hard to get past that.

Finally, we come to the most frustrating reason of all.

3) The writers—or perhaps the publishers–genuinely want to make the sex scene beautiful.

Unfortunately, what one person finds beautiful, another may not—and that includes both coyness and purple prose. Which is why you get passages like this:

“Out of one of his luminous eyes a single tear dropped like silvery jasper. Yet even now his eloquent phallic erection stood its ground. His brain and heart might quake; this rose-gold warrior, primed with battle-juice, was too forthright and too wise yet to surrender.”

“Rose-gold warrior”? “Primed with battle-juice”? And is it possible for an erection not to be phallic? Also, I doubt that “forthright,” “wise” or “eloquent” are good descriptions for any sex organ. (If you do happen to know of an honest, intelligent and/or talkative penis, I am deeply sorry for you.)

But I’m sure that the author–Tanith Lee, in a short story called “The Woman”–thought this passage was lovely.

Second, there are quite a number of people who are unwilling to use any but euphemistic terms on the grounds that anything else—whether crude or clinical—is somehow inappropriate. Either they fear that they will offend readers, or the non-euphemistic terms offend them.

Pity the editor, therefore, who has to struggle through coy, overwritten sex scenes…and who then must convince the writer that “in another moment his hand invaded my mossy crevice (The Life and Amours of the Beautiful, Gay and Dashing Kate Percival by Kate Percival ), “the man searched hungrily among swollen cacti for the right one to suck” (The Pleasure Chateau by Jeremy Reed), “with the come from myself strewn like white filigree” (The Last Ship by William Brinkley), or “our caged vipers hissed for release” (The Boy With Black Eyes by Brian Lucas) are not beautiful euphemisms, but, in fact, will make readers alternately groan and burst out laughing.

It’s a problem, because no writer likes the editing process. Every writer hopes that the editor won’t change too much—that, in fact, the editor will see that the work is both brilliant and artistic just as it is, and doesn’t need to be changed. I don’t blame anyone for this. It’s understandable. I’m in the same boat.

However…when the writer likes certain coy phrases or euphemisms, the writer may repeat them.

When this happens, I, as an editor, have to pick and choose my battles. I may not be able to read the phrase “his massive shaft” without thinking of either a black private investigator from the 1970s or a coal mine…but I’ll let the phrase stand if that means that I can say, “You already used that phrase once. You don’t have to use it in every one of the next nineteen sentences in the scene.” This way the author feels that he or she has gotten some use out of a pet phrase, at any rate. And I get to feel that one such use is better than twenty.

Of course, coy phrases about genitalia aren’t the only ones that recur. Sometimes you run into a writer who insists on telling you over and over that the lover of the protagonist not only possesses the aforementioned massive shaft but that he has “a strong, masculine scent.”

This one pops up a lot, and I have yet to decipher it. The description is generally given before the protagonist and the love interest have sex, so it’s not that the lover smells of come. The smell can’t be sweat, because men and women both sweat. And speaking of that…the scent is described as “strong” as well as “masculine.” Is the author trying to convey that the character is muscular—or is he or she saying that the character reeks? According to the sentence structure, that’s what the author is saying…but I’m not entirely sure that’s what he or she intends to say.

Sometimes, though, it’s not so much that the phrase is badly crafted as it is which character is saying it. When the author is in a hurry to establish that the protagonist really does deserve the attention of the love interest, he or she may not pay attention to what such a speech implies about the speaker.

For example, it’s fine if the guy who is lusting after Paul Protagonist describes Paul as having handsome features, a lean and sinewy body and a tight arse. However, if Paul’s doting father introduces himself by describing his son that way, I’m going to start thinking of some deeply wrong reasons for the man to be checking out his son’s body and rear end.

That said, I sympathize with the authors. I do. It is not easy to write love scenes or sex scenes, and most writers are trying not only to do so skillfully but to write something passionate, believable and unique. And it’s particularly difficult to do so in a historical, where half of the sexual vocabulary that the audience is familiar with doesn’t exist yet.

But—if you have a choice—opt for simplicity and clarity rather than ornate descriptions. Calling a cock a cock is infinitely less sporfle-worthy than describing it as “a rare bud of an exotic flower about to explode in a bloom of erotica” (33: A Gay Love Story by J.J. South).


T. J. Pennington is a freelance professional editor. She has edited Frost Fair by Erastes, Normal Miguel by Erik Orrantia, The Glass Minstrel by Hayden Thorne, Prove A Villain by K.C. Warwick and the upcoming A Hundred Little Lies by Jon Wilson. She also reviews books for Speak Its Name, the only review site on the web focusing on gay historicals, and runs Femgenficathon on LiveJournal, an annual celebration–now in its seventh year–of great women in fiction. She is currently working on a novel that could best be described as “medieval steampunk.” She lives in West Hartford, Connecticut and can be contacted at traceyjpennington@gmail.com.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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



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

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



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








by John Lyde Wilson

Published in 1838, but containing material from 1777



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



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


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

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

Etude Au Nu

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My gender engendered in such gentlemanly ways.

He plays.

You paint.
And I…repose.

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

You see.
And let us see loveliness.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He plays.

You paint.
And are almost finished?

I write.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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