It comes as a shock to many people (it did to me) that AA Milne wrote a murder mystery. Just the one, published in 1922, but it was enough to earn him admission to the inner sanctum of crime writers.
Is “The Red House Mystery” a good book? I’d say it’s fair enough, and very much in the style of its time, which is fine if you appreciate the Golden Age of crime. It certainly has many of the classic elements – the country house, the house party, the locked room, the wastrel brother who reappears from abroad and, of course, the amateur sleuth, with his slightly dim sidekick. If the denouement draws on a plot line which is peppered throughout those Golden Age mysteries, it’s none the worse for that.
Of course, it’s a whole other discussion about whether the detective’s sidekick only really exists to fulfil the main purpose of allowing the sleuth to show off his or her genius and give fulsome explanations regarding his or her thought processes. In the case of Red House’s Bill, he appears to be at the dimmer end of the bell curve of intelligence and certainly hero worships his friend Tony, the man who solves the case.
Tony’s a really interesting character, a man of independent means, who takes on various jobs just for fun. He’d have been well served by further crimes to solve with his sidekick. I could envisage a whole series of cases in which our two heroes pop up at house parties and the like, solving crimes, causing chaos and generally having a whale of a time. Alas, those books were never written.
Somebody even suggested that Bill reminded him of Piglet, but Tony and Bill makes me think of Raffles and Bunny, not least because of the “slash”. I usually say if you’re not sure what slash is, get your mother to explain when you get home. This time I’ll give a definition, straight from Wikipedia. “Slash fiction is a genre of fan fiction that focuses on interpersonal attraction and sexual relationships between fictional characters of the same sex.”
Milne himself objected to love stories getting in the way of the detection, so he takes Bill’s love interest “offscreen” pretty rapidly, then – ironically – proceeds to give us an almost love story between his two leading men. If you picked up this book without knowing the author or context, you might think you were reading a romantic mystery, with a gay bloke (Tony) who pursues, and then is all over, another man.
From the moment Tony serves Bill, first in a shop and then in a restaurant, “Something about [him], his youth and freshness, perhaps, attracted Tony”. He arranges a proper introduction to Bill and they quickly become “intimate”. Yes, that word clearly didn’t mean quite the same in 1922! As the story proper gets going, Bill is flattered, delighted and proud to be liked (and needed in the cause of investigation) by Tony, who soon after tells Bill he’s wonderful for describing someone so well, at which Bill is happily embarrassed.
Should I mention how often Anthony takes Bill’s arm when they’re walking? I know that this practice was not uncommon between men in the early twentieth century, and nobody batted an eyelid, but they seem to be at it all the time. Then there’s the hand holding; Tony tells Bill he’s the most perfect “Watson” before taking Bill’s hand in both of his to say, “There is nothing that you and I could not accomplish together…” (That’s the sort of thing he says a lot.) Bill responds by calling him a silly old ass, and Anthony replies with “That’s what you always say when I’m being serious” which is very similar to a tense, flirtatious interchange between Laurie and Andrew in Mary Renault’s “The Charioteer”.
They even end up sharing a bed, although strictly in the way the characters share a bed in “Three Men in a Boat”. That’s another element which is hard to interpret innocently with modern eyes, although those of us who were brought up on “Morecambe and Wise” know that Eric and Ernie weren’t “at it” when the lights went off.
So what the heck was going on in “The Red House Mystery”? It’s terribly easy for us to look back at books written so long ago with our “slash goggles” firmly in place and see things which the author didn’t intend. Perhaps we see things which aren’t there at all. You only have to look at the volume of Holmes and Watson romances that have sprung up to find people interpreting old stories in a very present-day fashion. But gay men did exist in the 1920s (or at any point in history) and gay or lesbian characters can be found, thinly veiled, in classic books such as “A Murder is Announced”.
Maybe Milne was just being observational in his writing, basing Tony on somebody he had known, weaving in elements of conversations he had heard, as so many of us do. I have little doubt that he had no intention of giving us that romantic storyline, but he did so, nonetheless.

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

Elin Gregory 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Louise Van Hine 

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

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

Charlie Cochrane 

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

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

Alex Beecroft:

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

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


KC Warwick:

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


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

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

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

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

Charlie Cochrane

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

Anne Barwell:

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

Lee Rowan:

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

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

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

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

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

Finding the right music really helps.

Ruth Sims:

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

Charlie Cochrane

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tripped up by words. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 “Not Your Mother’s Historical Romance”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 How about you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anyone else got ones they want to share?

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

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

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

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

By 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.

So, I thought that rather than struggling to find something to write about each month, such as a SUBJECT and be all professorial about the subject of writing and of writing and researching gay historical fiction, I’d just write about my month–and the general ups and downs of Being An Author.

Now, I’m lucky, in many ways. Some people would probably look at my house, my clothes, my lack of jobbiness, my life and they probably wouldn’t agree with me, but for me, having the luxury of Not Being a Wage Slave anymore and treating writing as a Job is a dream come true.

My routine, now I’m settling down to it, is to go to Dad’s, make him breakfast, tidy up etc then I settle down with a pot of coffee and write for an hour – make lunch – then write for an hour if I can in the afternoon.

Trouble is, Dad has no internet access. I was able to connect now and then using the BT Openzone, but even that seems to have disappeared.  I could of course get him Broadband, although he has no use for it–but I could. I would feel a bit mean about it, spending his money on my work, and I know he wouldn’t mind. But I decided to try and manage without internet access – it only makes me procrastinate, I thought-so I’d be better off without it. I’m quite capable  of spending all day refreshing my friends page, planting virtual vegetables and breeding  virtual dragons, so it’s probably better if I don’t have it.

But the research is a pain. I find myself hitting brick walls and at first I got quite despondent about it–I felt i WANTED to know these facts NOW – I’d been writing like this for years and to suddenly change my whole way of doing things was quite hard, but gradually I’ve learned to work a way around it.

Firstly, to be a bit more confident about what I know.

Secondly, to consider whether the readers REALLY need the level of detail I am going to impart, and

Thirdly – if I still need to know that fact to WRITE IT IN BLOCKS, HIGHLIGHT IT and look it up when I get home. Or when I do a tidy up of the manuscript.

So far I’m doing all right. The cold turkey approach to research was hard to take at first, but it’s becoming easier and actually it makes me concentrate more on the story rather than obsessing over what kind of carpet is down, or whether there was a railing at Windsor Great Lawns in 1921. It can wait.

Have this cured my procrastination, though? Has it Buffalo. I just find other stuff to do, like staring out the window at the birds for hours.

Well, I suppose it beats planting virtual vegetables.


Erastes is the penname of a female author who lives on the Norfolk Broads in England. She likes cheese and cats, but only one of those are nice on toast.

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

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

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

Pictures here, luckily none of me.

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

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

Picture of Sisyphus, by Titian

In November a young writer’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of NaNoWriMo.  This annual event with the ugly acronym is the National Novel Writing Month, during which a bunch of mad writers attempt to crank out a 50,000 word novel in thirty days.  It’s not too late if you want to have a go!  Sign up is here, and I’m reliably informed that the tighter the deadline, the easier it is to rack up the words. (more…)

Folks, I have been mulling about writing this post for some time now. Thinking I really need to speak up about it, but then pushing it away for fear that I might offend some of my online friends. But I kept coming back to the fact that by not speaking out about it, I am basically doing the same thing that I am about to accuse others of doing. That is, standing by and being silent because it serves my own interest.

So I’m about to tell you what has been troubling me. Now first of all, I completely understand why writers use pseudonyms to protect themselves and keep their private lives private. I have no problem with that at all. There are crazy people out there and it is wise not to put all your personal information on the Internet. But what I don’t understand is how some writers of gay-themed literature are so ashamed of what they write that they keep it secret from everybody in their private lives. Online, under a cloak of anonymity they are as proud as peacocks of their literary achievements, but privately they keep it hidden, feeling that it would be so humiliating if anyone found out that they write about gay love. And then I read blogs from these writers (again under pseudonyms) fuming about the injustices to gay people. They rant and rave about every suicide, every anti-gay politician, and every anti-gay referendum. That’s great. But I have a morbid suspicion that these same writers, so bold online yet privately so ashamed of the novels they have penned, are saying NOTHING in defense of gay rights to their families, friends and co-workers. That really steams me. Those who oppose us probably don’t have a whole lot of respect for anonymous bloggers, but they would be forced to re-evaluate their opinions if someone they knew personally stood up and challenged them.

Perhaps some of this shame has to do with the stigma attached to romance novels in general, and I’m sure there are writers of straight romance who conceal their professions as well, so it might be that this shame was partially inherited.

Recently there was a big brouhaha when LiveJournal temporarily allowed cross-posting of locked posts. I remember one writer getting very upset and said if anybody at her job found out she wrote gay books, she could lose her job. Really? Of course everyone I work with knows what I write and publish, but if I were in her shoes and my employer found out I write gay books and then fired me for it, I’d get a lawyer (Lambda Legal is ready and willing) and sue his ass for discrimination! I’m sorry, but keeping silent in the workplace while your co-workers are freely spouting their anti-gay rhetoric because you might lose your precious job is, in my humble opinion, cowardly.

Okay there I’ve said it. Now if you are a writer who is closeted about what you write but are still vociferous about gay rights, then I give you a pass, though I still think if you are ashamed of your work, then why bother, unless it is just to pay the bills, in which case I’d have to say you are merely prostituting yourself. I hope I’ve given some food for thought and haven’t offended anybody. But if I did, I can’t apologize for it, because I truly believe it needed to be said.

I was never one to get excited about writing historical stories. I had an idea knocking around in my gray matter for years, but simply could not get any motivation behind it to actually develop the idea into anything substantial. WWII prisoner-of-war stories had been done and redone. Why do another one?

But then I came across John Toland’s The Rising Sun, The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire. It is a soup to nuts account of the events leading up to the attack on Pearl Harbor and every major battle and military decision made until the surrender, all told from the Japanese point of view. I found it riveting. It literally changed how I saw history in a major way. In fact, I now believe that it was the boobs in Washington who were responsible for the attack on Pearl Harbor.

It was in the pages of Toland’s book where I realized that the value, at least for me, in writing an historical novel would be to approach it in such a way as to bring a fresh perspective to history that hadn’t been done before, at least not in my culture. That was the key element that had been missing in my thinking.

Toland convinced me to develop my POW story with a voice that equally presented both the American and the Japanese sides, being sympathetic to both, understanding the motivations of each, unbiased.

As I began to map out the story that would eventually turn into my second novel, The Lonely War, I realized that with this balanced perspective, the enemy was not American, English, German or Japanese. The only enemy in my story is war itself.

In researching WWII for my story, I read over two dozen books, stories like Herman Wouk’s War and Remembrance, Boulle’s Bridge On The River Kwai, and Clavell’s King Rat. The only book I read that came close to this balanced point of view was Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quite On The Western Front. In that novel, war was the enemy, but even Remarque’s story only presented the tale from the German side.

The main thing I learned while writing the unbiased war story, is that when one goes about presenting history in a way that has not been done before, one grows beyond one’s own boundaries of thought. A new perspective allowed me to develop intellectually, and I suspect, at least I hope, that my novel does the same for my readers as well.

So now I try to apply that idea with all my writing, historic and contemporary, to stretch to find a different angle to tell the story so as to bring a fresh perspective. I suppose this idea might be simplistic to most fine writers of historical fiction, but I must confess it was a revelation to me.

Alan Chin

The Whispering Bell by Brian Sellars   The Wise Woman by Philippa Gregoy   

 By Nan Hawthorne

Being disabled myself, I notice how characters with disabilities in historical novels are portrayed.  Like fat people, who more often than not in books, movies and on television are portrayed as selfish or bullying or otherwise unpleasant, people with disabilities tend to be stereotyped.  The two extremes they fall into are villainous and saintly.  At best they are made to look helpless.  Is this a valid concern?  Are there no villainous, saintly or helpless people with disabilities?  Of course these types exist in real life.  However, there are also lazy black people, passive or manipulative women, greedy Jews and drunken Irishmen, but we would never allow ourselves to overindulge in these negative stereotypes.  Why do we let the stereotypes of people with disabilities stand or go so far as to use them ourselves in our own work?

 Perhaps it is because authors don’t imagine readers with disabilities holding their books in their hands that they are so willing to create two-dimensional characters like these.  They may believe the stereotypes.  Or it may also be that it seems easy to explain them away.  When I pointed out not just one but two villainous characters with disabilities in The Whispering Bell by Brian Sellars, another author explained, “But I just thought it was that his lameness is what made him so bitter and vindictive.”  I can’t argue with that, except to say that having the two bad guys be a lame man and a visually impaired man was suggestive of author attitude, and that bitterness is not always a characteristic of a lame person, nor lame people the only ones to be bitter.  The point is that it is far too easy, and in my opinion lazy, of an author to use such stereotypes.

 In her The Wise Woman Philippa Gregory transgresses in a slightly different way.  The seneschal is a Little Person, a dwarf.    Because it is a novel, this was the author’s intention.    The seneschal is supposed to be rather creepy and the author is using his disability to magnify this.  Why could she not have chosen any other type of person?  Is it fair to real Little People to find themselves constantly portrayed either as creepy or jesters?

 You may say, “But in other times people with disabilities had much more limited options than they do now.  Being ‘politically correct’ does not change that.’  You are right, but that’s not the point.  The point is that these characters have been objectified, and the author is not seeing them as individuals like anyone else.  An example where the author is obviously fully aware of the humanity of a disabled character is Sharon Kay Penman’s Rhiannon, the Welsh wife of Ranulf Fitzroy, in her trilogy of When Christ and his Saints Slept, Time and Chance and The Devil’s Brood.  When Penman was a guest on an AccessibleWorld.org book discussion group, the blind and otherwise print impaired callers expressed their appreciation of the portrayal.  Rhiannon is blind and has been for most of her life.  She is neither helpless nor angelic.  She can get good and mad with the best of them, be foolish or hasty, but no more than any other person in the story.  She has adapted to her surroundings and navigates it well most of the time.  If you remove her blindness from the story, it could still be told just as it is.  Her blindness, that is, is not the central fact of who she is.    That is reality.  I for instance am myself before I am anything else, including blind.

Here is a useful exercise for realigning your expectations of characters with disabilities.  Write a story about a dinner party.  There should be at least ten people attending from different walks of life depending on your era of choice.  Name them, describe them, and tell a little story about each one.  When you have finished, use some random method to choose one of the people.  This will be your person with a disability, probably one you should choose before you start.  Think about the character with his or her disability and whether you find yourself seeing that person any differently.  Don’t assume anything, but rather read up on the disability, talk to people who share it, and see if your suppositions are accurate or prejudiced.  Don’t feel bad if they are the latter – just remember the exercise next time you write a new character who is disabled.

We live in a world divided into Us and Them, and so long as any group is stuck in Society’s Them category, they will be objectified.  That is unfortunate of course, but it also robs your stories of the depth and breadth they should have.  Writing stereotypes is far more than a poor choice.  It is demeaning to your very art.   Doesn’t your talent deserve better?

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

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

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

E M Forster

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

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

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

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



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

Or – as some might say, not the Good Word.This post may be offensive to some, so don’t click below the link if a certain C word offends you.

There’s been an interesting discussion on one of the author’s groups I belong to. It’s about a well-oiled subject which is brought up from time to time and that’s the usage of slang/coarse/”insulting” words for genitalia to describe genitalia.

One of the words discussed was the big “C word”. Now, that’s not a word you’ll ever hear me say. I flinch when I hear someone say it, and I don’t know why exactly, conditioning, whatever. I don’t have a problem with many words, although I don’t swear a good deal unless very cross.

Someone asked where the word came from – so I duly popped along to the two bibles I use for etymology, namely etymology online and the Oxford English Dictionary.

Here’s what they said. (more…)

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

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

Read the article in full here.

I particularly liked his diary entry that says:

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


Call for Submissions: Vintage

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

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


Length: Short novels, 10K to 50K words

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Production, Sales, and Payment

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ve been doing a lot of reading recently and one thing I’m beginning to notice more and more in the world of gay historicals is that some books are seeming very familiar.

It’s a bit of a worrying trend, and while it’s not “wrong” per se, it’s not exactly something I’m keen about, and something I really hope doesn’t continue.

What seems to be happening is, as writers think “what shall I write next?” or “I’d like to write gay historicals, but what about?”  some are taking pre-existing ideas and simply converting it to “the gay.”

This impatience with this trend has been growing in me for a while, and it reached a head this week when I was reading “Checkmate” which is about gay musketeers.  Now – if I had tackled this subject, I’d be very conscious of the huge fanbase of the Dumas books and the great (and the not so great films).  I think I’d probably write about one musketeer, on the fringes perhaps, who meets someone in the course of his duties–defnitely being careful not to take more than “he’s a musketeer” from the era.  But what the authors of this book have done is to have – no surprise – THREE musketeers who meet another man who (shock) isn’t a musketeer.  The three amigos are hard drinking, hard shagging types too – and one of them has a Dark Past™. Sounds familiar?

Now, while I haven’t read further than that, and I’m pretty sure that the plot won’t include the Queen’s necklace, the Duke of Buckingham and a mysterious ex-boyfriend of the musketeer with a Dark Past™ with a fleur-de-lys tattoo, you can’t be too sure…

"Bum for All and All for Bum!"

What I’m saying is that no book is original, unless you are some kind of mega genius, and within the Romance genre it’s pretty hard to do something that hasn’t been done before. If you are writing hetero-romance, particularly historical hetero-romance then it doesn’t matter what era you choose, Vikings, Romans, Pirates, Civil War – it’s all be done before.  But it doesn’t mean that you take “Gone With The Wind” and make your book about a feisty southern anti-heroine who has a crush on a man she can never have and gets married a bazillion times before finding the man she truly loves only to lose him.  Or in the case of gay historicals that you take GWTW and simply keep the main plot but make it gay.

I know that this sounds obvious, but as I say, I see more and more of it.  Without naming more names and offending more people, I’ve seen almost direct copies of films and books galore (including The Gay Witness, a contemporary book I reviewed for Jessewave recently) and it makes me a little sad.

Look – I’m not saying that any of my books are original. Standish is probably stuffed full of images and tropes etc that have stuffed themselves into my head during my life. Every Gainsborough film, every Austen book, every historical mini series, I’ve probably taken aspects from them and put them into the book. There’s a duel in the Bois de Bologne, complete with a misty dawn and horses clinking their bits. There’s Venice and love in gondolas. Transgressions has star-crossed lovers who end up on different sides in a Civil War.  Familiar aspects, yes – but the over-arching storyline is mine.

After all, people don’t write “The Straight Charioteer” do they?

It’s a problem that any historical author faces–or should do if they are doing their job and their research.

We all know that life wasn’t terribly political correct in times other than ours. I shall skirt around the fact that political correctness can be a) rather subjective and b) still a problem today.

But go back, even a very short time and you have to deal with all sorts of problems.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And they never patronize other authors.

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

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

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

by Ruth Sims

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

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

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

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

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

Salman Rushdie: Threatened, book banned and burned

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

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

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

Cuban novelist/poet Reinaldo Arenas 1943-1990

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

Chinese writer Liu Xiaobo, 55, Imprisoned

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

Cameroon Singer/Songwriter Lapiro de Mbanga Fined & jailed

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

Natalya Estemirova Russian journalist 1958-2009 Murdered

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

While restructuring Speak Its Name, I found myself on a horns of a dilemma, and would like to throw the subject open to see what people think.

I was about to pull several books for not being “actual history” e.g. dealing with people who really didn’t exist e.g. 14th century Hollywood style King Arthurs or Robin Hood books, and then I noticed, that, with the upsurge of classical book fanfiction, this put characters like Mr Darcy (Pride/Prejudice) and James Fairfax (James Fairfax) in the same boat – that these are books are “historically famous people who don’t exist.”

So, what do you think?  Where does one draw the line?  When dealing with historical characters should they be in their correct time frame?  Would you consider a book about Robin Hood to be history even though he didn’t exist? If the answer to that question is “no” then what about Mr Darcy? What about Hamlet?

Should these go into a separate category such as “Alternative History”?  I know that the Historical Novel Society encompass A.U books such as the Novik Temeraire series, so perhaps I’m worrying too much, but it’s such a new genre, I’d like to get groundlines in place.

Additionally, what about real person slash?  If a character is proven homosexual, such as Wilde, I’d say that that’s no problem, but what about if you speculate that someone is gay or bisexual where there isn’t any evidence?


I don’t mean the kind of fanfic that many of us have written in our time, the sort of fanfic in ‘zines and online where we aren’t making any money.

But the rash of fanfic that seems to be sprouting like mushrooms, particularly in the historical novel sections of bookshops.

Following successful sequels and prequels such as Scarlett and Wide Sargasso Sea, and the courts allowing sequels of Les Miserables,  a bandwagon has been cobbled together, people have leapt on it, and now we have derivative works/pastiches/call them what you will, all over the place.

Just look at this list of Austen “inspired” fiction. It’s staggering.  Now I know that Austen lovers hoover this kind of thing up, but what what do you think?

On a purely personal level, it gets me rather hot under the collar.  Most of the writers I know are slaving away with their books, sweating over plot, screaming when their own original characters misbehave, tearing their hair out over locations.  And then there’s THIS stuff.  Which is a bit of a cheat, imho.  Having written fanfic, I know how much easier it is.  I used to write Harry Potter fanfic and compared with original fiction it’s so much easier.  Want to know what your characters are wearing? No problems, JK Rowling has already given you the styles that were around.  Want to know what your characters look like?  No problems – the description is already there.  Want your character to travel from A to B? No worries, there are many devices. Just choose one. Floo, broomstick, apparating, and so on.  The writer doesn’t have to work a fraction as hard as the original writer because they are simply piggybacking on what’s already in place.

Now we have the Austen-horror sub-genre, which seemed to have started as a bit of a giggle, and now we have everyone writing it as fast as they can.

I can’t help but feel, why do I bother?

What inspired this rant?

THIS.  James Fairfax by Jane Austen!!!  and Adam Campan which is (as far as I know) the first gay Austen inspired novel.

Apparently, it has caused a bit of a flurry in the Austen plagiarist inspired writers’ camp because NO NO NO we can’t have homos in Austen-Land.  I don’t know where this kerfuffle is occurring however. Hayden Thorne pointed the book out to me and said that there has been an adverse reaction to it.  If it portrays gay marriage, then I’m not surprised, though.

I find myself very conflicted.  On one hand of course I’m pleased that there’s another gay historical, but on the other (and this hand is weightier) I feel that – gah! – if you are going to the trouble of writing it – make it original.

Lots of people write fanfic of original works, and the classics are very popular. Here’s a few figures (courtesy of Tracey Pennington) to show how popular they are on FanFiction Net.

Jane Eyre 166.
Wuthering Heights– 59
Les Miserables –1,771
Count of Monte Cristo–24
Of Mice and Men–66
Hunchback of Notre Dame–239.

Fanfic is fine. Fanfic is great!  I loved writing it.  I’m not saying for one minute that fanfic can’t be creative, but the one tenet that was dinned into my head was “you don’t make a profit from fanfic. You do not make a profit from OTHER PEOPLE’S WORK.” The best place for fanfic is in fanfic forums. Not on Amazon.

For me, whether it’s in copyright or not doesn’t come into it.  I had a great idea for one of Shakespeare’s plays and I really really wanted to write it, but I can’t now.  I just can’t.

After all – Lord of the Rings is out of copyright in a year or two. There are over 40,000 stories on FFN for that fandom.  What will we see in a couple of years?  Aragorn, Legolas and the Zombies?  The Haunted Hobbits?

Where does it end?

Today was the bi-monthly local Romantic Novelists’ Association lunch. I love going to these – not only is it held in a nice venue, and I get lunch out, the event makes me feel young and rather techno whizzy (as opposed to feeling old and techno Neanderthal, which is my usual state).

Out of about fourteen people present, there was an author in her thirties and then, at a sprightly fifty-one, I was second youngest. (Apart from my sixteen year old daughter, of whom more anon.) If I was being stereotypical I’d say that most of my fellow romance writers look just like you’d expect them to. And there’s nothing wrong with that, in fact it’s rather reassuring.

It’s always interesting when we start chatting about how we meet other authors, promote, deal with publishers, etc. A number of people aren’t into online stuff at all, which makes me think I’m cutting edge, although it was interesting that it was the youngest author who thought one of the reasons Kindle wouldn’t take off was not being able to read it in the bath. And one of the more mature ladies who said that Kindle was the way forward, once they sorted out the technology and was outlining its many advantages. (So don’t judge a book by its cover…)

The speaker was Jean Fullerton; it’s always fascinating to hear successful authors talk about how they got their break and she was particularly interesting when she spoke about her experiences with the RNA new writers scheme, which had been decidedly curate’s eggy. She is dyslexic, so had taken the decision to have her submissions professionally produced to create a good impression (that rang bells, given the four macaronis’ experiences on the acquisitions team for ‘I Do’).

I sat with a different group of people this time, so had to go through the whole “What do you write?” “Gay romance, Edwardian gay romantic suspense.” Slightly different responses this time – not negative but a distinct hint of people thinking “I really don’t know what to say in reply”. Interesting to have Number two daughter listening in, as she picked up this, too. The pro-Kindle lady was least nonplussed, comparing the genre to Sarah Waters’ work, and the conversation neatly turned to doing historical research for novels. Still, I got invited to another writers’ event (a group who meet at Borders) so I wasn’t persona non grata.

And as for my beloved daughter? Another book you can’t judge by her cover. She creates a rather ditzy impression, so people are left gobsmacked when she confesses to wanting to read medicine. She doesn’t say a lot when she’s with strangers but what she says is very perceptive. When asked if she had any writerly ambitions, quick as a flash she said “Writing’s a bit too much inward looking for me. Authors are in a room somewhere, working on their own. I prefer things where I can interact with other people.”

Which left silence around the table and me with real food for thought.



There’s a post over at Reading the Past which discusses the presence or absence of actual historical characters and events in historical fiction and whether the absence of them in books defines historical fiction or not.

I’m rather of the opinion that—going by the HNS definition—that it doesn’t make any difference whether there are any actual historical figures or notable events in the book or not.  In fact—for every single historical book to have real life historical figures in it would actually be ludicrous, for it would mean if you were writing about ordinary people living their ordinary lives—say slaving away in the cane fields of America or grubbing a living in the sordid streets of the Potteries—to suddenly introduce a real historical person would be a huge jolt.  I mean, look at even everyday lives today, how many people can say that they’ve met someone of note? (And I don’t mean a Big Brother Sleb, but someone that history will remember, such as Nelson Mandela or Mother Theresa?

Granted there is a real life person in Transgressions, the clever and charismatic Matthew Hopkins of Witchfinder fame. (Ignore the Vincent Price version puhleeze, that’s soft porn, just about) But that wasn’t exactly a conscious decision to include him, image Jonathan just happened to be in the right place at the right time. And as for historical events, it would have been a little difficult to have two young men in 1642 NOT aware of the impending war. That being said, there is a true story which involves a farmer being asked if his land can be used for one of the battles and he said “Who’s fighting who, then?” (Communication not being a key aspect of the 17th century, and obviously not everyone knew about the war!)

But I don’t think it’s necessary at all to base your historical around real life events, or real life characters, and in fact its the stories that aren’t that I find most interesting.  If anyone has read “The Boy I Love” by Marion Husband you’ll see that it’s just a story about people, living their lives. In the same gentle manner that many of A J Cronin’s books are written, or Cookson’s. image

To expect every book to be set around a historical event is also ludicrous. People always pick the same events too.  I’d like someone to make a study of books written about the Titanic and add up how many people to date have sailed on the ill-fated ship.  I would bet that her complement of passengers has increased by at least three-fold. I’m surprised she managed to get out of the harbour without sinking!

That being said – It always surprises me, with the enormous wealth of GLBT characters in history, that there aren’t more books about real characters.

So what do you think? Should historical novels all include famous people? Famous events? Or do you think that the little stories are just as important as the big ones?

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