And now for some happier news – look at this amazing t-shirt that my fantastic daughter bought for me for Mothering Sunday (Slightly delayed by inefficient shipping so that it arrived today.) I loved it so much that even though it’s too cold to wear it, I put two thermal vests on underneath and did so anyway.
Well, a day off turned into a week. A week during which I enthusiastically tried other, new things. I did, however, make a plot plan for the Fantasy I meant to start tomorrow – so, progress there.
I also began to learn the melodeon:
Which is harder than it seems. Both hands have to work independently, and the scale goes “push, pull, push, pull, push, pull, pull, push” which is confusing.
After extensive practice, I can now play The Winster Gallop, and I’m starting on the Winster Processional.
Or I was…
Yesterday I went on a blacksmithing course and made this hook:
I had finished it, it was lying on the anvil and all I had to do was give it a coat of beeswax to blacken it. I was very tired, as it had been heavy work, drawing out the iron and tapering it by heating and hammering it. So I picked up the beeswax, held the hook down with my other hand, completely forgetting that it was still hot, burnt my first two fingertips and thumb to the point where the skin turned white.
Spent yesterday evening in A&E, with hideous pain. They dosed me up on morphine and sent me home with my hand looking like this:
So how I’m going to start writing the next thing tomorrow, I don’t know. Longhand, probably.
I finished the first draft of Blue Steel Chain on Thursday. That’s very abrupt, isn’t it? I feel there needs to be some kind of introductory word just to break the ice and indicate I’m about to say something…
So, I finished the first draft of Blue Steel Chain on Thursday. I was going to take Friday off as a day of rest after the long sustained effort of writing a novel, but it turned out I had a meeting with my son and his tutor and the people from the Gender Identity Clinic and although that wasn’t exactly work, it wasn’t rest either. I then spent the rest of the day ill, so I’m not counting it as my day off. I’m still owed holiday, damn it.
On Saturday DH and I had a great time going up Mill Road in Cambridge, which we learned to love while dancing there during the Mill Road Winter Fair, but where we have never gone during less festive times. It’s lined with charity shops and eating places from all over the world. Two of our favourite things. After buying a leather jacket for £2.99, we ate a lunch of Brazilian feijoada (which as a bean stew is frankly less adventurous than it sounds) and I took my jumper off to let the sun reach my skin.
That was much more like it for a day off. But it was a Saturday, which is a day off anyway, so I don’t know if it counts as a holiday…
Heh. First World Problems.
At any rate, with the completion of the really creative part of this novel, I can feel myself shutting down. The things that interested me until now no longer interest me. I cannot find enthusiasm for reading or TV or movies or gardening or anything else. I am stilling into emptiness.
This would be more worrying if it hadn’t often happened before, but it has. I recognise it as something that happens after I’ve spent a long period of doing things, producing things, writing. It happened after I wrote my last Age of Sail story. My interest in the Age of Sail ebbed like the tide. It happened after I wrote my last Fantasy story. Now it’s happening after the third Contemporary in a row.
I begin to suspect that this is just the end of an exhale, and that now I am empty I need to give myself a time to inhale. I don’t yet know what I’m going to breathe in, but I’m sure it’s going to be interesting. It’s not as though I can or should stop it, anyway. Time to accept that my times of lying fallow are as important for productivity as my times of apparent growth.
Mixed metaphors and everything! But you know what I mean, I think, and doesn’t it sound poetic?
There’s not much to blog about, in this author’s life. Basically, what isn’t ordinary housewife stuff like sick children and the soul crushing horror of cookery can be summed up as ‘sat down and made up stories for hours.’ It’s not a dramatic life, and that’s the way I prefer it.
A list of this week’s failures goes like this:
Failed to do the grocery shopping. Nothing in the house for dinner. Action – ignore and hope DH orders pizza.
Failed to teach Sutton Masque to dance Tinners Rabbit, despite it being the simplest dance ever, because nobody could actually decide how it went. Action – ignore and see if it gets better next week.
Failed to do any gardening, as the garden needs too much work. Conclusion – task is too big for me. Action – ignore and call it ‘rustic’.
Failure – Spent Tuesday in bed with food poisoning. Better by Wednesday. Action needed – none.
Failure – Made traditional medicinal springtime tonic tea out of the handful of cleavers I pulled out of the garden. Result – horrible. Action – never do that again.
Failure – Tried again to like Battlestar Galactica, as stories about small military societies having adventures inside great big war machines (like battleships and Lancaster bombers) are totally my thing. Result – no, I still don’t like it. Action – none proposed.
Successes of the week:
A publisher has asked to see the full manuscript of The Glass Floor, after being sent the first three chapters in submission. Keep your fingers crossed for me that this doesn’t also turn out to be a failure.
A lovely review of The Reluctant Berserker on Elin Gregory’s site. Thanks Elin! That made up for all of the above
Well, it’s exciting to me, at least
Firstly a rather belated announcement that The Reluctant Berserker is now out in ebook format from all reputable sellers of electronic wares.
Any excuse to post the cover is a good excuse
Secondly, I can now announce that I have just signed a contract with Riptide Publishing on three new contemporary m/m romances. Two volumes of which are with them already and the third I’m writing at the moment.
If you remember, a long time ago I asked what people would like to see out of a choice of story ideas. Unanimously everyone thought that a romance between a re-enactor and a morris dancer was what they wanted. So I wrote Blue Eyed Stranger, which is exactly that.
Then I decided I quite liked having my own fictional town to play with. As I am just coming out of a mid-life crisis myself, I thought “lets do a m/m romance with some slightly older gentlemen, who are also trying to figure out what to do with themselves now the first half of their lives is over.” And that became Trowchester Blues.
And then I decided “well… if I’m talking about things that are relevant to myself, lets talk about asexuality. You really don’t see many asexual characters around.” So the story I’m writing at the moment is a love story between a gay man and a homo-romantic asexual man. It’s currently about a third of the way through, and also features murder and pottery, because… Because. The temporary title of this one is Blue Steel Chain.
You see what I did there with the Blue thing? I’m so proud of myself
This is the first time I’ve ever done a series, and I’m having such fun reintroducing characters and settings. I don’t know why I didn’t do it before.
I note that I still can’t leave history entirely out of it, contemporary or not. We have a re-enactor in Blue Eyed Stranger, the owner of an antiquarian bookshop in Trowchester Blues, and an archaeologist in Blue Steel Chain. And Trowchester itself of course has Roman walls, Saxon churches and a Bronze age hill fort. But hey, authors are allowed their themes, right?
Trowchester Blues is due out first, on the 15th of December 2014. Then the others follow in April and July of 2015. I foresee 2014 being pretty busy!
hie thee over to Smashwords, where I’m giving away the anthology for nothing at all, as part of some kind of promotional thing. Popular wisdom says this is a good thing for me too, but I’m reserving judgement on that. It is, however certainly good for anyone who wants a copy of my short stories for free.
Click here and use the code RW100 at the checkout to get the money off.
It’s got the tie-in stories from False Colors, Captain’s Surrender and The Wages of Sin all in one place
I’m delighted to say that people seem to be enjoying The Reluctant Berserker so far. I have two five star (or five sweet-pea) pre-release reviews to crow about
First, here’s a guest post I did on Sinfully Sexy Books:
in which I talk about my reenactment society, and why I wanted to write about a society at peace rather than at war. That’s accompanied with a long and thoughtful review, considering the book from several directions and concluding with “Once again and beautifully written book from Alex; rich in detail, emotion and intricacy of plot. A must read for all historical fans of M/M.”
Hee! Thanks so much, Mark
Secondly but not secondarily, Feliz Reviews an ARC of The Reluctant Berserker by Alex Beecroft on Mrs Condit and Friends and awards it a bouquet of sweet peas and a ‘recommended read’ status. Feliz says:
“This book had me biting my nails with tension during action and fighting scenes, it had me smile in fondness at tender moments, curse characters and cheer others on, it had me laughing with joy at the sheer beauty of its language, and I closed it with a wistfully happy smile. All I ever wish for in my reading, and I can’t commend it highly enough.”
Which I think really can’t be bettered Thank you so much, Feliz!
And speaking of ARCs of The Reluctant Berserker, HJ, you won the draw on the “Boys in our Books” giveaway. Please let me know your email address so I can send you your prize
Just a quick note to say that I am being interviewed over here on the amazing On Top Down Under site today. In which I am refusing to pull my punches about gender and confessing that I have started writing fanfiction of my own stories. Come over and comment to (potentially) win a book, or just to point and laugh
Although I’ve done a number of historicals now – enough to say I am a ‘historical novelist’ – I still feel that not all historical eras are equal. People have said to me ‘the Tudors are very popular. I’d like to see you do something set in Tudor times.’ I nod politely, because there’s no predicting where my muse might take me next. But inside, I’m still going ‘ew, the Tudors. They’re all torture and paranoia and witch burnings.’ I can’t really imagine wanting to write in an era where my nation’s best battleship sunk because someone forgot to put the plug in.
This is slightly hypocritical of me, because I like the Anglo-Saxons a lot, and they are not without brutality either. Plus, their technological level is much lower. But they nevertheless seem more civilised to me – a thoughtful, religious, melancholy people with less tendency towards burning women alive. Maybe I’m reading too much from the example of King Alfred and the Venerable Bede – both the sort of humane intellects I wouldn’t mind meeting in real life.
I love the 18th Century, and I love the Saxons in the ninth century before they began to suffer too badly from Viking invasion. Part of this is the clothes. I can’t take Henry VIII seriously in his padded bloomers, but when we’ve moved on to tricorn hats and white silk stockings of the Age of sail, or the cloaks and the gorgeous jewellery of the Anglo-Saxons, well, then you’re talking. Aesthetically, they were good times.
But it’s more than that. I prefer civilization to savagery – I like to write in a world in which I would not find it unbearable to live – and both eras are periods in which it’s possible to exist and be respected as something other than a warrior.
The 18th Century is a time of great exploration and excitement. The world was opening up before Western Man, and new things are being thought of every day. The boundaries of their compassion are expanding, and for the first time people are beginning to think about freedom and equality and the rights of man. An awful lot of what we take for granted nowadays was first being thought of in the 18th Century and it’s fascinating to watch it blowing their minds.
By contrast, the 9th Century is a time of peaceful nostalgia. They were looking back at a semi-legendary great age of heroes and contenting themselves with the fact that they were not so glorious. In a way, it’s a feeling that we modern people can empathise with – the idea that life used to be lead in bolder colours and now we are living in a faded age. On the other hand, it was also a time when England was largely at peace. The Saxon social structure was cooperative and personal, surprisingly egalitarian, and people had time to concern themselves with the big questions like the meaning of life and the nature of morality that tend to get pushed aside when you’re at war. They were a thoughtful people.
I read a lot of 18th Century journals as part of my research, and I find no difficulty in liking these people. They are urbane and amused, confident and surprisingly open minded. They have none of the self-righteous imperialism and prudery of the 19th Century, and while you’d have to cover the ears of the sensitive, because of their vulgarity, I wouldn’t feel a qualm about inviting them around for dinner. The tendency to fight a duel at the drop of a hat would be worrisome, I suppose, and they do drink and quarrel a lot, but they’re never quite what you expect. I think Jane Austen, who was that little bit later, would be shockingly disapproving of them. But in a fight between Lady Mary Wortley-Montague, lady of letters, who travelled the world, wrote letters from Turkey, and invented an early form of smallpox inocculation, and Jane Austen, my bets are on Lady Mary. She, at least, had attended the Empress of Austria when the fine ladies of Austria exhibited their honed pistol marksmanship. I think she’d be the one to walk away from that duel.
In the same way, I feel safe with the Anglo-Saxons. King Alfred with his anxiety attacks, who invented the horn lantern and the navy, and taught himself to read, and subsequently wrote fanfiction and meta about The Consolations of Philosophy by Boethius while setting up schools so that every noble child could be taught to read – he’s the kind of hero I can admire. Caedmon is the first person who ever wrote religious literature in the English language (before that, you had to use Latin.) Alfric is still revered today, among those who know enough Old English to have an opinion, for the superb elegance of his writing. Bede gave us the BC/AD dating system we still use today. The Anglo-Saxon poet Cynewulf is the person who converted me to Christianity. His words were so powerful that they reached out to me from a thousand years in the past and changed my life.
When I open books set in the Dark Ages and I see they’re all about fighting and brutality and war, I am sad, because it perpetuates the notion that the only thing that matters in a man is how well he can kill people.
I wanted to write a book to honour the other people who made this culture what it was. The scholars, the leeches/doctors, the musicians/historians, the women, the nuns and monks – the culture the warriors existed to protect. And that, as it turned out, became The Reluctant Berserker, which is due to be released on the 25th of this month. Woohoo!
I really hope I’ve managed to get across some of what I love about the culture. But you’ll have to be the judge of that
Wulfstan, a noble and fearsome Saxon warrior, has spent most of his life hiding the fact that he would love to be cherished by someone stronger than himself. Not some slight, beautiful nobody of a harper who pushes him up against a wall and kisses him.
In the aftermath, Wulfstan isn’t sure what he regrets most—that he only punched the churl in the face, or that he really wanted to give in.
Leofgar is determined to prove he’s as much of a man as any Saxon. But now he’s got a bigger problem than a bloody nose. The lord who’s given him shelter from the killing cold is eyeing him like a wolf eyes a wounded hare.
When Wulfstan accidentally kills a friend who is about to blurt his secret, he flees in panic and meets Leofgar, who is on the run from his lord’s lust. Together, pursued by a mother’s curse, they battle guilt, outlaws, and the powers of the underworld, armed only with music…and love that must overcome murderous shame to survive.
Contains accurate depictions of Vikings, Dark Ages magic, kickass musicians, trope subversions and men who don’t know their place.
As a writer of m/m romance I’m always a bit taken aback and amused when I see blog posts about “how to write male characters,” as though it was something you had to approach in the same way as you’d approach “how to write Regency street-urchins” or “how to write convincing aliens.”
I always read the blog posts with enormous interest, but in my limited experience, they’ve mostly consisted of a rundown of cliches about what men are like (apparently they all watch sports, prefer beer to wine and don’t wash their socks,) that vaguely offend me in the same way that stereotypes about women offend me.
In my lifetime’s experience of men, no two of them have been alike. Most of them have liked beer, but that could be because I like beer and it tends to be something all my friends have in common, the women too. Even so, I know some male wine snobs, and some men who are sports-hating domestic gods, and can whip up a fine meal in the time it takes them to wash and iron their socks.
So what do I do, to create convincing male characters? Well, I look at the one human being about whom I have inside information – the one person who, to a certain extent at least, I understand in depth. That is, of course, me. Then I gift my character with a selection of traits that I either have, or can imagine having. I put the character in situations that I have never had to face, under pressures that I have never had to face, and I imagine how I would react, if I was them in their circumstances.
Of course, those circumstances involve being male, and that means that society shapes the way their traits manifest in a different way from the way I experience things. John Cavendish from False Colors has my temper, for example, and in writing him I do need to take into account the fact that society treats men’s anger and women’s anger differently. In men it’s expected, even respected, in women it’s unexpected, and is treated with suspicion, as irrational and hysterical. So, (in general) a male character can afford to express his anger outwardly, whereas a female one can’t, if she hopes to be taken seriously. Conversely, (in general) no matter how upset he is, a modern male character can’t break down in tears and expect not to be mocked, whereas a female character can.
It’s much easier to figure out what society expects from each gender and how that determines the way a common human trait plays out, than it is to write male characters as though they were not quite as fully human as the writer.