I can’t say how delighted I am to hear that Blue Eyed Stranger made the list of best novels of 2015 at Romance Novels for Feminists! For a start, I’m overjoyed to know that my books qualify as romance novels for feminists at all, and then to be one of the best of the year is joysome.
Is joysome a real word? Goes to look… Oh it is! Both real and slightly archaic, just like me.
Romance Novels for Feminists’ Best of 2015
Thank you so much!
First interview of 2016 goes to Dr Jo Stanley, FRHistS, for her fascinating blog Gender, sex, race, class – and the sea.
“Using a cultural studies approach, this blog explores the impact of women, LGBT people, working-class people and people from a range of ethnic backgrounds, on the sea and shipping. And it questions the ways that the sea and ships in turn affect such people’s lives and mobility.”
I find Alex’s novels about this world deeply enjoyable and satisfying. And I’m intrigued that they are written by woman who isn’t even a boatie; read by metropolitan men who certainly didn’t sail in the 18C; and relished by straight landswomen.
The bizarre nature of this phenomenon is why I have just interviewed Alex by email. Here are the replies she kindly sent:
Q. Why did you start writing queer Age of Sail books? Did you feel something should be explored about the hidden potential sexual extent of those close on-board relationships in history books and in novels such as those by Patrick O’Brian?
Read more here
I was about to say that other than cleaning up my own mental act, I hadn’t done very much this year. But then the aforesaid mental cleaning kicked in and said ‘hold on there. Yes you have. Don’t put yourself down like that.’ So in obedience to my new determination to be slightly less horrible to myself I’m going to strike that off and say that 2015 has been an important and pivotal year for me for several reasons.
Achievements of 2015
In October this year I completed a year long course of therapy that started in 2014 when family problems came to such a head that I felt I stood a good chance of either killing myself or of dying from stress-related health problems without some help. When I started on the course, the therapist made me fill in a ‘well, just how bad is it?’ questionaire and scored me on the answers. I got (somewhere around) an 85, which nudged me into the ‘severe’ category. This year, just before we finished the course, I did the same questionaire again, and scored 18. And as the therapist said ‘you did that all without drugs.’
(Not that I’m knocking drugs! If she’d said I needed drugs I’d have gone on them with thanks. This was an ‘I will take this because the only thing I can change in this impossible situation is myself’ event, and as such I was grateful for anything and everything that helped me cope.)
I think that qualifies as doing something difficult and important this year.
What is the new, less depressed, less self-hating Alex Beecroft like? I am interested to find out, but from initial impressions, actually almost identical to the old one, only less depressed and self-hating. And maybe a little more likely to say no to things without feeling persistently guilty and unworthy about it.
I think new!Alex may possibly be a little more productive too, though it’s easy to say that from a standpoint of the holidays, when the house and the routine is upside down and no writing is being done anyway.
While I was reshaping the inside of my mind, I didn’t also feel up to writing original fiction, so I spent the early part of 2015 on fanfiction. But once the family situation let up a bit and I started feeling a bit better about myself, I did start writing my own stuff again.
Since July(ish) I’ve written two Sci-fi novels – two of the three novels planned for the Lioness of Cygnus 5 series I’ve mentioned before. I may end up self-publishing them in 2016 once I’ve finished the third book. That will at least mean that 2016 isn’t completely barren of new releases!
Though having said that, I have also written the Cretan novella Labyrinth for a historical anthology being released by Samhain in October 2016. Two novels and a novella in half a year is not exactly nothing either.
I go into 2016 having written two chapters of a contemporary novel for Riptide. At the moment it’s called Foxglove Copse, but I can’t guarantee the title will stick. It’s a Cornish contemporary with a gothic feel. To give it a clickbait summary:
Down on his luck businessman Sam was forced to park for the night in a Cornish copse. What he saw next shocked him to the core!
I’m looking forward to getting back to that one when the holidays are over.
Books released in 2015
I published this and only then did I realize that in the ‘achievements of the year’ section, I probably should have listed the books I had published this year. I still routinely underestimate things. That’s a bias that needs continual fighting
2015 was actually an excellent year for new books, with the Trowchester Series coming out over the year:
I should probably mention that they are currently available at a reduced price in the Riptide New Year sale
I also re-released The Wages of Sin with a snazzy new cover
Which, for a year of turmoil was not a bad showing, I feel
Plans for 2016?
Finish Foxglove Copse. Write the third Lioness book – Pride of Cygnus 5 – and possibly self publish the series. Finish the pseudo-Etruscan fantasy also known as VoidBeast. (My temporary titles need work.) Write at least one more Trowchester book.
That should be enough to be going on with. Particularly as The Glass Floor may be occupying me again in March. Watch this space – I’m hoping to have exciting news on The Glass Floor to be announced soon
(I have the feeling that The Glass Floor may need a different title too. The titular floor never actually made it into the book except as a metaphor.)
Held in reserve
I’m also hoping to do two more Charles and Jasper novellas to follow on from The Wages of Sin, if only because I feel uneasy about their ghost daughter and what exactly is going on there. Also there’s a very nebulous fantasy idea that involves storm eggs which never seems to quite fade away. I think I’m more likely to run out of time than ideas.
Non-writing goals for 2016
This year I will be mainly focussing on keeping my mental health together and not backsliding now I’m no longer in therapy. So, I will be attempting to meditate every day, walk as often as I can fit it in, play more session tunes and dance more morris. Because (so the experts tell me) spending time doing things you actually enjoy gives you the energy to do the other things you only need to do.
I am always reading Ursula LeGuin and today I got a new-to-me book of her essays called “Dancing at the Edge of the World.” It opens with an essay that gives me joy, given that I am a fifty year old going through the life threatening process of the menopause.
LeGuin is not the only author who surprised and delighted me by recommending the years after ‘the change of life’ as a time of power and a new opportunity for those who are no longer at the whim of a burdensome womb. I read something of the sort from bell hooks only last month, and smiled then too because I’d never heard anything of the sort before and it felt like something I’d desperately needed to hear. It felt like hope.
I was going to be lazy and just lift a few quotes from the internet rather than type them in myself, so I googled “quotes about menopause,” sure that I would find at least one of them there. Instead, I found:
“On a planet where for thousands of years, even today, a woman’s worth has been judged exclusively by the productivity of her womb, what the hell is the point of a barren woman?”
Elissa Stein and Susan Kim
“Estrogen deficient woman are nothing but the walking dead.”
Marie Hoag MBA
And I was appalled and insulted and flabberghasted, because you know what? I had two children and then I became infertile by choice. For twenty years all that ovulation nonsense was a mere background to my life and nothing whatsoever to do with my purpose. And to be frank, I looked forward to the day when it would all end.
So yes, fuck you, it’s time for me to type in the quotes I’ve just found and rejoice that all that nonsense about sex appeal and babies is largely behind me, and I can finally start being a person again. I look forward to claiming the archetype of the crone, who is frightning and powerful and mysterious and takes no shit.
“Men are afraid of crones, so afraid of them that their cure for virginity fails them; they know it won’t work. Faced with the fulfilled Crone, all but the bravest men wilt and retreat.”
“These were poor women born into a world without adequate birth control, a world where having an abortion could end one’s life, psychologically or physically. They were women who saw menopause as a rite of passage in which they would move from slavery to freedom. Until then they often felt trapped. This feeling of being trapped was one they shared with women across class. Even women who were solitary, celibate, and quite able to manage economically lived with the ever-present fearful possibility that all could be changed by sexual coercion.”
Communion: The Female Search for Love by Bell Hooks
I don’t know how many years ago now, an artist whose name I can’t remember made an icon of Snape in Neville’s Grandma’s dress and hat, and plastered the words “Fan Crone” over the top of it. As a feminine archetype, the crone is the only one that’s ever appealed to me, having connotations of power and wisdom and scaryness. I don’t know why I’ve always wanted to be scary. Probably because I’ve always been scared and it seems like it would be nicer on the other side.
At any rate, there isn’t a lot of point to this post except to say I see a whole load of women trying not to get old. I see society telling women that if they lose their sex appeal they lose their very purpose. I see a lot of young women and girls looking out on a world where women are ridiculed for being teenagers, have a brief flowering of being slightly less mocked in their twenties and thirties, and then are either ridiculed or made invisible when they pass forty.
As a person who is dfab and now over fifty, I’ve got to say I’m not finding it turning out that way. I’m finding that like bell hooks says, this is a time when society’s repressive gaze is looking away from me, and suddenly I can start being myself. This is progress and freedom, and I’m all for it.
My main problem with the whole process is how physically draining and uncomfortable it is, and how long it takes. Get on with it, you, and be over.
I meant to do this last year, and then real life intervened. But now I hope I am getting back on the horse and I’ve finally uploaded the second edition of The Wages of Sin to Kindle.
Now re-released in a Kindle exclusive for the next 90 days. (After which it will also be available from Kobo and Smashwords.)
Now with the companion short story ‘Communion’ included.
Review for The Wages of Sin from Jessewave:
If you love the deeply Gothic, then this will certainly be your cup of horror, as the book positively drips with it…. an utterly spellbinding and spooky read, a cracking mystery and a really lush piece of Gothic literature.
Review from Dear Author
I don’t think I’ve ever FELT like I was *in* a particular time more than I did in this book.
Charles Latham, wastrel younger son of the Earl of Clitheroe, returns home drunk from the theatre to find his father gruesomely dead. He suspects murder. But when the Latham ghosts turn nasty, and Charles finds himself falling in love with the priest brought in to calm them, he has to unearth the skeleton in the family closet before it ends up killing them all.
Charles wrapped his arms around himself and chafed his biceps to get some warmth into them. Cold radiated out from the marrow of his bones, nestled in his heart like a shard of ice. But the old felted blanket around him glowed in the lantern light with blue, yellow and red stripes, speckled with dog hair. He basked in wet dog and horse smell; brass polish, leather wax, and Floyd’s orange-flower-water cologne. These things and the terror that had passed could not exist in the same world, surely?
“A cloud,” he said, in a reedy, shocked voice. “There was a cloud. A black cloud. It… it rushed at me, and….”
“Most probably the dust cloud from the landau, sir.” Sam spoke over his shoulder as he flicked the whip encouragingly above Jewel’s ears.
“Yes, that would account for it. Undoubtedly why we neither of us saw the other coming.” Floyd nodded, fished out a handkerchief and wiped his cheeks and forehead with fingers only a little less unsteady than Charles’. “You, um. You fell upon your head, sir. And, mm, if my nose doesn’t guide me wrongly, had already imbibed a fair amount of… mm, conviviality. No doubt you are also distressed about your father. I think we need look no further for the cause of a temporary, understandable, overturning of the wits.”
“That’s not how it…” Charles clutched the blanket more closely, trapped a pawprint between his knee and the seat. The dried mud flaked off and scattered to the floor, and a convulsive choke of disgust forced its way out of him at the patter of falling soil. He smeared it underfoot, looked down blankly for a moment before the words finally penetrated his understanding.
The landau swayed like a pinnace as it swept through the great curve before the marble steps of the portico. Lights now glimmered in the hall, and as they drew up George flung open the door. His candle showed a white, sickened face, its distinguished lines set in strain.
“My father?” Charles rose to his feet, holding tight to the calash of the landau as it sprayed gravel with the speed of its stop. A fist of dread tightened beneath his breastbone and the waves of shivering returned full force. “What’s wrong with…?”
George ran down the stairs. The light shone on his open shirt and bare feet as his scarlet silk banyan trailed behind him. His uncovered hair shone silver-gilt, exposed. It was the first time in years Charles had seen his brother so careless of his appearance, and his wild unconscious beauty added a new terror to the night.
Flinging down his candle, George caught Dr. Floyd as he bent to retrieve his bag and hauled him bodily out onto the grass. Floyd raised an eyebrow at the treatment, while George in turn gaped at the sight of Charles leaping down beside him.
“Oh I do have a brother then? No, say nothing, this isn’t the time. You’d best come too.”
Charles followed his brother’s impatient strides past the stone pineapples on the sweep of white stairs. Their footsteps echoed and re-echoed like vollies of rifle-fire against the chequered black and white limestone of the entrance hall. A candelabrum set on a table within lit Doric pillars and the portraits of his ancestors with a bubble of amber light around which the darkness brooded. The door up from the kitchen stood partially open. Blurs of white faces, above white shifts, showed ghostlike in the crack.
On the landing, George’s valet Sykes stood waiting with a candlestick in his hand, his cravat lopsided and his chin shadowed by an aggressive growth of black stubble. Another twist in the garrotte of fear about Charles’ throat. They were normally both of them so impeccable. “George! What’s…?”
“Just,” George flung up a hand, “be quiet.” He took the candle and whispered to Sykes. “Stand outside the door. Mrs. Latham’s rest is not to be disturbed under any circumstances. Should Elizabeth wake, you may inform her, but you will not permit her to come in.”
Down the passage, their feet silent now on the runner of blue and white carpet. Outside the windows at either end of the passage, the night pressed inwards. As they stopped outside his father’s room, George dropped a hand to the doorknob and bent that exposed, vulnerable head. “I feel I ought to warn you. It isn’t… Ah. Well. See for yourself.”
Candlelight caught the cream and gold plastered walls, glittered like the ends of pins in the tassels of the bed-curtains and the gold embroidered comforter that lay in a kicked off crumple against the claw-footed legs of the bed. The fire had been made and burned clear yellow in the grate.
Soberly, imagination finally at bay, Charles did what his soldier ancestors would have expected of him. He walked forward into the line of fire, looked down.
Ambrose Latham, Earl of Clitheroe, lay on his back in his nightgown, his limbs fettered by the sheets, his swollen face purple. His open mouth brimmed with vomit. Across his nose, lips and chin the mark of a woman’s hand stood out in livid white. His nostrils were stopped with earth.
“What is he doing here?” The clock on the mantle struck quarter past six as Elizabeth gestured with her loaded fork. No doubt, Charles thought, his head throbbing, and the side of his face stinging in counterpoint, her advanced state of pregnancy excused the fact that she was still capable of eating. He wished she would do it somewhere else.
Dragging his eyes from the drop of brown grease that trembled on the end of the bacon, he looked where she pointed. The vague sense he had had all night that there were too many presences in the house – a pair of shoes outside a normally unoccupied door, an unexpected number of plates on the sideboard for this impromptu family breakfast, coalesced into a stranger at their table.
He wore the bob wig of a clergyman and a clergyman’s black woollen coat. The jet buttons of his cuff glittered, and beneath the stark white powder of his wig, his wing-like brows were just as black. The fan of black eyelashes hiding downcast eyes, and the diffident bend of his neck, could not disguise an angular, almost Spanish beauty; bold high cheekbones and a sullen, dangerous mouth.
“He’s here as my guest.” George was once more the picture of manly perfection in a suit of emerald silk, but the stick pin in his cravat clashed with his waistcoat, and the lines of strain in his face scored deeper by the hour. Charles swallowed, looked away, conscious that for the first time, George had begun to resemble their father.
“He’s father’s enemy. Always has been.” Elizabeth’s white makeup showed cracks and streaks in a dozen places, her handsome face puffy from weeping and her eyes bloodshot. Close to her confinement and with her husband absent at the head of his regiment in Scotland, she had returned home to be coddled with all the attentiveness an expectant grandfather could bestow. And she had always been Clitheroe’s favourite.
Charles honoured her for her grief. Despised himself for being unable to echo it.
Outside the tall windows, dawn had barely begun to break. Autumnal rain lashed the panes, rolled in silver beads down each black lozenge. Within the house a melancholy procession of servants passed the door of the morning room; Geoffreys, his father’s valet, with an arm full of neatly folded sheets, Cook with jug, basin and towel, and her two daughters following, a can of hot water carried between them. He took another cup of coffee, for the hangover, and looked back.
The stranger’s head still bent over the table. He dipped his spoon, ate a mouthful of porridge and the gesture brought his face even further into shadow.
“Melodramatic nonsense!” George speared a devilled kidney and thrust it onto his plate. “Father doesn’t have any enemies.”
Elizabeth gave a harsh laugh, honey-blonde ringlets bobbing with incongruous cheer beside her jaw. “In case you haven’t noticed, brother, our father is lying dead upstairs. He must have had one enemy, don’t you think? And now we’re eating breakfast with the prime candidate? That’s taking politeness a little too far.”
The scrape of a chair. The stranger made to rise and George caught him by the wrist, pressed his arm to the table, restraining him.
At the sight of the stranger’s hand, lying as if cut off by the black cuff, the picture of his father’s dead face flashed before Charles’ inner eye. He too recoiled, struggling to his feet, running to the window, trying to escape it.
“This is not the time for unfounded, hysterical accusations. Really, Elizabeth if your condition did not excuse you I should have to accuse you of running mad. Now please keep your voice down. This is the last thing Emma needs!”
By some dint of magic, the stranger had continued his retreat, withdrawing his presence, leaving his body like an old table that sits unnoticed in the corner of a room. But Charles was tired of trying to see his face, being thwarted. “Won’t someone introduce us?”
George laughed with surprise. “Don’t be a goose! You remember Jasper. Admiral Vane’s ward. We grew up together.”
Since it was impossible to say ‘no’, Charles leaned back against the window and let the chill of the rain seep across his shoulders. “By reputation only,” he said, and watched as Jasper’s stubborn chin raised half an inch and his mouth curved in a little bitter smile. “You forget, George; my earliest memory is of waving goodbye as you left for Cambridge. I’m afraid I have no recollection of you at all, Mr Marin. Except, as I say, by anecdote.”
At last, with slow grace like the turn of a minuet, Jasper looked up. His eyes, in the broadening light, were sherry coloured – a light, clear brown almost with a tint of red. Had there been room, Charles might have stepped backwards. A jolt of something very like fear went through him. How could he have mistaken the man’s invisibility for meekness? It had been all along the quiet of a tiger lying in wait in the long grass. Elizabeth’s accusation no longer seemed so laughable.
“Then I wish we could have met again in happier circumstances.”
Two heartbeats. Charles had time to wonder if this was some new manner of the same paralysis that had come on him last night; time’s normal flow suspended. Then the morning room door swung open and Dr. Floyd came in. The scene moved and flowed once more as George rose to pull out a seat for him, and Elizabeth called for fresh coffee.
I knew I was getting on too well with this Cretan thing – unimaginatively titled ‘Labyrinth.’ I’m on scene 11 out of 15 and should be galloping downhill towards the finish line. (Though tbh, this is the point where everything starts getting really complicated.) But I had to break off to lie down.
Never mind. I usually do a scene a day, so as long as I’m better by Monday I can still have it finished by the end of next week.
I bought ‘The Bull from the Sea’ to make sure I wasn’t covering ground that had already been covered by Mary Renault, but she opens with Theseus coming back from Crete, so that’s OK. I’m amused to find, now, that I’m totally against her whole ‘oh, how dreadful these effete foriegners are with their eyeliner and their fancy belts and their allowing women to participate in the bull games on an equal basis from men!’
I’m now very much thinking ‘I’m sorry? Are any of those supposed to be bad things?’
Anyway, it’s a fascinating time in history, and when I’m less dosed up with flu medicine I need to write a couple of serious posts about it. But now I don’t seem to be able to string two sentences together, so I’m going back to watching Gotham on Netflix. It seems appropriate for this kind of weather.
After all these years!
Got my tattoo finished off yesterday. I can’t actually tell what colour it is because it is so inflamed, but when it calms down it will probably be verging on very yellow. I now have my own sunshine with me at all times.
You couldn’t really see the anchor before, so I suggested making the anchor yellow/orange too, and Nick (the artist) said ‘Ah, yes, it’s reflecting the sky.’ Which I had not thought of, in fact, but makes so much sense.
Entire thing designed by me, done and hand shaded by Nick of Tattoo Crazy in March. I can’t recommend them enough.
One thing a blog is not really great at is as a format for really short posts and a locus for community… Two things a blog is not great for are as a format for really short posts, a locus for community and a place to…
Among the things a blog is not really great for are (a) a format for really short posts, (b) a locus for interaction with a community, and (c) a place to chat.
I used to love Livejournal for all those things, but LJ is deserted these days. This blog on its own just doesn’t cut it. I find Twitter intensely tedious and Facebook intensely annoying and hard to use. I have therefore relocated on a day to day basis to Tumblr.
I would love to see and follow anyone with a tumblr over there. Let’s actually talk for a change, rather than me just lecturing (which is what it feels like, shouting into the void on this blog.)
I am at http://itsthebeecroft.tumblr.com/ I would love to see you there!
It occurs to me that I have nothing pressing I need to blog about at the very same time as I am about to embark on writing a new thingy. Why not blog about a project while it is in progress? Well, if there is a reason, I imagine we’ll soon find out!
I’m in the acquisitive phase of writing at the moment. You can imagine me wandering around with a scoop on my head, shovelling the universe into me in hopes of sifting out inspiration. (Where ‘the universe’ = any book or post on the internet that takes my fancy, plus anything else.) A few weeks ago I started random Google searches on the Minoans and have ended up with a Pinterest full of appropriate pictures.
On a related note, let me complain at you over the lack of pictures of potential face-cast people with interesting faces. I don’t want my every character to look like a model. I want to be able to find pictures of people who make me go ‘ooh, look, I wonder what he’s thinking?’ or ‘ha! There’s a bloke who’s seen some interesting things in his time.’ Pretty is all very well, handsome is absolutely fine. I’m not knocking beauty, but I wish there was a bit more variety out there.
Which reminds me to find face casts for Maja and Jadikira before I start writing. At the moment I have no idea what they look like, and that doesn’t seem right.
Back to my main point, which is the acquisitive stage. At this point, I am taking in everything, finding ideas with puzzling edges and trying to fit them together in such a way as to make a picture, though there is no guiding box-lid to follow. I’m avoiding reading J.A Rock’s Minotaur because I am probably going to have a minotaur and I want it to be my own, but I’m thinking about werewolves and how a society deals with male violence – and how one deals with ones own rage – and that’s all getting knotted up together in a way I’m finding quite exciting.
At any rate, not a lot is talked about the acquisitive stage of writing. I don’t know – maybe not everyone has this stage? I always do, though. The first stage of writing anything, for me, is the insatiable need to find out more.
So if you have any obcure bits of minoan lore or books to recommend please toss them my way now, while I can’t get enough of the stuff! Thank you
So my antagonists for the Cretan thing are early Homeric-era Greeks. It seemed sensible to re-read the Iliad for background. I remember loving the Odyssey in childhood, but being a little meh about the Iliad. However, a lifetime of gender studies, feminism, anthropology and introspection has left me practically unable to read it at all. My God what a bunch of entitled jerks the characters are! Why am I supposed to care? Let Zeus fucking raze the beaches and the city of Troy alike with lightning storms and let them all burn. (You can save Patroclus and Odysseus first though.)
Sheesh. These are our heroes?
I wonder if I dare re-read the Odyssey. I liked it at the time because it had monsters, and both Odysseus and Penelope were clever. That surely can’t have changed.