So, I know authors are not supposed to address negative reviews, but I’m going to do it anyway, in a circuitous way. I’ve no desire to hold up any individual review and nobble it, but I’ve had a couple of reviews from people who have had problems with my depiction of Christianity and Paganism in the Reluctant Berserker, and I would like to try to explain why I wrote it as I did.
The first thing I’d like to say is that I know a certain amount about the era of which we speak. I studied Anglo Saxon Art and Archaeology at university, and then I did a thesis on ‘The Cult of the Horse in Early Anglo-Saxon England’ which necessitated me combing all the available evidence about paganism in England in Saxon times.
I say this not to blow my own trumpet, but mainly to point out that there was both thought and knowledge behind my treatment of both subjects.
It’s fair to say that all the written evidence we have from early Saxon England comes to us filtered through the perspective of Christians. This was because it was Christians – monks, nuns, priests – who were literate at the time. All of the source material we have, on which to base a portrait of the world view of the Saxons was written down by Christians. Even Beowulf.
I know that the impression we get of Saxon society is overwhelmingly Christian, because I studied it looking for evidence of paganism. I wanted at the time to learn more about Woden, Tiw, Thunor, Frig and so on, because I wished to worship them – I was a nascent Asatru. But the result of combing the Anglo-Saxon sources for genuine information about the old gods was a deep immersion in Saxon Christianity and a conversion experience.
We need to remember that this is a pre-scientific society. Our modern society is shaped by a great many beliefs that did not exist in Saxon times. Evolution, progress, the ability of science and reason to understand the world, a profound lack of spirituality. Saxon England was very different. Their world was populated with spiritual presences, which were responsible for illness and fate and luck. They weren’t alone in their universe. In fact they were surrounded by invisible presences, from the earth spirits that might be called up to scorn your enemies to death, to the highest of the archangels. The very earth under their feet was alive and watching them.
The melancholy resignation to the will of God, the gnomic sayings, the superstitious use of Christianity as a kind of magic – making the sign of the cross over food one had dropped on the floor to make it safe to eat – all of it is pretty much directly taken from the source material.
Now you can say ‘but of course the source material is going to be heavily Christian if it was written by monks. That doesn’t mean the normal people were all saints’ and you’d be right about that. But… does that mean that I should reject the only available source material and just make something up? I don’t think that’s a better option.
The truth is that there’s even less evidence for what the pre-Christian beliefs of the Saxons might have been. There are some place names that include the elements Woden, Thunor, Tiw, Ing and Frigg, which suggests that some of the stories known about Odin, Thor, Tyr, Frey and Frigga might have been shared by the Anglo-Saxons. I’ve used that to justify having Leofgar make reference to some stories known from Norse myth.
Beyond that, there are some unexplained references to goddesses like Eostre and Nerthus in the writings of the (Christian) Venerable Bede. And there are some magical chants and formulae in the Leechbooks of the time (early medical texts) which I have used in forming the character and beliefs of Saewyn the healer.
So, really to wind this up before I get tedious – it may be too late there – the reason that The Reluctant Berserker is such a blatantly Christian and indeed Catholic book is that Saxon society and world view was a blatantly Christian and indeed Catholic one (though with some input from Celtic Christianity.)
And the reason why my healer is more in touch with paganism and yet uses her magical powers to curse her son’s killer is not because I’m saying that paganism is inherently evil. It’s because – by early Saxon mores – she has every right and indeed the duty to avenge her son’s death. She’s doing a thing which the early Saxons would have thought of as laudable. And I decided to allow her to do it in an authentic way, by setting up a spite stake against his murderer.
Yay! Though I’m sorry to hear that the first chapters were so grim they almost put the reviewer off, I’m very glad to hear that she felt it was well worth pushing through to get to the rest of it
Overall, I thought this was a very enjoyable read, once I got past the grim beginning. Michael and Finn’s chemistry is very palpable, and as a reader, I was rooting for them to push beyond their mutual hang-ups and see how together they were the golden glue that fills in the broken cracks in each other’s lives and reveals something whole and beautiful.
I look forward to reading what’s next in Trowchester. It’s certainly off to a wonderful start.
In other news, I have finished the first draft of my unexpected space opera with m/f romance, now titled Lioness of Cygnus 5. That weighs in at 77,443 words, and I expect it to reach around 85,000 when I’ve finished edits. I know there are a lot of scenes that need to be added or fleshed out, and my editing tends to lengthen rather than shorten my first drafts anyway.
What next? Probably the next Trowchester book, I think. But first a day off!
It’s New Year’s Eve? So tomorrow you start on your diet, right? OK, that’s probably a bit presumptive. It’s New Year’s Eve, so tomorrow I start on my diet. Today, I get rid of all the party food in the house, and one of the ways I do this is through soup.
You need to understand that I learned to cook as a student, when my ingredients were ‘whatever is being thrown away at the market’ and water. Despite now being many decades older, I’ve never seen any need to learn to cook any other way. You probably also need to understand that I hate cooking, and only do it in preference to starving.
There’s a reason why my characters live off supernoodles and pizza, and the most complicated cookery they ever attempt is throwing some mixed herbs, olive oil and parmesan on top of spaghetti (Finn from Trowchester Blues.) They all enjoy their food, but they enjoy it best when it’s cooked by someone else.
Have I lowered your expectations enough? Probably not. You probably still won’t believe I had the cheek to offer this as a recipe. But I did! Behold and boggle:
New Year’s Eve soup
Fry a chopped onion in a massive pan.
Take all your savoury leftovers (which you have been storing in the freezer for just this occasion) and roughly chop them. Throw them in the pan with the onions and fry the whole lot.
Add two pints of water. If you have any left over gravy, fling that in too. Otherwise, add a stock cube. Bring to the boil and then allow to simmer for about an hour.
Blend to smoothness with a hand blender.
Add things to make it taste better. Eg, soy sauce or cumin or paprika if it needs more depth, left over cranberry jelly and Christmas pudding if it needs more sweetness. Etc – whatever you have on hand.
If it’s too thin, add a couple of handfuls of lentils.
If it’s too thick, add water.
Tell yourself thank God that’s over. Now I can get back to something interesting, and have your last glass of wine for the year while contemplating what you’re going to write next.
Happy New Year! May it be full of good dinners you didn’t have to cook for yourself
ZAM mentioned that I probably share this method of cookery with the Saxons, who famously dismissed the entire art of the chef by declaring “I can boil what I need to boil by myself.” So I’m going to use that tenuous hook to tie this post in to The Reluctant Berserker, in which cookery also fails to play a prominent part in everyone’s lives.
Today I’m handing the blog over to TPV to celebrate the launch of his In The Dark trilogy, the first book of which comes out on the 15th of December. So without further ado…
“What do you think of Fifty Shades of Grey?” my muse asked.
“As little as possible,” I replied.
“Bet you’ve never read it,” she persisted.
“Bet you’d be correct,” I answered.
“It’s a great book,” she continued. “But…”
“But…?” I prompted. Aha, now we’re getting to the reason for this rambling.
“I was thinking you should try something of that sort…”
“A romance…now don’t look like that,” she went on as I curled my lip and shook my head. “A contemporary romance…a sexy romance…but something a little different, maybe…yes, I know…an m/m contemporary romance!” She paused. “On second thought, never mind…forget I said anything…”
She looked extremely pleased with herself, and something else…cunning.
“You don’t think I can do it,” I guessed.
She shrugged. “You did well with Absinthe, but Romance isn’t horror. It’d be out of your league. I doubt you could have two people embrace and watch the sunset together. You’d probably have the sun explode and sear them to ashes.”
That hurt. Because it was true.
“All right.” I retorted. “You’ve got a deal. I’ll write you an m/m contemporary romance with absolutely no horror….”
“…and a Happily Ever After ending,” she added.
“And an HEA,” I promised grudgingly. Damn, that means no poisonings, or shootings, no ripped out throats, or deathbed scenes.
“I’ll believe it when I see it,” she replied.
Why does she do this to me? Get me to thinking of writing a book, then pretend to back out? Because my muse is a manipulator, that’s why, and she knows just which buttons to push to get me to write.
I’ll show you,” I said aloud. ‘I won’t write one book, I’ll write a trilogy…and it’ll have the happiest ending ever.”
So I kept my promise to my muse and wrote the In The Dark trilogy. I started out with a premise…boy meets boy, boy loses boy, boy gets boy back…and proceeded from there. It does have a few “dark” elements, but there are absolutely no vampires, ghosts, family curses, duels to the death, magic, or any other paranormal or supernatural elements…although one character does use the word “vampire” once.
It’s simply the story of Kimberly Crosley, a London rent boy, and Christopher (Kit) Laurence, a retired soccer champ, two people as different from each other as day from night, who discover they have some things in common…
I’m not too good in contemporary settings, at least I don’t think I am, so immediately I decided not to set this story in the South. As if wanting to get as far away from those southern roots as possible, I placed my heroes in London.
I envisioned a dark London side street…far away from Piccadilly Circus and Trafalgar Square…a young man stands with his fellow gentlemen of the night…a mysterious black car comes down the street…he notices it, not merely because it’s a 1930 Chrysler touring saloon and this is 2014, but because it’s come by every night for a week…and he’s curious about who owns that car and what he does with the young men he picks up…
…and the story began.
Being who I am, I immediately knew I was going to do a ton of research. After all, what did I know about London other than what I saw on PBS’ Masterpiece Mysteries? By the time I finished, I knew a damn sight more than when I started, from street slang to soccer awards. I learned what a jumper is…what Manchester UK and Madrid Real are…how to spell “tire,” “jail,” and “curb” the British way (my editor and I had a terrific row over the word “gaol”)…the parts of a British automobile…and quite a few other things.
Like Gaul, my book was divided into three parts, and I found I didn’t need any supernatural elements. Angel Delahanty, Kim’s pimp…pardon, I mean, entrepreneur supplying elements of physical satisfaction, is devil enough despite his name.
In Book One, Kim Crosley, a rent boy with too much curiosity, tries to discover the Chrysler’s identity, leading him to meet Christopher “Kit” Laurence, a retired soccer champ who’s been a virtual recluse since a sports injury finished his career. They’re obviously attracted to each other; though Kim’s willing, Kit keeps him at arms-length. Both men have secrets getting in the way but neither has the courage to speak those secrets and dispel the threats they offer to their relationship.
Book Two deals with the progression of their relationship. Kit becomes merely a Pygmalion to Kim, making the sow’s ear who’s a rent boy into a silk purse of a young gentleman, which is definitely not what Kim wants from him.
Here’s where I let Devlin, Kit’s Irish chauffeur/bodyguard come into play. I enjoyed writing this character. I envisioned him as a hefty guy, rough on the outside to hide a mellow interior, and fiercely loyal to his boss. He tells Kim plainly he thinks he’s simply a fortune-hunter who’s going to abscond with most of Kit’s fortune as well as the family silverware. The other important secondary character is Toby, Kim’s flatmate. It’s what happens to Toby that helps him convince everyone he’s not after Kit’s money but actually cares for the man himself.
In Book Three, Kim is welcomed into Kit’s life. Kim learns the reasons for Kit’s hesitation in showing affection. There’s a breaking down of all the walls between them as Angel arises to threaten everything Kim has gained.
I think it’s a good story…and a good romance, too. It has an HEA and there’s no doubt about it, because this time, it was a done deal. Though my characters struggle to get what they want, they certainly deserve it when they achieve it.
It’s an m/m romance, yes…but it’s also the story of two people—who could be any two people in the world—facing unusual odds to be together and achieve that HEA.
Why the title In The Dark? Because both Kit and Kim discover they can speak their most hidden fears into the safety the dark offers, and it’s only after they’re said those words can their love come into the light.
EXCERPT from Book One, Whispers in the Dark:
The black car came around the corner just as I emerged from the alley. As Angel instructed, I always waited a few minutes, giving the john time to put a little distance between us. Let him get about eight steps ahead before you move. So I did. I always tried to follow orders. It was best all around. Saved unpleasantness later.
I stopped just outside the alley entrance, rubbing my left mandible. My jaw muscles were still aching. He’d been built like a retired footballer, heavyset and thick…everywhere. He was already gone, back to the main thoroughfare and his life, wherever that was. I, however, was stuck here. For a moment I wished I could follow the man, but my life was on that street corner and I had to get back to work no matter my personal preferences.
That was when I saw the car. It was definitely something commanding attention. A 1930 Chrysler Royal Touring saloon, big and black, bulky as a Sherman tank and about as out of place on a London street as anything could be. It looked like something from a 1930’s American gangster film, a car Al Capone or someone of that ilk would ride in. The car itself appeared in pristine condition, as I imagined it did when it came off the assembly line eighty-three years before. The chrome was immaculate, the wax job reflecting the streetlamps like a mirror. It was as conspicuous as Hell and obviously whoever owned it didn’t care he was announcing his appearance as loud as if he had a brass band marching in front of him. It was past midnight so perhaps he thought that late at night no one would notice.
He was certainly wrong there.
There was another reason I noticed the car. This was the seventh time in as many nights it had been here. Not that we didn’t have returnees. All of us had regulars, but not in seven consecutive days. I was curious to see the insatiable gent riding in the back of that car, someone obviously so wealthy he had a chauffeur driving a classic antique auto, someone picking up rent boys and carrying them away for several hours each night. Also someone who didn’t give a damn.
The car came closer, slowing to a crawl. The engine purred so the original one had been replaced with something much more modern and powerful. I stopped near the streetlamp, my usual spot. It slid to a running stop at the kerb.
I took a step forward. The car moved on. I watched to see who was the lucky one tonight. The car braked halfway down the block. In front of Raven.
The streetlamp highlighted his pretty painted face as the window on the driver’s side rolled down. Raven sauntered over. He put a hand on the sill, leaning down to peer inside, speaking to whomever was driving.
His name wasn’t really Raven. It was Calvin Mackay and he was a Scot from Inverness but Angel called him Raven so all of us did, too. With his dark hair, slightly sharp features, and hazel eyes, he looked a little like a blackbird so that was appropriate. His hair, cut in a rent boy handle—shaved on the sides and hanging long down the back like tailfeathers—furthered the image. We all had aliases and weren’t allowed to use our real names while we were working. Since we rarely associated once we left the block, our streetnames were how most of us knew each other.
Raven straightened, moved to the side of the car and opened the back door, getting in. It was dark inside and the windows were tinted, another modern touch. I couldn’t see the mysterious john, or even if there was anyone in the back seat. Maybe the chauffeur was taking Raven to his employer. Hell, for all I knew, maybe there was a mattress in the back and he was just going to drive around the corner and stop so the gent could get the drubbing he wanted then and there. The car was certainly big enough to house a queen-size bed.
As it disappeared, I hoped I was around when it came back. I decided I was going to satisfy my curiosity and corner Raven and asked him what’s going on?
“You look like you’re waiting for someone.”
Those words, spoken behind me, drew my attention away from the car and back to work. A big, broad gent stood there, basket bulging. Sod it all, another rugby player gone to seed. My jaw muscles clenched in protest.
“Maybe it’s you, luv,” I said, reaching out and grasping the lamppost and kind of swaying back and forth against it. My version of a pole dance.
“Why don’t we discuss finances?” he suggested. “And then take a little walk.”
Oh cute, this one.
“Why don’t we step away to where it’s a little quieter for our discussion?” I countered.
He followed me into the alley.
The In the Dark trilogy (Whispers in the Dark, Confessions in the Dark, Lovers in the Dark) is being released December 15 by Class Act Books, www.classactbooks.com.