Lovely to have my old mucker Chris here again. She’s always worth reading. I’ll leave it to her…
When Charlie invited me to blog about Undercover Blues [for which many thanks, btw, and I’ll buy you a glass of Something when we meet next], she asked me a couple of questions – why 1935, and why a dance band?
Why 1935? It is, after all, far outside of my preferred historical periods. Well, a year or so ago I embarked on a reading jag of old favourites, rediscovering Dorothy L Sayers, Margery Allingham, Agatha Christie, Carter Dickson, Michael Innes, to name only a handful. And, yes, I should have been writing, but I am easily distracted… But the 1930s sort of stuck in my brain. In that strange time in between terrible wars, British society and events in Europe were undergoing seismic shifts, and I wanted to explore it, if not in great depth. I remembered a story I’d written many years ago, so I dug it out. Although it hadn’t initially been set in the ‘30s, it had distinct possibilities. It needed a hell of a lot of work, of course, and research.
Why a dance band? As part of my research I immersed myself in the music of the time. I found some wonderful archive sites online, and also bought a couple of CDs thanks to visits to several Big Houses with gift shops, and that dance band stuff proved surprisingly addictive. Another major factor in my choice of the setting was the theatre world. It sometimes proved to be a comparatively safe niche for those with leanings towards their own sex, as long as they were careful. Show business people were perhaps more inclined to be tolerant of homosexuality than the outside world.
In 1935 homosexuality was very much against the law, and even high profile characters like Noel Coward had to be circumspect. Only twenty-nine years before, Oscar Wilde was found guilty of ‘Gross Indecency with other men’ and incarcerated in Reading Gaol for two years of hard labour. Only seventeen years later, and despite the crucial work he did during and after the Second World War, Alan Turing would be convicted of homosexuality and accept chemical castration as an alternative to imprisonment. So to be accused was to risk substantial punishment and extreme disgrace. Homosexuality remained a crime in the UK right up to its partial repeal in 1967. it remained on the statute books until 2003.
Yes, the human race has come a long way in a surprisingly short space of time, given that societies can take generations to change, yet there is still a long way to go. Some communities are still stuck in the cruelty of the Middle Ages. But change *will* come.
Every writer who creates in the GLBTQ genre is helping towards that goal. If one person changes their attitude for the better towards GLBTQ people as a result of [perhaps inadvertently] reading a book in our genre, that is one more brick from the wall.
(Charlie’s note – don’t you love that Manifold house style?)