Delighted to have Phillip here today, as this is – I think – his first ever blog post for his first book. Exciting, isn't it? So, me deario…
What inspired you to start writing?
I have wanted to write since I was about 11. I love books, As a child I loved creating imaginary worlds, adored Tolkien. (There’s a bit in “Portal to Logres” where I ascribe all that to Toby.) I wanted to write and scribbled endlessly. Then, in the 80s and 90s I played around with a lot of ideas mainly historical dramas or adventure stories. A friend also had aspirations to write and we tried to collaborate on a raunchy story about a Roman gladiator, but I got hooked up on the research and de-railed the book. Clearly I had a lot to learn
At one stage, I’d written so many opening sections to stories that a close friend suggested that I should collect them all together and publish a book called “Chapter One” because I never got any further!!! I was good at first chapters he told me. Others might like to complete the books!
But my day job – writing formal briefs and situation papers – meant that I could not change my style when I got home in the evening. “Officialese” uses a highly non-adjectival style. If I tried to write creatively, I’d find I was criticized for being too imaginative in my prose at work; if I tried writing romantic scenes they came out so stilted as to be unreadable!
Then came retirement, but it took at chance encounter with a certain lady – already a published author – to push me into publication. I loved her books set before World War One, but baulked at a Duke called Derek. I e-mailed her with my quibbles and to my surprise got a reply defending robustly her choice of name. That was just after Christmas 2013.
By early January I had been encouraged to start to write and within a month had 200,000 words down. (Sometimes I got up in the night to type away, the creative juices were flowing so freely.) The remarkable thing was that my writer friend and mentor never “interfered”, never gave advice, just pressed me to send her chapters, gave an occasional comment and encouraged me. WHY she did all this I remain uncertain, but I helped me turn the corner.
In June last year I attended the GLBT Conference in Bristol, made a pitch to a publisher, and here I am now with my first novel in print.
Do you have another job (paid or otherwise) apart from being an author? If so, how do you juggle your time?
As I have said, I am now retired, so I am reasonably free to arrange my time as I wish. I am trying (though it is not always easy) to work as if I am a professional and put in set hours at my PC. I feel that discipline will help me be more productive, just as the structure and deadlines of office life did when I worked full time.
Frankly, I found it impossible to balance a full-time job as a civil servant (working in a UK Government department) with serious creative writing. Sometimes I was too tired to do more than make notes, plan or scribble. But at other times it was, as I said before, the style of writing I was required to produce at work was just too different to change in the evening to a more emotional or personal one, and then to change back again next day. Others might have managed it. I couldn’t!
If I can be risqué for a moment, I once said to a colleague if I attempted to write a love scene, it came out strangled, akin to “I came, I saw I conquered!”. “That’s wrong,” said my colleague. “It would have to be ‘I saw, I conquered, I came!’ Your version would be premature ejaculation!”
I once read that an author of romantic fiction could not work out why one light, frothy love scene would not come out right, until she realised she was listening to music by Mahler in the background.
To conclude, retirement has provided me with the opportunity to do what I have always wanted to do.
What did it feel like watching your first book fledge and leave the nest?
This is probably a cliché, but like a mother giving birth. (As a man, I should say, as I imagine a mother must feel!) It was pressured, painful (at times), I was apprehensive and the whole thing was unfamiliar, so sometimes I felt a bit lost.
On the other hand, I had people around me who were professional and supportive and just plain wonderful, not least my warm, patient and skilled editor.
My biggest worry, I think, is how readers will view and respond to my characters.
I have come to know and love Marcus and Toby, but will those who meet them for the first time do the same? Will some of the other characters come across as I intended them to? Will the parallel world of Logres live for those who encounter it? I don’t know. But I’m sure I’ll find out.
Published authors, especially those with recurring characters, will gain some feedback as to how their readers feel about their creations. As a novice writer, I do not have that. I can only rely on my instincts and what friend’s say. So, I look forward (a little nervously) to hearing responses and reading reviews.
Are you character or plot driven? What do you do if one of your characters starts developing at a tangent?
A little of both, I’d say. I sometimes start with a situation, or the arc of a plot, and then begin to embroider it. At other times, a character or characters might pop into my head and I start to explore what they could do – even what they want to do.
“Portal to Logres” has elements of both. The world of Logres has been in my mind for many years. Writing the book solidified some aspects and led me to change others. As characters, Marcus and Toby remained pretty consistent and were very amenable to following my lead, although I think Marcus sometimes felt that I enjoyed putting him in dangerous situations and that I had him get naked too often… though secretly the lad is always most comfortable when he loses his clothes!!
Where the characters start to go off on their own, my instinct is often to follow them, unless I have very strong reasons to do otherwise…. for instance it would ruin the plot!
Allowing the character to be him (or her) self can reveal aspects of their nature, abilities or views that you had not recognised before. As author, you have the final decision, you can re-write and re-arrange as you wish. But exploring the identity of your leads in ways that they choose, can be revealing, inspiring and lead to them coming off the page with greater life and vitality – at least that’s what I have found.
One thing I have realised since getting into the genre of M/M romance, is that I, as the writer – have complete control over my characters. In real life, I am highly unlikely to meet, let alone have any sort of relationship with a handsome Hollywood star. Yet as a novelist, I can take any stud I want, describe him exactly as I imagine and have him do absolutely anything I want, any time! He has no secrets, I know every detail of his past, can enter into his most intimate thoughts, I can use him (in every sense of the word) in any way I desire. Well, if along the way, my stud suddenly leads me into unsought ways and to actions or says things I had never expected him to say, who am I to say no?
If you were in a tight corner and had to rely on one of your characters to save you, which would it be and why?
Both, I think, at different times. I try not to have a favorite.
Toby is clever, resourceful, considerate, loyal, a great and true friend who gives you his heart. But he’s sometimes a bit naive, a bit too emotional. That said, if I had a problem to solve, I’d probably choose Toby.
Marcus is the man of action, a bit arrogant, but exciting to be around. Once you have his friendship, he’ll leap to your defence in an instant, regardless of the cost to him. He is highly intelligent (thought not intellectual like Toby) and a born leader. He’s tough. So if I was in danger, or under threat, or needed physical help, I’d probably go for Marcus.
But, you know what? Best of all is to have them both at your side. They make a great pair.
If you had no constraints of time and a guarantee of publication, what book would you write?
There are two serious historical novels I have in mind:
A) The story of the family of Richard III from around 1447 to 1485, told in detail and with historical accuracy, but exciting and vivid. I think that would set Richard in his context and might explain what happened when his nephews (the so-called ‘Princes in the Tower’) disappeared. The “White Queen” (Phillippa Gregory) was Ok as a novel, but not hard-nosed enough for my taste. (The TV series was AWFUL!! – in my opinion, I hasten to add!) The Wars of the Roses are much misunderstood and I think the view of Richard himself (in some cases) has become far too romantic. I’d like to put all the politics, the plots and conspiracies and the intrigue to the fore. Much though I admire the man, I think he was perfectly capable of murdering the lads – I doubt he would have survived as long as he did in the fifteenth century without being ruthless – but whether he did is another matter. That’s what I’d like to explore – the influences on him, the people around him, his times.
B) The story of Akhenaten and Nefertiti and the Amarna heresy (XVIII Dynasty Egypt) and the period leading up to and after the reign of Tutankhamun. I still have the drafts of a novel done when I was 17/18 which fellow students laughed at. (I seem to recall a love scene dissolved into a pomegranate rolling red and juicy on the floor!) I hope today I could do better. There are some wonderful characters, not least the beautiful Nefertiti herself, but also her possible brother, the scribe Ay, and her mother-in-law and possible aunt, Queen Tiye.
All the research (or most of it) for both of those is done.
But for the moment, I want to focus on sexy men, horny studs and M/M romance, not least continuing the sage of Logres and learning more about Toby and Marcus.
Is there a classic book you started and simply couldn't finish?
Many! I have periods when I can read a Dickens novel, others when I can’t touch them. I wish I could read Trollope (I love the idea of his Pallister series) and Walter Scott.
Is it too shocking to say I have an idea to re-write “Ivanhoe” as an M/M romance? Believe me, Ivanhoe will suffer… but his name (Wilfred, in the original) will have to go!
I’m actually quite low brow in my tastes. Generally, if a book doesn’t grab me, I’ll set it aside quite quickly. If one does, and the author has written more, I’ll gobble up everything I can in short order.
But I steer clear of modern classics and the annual “Literary Prize” short lists. Sorry, but they are too adult for me and just not to my taste. The volumes on Marcus’ bookshelf in “Portal to Logres” (Of Human Bondage, The Grapes of Wrath, TS Elliott’s The Wasteland Four Quartets and Thackeray’s Pendennis) would never be on mine.
Incidentally, “Pendennis” is there as a joke. It was the first coinage of the name “Camford” which I have used for my fictionalised University city.
Not sure I have answered the question, but it’s the best I can do!
What’s your favourite gay romance book? And why?
Not sure I can give just one!
I adore and admire Charlie Cochrane’s “Cambridge fellows” series (and I am not just saying that!) very highly. This was the series that got me into M/M and writing after all. Jonty and Orlando are wonderful characters and their adventures are well-crafted and enjoyable. The book set just after World War One made me cry twice… and I NEVER cry over books.
I am currently re-reading T J Masters’ “Taking the Gardener” because I love the character of Tom. It’s well-written and plotted and just appeals strongly.
Josh Lanyon’s Adrien English books are fun and I am also a fan of James Lear, especially his Mitch Mitchell books, starting with “The Back Passage”. (I wish I could write like him!)
What's your next project?
Volume Two of the Logres sequence, I think, “Treasures of Logres”: assuming that people aren’t tired of Marcus and Toby already!
If I pause to see what the response is to the first book, then I might try some gay erotica, including a bit of bdsm; and I have an idea for a book that might be a bit controversial, involving the British royal family in the not too distant past.