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We’re all going on a (sort-of) summer holiday…

Just got home from three days in and around Cambridge followed by three days at one of my childhood holiday haunts, Great Yarmouth. Duxford Air Show didn’t happen, but The National Race Horse Museum (with racehorse rehabilitation centre) was a great replacement.

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Lots of fun and games over the week, including swan feeding:

Guest author – Ally Lester

I love having guest authors and this is no exception. Ally’s here to talk about her new book, Taking Stock and to answer my probing and incisive questions.
I’ve given up asking authors which is their favourite book because they say that’s like picking a favourite child. So, what’s the thing you like best about this new book? And what do you love about Inheritance of Shadows?
The thing I like about both books is that they’re set on a farm. Webber’s Farm is a fictionalisation of a farm that I used to visit as a child. The wonderful Elin Gregory has made me map of it! Taking Stock is a bit of an aberration for me, as it’s not paranormal. It’s set in the same universe as my previous books and in the same geographical location as Inheritance of Shadows. It even has some of the same minor characters popping up. But the main characters are just oblivious to the paranormal. Which is pretty much how my paranormal universe works–most people haven’t got a clue about it. Laurie is just toddling along, doing his farming thing, until one day, he has a stroke. And everything changes.
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It’s difficult to say what I like best about it–I started writing it just after my Mama had her stroke in November last year and Laurie’s experience of anger and frustration and disempowerment is a combination of her feelings–she’s an 84 year old farmer who was pretty much running a seven acre place single-handed before she was ill–and my own. I started having seizures five years ago and had to stop doing all sorts of things, including my chicken breeding/egg selling business, because I basically now fall over and flap around like a kipper whenever I try and lift anything heavier than a kettle. I love the fact that I’ve been able to weave all of that into my story. It’s much more feelings-based than anything I’ve written before, with no crazed monsters popping out of portals and to move the plot along. It was a very different way of writing for me and I really enjoyed it.
Is release day still as nerve inducing as with your first book?
Kind of, yes? This will be book number five and I’m familiar with the process now, so I’m less wound up like a spring. I do get nervy about reviews coming back though. It’s a bit like that dream when you’re suddenly naked in the middle of school assembly and everyone is looking at you critically whilst you try and talk about how well the rugby team has been doing and keep smiling at them.
I read a lot of historical fiction and some of it is right tripe. It’s like, for example, they’re writing a Victorian era which is simply the present day but with stovepipe hats. How do you make sure your fictional work has an authentic ring?
I research and I read and I sometimes experiment with practical stuff. My background is history and archaeology, so I actually rather enjoy that side of things. For The Flowers of Time I drove everyone in the house mad by making my own butter and turning it into butter lamps, which in retrospect was completely unnecessary but made me feel I understood the process. I read contemporary newspapers and travel guides. The main thing I try and get right is dialogue. It’s important to get it to chime right–a balance between how people would have spoken then and how people speak now, so it gives an authentic flavour but doesn’t sound stilted to the modern reader. I use Jonathan Green’s slang dictionary as a resource and look up a LOT of synonyms when I’m going through the manuscript as a second draft. I also try and get an image in my head of how the person looks and moves–for Will Grant in Shadows on the Border and the upcoming The Hunted & the Hind, I have picture of Cecil Beaton flirting with Gary Cooper in about 1930 that I keep coming back to when I wonder exactly how he’d have acted or phrased something. I also have a lot of tags in every first draft saying things like ****LOOK THIS UP DID THIS EVEN EXIST THEN?**** that I come back to when I go through it again.
Often there’s a perception (based on cover art, maybe?) that m/m romance is about physically perfect men. Mental flaws appear to be allowed but not bodily ones. What’s your view on this? Which stories have you enjoyed reading where the protags are less than perfect?
Oooh, very on the nose question for Taking Stock. One writer who has less than perfectly abled characters whose books I love is C. S. Poe. Her Snow and Winter series features Sebastian Snow, who suffers from serious visual impairment. And in her novel Southernmost Murder, Aubrey Grant suffers from narcolepsy. I think there’s a tendency for writers to want to avoid all the messy, difficult things that might come with a disabled character. And possibly a fear of getting it wrong and causing offence. For example, how do you write sex scenes with a disabled MC and walk the balance between realism and the fantasy that a lot of people reading romance are looking for? I think as more and more writers tackle this, we are seeing more diversity in m/m and that’s a really good thing. Don’t get me started on cover art, though! I don’t really want naked people on my covers and I don’t think my books lend themselves to it, really. I’m seriously wondering whether I should call my stories m/m… are they more queer mystery? Or queer suspense? I have non-binary characters in some of them and The Flowers of Time has a female love interest too.
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Thank you so much for having me, Charlie! And thank you so much for reading!

Charlie’s latest newsletter

Apologies for the hiatus. We managed to get away for a few days to the edge of Dartmoor, which was absolutely lovely apart from one incredibly rainy afternoon where the rain came down like a monsoon!

News

A couple of exciting things in progress/about to happen. Am taking part in Joyfully Jay’s reading challenge month – this week’s competitions are to win self-published books, among them anything from my collection. Huge amount of other goodies to be won, too.

Then, going live on Sunday is this year’s Children in Read, where lots of authors have books up for auction, all in aid of the BBC’s wonderful charity for children. That’s a cause I’ve supported for many years and am pleased this time to be offering a copy of A Carriage of Misjustice, which I’ll sign – with a message of the purchaser’s choice – and post anywhere in the known universe. 

Free story: Wolves of the West is now uploaded to my free stories page so anyone can read it from there. It’s a story of how mild-mannered werewolves find themselves embroiled in a scandal involving a Premiership footballer.

Excerpt:

This time I’m going to tease you with a smidgeon of a work in progress, specifically the next Cambridge Fellows story, which I started writing when I was supposed to be finishing the next actor laddies’ story but got distracted…

February 1912, a field near Cambridge
“Well, here we are.”
Orlando Coppersmith glanced sideways at his companion. They’d had to park up the automobile—known to anyone who had a scrap of sense as the metal monster—two hundred yards away, in the only place it could safely fit on the small road without obstructing livestock or irate farmers. Then they’d had to climb a style and negotiate a muddy field to arrive at another style, on which he was currently perched. “We’re certainly somewhere. Would you care to enlighten me further?”
“Isn’t it obvious?” Jonty Stewart, grinning, raised a sandy coloured eyebrow—how his hair colour was subtly changing with the years, although any hint of grey was yet to appear—then swept his hand to encompass the scene.
“It’s obviously a field.” Orlando observed. That was about as much information as he’d received in advance of the visit, other than it was something he’d find of interest and he’d be getting his lunch as part of the process. “A field with people in it. Digging. I assume they’re not mining a newly discovered seam of gold or opening a coal mine.”
“And I assume—or at least I hope—that you aren’t deliberately being obtuse just for the fun of it. This isn’t an ordinary field, as the slight humps and bumps will attest.” Another sweep of the hand. “Those people are a mixture of students and fellows from the university and the digging isn’t in search of nuggets or ore—that’s not easy to say at this time of the morning, so don’t make me repeat myself.”
Orlando couldn’t help but grin. How could anyone not be amused in the presence of Jonty, even if they also felt the urge to murder him on frequent occasions? Or roger him stupid on others. “Then this must be an archaeological dig. Iron Age? Saxon? Roman?”
“Possibly all three, according to Dr Applecross. He believes they had a habit of reusing sites, our forebears. Mind you, who can blame them when there’s a view like this?”
Orlando had to agree with that. If the vista to the west had been just as splendid a couple of thousand years ago and the countryside equally lush and productive, it would have made an ideal place to live, as long as they were sheltered against the fierce East Anglian winter wind, which often appeared to be blowing straight from the Russian steppes. The first hints of spring were starting to appear, so in a few weeks the scene would be a joy to the eyes.
“These forebears inhabited different styles of housing, one assumes?” Not a subject Orlando knew much about, although he remembered a picture book he’d had as a boy, which had depicted various parts of British history.
“I believe so. I’m out of my academic depth here, as you no doubt are, too.” Jonty shrugged, then took in the view once more. “Applecross also reckons there may well have been family continuity. He’s adamant that the Romans didn’t push out or enslave all the native British, simply amalgamated some of them. Gave them jobs and a bit of power.”
“You seem to have been chatting to this Applecross man rather a lot. I’ve not come across him before.”
“You won’t have done. He came up to St Thomas’s earlier this year and is still finding his feet. Quite a shy chap, I believe.” Jonty pursed his lips. “Now, before you get any funny thoughts, no, I don’t think he’s in any way attractive. Just interesting to listen to. Even the dunderheads like his lectures, which is praise indeed.”
“I’ve not had any ‘funny thoughts’ for ages,” Orlando said, although that wasn’t quite the truth and both of them knew it. Still, nobody could say he was as possessive and as lacking in confidence as he’d been when he and Jonty had first met. A few experiences of the character-building type had seen to that, alongside the healing effect of Jonty’s love. “Which one is he?”
“I can’t tell from here, given the way they’re all dressed similarly and the fact he’s built like a student. He’d be the chap waving his arms around in an organising kind of way, I’d guess but I’m not committing myself until we’re closer.”
Orlando resisted a little jibe about Jonty’s long sight becoming as bad as his close sight and was that a factor of old age. From this distance you’d have been hard pressed to pick out the king himself. They threaded their way down a slope, between some small gorse bushes, the site opening up before them and becoming more recognizable as an excavation with every step they came closer. Turf had been lifted and laid to one side, great areas of earth had been exposed and what looked like a course of masonry rose up from one of them.
“Dr Stewart!” The chap who’d been gesturing at the students waved a hand in salute. “Delighted you could get here. Is this your colleague?”
“It is indeed.” Jonty shook the man’s hand. “Dr Applecross, Dr Coppersmith.”
“Pleased to meet you.” Orlando produced a happy smile as he shook the man’s hand. Applecross, while still blessed with a schoolboy’s frame, was fifty if he was a day and not the sort of man Orlando would rate as attractive. Ignoring the frisson of disquiet at exactly why he should be feeling any hint of jealousy, he peered into the cleared area. “Is that a mosaic?”

And finally – Devon in all its glory!

Charlie

Adventures in lockdown easing – church

Our local church opened for worship yesterday evening for the first time since lockdown. Or maybe since the fall of the dinosaurs, it seems so long. A simple communion (bread only), no singing, no touching, plenty of sanitiser, distancing and masks.

Hilarity when I did the readings, because we always announce the chapter, verse then page numbers for the pew bibles so folk can read along if they wish. Me: “The reading is from the gospel of Mark, chapter 4, beginning to read at verse 1 and can be found on page xxxx of the pew bibles…oh, no it can’t, because there aren’t any.”

Adventures in lockdown easing – a mini holiday

Like many folk, our holiday plans for the year went t**s up – in fact almost all of our fun plans got cancelled. Nil desperandum and all that, we kept our eyes out for opportunities, one of which we’ve just taken. Glad to report that Devon was fun, felt pretty comfortable (people on the whole making an effort to keep each other safe) and while the weather wasn’t the best, we had a grand time.

Interesting little rental cottage, very ‘interesting’ weather.

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Torquay was looking rather continental,

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and The Pig always impresses…

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The rewards of lockdown

One of the things we did in full lockdown was start seriously to grow some veg, on the south-facing bit of our patio that’s a right suntrap. We’ve dabbled with veg in past years, but always been too busy to do it properly (like picking caterpillars off the brassica!) This year we had time, weather and inclination. We also had the benefit of free tomato plants care of the ‘help yourself’ boxes that sprang up all over the place locally during the deepest part of lockdown – and also did some seedling swopping with the eldest daughter.

Got to say, the tomatoes are amazing and so too the spring onions.

 

Charlie’s latest newsletter

Virtual raceday went really well, thanks to a horse called Brian the Snail that came in as a long-odds third and meant we almost broke even at the virtual bookies. Now we’re fighting the heat and becoming addicted to weather apps. “Oh look! There’s lightning five miles to the north-east!”

News

I haven’t shared any writing updates for a while, so here we go. I’ve got two projects on the go at present, one of which is the next Cambridge Fellows novella. That’s just begun to appear on the page almost from nowhere (I always say it’s like Jonty and Orlando are simply telling me their memoirs and I’m their amanuensis.) The other work in progress – and much more progressed – is the next Toby/Alasdair mystery, which was supposed to be about poison-pen letters, but which has acquired a mass murderer. That sound is my eyes rolling at my characters.

I’ve been featuring the “Secret Life of Mrs Beeton” here (a tale of everyday pastry cooks and spies) and have now uploaded the whole thing to my free stories page.

Free story – Wolves of the West

Wolves of the West  started life as a story in the anthology Queerwolf. Now, in my writing career I’ve seen a number of publishers come and go and the Queerwolf publisher went. Wolves had a life with another publisher then was a newsletter freebie with a third one! Those poor werewolves must be dizzy by now.
They’re now en route to their ultimate resting place, which is the free story page of my website, of course. But first, they’re all, exclusively, yours.

Night of the full moon

“Heathens.” George O’Driscoll leaned on the balcony rail, observing with barely disguised disdain the tourist masses, their heads bent over cases or their faces staring up at tiny dinosaur skulls on huge dinosaur necks.
“They pay your salary.” Rory Carter’s chirpy voice—perpetually chirpy except at times of high passion or drama—sounded over his shoulder.
“Not any more since we’ve waived the admission fee. It’s all grants or sponsorship and such nonsense now, or so I understand.” George’s face indicated that he might not know what he was talking about. “And I suspect the people who dole out the funding are as heathen as this mob. Wouldn’t know a plesiosaur from a plasmid.”
“But they’re here to learn, George.” The voice of reason spoke again. “Perhaps they’ll have more of an idea when they go home. Grant them that.” Rory surreptitiously drew his finger along the back of his friend’s hand. “Still smooth. The crowds you so despise will be long gone, at home loading the microwave with Sainsbury’s meals, by the time the fun begins.”

***

The chairman rapped the table with his gavel. “I bring this meeting of the Western Lycanthropes to order.”
Anyone observing the handsome, studious faces around the table would have felt there was no apparent disorder to deal with. The only indications that this wasn’t some dry, academic departmental meeting came from the occasional, anxious glances which the participants cast at the windows, where a bank of clouds obscured the night sky. That and the fact that their clothes were neatly piled behind their chairs, ready to be claimed the next day.
“Gentlemen, we begin with a paper on the Red wolf, Canis lupus rufus.”
Rory’s mind began to wander. He’d heard many a paper—scientific, historical, literary—over the years, as the committee had sat waiting for the leaden English skies to clear. This one didn’t enthuse him. Not like the occasion when someone had presented a forceful—if only in the presenter’s eyes—case that Esau had indeed been one of their brethren, which would explain the hairiness. A thesis countered by another member who’d sworn blind that Esau had been a Neanderthal. Harsh words and blows had ensued, turning to snarls and bites as the moon had broached the clouds. Things rarely got that exciting.
Well, Rory reflected, casting a surreptitious glance around the room, we’re hardly an exciting bunch. Most of his associates worked in museums or universities, although one particularly enterprising lad had secured a job behind the meat counter at Harrods. That was one way of mixing business and pleasure. Given that those present shared more than just the tendency to be influenced by the full moon, it might have seemed surprising that none of them were employed in the entertainment industry. Yet, while it would be easy to hide your sexual inclinations in a profession awash with the gay and eccentric, how could you take the stage as Romeo if the lunar calendar didn’t work out? You might find yourself appearing as Chewbacca.
“Long term analysis of mitochondrial DNA…” the speaker droned on.
Rory looked out at the dark, lowering sky; not even the brightest moon could penetrate that yet. There’d be plenty of wet commuters, scurrying home under hats and umbrellas. Still, a community of like-minded—or like-skinned—people could find worse places to live or work. If only the little patisserie sold pain au pate de fois gras or the French ice cream shop produced a monthly batch of chicken and raspberry ripple, it might be well-nigh ideal. There was also the positive advantage that when the full moon coincided with a Chelsea home game, you could travel freely and no-one noticed the difference.
Whether local house prices would be quite so buoyant if anyone realized how many of the flats off the main road were occupied by those of a lycanthropic inclination, was unlikely. There would always be the worry that, no matter how well-bred these creatures were, they might frighten the au pair, who’d head back to Croatia, or wherever, leaving no-one to look after little Georgina.
At least their sexual orientation would be less of an issue, its significance reducing as you got further west, where the rainbow flags flew proudly. There was another community of similarly inclined—in both senses—gentlemen in Sussex, who benefited from the same open-mindedness of their neighbours, although no-one was sure what the reaction would be should these men take to Brighton beach in all their hirsute glory. Maybe the little old ladies would just think someone was exercising a pack of particularly shaggy greyhounds. Anyway, the Wolves of the West regarded their southern brethren with disdain, convinced they were common, plebeian and too fond of fish and chips.

Download the rest from here

And finally – not the Savannah, but sunset over the hawk conservancy last weekend. Ain’t vultures pretty?

Charlie

Adventures in lockdown easing – tall trees trail

We wanted to go for a walk yesterday and our main priority was to find shade. Off we popped to Rhinefield ornamental drive, where they have a wonderful collection of old trees and a lovely little arboretum. You’d be forgiven for thinking we’d been transported to California:

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although the bomb crater shows you can’t be far from a WW2 bombing run.

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We, of course, went to see our favourite trees in the whole New Forest. A pair of Wellingtonia, of which this is one. Surprisingly spongy bark.

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All followed by a Rishi-subsidised coffee and sausage sarnie at the excellent Old Station tearooms at Holmsley.