Review: Time and Place by Alan Sheridan

Review by Fiona Glass

Okay, I’ll admit it – this book had me baffled. It was billed as a fictionalised biography based on the diaries of a real-life actor, Mark Sheridan, as written by his descendant Alan Sheridan, but I have to admit I couldn’t tell if this was the case, or if it was really just a novel in disguise, so skilfully was it written.

The story was told in first person as though by Mark himself, almost-but-not-quite in the form of a diary of his experiences in the acting world, and earlier as the son of a diplomat based in China and Russia in the late nineteenth century. Much of the book (biography? novel?) was set in Peking and St Petersburg, with lengthy travelogue-style descriptions of both cities, as well as lengthy but slightly less orthodox descriptions of Mark’s many encounters with men. His essays on the usefulness of public conveniences as pick-up joints at a time when homosexuality was still expressly forbidden across most of Europe were quite an eye-opener!

The sense of place, then, was beautifully suggested. I felt I knew the avenues of Paris, the canals and underground toilets of St Petersburg, and the compounds and back streets of Peking, and that I was there with Mark as he explored, rutted, and trod the boards.

Where I was less convinced was with Sheridan’s handling of the time-scales involved. The book (novel? biography?) opens in the early twentieth century with Mark as a fully fledged actor but soon skips back to China and Russia of the 1890s when he was still a child, and from then on it leap-frogs backwards and forwards from the 1920s to the 1900s to the 1890s in a endless and bewildering series of flashbacks. Each section was complete in itself and each one nicely presented the time in which it was set, but I soon found my head was spinning and any continuity of narrative was hopelessly lost.

This applied to the central relationship as well. When we first met Mark he was living with another actor, the young Esmé, but their meeting wasn’t described until at least two-thirds of the way through the novel, after a series of other affairs, some earlier and some later. Even then the description of what must have been a life-changing event was curiously flat, and the same applied to many of the other encounters with men, be they political dialogues with diplomats or mutual masturbation sessions with rough trade. I never got the feeling that I knew the characters half so well as the places they visited.

Overall I found the book rather like the proverbial curate’s egg – good in parts. Beautiful scenery does not a novel make, and once I’d waded through several hundred pages of constantly-switching time and place, I struggled to finish the book.

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‘Homoerotic’ films

I thought that over the weekends, we could have a bit of fun, rather than all this seriousness. So with a bit of surfing I found a wonderful site – The Medieval Sourcebook and so I’ve included a few of their films with historical homoerotic themes for you to check out if you haven’t already- and added some of my own! Enjoy!

Fellini Satyricon (1970)
Director: Federico Fellini
Encolpio a beautiful youth, whose young lover and slave, Gitone, has been stolen from him and sold to an older man. He vows to get him back.

Ben-Hur (1959)

Director: William Wyler: Screenplay: Gore Vidal, Karl Tunberg, Christopher Fry
The story of Judah Ben-Hur and his boyhood friend Messala. Boyd was told to play the relationship as more than friendship, although Heston was not let into the secret and denys any erotic undertones to this day. But hell. That spear scene? Nah….

Continue reading

Review: The House on the Strand by Daphne du Maurier

Review by Fiona Glass

Daphne du Maurier isn’t a name that immediately springs to mind when you’re trying to think of gay authors, or even authors who’ve written gay books. In fact, many of you are probably thinking ‘What’s that idiotic Glass woman on about?’. But the fact remains that du Maurier wrote a book with a gay main character, and that book is ‘The House on the Strand’.

It just happens to be one of my favourite books of all time, if not the favourite. The very first paragraph grabs you by the throat and drags you kicking and screaming into the depths of the book, and you never really stand a chance after that.

“The first thing I noticed was the clarity of the air, and then the sharp green colour of the land. There was no softness anywhere. The distant hills did not blend into the sky but stood out like rocks, so close that I could almost touch them, their proximity giving me that shock of surprise and wonder which a child feels looking for the first time through a telescope. Nearer to me, too, each object had the same hard quality, the very grass turning to single blades, springing from a younger, harsher soil than the soil I knew.”

I’ve been known to read the entire thing at one sitting, finally turning the last page at 1.30 in the morning with gritty eyes and no real sense of where I am.

The book tells the story of Dick Young, an unhappily married man who, during a holiday in Cornwall, takes part in an experiment which appears to send him back in time. Transported back to the same area in the fourteenth century, he explores the familiar-yet-different countryside and becomes obsessed by the people he meets, people who really existed and who occupied the farms and houses that still exist in the twentieth century world of his real life. Du Maurier is expert at portraying the life and colour of this earlier world, and contrasting it with the drabness and utility of Dick’s own world. He – and the reader – are taken on a vivid journey into the past and seduced by its excitement and sheer vitality.

“I might have stood for ever, entranced, content to hover between earth and sky, remote from any life I knew or cared to know; but then I turned my head and saw that I was not alone. The hoofs had made no sound – the pony must have travelled as I had done, across the fields – and now that it trod upon the shingle the clink of stone against metal came to my ears with a sudden shock, and I could smell the warm horse-flesh, sweaty and strong.

“Instinct made me back away, startled, for the rider came straight towards me, unconscious of my presence. He checked his pony at the water’s edge and looked seaward, measuring the tide. … He shifted his gaze from the sea and looked straight at me. Surely he saw me, surely I read, in those deepset eyes, a signal of recognition? He smiled, patted his pony’s neck, then, with a swift kick of heel to flank, urged the beast across the ford….”

Dick has no choice but to follow the stranger and what ensues is a marvellous tale of history and science fiction – the history of the past, and the science of the experiment in Dick’s present world. The strands are woven together cleverly and du Maurier’s particular skill is to make the reader sympathise entirely with Dick, to make his ordinary life seem dull and pedestrian and the people around him seem nightmarish and unsympathetic. His wife, for instance, is deeply unlikeable when seen through Dick’s eyes, yet if you stop and analyse her character you realise that she’s actually a perfectly normal person and not really to blame. Her unlikeableness is all in Dick’s mind.

The House on the Strand is not an overtly gay book, perhaps because it was published only two years after the Sexual Offences Act. However, it’s clear that Dick is bisexual at the very least. Although married with two sons, he describes himself at one point as a ‘latent homosexual’ and is clearly in love with his friend Magnus, the professor who has devised the entire experiment. And equally clearly, Dick becomes besotted with Roger, the fourteenth century servant we first meet on his pony in the first few pages of the book.

As with most du Maurier novels, there’s no happy ending. Magnus is killed as a result of his own experiment and Dick is left increasingly alienated and alone, living in one world but drawn obsessively by another, long since past, that he has no hope of ever being part of. I won’t say exactly what happens because that would spoil the surprise, but be prepared for a strong emotional kick. But to be honest, anything else would not fit the book. It deals with the past, and the whole point of the past is that it has gone, and that everything and everyone in it has long since crumbled to dust.

On a more mundane note, the book is an exceptional read. The descriptions are stunning, the characters compelling, the mystery element as Dick researches the people and places of the past keeps you turning the pages for more, and the weird sci-fi sub-plot is sheer pulp fiction joy. History and science fiction make for strange bed-fellows, but the brilliance of du Maurier’s writing binds it together seamlessly and makes ‘The House on the Strand’ a truly unforgettable book It’s one I don’t think I could manage without.

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Fiona Glass has been creating imaginary worlds for years – worlds driven by two little words, ‘what if’, and by the horde of somewhat unusual characters that reside inside her head. Most of these worlds take the form of short stories, most involve homosexual characters, and most are in the paranormal, fantasy and erotic romance genres. Fiona has also written one novel, Roses in December, a gay erotic ghost story published by Torquere Press, and is currently working on her second novel.

A Hidden Passion: Lucia Logan. Far too close for comfort.

Report by Gehayi 

 

The novel A Hidden Passion is, nominally, by Lucia Logan. I must say “nominally,” because, if this were a just world, Charlotte Bronte would receive sole billing. I say this because A Hidden Passion has precisely the same plot as Jane Eyre. I am not speaking of generalities. I speak of a book which is identical in every detail.

 

In both books, there is a plain, impoverished orphan—Jane Eyre in the original, David Ayres in this–who is being reared by a relative who doesn’t want him/her and bullied by his/her cousins. The orphan creeps off to a window seat to read a book that’s a particular favourite; the orphan’s eldest cousin finds him/her there and hits the orphan. All are shocked when the orphan loses his/her temper, calls the bully names  and attacks him. As punishment, the orphan is shut up in the red room upstairs.  Jane is afraid of the red room because this is where her uncle Reed died; David is afraid of the red room because this is where his aunt Ware perished.  Both children have panic attacks at being imprisoned in the red room, and pass out.

 

As the books continue, arrangements are made to send both orphans away to school. Both children are catechized by unpleasant, self-righteous ministers and are sent off to charity schools run by those ministers—Jane to Lowood (the name Bronte used to describe the Cowan Bridge Clergy Daughters’ School, which she and two of her sisters attended) and David to Almsford. Almsford is identical in all particulars to Lowood save that it has been genderswitched. What was once an institution for poor or orphaned girls is now a charity school for poor or orphaned boys.  Both Jane and David are labeled liars when the miserable minister comes to visit. David’s hair is cut because it curls too much…which does NOT happen to Jane in the book (a girl named Julia is shorn of her hair), but which does befall her in the classic film. Both have noble, long-suffering friends who die of consumption during a typhus epidemic; both have kindly charitable teachers who feed the half-starved children.  The main difference between Jane Eyre and A Hidden Passion is that Jane and Helen Burns remain simply friends, and Miss Temple a compassionate teacher.  David and Jeremiah Holt, despite their youth, are both friends and lovers, while Mr. Miles Kirkham—”kirk” being the Scottish work for “church,” which is probably the closest the author could get to “temple”– becomes David’s lover after Jeremiah.

 

Two years after leaving the charity school, both orphans get hired as private teachers for the young French wards of a dark and secretive man. In Jane Eyre, the orphan is Adelé, the daughter of an dancer friend of Mr. Rochester’s and one of her former lovers; in A Hidden Passion, the orphan is Henri, the son of an actress friend of Mr. Nordson’s and one of her former lovers. In Jane Eyre, the guardian of the French orphan is Edward Rochester, master of Thornfield; in A Hidden Passion, the gentleman is Peter Frederick Nordsen, master of Wildwood.

 

Both Rochester and Nordsen resemble each other, physically and emotionally, enough to be brothers—I would say  twins. Both have the same gruff manner of speech and the same moodiness; both enjoy long conversations with the private teacher en residence; both examine the teacher’s paintings…although David’s are infinitely tamer than Jane’s.

 

Eventually, of course, both the Rochesters—pardon me, Mr. Rochester and Mr. Nordsen—fall in love with the Eyre or Ayres of their choice, scorning the wealthy local women whom everyone expects them to marry. Instead, both propose to their wards’ teachers. The fact that this is nineteenth-century England, that gay marriage is not yet dreamt of,  and that homosexuality itself is illegal does not trouble Nordsen and Ayres in the least. For this is not the based-on-fact nineteenth-century England that Charlotte Bronte knew. No, this is the world of Okay-homo, in which all the principals are gay, and all the people in what should be a historically gay-unfriendly world miraculously forget about the strictures that would create obstacles, conflict and possibly an actual story, and instead treat gayness as if everyone from the Lord Chancellor on down considers it the ultimate in coolness.  If Oscar Wilde had lived in such a fictional world, he wouldn’t have been arrested, tried and sent to Reading Gaol; he’d have been given a ticker-tape parade.

 

I dislike anachronisms, especially those so easy to fix with a little research. But then, I do not believe that Logan was thinking in terms of anachronisms—merely of following the story as written by Bronte.

 

Plans for the wedding and a subsequent trip to London advance. Nordsen and Ayres have sex three times before the wedding day, while Rochester and Jane keep their hands to themselves. I do not protest, mind; the sex is the only original thing in the book.

 

In any case, everything falls apart when the brother-in-law of Rochester and that of Nordsen expose the fact that both men are already married. Yes, Nordsen has a mad wife in his attic.

 

And so on it goes, deviating in small details (the cousins that David finds are three brothers, not a brother and two sisters, and the minister brother wants to become a missionary to India, not China) but remaining identical overall.

 

In the preface to this book, the author calls this “an homage to Jane Eyre.”  This, to my eyes, is NOT an homage. An homage involves two works sharing some basic elements without being the exact same story. Rent could be taken as an homage to La Boheme, for example. There are similar themes—bohemians coping with love, poverty and death—but the characters and the plot differ.

 

That’s not the case here.  In scene after scene, Logan either paraphrases Bronte or her words are absolutely identical to Bronte’s. I am amazed that an editor at Dreamspinner Press didn’t notice it prior to purchasing the book, never mind publication.

 

There is a word for this: plagiarism. It’s not a pretty word, and I don’t like using it, but there is no way to copy 95% of another author’s book–and then submit it to various publishers–purely by accident. If you’re above the age of reason and of average intelligence, then you should know that you don’t take things—or take credit for things—that don’t belong to you. Copying another author’s words and then claiming to have written them definitely qualifies as both.

 

The sad thing is that the story could have been interesting if Logan had gone with Jane Eyre’s basic plotline–“orphaned governess/tutor falls in love with the master of the house”–but let the tutor and the gentleman develop their own backgrounds and problems and personalities, rather than being Homosexual Rochester and Genderswitched Jane. As it is…well, I’m sadly disappointed in the—no, I cannot call her the author.

 

In the copyist.

 

Jane Eyre

A Hidden Passion

There was no possibility of taking a walk that day. We had been wandering, indeed, in the leafless shrubbery an hour in the morning; but since dinner (Mrs. Reed, when there was no company, dined early) the cold winter wind had brought with it clouds so sombre, and a rain so penetrating, that further out-door exercise was now out of the question.I was glad of it: I never liked long walks, especially on chilly afternoons: dreadful to me was the coming home in the raw twilight, with nipped fingers and toes, and a heart saddened by the chidings of Bessie, the nurse, and humbled by the consciousness of my physical inferiority to Eliza, John, and Georgiana Reed. THERE was no possibility of taking a walk that day. The skies had been clear enough earlier in the morning, as I sat unobtrusively in a corner of the schoolroom, listening to Mr. Nash’s lesson; but a gathering cloudiness had darkened the heavens all afternoon, and they had opened an hour or so since, with a downpour so cold and so penetrating that our usual outdoor exercise was out of the question. I was glad, for I never liked long walks, especially on cold afternoons such as this one. Try as I would, I could never keep up with my older cousins’ more robust strides, and returning home – to the manor house, I should say, for as I was constantly reminded, I had no right to consider it my home – meant only at best a scolding for my lackadaisical ways, and a keen self-awareness of my physical inferiority. At worst, I would be punished for returning with wet and muddied clothing, further proof that I had no sense of gratitude and no concept of how to care for the good things that were given to me. 
Something of daylight still lingered, and the moon was waxing bright: I could see him plainly. His figure was enveloped in a riding cloak, fur collared and steel clasped; its details were not apparent, but I traced the general points of middle height and considerable breadth of chest. He had a dark face, with stern features and a heavy brow; his eyes and gathered eyebrows looked ireful and thwarted just now; he was past youth, but had not reached middle-age; perhaps he might be thirty-five. I felt no fear of him, and but little shyness. Had he been a handsome, heroic-looking young gentleman, I should not have dared to stand thus questioning him against his will, and offering my services unasked. I had hardly ever seen a handsome youth; never in my life spoken to one. I had a theoretical reverence and homage for beauty, elegance, gallantry, fascination; but had I met those qualities incarnate in masculine shape, I should have known instinctively that they neither
had nor could have sympathy with anything in me, and should have shunned them as one would fire, lightning, or anything else that is bright but antipathetic.
If even this stranger had smiled and been good-humoured to me when I addressed him; if he had put off my offer of assistance gaily and with thanks, I should have gone on my way and not felt any vocation to renew inquiries: but the frown, the roughness of the traveller, set me at my ease: I retained my station when he waved to me to go, and announced -

“I cannot think of leaving you, sir, at so late an hour, in this solitary lane, till I see you are fit to mount your horse.”

Though the sun’s rays were gone, a nimbus of light still glowed in the west, and the rising moon shone brightly enough that I could now see the traveller clearly. He was dressed in a heavy black riding cloak, collared with fur and clasped with steel, which prevented me from determining more than that he was of middling height and build. His face was well-chiseled, with a broad, intelligent brow, deepset, piercing eyes, and a determined chin with a decided cleft to it. His hair was tousled, as much from his ride as from the fall, I judged, for he wore no hat. In the irregular light I could not decide whether it was blond or brown or somewhere in between. No longer a youth, I could not in fairness describe him as middle-aged; I would place him in perhaps his mid-thirties. He was not classically handsome, but even wearing a pained and wrathful expression, his face was distinctive. I would describe his looks as compelling; in any case I felt drawn to again offer him my assistance. If he had been gracious and smooth-tongued in his refusal, I might have been too nervous to continue to importune him. Had he but smiled, and thanked me graciously, I should likely have acquiesced when he waved me on my way. But his gruffness and incivility put me under no obligation, or so it seemed to me, and thus I persevered despite his protestation that he would do.”  
“You said Mr. Rochester was not strikingly peculiar, Mrs. Fairfax,” I observed, when I rejoined her in her room, after putting Adele to
bed
.
“Well, is he?”“I think so: he is very changeful and abrupt.”

“True: no doubt he may appear so to a stranger, but I am so accustomed to his manner, I never think of it; and then, if he has peculiarities of temper, allowance should be made.”

“Why?”

“Partly because it is his nature–and we can none of us help our nature; and partly because he has painful thoughts, no doubt, to harass him, and make his spirits unequal.”

“What about?”

“Family troubles, for one thing.”“But he has no family.” “Not now, but he has had–or, at least, relatives. He lost his elder brother a few years since.” 

His ELDER brother?”

“Yes. The present Mr. Rochester has not been very long in possession of the property; only about nine years.”

“Nine years is a tolerable time. Was he so very fond of his brother as to be still inconsolable for his loss?” “Why, no–perhaps not. I believe there were some misunderstandings between them. Mr. Rowland Rochester was not quite just to Mr. Edward; and perhaps he prejudiced his father against him. The old gentleman was fond of money, and anxious to keep the family estate together. He did not like to diminish the property by division, and yet he was anxious that Mr. Edward should have wealth, too, to keep up the consequence of the name; and, soon after he was of age, some steps were taken that were not quite fair, and made a great deal of
mischief
. Old Mr. Rochester and Mr. Rowland combined to bring Mr. Edward into what he considered a painful position, for the sake of
making his fortune: what the precise nature of that position was I never clearly knew, but his spirit could not brook what he had to suffer in it. He is not very forgiving: he broke with his family,  and now for many years he has led an unsettled kind of life. I don’t think he has ever been resident at Thornfield for a fortnight together, since the death of his brother without a will left him master of the estate; and, indeed, no wonder he shuns the old place.
“Why should he shun it?”“Perhaps he thinks it gloomy.”

The answer was evasive. I should have liked something clearer; but Mrs. Fairfax either could not, or would not, give me more explicit
information of the origin and nature of Mr. Rochester’s trials. She averred they were a mystery to herself, and that what she knew was
chiefly from conjecture. It was evident, indeed, that she wished me to drop the subject, which I did accordingly.

“You said that some people might think Mr. Nordsen odd,” I said to Mrs. Daultrey, as I joined her in her sitting-room after delivering Henri into Marthe’s care. “After meeting him, I would say there is no doubt of it.”  You think he is odd?” she asked. “In what way?”  

He is very abrupt and changeful.”  

I suppose he may seem so to a stranger, but I am so used to his manner that I scarcely notice it any longer. And I try to make allowance for any eccentricities of temperament he may display.”  

Why?” I asked, wondering that she felt it necessary to excuse his peculiarity of manner.

For one thing, it is simply his nature, and he means no real harm by it; for another, he has painful memories, no doubt, that trouble his spirit.”  

As this was the first I had heard of my employer’s history, I was naturally curious. “What type of painful memories?” 

Family troubles, for one thing. He lost both his father and his elder brother some years ago, though I believe they were never especially close.”  

His elder brother?”  

Yes, Mr. Nordsen – the present Mr. Nordsen, that is – has only been in possession of the property for about a dozen years. Mr. Gregor, his brother, was not a very cordial man, and their father was from what I hear very harsh and exacting. He was also very fond of money, and did not wish to split up the family holdings to provide for Mr. Peter; and yet he did not wish his younger son to lack the wealth and consequence he felt due to the family name. Some provisions were undertaken, to secure Mr. Peter’s fortune, which were not quite fair to him, and caused him a great deal of unhappiness. What those provisions were, I never knew exactly, but he broke with his father and brother over them, and for many years since he has led a wandering, unsettled life. I do not believe he has been home more than a fortnight at a time since coming into possession of the estates. Though I suppose it is no wonder he dislikes the place.”  

 Why should he dislike it?” 

Oh, well – ” Mrs. Daultrey paused, suddenly self-conscious.

“Perhaps he thinks it gloomy.”  It was obvious this was not what she had originally meant to say. I wondered if she felt it was improper for us to gossip about our employer in this manner; but it was clear that she was no longer comfortable discussing the subject, and it would be rude to pursue it further. Accordingly, I let it drop, and the conversation turned to her plans to plant the kitchen garden once the weather grew warmer. 

   

Review: Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade by Diana Gabaldon


Reviewed by Alex Beecroft

Lord John’s mother is getting re-married, and the change threatens to stir up more than one thing which should remain hidden. For a start John is in danger of falling very much in love with his new step-brother to be, Percy, a love which is distinctly reciprocated. But in a more sinister turn of events, the fact that John’s mother now has a protector to whom she can speak of the past alarms the murderer of John’s father. Attempts are made on John’s life, his brother and mother are warned off with pages of a missing diary, and a conspiracy and scandal which has hung over the Grey family name for years threatens to burst back into life.

In the middle of all this, John and Hal’s regiment are posted to the Rhineland, to take part in several battles of the Seven Years War which seem like something of a relief after the tension at home. But tragedy follows John onto the battlefield, and when everything falls apart for him he must turn to Jamie Fraser, the Jacobite prisoner with whom he has a poisonous love/hate relationship, not only to provide him with the final clue as to the murderer of his father, but also to tell him how… whether to save Percy’s life.

I think I said in my review of ‘Lord John and the Private Matter’ that I liked that book because it was not as overwrought as the Outlander series, and because it didn’t have Jamie Fraser in it. This book, alas, was as overwrought as the Outlander series, and did have Jamie Fraser in it, with all his (to me) graceless, unattractive, overbearing, arrogant macho bullshit. Consequently I didn’t enjoy it half as much as ‘Lord John and the Private Matter.’ I like a happy ending, and this book did not have it – in fact, when I put the book down at the end I felt severely depressed. My respect for Lord John himself decreases with every instance of his inability to get over the fact that Jamie Fraser is a homophobic git who will never love him, and if I never read another book in which the tedium of troop maneuvers on the Prussian front is so excruciatingly well drawn (yes ‘Temeraire: Black Powder War’ I’m looking at you too) I will be very happy.

However, having said all of that, all the reasons why I loved the first Lord John book still apply – the gorgeous, fully immersive experience of living in the 18th Century in London, from the effervescent Irish squalor of St. Giles to the high class literary salons and coffee shops. I’d have paid the price of the book entirely to make the acquaintance of the O’Higgins brothers and not felt short changed. The love affair between John and Percy is so tender and delightful and frustrating and just gorgeously sexy that it too is worth the admission on its own. The mystery is intriguing and kept me turning pages. I’m more in love with John’s family than ever. And as much as I don’t like Jamie Fraser, I’m well aware that there are many more people who do like him than don’t. I can’t deny that there is an intensity in the parts of the book where he appears which grips you by the throat. I personally don’t like that experience, but I know that a lot of fans of the Outlander series will find this book much more to their taste than the last. It is more… full blooded, in a way. (To a point that at times felt likely to give me a nosebleed.) If you like to be put through the emotional wringer by a book, this one is definitely for you!

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Discussion: Cover… MY EYES!

It’s a fairly well known that that Romance – and by this I mean heterosexual Romance – (Harlequin, Avon, Mills & Boon and the like) – generally have a certain sort of cover.

You know the type…
There’s always a strong wind; the heroine is being clutched, their clothes are (yet) being blown away The hero is buff – he looks like he works out obsessively but strangely it’s never mentioned in the book, the heroine has long flowing hair which never ever tangles in the wind….

You get the picture.

I have noticed at least one m/m writer, (MJ Pearson), has slipped into this style of cover with her books, (The Price of Temptation, and more particularly A Discreet Young Gentleman, and bravo, Seventh Window Publications - it’s a lovely and wonderfully sly nod to the Harlequin style, especially as the Big Boys of Romantic Fiction are having nothing to do with that “perverted” genre! (yet)

There’s a nice strong wind, clothes are being blown around and there are muscles to die for. I’m trusting it’s an affectionate spoof, and if so it’s amusingly done. I have to draw the line at The Price of Temptation as the hero looks like he’s got a small panda down his trousers. I don’t remember the Kangaroo pouch look being fashionable in Regency England.

However, I do have a problem with male erotica covers in general. Because in general… they are boring at best and ghastly at worst.

Do they have to be tasteful? I hear you ask. Well, your mileage may vary, but I prefer to have a book that I’m not ashamed of carrying around with me. The book I’m reading at any point in time might be full of pornography but I’d rather it didn’t have a cover that would make me go beetroot red if it fell on the floor in public, and I’d like to be able to sit on the tube/bus without having to find a loose cover for Day of the Triffids so that I’m not embarrassed to let people see me reading what is obviously gay porn. After all – Lady’s Chatterley’s Lover never had a picture of Mellors and Constance rolling around half naked, even with today’s reprints – and even today, that’s a pretty porny book.

I suppose some of the problem is that a lot of m/m books are e-books. These tend to have a lot of CGI covers and the talent used to create said covers varies from pretty good to OMG MY EYES!

I may be the minority in this, and as it’s my article then I’m allowed to be so, but if I were published in e-book form, I’d still want my cover to be something that didn’t make the reader feel physically ill. I spend a lot of time describing my characters, and generally they are pretty beautiful. If they were then represented as something that looked like Gollum and Bilbo’s love child (and yes, I’ve seen CGI covers that are that bad) then I’d be absolutely gutted.

I do understand that a lot of writers don’t have a lot of creative control over their covers, and that’s a shame, and perhaps new authors particularly are too excited to actually be published, or too cowed by The Power of The Publisher to put their feet down and say – “NO NO NO!” (Politely) and just think that if they complain too much they’ll be dropped.

But consider this. A cover is marketing for your book. The expression “judging a book by its cover” rings true no matter how old it gets. It should:

  • Intrigue
  • It should draw the reader in.
  • It should attract.
  • It should want the reader to pick it up and read the back cover, and not out of horrified fascination.
  • If your reader is sitting on a train, it should advertise itself.
  • If your reader has to wrap it in a paper bag, or another dust jacket then you are losing sales.
  • It shouldn’t elicit gales of laughter or sporkage* from various websites. There’s no need to show your hero with what appears to be a small puppy down his breeches, just because it’s a male/male romance. I don’t ever recall seeing a “proper” (by which I mean the above mentioned M&B Avon… etc) publisher of historical romance having men with bulges in their breeches to match the bulging of the heroine’s heaving bosom
  • So where’s the happy medium? How do we get from two Fabio’s clutching each other in a gale, or frog faced CGI horrors to something acceptable? Pressure I suppose. My idea of an ideal m/m romance cover is something that hints at what’s inside, but doesn’t push its rigid cock in your face. But where are they? Please link to them if you know of any.

    When I was in Harry Potter fandom, there were many many incredibly talented artists who drew male erotica and I am sure that any of them would die happy were they commissioned to do a cover, and although I don’t know how much CGI artists are paid, I’m sure that it’s the sort of sum that a completely unknown artist who’s dying for a break would work for.

    At the risk of using MORE cliches, perhaps its time for publishers to start thinking outside the box. Outside what they’ve “normally done” and or for the authors to get more involved in the cover design, and to perhaps suggest an artist, or to bring an artist in with him or her at the beginning process. Don’t be afraid to negotiate that contract! You are the money spinner for that publisher after all, remember. A better cover can only mean a better book and better sales all round.

    ETA:  THIS POST

    and

    THIS POST

    sums up the sort of thing I would LOVE to see for m/m historicals.  Aren’t they beautiful?

    Review: Discreet Young Gentleman by M.J. Pearson

    All hell breaks loose when Dean Smith, Earl of Carwick, is tricked into being discovered in the company of Rob, a handsome male prostitute. Now Dean needs to repair his broken engagement to a wealthy heiress…and Rob is the only one who can identify the man who set him up, proving to Dean’s fiancée that things weren’t as they appeared.

    The trip from Worcester to Bath turns into a journey of self-discovery, as Dean finds himself becoming increasingly attracted to Rob. His charming companion stirs feelings Dean has long kept repressed, but acting on them would make true the accusations that destroyed his engagement. Torn between duty and desire, Dean’s destiny lies in the hands of a Discreet Young Gentleman.

    Review by Renee Manley

    I’d recommend this book to those who are on the lookout for romantic stories and don’t really care about period details. That said, historical fiction fans who’d like to feel as though they’re momentarily sucked into the Regency may be disappointed.

    The romance is sweet. The rapport between the two lead characters is deftly handled, with a lot of witty exchanges and clever asides. Dean, to quote Blackadder’s Prince George, is exasperatingly “thick as a whale omelet” but more in a cheeky and sympathetic sort of way. Because of bad experiences growing up looking the way he does (he’s a redhead with lots of freckles), he’s nothing short of difficult when it comes to making him see his attractiveness, esp. if the person trying to hammer sense into him happens to be a hottie hustler.

    Robert’s the “mystery” man who’s got all the trappings of a Regency romance hero: dark features, hotness, a carefully guarded past, and the entire world is in lust with him. Unfortunately (or fortunately?) he’s a prostitute. He’s roguishly charming and is quite obviously Dean’s perfect match. The other characters are interesting as well, with a lot of emphasis placed on Erich, Dean’s coach driver (who also has an interesting past), and Dean’s numerous quirky uncles.

    There were several places in the novel where I chuckled or laughed, too, and I appreciate that.

    There were some problems, though, that kept me from fully enjoying the novel. From the get go, I didn’t see two Englishmen who lived in the Regency. I saw two contemporary American actors playing historical roles. Turns of phrases all over the place had a very strong modern American slant. Too strong, in fact, which made it very difficult for me to connect with the period. I thought it would get better after Chapter One, but it didn’t. In fact, there were places where it seemed to grow worse.

    There’s a generous smattering of “my lord,” “hell and damnation!” and other historical “markers” (for lack of a better term) that reminded me that this novel takes place in England in the early nineteenth century. But that’s the problem. They were reminders and not simply a natural part of an appropriately dated dialogue.

    Much of the novel takes place on the road as Dean and Rob travel to Bath. Along the way, they stop at different towns that boast some pretty special “treats” to any visitor, i.e., tourist attractions.

    One other problem I had with this novel was what I call historical pedantry, in which the writer, for whatever reason, abruptly stops the natural flow of the scene by “lecturing” us about this, that, and the other, usually in the guise of dialogue that ultimately sounds stiff and artificial. For instance:

    Rob nudged him. “Don’t step on the Prince of Wales.”

    “What?”

    “Look down. That plaque marks the grave of Henry VI’s son.”

    “Right. The one killed in the Battle of Tewkesbury.” Despite himself, Dean was impressed.

    The verger shook his grizzled head. “Nasty business, the Battle. Lancastrian troops sought sanctuary here, and were pursued right up to the altar by the Yorkists. The Abbey had to be closed for a month to be cleansed and re-consecrated, due to the bloodshed.”

    There are several others that are similar, and while they provide a quick history lesson about the area, they do nothing for the story itself other than belabor the readers with the fact that, yes, Rob likes history and knows quite a bit of it. Now I think I can understand Pearson’s purpose, which is to add more mystery to Rob’s story. After all, how many prostitutes would know so much about the Wars of the Roses? But I found this method distracting and, after a while, irritating.

    These history lessons are paired with ghostly hauntings that these inns, abbeys, and whatnot, are famous for, and being thrown together in a mix made me feel as though I were reading bits and pieces from travel guides. Clumps of facts and anecdotes not smoothly blended into the story–one moment I was setting myself up for some romantic fireworks, the next minute I was wondering if I were going to be quizzed on English history.

    This novel could have done with a longer development of the plot instead, given all the side characters and their stories, which suffer from lack of proper exploration or no exploration at all. And that’s unfortunate because Pearson’s novel has a very promising idea behind it. Toward the final chapters, everything seemed so rushed. The underlying complexity in the plot is never given proper justice, and all we have left is a “breezy romance.” That’s not bad in itself, but if the novel teases us with interesting character histories as well as promising side characters, as a reader, I’d be disappointed if it doesn’t follow through.

    Amazon UK    Amazon USA

    Review: Raised by Wolves Volume 1: Brethren by W A Hoffman


    Review by Erastes
    (From Frontiers Magazine)
    Brethren is the story of John Williams, Viscount of Marsdale (known for most of the book as Will), sent by his estranged father to manage the family’s sugar plantation in 1667 Jamaica. On his arrival, he instead joins up with the Brethren of the Coast (a predominantly gay tribe of buccaneers raiding Spanish settlements and ships under the auspices of Jamaica’s British governor); in particular, he falls in love with a mostly straight and intermittently mad buccaneer called Gaston the Ghoul.

    Review
    It’s a big book. About 550 pages. Big in scope and ambition. Slightly too large a paperback to hold comfortably in bed or in the bath. That being said it’s set in a fascinating era which isn’t often written about in a fictional and accurate capacity, so I was looking forward to tackling it, although a little daunted by the size.

    (It must be said that this was originally part of a trilogy, and now the author has announced that this has expanded and will be a quartet.)

    At its core it follows the traditions of a typical love story – an arranged marriage which isn’t consumated and a long long road in which the two protagonists learn to love and trust each other. Layered on top of this is a healthy dose of piratey action with some good secondary characters and some obvious hard research.

    The author tries a little too hard, and she’s guilty of “doing a Dan Brown” from time to time and info dumping hard about buccaneers and filibusters and the history behind it all – and mostly that was ok, as I didn’t know a lot of it, but I also shook my head at times and said “And I should care about this over-richness of facts WHY exactly?” Too much of it and I was pulled away from the story itself. It is the same with the interractions between Gaston and Will (of which there are legion.) Granted, I admit there are boring bits in a sailor’s life, but all these two seem to do is yak; chapters and chapters of it, and it got rather boring at times.

    As for the actual daily life of the seaman, it was disappointingly absent for much of the book, replaced by the conversations. Only at rare points did I get the tang of salt in my nostrils and feel the rigging beneath my bare feet. They sailed around without the crew doing very much except shag and talk.

    There is a over-arching plot, though and eventually it kicks in and starts to progress, but it takes too long getting there, and I had lost interest, both in the love affair and the backstory. I didn’t like Will much – he didn’t catch my imagination. He was a murderer/mercenary, and although Hoffman attempted to show me he was a “Good Egg” at the beginning by getting him to look after his bondsmen, and rescuing a sailor who was being abused, he lost any sympathy he gained there by promptly sailing off and leaving the bondsmen to rot in the hands of his overseer without a backward wave and never bothering much with the rescued sailor again.

    As to the “Wolves” motif: it was overdone – He’s a nobleman, he considers himself a wolf, being on top of society and he’s always explaining about the wolves and the sheep (those who take orders.) I understood the concept after half a page, but the point was rammed home so often I was screaming at Will not to treat me like an idiot. The repetitive “hook” at the end of each chapter discussing “the Gods” too affected me like a dripping tap after 10 chapters, and I was dreading the last line of each one.

    There were a few confusing or inaccurate details that I noticed. Right in chapter 1 Will says “I was not a Protestant” and then later he refers to “You Papists” so I’m all confused and thinking “well, what are you, then? Jewish?” No matter what he considered himself to be, he’d be one or the other. Then he celebrates Mass with his family so he must have been a Catholic. But even in the Restoration, I am fairly sure that Catholics weren’t celebrating Mass so openly. But feel free to contradict me, I haven’t checked this.

    However, it’s not a bad read. The inaccuracies didn’t make me want to throw it against the wall, and as an adventure story it’s well researched and not horribly written. Some of the speech is a little too modern and there are some typos, but that’s to be expected in a self-published novel. Where the self-publishing REALLY lets Hoffman down, however, is the bloated size of the book itself. She would have done the book a favour to let a professional editor loose on it and rip out large sections; all the unnecessary chit-chat and scenes where nothing happens. It could have been reduced to 350 pages without losing any of its flavour, and would have been a much better, tighter book for the reduction.

    Fans of seafaring tales will love this – and they do by all accounts but it wasn’t for me. After the cliffhanger ending, I don’t care enough about the characters to find out what happens to them next and the emotional involvement in reading a book 2 or 3 times the size of the average novel wasn’t repaid, as the book, in essence, contained no more actual content than a book of 200 pages.

    Buy from Amazon US Buy from Amazon UK

    Review: Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality

    Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: (Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century), by John Boswell.



    Review by Alex Beecroft

    Author bio: John Boswell (1947-94) was the A. Whitney Griswold Professor of History at Yale University and the author of The Royal Treasure, The Kindness of Strangers, and Same-Sex Unions in Pre-modern Europe.

    Contents:

    1. Introduction
    2. Definitions
    3. Rome: The Foundation
    4. The Scriptures
    5. Christians and Social Change
    6. Theological Traditions
    7. The Early Middle Ages
    8. The Urban Revival
    9. The Triumph of Ganymede: Gay Literature of the High Middle Ages
    10. Social Change: Making Enemies
    11. Intellectual Change: Men, Beasts, and “Nature”
    12. Conclusions

    This is rightly called ‘a truly ground-breaking work’. For the first time in the debate over homosexuality, John Boswell has gone back to the sources and combed through an immense amount of writings by Latin, Greek and Early Medieval authors to find out what they really had to say. And it turns out that the picture is nothing like what we expected. As is often the case when human beings are involved, everything is much more complicated than it initially seemed.

    Even in the society where we think we have the gay relationship pinned down to a socially acceptable model – the ‘classic’ Greek relationship of older lover with younger beloved – Boswell unearths numerous exceptions which disprove the rule.

    That complication persists and increases when Christianity enters the picture. At this early date, in the process of formation, Christianity is being influenced by many different, conflicting, strands of thought, and – of course – is reflecting a society in Rome quite unlike our own. But Boswell picks these influences apart and shows that though Christianity took on board a Stoic distain for earthly pleasures, a Manichean distrust of the flesh and various other philosophies which valued chastity over sexuality, none of these sources are particularly homophobic. They are against sexual pleasure in any form. In contrast, at the same time, abbots, bishops and saints were writing love poetry to their same sex ‘friends’ which would later go on to form the seed of the medieval courtly love tradition.

    Boswell acknowledges that there is no way of knowing whether sex featured in these passionate friendships, but he points out that the society of the time made no distinction between passionate friendships which did include sex, and those which did not. And he casually drops into the text the mention that gay marriage was legal and well known in Western society up until 342ad, while there were forms of Church liturgy for uniting a same sex couple in a forerunner of civil partnership. He follows the ups and downs of society’s tolerance through the fall of Rome to the rise of Medieval Europe, and draws interesting parallels between the fate of homosexuals and the fate of the Jews.

    But it is hopeless to try and write a summary of what is a densely researched book, covering over a thousand years of social flux, and explaining the attitudes of ages which did not have the same conceptual framework as our own, let alone the same words. Better to read the book itself, taking it slowly to let it all sink in. Boswell’s style is pleasant, and the astonishing material makes for a compelling read, but it is heavy going, particularly while wading through footnotes in Latin and Greek. It could not be more worth it, however. Suffice it to say that this is an eye-opening book, a must read for anyone thinking of setting their work in antiquity, and a recommended read for everyone who did not know that our own age’s tolerance is part of a long tradition.  It’s a warning too that it’s possible to have such tolerance and then to lose it so thoroughly that even the memory of it is wiped out.  Something we should bear in mind if we’re ever inclined to grow complacent.

    Buy at Amazon US  Buy at Amazon UK

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