My guest today is Adam Fitzroy, author of five non-erotic M/M romance titles available from Manifold Press. Romances set in the White House, on Flanders Fields and on the border of England and Wales, some contemporary, some historical and some BOTH, have met with critical acclaim. Thank you, Adam, for so kindly agreeing to answer my questions.
– Hi, Elin; it’s lovely to be invited, thank you!
Elin: You have written contemporary stories and historicals, which do you prefer? Do you find contemporaries easier to write than history?
Adam: No, not at all. In fact I’m far more at home with historical subjects, and I think the reason is that I’m a bit of a dinosaur; with contemporary subjects I have to keep reminding myself that the characters will have access to mobile phones, computers, the internet and so forth, and that they will be able to find things out quickly which would have taken a previous generation weeks or even years to discover. I like a slow pace of storytelling, something that will be an immersive experience for me when I’m writing it and will hopefully be very much the same for the potential reader, and that somehow seems to be at odds with the faster pace of contemporary life.
Elin: When writing historicals, what do you enjoy most about the process? Do you enjoy research for its own sake?
Adam: I love research; I love solving little problems and discovering how things would have been done in a bygone era. To me, learning about a ‘new’ historical era is like learning a new language; I need to acquire a lot of information before I can write so much as a single word. What job or profession would my characters have had, for example, and what would they have earned; how would they have made a journey from Point A to Point B and how long would it have taken them? I’m also fascinated by historical diet, furniture, houses, clothing … and the fact that, whatever their trappings, human beings are essentially the same and have the same or similar hopes and dreams, fears and failings throughout history. I love getting inside their heads and understanding their concerns, seeing how like us they are – and, in other ways, how very different.
One place where I draw the line in historical fiction, though, is with language – there is absolutely no point in trying to write historically-accurate dialogue full of ‘thees’ and ‘thous’ because it runs the risk of sounding like a bad parody of Shakespeare; a far more straightforward course is to stick to relatively simple English and indicate to the reader by the subject matter they’re discussing that these are not contemporary characters. Ellis Peters did this to good effect in the ‘Brother Cadfael’ books, which in my view makes it an example that’s very well worth following.
Elin: I’m fascinated to see that you have set a romance in the White House with the President, no less, as one of the protagonists. What inspired that story?
Adam: I’ve been a bit of ‘Presidency buff’ ever since I was a child, and I love the whole panoply of White House life – the staff, the settings, the prestige and the power – although I must admit that I’m less enthusiastic about the actual politics; I just see the Presidency as the American equivalent of royalty, with similar glossy trappings under which are very often flawed human beings. I adore movies with a White House background – and as you can probably imagine I’m a huge fan of ‘The West Wing’, too – and basically with ‘Dear Mister President’ I set out to write the story of the kind of movie I would really like to be able to sit down and watch. That’s my starting-point with most of my books, in fact; I try to write something that would be entertaining to me if someone else had written it.
Elin: Your novel Make Do And Mend is set during the early part of the Second World War in rural Monmouthshire. Can you explain why you chose such an unusual place to set the story instead of a more glamorous location?
Adam: There were two main reasons; one was that – as far as I knew – nobody had ever done it before, but the other was the old advice about ‘writing what you know’! The location where the story is set is not a million miles from where I live, and I often pass through it by train – which you might think would lead to a superficial acquaintance with the area at best – but I’ve been doing so on a regular basis since the 1980s and it’s sunk in gradually, somehow, by osmosis. I’ve also covered a lot of the same ground by car and also on foot, I should add – I walked the Wye Valley some years ago – and read up quite a lot about it. Eventually I became fascinated with one particular valley, one particular road, one particular location … and over a period of several years the story of Harry and Jim slowly took shape in my mind.
Elin: I can understand that Adam. It’s one of my very favourite places. Now, could you give me a reading recommendation, either in your genre or out of it? The type of book you would wade through a flood to rescue.
Adam: There is one book above all others that always springs to the forefront of my mind when this sort of question is asked, and it’s the one I would take to the legendary BBC desert island with me – Nicholas Monsarrat’s ‘The Cruel Sea’. It’s probably the book that’s had the profoundest effect on me since the day I sneaked my father’s copy out of his bookcase when I was a teenager. Monsarrat’s unsentimental style, his eye for detail and his characters – together with the overwhelming conviction that he has been in these places and seen these things for himself – combine to produce not only a powerful and absorbing narrative but also, looked at in another light, an example of the kind of book I would give my eye-teeth to be able to write. He portrays, strongly and convincingly, the sort of devoted relationships between men that are all about love and not even remotely about sex; Erikson and Lockhart, for example, are closer to one another than they are to the women in their lives – and there’s Ferraby and his affection for his young friend Rose, too, which I’ve always found extremely moving. I must confess that the surnames Lockhart and Ferraby appear in ‘Make Do And Mend’ as a direct tribute to ‘The Cruel Sea’, which some readers may have spotted. Other favourites may come and go over time, but this is one book that will most definitely remain with me forever!
Elin: What’s next from the pen/word processor of Adam Fitzroy? Can you tell us about it or do you refer to keep the details to yourself until the work is finished?
Adam: I’ve recently started – and it’s giving me a bit of trouble at the moment – a book about two male teachers of different ethnicities who meet and fall in love while working in a school in the East End of London in 1966. They bond over trying to create – completely from scratch – a school cricket team, using the most unpromising materials. Cricket is among my many enthusiasms, and in a way it’s odd that I’ve never written anything about it before, but of course it offers an ideal meeting-point for people from completely different cultural backgrounds. I would like the book to be about unconscious prejudice of all sorts – whether originating in race, gender, age, social class, sexual orientation or anything else – but hopefully not ‘preachy’ in any way; it’s enough, I think, to show that sometimes people’s unthinking predispositions can be overturned, and it needn’t be by any great dramatic revelation – just gradually learning a little bit more about their fellow human beings.
Elin: Could we please have an excerpt?
Adam: This is from ‘Make Do And Mend’ – the air-raid sirens have gone off during the village Christmas Dance, and the characters are sheltering in the crypt of the church:
Like all such occasions, it was almost fun at first; they crowded together in the vault, and it soon became warm enough to be comfortable, and for quite a while there was nothing but silence overhead. Someone had brought over a set of dominoes and the top of a long-deceased Lyon’s slab tomb was turned into a table where the game was played with great enthusiasm; Gwen and the ward sister – her name was Hilda, it transpired – were deep in conversation; Blanche leaned against Kitty and fell asleep, and Kitty in turn leaned against Jack. Harry, under some obscure compulsion not to rest even for a moment, circulated slowly like the host at a particularly unsuccessful party; he and the vicar, working together as if they had rehearsed it, stepped gently over stretched-out legs, found Alka-Seltzer and headache tablets and extra blankets, distributed magazines and sandwiches and light conversation wherever appropriate. By the end of the first hour, however, when optimism had turned to resignation and novelty had already begun to pall, there began to be a minor rumble of discontent amongst the ranks. People had already started to talk about making a dash for it back to their own homes – to pets shut in, to children being looked after by neighbours – when the sounds of approaching violence became audible in the distance. Parry ARP, out in the graveyard with his fellow wardens, twitched the curtain aside to say “Here they come”, and husbands pulled their wives closer to them and friends pressed tightly against one another’s shoulders in order to be in contact with someone, anyone, in a time of fear. The church may well have stood for a thousand years before tonight, but it would be no proof against a direct hit; if that happened, there would be a thousand years of solid masonry and carved oak down around the ears of the shelterers in an instant.
Harry’s father had been killed in just such a way, barely eight months before, when seven hundred German bombers had torn out the historic heart of London; crushed in the ruins of the library at Gray’s Inn, he had died surrounded by the things and places he had loved the most. Harry, however, could not simply stand still and wait for the same to happen to him.
“I’m going outside,” he said quietly to the vicar.
Eltringham glanced assessingly around the vault; Gwen and Hilda were looking calmly in their direction, but nobody else seemed to have a single thought to spare for either of them.
“All right,” he replied. “I’ll come with you.” And they pushed through the blackout, up the twisted stairs, emerging into the chill graveyard where they joined Parry ARP in a little sandbagged redoubt tucked into the angle between nave and transept. There was already an ominous droning in the air, accompanied by a series of far-off thuds that certainly betokened nothing good.
“They’re coming up the railway line,” said Parry. “From Pontypool.” And even as he spoke the separate impacts drew nearer, stitching along the valley with an almost paralysing slowness, bombs falling repetitively one by one by one in a long and deadly rhythm, flashes of light sometimes perceptible where they fell. “It’s mostly farmland over by there,” he added hopelessly.
“What can I do?” asked Eltringham, in a distracted tone. “Whatever can I do?”
“Pray, vicar. That’s all any of us can do.”
“Mr Parry, I’ve been praying continuously since 1939!”
“Well, sir,” replied the warden, “no offence, but I’m afraid it isn’t working. Maybe you’d better start praying a little bit harder?”
The engine note was clearly identifiable now. “Heinkels,” said Harry. “I just wish there was a moon.”
“And I wish there was no war,” responded Eltringham, gripping his arm above the elbow with bony fingers that dug in and stayed clamped there as the thundering menace drew closer, juddering in the tight air, vibrating through ground and stones and bones and blood and souls.
“They’re going over the mountain,” Harry realised at the last moment. “Over Hendra. Over the quarry.”
They were above the village, two of them, three, maybe more, ripping holes in the sky, dropping fire from a great height, screaming from darkness into darkness leaving chaos and death behind them.
Somewhere high up on the mountain flames blossomed and rose quickly, and then were gone.