Location, location, location by Melanie Tushmore

Location, location, location! A guest post by Melanie Tushmore

Oh, I do like to be beside the seaside! When searching for a picture of Brighton, this about summed it up for me:

Brighton Pier

Oh, dear! Well, Brighton is a notorious party town, and sometimes it can party a wee bit too hard!

If you read M/M and want to know about Brighton, just read either of my two stories set here. It’d be akin to taking a walking tour, albeit in the seedy underbelly of the Brighton alternative scene. Welcome to my world!

The first novella I wrote was A Bar Tender Tale, and it’s set in Kemp town (aka ‘camp town’) known for being the gay hotspot of Brighton. The council had a temporary erection (snerk) of a ferris wheel, like a mini London eye, for a while. (Yes, I did go on it. The voice in the speakers narrating the history was Steve Coogan; amazing.)

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A Bar Tender Tale starts with our hero, Nathan, a young bartender, bimbling around Kemp town one sunny morning, visiting his friend’s pub opposite the dingy courthouse, ogling hot solicitors in suits. As you do. It’s all set in Kemp town, which is only a few paces away from The Royal Pavilion, and Victoria Gardens.

After bagging a date with the hot solicitor and going for a curry–Britain’s favourite meal, naturally–the story heats up when Nathan goes to his job at a local gay bar and venue. In my story, it’s called Rainbows. In real life, Legends is a pretty good example of a Brighton club, and it’s right on the sea front.

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Gay clubbing. It can be intense. I wrote a previous blog post about the history of poppers, here: In case you weren’t aware what that odd smell was whenever you entered one of these establishments.

Legends is great, as it also does cabaret. It’s only up the road from the Palace Pier, and the Aquarium (Sea Life Centre).

If you’re looking for a fun and cute story set in Brighton, A Bar Tender Tale is just the ticket. There is pretty much zero angst in the story, it’s light-hearted and fun. Fans will (hopefully!) be pleased to know that I’m currently halfway through writing a sequel, of sorts. At the request of fellow writer, Piper Vaughn, I’ve taken bartender Justin, and relocated him to London. That’s where his story will be.

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The Royal Pavilion (aka ‘The Pav’) at night time. Very pretty!

So, the next story I wrote was a novel called The Haunted PubThis one is a bit more serious (ooh er!) and is a horror/paranormal. Although a lot of the same elements remain; I couldn’t contemplate writing without including lots of British humour.

This story is set in a pub, and I actually merged the history of two pubs for my fictional pub, The Queen Anne’s Revenge (yes, Blackbeard’s ship!). In real life, just along the road from the Royal Pavilion, is a huge old pub called The King and Queen. It’s an original build from the 1930s, and is a theme pub inspired by Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

Yes, really!

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The whole place is covered in plaster cast statues. Here’s a close up of the king and queen out front:

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What’s also fascinating, is that this public house was built on top of the site which was the old army barracks. Brighton having had piers and lots more boats, back in the day. I find this all extremely interesting, and had to include it in my story. In my haunted pub are ghosts of gents and ladies, and also a soldier from Napoleonic wars. (Major Sharpe, anyone?)

Here is the Royal Pavilion during the daylight hours (no more than a couple of minutes’ walk from the King and Queen).

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Did you know that during the first world war, the Royal Pavilion was used as a temporary hospital for the British army Indian soldiers? It was thought because of the eastern look of the building that housing the wounded Indian soldiers within would make them feel more at home.

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The only part of the Royal Pavilion that is actually from India is outside, and it’s India Gate, gifted to England by India after first world war.

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The Royal Pavilion in Brighton is well worth a visit, especially to see inside.

I really could’ve written several more novels about the history of Brighton, but my heart lies with contemporary. So while my ghosts all had very rich historical backgrounds, the focus of my novel is on the modern day characters, and the modern setting. One of my favourite scenes is where the naughty gentleman ghost wakes up after ninety years, sees all this modern day surround, and comments on the little differences, like how fashionable people drank their coffee cold these days. Iced latte, anyone?

For those unfamiliar with the inside of an English pub, here’s a good example: The Hobgoblin in Brighton displaying its taps. (The Hob also appears in A Bar Tender Tale, and any Hobgoblin pub is always on a crossroads because that’s where the devil will meet you… according to the bartender at the Hobgoblin in Angel, London!)

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And as much as I hate tourists, I am rather fond of Brighton pier, which is where I chose to send two of my characters in Haunted Pub on their first date. Because it’s too cute, isn’t it? You can’t visit Brighton and not go on the pier!

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Melanie’s links:

Website www.melanietushmore.co.uk

Twitter @melanietushmore

Melanie’s next release (September 25th) is a historical fantasy from Less Than Three Press:

Goblins 

Author bio:

Melanie Tushmore is British, half English, and knows rather a lot about pubs, although she very rarely drinks. She doesn’t like beer, ale, cider, or wine, much to her colleague’s despair. Melanie is currently a bartender in London, and has decided that the rum punch is her tipple of choice. Melanie’s books and current projects are either about rock bands and bartenders, or goblins and elves. More or less the same people, as far as Melanie believes.

Welcome to N. Wood

A warm welcome to N. Wood on our blog, chatting about her books and showing some stunning pictures of Cornwall beaches, near where she lives.


Nat Wood

How did you discover the MM/gay romance genre?

I first discovered M/M romance through fanfiction. I was an avid reader of Twilight fanfiction for a few years where I discovered many wonderful authors, but I didn’t have the courage to follow in their footsteps straight away and try writing for myself. I had read a heterosexual story that I’d enjoyed and I clicked on the person’s profile to see what else they had to offer. It was there that I discovered a story with a M/M pairing, so I decided to give it a try. Just like the previous story, it was really well written and I found that I couldn’t stop reading it. I caught up to as far as the author had written and begged for more in my review. I still read heterosexual stories and fanfiction from time to time, but my main genre to read and write is M/M romance.

Cornwall - Nat Wood

 What made you start writing in the genre?

After begging the author for more of her M/M story, we became friends on Facebook and I shamelessly stalked her to find out what other stories she was writing. She in turn had a read of one or two of my heterosexual attempts and she encouraged me to give M/M a try too. It took a while before I plucked up the courage to do so and I wrote what was meant to be just a one-shot story. The work was dark edged and tense, which seemed to leave those who read it begging for more, so I began turning that one-shot into a multi-chaptered story. While that was going on, I also attempted another one-shot for a M/M fanfiction picture prompt competition. It was the only M/M story that was submitted and didn’t place in the top three, but I received many reviews asking for the story to be continued once the contest was over. That one-shot became my most successful fanfiction story within the fandom and it won a few awards along the way

Cornwall-Nat Wood

Where do you base your book(s)? 

My first self-published bookLa Cala’ is based in Ibiza, though both characters are from the UK, one from Ireland and the other from Scotland. Another self-published book I wrote was flamed for the fact it was based in America, and since I’ve never been there, there were some errors with my work. One person flamed me for the fact I wrote it as raining in Seattle. I guess the word ‘fiction’ doesn’t mean much anymore. Well, my other stories are being based here in the UK, mostly in Cornwall where I now live. I do find that writing about places I know is easier and better, and I can detail elements of my stories a lot more when I can picture the locations clearly in my mind. ‘Waves Of Healing’ is mostly based within a five mile radius of where I live. The beaches mentioned are all ones that I frequent when I walk my dogs, the roads are ones that I drive almost daily.

Cornwall-Nat Wood

 Tell me about your current/forthcoming novel.

waves

Waves Of Healing is a novel that follows the lives of Joel Ritter and Dominic Thornton. Joel is a surfing instructor and Dominic is a paramedic. They attended the same school and Dominic had a huge crush on Joel, but he had been more interested in his career ambitions to notice the young man following him around like a love-sick puppy. During a winter’s night, Joel is driving home from a surf competition when he swerves to avoid a badger in the road. His vehicle loses traction on the ice and he crashes his van on the side of the road. Dominic is on duty that night and he’s called to the scene of the accident. He’s shocked when he discovers that it’s his school crush who’s struggling to survive. Later in the story, (not wanting to give too much away), a turn of events sees Joel moving in with Dominic during his recovery and it comes down to the paramedic to show Joel that it isn’t the end of the world, he can still be loved and there are things worth fighting for.

 What are you writing at the moment?

I have a few ideas lined up, so I need to just wait and see which one strikes me the most to decide which one I’ll be writing first. One or two are even heterosexual stories, but the majority are M/M and those will probably be the ones I set about writing first.

Author bio

N. Wood is a budding young author living in Cornwall, United Kingdom. She first gained an interest in writing when she became a published poet at the age of nine. Since then she’s moved onto both short and novel length fiction with a M/M romance baseline.

  • Internet links (website/twitter/facebook etc)

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/NWoodstories

Blog: http://nwoodstories.blogspot.co.uk/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/WhitlockWood

Amazon: http://www.amazon.co.uk/N.-Wood/e/B00B3HBE8G/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_pop_1

Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6897888.N_Wood

Blurb: Joel Ritter had the career he always wanted, teaching others to surf the waves in the same way he learned to in his teenage years. Instructing and guiding his students through surfing competitions had long since been his passion, but an unfortunate car accident one winter’s night in Cornwall turned his whole life upside down and dashed his ambitions.
Dominic Thornton endured school in Joel’s shadow, following his crush around like a lovesick puppy. Now as a twenty-nine year old paramedic, Joel’s life and his future rests in his hands. Can he guide the disheartened surfer through his recovery and prove to him that there is still a love and life to live for without losing his own faith and belief in Joel in the process?

Buy link: Amazon

Excerpt: The boys appeared to be oblivious to the fact their instructor was standing among them while they gathered their towels and toiletries. Joel turned his brown eyes to each of them, noticing how two of the seven in his team held glum expressions from the results of the contest, whereas the other five didn’t seem to care. When the first few walked towards the showers, he couldn’t take their ignorance any longer. Joel released his grip on the clipboard and threw it across the room with such force, it snapped in two against the door. The ensuing bang followed by the splintering of wood was enough to shock the seven teens into silence and draw their attentions to the red-faced man standing among them. The two that had approached the shower room stood frozen in place, having almost jumped out of their skins when the clipboard had missed them by an inch. All eyes turned towards Joel with puzzled expressions. He’d never been so infuriated with them in all the time he’d coached their surfing careers. The recent act of violence had stunned them, but not as much as his words would.

“What in the flying fuck was that?” he yelled, adding emphasis to the swear word.

“Jeez, boss, calm down.”

Joel turned his glare on the one who had spoken. The youth was of a similar height to him and their eyes locked onto each other’s with ease. At six foot two inches, Joel had once been a skinny teenage surfer like all of the youngsters, but now at almost thirty, he trained them instead while surfing recreationally for his own habits. He had worked as an instructor in Cornwall, England for people of various ages over the years, but Godrevy was where he’d chosen to set up his business. The beach was just a small section of three miles of golden sands, and the sea swell was a good spot for learners and experts alike. However, just because Joel was young and athletic like them didn’t mean he would take shit from his team.

“Calm down? Don’t you dare tell me to calm down! Look at you all, so laid back and uncaring that you just got your arses whipped by the Aggie boys!” He glanced to every face in the room while expressions turned into grimaces and pouts in response to his declaration. Mark Shaw and his St. Agnes team weren’t just his rivals. The two boys still near to the shower room door hurried to park their butts on benches when Joel pointed for them to do so. Following suit, the others sat also and hung their heads in shame. Now he had their attention, Joel pressed his hands to his hips and took a more threatening stance. “Thanks to the stunts you all pulled out there today, congratulations are in order. Well done! You’ve just made yourselves a laughing stock!”

The boys lowered their heads further while he lectured them for several minutes, sometimes pacing, other times gesticulating when his pent up frustrations were released with ground out words. All of the youths understood Joel meant business, and he scrutinised them with a fierceness while he spoke, though he had to keep reminding himself that they were just teenagers who cared more about getting drunk and lucky later on than the competition, whether they won or lost.

Joel gazed over to the youngest member of his team, Jason. At only sixteen, he was already a very promising surfer. With him being beneath the legal drinking age, much of his time was spent in the water when the swell was decent enough. Now he sat quaking with small tremors of nervousness while Joel chastised them. Jason’s blond hair was soaked and limp across his face, dripping water into eyes bluer than the sea. With his wetsuit peeled down to his waist, goosebumps littered the youngster’s torso and the chilled air had caused his nipples to stand erect on his hairless chest. Joel had to remind himself that while the boy was just about legal, he was nearing thirty and that would be seen as wrong.

He continued to lecture them for a few minutes longer, aware from experience that their arses were probably numb from the hard benches that lined the clubhouse walls, and all of them were shivering from being wet in such cold conditions. Pulling his beanie from his head, Joel ran his fingers through his hair while he came towards the end of his scolding.

“Now, you guys had better get your arses into gear or you can kiss any chance of a sponsorship goodbye.”

Though he considered his words to be harsh, Joel knew they had to understand they couldn’t let great opportunities like that slip through their fingers if they wanted to succeed and become pro surfers. They were all capable of far more than they’d shown out there in the sea today. With a last look around the miserable faces in the room, he noticed many were studying their feet. Only one was staring straight back at him.

The youth stood up, his face devoid of emotion. “Boss?”

The other teens in the room turned their heads to catch a glimpse of the brave soul who had dared to address their instructor following his outburst of anger towards them. His name was Shaun; a big boy of eighteen years old and another of Joel’s promising wave riders. He stood before them all with one hand clutching a towel at his hip to keep it from falling. The thin and fluffy fabric was all he wore.

Glancing each side of him to the teenagers in the room, Shaun then levelled his eyes back on Joel and flew his other hand to his groin, cupping himself through the towel and gave a tug. “Suck my cock.”

All pictures – N. Wood

Taking the Gardener by T.J. Masters

Over the last few weeks we have welcomed many authors to UKGayRomance, but it’s about time we welcomed a book. Taking the Gardener by T.J. Masters is on your favourite UK gay romance list, and I leave it to the author to describe the story in more detail.

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This is my first M/M novel. It’s a story which very much combines the worlds of male BDSM and gay romance. The tale is set firmly in the English Home Counties and starts with young dominant Eric Broderick leaving  London after the sudden death of his parents. He travels to Pittlesburne, a small village in the Chess Valley in Buckinghamshire, in search of some sort of peace or respite from his grief. Eric needs time away from the home where he lived with his parents in Richmond upon Thames in South West London and also a break from the London gay scene.

Arriving in this haven of rural tranquillity, Eric meets Megan, a young woman who runs the Glebe House guesthouse. From the window of the guesthouse’s kitchen he sees Tom, a handsome young gardener, and is instantly smitten with him. However, there’s a catch: Tom is engaged to Megan. Eric decides to treat his attraction to Tom as nothing more than a harmless crush.

Later that day, Eric goes to eat at The Bricklayer’s Arms, a local pub owned by Megan’s parents. There he sees Tom fresh from a rugby match, and his desire for him grows despite his best efforts.

It is important to me that the stories I write, the characters I describe and the locations that I use are both real and believable. Pittlesburne is a fictitious village but it could be any one of the quintessentially English villages dotted along the valley where the River Chess runs through Buckinghamshire and West Hertfordshire. The chalk stream was itself once known locally as the Pittlesburne,  hence the name of my village.

Eric sets about the healing process in this rural idyll taking himself out for long solitary walks in the countryside. He bumps into Tom while taking a walk by the river and sees that he’s in the middle of sketching the opposite overbank. Eric is extremely impressed with the drawing – he knows many artists in London, and can see that Tom has obvious talent for recording the natural world which surrounds him. They go back to Glebe House and end up having sex for the first time, with Tom slipping easily into a submissive role.

On the face of it the two men have little in common and they represent the classic dichotomy of ‘city boy meets country boy’. Their relationship evolves quickly however, with Eric guiding Tom along the path to become a passionate lover and a well-trained sub. Although there is an underlying tension to things because they have to hide it from Megan, Eric feels as if Pittlesburne has become an almost idyllic escape from his fast and furious London life with its coldness and its artificiality. For the first time since his parents’ deaths, he is beginning to feel at peace. The village is healing him.

Tom accompanies Eric on a short trip back to London and he is firstly amazed by the size and opulence of Eric’s home, and clearly begins to feel uncertain of his place in Eric’s life due to the stark differences in their backgrounds. Eric tries to ease his worries by introducing him to Mrs. Perkins, his family’s long-time housekeeper, who treats him like a member of the family and never questions his rural roots.

Tom is in awe of the openness with which gay life exists in the big city and, away from the constant attention he receives in his village community, he is able to explore his new found feelings for another man away from prying eyes and wagging tongues.

The trip to London gives Eric the opportunity to take Tom on a shopping trip visiting some of the more fashionable stores in London’s West End. They also visit the popular gay district around Old Compton Street in London’s Soho. This is an eye popping experience for country boy Tom.

Eric is eager to get back to the simplicity of the country and so they return to Pittlesburne, both of them now certain that they are in love with each other. It’s not long before Megan discovers their secret and Eric becomes angst ridden feeling that he has contaminated their pastoral happiness with his big city ways.

Eric decides that the best thing for him to do is leave Pittlesburne for good so that Tom and Megan can repair their relationship. He travels back to London, intending on never seeing Tom again. Maybe the countryside has gotten under his skin for he now spends his time out of the house walking the vast open space of Richmond Park.

I will not spoil the ending for you here but suffice to say that the ways of country folk should not easily be dismissed as simple.

This book was published by Dreamspinner Press in Feb 2013

TJ Masters’ Bio

T.J. Masters is a 57-year-old author and Life Coach living in Hertfordshire just to the north of London, England. T.J. has shared 30 years of suburban life with his Civil Partner Ian. In 2009 T.J. took early retirement from a 33 year school teaching career and decided to follow a new path for himself. After qualifying as a Life Coach, T.J. found that he was coaching a couple of authors who were going through the process of giving birth to the book which they “had always been inside them”. This rekindled T.J’s long held desire to write and get published.

With a lifelong passion for books, learning and the sharing of knowledge, T.J. woke up to the knowledge that he had stories to tell, books to write and less than half a lifetime left to do it in. As for the kind of books he is writing….well, let’s just say that he decided to channel over 30 years of experience in the gay BDSM lifestyle into a genre where it would be most appreciated. There is a whole list of planned writing in the Gay Romance and Gay BDSM fields as well as some non-fiction projects.

Alongside this passion for books and writing, T.J. also found an outlet for his inner geek and has become a great advocate for social media in various forms. Blogging has become a great outlet for T.J’s many interests including the writerly ones. The author has a website where he blogs regularly and he loves to interact with his readers and followers on Twitter and Facebook.

http://www.tjmasters.com

tj@tjmasters

Taking the Gardener 

Buylink: Dreamspinner

Like almost every other residence in Pittlesburne, the guesthouse was shielded from the buildings around it by a tall, dense yew hedge. It was old, seventeenth or eighteenth century at least, and covered in a great swathe of ivy. To Eric’s surprise, there were no cars parked out front. A quaint wooden sign out front had the words ‘GLEBE HOUSE’ carved into it.

He rang the doorbell with an odd tingle of trepidation. He had called ahead to make his booking, but suppose it had been lost somewhere? He felt, ridiculously, that being turned away would sour the whole experience of arriving in Pittlesburne. He was suddenly desperate for this to go well.

A pleasant, slightly flustered young woman opened the door. “Oh!” she said. “You must be-“

“Eric Broderick, yes,” he said, extending his hand. “Pleased to meet you.”

“You too. I’m Megan. We spoke on the phone?” She shook his hand and then beckoned for him to come inside. “Your room isn’t quite ready yet. We just had a rugby team staying, if you can believe it. They only left an hour ago.”

Pity, Eric thought. He imagined sharing a small guesthouse with an entire rugby team would be quite an experience. “Don’t worry about the room,” he said, looking around the narrow hallway. “I thought I might go for a walk anyway.” Of course, he had just gone for a walk, but that path from the train station was just begging for further exploration…

“No, no, I won’t be a minute,” Megan said, apparently determined for him to see his room before he went out again. “Just make yourself at home in the kitchen, won’t you? I’ll come back to get you as soon as the room is done.”

She hurried away before he could protest again, leaving him with no choice but to acquaint himself with the downstairs part of the guesthouse. A month before he would have called it tacky, but that had been before he soured on London’s more urbane charms.  It was…kitschy.

No, that was how his friends would have described it, most likely with a derisive snort. It was homely and comfortable. Small, old-fashioned, just a bit rundown, and all the more welcoming for that. He decided that he liked it.

He went into the kitchen (which bore the distinction of being large and old-fashioned; apparently there was variety in Pittlesburne after all) to get a glass of water. But as he walked around the big farmhouse-style table, the view from the window stopped him dead in his tracks.

The back garden was both huge and far better tended than he would have expected given the riotous growth of weeds out front. That wasn’t what got Eric’s attention though. What made him stop and stare was the very fit looking young man who happened to be in the middle of standing up to stretch his back  as  Eric reached the sink.

He was one of those young guys who are on the shorter side, but all muscle – ‘compact’ was the word that sprang to Eric’s mind. This particular specimen possessed blond hair that was ever so slightly dampened by sweat and the kind of tan one did not normally find among residents of the British Isles. Aiding Eric’s appreciation of said tan was the fact that the young man was shirtless, revealing that the bronzed tone of his skin reached down to at least as far as where his underwear poked up from the back of his jeans.

Eric’s brain kicked back into action after a good ten seconds of mindless gawking on his part, and he was able to take in the rest of the scene: the wheelbarrow, the pile of fresh grass clippings, the garden rake lying on the ground nearby. The captivating country lad was the gardener, it seemed.

Better than a whole rugby team, Eric thought, experiencing a painful rush of lust for the first time since his parents’ deaths.  It took him entirely by surprise. He was used to viewing his potential sexual conquests with a kind of cool detachment, as though they stood in a line-up and he was choosing them based on a checklist of their merits. He was not used to having his heart suddenly begin to hammer in his chest or for the sight of a man – no matter how attractive a man– to captivate him so utterly that he felt rooted to the spot. It wasn’t just the young gardener’s body, although that was admittedly perfect. It was the whole scene: how he stretched as though resting for the first time during a hard morning’s work, the way the sun seemed to accentuate every line of his lithe musculature. Eric wanted to make every part of the picture his. Most of all, he wanted the gardener for himself.

“That’s my boyfriend.”

Eric returned to the present using the mental equivalent of a crash of gears. Megan stood behind him, her arms crossed over her chest. She nodded out the window. “Tom, my boyfriend,” she said. Was it his imagination, or did she put particular stress on the word ‘boyfriend’?

Welcome to Saura Underscore

One of the joys of running UKGayRomance is meeting people all over the world who have gay romance books based in the UK. Today, Saura Underscore explains her path to publishing.

Saura_autorpic

How did you discover the MM/gay romance genre?

Long time ago, in the times of the first LOTRs movie, I was made administrator of a fan board in which some people dared to wrote fanfiction. First thing I was told: “not to allow slash”. I had no idea of what that was, until I found one. It was so well written I fell in love so completely with it. I couldn’t understand what was so wrong with it that I needed to be taken down. I left the admin job and started reading everything related to slash, moving from one couple to another until I finally found Dreamspinner Press and their original MM gay romance stories, which I love (and I have my kindle full of their stories).

It was then that I discovered WHAT was going wrong with my own little writings. Even though you can find a gay character in most of them, and even though the principal character was always involved in a gay relationship to one point, boy and girl always ended up together in the most typical and boring way. And that might be the reason why I never managed to finish writing anything.

The first time I dared to write the principal character ending up with his male friend, the story wrote itself, and it felt right and satisfying.

What made you start writing in the genre?

After reading the story that got me into this genre, I decided I needed to do one myself. Check if I was able to write something simple to check if the love of two men could be as beautiful as this other author made it look like. I confess it was very difficult for me to get a proper story done. It took me a lot of little stories to get from just platonic love to a full relationship between two males. But it was the right thing to write.

Where do you base your book(s)?

My books are mostly based in England; probably because it’s the land I know (it’s closer to Spain). I’ve been in London a lot of times (enough to feel bad for not having visited any museum yet), and I’ve visited the south of UK (Dover, Canterbury…), Bath and Cardiff a couple of times (tomorrow I’m leaving for Cardiff again *yay*)

My next project for Dreamspinner Press is mostly based in Jerusalem. It’s historical fiction based on the Medieval times, but all the characters are British (except for the Jerusalem’s Caliph, of course).

There’s just another one that isn’t based in England, and that’s “Azure”. That’s based somewhere (undetermined) in Egypt –the story is about four archeologists and their founding, and it’s a work in progress for now, but one of the four principal roles is British, and they travel to London once in the story.

Tell me about your current/forthcoming novel.

I’m a newbie, and I only have one published novel. “Indie Radio 113.9” is a dream came true: Jacob is a fan of Ethan Moore, radio host, and lusts after him. One day they meet and it’s instant love. Like a gay Disney tale *wink-wink*, only in real life things get a little tricky and I wanted to show a little trouble in the story. That was probably the most difficult part to write for me: to get my characters into the kind of trouble in which they don’t speak to each other. I’m all for communication (never go to bed angry with your lover) –and I had to do it with my characters or I’ll run out of story. I also wanted to show that non-communication can be dangerous and I put my characters into serious trouble for it. But I’m also a happy-ending writer. I think that life is hard enough as it is: books are for enjoying and dreaming, not to suffer: that’s what TV news is for, right?

My current project for Dreamspinner Press is “The Medieval Tales”, and it’s on the editing stage right now.  It’s historical fiction and it tells the love story of a monk and a knight who is sent to the Crusades. Is based on the idea of the Medieval England, not set on a proper place, but the second book (which is right now a work in progress), would travel England, freeing it from a fictional Viking invasion.

What are you writing at the moment?

Right now I’m two or three chapters away of finishing “The Medieval Tales” book II, and editing “Azure”, setting it in proper shape to be sent to consideration.  I’m also working in the Dreamspinner Press Spanish project, coordinating and translating, and also doing a little of control quality. It’s very exciting because even though it’s not proper writing (or original writing), I’m learning a lot of the editing process, and about other’s authors style –which helps a lot to understand what goes wrong with mine.

AUTHOR’S BIO:

SAURA UNDERSCORE (Saura_) was born under a dictatorial regime, only daughter of the typical tight-minded family. Taught to be revel at a progressive school, she never learned to cook, sew or spot-clean, but as soon as democracy arrived she participated in as many concentration defending women and gay rights as she could, which earned her several disinherit threatens from her father.

Her head has always been full of birds and dragons (at the same percentage), and she soon learned to set them free using her writing.

In her teenage stories you could always find a gay reference, but still Saura always thought that something was amiss. That Prince Charming didn’t have his whole heart on it. It wasn’t until she discovered Prince Charming and his squire at it on the barn of her mind, that she realized what exactly was the right thing to write.

She learned English and all about “slash” on the internet, and she travelled all around the world. She has friends from the six continents and it’s said she could travel the world finding one good friend to have lunch with, in every country.

Saura is married to a man that looked for her a second “perfect pairing” when the first died away, has a small kid.

You can contact Saura Underscore at:

http://www.sauraunderscore.wordpress.com

https://www.facebook.com/saura.underscore

https://twitter.com/sauraunderscore

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Indie Radio 113.9

Jacob Timber is hopelessly crushing on very private radio personality Ethan Moore—host of the most famous Indie music radio show on London’s 113.9, the Jukebox Hour—but being in love with a voice isn’t much different than being alone. Jacob’s not even sure the man is gay.

Jacob is so infatuated that all he wants for his birthday is to meet his crush in person—and he gets his wish. With Ethan and Jacob, it’s love at first sight.

But do dreams really come true? Despite how he feels in Ethan’s arms, Jacob doubts it. He knows he’ll never be happy with a man who pretends to love him, only to bring his true girlfriend to public events.

Buylink: http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/store/product_info.php?products_id=3773

Excerpt:

JACOB TIMBER waited for the bus, exactly like he did every Saturday night to go to work at Ian’s pub. It was raining, and the dirty snow on the streets was melting. The streetlights already illuminated everything, even though there still was just a little bit of gray daylight left in the sky. But it wouldn’t last more than a few more minutes.

“Hey, guys. I’m back after the amazing ‘Multiply’ from Jamie Lidell. So, any plans for tonight?”

The passing cars pushed up the water that pooled at the side of the road, and the heavy rain hit the roof of the small shelter; the air that passed through the bus stop was freezing. A couple of shivering people like him waited in the cold under the dubious cover, but fortunately they could see the bus coming now.

“’Cause it’s Saturday evening in rainy London, and if you’re getting ready to go out tonight, I must remind you not to forget to protect yourself. And you know what I mean.”

The skies poured rain on top of Jacob’s head, and the rivers it formed streamed down the road and soaked his sneakers as soon as he left the protection of the shelter to step onto the bus.

It was very warm inside, and as Jacob scanned his pass, he unzipped his coat and pushed the damp hood from his head. His face heated immediately, and for a moment it felt like the skin of his cheeks was burning.

“In case you forgot, you are listening to Indie Radio, independent music at 113.9 on your FM dial—”

Jacob sat down on a free seat, put his backpack between his legs, and rested his head on the bus window. The glass felt cool against his overheated forehead. He adjusted his right earphone, and as the kind, almost teasing voice went on purring in his ear, Jacob smiled.

“—and you’re listening to the Jukebox Hour. My name is Ethan Moore—hiya—and I’m playing the most excellent selection of the best indie bands to prepare you for a good night. So, to make it even better for you while you choose what to wear to go for the kill tonight, I’m going to delight your ears with two songs. First you’re going to hear ‘Last Kiss’ from the amazing The Explorers Club. And after that, I’m going to make your ears explode with pleasure by playing ‘Everybody Knows’ by Ryan Adams.”

Jacob’s ears were nearly exploding with pleasure at that very moment. As far as he was concerned, Ethan Moore could keep on speaking forever. He closed his eyes and smiled wider. He figured he looked a little silly, soaking wet from the rain and smiling at the drops on the window, but he didn’t care. Ethan rambled on about where Ryan Adams was going to have his next concert and not to miss it, but Jacob was not really listening to the words. He was listening to the voice.

“So, without further ado I offer you ‘Last Kiss’. See you in a mo’. Don’t go yet, yeah?”

Jacob loved this show. Not only because he loved the music—which he did—but because of the host. Ethan Moore had really good taste in music. His playlists usually got the best marks from the listeners who judged the songs on the station’s website, and he had a voice made for radio. Well, for radio and for purring sweet things into a lover’s ear.

He never, ever missed Ethan’s show. In fact, Ethan hosted a late show every Tuesday, starting at eleven o’clock, and as soon as Jacob found out, he asked to have his night off on Tuesdays. His boss was more than happy to give it to him because the pub always got more crowded during the weekend.

Jacob would never tell his friends that he took his night off every Tuesday only to be able to listen to Ethan from his bed. Just as he was not willing to confess he often jerked off to the sound of Ethan’s voice surrounding him.

But it was true.

Ethan’s voice felt like velvet, and it caressed Jacob as if it were Ethan’s hands on his skin, doing it for real. His delicious British accent seemed to dance along with the movements of Jacob’s hand around his hard shaft. There was nothing in this world that could make him come as hard as Ethan saying “Take it away.” Not even a blowjob from Luke—friend, coworker, and probably the sexiest man Jacob had ever met. He’d had one once, and it was very good. Still, it couldn’t be compared to the soft sound of Ethan Moore’s voice.

It was stupid and childish, yes, for sure. It was also true that Jacob had no idea what Ethan Moore looked like. The station’s website didn’t provide a picture, and Moore was extremely guarded about his privacy. He could be, like Jacob’s sister had said once, as ugly as Quasimodo, but Jacob couldn’t care less.

Anyway, how could a man with Ethan Moore’s voice be ugly? That was inconceivable.

Jacob imagined Ethan to be taller than him with fair skin, dark hair and a beard, and big, sure, and warm hands. He would always dress casual, Jacob thought, in funny T-shirts and ripped jeans and sneakers. Sometimes, when Jacob envisioned Ethan and him together and about to make love, he pretended Ethan’s body was a little like his own, but harder in all the right places—furry chest, tough round ass, and thick cock. The Ethan in his dreams had green eyes, though sometimes they turned blue in the middle of the fantasy. Sometimes both colors mixed in his dreams.

And Jacob just knew that Ethan’s smile would be the most beautiful one in the world, because he could hear Ethan smiling through the wires of his earphones.

“Hey. You still there? That’s great. You know I like it when you listen. After the great quality of the music we’ve shared this evening, we’re reaching the end of the show, unfortunately, but I don’t want to go without giving you one of my favorites tonight.”

Jacob smiled to himself. He knew Ethan was going to play something from the Beatles next, because he was nearly as big a fan of theirs as Jacob was of Ethan. The bus took a turn on the street and shook, and as always that was Jacob’s cue to stand up and press the stop-request button.

“It’s my pleasure to say good night to you with ‘Julia’, from the most brilliant musical genius ever born, John Lennon. And with this, I’m going to say my good-byes. I’ll be back on Tuesday with the Late Show. Have a fantastic weekend, and remember to always keep it on and be safe.”

Every Saturday Ethan said something about safe sex, and that made things even better for Jacob’s imagination. Though in all honesty, in his mind Ethan never used a condom, and Jacob wasn’t really sure he’d ask the guy for one if he ever had the opportunity. But it didn’t really matter because Ethan would always use one anyway, wouldn’t he?

“Say hello to Daniel Torino, who’s coming into the studio right now, and that means good-bye from me. Don’t touch that dial, all right? This is Ethan Moore for the Jukebox Show at Indie Radio 113.9, and this is all from me for tonight. I’ll see you around.”

And besides, it wasn’t like Jacob was ever going to meet Ethan, was he? No matter how much he wanted to believe that they’d see each other around.

The bus stopped, and Jacob stepped out, racing through the rain toward the pub’s entrance.

JACOB pulled the white shirt of his uniform over his head and tucked it into the smart dark-pearl-colored ass-fitting trousers in the locker room at the back of the pub, getting ready for his Saturday-night shift. At his side, his coworker Luke was doing the same. They had to dress quickly because it was nearly six o’clock, and the pub was about to open.

“So, what do you want for your birthday?” Luke asked merrily as he finished combing back his fairly long curly black hair, trying to tie it into a small ponytail low on his neck. “Name your wish, and it’ll be yours. But don’t ask for anything sexual—you know I’m already taken.”

“Oh, ‘taken’ is it now?” Jacob gave his friend a funny look as he finished dressing. He liked his uniform even if it didn’t suit him as well as it did Luke. “How long did you say you’ve been with this Gary guy?”

Luke was out and proud, tall and athletic, with smooth skin tanned on the beaches of the Mediterranean Sea, and he swore that he could curse a man with just a look of his deep green eyes because his mother was a Spanish gypsy. He exuded some sort of sexual energy that attracted lots of people to him, and that once included Jacob—even if after that unique blowjob he discovered Luke was not truly his type, and they were better off as friends.

Without turning around, Luke stuck his tongue out at him in the mirror. “For your information, we’ve spent the most fantastic three weeks of our lives together,” he said proudly.

“Oh. I’m sure he must have asked you to marry him already!” Jacob said mockingly.

“Did I really say you could ask for any present you like? Forget it, you naughty kid.” Luke said, acting as if he felt offended.

Jacob laughed and hung his clothes on the metal wardrobe hanger. He took a look at his still-wet coat, hanging on the rack to dry.

“So I can ask for anything?” Jacob repeated the offer as he got close to the mirror to comb his unruly brown hair. “Can I ask for the day off?” he inquired hopefully.

“Unfortunately, young man, you can’t,” Ian, the pub’s owner, said as he entered the room. He was almost fifty, but still tall and obviously proud of his body. “I need you tonight.”

“My birthday is tomorrow,” Jacob reminded his boss, still hopeful.

“Technically it starts tonight, and I still need you,” Ian said, though by the tone of his voice, Jacob knew he regretted not being able to give Jacob what he wanted. “Let’s do this. I’ll allow you to come in later tomorrow or leave earlier, whichever one you prefer, okay?”

“All right. Thanks, boss.” Jacob smiled at Ian.

“Now, come on and hurry. The pub is open already,” Ian said as he left.

“So what do you want?” Luke asked again when they started moving out of the changing room and into the pub’s main area.

“I can ask for anything, you say?” Jacob grinned mischievously.

“Except for sexual favors, you can ask for the moon, the sun….”

“I want Ethan Moore for my birthday,” Jacob deadpanned.

Luke looked oddly at him. “Jesus. You can ask for the moon and the sun, and you ask for an indie radio host? You’re obsessed, mate.”

“It’s my birthday, and you said I could ask for whatever I wanted,” Jacob said firmly and then laughed. “And I want Ethan Moore. Now get him for me,” he added as Luke rolled his eyes.

Both men went behind the bar, greeting Allen, who was already there. Allen was an occasional coworker, mostly on weekends. The fact that he was at the pub today meant Ian expected it to be a very busy Saturday.

Crossing the language barrier by Mrs Condit

As an English author with American publishers, I have collided with the language barrier many times. Once I started basing my stories in England, I’d get comment after comment from my poor editors, “What does this mean?”, and there are some phrases which do not cross the Pond. So I thought I’d ask Becky Condit, reviewer and reader on Mrs Condit & Friends Reads Books  for her opinion on leaving in British words and colloquialisms.  She reads hundreds of books a year and must have tripped over this issue once or twice.

MrsCandFriends

Over to Becky.

Thoughts on an American reader reading an “untranslated” British book…

I love reading books with the flavor of the country in which the story is set. That means that a book set in London should have the words used in the UK. There are examples that are common enough that almost everyone understands what is being said – boot and bonnet are car parts in the UK rather than clothing as they are in the US. A jumper in the UK is a sweater in the US, where a jumper is a dress. Then there are others that one learns from encountering them in stories, such as candyfloss, hosepipe, and lolly. Some words have opposite meanings, such as private school vs public school.

The great leveler for Americans reading UK words is the eReader with the capability to look up words. Most of them have as one of the definitions the UK meaning, so if the reader is confused it is a simple matter to highlight and click to look up the word. This keeps word meanings from being a distraction and soon the reader is sailing through without looking up words at all.

As the US for business reasons has delayed changing to the metric system, one does need to do a bit of mental conversion when reading references to distances and measurements, but if the reader learns easy estimates such as a kilometer is a little over half a mile and a meter is a little over a yard, even that fades to a simple perspective. Temperatures are more difficult with no easy conversion so the reader has to keep in mind whether it is winter or summer so that a 30 degree day in London is hot weather rather than freezing as it would be in Houston.

I’ve read many books set in the UK that have local words and slang translated to US English, and while that makes it easy to read, one loses the local color that is an important part of a story. I can only assume the reason is because the US market is a larger one and the book is edited in such a way to appeal to the American reader. As eBooks become more and more popular I can see the need for this to fade away, allowing readers on both continents to read the book as it was developed in the author’s head. After all, British readers have been reading American books for many years, haven’t they, and managing just fine.

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The Pitfalls of Writing: The British Don’t Eat Scones for Breakfast

I am American and have never yet visited England.  So of course the first work of fiction I submitted to a publisher was set in Victorian England.  I’d read a number of Regency romances (Regency and Victorian are the same thing, right?) and I’d watched BBC America.  I’d drunk some tea.  No problem.

That first novella proved my point, receiving high accolades from reviewers and readers alike for its authenticity.

At least, in the little fantasy world I’d built up in my head.  In reality, it was something of a disaster.  The story and characters got some kudos, but even readers who liked it usually prefaced their praise with, “Despite several anachronisms and Americanisms….”

Oh, Earl Grey… how you betrayed me….

While I did in fact do some research for my Victorian novella—I read several books on the subject, including the excellent “Everyday Life in Regency and Victorian England” by Kristine Hughes—I clearly should have done more.  But beyond that, I discovered that some things are simply not found in books, because everybody who actually lives in a country knows them.

The biggest problem with my novella was that, as an American, I had no concept of the role of class in British society.  Oh, yes, I can watch Downton Abbey with the best of them, and I love those “big house” dramas.  But as an American, I always feel a bit squeamish about clear-cut class distinctions, and it’s difficult for me to conceive of servants who are happy to be servants.  Surely they were all dreaming of starting their own business and becoming filthy rich, or at least marrying an earl?

However, I’ve learned this wasn’t the case.  And apparently inviting all of the locals into the house for a hootenanny was simply not done.  Which was kind of the crux of my plot.

It also turns out the British aren’t big on scones for breakfast, though I think I could have worked around that one.

I’ve since written a novel that takes place in Viking Age Iceland.  The history and culture of ancient Iceland is actually a hobby of mine.  I researched it for at least fifteen to twenty years before tackling a story in that setting, so my historical detail was fairly solid, though there are always things that seem to slip through the cracks.  I discovered for instance that a throwaway line of dialog about a bat was a rather odd comment for an Icelander to make—there are no bats in Iceland.

But the essential lesson I took away from my Victorian was this:  always have at least one native from the country you’re writing about read the novel.  More, if you can find them.  I probably wouldn’t have caught that tidbit about bats, if it hadn’t been pointed out to me by a native Icelander.  I might have, of course—it’s information available in books and online.  But trust me, it’s easier to spot what is there in a book than it is to spot what isn’t there.  I never found a book telling me that there weren’t any bats in Iceland.  I assumed there would be, because… well, they’re everywhere in my part of the world.  It took a native to say, “Oh, no.  We don’t have those.”

More importantly, it took a native Icelander to tell me whether my characters sounded like Icelanders, and whether my descriptions of the countryside were accurate.  In one scene that takes place in Norway, I used Google Maps to locate an area the characters were traversing, and zoomed in as much as possible to get an idea of the terrain.  (This works surprisingly well, by the way.)  But what Google Maps neglected to tell me was that the short stretch of water I thought my characters could boat across was a fjord, hundreds of feet deep, with no easy way to get down to the water and back up on the other side.  It took a native from Norway who’d actually lived in that area to tell me that.

So now I’m once again tackling Victorian England, fool that I am.  It’s rather frightening, because I’ve forgotten half the research I did three years ago.  And I still don’t live in England.  But I’ve at least learned that I’ll have to have the story read over by somebody native, who can tell me what the heck “clotted cream” is, and why on earth would anybody want to ingest it?

Jamie’s Bio:

Jamie Fessenden set out to be a writer in junior high school. He published a couple short pieces in his high school’s literary magazine and had another story place in the top 100 in a national contest, but it wasn’t until he met his partner, Erich, almost twenty years later, that he began writing again in earnest. With Erich alternately inspiring and goading him, Jamie wrote several screenplays and directed a few of them as micro-budget independent films. He then began writing novels and published his first novella, “The Christmas Wager,” in 2010.

After nine years together, Jamie and Erich have married and purchased a house together in the wilds of Raymond, New Hampshire, where there are no street lights, turkeys and deer wander through their yard, and coyotes serenade them on a nightly basis. Jamie recently left his “day job” as a tech support analyst to be a full-time writer.

Visit Jamie at http://jamiefessenden.wordpress.com

Billy’s Bones

Blurb for Billy’s Bones:

Kevin Derocher was thirty-two when he walked into Tom’s office, newly married, a baby on the way, and the collar of his red flannel shirt pulled up to hide the bruises around his throat from when he hanged himself in his garage. After his initial consult, therapist Tom Langois believes he’ll never see Kevin again—but Kevin turns up three years later to make repairs on Tom’s new house.

Kevin and Tom become fast friends, and Tom begins to suspect Kevin may be interested in more than friendship. However, Kevin remains haunted by something from his childhood—something so terrible he blocked it from his mind. These suppressed memories make it impossible for Kevin to get close to anyone without panicking and lashing out, sometimes violently. But as his past begins to surface, it becomes apparent that Kevin may hold the key to a twenty-five-year-old mystery: what happened to Billy?

Buy Link:  Dreamspinner

Excerpt

One

KEVIN DEROCHER was just thirty-two when he walked into Tom’s office, newly married, a baby on the way, and the collar of his red flannel shirt pulled up in an attempt to hide the bruises around his throat caused by hanging himself in his garage. He was a lean, quiet man with a shy smile and a disheveled appearance—unshaven, with a tangle of chocolate-brown hair, as if he’d scrambled out of bed too late to even grab a comb. When Tom shook his hand and looked into those sleepy, soft hazel eyes for the first time, he was struck not by the pain he often saw in his client’s eyes, but by the confusion he saw there, as if Kevin had no idea why any of this was happening.

“So, Kevin,” Tom said when they were seated in the overstuffed, faux leather chairs, “how have you been for the past few days?”

Kevin crossed his legs, as if trying to find a comfortable position, and then immediately uncrossed them again. “Okay, I guess.”

“Good. How’s your wife… Tracy, right? And the baby?”

“The baby’s not born yet,” Kevin replied.

Tom already knew this. It had been Dr. Belanger’s opinion when he’d counseled Kevin at Androscoggin Valley Hospital, that learning of Tracy’s unplanned pregnancy had been the trigger that led to Kevin’s suicide attempt. Kevin had denied it. Of course. Having a child is supposed to be one of the happiest moments of a man’s life.

It doesn’t usually lead to suicide.

“I understand that,” Tom said pleasantly, tugging the short black hair of his beard between thumb and forefinger. “I simply meant, how is the pregnancy coming along?”

Kevin shrugged. “It’s fine.”

Tom realized he was thirsty, so he stood and went to the water bubbler in the corner. “Would you like some water?” he offered, holding up an empty paper cup.

“Yeah, sure.”

It wasn’t until Tom carried both cups back and set them on the slightly battered coffee table that Kevin volunteered, “I think she’s mad at me.”

“Your wife?” Tom settled back into his chair and smiled at him. “Mad about what?”

“Trying to kill myself.”

“Has she said anything?”

“Not really,” Kevin said. He crossed and uncrossed his legs again, looking at his cup on the coffee table without seeming to focus on it. “She hardly talks to me at all now. She spends most of her time after work visiting with her mom.”

Tom didn’t feel comfortable doing couples counseling since he’d never been married. The state of New Hampshire had legalized gay marriage this past year, but Tom wasn’t even dating anyone. He generally referred people with marital trouble to his colleague, Sue Cross. But in this case, talking to Tracy might provide some valuable insight into what had happened, so he offered, “Do you think it might help to have Tracy join us for a session?”

“No.”

“Well, it’s an option if you decide you’d like to do that later.”

“How many times do I have to see you?”

This was just an outpatient follow up since Mark Belanger hadn’t felt Kevin’s short stay in the hospital was enough to really help him. They’d released him when they believed he was no longer a danger to himself, but they’d never ascertained what the real issue was. That could take months, if not years. But Kevin couldn’t be forced to continue counseling.

“Why don’t we talk about that at the end of the session?” Tom asked. He suspected Kevin would simply get up and walk out if he gave him half a chance. “Right now, I’d like to talk about why Dr. Belanger referred you to me.”

When Kevin just stared blankly at his cup of water, Tom asked him, “Would you care to tell me what happened a couple weeks ago? On that Sunday?”

Kevin sighed and leaned forward to take a sip from the cup. “We went over that about a million times in the hospital. Didn’t they write it down for you?”

“Dr. Belanger did send me some notes. But I’d like to hear it from you.”

“I don’t really remember.”

“So the case notes say.”

“Well, they’re right,” Kevin said, irritated. “Tracy went out shopping for baby clothes or something with her sister. And I was feeling pretty low—”

“Why?”

“I don’t know. I just was.”

“I’m sorry. Go on.”

The story Kevin told wasn’t much different from what Mark Belanger had written. Kevin had decided to have a beer, and then a few more. His feeling of being “a little low” worsened until, in his intoxicated state, the depression seemed insurmountable. Then he went out to the garage, stripped completely naked, and hung himself by tying one leg of his blue jeans to a crossbeam and the other around his neck, and then stepping off the tailgate of his truck. He didn’t fall far enough to break his neck, and the way he’d tied the pants leg still allowed a trickle of air into his throat. So he didn’t die. He just hung there, choking. He passed out after a few minutes, but the medics estimated he dangled for ten or fifteen minutes before someone driving along the road in front of his garage saw him and called 911.

“Why do it naked?” Tom asked.

Kevin shrugged and downed the rest of his water. “I don’t know. It must have seemed right at the time.” He paused and then glanced up at Tom with a slightly mischievous smile. “You want to hear something gross? About when they found me?”

Tom had a pretty good idea what was coming, but he said, “Sure.”

“I guess I was… kind of….” Kevin made a gesture, as if he was flipping Tom off, but he kept his hand balled into a fist.

Tom laughed. “It’s apparently not uncommon for men who are… hanged… to get erections. Don’t ask me why I know that. I read it somewhere.”

“That’s kind of fucked up,” Kevin said, but he was still smiling. “I suppose I’m lucky I didn’t take a dump while I was hanging there. I heard that can happen.”

“I’ve heard that too.”

“Now that would have been completely undignified.”

“Oh, absolutely!”

It was a sick joke, but it cracked both of them up. And the fact that Tom was willing to laugh along with him about the whole fucked-up mess, both of them snickering like high school kids or younger, seemed to put Kevin more at ease.

“Can you remember anything else?” Tom asked when they’d settled down.

Kevin leaned back into his chair and seemed to give the matter serious thought for the first time since the session began. “I couldn’t breathe.”

Tom was tempted to rib him further—“I’ve heard hanging can cause breathing trouble too”—but he sensed this was more than just a continuation of the joke. “Do you mean… before you tried to hang yourself?”

Kevin nodded. “I remember that’s why I started drinking—because I couldn’t breathe. I thought maybe I just needed to relax.”

That seemed an odd reaction. Unless it was something he’d experienced before and this was how he handled it.

“Have you had that trouble breathing in other situations?”

“Now and then. But it’s no big deal. I mean, I know they’re just panic attacks.”

Tom tried to remember if he’d come across any of this in the case notes. He didn’t think so. The notes were on his desk, but he didn’t want to interrupt Kevin to go read through them. “Were you diagnosed with panic attacks in the past?”

“I figured you knew that,” Kevin said. “I was sent away when I was a kid.”

“Away?”

“Hampstead Hospital. For a couple months.”

Hampstead Hospital had excellent programs for children and teenagers, including inpatient treatments for depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and a host of others, including psychotic disorders. “Those records wouldn’t be part of your file at Androscoggin. Do you recall what you were being treated for at Hampstead?”

Kevin shrugged. “Like I said. Panic attacks.”

“How old were you?”

“I don’t remember. Thirteen, maybe?”

“What was happening at that time?”

Kevin had begun to fidget again, crossing his left leg onto his knee so he could wring his ankle with his hands. “Do I have to sit?”

“No. Go ahead—stand up; walk around a bit.”

Kevin practically jumped out of the armchair. As he talked he circled the office, glancing at the books in the metal racks on the walls, at the water bubbler, at Tom’s desk before stopping at the window that looked out onto the streets of Berlin. “My mother says I was pretty out of control. Fighting with kids at school, breaking things in the house—like dinner plates and… this stupid wooden boy taking a piss in the garden… shit like that. I was yelling at her and my father all the time and locking myself in my room. And I think I ran away once….”

“Your mother told you this? You don’t remember it?”

“Not really. I mean, I remember kicking that pissing kid to pieces.”

“Why did you do that?”

“I was sick of looking at his ass.” Kevin grimaced and turned back to face Tom for a moment. “I mean, why do people think those damned things are cute? Why is it cute to have some little kid mooning you all the time?”

Tom had to laugh again. “I don’t know. I think they’re pretty tacky.”

“No shit.”

“Do you remember your time in Hampstead?”

“No,” Kevin said thoughtfully as he watched the cars on the street two stories down. “I had to go in the summer, ’cause they didn’t want me to miss school. I remember being pissed about that. They were afraid I’d run away, so I was never allowed out on the grounds without a nurse. I hated it.”

“Anything else?”

“Nothing very clear.”

This guy is just one big, giant defense mechanism, Tom thought. He’d counseled other patients who were reluctant to talk about themselves before, but Kevin was combining that with humor and a disarming frankness. Perhaps even a shocking frankness, not that Tom was particularly shocked. But he suspected that, if he were female, Kevin might even become flirtatious. All to direct attention away from what he didn’t want to talk about—why he’d attempted suicide.

Forty-five minutes later, they’d covered topics ranging from Kevin’s fairly average childhood, growing up in rural New Hampshire, to meeting his wife in the local diner where she was waitressing, to his job as a handyman. Kevin had no qualms about telling Tom about his sex life, including how often he masturbated (“I mean, is that normal, considering I’m married?”), even though Tom hadn’t really asked. Nothing was sacred.

Except why he’d hung himself in that damned garage.

The session ended, and Tom had a sense they’d made a small amount of headway, perhaps, but nothing very significant. He liked Kevin, was charmed by him. If he were being honest, he was even somewhat attracted to him. But the man was an enigma. Was his memory really that fragmentary? Or did he simply say “I don’t remember” whenever he didn’t want to talk about something?

As they shook hands at the door, Kevin looked directly into Tom’s eyes with those soft hazel eyes of his, his heavy lids disconcertingly like those of a man sated from sex, and smiled that shy little boy’s smile. “You’re a lot easier to talk to than Dr. What’s-his-name at the hospital.”

“I’m glad you were comfortable.”

The handshake seemed to go on a little too long, Kevin’s eyes holding Tom’s until Tom began to wonder if he wasn’t above flirting with a male psychologist, after all.

When Kevin finally released him, Tom asked, “Will I see you next week?”

“Sure,” Kevin replied, but Tom knew he was lying. They went through the motions of finding a day in Tom’s appointment calendar that worked with both of their schedules, Tom writing it in with a ballpoint pen. Then Kevin walked out of the office.

Tom wished he could have done more. He hoped Kevin was past the crisis that had led him to hang himself, but he couldn’t be sure of that. All he knew for certain was that he would not see Kevin Derocher again.

How historical is your fairy tale? by Alex Beecroft

This may seem like a ridiculous question. Of course there’s a difference between stuff that actually happened and stuff that some author made up out of their own imagination. I wouldn’t dream of arguing that the events in The Lord of the Rings actually happened, for example, even though much of Tolkien’s background work created to support that story has the very texture of history. It’s an invented history, I know that.

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But I’ve always maintained that I like historicals and I like fantasies for the same reason – that to me they feel like very similar things. When I write both, it’s the strangeness of the other world which appeals to me. I enjoy having my mind be expanded by meeting people and encountering cultures who do not think or act like our own.

And I think it’s at that level of belief – of the world-view of the characters – where Historical Fantasy and History bleed together at the edges.

Even in modern times, there are people who believe that the world is inhabited by other intelligences than mankind. As a Christian, I believe myself that there is an invisible world around us in which angels and devils are doing whatever it is they do. I don’t personally interact with this world much because, as a Protestant, I’ve been taught to skip the intermediaries and go straight to God for all my supernatural needs. But I believe they exist. And I believe that God hears and talks to me, and that I hear Him.

To an atheist, I already live in a Fantasy world.

Even in modern times, there are people who sense ghosts, who claim to talk to the dead, who talk to gods other than mine. I wouldn’t dream of telling those people they didn’t really have the experiences they had. How should I know?

Even in modern times, there are people who have encountered elves – Iceland considers the needs of the elves when deciding on the route of a new road, for example.

Go back a hundred years and all of that multiplies. Go back 300 years, and the atheists and skeptics are suddenly in a minority. Because, much though we moderns might like to believe the past was just like the present but in nicer clothes, it wasn’t.

Once you’re sufficiently far back in history, the chances are that your characters all believe in a world of spirits, magic, angels and devils, active saints, holy wells, ghost ships and Divine intervention that would put most works of Fantasy to shame.

And if your characters believe in this stuff, this stuff is going to affect how they behave. They will go on pilgrimages, they will think they hear the voice of God/the gods, they will bury nails in the walls of their houses to keep witches from bringing them bad luck – they will suspect any run of bad luck to be the result of witches and go looking for a suspicious woman to blame. And your story will start looking more like a fantasy than a historical.

From there it’s very easy to slip between ‘the characters believe this is happening but it’s all in their heads’ to ‘this is actually happening.’ That’s the slip where Historical becomes Historical Fantasy.

The place where that slip happens is quite subjective. It depends on your own beliefs. I’m perfectly willing to accept a narrative wherein the character hears God’s voice and obeys it, with miracles and temptations along the way, as a pure historical, because I believe that sort of thing happens in real life all the time. You may not be. In which case, where is the line?

I think it’s a grey area, and I like it that way, because that’s the kind of twilight place where most of my inspiration comes from. I’ve always liked my maps to have grey areas around the outside with “Here be dragons,” marked on them. Too much certainty is a terrible thing for the creative mind. If everything is known, what else is there to wonder about?

This is all especially true in my latest novella, The Crimson Outlaw, because when I began to research historical Romania, I discovered it was a country straight out of fairy tales. There really were peasants living in cottages in the middle of vast forests prowled by wolves and bandits. People really did go to witches to curse their neighbours or cure their ailments. Troops of gypsies really did travel from village to village in covered wagons, their musicians in great demand to play for weddings and funerals and dancing. There really were stern and selfish and sometimes insane lords in castles…

All of which means that though The Crimson Outlaw is a historical, you could read it as a fairy tale just as easily, I hope. It’s an embodiment of my feeling that the two genres meet in the middle more often than not.

~

Alex Beecroft was born in Northern Ireland during the Troubles and grew up in the wild countryside of the English Peak District. She studied English and Philosophy before accepting employment with the Crown Court where she worked for a number of years. Now a stay-at-home mum and full time author, Alex lives with her husband and two children in a little village near Cambridge and tries to avoid being mistaken for a tourist.

Alex is only intermittently present in the real world. She has lead a Saxon shield wall into battle, toiled as a Georgian kitchen maid, and recently taken up an 800 year old form of English folk dance, but she still hasn’t learned to operate a mobile phone.

You can find her on her own blog here.

The Crimson Outlaw is published by Riptide

Love is the greatest outlaw of all.

Vali Florescu, heir to a powerful local boyar, flees his father’s cruelty to seek his fortune in the untamed Carpathian forests. There he expects to fight ferocious bandits and woo fair maidens to prove himself worthy of returning to depose his tyrannical father. But when he is ambushed by Mihai Roscat, the fearsome Crimson Outlaw, he discovers that he’s surprisingly happy to be captured and debauched instead.

Mihai, once an honoured knight, has long sought revenge against Vali’s father, Wadim, who killed his lord and forced him into a life of banditry. Expecting his hostage to be a resentful, spoiled brat, Mihai is unprepared for the boy to switch loyalties, saving the lives of villagers and of Mihai himself during one of Wadim’s raids. Mihai is equally unprepared for the attraction between them to deepen into love.

Vali soon learns that life outside the castle is not the fairy tale he thought, and happy endings must be earned. To free themselves and their people from Wadim’s oppression, Vali and Mihai must forge their love into the spear-point of a revolution and fight for a better world for all.

Excerpt:

Chapter One

1720 – Harghita County, Transylvania

It was the grimmest of weddings. Even the weather agreed, rain lashing down from a glowering sky, turning the red tiles of the turrets the colour of blood, gushing over all the balconies, and churning the moat to a froth.

Vali, with a sodden sheepskin clutched around his silken hat, escaped his father’s scrutiny long enough to dash through the puddles of the courtyard and catch up with his sister and her maidens before she entered the castle church. The girls gave him sour looks for stopping them outside in this downpour, but he didn’t care overmuch that the spun-sugar delicacy of their headdresses were drooping and darkening with the wet, and that their heavy gold-and-silver-laced bodices, their globes of shimmering skirts were sopping up water with every second.

They were uncomfortable. Well, so they should be, since his sister’s face was anguished and her eyes red with weeping. She had met her husband-to-be for the very first time yesterday, at a feast thrown for that purpose, and although she had concealed her horror fairly successfully at the time, it was clear to see she had not spent a peaceful night. Even encased as she was in so many layers of cloth-of-gold she might be a martyr’s mummy, he could see her shaking, and he was furious to know she was as frightened as she was miserable. Her voice was as raw as her eyes. “You shouldn’t be here. If Father sees you . . . Go back to the men’s side before you’re missed.”

“I will.” He leaned close, while four of Stela’s attendants struggled to hold a tarpaulin over her head to protect the cobweb of her veil. In the water running down her face, it was now impossible to guess at fresh tears. “But you don’t have to do this.”

Her shoulders sank as if in sudden despair, only illustrating how tightly wound they had been before. “I don’t think either of us wants to see what Father will do if I refuse.”

“I have a plan,” Vali insisted, because there were things that could not be borne and this was one of them—that his sister should be given out like a chest of gold to ensure the loyalty of a neighbouring boyar. One, moreover, the same age as their father, hideous and maimed to boot. “There’ll be a horse waiting for you, and all the gates open—”

Her look of despair only deepened. “Vali—”

From the cloisters behind them came the singing of the menfolk, deep and primal and disturbing. Stela’s chief maiden pulled at her arm, and she went, casting Vali a look of resignation, almost of apology, as she was swallowed up in the dim gilding of the church.

“You’ll know when to act,” he shouted after her, his voice all but overwhelmed by the pound of water on paving. “I’ll distract them, and you run!”

The men came out from beneath the colonnade, in glowing high spirits, fortified by plum brandy, pink about the cheeks with self-satisfaction and liquor. Vali made sure his father had seen him, knew from his father’s narrowed grey eyes that he was being watched, and slipped into a place behind the viteji—his father’s knights. Slim, capable men, raised to fight from horseback, deadly with a bow. Any one of them could shoot the eye of a hawk as it dived, even if he was galloping flat out and the bird was a hundred yards behind him.

Some of them were even kind. Vali had trained with them all since he was old enough to pick up a practice bow. At nineteen years of age, he could hold his own against most of them with a sabre, drive a lance through a wall with his charge, and sit a horse as though he were a centaur, command it as though it were his own flesh. All of this he owed to them. Now the two he liked the best, old Grigore and young Eugen, drew apart to let him join them. Eugen clapped him on the back, and Grigore handed him a flask of tuica so he could catch up on the general inebriation.

“Soon be over,” Eugen offered in reply to Vali’s long face.

“Not for her.”

A patch of rainless cloud blew briefly over their heads, bringing silence with it. And then as if from under their feet came the long, pitiful wail of an infant and the choking sobs of a woman without hope. Grigore crossed himself to ward off evil. “She gets away,” Grigore said roughly. “From this place. I fought beside Ionescu against the Russians. He is not a terrible man.”

Eugen offered his own reassurance. “And he’s old too. He may drop dead within the year, leaving her mistress of all his lands. No, this is not such a bad thing for her. She is lucky to go.”

Vali took the consolation as well-intentioned and irrelevant. He would not resign himself to this. He would not resign himself to losing the one person to whom he could turn, to whom he could speak honestly, the sister who had been always just a step or two ahead of him as they grew, ready to reach back a hand and haul him up next to her. The protector, who, following their mother’s death, was the only person in his father’s fief with both the rank and the inclination to defend Vali.

If this were what she wanted, then he would have let her go and kept his self-pity as invisible as he could, so as not to shadow her day. He hoped he was capable of being glad she could get out, even if he was to be left behind. But only if she was happy about it. And she wasn’t.

They entered the church, and at once the bitter cold and grey wet of the outdoors gave way to an ochre haze of candlelight seen through misty tendrils of incense. Smoke, pungent with resin, perfumed a vaulted ceiling on which golden angels leaned. The windows, even on such a dim day, gleamed sharp, the very tips of lances of pale light that made the gilded carvings of the iconostasis glitter. All the walls were painted bright with Byzantine scenes of warfare and miracles in colours like scattered jewels.

Vali coughed loudly as he came in, so that again his father looked back and saw him present, squeezed between two trusted retainers. Not going anywhere, not causing any trouble. The bridegroom turned his face toward him too, its right side stern but pleased, weathered skin brown beneath a short white beard, its left side a ruin of red flesh, the eyelid fixed permanently half-closed and the eye beneath it white with cataract. Vali had been told many stories about how it had gotten that way—Ionescu had fought a dragon; his rifle had burst; a jealous woman had thrown vitriol in his face. What did it matter which was true? Stela flinched when she looked at him. That was all Vali needed to know.

The ceremony began. The priest, in a chasuble so high at the shoulders it made him look hunchbacked, pressed the rings three times to Stela’s forehead as she wiped fresh tears with her veil.

Vali waited until his father’s gaze was firmly forward, pressed like a dagger into Stela’s side. Then he took a step back and wriggled away through the crowd. Eugen gave him a reproachful look, but then Eugen always looked reproachful—for a young man, he had a bloodhound countenance, inclined to droop. Vali grinned in return, eeled all the way to the entrance of the church, cracked open the door, and slid through.

Wind plucked at him and water hit him in the face as he ran across the inner courtyard, down servants’ stairs, through the cold, unornamented stone of the passage between the kitchens and the pantry. There he picked up a set of saddlebags and the oozing package he had concealed beneath a stone earlier in the morning. Then it was out into the greater courtyard, where the stables and the kennels were steaming in a fug of animal warmth.

The dogs went wild as they saw him, leaping up against the wattle walls of their enclosure, barking and howling and throwing themselves at him, their muzzles smiling and their tails thumping. “In a moment,” he told them. Opening his packet, he threw over the pen wall a handful of offal—sweetbreads of an ox, two pigs’ ears, and the gizzard of a goose, just to get them warmed up.

Passing by the now horribly excited animals, he swiftly tacked up his sister’s palfrey, affixed the saddlebags, and smiled with what he hoped was his usual devil-may-care grin at the grooms who tried—with proper deference, of course—to ask him what he was up to and to suggest that perhaps it was not a good idea.

The horse prepared, he returned to paroxysms of joy amongst the dogs, who only grew wilder when he began to work the latch of their pen free.

“You can’t do that, sir,” the kennel master protested, his hand outstretched as if to hold Vali back by force. The thought!

Insolent man. Indignantly, Vali drew the bolt with a flourish and let the dogs boil out into the courtyard. “It’s not up to you to tell me what I can do.”

But perhaps he had a point—the dogs smelled the extra meat on him. They were bright and friendly creatures, but not too gentle. He couldn’t fault them for getting carried away—there was no malice in them—but their teeth were worrying as the pack closed in on him.

“Come on then, lads!” He fled, and they chased after him, up the pantry snicket, up the servants’ steps, out into the fountain court.

Perhaps it was a bad idea to run, for they were baying now, their dutiful dog thoughts warring with the instincts of wolves. But oh, what a relief it was to be in immediate peril, not to have to think, nor worry, nor behave. Vali was laughing when he threw the church doors open and bolted inside, pursued by the pack.

Howling all around him. He loosened the ties on the parcel of meat and threw it high into the air, where it broke apart. Gobbets of flesh scattered into the crowd, a gizzard landing on a matron’s bare shoulder, a boar’s eye splatting on the priest’s hat just as he was lowering crowns of flowers onto the bride’s and bridegroom’s heads.

Single-mindedly, almost foaming at the mouth with their enthusiasm, the dogs sped into the crowd, knocking women over and licking their faces, getting their dirty paws all over silver satin wedding finery, tearing at headdresses and coats spotted with blood. The women screamed and scrambled. The men cursed, knocking into one another as they jostled for elbow room to draw swords.

Vali, prepared for all of this, went leaping through the chaos up to the altar, where he could grab and yank at the loose knot in the embroidered cloth that tied Stela’s right hand to the right hand of her groom.

He pulled it off and threw it on the floor, trampling it. “Go!” he urged her in the breathing space bought for him by Ionescu’s shock. But she seemed as dumbfounded as everyone else. “There’s food packed,” he elaborated. “Your horse is saddled and waiting, the drawbridge is down. Just run, this lot won’t be following you anytime soon!”

The chaos seemed to be growing. Having found and eaten the meat, the dogs had decided to search all the guests to be sure they were not hiding any more. Tripped men lay prostrate with affectionate hounds standing on their puffed up breasts. The lamps swayed above them as plaster saints were dislodged from their pillars and fell with a smash. Vali had never imagined the plan could turn out so well. Such a rumpus as he’d only dreamed of. He burst out laughing again.

But then Wadim came at him like a thunderbolt, pushing the panicked guests aside. “What the . . .?” His father’s fist lashed out, caught him in the nose. He thought he felt something break. Certainly his head rang like a struck bell and blood began to pour over his searching fingers.

Wadim got him by the hair, hit him again, more deliberately, in exactly the same place. This time there was no surprise to cushion the blow. Tears came to Vali’s eyes, hot shameful tears, but it was worth it. It would be worth it.

Stela had stepped away from her future jailer and from her father alike. She was looking on, appalled and helpless. It would all be worth it if only she won free.

“Go,” he yelled, his words wet with blood. “Run!”

# # #

Vali spent the wedding feast with a slave collar hard around his neck, its chain bolted to one of the Great Hall’s torch brackets, so that unless he somehow popped his head off and on again, he could not sit down.

Wadim was a bold, ferocious, quick-acting, quick-tempered man, and it had not taken him long to get everyone outside, task half a dozen of his viteji with rounding up the dogs, and ushering all the other guests back inside to complete the ceremony. A shaky and outraged priest had suggested perhaps allowing a break of a few hours for everyone to regather themselves and fortify their nerves with sleep or spirits as it suited them.

Wadim had found that suggestion preposterous. He had picked up the fallen cloth and shaken it out, tied it back around Stela and Ionescu’s wrists himself, Ionescu looking down on the crown of his head as he did so with a perplexed and wondering expression. The groom’s earlier satisfaction seemed to have shifted into something more complicated, but he fell back easily into the responses of the ceremony and made no protest.

Vali didn’t blame Ionescu for allowing the wedding to proceed apace as though nothing had happened. He didn’t even blame his father, accustomed as he was to the man’s ruthless efficiency.

He did, however, blame Stela. Stela, who had looked at him with a mixture of tender pity and exasperation, as though he were some sort of child. Stela, who had been offered an escape route and chosen to go meekly ahead into a life she didn’t want. Vali, with one of his father’s belts tying his wrists tight behind his back, his head full of jangle and creeping grey stars, had been pinned by the most burly of his father’s retainers and forced to watch it all. There was a little pool of blood on the floor where he had stood in the church, his face striped and dripping with gore.

Wadim had not allowed him to wash himself or shift into clean clothes, but had simply sent a servant to bring the collar, untying his hands but leashing him against the wall of the Great Hall, simultaneously on display for all the guests at the wedding feast and kept out of harm’s way.

“Ten months of negotiations that you almost ruined. Don’t think this is all the punishment you will receive, boy. I have not even begun.”

Vali’s head hurt. His legs hurt, and his back too. If he bent his legs to take some of the strain of standing for so long off his bowed back, his thighs began to shudder and cramp. If he locked his knees, his whole torso up to the shoulders protested. He felt sullen, savage, Stela’s ingratitude a worse bruise than the blows.

“Does he do that often?”

Vali snapped out of an attempt to relieve his aching back by arching like a cat, and saw Ionescu close by him, holding a plum-centred brioche and a goblet of wine in his one hand. His left sleeve was sewn together at the shoulder and capped with a strip of azure embroidery.

“Does who do what?”

Ionescu held out the cake and the wine for Vali to take. As much as Vali didn’t want to receive anything from the cause of all his woe, as much as his victim mocked him now with this kindness, he had not managed to choke down breakfast and by now he was very hungry. Accept a gesture of peace, or—for he had no doubt he would get nothing else today—go to bed ravenous?

The older man waited out his thought process patiently and smiled when he took the food. “Does your father often hit you?”

What business was it of his? Vali found himself overcome by a kind of furious embarrassment. “I don’t often let him catch me. But don’t they say ‘spare the rod and spoil the child’? If he disciplines us, it is for our own good.”

Ionescu’s expression grew threatening, his eye like a storm cloud. Vali stepped as far away as he could without choking himself, convinced the wildest stories were true—that Ionescu had lost his arm and half his face by reaching down a dragon’s throat while it flamed him to strangle it from the inside.

“Us? He has done this to your sister too?”

“Sometimes.” Vali drained the cup and let it drop. When he had swallowed the cake too, he curled both hands around the collar and took some of his weight on his arms instead. It made shrugging tricky. “But discipline is—”

“Judging from that fiasco, I don’t think anyone in your family knows what discipline is.” Ionescu sneered—it was not a pretty sight on that scarred face. “I came here to drink with the man who sacrificed his own well-being for my bride’s happiness. I know that to you young things I must not seem like much of a catch. But now I find you tried to keep her in a place where she is ill-treated? Because if she goes, you will be alone? I thought you were a man, but I see you are just a boy after all.”

Vali turned his face to the wall. He wasn’t upset, and he wasn’t on the verge of tears. He didn’t care about Ionescu’s opinion. He was just closing his eyes because it calmed the throb behind them, and it shut off the nauseating sight of all those gorgeously dressed idiots, filling up the flower-bedecked main hall beyond him, braying with laughter, tossing back drink and staggering. Also it meant he couldn’t see his father. He could allow himself to forget, for a while, that this wasn’t over yet.

“Oh, Vali.” Stela’s voice. Her sky-blue dress made her cheeks look sallow. Her eyes were still red, but they were dry now, and there was a new calmness about her, as if she were glad to leave choice behind and settle down with endurance. “I was never going to run. Thank you for trying to save me, but I wish you had not tried. The last thing I wanted for my wedding present was to see you in pain.”

So apparently it wasn’t enough to simply fail to get her away; he’d actively made it worse for her. “I’m sorry.”

“No,” she said and smiled the day’s first smile. “You were there for me as I’ve always known you would be. And this is not good-bye for us. I’m not going for a quite a while, and even when I do, I won’t be far away. You’ll visit and so will I.” Her fingers curled over his, under the thick iron that pressed on his collarbones. “I’ll always be there for you, too.”

But even before the night was over, this proved to be a lie. Stela and her new husband had barely retired to the room prepared for them before Wadim was pushing all the other guests out.

He shut the doors to the Great Hall, and there, amidst the detritus of feasting—the spilled carcass of a roast pig, arrangements of fruit now lopsided from the grazing of indiscriminate eaters, sticky pools of strongly hopped beer, bitter to the nose, discarded hairpins and pipes and a sugar diorama of siege warfare with gold leaf flags—he snapped his belt between his fists, and set the buckle flying at Vali’s ribs.

Vali tried to catch it, got the heavy metal buckle on the back of his hand. The tongue of it punched a hole in the web between his fingers. When the buckle flew a second time, he flinched away, and it landed on his ribs with a kick like a horse. This was something different for his father. A half-dozen punches, a few kicks, this was normal. Public humiliation was normal. Being confined to his room without food for a week was normal—all of it accompanied by incessant lecturing. But this—this silent violence, his father’s face set and not even angry, this was . . .

He had twisted, trying to get out of the way. All that meant was the buckle hit him on the buttocks, three times. But that wasn’t so bad. He got his shocked flutter of breathing under control, blinked away the tears that were clouding his eyes, and tried to provoke a tirade of words, a sign of reason. “Father, I was doing it for Stela. He’s not worthy of her. You must know that; she’s your daughter, she’s worth more—argh!”

He had swung back, still clinging on with both hands to the collar. Every time a blow landed, every time he recoiled, its hard iron was driven into his throat. The flesh was growing tender, bruised, gathering hot red grazes on top and aching bones beneath, going from painful to unbearable.

As he hung on, trying to protect his neck, the buckle slapped into his belly, drove up under his sternum, hammered the breath out of his lungs and squeezed every particle of space out of his body. Instinctively, he bowed forwards over it, choking himself on the collar. It felt like he was trying to saw his own head off. Breathing was impossible, his throat closed, his lungs glued together. He opened his mouth wide, looked up at his father, imploring, shocked, appealing silently for help from one whom he still trusted, deep down, not to betray him, not to be too harsh, not to push beyond what he could bear.

Father!

But his father was as silent and unwavering as an automaton. The next strike was to his throat, bursting against the bruises. Pain whited out the world and any awareness of who he was for long, long seconds. When he next knew joined-up time, his knees had buckled and he was clawing at the collar, still unable to breathe, still jangling and shattering with panic and disbelief.

His father was going to kill him. Impossible. Unthinkable. But he still couldn’t breathe, his lungs burning, his heart labouring, and his legs still refusing to stand up.

Father, please!

The far door partially opened. A woman he didn’t know looked inside. Her hat was laced with pearls twelve rows deep and they each looked like a little moon. A woman with the moon on her hat was looking at him, and he tried to free his voice, get breath to call, “Help me please!” But it had been too long. His body had forgotten what to do with air. Maybe . . . maybe he had died before, and this was him back from the dead, trying to clamber back into his living family.

That would explain it all. His father could do this to a dead son who wouldn’t lie down, someone who had peeked out from his grave and thought life was sweeter and tried to take it back. If he was trespassing out of his tomb, it was only his father’s duty to put him back in it.

That must be it indeed. The pain had blurred into a volcanic cloud, a settle of hot ash all over him and he had time to think it was quite right to bury the revenant and stake it down with spindles to make sure it never came back. He was dying, but it was all right—the second time hardly counted, after all.

He was almost content by the time the blackness came down.