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Archive for the tag “Romance”

Adult content, anyone?

Lucas Cranach P-1947-LF-77-tif-10575In a post I wrote several years ago, I expressed my frustration over the use of “clean” when designating sex-free romance—mostly because the antonym to “clean” is “dirty”, and IMO there is nothing dirty about sex, definitely not when the participants are consenting adults.

I notice that quite a few books on Amazon come with the warning label ADULT CONTENT. As far as I can make out, adult content in this context is almost always equal to explicit sex, all the way from the passionate embrace between a husband & wife to the substantially more edgy sexual activities involving restraints and other implements.

Now, labelling a book ADULT CONTENT may not necessarily dissuade a curious reader, but fine, I can understand why those readers who want to steer clear of anything beyond the “Yes,” she sighed happily, “yes, please make me yours.” He smiled down at her and lowered his mouth to claim hers. THE END may feel they need such a label. What I don’t understand is why it is considered necessary to label books with sex in them, but not books with blood, gore and vicious death.

Assuming the label has as its purpose to shield the more innocent among us from the seedier sides of life, I find it sad that sex, apparently, is very seedy, while violence is not. What does it say about modern man that we take depictions of torture and pain in our stride, no matter if in written form or on the screen, but still have people screeching in protest when confronted with a scene in which a lover kisses a breast, slides down to kiss a navel, a mons, a vagina?

Personally, I’d like it if books that contain gratuitous violence, where I risk reading scenes involving torture, debasement, mutilation, death, blood, gore also came with a warning label. I may be wrongly wired, but I get far more upset reading about a character I’ve bonded with being subjected to inhuman pain than I do when the same character has hot and wild sex—well, any kind of sex (as long as it is consensual). I must be in minority as otherwise I suppose there would have been a warning sticker on such books as well. I guess the major problem would be that so many books would require such a warning: after all, there is far more blood spatter among the pages of various books I read than there is sex.

In general, we have become gradually desensitised to violence. I remember the first time I saw Die Hard and poor Bruce Willis staggered about covered in blood and bruises. I alternated between feeling shocked and wondering how on earth he could survive all that. These days, the beatings Bruce survives in that movie don’t elicit much of a reaction (As to how he survives, there is rarely a “get real” demand on crime & thrillers. Come to think of it, there probably isn’t one on steamy books either. How else to explain the plethora of well-hung men with testosterone levels through the roof that abound in such books? Neither here nor there—I think)

I have on occasion walked out of movies (one of the recent James Bond movies comes to mind) because I just couldn’t stand the violence and had no desire to subject myself to seeing things that I believe will, somehow, affect my boundaries. There are very many books where I have either just stopped reading or skimmed through some chapters, finding little purpose to the detailed descriptions of brutality. Yes, I get it that if you’re writing about a bloody battle, things have to be bloody, but from there to wallow in details of entrails and brain matter, to submerge the reader (or viewer) in a red sea of pain—no.

Frederic_William_Burton_-_Hellelil_and_Hildebrand_or_The_Meeting_on_the_Turret_StairsObviously, some of the people reading this post will retort that if I have problems with violence, they have problems with sex. “I just can’t read a book with explicit sex in them,” someone once told me, going on to say that they could therefore not read my books. Not that my books are 400 pages of constant sex, I hasten to add. I have sex scenes because I write about love and in general adults who fall in love like to have sex. I also have some scenes with violence—albeit not too graphic. Why? Because I’m writing about times steeped in unrest and in general such times are defined by surges of violent behaviour as the various contenders jockey for power. Never has one of my would-be readers come back to me to say “I just couldn’t read this book because the violence in chapter 18 turned my stomach.” I find it interesting that the person obliged to set my book aside due to sex happily reads some pretty gruesome violent stuff—but to each their own, hey?

love 17th century rubensMy books don’t come with an ADULT CONTENT label as I’ve always felt that sex between married people or people in love is pretty much par for the course. Plus, I don’t write pages and pages of it. (I want to sometimes. Dear BFF and Beta-reader extraordinaire is pretty harsh on me when I do…) So yes, for those of a sensitive nature my books may cause some squirming. Sadly, not because vulnerable people are hurt or abused, but because leading man & 17th century hunk Matthew (ditto my medieval knight Adam de Guirande) loves his time-travelling wife Alex to bits (As Adam loves his lady wife Kit, who is more than delighted at not being a time-traveller) and makes sure he shows her just how much he worships her in bed—and out of it.

People who write (and read) about love and romance and add sex into the mixture are often dismissed as being writers (or readers) of smut—usually by peeps who have never read the books in question. Smut, dear peeps, is not something we should want to read (or write) Smut is a derogatory term, usually used by smirking individuals who believe things like love and sex are mundane. I guess they are. But they are also a major component in the lives of most of us, whether it be because we are fortunate enough to have both love and heat in our lives or because we’re hoping to find it.

I don’t write smut. I don’t write “dirty” books. I don’t even think I write books with ADULT CONTENT. I write books about love, about people willing to do what it takes to save their loved ones from whatever predicament they may find themselves in. Some call that romance. If so, I am a proud writer (and reader) of romance. And yes, some romance books definitely qualify for that ADULT CONTENT label. But so do many, many crime novels and thrillers – oh, right, I forgot: ADULT CONTENT has nothing to do with depictions of human cruelty (unless it is sexual in nature). What can I say? It’s a strange and sad world when sex scenes have people tying themselves up in knots while they won’t bat an eye at a vivid description of violence. Very, very strange, IMO!

Like Bambi on ice

I am stepping out of my comfort zone, peeps. Not a thing I like to do—I guess none of us do. And yet, unless we take that deep breath and jump, we will not grow, not reach our full potentials. Or so I tell myself, at least.

20170128_121800Specifically, I am working on the finishing touches of a new book. Well, new and new is a misnomer, as this novel and its two protagonists have been living in my heart and my head since 2006 or so. But as it has not seen the light of day before, it is new. The finished product is hugely different from the first draft (and I have 85 or so drafts. Crazy me) It is also very different from my other books, hence this sensation of setting a foot on the ice only to hear it crack beneath my weight.

I usually write within the expansive umbrella labelled historical fiction. Anyone following this blog can testify to my passion for all things historical, whether it be the Spanish Hapsburgs or the complications surrounding Edward II’s reign. It is therefore rather natural that my writing endeavours have been set in historical times, a happy marriage between the stories I want to tell and the history I so love researching.

Okay, so I do like adding the little odd quirk, which is why my 17th century series, The Graham Saga, features a most reluctant time traveller.
“Not now that I’m here,” Alex protests. She slides closer to Matthew Graham, her 17th century dreamboat of a man. “Now I mainly worry that you will yank me out of here and throw me back in the 21st century.”
I have toyed with the idea. Frequently. But things happened and soon enough Matthew and Alex were running with their own storyline. Plus, had I yanked Alex away from Matthew, I suspect this rather forceful male character would have made it his mission in life to drive me permanently insane.

A Torch in His Heart_SMBInstagram Shared Image“Insane?” Jason Morris chuckles. “You have no idea how close to insanity you’ve driven me.”
Ah. Allow me to introduce the protagonist of A Torch in His Heart. He first saw the light of the day in a very, very distant past—when the fall of Troy was still a memory and not a legend. He was a gifted child, son to an equally gifted healer, the mighty Nefirie. But whatever future his mother had hoped he would have, it all changed the day Jason met Helle. She was eight, he was twelve. Turquoise eyes met his, and that was that. Fate twined their threads together and bound them forever to each other.

All very nice, one could think, but Helle was out of Jason’s league and then there was the brooding and powerful Samion, Prince of Kolchis. Suffice it to say things did not end as they should back then. In fact, they ended so badly that since then Jason, Helle and  Samion have tumbled through time, reborn over and over again. Helle remembers nothing of her previous existences. Jason remembers everything, hence his quip about insanity. And as to Samion, well he’s a power unto himself. A very dangerous power.

By now, I suspect you understand why I feel that sheet of ice cracking underfoot. I am stepping into an entire new genre, people. A Torch in His Heart may be a lot of things, but it is not historical fiction. It is about love—the toothy, painful kind—it is about revenge and a need for closure. It is about making amends for what you did wrong last time round, about daring to love when it can potentially kill you to do so. Jason, of course, has no choice: he’s as imprinted on Helle as those ducklings were on Kant. Sam doesn’t really do love—he does possession. But Helle, well she does have a choice. Or maybe she doesn’t.

I take some comfort in the fact that while A Torch in his Heart is not historical fiction, it does qualify as time-slip. But other than that, this is my first venture into the world of contemporary romance, spiced up with a lot of mystery & suspense, quite some paranormal stuff and (ahem) a sequence of steamy scenes. I like steamy.
“Oh, so do I,” Jason says. “The best invention ever, IMO, when humans got round to hot water spouting from a tap.”
“Not that sort of steamy,” I say, scowling at him. He knows full well what I mean—heck, he’s the star of every single steamy sequence. He grins. He really has a most luscious mouth, and…Oops. I give Helle a little smile.
A Torch in His Heart_SMBFacebook Shared Image 2“He’s too young for me,” I tell her. “Much, much, too young.”
“No, he isn’t.” She folds her arms over her chest. “He’s like way older than you. But…” Here she rises on her toes and gives me a belligerent stare. “He’s mine, okay? Mine!”
It seems Helle has made her choice. For some reason, it makes my palms sweat. Sam won’t like this. Not at all. And when Sam doesn’t like something, he has a tendency to do whatever it takes to change things…

Oh, dear. I have to suppress the urge to bite my nails. How will this end?

If you want to know how it ends, I suggest you follow this link and nominate my book to the Kindle Scout programme. (PLEASE do!) Enough nominations can lead to a publication deal and if so, everyone who voted for the book get their own free copy. Yet another novelty in my life, this attempt to win a publishing contract. In difference to my choice of genre, this novelty does not make me feel like Bambi on ice. After all, should Amazon not publish it then I’ll do so myself—and that is very much within my comfort zone!

Of God, love and other relevant matters

writerI have spent the weekend at a writers’ conference, more specifically the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s annual do. And no, the RNA Conference wasn’t all pink and fluffy – romantic novelists do have the odd streaks of darkness in them – but it was very warm and welcoming.

Some writers live under the misapprehension that they’re in cutthroat competition with all other writers – i.e. it’s a “my book or your book” world. Hogwash, IMO. Writers don’t compete with other authors – there’s not one single author out there who can singlehandedly keep a reader in books. Well, unless said reader reads at most one book a year. No, writers benefit far more from being generous to their fellow writers than from viewing them as nasty competitors. Promoting and encouraging an author who writes books similar to yours may well have encourage an interest in the entire genre and thereby benefit your own book. Plus, being generous feels nice.

The RNA collective is nice. The RNA chairperson, Nicola Cornick advocates generosity, reminding all of us in her short Gala Dinner speech that once upon a time we were all newbies and in need of support. Well-known RNA authors are happy to share tips and advice with wanna-be’s. Whether you’re published or not doesn’t really matter when 250-odd writers get together for a weekend of book talk. No, what matters is the shared passion (most apt, considering we’re talking romance authors) for the written word and for storytelling in general. And for wine. And for late-night conversations.

I shared accommodation with four ladies who go by the name the Paisley Piranhas and the somewhat less intimidating Henriette Gyland. The four Piranha ladies – Claire, Gill, Kate and Pia – were more paisley than teeth, so there were no bloody intermezzos when we talked over late night tea/wine/other stuff. Instead, we ended up talking about God, well, rather faith in general, this due to the surprise visit of Eva Balgaire who entranced the lot of us when she shared the premises of her WIP. My lips, of course, are sealed, but central to the story was God – or maybe that should be religion – and how our relationship to God – or religion – shaped human life, especially in the past.

RNA 1920px-Sandro_Botticelli_-_La_nascita_di_Venere_-_Google_Art_Project_-_editedI think we ended up concluding that us humans need something to guide us and give us hope. And for those with no faith, maybe believing in love can be an alternative? Yes, we all agreed (once again, rather unsurprisingly as all of us believe in the power of love) should God be absent, Venus is a good replacement.

Other than dissecting existential issues, the conference offered ample opportunity to learn more about social media. Thing is, social media is something of an ever-growing behemoth. No sooner has the not-so-techie author mastered Facebook, but everyone is talking about twitter. And once the writer is getting nice and comfy in the world of 140 characters, Facebook is back as the it-thing, with Instagram in its wake. It’s hashtags and platforms and clickable links and graphic identity and “interesting content” and interacting with your reader, and…Exhausting, to put it mildly.  After a couple of sessions at the conference, I came out with a long to-do list (thank you Anita Chapman, my fantastic social media consultant) but also with some very solid ideas as to what I need to prioritise. Now I just need to find the time…

Writers don’t really want to hang about on social media. We want to write! We want to create characters whose journey grips the reader and drags them along, and Fiona Harper gave an excellent talk on how to do this, starting with defining the Goal, Motivation and Conflict of the character and ending with short questionnaire regarding the main character.

“Questionnaire?” Alex Lind, the reluctant time traveller lead of The Graham Saga leans over my shoulder. “My inner goal?” She nudges me. “Well, we both know what it is, don’t we? That you make sure I stay here in the 17th century with my Matthew.”
“Your goal, honey,” I tell her sweetly. “Maybe my plot ideas fall in the category of conflict, i.e. obstacles you need to overcome to get what you want.”
“Huh.” No matter that she doesn’t exist, Alex pinches me hard. “And maybe your motivation for ensuring I get what I want is that otherwise I will go on a strike. Permanently. Fade from your head and never, ever return.”
I obviously need to talk some more to Fiona to see how she suggests one handles rebellious and vociferous characters who tell you to shove conflict somewhere where the sun doesn’t shine…

Valentine dicksee-romeo-and-juliet-on-the-balcony

Lovely escapism

For me, the high point was all the spontaneous discussions about everything from head-hopping (pet peeve of mine: if you’re head-hopping you’re a lazy writer) to how to handle cliff hangers and how best to kill of your characters. (Yes: romance writers do kill off their creations. I did tell you we have dark streaks in us) We talked about who really reads YA, if book trailers really sell and how many men read romance. Consensus was MANY men love a good romance – but they prefer it if it isn’t labelled romance. Truth be told, us lady writers sometimes suspect that the truly romantic creatures on Earth are men, not women. We don’t always have time for the pink and fluffy stuff in our busy lives – juggling children, homes, work, ageing parents & whatnot is quite as lot of work – which is why, of course, we so love escaping into the frothy petticoats of a good romance. But just so you know, we don’t mind a bit of blood and gore to go with it!


P.S. A major, major thanks to Jan Jones for pulling off an excellent conference. This may have been my first, but it will definitely not be my last, RNA Conference!

Of sodomists, sex and sin the Middle Ages – not as clearcut as one thinks

sex Men of the CrossToday, I have invited Charlene Newcomb to visit with me. We originally met over Facebook, but came face to face with each other at the latest HNS Conference which, I believe, has reinforced our friendship. Once you’ve hugged someone for real, they’re sort of more permanently engraved in your heart.

Anyway, one of the things Charlene and I discussed when we met, was her excellent book, Men of the Cross. As you can guess from the cover, this is a book about the crusades – specifically the Third Crusade, the one led by Richard Lionheart, including such unforgettable incidents as the siege of Acre, the mass-slaughter of Muslim prisoners, the horrific heat, rain, mud, and snow (I know! But yes, snow…) on the march to Jerusalem, and finally, King Richard’s capture in Bavaria after he had departed the Holy Land.

sex post Richard_Lionheart_and_Philip_Augustus

Richard and Philip Augustus

Many people write about the Crusades. Charlene’s book, however, is the first one I’ve read which features a love story between two men. I recall being somewhat taken aback when I realised just what sort of feelings Stephan harbours for young Henry, and one part of me was thinking “hang on: did they do guy-guy love & sex back then?”

Charlene: Well of course they did! Why else would the Church have had a whole list of penances ready to dispense if it wasn’t happening? (More about that later!) Can I assume you realised where the story was headed, and then questioned my sanity?

Anna: Your sanity? Nope. But it was an unusual element, one that I found intriguing. Plus, I couldn’t help feeling a bit sorry for your protagonists. The rainbow parade wasn’t exactly around at the time, was it?

Charlene: The book is about conflict on so many different levels. If the reader feels for the characters, I’m going my job, right? And you are correct – no rainbow parades, no public displays of affection, other than what might have been a normal greeting kiss. However, there were places where same-sex unions were sanctioned by the clergy in the Middle Ages, though I don’t deal with that directly.

Anna: Wait, wait: same-sex unions sanctioned by medieval clergy?

Charlene: Yep. In the 12th or early 13th century, the chronicler Gerald of Wales describes an Irish ceremony where two men enter a church, celebrate Mass, and with “the prayers of priests, they are permanently united as if in some marriage.” Liturgical documents have been identified that describe the “Office of Same Sex Union” (10th & 11th centuries) and “The Order for Uniting Two Men” (11th & 12th Century). These and other instances are cited in research by John Boswell, a 20th century scholar who identified texts from numerous European (including Vatican) archives. Boswell identifies medieval same-sex unions that included many of the trimmings of heterosexual unions of those times. His work is controversial, but there are other historians who corroborate his findings.

Anna: Wow – nothing new under the sun, hey? I am somewhat stunned – just as I was surprised when reading your book, as rarely do novels set in those times have gay protagonists.

Charlene: This quote is an inspiration to me: “Be bold. Take risks. Surprise them.” I did.  Mainstream historical fiction may not explore this path, but there is a sub-genre of historical fiction that is LGBTQ. Some of those stories take place in medieval times; and there are historicals that have a gay character, but the few I know of generally don’t include a romantic relationship.

Sex post illicit-sex-e1436561949425Anna: These days, we’re mostly comfortable with the fact that there are some people who prefer same-gender relationships, just as we’re pretty relaxed about sex. The Middle Ages, however, had an anything but permissive approach to sex in general – and definitely not when we’re talking about what the Church so sweepingly covered as “sodomy”.

Charlene: You’re right: “sodomy” covered a spectrum of sex-related sins – not only restricted to sex between two people of the same gender. Getting into that medieval mind-set to understand the Church’s view on sodomy helped me frame Stephan and Henry’s characters and attitudes.

Anna: Back then, the general approach to relationships was that sex was essentially always a sin – unless it happened between man and wife for pro-creational purposes.

Charlene: Exactly. Not just a sin, but mortal sin. Still, the threat of eternal hellfire and damnation did not stop people from sinning. Shall we go through that litany?

Anna: Why not? “Spilling your seed” – e.g. having sex without actively “planting” a child (or trying to) – was considered a terrible sin. Masturbation was a sin, doggy style was a sin, loving your pregnant wife was a sin, sleeping with a whore was a sin, and – it goes without saying – man sleeping with man was a sin. Not much worse than the others, though…

Charlene: Sleeping with anyone who was not your spouse was a sin. Sex – even with your spouse – was also a sin on certain days of the year. One scholar noted that if you marked off all the days when sex was forbidden, that would leave about 40 days in the year when a man and wife could have sex. Bummer, eh?

Anna: Yeah, but somehow I think people then were as people are now – we all need love and intimacy, and if indulging led to extra penance after the next confession, so be it.

Charlene: AMEN to that!

sex lastjudgementadulterers378 Taddeo di Bartolo adulterers and lustful

San Gemigiano, The Last Judgement. Adulterers and other lusful creatures getting their comeuppance

Anna: Getting back to the subject: In principle, when a medieval person spoke of sodomy – or was accused of engaging in it – this could be any type of sexual activity outside of marital sex, whether you did it alone or with “a friend”. It is also important to understand that the desire to pigeonhole people based on their sexual inclinations is a very modern invention. Medieval people had no need to label anyone as being straight or gay or whatever. Lust was a mortal sin, a desire to be fought tooth and nail, and whether your “baser instincts” led you to sleeping with your wife on a forbidden day, or your young handsome squire, well, who cared? You’d sinned, full stop.

We can see from medieval depictions of the Last Judgement that men who had indulged in homo-erotic pleasures were in for a tough time once they were in hell, but so were the usurers and the gluttons – who, interestingly enough, were also considered as sodomites. (I guess combining food and sex would have been amajor, major no no) And yet, given the fact that there are so many explicit depictions of eternal punishment, one must assume men did love men, just as women loved women. Interestingly enough, medieval society rarely consider two women capable of engaging in sexual acts. Sex was an act of penetration, and women had nothing with which to penetrate.

Charlene: Ah, but there was the dildo (or its equivalent) – even back in medieval times! Penitentials, or Church rules, listed sins and their appropriate penances. Would you be surprised to learn that penances were usually harsher for female/female relationships than for male/male dependent on the circumstances? Men who used artificial aids to stimulate themselves might receive 40 days of penance; a woman who used a dildo: 1 year if used alone, 3 years if used with another woman!

Anna: Seriously? 3 years?

Charlene. Yep.

sex lastjudgementthelustful388

San Gemigiano, again. More lustful to be punished (by having their sexual organs devoured by a snake…)

Anna: So how do Henry and Stephan deal with their relationship? How do the Church’s teachings on sex during their 12th century lifetimes impact them?

Charlene: They are in denial for a long time. Henry had never considered that he could be attracted to another man. Stephan wants Henry, but he respects Henry’s wishes. He won’t jeopardize their friendship. It’s a profound change for him. Stephan has had a string of sexual encounters since his teens, and for him, it had been about the physical act. He didn’t believe men like him could have love. Then he meets Henry. Hello, confusion. How could he be falling in love with another man?

Anna: So Stephan could accept the physical aspects of his attraction to other men, but not the emotional consequences?

Charlene: Stephan never had that emotional tie to the men he had sex with. He accepted that it wasn’t part of the deal. There were no ‘relationships.’ He didn’t expect anything but a good roll in the hay. Henry comes along and changes that for him.

Anna: Complicated man…but it wasn’t easier for Henry, was it?

Charlene: No. Henry has a girl back home waiting for him. The good ol’ arranged marriage, common for people of his class. Though he likes her well enough, she stirs no passion in him, but Henry will do his duty and marry because that is what society expects.

As the knights’ friendship deepens, Henry questions his feelings for Stephan. He’s been taught from a very early age that Hell awaits those who commit this “unnatural” act. He struggles to keep thoughts of loving Stephan away. He prays to God for guidance, but finds the answer in himself. As Stephan says, “How can loving another person be a sin?”

sex two-men-embracingAnna: Interesting. I’m dealing with a similar issue in my new series, The King’s Greatest Enemy, as one of the indirect protagonists is Edward II, accused of having intimate relationships with his male favourites. For a medieval king, admitting to a love-affair with a man must have been very difficult – and dangerous. On the other hand, a medieval king was powerful enough to bend the rules a bit – if not much.

Charlene: True. Laws and punishment varied across Europe in the Middle Ages. Canon law might have been very clear on the matter, but in the late 12th century of Men of the Cross, England had no secular laws regarding punishment for this “crime.” Laws were enacted in the second half of the 13th century, so your Edward II would have been well aware of the consequences.

Anna: Well, sodomy had the benefit (from the accused’s perspective) of being difficult to prove unless your partner in sin decided to confess – not about to happen when it came to royal favourites, who had everything to gain from staying on Edward’s good side.

Charlene: Mid-twentieth century historians cited incidents to accuse Richard the Lionheart of being gay, but there is no definitive proof in the historical record and I haven’t suggested it in Men of the Cross. Aren’t historians on the fence about Edward’s homosexuality? What is your approach in the series?

Series-One-RowAnna: In my series, Edward does have an amorous relationship with Hugh Despenser. To some extent, this is because I want to portray Hugh with some good qualities – as the story is told from the POV of people firmly in the other camp, Despenser is mostly lean, mean and dangerous – but also because I believe Edward was open to sexual and emotional relationships with men as well as women. Whether he acted on these impulses, we will never know, but seeing as Edward comes across as a rather unhappy person – a square peg forced into a round hole, just because he was born to inherit a crown – I do hope he did find some happiness, however short-lived. Other than one very tender scene in the next book, I never invite the reader to come along to the king’s bed – mostly because he’s a secondary character. In your books, however, the protagonists are gay. How have you handled that?

Charlene: There are sex scenes in Men of the Cross, but they aren’t overly graphic. I’d call them tender, sensual, and occasionally steamy – and necessary for character development. On a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being erotica, I’d say the scenes are about a 2 to 2.5.

Anna: I’d agree.

Charlene: So Edward’s scene with Hugh is tender – where does that fall?

Anna: A 2, I think.

A5 Mailer-FrontCharlene: But you’ve written some pretty steamy love scenes in The Graham Saga. *fans self*

Anna: Yup. I enjoy writing sex scenes. But for me, the emotional context is fundamental. My characters enjoy steamy hay-rolling sex because they love each other. Sex in my books strengthens the bonds, reinforces just how dependent my protagonists are on each other – after all, sex is an integral part of most loving relationships. This is the romantic me coming to the fore, I guess, but I genuinely believe great sex goes hand in hand with an emotional commitment. Or maybe I’m just naïve and inexperienced…*laughs*

Charlene: You said that so much better than I could! I don’t think any of the scenes between Henry and Stephan come close to the heat levels of Alex(andra) and Matthew in the Graham Saga. I had to decide what I was comfortable with writing sex-wise when I wanted my book to appeal to a broad audience. I figure most readers – even heterosexual ones – know the logistics of gay sex. I don’t need to give them a play-by-play. But, is there a comfort level for readers who will read a very hot het romance but will cringe at the idea of a tender love scene between two men?

800px-Amor_Vincet_OmniaAnna: Some will – perhaps. But if the characters are well-developed, I think most readers will see beyond the gender to the relationship. Besides, I’d say that neither you nor I write formulaic romance – we write books set in the past that depict human beings muddling through their lives as well as they can, taking comfort where it is offered. IMO, love – and sometimes sex – are just some of many ingredients required to build a multi-faceted story.

Charlene: Multi-faceted? You can say that again! I’m writing military history and bloody battles, complete with renowned warrior heroes, that might appeal to a mostly male audience. I’ve added in a romance, which probably has little appeal to most men. And OMG – it’s a love story between two men!

Anna: Except, of course, that I would argue many men enjoy a romantic element, even if they don’t always own up to it. After all, men need love just as much as women do.

Charlene: You’re right: every human has the capacity to love. Some just happen to love someone of the same sex. And this has been true throughout history, it’s part of the human condition. It’s only natural that historical fiction should recognize this – at least now and then.

Anna: I couldn’t agree more! I’ll look forward to reading the sequel to Men of the Cross.

Charlene: For King and Country will be out in early 2016.

Anna: Wonderful! On that note, I’d like to thank you for stopping by.

Charlene: It’s been my pleasure to chat with you, Anna.


For those of you who want to read more about Charlene’s thoughts on the subject, please go here,

Should you want to buy & read her book (warmly recommended) it can be found here!

Other interesting posts on the subject are MJ Logue’s post about her female cross-dressing 17th century trooper, and Hunter S Jones who asks the question “How should sexuality be portrayed in fiction?”

Ripping through the veils of time

cels-sky-study-birds-L808-fmAdmit it. Of course you’ve fantasized about travelling through time. What? Is that a “no”? Can’t hear you honey, so I’m going to assume all of you, dear people, are nodding. Okay, so most of you smile somewhat at all this time travelling stuff, being quite content to remain exactly where you are – well, maybe not exactly, because you wouldn’t mind a couple of weeks in the Caribbean, would you? But some of you may have a pen holder in the shape of a Tardis on your desk. (And here I would argue we’re talking as many men as women. In fact, I’ve met more men who have a Tardis replica than women) Others may approach stone circles with a mixture of hope and fear, one little part wishing that they too be dragged back through time like Claire in Outlander, a larger part quailing at the thought. But let’s face it; the concept of travelling through time is fascinating, a mind-boggling exercise that can, at times, make your head ache. Unless you’re a new Einstein. Very few of us are…

Should it happen to any of us, we’re probably in for a nasty surprise. Modern man has grown soft, people. Plus we like being clean. And we are quite addicted to our toothbrushes. Our men are crap with a sword or a bow, us women don’t do much darning these days, and most of us would be quite stumped when faced with the warm carcass of a recently killed pig. Seriously, gut it? Ugh! (And yes, the stink is absolutely revolting, plus all those intestines slither all over the place). Plus imagine living in a world where the plague runs riot at regular intervals. Or where what dental care there is is often supplied by the village smith.

Flemish_Fair_-_Pieter_Brueghel_the_YoungerAnd yet… There is obviously something seriously wrong with me, because I would love to go back, take a peek at the people whose lives we read about today. Okay, so I want a return ticket as well – which, I must admit, I did not give Alex Lind, my female alter ego, time traveller extraordinare whom I plunged rather brutally into the seventeenth century. Nor did I give her much chance of reading up on her new environment – I found it more interesting to see how she would cope if she knew only the rudimentary facts about her new world.

Charles_XI,_Battle_of_Lund“Thanks a lot,” Alex mutters, but seeing as she is still alive, she’s obviously done quite a good job. But undoubtedly it was difficult at times – and not only from a practical perspective, but also from a mental perspective. What would it be like for a modern woman to land in a time in which she is essentially a chattel? How does one cope when all the rights one takes for granted are torn away from you? Well, we will never know, will we – but this is where that very powerful tool imagination comes into play. So, do I believe time travel is possible? In the flesh, no – but in my mind, most definitely yes! My brain rips the veils of time to shreds, and suddenly I am there, back in a time not at all my own. And you know what? I love it, every time!

Anyway, Alex gets to live through some of the more difficult aspects of transitioning to a new time. In the below excerpt, she has just met Matthew – a very strange man, in her opinion. (Needless to say, ex-convict Matthew is as confused by her) Alex is just beginning to realise something very odd has happened to her. Odd? Beg your pardon, impossible – at least for a person as rational as Alex is. But, as she is about to discover, sometimes impossible things do happen!

“What’s your name?” she asked.
“Matthew,” he replied after a while, rolling over in her direction. “Matthew Graham.”
“I’m Alex Lind.” She eased herself up to sit. She licked her lips, and he fumbled in the dark for his water skin, extending it in her direction.
“Alex?” he sat up. “That’s a lad’s name.”
She snorted and drank some more. “No it isn’t, last time I looked I was definitely female and it’s still my name. Short for Alexandra.” She twisted her head in the direction of the opening, exposing her nape, a bare patch of skin highlighted by the severe haircut. She had right pretty ears, tight to her skull and ending in a slight, pink point. Fairy ears…
“What are you?” he whispered, making her turn to face him.
“Just plain Alex; you know, an ordinary woman.”
“No you’re not; in my world women don’t walk around baring their bodies like you do, their hair cut short.”
“I’m not baring my body! I’m fully dressed, for God’s sake!”
He winced at her careless blasphemy. “Aye, there’s cloth all over you, but it reveals more than it conceals.”
“Tough, okay? You’d better learn to live with the times, mister. Just because you’ve chosen to live in some kind of archaic religious context, it doesn’t give you the right to judge the rest of us.”
“Religious context?” he echoed. “Archaic?”
“Well, look at you! You dress like a cross between a Hare Krishna monk and an Amish person, you stare at me as if you’ve never seen a bra before. You must’ve been living in some kind of secluded all male community.”
His mouth twisted into a wry smile. Aye, that was very true. He leaned towards her, trying to see her eyes in the dark.
“What’s a Harray krissna monk? And I haven’t seen a … bra, is it? before. I would definitely have remembered.”
She was staring at him, hands clenched tight around each other. Matthew gave her a wary look; the lass was gaping as if she’d seen a ghost.
“But you know what a car is, right?”
Matthew shook his head.
“A TV? Radio? A phone?”
He frowned; was this some sort of game? “Nay, I’ve never heard of any such things.”
She gulped and scooted away from him, eyes flying to his bundle, the flint and steel he’d left discarded on the floor. She moaned, hid her face in her arms.
“No,” she whispered. “No way. Stuff like that doesn’t happen, not in real life.”
“What?” He came after her, but she reared back, and the expression on her face made him raise his hands, palms towards her. “I’m not about to hurt you.”
“It’s not you, it’s just…” She broke off to stare yet again at him and his possessions. “Bloody hell, no, no, no.” She crawled towards the opening. “The car. My car, it’ll be right there, where I left it. This is just a bad dream, an effect of hitting my head too hard.”
“What’s a car?” he said. She laughed, and then she began to cry instead. He followed her outside, made a grab for her when she slipped.
“My BMW,” she said, “it has to be here!”
He had no idea what she was looking for as she limped up and down the slope, but whatever it was, it wasn’t where she’d expected it to be.
“A dream, it’s just a dream, isn’t it?” She looked at him beseechingly, and he had no idea what to say. This was no dream, not unless they were both sleeping and dreaming the same thing.
“It can’t be true.” To his surprise she placed a hand on his arm. “Too solid,” she moaned, “you’re too damn solid, you hear?” She hit him, repeatedly.
“So are you, lass, but I don’t take to hitting you, do I?” He wrapped his arms around her, pinned down her hands.
“Sorry,” she hiccupped before breaking down completely, a warm weight against his chest. Dearest Lord, but it felt good to hold a woman this close, her hair tickling his nose. It was a near on perfect match, her body a collection of curves that fitted comfortably into his larger and broader frame, her head resting against his shoulder. With an effort he released her. She was still weeping, albeit silently, and he coaxed her back inside, unnerved by her dejection.
“What is the matter, lass?”
She just shook her head, mumbled something he made out as ‘impossible’, and sank down to sit before the little fire. She quieted, drew in a few shaking breaths, and wiped at her face.

ARIV w BRAG MedallionPoor Alex, hey? Or maybe not so poor, because after all, if she hadn’t dropped through that hole in time, she’d never have met Matthew! This is where it is such a delight to be an author: first, I can play around with such constants as time, then I can indulge in my fondness for love. Awwww….

A Rip in the Veil is the first in The Graham Saga and has recently been awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion. And like Julie Andrews once warbled, “Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start…” – well, assuming you’re into time travel and love and fast-paced adventure, and religious strife, and nefarious younger brothers, and… Phew!


My Writing Process

I have been tagged by Elizabeth Caulfield Felt to participate in a little blog hop related to my writing process. At present, most of this process seems to occur very late at night, leaving me somewhat sleep-deprived and grumpy, but that, I suspect, is what you get when Ms Inspiration is in one of her more generous moods.

So, with no more further ado, let us leap straight into the pre-set questions.

What are you working on at present?

Well, as is insinuated above, too much is the brief answer. I have this very nagging young lady at the back of my head who is telling me to get on with it and write down her story, all the way from when the queen purposely cut her face open with a rapier to when she stole those jewels.
“Sorry, honey, I don’t have time right now,” I say.
“Why is it always me you put on the back burner?” Sofia Carolina complains. “At this rate I’m going to be DEAD before you get to me!”
Umm… no, dear Sofia Carolina, you will not. I hold your life in the palm of my hand.

I’m also putting the finishing touches to a book set in the 14th century, depicting a love story against the grim background of baronial rebellions , and then, of course, I am constantly occupied with tweaking the remaining instalments of The Graham Saga, a series set in the 17th century that spans the life of Matthew Graham and his wife Alex, two people who should never have met, not when she was born three hundred years after him.

At times, I feel borderline schizophrenic, what with all these voices in my head, but boy would my life be boring without them!

How does your work differ from other in the genre?

I’m not all that sure it does. My novels are about love – well, almost all books are about love in one way or the other – and they are set in various historical times – not exactly unusual, most historical fiction is set in the distant or not so distant past.

The Graham Saga is not, however, set in courtly circles, so despite me writing about 17th century Britain you won’t find Charles II striding across my pages. Also, there is a fantasy element in my writing, seeing as Alex is a time-traveller. Someone once asked me why I’d included the “device” of having a 20th century woman falling backwards through time. Device? I had no idea what he was on about. Alex is a modern woman. She just had the misfortune – or not, depending on how you see it – of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and so…
Of course, Alex springs from my own deep-seated desire to time-travel, and I must say I’m getting somewhat desperate by now. Why has no-one invented the time machine yet? Time is running out for me people, because to travel back in time a glowing twenty-something is far more appealing than to do it as a plus fifty – geriatric care was not all that well-developed back then (Not so sure if it’s all that well-developed now either, come to think of it)

If I’m going to be somewhat more serious, I think all authors bring something different to their chosen genre, namely their writing style. I have a friend (D.W.Wilkin, whom I’ve tagged) who writes regency, and what he does to stamp his work with his distinctive characteristic is to write prose that to some extent reflects the time he writes about. I think it works well for him, but in my writing I have a somewhat different approach – my prose reflects me more than it does the time I write about. However, this does not mean I go all anachronistic – not a fan of anachronisms, unless they are done very much on purpose and with panache.

Why do you write what you do?

Okay, so I’m a sucker for a good love story. I am also a history nut. Have been since I was like five or so – I think that was when I first saw Errol Flynn as Robin Hood. (They don’t make them like Errol anymore, do they? What that man did for tights and short jerkins can never be over-estimated) Originally, this history interest was very much tied to my various attempts to time travel. They didn’t work very well, but one ritual involved too many candles at too close a range, so I exited my closet with my previously rather long fringe reduced to a stinking fuzz. My mother went a bit wild and crazy, let me tell you, and I was no longer allowed to light candles in my wardrobe. Once I got over the disappointment of realising I would never be Richard Lionheart’s page, I settled down to really read about history – both non-fiction and fiction.

Somewhere in my teens I discovered the addictive pleasure of writing – and what better way to combine my two passions (plus my somewhat bleeding heart) than to write historical fiction with a romantic touch?

How does your writing process work?

I think it’s all my reading that sets my brain off. I remember reading about the persecution of the Covenanters in Scotland, and I was thinking this is something we don’t read much about – fictional accounts of Scotland are to a large extent Highland geared, and very often 18th century or 14th century – for very obvious reasons (namely men in kilts, Culloden and Bannockburn). This was the tipping point for what was to expand into The Graham Saga, even if the Covenanter theme doesn’t really pop up until in book three of the series.
So, my research triggers my inspiration, and then that little idea will lie and germinate for some time until one day up pops a character and says “Hi, I’m XX, and I’m here to do the Covenanter stuff”. Chances are, by then the Covenanter stuff isn’t exactly at the top of my brain, but character XX is generally helpful, causing my synapses to go into overdrive, so now I have a potential historical background and a character.

In this particular case, the character was Matthew Graham, and he rattled around in my brain for some time until he (quite spontaneously) joined up with Alex Lind, who was a young woman I’d been chatting off and on with, what with her predilection for ending up in dangerous situations over and over again. Alex saw Matthew, he saw her, and wham! I had a time-transcending love story on my hands.
“Hang on!” I said. “You’re not in the same time-frame.”
“Well you’re the author,” Alex pointed out. “Surely you can fix the logistics.”
“The logistics?” I had to clear my throat. “You’re born like three centuries after him!”
“Fix it!” Matthew said. “Fix it, or we will both fade away.”
Sheesh! Overbearing, aren’t they? (OUCH! Don’t pinch me)

Characters, historical setting – then we’re into plot. I do not do detailed plotlines beforehand. I do, however, have a pretty clear idea of where I’m going, and when I’m working with a first draft there’s a large amount of text in CAPS which is my abbreviated storyline – I add to it as I go along. Often what happens is that I reach the end of the book and there’s plenty of stuff in CAPS left over – ideal for the next book. (I like series; I invest a lot of myself in my characters, and so I like having them around for some time)

Once my first draft is done, I set it aside. This is very, very difficult for me. It’s like giving a chocoholic one kilo of chocolate and telling them to place it on the kitchen table and not taste any. I suffer. I count days. I try to distract myself by writing something in the next book. I suffer some more. And then comes the day when I’m allowed to open the draft and start the re-writing process.
I re-write a lot. I love re-writes. I’d say I do on average fifteen to twenty re-writes – not on everything, but on relevant chunks of the book. This takes me ages and I love every single minute of it. It’s like being a sculptor; the first draft gives you the basic shape, and now you’re into refining the lump of rock into visible features. In difference to a sculptor, I can mess up quite badly and still salvage my work (I keep copies of all my re-write drafts, all of them labelled with dates)

Once I’m satisfied, off things go to the editor. And after the editor come the edits. After the edits, comes the publication process. And once it’s published, I go all weepy. But that’s me – somewhat too dependent on my fictional characters.

So there you are; my writing process defined. I think it is important to add that writing is a labour of love, it is about passion and commitment, about always wanting to refine and hone. It is about wanting to transport yourself and others elsewhere, about needing to capture all those vivid daydreams that colour my days in the written word. It is about making a leap of faith, in that I pour very much of myself into my work. To paraphrase a very famous Swedish writer, August Strindberg, writing is about displaying your heart to the world and hope they won’t tear it to shreds.

Onwards and upwards

Well, that was all for today about me, people. Let us instead move forward to the people I have tagged:

David.W.Wilkin is a man of many skills and interests. Not only is he a prolific writer, very much focused on his beloved Regency era, but he is also a skilled dancer, more than capable of taking over in all those dance sequences that seem to abound in Regency novels. Most of David’s books will feature a him and a her – a classical Romance concept – but what I really like about David’s writing is how skillfully he inserts his historical acumen into his books. Never heavy-handed, not an info-dump in sight, but still he conveys with precision all those details that make you believe you’re actually there, in the early 19th century. It is rather curious that this history fanatic also happens to be something of a computer whizz – or maybe that just goes to prove (yet again) that most of us are a complex bundle of contradictions. Join David on March 24th on his blog The Things That Catch My Eye and let him take you through his writing process!

Irina Shapiro is a lady you don’t want to mess with, people. This lady is an excellent shot, but so far I have never met her waving a shotgun about, so I suppose she confines this skill to the firing range. Just like me, Irina has a fondness for time travelling – just like me, she is compensating for the fact it can’t as yet be done for real by including a time traveller element in much of her writing. Just like David, Irina has written a LOT of books, spanning a number of eras. All her books somehow interlink the past with the present, through various devices such as time travelling, reincarnation or very vivid dreams. Thanks to her background, Irina has also promised me to supply whatever Russian dialogue I may need in my future books – I am therefore busily trying to work a dashing, Russian count into one of my WIPs. Irina shares her writing secrets with you here.

Linda Banche also has a long list of books to her name, all of them set in the Regency era. She also has a thing about birds, and as I found it rather odd to admit to a passion for ducks, I just had to buy one of her books featuring TWELVE ducks, after which I was quite hooked on her light-hearted and amusing writing style. One laughs a lot when reading Linda – and by now I am seriously considering a pet mallard or two. Linda takes her craft seriously and her romances are a fun blend of love and historical detail, now and then spiced up by the odd fantasy element or a cranky bird. Please visit with Linda on her blog on March 24th and let her tell you some more about how she writes.

In search of the blue flower

Floral still life JL JensenI had a tough childhood. My mother was a book fanatic, and further to this she was also a language teacher, with a special fondness for the development of literature throughout the ages. Incorrect grammar was not allowed, and let me tell you I had Sophocles and Aeschylus down pat long before I’d figured out how to use a blow-dryer – although to be honest I have still not mastered the use of that particular implement (What’s wrong with a towel?).

In retrospect, I was extremely fortunate. My mother allowed me full access to her library, whether it was Henry Miller or Marguerite Duras, and would at most utter a mild ‘mmm?’ when I tried to shock her by plonking down Emmanuelle on the table beside her. As a teenager, I found this terribly frustrating, so I kept on throwing down provocative books – from Nabokov to Anaïs Nin to Erica Jong – to no avail. She just smiled and nodded. My mother believed in broadening the mind – but she also made sure I was given a thorough grounding in the various literary genres and periods, going out of her way to give me context for some of Baudelaire’s grimmer poems, or for Huxley’s A Brave New World.

450px-Campanula_rotondifolia (1)As my wayward teens progressed – although, apart from my reading matter I must admit to having been a disturbingly well-behaved teen – I came to the somewhat reluctant conclusion that I was more of a romantic than a goth, a “happily ever after” person rather than a friend of dystopian disaster. My mother was not particularly surprised – she kept a pretty good tab on what I was reading – but rolled her eyes a bit, exasperated and amused in equal parts. My mother has a somewhat less pink take on life than I do. Besides, she comes from a generation that appreciates the grittiness of auto-didactic novelists, of stark descriptions of the tough conditions of working man or of social injustice in general (think Sillitoe or Wright). But while I dutifully read all these neo-realist tales of woe without hope, my favourite literary period was that of the Romanticism, and to this day I cannot walk by a blue flower without thinking of Goethe’s classic, The sorrows of Young Werther.

Blue flower? Ha, I can see you wrinkle your brows. Shouldn’t the symbol of Romanticism be a red, red rose? Well, Burns might agree with you there, but nope, it’s blue, people. In Swedish, we call it “längtans blå blomma” (the blue flower of longing) , but is actually a German poem, called Die Blaue Bluhme which was considered to represent the essence of Romanticism, a period where focus was on feelings rather than on facts, on yearning rather than getting. Awww…

stormhattOkay, so Romanticism is not the same as Romantic – as demonstrated by that extra, rather irritating syllable. Big disappointment that was, once I figured that one out! Not enough swooning damsels and stalwart knights, if you get my drift – or rather not only swooning women and heroic men.

Romanticism was very much about exploring emotions such as apprehension and horror (Edgar Allan Poe belongs in the Romanticism) and it embraced the exotic and unknown – even the supernatural and occult (Shelley and her Frankenstein, f.ex).  It was about passion and dramatic excess, in German labelled Sturm und Drang (Tempests and Turmoil, as per my translation) Works of the preceding area, such as Macpherson’ Ossian and Walpole’s early dabbling with the Gothic influenced the period markedly, and as the period sparked a major interest for the past – especially for anything remotely medieval – Walter Scott took it upon himself to do humanity a major favour by inventing the historical novel. No wonder I love this period!

bild lupinBut what about the romantic element, you may wonder. Ah yes… After all, the reason I got stuck in this period was not so much because I wanted to read about cats being walled up by mistake with murdered people, or because I enjoyed reading about Frankenstein. No, I wanted to feel a frisson of delight flow up my spine – as when Mr Darcy AT LAST understands Elizabeth is the woman for him. Or press the book to my chest and laugh through my tears when Jane Eyre finally returned to Mr Rochester. Or become so engrossed in Hester Prynne’s sad destiny that I read throughout the night. (My mother was a big fan of Nathaniel Hawthorne – although she’d say it was more due to how he wrote. Huh! After all, The Scarlet Letter is, in my opinion, a truly romantic novel, despite there being no happily ever after ending – at least not for the lovers in question)

I wanted to be transported beyond the hum-drum of everyday life, to sway under the onslaught of feeling – so much feeling. And I did. With Edmond Dantes I escaped from the Isle of If, I ran behind Catherine as she charged across the moor, crying for her Heathcliff. I gasped my way through The Bride of Lammermuir, (major weeping-fest, let me tell you) and spent hours pretending to be Esmeralda, the raven-haired gypsy beauty that so beguiles in Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre-dame.

EHFA Mortimer 3Today, I still lean towards the Sturm und Drang. I like my reading matter to carry me off, to leave me with wads of drenched tissues in my hands. Now and then I need to take a break from all this emotional upheaval, which is when I resort to reading non-fiction, mainly history. Bad idea, as it turns out – because sometimes the actual facts are as dramatic and as tragic as fiction. Ask the Earl of Bothwell. Or Mary, Queen of Scots. Or Joan of Arc. Or Harold Godwinson. Sheesh… I think I’ll stick with make-believe!

A-forget-me-not-mouse-ear-scorpion-grass-Myosotis-scorpioWriting this little post has stirred a burst of inspiration – the shady contour of a 14th century man and his woman are presently dominating my mind, the scene a most tempestuous reunion against the dramatic backdrop of an on-going rebellion. There is moonlight, there are tears, there is laughter and voices lowered into whispers. And as he kneels before her he holds out his hand, offering her a a sprig of forget-me-not’s. A most romantic gesture, don’t you think? She, the shady lady in my head, definitely seems to think so – at least to judge from just how tenderly she cups his head, before placing the softest of kisses on his lips. Right; I’m off. Must write. Now!

Que será, será

When I was just a little girl…” I desperately wanted to be a boy.

File:Carl Larsson Brita as Iduna.jpg

A pretty little girl (Carl Larsson)

Most of my friends were boys, my favourite pursuits were football and rugnby, and I just hated it when I had to do needlework at school. Or deportment classes. I don’t know if any of you, dear readers, have been subjected to deportment classes, but even now, at a distance of forty odd years, I shudder when I recall the two afternoons per week I spent with Mrs Miller.

Deportment Class

Photo by A Diamond Fell from the Sky/Flickr

Even worse, I have had very little practical use for “getting out of a car while keeping your knees close together” or for “inclining your head in a gracious nod”. Sometimes I think Mrs Miller fantasized about one of “her” girls marrying into a royal family somewhere, hence the training in waving techniques, in how to curtsey with a book on your head and how to move up and down stairs in a dress with a train. So far into my life, I’ve never worn a dress with a train, far less clambered up and down stairs in one. The single good thing to come out of these classes is an ability to walk on high heels. Many women don’t know how to do that – and in general if you don’t you shouldn’t, as NOT knowing how to walk in heels results in a rather hilarious combination of legs, knees and hips that brings to mind camels in the desert.

While the girls were doing deportment, the boys were playing loud, physical games just outside the window, testament to how much more fun it was to be a boy. Or maybe there was something wrong with me, given that I never understood the point of having a Barbie. (My mother gave up on giving me dolls early on, as most ended up decapitated or thrown into a bush.)


Grindslanten – boys squabbling over a penny (A. Malmström)

And then, one day, I realised I no longer fit in with the boys. My chest hurt, my previously so fleet movements on the football field became that tad clumsier as I developed curves (far too many curves), and where before I held my own against any of the lads, suddenly they were stronger and taller than me. A rude awakening one might say …

This was also the point in time when I gave up on time travelling, this despite a series of creative experiments involving lit candles in my wardrobe, backward declamation of German poetry (Why I thought that would help is a mystery. I don’t even speak German, but apparently I believed Goethe was just the thing to breach the walls of time – think “Faust”)  and the consumption of a potent potion consisting mainly of raw eggs, lime juice and half a flask of tabasco sauce. Don’t ask; I was an imaginative child, and this “hair of the dog” recipe seemed just the thing. Which, it turns out, it wasn’t. No matter potions and singed hair, no matter soot stains in my closet and hours spent practising the “ach-laut” before the mirror, the ground below did not tremble and break open, sucking me in to spit me out elsewhere. So, there I was having to cope with the sad fact that I was stuck being a girl – a girl with budding breasts no less – and in this oh, so boring day and age.

The Life of a Knight – alas not for me

I never asked my mother “will I be pretty, will I be rich?” as the song goes. There was no need for me to consult with her about my future. Now that being a medieval knight was out – although I did spend a number of nights thinking that if Joan of Arc could do it so could I – I decided to become a navy SEAL. Two major problems: I am not American, and at the time SEALs were always male. (This was before Demi Moore showed the world that a woman can do anything a guy can do – and more.) My mother sighed when I moped, reminding me that there were many good things  about being a girl – like one could have babies. Aaaaaagh!!! NOT the right thing to say, let me tell you, which considering the fact that I ended up having four kids – and loving every moment of it – is something of an irony.

This period of my life is when I began writing in earnest. My writing efforts of the time are stereotypical: brave tomboy dresses up as a boy, saves king/queen/duke/through a combination of deadly skill with the blade and courage. Now and then she dies – very sad – just as often she rides off into the sunset. In none of these early attempts is there as much as a whiff of romance, no, our heroine is above such ridiculous pastimes, concentrated as she is on saving the realm.

Things changed. When I was fourteen a handsome boy fell in love with me. Something of a nuisance at first, to have this tall boy shadow my every move on the beach, but flattering all the same. One evening we were down by the sea and he took my hand. It made me tingle all over. And when he kissed me I started to realise that maybe my mother was right, maybe being a girl had its upsides after all…

Since then I have come to the conclusion that it’s great being a woman – and my writing has more than a whiff or romance and love in it. But I have still not reconciled myself to the fact that I can’t time travel, and every now and then I open my poetry books to Der Erlkönig and start from the back “In seinen Armen das Kint war tot.” It still doesn’t work, but I hope – I still hope.

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Der Erlkönig – an old postcard (M von Schwind)

The travails of a newly published author

Publishing a book bears a remarked resemblance to being stuck in a hole and yelling “Hello? Can anybody hear me?” Just because the book is there, it doesn’t automatically sell itself, nor do reviews start pouring in from right left and center.

Okay, okay; my book is still a baby, a mere two or three weeks old. But still; by now I had hoped to … what? I’m not quite sure, actually, but somehow the transition from writing & editing (a solitary work where I am entirely in control) to promoting and selling (where I am nowhere close to being in control; I can’t exactly force people to buy the book, it must sort of stand on its own merits – which it does) is much more difficult than I expected.

The absolute euphoria resulting from holding my book for the first time has faded somewhat – but only a little. I giggle like a child whenever I see it (Often. I have copies here, there and everywhere) and I still haven’t dared to read it. However, some people most definitely have, and while I am pleased as punch re the informal reviews I’ve had, please, please share them with more people. On Amazon, Goodreads, Lovereading, Troubador – wherever! I’m getting a bit hoarse here from calling out my lonesome “Hello?” (Plus it always makes me croon Lionel Richie’s song from like ages ago)

For those of you that haven’t read it yet, my book is a roller coaster ride set in the latter half of the seventeenth century. Rogues, devious ministers, royalists, fervent Presbyterians, witches and a very nasty brother populate its pages, and starring in this rather spicy broth is Alex(andra) Lind and Matthew Graham. She was born in 1972 (“What?” “Yupp, you heard me, in 1972”) and has the misfortune of being caught in a rift in time. Well, misfortune and misfortune, it’s not as if this new life of hers doesn’t offer some sort of compensation, mainly in the shape of Matthew Graham, handsome Scot that he is. (But not a kilt in sight). While Alex agrees that Matthew has some finer points, this her new life most certainly doesn’t, starting with the dismal lack of showers. Besides, things are far too exciting this side of the time divide, and there are days when she desperately longs for home and her lost people.

A Rip in the Veil makes perfect reading a rainy Sunday, or a sunny Saturday, or a lonely evening –  actually whenever you need some hours of escapism.

So; should you find the above enticing, why not click one of the links below and buy it? And if you liked it, maybe a little review?

(… and now I feel like a veritable salesman – not at all me. Ugh!)

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