A Summer Pursuit – out now!

Jake and Ash A Summer Pursuit
A Summer Pursuit

I’m proud to announce the reissue of A Summer Pursuit, published by Loose ID. This second edition is bigger and better than ever, and I’m very grateful to the team at Loose ID and especially Keren Reed, my editor, for helping revamp it. There are more characters, more nineteenth century New York City, and of course, more hot action between Jake and Ash!

How A Summer Pursuit began

A Summer Pursuit started life as a prologue to The Winter Trail. It grew to four  chapters, which I interspersed through The Winter Trail, but it was not terribly satisfying to jump back and forward in time. I pulled it out to write it as a stand-alone short story, but when I got to eight chapters, I realised it was actually another book.

The original novel, published in May 2015, was 41,000 words. It is now 85,000 words, more than double the original length.

The revamp

Rereading the original novel, I thought it would benefit from deeper characterization and much more New York. It was such a pleasure to return to Jake and Ash’s world, and researching the city of 1853 was fascinating and fun.

The New York of 1853 was very different to the New York of today. There was no Central Park or Statue of Liberty, no Times Square or Empire State building. In fact, the tallest buildings were the churches. The streets were only paved up to Forty-Sixth St, and were dirt country roads after that. Bloomingdale was farmland, the Bronx was a village, and public transport around the city was horse-drawn omnibuses that ran on rails.

I particularly liked reading about the Five Points district, the stories of which are related in shocked and theatrical language by the virtuous citizens of the day. While there was no doubt terrible poverty and daily injustices in the Five Points, there was also fun, laughter, and excitement. It’s this side of this district I’ve tried to relate.

Being a wordsmith, I loved immersing myself in nineteenth century slang, which certainly kept me laughing. I found hundreds of terms for going on a drinking spree, being drunk, types of drinks, and vomiting after having drunk too much! As an interesting aside, Benjamin Franklin compiled over two hundred such terms back in 1737.

I can’t say I got everything right, but I certainly had fun trying.

A Summer Pursuit – new and improved

If you are interested in more:

Read an excerpt of A Summer Pursuit here.

Purchase A Summer Pursuit from Loose ID

The Winter Trail, the continuing story of Jake and Ash, is currently undergoing revision, and will be published soon by Loose ID.

Swearing in history; or, Avaunt, you beslubbering flock-pate!

 Ah, swearing, cursing, abuse. Where would we be without it? I’d probably lose half of my scintillating conversation.

But as writer of historical dirty stories  romances, it’s not always easy. I’m not the kind of writer who likes to use clinical words like penis or vagina, but words like dick haven’t been around that long. Well, they have, but their meaning has changed over the years

For example, the word ‘fuck’ has been around since 1502, according to the OED Historical Thesaurus of English.  But it was nothing more than a vulgar word for, um, fucking until 1874. Telling someone ‘don’t fuck with me’ literally meant ‘don’t have sexual intercourse with me’, which doesn’t have quite the same punchy implication.

Dick didn’t mean penis until the nineteenth century, and even then it had crossover with other slang terms, like detective. I’m sure we’ve all sniggered at vintage writers like Enid Blyton naming characters ‘Dick’. (I had a bit of a chortle recently when I read The Black Moth and Richard’s wife constantly calls him ‘Dickie’—I’m sure it was adorable when it was written, in the 1920s.)

So what’s a poor historical writer to do?

Well, you could ignore it, and let your characters bump dicks and bang pussies with abandon, as well as tell every cocksucker to get fucked or sod off. I love the dialogue in Deadwood and Black Sails where modern curses danced cheek to cheek with ye olde speak.

But I find it really tough to do something I know is so far out of period. I do hate being pedantic sometimes. Not that I’m that pedantic; if the thesaurus tells me a word was first recorded in use at 1720, I might push it back to the mid 1600s. My reasoning is that in the days when language changes took years to spread rather than becoming instant memes, vulgar words were likely to have been in common usage for some time before anyone bothered to write it down. Maybe I’m reaching, but whatever.

And while I’m on the pedantic topic, I’ll segue to something almost related. I find it staggering how few words there were for oral sex prior to the nineteenth century when you compare them to the number of words for shagging. Some historians have hypothesised that oral sex is a relatively modern phenomenon (ie from the nineteenth century). After it fell out of favour with the fall of the Roman Empire, that is. They give various reasons—lack of hygiene being a big one, but I figure if everyone smells as bad as you do, and your street is an open sewer, would you really notice? Another reason given is that oral sex was considered sodomy and therefore a criminal act. I doubt criminality stops anyone from doing anything pleasurable, and I have previously waxed lyrical on the overt and covert existence of sodomy in society for the last two thousand years despite it being criminalised. In any case, whether or not it was rampant among our forebears, I’m not going to deny my characters the awesomeness that is a good spigot-sucking.

Oral sex in the nineteenth century
Darling, I have a yen to go larking in your thatched cottage

One of my favourite sources for historical sexual euphemisms is timeglider, which has a series of timelines showing when vulgar words and phrases for sex etc came into use. These are based on the work of the awesome Jonathon Green, the famed slang lexicographer. Here are links for:

Wads of words for boy bits
Lashings of terms for lady parts
A plethora of phrases for rogering

It’s a fine line between historical accuracy and modern appeal. Use too much modern terminology and phrasing, and you lose the historical feel. Use too little, and a modern audience won’t be able to connect with it. While colourful, ‘Avaunt, you beslubbering flock-pate’ doesn’t quite have the manly impact of ‘fuck off, arsehole’; and ‘Begad, Lizzie, let me diddle your lady-ware and you may ride my rantipole’ may not encourage readers feel that heaven’s in the backseat of Mr Darcy’s barouche.

Homosexuality in history

Men embracing and kissing. Robert Gant, ca 1887-1889

My dear, I don’t care what they do, so long as they don’t do it in the street and frighten the horses
(Mrs Patrick Campbell, c1910)

When it comes to romance and erotica, in my opinion there is enough trouble, enough heartache in the world without adding the tragedy of homophobia. I don’t enjoy erotic stories where people agonise for half a book, are frightened of or confronted by their sexuality because they can’t accept themselves, or homophobic characters make their lives hell. I like sex to be fun, romance to be nice, and neither to be guilt-ridden. So I don’t write gay angst or gay hate.

But I am often astonished by people’s general understanding of queer* behaviour in a historical context. I hear statements such as “people were too frightened to be open”, and “but it was illegal”. It seems to me people think queer people in history lived in hiding and every one of them suffered, denied, or hated their nature. And that homophobia was somehow worse than it is today.

Not so. For every person who suffered life-long self-loathing of their queerness, there were plenty who got over it or never suffered it at all. And haters will always be haters. I think this false belief is driven in part by the sexual regression that reached its crescendo in the 1950s. Homonegativity was its tragic outcome, which resonates even today, making us think life had always been that way.

Even today, many queer people were discreet, when the person has a social position or a job that could be at risk by being out. If you don’t want to attract homophobia in countries where being queer is not a crime, you keep it private. In countries where it is still illegal to be gay, even more discretion is usually practised. The past was not much different. Historically speaking, if they played the game, society largely left queer people alone.

Sure, there were times when it was dangerous to openly engage in homosexual activity, but this is not true for most of human history. History is not made up of homogeneous thought, there was not one outlook for the thousands of years humans have been around, even within one culture. Just as fashions come and go, morals change and attitudes cycle; yesterday’s heresy becomes today’s belief becomes tomorrow’s out-dated thinking.

In general, it is no safer to be queer now than it was during most of the last two thousand years of under the yoke of Christianity. There were periods of time when homosexual behaviour was as open and accepted as it is today. Just as there were periods when, just like in some countries today, queer people were persecuted, shamed, and murdered for the crime of being different.

Fanny and Stella, (Frederick Park and Ernest Boulton)
Fanny and Stella (Frederick Park and Ernest Boulton) in 1868. The trans women were prosecuted in 1870 for “conspiring to incite others to commit unnatural offences” but acquitted after a doctor could not prove they had had anal sex with each other.

Homosexuality in history

Historically, sodomy was illegal in many cultures, and often punishable by death. Even in ancient Greece and Rome, where homosexuality was a prominent part of the culture, there were laws prohibiting sodomy. The historical definition of sodomy in post-Roman Europe included MM and FF sex, bestiality, male rape, oral sex, and child abuse. In fact, anything that was not a man vaginally penetrating a woman.

Across Europe from the time of the late Roman Empire, laws were enacted declaring some or all homosexual acts to be illegal, and ascribing various legal punishments from fines to public execution. And yet, actual organised systematic persecutions of people engaging in homosexual acts are few and far between.

That is not to say there was not persecution of individuals, but the extent of it is misrepresented, shamefully in some cases by historians. Yes, sodomy was illegal and sometimes people were brought to court for it, but so were having a different religion, adultery, sex before marriage, birth control, having a child while unmarried, and witchcraft, just to name a few things not illegal today (although still illegal in some countries, as is homosexuality). Some of these things were also punishable by death. People still did them all, sometimes quite openly.

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, sodomy prosecutions were rare and often tacked onto a raft of other crimes the individual was being prosecuted for. Convictions were even rarer. “Molly houses”, brothels for gay men, were well known and rarely raided. Presumably law enforcement did not want to accidentally arrest politicians or other influential men.

Various naval forces are particularly rich with source material about sexual activity between men. In possibly the first glimmer of a DADT policy, some courts martial boards, regardless if the verdict was guilty or not guilty, expressed their displeasure that the activity was even brought to their attention!

WWII sailor boyfriends photographed for the Kinsey Institute at a time when it was illegal to be gay, and grounds for a dishonourable discharge. The NSFW version of this picture can be seen here

When studying the evidence, it becomes clear consensual homosexual activity was ignored or tolerated far more often than it was persecuted and condemned. The move to decriminalise homosexual behaviour began literally hundreds of years ago. In some countries, it was decriminalised, in others, the death penalty was removed (in the UK, the death penalty was not imposed after 1836, and was removed in 1861). It was not unknown for men of means in same sex relationships to move abroad so they could live more openly.

Fun fact: Decriminalisation of homosexuality in the 18th/19th centuries

1791 France—and who wouldn’t want to live there with one’s true love!
1811 The Dutch Republic and the Dutch East Indies
1830 Brazil
1852 Portugal (recriminalized 1886)
1858 The Ottoman Empire and Timor-Leste
1865 San Marino
1871 Guatemala and Mexico
1886 Argentina

Blackmail, the big danger

The biggest danger for most men was the threat of blackmail, but that could occur whether you had committed “unnatural acts” or not. Blackmail rings extorted money from victims with the threat of court action, and naturally had a plethora of false witnesses to the supposed crime. There are plenty of cases where blackmailers were prosecuted and executed for their crime of robbery, and whether their victims were literal bystanders or men cruising beats is not entirely clear. Men in a stable relationship, that is not cruising or going to molly houses, were unlikely to be targeted by casual blackmail.

Men could, however, be blackmailed by a former lover although the lover would have to incriminate himself as well. Often the worst that would happen with this kind of blackmail was loss of your job and reputation, not jail or execution.

It was even recognised in the nineteenth century that existing laws were making blackmail easy, and was a strong argument for repealing them. This kind of blackmail went on until the repeal of homosexuality laws, but certainly did not stop men from having relationships or casual sex. We know from letters, photographs, and other sources that men continued to engage in loving and/or sexual relationships with each other.

Laws will never stop love or lust!

Two men embracing. Probably photographed by Robert Gant between 1887 and 1889

Gay identity

Sexual orientation as an identity is a relatively new phenomenon which started to emerge in the late nineteenth century. In the past, you identified and were identified as a man or a woman. Angst over identity did not really exist, because there was no queer identity!**

Historical authors who portray it are putting a modern sensibility into a historical context because we can identify with it, not because it’s accurate. Read some contemporary literature with homoerotic themes—Melville’s Moby Dick, Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, Tennyson’s In Memoriam, Taylor’s Joseph and His Friend: A Story of Pennsylvania. The relationships may be coded, but they are accepted (and justified by contemporary critics). The characters (and the authors themselves) are sometimes troubled by their preference, but there is no agonising over the true self.

Recent history

When was all homosexual activity decriminalised where you grew up?  You might be surprised to find out.

Where I grew up, homosexuality was illegal until 1990. Throughout the 1980s the police could and did actively persecute gay men for their private activities. That is, being gay in their own homes – yes, police actually raiding their homes and arresting them for what they were doing inside. In the 1980s.

And yet, according to my sources, the pre-HIV era in my hometown was a total gay shagfest. There were beats everywhere, men lived together openly, there were gay bars—one recently celebrated its 30th birthday (for those of you who are non-mathy, it opened in 1985, when the police were in full swing, so to speak). They just didn’t walk down the street holding hands, kiss in public, or any of the things straight couples could do (many still don’t).

Ask any gay man who lived as a gay man in the fifties, sixties and seventies. Unless you come from one of the countries listed above, homosexuality was probably illegal where you grew up back then. He’ll tell you he wasn’t necessarily open or overt, but he didn’t spend his life hiding in fear of being stoned to death either.

In conclusion

Until the latter part of the twentieth century, homosexuality was illegal in the US, the UK, and most former Empire nations. Although it was rare, you were in danger of being prosecuted. You could also lose your jobyou could be blackmailedyour family could reject you, you could be bullied or beaten, you could be murdered by homophobes who then got away with it because you brought it on yourself. None of the examples in these links are pre this millenium.

 People today use the illegality of same-sex activity as evidence that in the past, homosexual men lived furtive lives full of fear and self-loathing. This is simply not true. While anti-sodomy laws were being passed by the church and state across Europe, monks and bishops were writing love letters to each other, kings and nobles were openly living with their lovers, married men were carrying on same sex affairs and visiting male prostitutes. From Roman times, there has been a rich gay subculture in Europe, brought to the Americas. Occasionally queer people were harassed, but mostly they were left alone.

*This rant does not include lesbian activity—in many places were homosexual activity was illegal, lesbianism was neither acknowledged nor illegal. It was therefore by default legal.

**This does not include transgender/intersex people who would have had trouble identifying in a binary male/female world. As I don’t tell their stories, I have never researched the issue.

If you want to know more on prosecutions, convictions, and attitudes, or view an archive of gorgeous gay love letters, an invaluable resource is Rictor Norton’s Gay History and Literature site.

Poppies in Paris

A story of friendship, hardship, and loyalty

World War One. The Western Front. Winter.

Duke Lindsay is going to die. He knows it’s only a matter of time. The war that was supposed to be the adventure of a lifetime has turned into a terrifying nightmare that has crushed his once carefree spirit. With no family to care what becomes of him, and all his friends dead, he has nothing to live for.

Until Corporal Driscoll comes along.

Driscoll forces Duke to obey him, to be a man, to stay alive. As they undergo hardship and fight bitter battles side by side, Duke comes to realise Driscoll cares for him in a way no one ever has before. With Driscoll’s help, Duke finds in himself the man he was always supposed to be.

From the ashes of war, an enduring friendship begins to blossom.

Poppies in Paris, available from Amazon and eXcessica now.

Read a free excerpt from Poppies in Paris

Poppies in Paris, a story of WWI
A story of friendship, hardship, and loyalty

It’s all a swindle!

Politicians are magicians
Who make swindles disappear
The bribes they are taking
The deals they are making
Never reach the public’s ear
The left betrays, the right dismays
The country’s broke – and guess who pays?
But tax each swindle in the making
Profits will be record breaking
Everyone swindles, this is true
So vote for who will steal for you.

Mischa Spoliansky It’s All A Swindle (1931)

Obsessed with bathing

As my friends could tell you, I’m not particularly obsessed with bathing and cleanliness.  I shower daily but I don’t linger, and I’m not fond of baths. So why are my characters so bloody obsessed with bathing? It’s a question I started to ask myself when I finished my fifth book (not yet edited, coming in August). Okay, I am fond of a good scene in a bath, et voila…

Romantic couple in the bath together
I love writing historical fiction. I love finding a new era that fascinates me, and creating characters that fit into the setting. I love delving into the era and making my story fit into it.

I hate the smells.

Yep, back in the day there was none of the plumbing luxury we enjoy today. You know, you turn on the tap and presto, out comes water fit to drink! You jump into a glass box and way hey, out comes steamy hot water which combines so beautifully with sudsy grapefruit scented shower gel! You sit on a polymer resin seat with a hole in it and whoosh, away flushes unmentionable body waste!

Pears soap
Daily washing – just the face and hands. Uh huh.

In the Olden Dayz (until reasonably late in the nineteenth century for poor folks), bathing was irregular. A daily wash, which probably only meant your face and hands, came out of a jug of water. If you were lucky enough to be rich you didn’t have to haul your own hot water up two flights of stairs, or share a weekly bath with every member of your family.  If you were poor and lucky, you lived near a bathhouse that was reasonably priced for your once-a-week ablutionary pleasures, and you got to share a bath with your neighbours as well.

Drinking water came from the river contaminated with… God only knows. Check your local river and shudder—and remember our rivers, nuclear waste aside, are a lot cleaner than they were in, say, 1781, when corpses and skin flakes were possibly the least nasty things to be found. Sewers were street gutters, and flushing the loo meant emptying the poo pot out of the window into the street.

Blackadder II
Mrs. Pants: But what about the privies?
Blackadder: Um, well, what we are talking about in privy terms is the latest in front wall fresh air orifices combined with a wide capacity gutter installation below.
Mrs. Pants: You mean you crap out the window?
Blackadder: Yes.
Mrs. Pants: Well in that case we’ll definitely take it. I can’t stand those dirty indoor things.

And speaking of streets, in reality they were often knee deep in rubbish, dead dogs, and horse poop. I do recall reading a passage where Benjamin Franklin* complains about treading in people poop while walking the streets of Philadelphia at night (from memory he used the word ‘turds’ and paints a vivid image of them squashing underfoot). In my world, there is no ever-present smell of urine or dead animals, and rubbish is regularly taken away. In reality it would have been from the richer neighbourhoods, but I imagine the smells would have lingered.

New York street
It looks more than knee deep in places…. New York street 1850s

Which brings me to smells.

None of my characters smells bad**. They are clean clean clean people who never have stinky armpits, smelly groins, or stained pants**. They do have bodily functions, but there is ALWAYS a toilet available and it’s off screen. I never mention it, but they also have toilet paper (it is referred to by Rabelais in the sixteenth century which is good enough for me, even if he does recommend the neck of a goose over paper wipes). And last but not least, THEY ALWAYS TAKE BATHS. REGULARLY. NO EXCEPTIONS***.

Hot guys in the bath
Oh, keep cleaning yourselves, boys. Don’t mind me…

So, dear reader, when you come to the sweaty scenes, rest assured the boys and girls are squeaky clean and utterly lickable!

*I think it was Benjamin Franklin. It might have been some other 18th century Philadelphia resident. I’m not going to cite, I’m not at university now, hurrah!
**Except when they are meant to for the purposes of the plot.
***Except when they can’t for the purposes of the plot.

Ancient Greeks and the Oxford Rub

If you found my website, you probably already know that men in ancient Greece were at it with each other. But do you really know what it was all about?

The most common, and principle form of relationship for a man was a pederastic one, an older man, the erastes, with a younger man, the eromenos. These relationships could last for life, and were viewed as more important socially and career-wise than a man’s marriage to a woman. A bit like today’s private school old boys but with more shagging—at least I think the Greeks had more shagging.

Ancient Greek men did acknowledge that women could love and be loved, but this love was seen by many as an inferior as women were less developed and mature than men. Ahem. Achilles, mature? Achaean Psycho if you ask me. Not to mention Prince Pouty. But I digress.

Pederasty  was as much about furthering the education of a younger man as it was about sex. But being who I am, the sex is the bit that interests me! So what did they do? Anal and oral sex were seen as shameful, reserved for slaves or prostitutes. (There was even a law in Athens that declared a man who had allowed himself to be penetrated could not be a citizen—and neither could a woman.)

The customary form of sex between two lovers was intercrural, which is a form of frottage involving one’s beloved’s thighs. (AKA Princeton style, the Oxford rub, and the Ivy League rub for reasons which I think are obvious. Snark.) There are even poems to the beauty of a lover’s thighs—how romantic were those Athenians? A lover has told me how beautiful my inner thighs are, but I’m yet to see a poem…

Zephyrus and Hyacinthos rubbing one out on each other

Of course, there’s nothing that says it has to be two men. Those among you in a hetero relationship/liaison/one night of luurve could try it with your lady friend. The important thing is that your partner, whoever he or she is, doesn’t object to having their bits covered in jizz at the end (or you could use a condom but that does sound dull).

Alexander the Great did it, Oscar Wilde supposedly preferred it to oral, and even Abraham Lincoln seems to have tried it. Not that the latter two would particularly get me in the mood, but how about Wilde’s lover Lord Alfred “Bosie” Douglas instead…

Bosie and Francis Douglas
Bosie Douglas with his brother Francis. I’d rub his thighs any old day….

Not being a boy, I’ve never been the “on top” person myself, but I’m told it’s totally hot. So come on lads, get your Greek on and try a bit of intercrural!

Disclaimer: I could go into more detail about homosociality, cultural motivations, the enduring nature of the erastos/eromenes relationship across cultures and eras, and the varying status of women in Ancient Greek cultures, but hey, I’m done with uni. I just want to talk about the sex now.