Friday, January 11, 2013

My First Reading Recommendation for 2013 — by BG Thomas

So today I wanted to make my first reading recommendation. I am really excited about this book, and anyone into sailing stories in the past, especially pirate stories, needs to read this book. If you want excellent writing, a non-contemporary setting, obvious exhaustive research, and to be taken to another place and time, keep reading...

The book is “On a Lee Shore,” by Elin Gregory. And here is just a little to whet your appetite...

"Give me a reason to let you live..." 

Beached after losing his ship and crew, and with England finally at peace, Lt Christopher Penrose will take whatever work he can get. A valet? Why not? Escorting an elderly diplomat to the Leeward Islands seems like an easy job, but when their ship is boarded by pirates, Kit's world is turned upside down. Forced aboard the pirate ship, Kit finds himself juggling his honor with his desire to stay alive, not to mention his desire for the alarming--yet enticing--captain, known as La Griffe. 

Kit has always obeyed the rules, but as the pirates plunder their way across the Caribbean, he finds much to admire in their freedom. He deplores their lawlessness but is drawn to their way of life, and begins to think he might just have found a purpose. Dare he dream of finding love too? Or would loving a pirate take him too far down the road to ruin?

What is it that calls you to write about such faraway times and places?

I was brought up in a house that was built in 1625 in a village that is mentioned in Domesday Book. The past was there - all the time, every day - and seemed more immediate and relevant than the modern world. Astronauts and rock music happened, I knew, but they happened to Americans half a world away. My family and friends endured the Second World War, my grandfather served in the Great War, in Palestine where he once saw T E Lawrence and on the Western Front. I knew men who had ploughed with horses and one who remembered the headmaster of the little school coming in to tell the chidren about the Titanic going down.

Nowadays I work in a museum and on any given day handle objects from the Neolithic to the modern day. I work in a castle on the edge of what used to be a Roman fort. The past is more alive to me, in some ways than the present. It's not as unfamiliar to me as modern urban life is.  I've never been clubbing but the annual round of ploughing, lambing, haymaking, harvest doesn't change and neither does human nature.


How much research do you generally do before you feel you're ready to release a tale to the public?

I don't think you can ever do enough research. Someone will always have done more, have had access to that vital piece of information you either couldn't find or didn't know to look for in the first place. Stirrups! The number of books with a Roman setting that mention stirrups! Stirrups are such an obvious and useful thing that we can't imagine a time when they didn't exist. All one can do is ones best to get as much as possible right and be prepared to take the punches if you get something wrong.

Back to the question - maybe 2 years? But some subjects take a LOT longer.

Why ancient sailing vessels and pirates?

Why not? I like both very much indeed. The sailing vessels of the 17th and 18th century were the Apple Macs of their day. Immensely complex in design, demanding top quality components, but once assembled, simple and efficient in use. Also they are beautiful and the language associated with them has had a profound effect on our everyday English.

Since reading that fully 8% of the pirates during the Golden Age of piracy [1700 to 1720] were Welsh - a terrific number when one considers the tiny population of the country in those days - I was determined to stage an exhibition about pirates at the museum where I work. Once I had a good look at the background material it was too much fun to NOT write a novel about it. Since male male relationships are known and attested amongst them, even to the extent of life-long domestic contracts called 'matelotage', the subject seemed even more appropriate.

Why tell your tales from a MM point of view?

There have always been men who loved other men and I doubt that their number has changed much over the years. Stored in the museum we have more than 100,000 objects - documents, tradesmen's tools, coins, clothing, furniture, photographs - and yet I do not know of one that is definitely associated with anyone who would place themselves on the rainbow. Not a single one. Yet, even assuming that only one percent of the population in the collection area would have described themselves as gay[had the term existed at the time], around 1000 of those objects most probably belonged to, were made by, were owned or cherished by a gay man.

I'm not claiming to be qualified in any way to express the authentic experience of a gay man living as a 17th century pikeman, or a Victorian shopkeeper, or an 18th century gamekeeper, but I feel it's important to try - to try with the care and respect that the subject deserves, while making the story as much fun as possible both for the characters involved and for the readers - and to make it clear that it's not a modern phenomenon, but a natural and important part of human life contributing greatly to the richness of society in all periods.

What can we expect next from your pen?

Let's not count our chickens, shall we? I want to write things with the same kind of feel as Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. Romping action adventure stories with some plot relevant romance. I was lucky with On A Lee Shore but who's to say that the next book will be acceptable anywhere? I keep my eye on the market, readers polls and what other authors say about the subject and it's pretty clear that any book featuring male male relationships is expected to contain fully described sex scenes, in fact will be considered lacking if it doesn't. I'm not comfortable writing the real grunt and thrust sex scenes [either MM or het] and I think that shows.

But I'm not worrying about what will happen to the stories when I've finished them. I am on the third draft of a short story where I told historical accuracy to take a hike and just wrote knights in armour, unrequited love suddenly requited and lots of violence. It's called A Taste of Copper and I hope to submit it, somewhere, soon. I'm halfway through a novel set in 6th century AD Northumbria, more cavalry and battles with a relationship that grows slowly from convenience bonking to deep and abiding love. That's called A Fierce Reaping. Then at the planning stage there's "Eleventh Hour", spies in 1920s London,  "The Long Secret Summer" set in the 1940s, and "The Hounds of the North", set in first century Rome and Britannia. I hope I live long enough to finish them all.

Many thanks for allowing me to answer your questions.

Many thanks to you for joining us!


There was no question of standing to fight. Outgunned and outnumbered, the only thing the Hypatia could do was run. So run they did, the crew hurling themselves in all directions in response to the master's shrieked orders.

Kit joined them, kicking off his shoes to scamper up the rigging. The wind tossed his hair across his face and plastered his shirt to his back as he raced Forrest to the top. A quick glance back made his breath catch. The two ships were coming apace, a brigantine much larger than Hypatia and the other, closer, sloop rigged with a huge spread of white sails. The black flags were more apparent now, and Kit's heart raced as he edged along the footrope.

"Have a care, Mr. Penrose, sir," Forrest said as he too reached the yard. "Go back down, sir, do!"

"I know what I'm about, thank you, Forrest," Kit said, and when he leaned to reach the reef lines with as much agility as any of them, the man grinned and left him to it.

The sails filled with a crack, and the Hypatia met the next wave head on. Kit looked back at the pursuing sails, calculating distances and speeds. As he watched, the tan sails of the brigantine were obscured by a puff of white smoke. A relieved curse ripped from Forrest's lips as a spout went up well astern.

"That's it," he said. "Them devils'll not catch us now."

They both whooped their approval, and Forrest shook a fist. "You've no fancy to be a pirate then, Forrest?" Kit said with a laugh.

"Me, sir? No fear, sir," Forrest said. "There's only one way that can end, and I've no desire to be turned off-God a' mercy!"

A gun had boomed again, this time from the sloop. Forrest and Kit stared in horror at the wreckage of blood, flesh, and splinters that had exploded from where the master had been standing at the tiller. Hypatia shuddered and lurched, shaking Kit loose. For a sickening moment his legs swung free over the chaotic deck, before he hooked a toe into the footrope and clung to the yard to get his breath back. Below he could see Captain Dorling wringing his hands while Uttley hung over the stern, either retching or trying to see the damage.

Forrest cursed again. "He's going to strike," he muttered. "The captain's going to strike."

Kit envied Forrest the ease with which he swung hand over hand down the shroud. He followed, muscles protesting at the effort, jumped the last six feet, and ran aft.

The sloop and brigantine were approaching fast.

"Black flag," Dorling shouted as Kit reached him, "so we have a chance. Strike the flag, strike it, I say. It's La Griffe-once he flies the red flag there's no mercy. Get the colors down, damn you."

There was a shout from one of the hands as the tattered rag of black flapping from the brigantine's main mast dipped and began to lower. On deck Kit could see a flash of red and gold, but Dorling was already scrambling to lower the ensign himself.

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1 comment:

  1. Bless you, Ben. Thank you very much for asking such interesting questions, and for making this post.

    If any of you Cafe Risque folks would like to make a return visit to my Comfy Chair I'd be delighted to have you.