What did it feel like watching your first book fledge and leave the nest? Does that change for later books?
The first time, with The Magpie Lord, it was terribly exciting, but I had zero expectations (I’d been warned to expect it to sell about 12 copies because ‘gay Victorian historical paranormal mystery romance’ wasn’t even a niche until Jordan L Hawk published Widdershins), and nobody had any expectations of me. It could have sunk without trace and I’d have sniffled, shrugged and ticked ‘publish a book’ off my bucket list. So it was thrilling but not terrifying. Whereas, since it did pretty well and people said nice things of it and of the sequel A Case of Possession, now I feel less of the thrill and more of the ‘oh my God what if people don’t like it?’
Why this particular setting and era?
Think of England is set in 1904 – early Edwardian. That pre-war period where, for white British upper class men, life was incredibly privileged, but there were mounting social tensions, mounting national tensions, an obsession with spies, a growing fear of the outsider (eg queer/Jewish/foreign people) – it’s fascinating stuff, with masses of tensions and potential for problems. Plus the pulp fiction of that time is shamelessly plot-driven adventure, full of secrets and schemes and dramatic settings and heroism.
Are you character or plot driven? What do you do if one of your characters starts developing at a tangent?
I’m concept-driven, I think. I start with an idea, from which the characters come and the plot develops. The Magpie Lord started with, obviously, magpies: what would happen if the old magpie counting rhymes really meant something. Think of England started with the title: I started toying with what sort of book could justifiably be called that and the whole thing formed in my head in about half an hour. I’m trying to be better at plotting books out before I start, but honestly, if characters develop at a tangent, I embrace it. It means they’re real, and having real reactions. Well, The Magpie Lord wasn’t conceived as a romance. I’d thought it was going to be a fantasy novel, but you try telling that to Crane and Stephen.
If you were in a tight corner and had to rely on one of your characters to save you, which would it be and why?
It depends on the corner, really. Archie in Think of England wouldn’t let me down if there was something physical to be done, and his counterpart Daniel is a tricky bugger if something needs untangling by words, or by unethical means, come to that. Stephen Day would be a good man to call on as long as he felt I deserved to get out of trouble. But on the whole it would have to be Lord Crane. Not just because he’s rich, ruthless and clever, but because he and his henchman Merrick come as a pair, and I always like a two-for-one deal.
If you had no constraints of time and a guarantee of publication, what book would you write?
Don’t say things like that if you don’t mean them. /gazes wistfully/ I think it would be the huge plotty political fantasy of which I’ve done two partial drafts, but I can’t find the right way to tell it. Give me two uninterrupted years and I’ll totally have it nailed.
Is there a classic book you started and simply couldn't finish?
Very few: I read extremely quickly. By which I mean, I once read the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy in a single day (I skipped the poetry). I will generally whack through to the end if it’s not actively bad. But Ulysses by James Joyce defeated me on page 27, and nothing on earth would make me finish Women in Love by DH Lawrence, except if the only other thing I had to read was Ulysses.
What’s your favourite gay fiction book? And why?
Oranges are Not the Only Fruit is worth all the praise it got. Kiss of the Spider Woman destroyed me, I cried for hours. The Lost Language of Cranes was formative for me, along with A Boy’s Own Story. I also adored The Catch Trap by Marion Zimmer Bradley. It’s not the greatest work of literature but it has a soap-opera quality that means you can’t stop, can’t look away, and can’t stop thinking about the characters for weeks.
What's your next project?
Think of England 2 is the next m/m novel I have in mind. There are traitors to be tracked down, plots to be unraveled, and a fledgeling relationship between a flamboyant poet and a just-getting-his-head-round-things British officer that’s going to get a lot more complicated. /cackles/