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You write both in both contemporary and historical settings. Why?
Why bother with fillet steak when you already have sea bass? Just as I love both of those foods, I love writing – and reading – both periods. They have distinct ‘flavours’; writing historical letting you step back into another era for a little while, shining a light on the differences and the similarities to our own period. It’s great fun playing with the unfamiliar – different clothes, different manners and different problems to be overcome. While there’s greater freedom writing modern day romance (if it was set in England my two heroes could end up having their fairy tale civil partnership ceremony in a swanky hotel, for a start) it’s also harder, in some ways, to rack up the romantic tension. The fact that my Edwardian heroes couldn’t go to a gay bar to find a partner is a gift to a writer who wants to explore how two gay men actually got it on in those days, without finding themselves in either disgrace or jail.
Why choose the past to write in?
The past feels very close to us in England – I live in a converted Edwardian house so when I open my sash windows they’re the same ones as would have been opened in 1906 and I like that continuity of place and action. I could take you around our ‘village’ and show you where the Roman road runs and where the WWII bomb crater is from planes dumping their loads before returning home after bombing the docks. We could go five miles up the road and put our fingers in the holes left in nearly a thousand year old walls by English civil war musket balls, then have tea in a genuine Tudor cottage. It makes it easier to imagine oneself back in another era.
And why the early twentieth century?
Subjective answer? I just adore it. Beats me how anyone could watch a film like Chariots of Fire and not fall in love with the fashions and the language. I also enjoy reading novels written at the time – Jerome K Jerome, Conan Doyle, E M Forster, etc – or reading contemporary accounts, like Max Arthur’s wonderful books recounting the experiences of soldiers from WWI. I pore over newspapers from the time, fascinated by the minutiae of life. How could anyone not be inspired to write about such a complex and – to us, who look back on it – romantic era?
Isn’t that tricky when your heroes are gay?
Just a bit. Homosexuality was illegal then,and regarded generally as immoral, against both God’s law and the law of the land. Plus ca change for some places in the twentieth century!
There are, and have been, a wide variety of experiences, a whole spectrum of sexual identities and practices and I honestly believe they defy pigeonholing. I’ve read a number of biographies of gay men (predominantly writers) from the era I write in – Oscar Wilde, Siegfried Sassoon, Wilfred Owen, E M Forster – and I wouldn’t say there’s one size fits all in terms of the way they regarded their sexuality. Nor do I find a common ‘definition of homosexuality’ emerging from the autobiographies of gay men born in the late twentieth century. Why should there be? People are people and – gay, straight or any shade in between or around – they live and define their lives as suits them.
This whole subject is intriguing. Were Oscar Wilde’s homosexual affairs just part of his wanting to ‘eat of the fruit of all the trees in the garden of the world’? Were the guardsmen who haunted the gay bars of the 1950’s and 60’s really gay themselves or were they just eking out their wages in the time honoured tradition?
Is it important to you to get the m/m element historically accurate?
Primarily I try hard not to be anachronistic in terms of behaviour or language; Jonty and Orlando wouldn’t be flaunting their relationship in public, holding hands walking down Whitehall nor having a big white ‘wedding’ in St George’s chapel. I often refer to the fact that they can’t do what any heterosexual couple could do at that time and the injustice they feel. But then, there are a lot of things we take for granted that wouldn’t have been possible then, not least Jonty’s mother not being able to vote.
I don’t shy from showing people being aggressive and insulting towards ‘fairies’ or ‘Nancy boys’ or whatever they want to call them that’s appropriate to the time. I’ve also tried not to have everyone around my couples accepting of them. Or, if they are accepting, then on occasions I’ve tried to show the metal processes they’ve gone through to reach that conclusion, for example the moral dilemmas one of my character’s father went through before he could fully accept his son’s sexual preferences.
How does writing about the historical experiences of gay people relate to the situation of gay people today?
If I was writing modern day stories there’d be more freedom for my heroes, although not all contemporary gay couples are able to live their lives together without fear or without encountering prejudice, not even in a country as enlightened as the UK, where rights of equality are enshrined in law. The law can’t change people’s attitudes; only education and dialogue can achieve that.
So, if I’m exploring a character having to stay in the Edwardian closet, having to hide his relationships by using ‘smoke and mirrors’ or dealing with vilification from society, then that might be just as relevant to a gay man living in middle America right now and could echo his emotions just as much. If that’s not his experience of life then it would be less relevant, although it might be just as entertaining a read.
About Lessons for Suspicious Minds
In the innocent pre-war days, an invitation to stay at the stately country home of a family friend means a new case for amateur sleuths Jonty Stewart and Orlando Coppersmith. In fact, with two apparently unrelated suicides to investigate there, a double chase is on.
But things never run smoothly for the Cambridge fellows. In an era when their love dare not speak its name, the risk of discovery and disgrace is ever present. How, for example, does one explain oneself when discovered by a servant during a midnight run along the corridor?
Things get even rougher for Orlando when the case brings back memories of his father’s suicide and the search for the identity of his grandfather. Worse, when they work out who the murderer is, they are confronted with one of the most difficult moral decisions they’ve ever had to make.
About the Author
As Charlie Cochrane couldn’t be trusted to do any of her jobs of choice—like managing a rugby team—she writes, with titles published by Carina, Samhain, Bold Strokes, MLR and Cheyenne.
Charlie’s Cambridge Fellows Series of Edwardian romantic mysteries was instrumental in her being named Author of the Year 2009 by the review site Speak Its Name. She’s a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association, Mystery People, International Thriller Writers Inc and is on the organising team for UK Meet for readers/writers of GLBT fiction. She regularly appears with The Deadly Dames.
Connect with Charlie:
Every comment on this blog tour enters you in a drawing for a title from Charlie Cochrane’s backlist (excluding Lessons for Survivors.) Entries close at midnight, Eastern time, on April 25. Contest is NOT restricted to U.S. entries. Don’t forget to add your email so we can contact you if you win!