05 June 2011

Guest Blog: Erastes

This week, we're welcoming historical novelist, Erastes, as she celebrates the release of her latest novel, MERE MORTALS, available now in print and ebook from Lethe Press, Amazon and just about everywhere. Here's the blurb:
Author Erastes' historical romance novel, Mere Mortals, is a beautifully written, haunting story about three young men who are taken in by a mysterious benefactor to live in the lap of luxury at his English countryside estate, Bittern’s Reach.

Orphaned Crispin Thorne has been taken as ward by Philip Smallwood, a man he's never met, and is transplanted from his private school to Smallwood s house on an island on the beautiful but coldly remote, Horsey Mere in Norfolk. Upon his arrival, he finds that he's not the only young man given a fresh start. Myles Graham and Jude Middleton are there before him, and as their benefactor is away, they soon form alliances and friendships, as they speculate on why they’ve been given this new life. Who is Philip Smallwood? Why has he given them such a fabulous new life? What secrets does the house hold and what is it that the Doctor seems to know? Trust acclaimed author Erastes to tell a moving story in the field of gay historical romance.

What makes your recent release, MERE MORTALS, an unusual historical?

Thanks for having me!  Well, for starters it’s set on The Norfolk Broads in England, and that’s an area that isn’t much covered by historical fiction. And it’s a gay historical which automatically gives it an “unusual” label, as despite there being hundreds more than there were five years ago, it’s a drop in the ocean when it comes to historical fiction in general.

Can you tell us a little about it?

It’s set in 1847, from November onwards. It’s told from the point of view of CrispinThorne, a rather disingenuous orphan who has been suddenly taken ward by a rich man who lives deep in the Norfolk countryside. Crispin has no idea what prompted this guardianship, as he’s never met or heard from the man before—and when he arrives at Bittern’s Reach, Philip Smallwood’s home, he finds two other young men who are also orphans, and who have more in common with Crispin than first meets the eye. The story is one of discovery, as they gradually learn more about their surroundings and their guardians character and motivation.

What inspired it?

Well, I was driving home one day and there was an interview on the radio on the BBC’s “Open Book” programme about a well-known writer (and for the life of me I can’t remember her name) who wrote a book about cloning, way back in the sixties, when cloning was still science fiction.  She said that she wasn’t really being original in the idea as the recreation of the perfect woman thing had been riffed on since the Greek Tragedies.  I’m always thinking of plots, and I suddenly thought how I could also use the idea but from a homosexual perspective.

I also wanted to shine a light on the fact that life was so cheap in Victorian (and obviously many other) times. The fact that Philip could literally take these young men out of schools because they had become an embarrassment, and take them away, and that no-one was going to check up on their welfare, made my hair stand on end.

How important are class distinctions to you when writing about your characters? For instance, the boys in Mere Mortals come across as being lower on the social scale than their benefactor. Likewise Rafe and Ambrose in Standish are from different social levels. Do you find that adds a dimension to their relationships?

When you are writing about historical periods, especially in England, it’s absolutely impossible to ignore class. Every interaction is coloured by it. If a landowner speaks to his gatekeeper you have to write it in keeping, if a vicar speaks to a peasant, then again. The young men in Mere Mortals are (probably, because it’s not explained, but they’ve all been sent to middling schools) nicely bred and they’ve had the company of their peers to teach them how to behave, but they all would feel like women did of the time, that they had no stability and their lives belonged to others. It’s not that I deliberately write unequal partnerships, but unless it’s Lord and Lord, you can’t avoid it. (and even in that case, one Lord would consider himself superior to the other.) It’s so ingrained in my English consciousness that I can’t help but be aware of it.

With your writing, which came first, the M/M or the historical?
The m/m I suppose, I started in Harry Potter fandom, but once I’d decided to write original fiction (about 2 months after starting writing in fandom) I knew that I had little interest in writing contemporary (not knowing the “scene” these days, or fantasy or sci-fi (everyone doing it far far better than I could!)

Are there any periods of history that you find so distasteful that you would never write about them?

No! LOL. Or subjects. I don’t understand writers who feel that some subjects shouldn’t be written about, such as slavery or incest or cannibalism—obviously these things should not be glorified or written for titillation (and it annoys me hugely to see slave rape done to arouse) but to ignore the problems we as humans have created in the past, and just shoving them under the mat is a grave error. If one doesn’t wish to read unpleasant subjects, that’s fine, but one should never say that a writers shouldn’t have the right write them.

I must admit, though, that I am now having a real problem with hygiene. Having watched the tremendous “Filthy Cities” recently with Dan Snow I will find it difficult to write any city/town based story prior to the 1900’s without seeing the massive amount of poo and rubbish that used to lie inches deep on the streets!

Thank you, Erastes. Please leave a comment to win a copy of MERE MORTALS!


Anonymous said...

Wow! I'd love to read the book. I love m/m romances, especially if they DON'T ignore class boundaries.

(I've also written slash but in a different fandom, hehe.)


Erastes said...

Thanks for popping in, Tocotin, your name is in the hat, so fingers crossed for you!

anthimaeria said...

Do you perform historical research before you write, while you write, after you finish your draft, or all three? Just curious.

Erastes said...

Hi anthimaeria - and thanks for commenting!

I do most of my research as I go. I have spent a lot of time reading text books into gay history and websites such as Rictor Norton's so I have a grounding, but for the details "did they have filter ciggies in 1920?" "what was the food delivery system for teh broads in 1840?" "how long did it take a coach to travel from yarmouth" I stop and go and research as i'm writing. it can be quite frustrating - and I used to get sidetracked. Now I tend to write LOOK THIS UP WHEN YOU GET A CHANCE) if it's a point that isn't terribly important to the plot - and just write over it. if that makes sense...

Essayel said...

Oh the hygiene! All the little creepy crawlies that would have been ubiquitous then but modern romance readers can't stomach. XD

Interesting answers. Thanks.

Erastes said...

Thanks, Essayel! it has really worried me, and I wonder if I'll ever be able to write anything medieval--that show made my hair stand on end! Even pre 1900 new york was covered in poo!

Anonymous said...

Do you visit the sites where you place your stories and do you actually write there? If you do, I hope to see the Lesser Spotted Erastes perched in some unsuspecting tree one day, ;p (I tried to post using my LJ name but couldn't see what I was doing wrong :/) Chris

Erastes said...

I do, Chris. With Transgressions I travelled to Manningtree and Mistley where Mathew Hopkins was actually based (the pub owners had no idea that the Thorn had once been his base)

I went several times to Horsey Mere for Mere Mortals (it's only a few miles from here) and went out on the river to get a feel for the landscape and the description. took loads of pictures and made notes.

I don't know if I'll be going anywhere for "I Knew Him" because it's really all set in one place, and I made that up!

Susan said...

This book sounds fascinating. I've wishlisted it in case I don't get drawn, because I really want to read it!

Erastes said...

Thanks Susan! i hope you enjoy it when you finally get tour hands on it!

Jen B. said...

There was another posting about this book recently. It caught my eye. I love that it is set in a unusual location and that it is a mystery. I agree that the class system was a very odd thing. That these boys could be plucked from their schools without question is very disturbing. You indicate that the boys would have learned from the other boys at thier schools how to act. I was under the impression that during this era children received training on how to act starting at a very young age. Do these boys become elevated to the same social status as Philip Smallwood after they are taken in? Thanks for the giveaway.

Erastes said...

Hi Jen B nice to see you!

Yes, the disposibility of children and young people was definitely something I wanted to highlight. Children could literally be bought from workhouses for chimneysweeps or factory work, at least these three young men were spared the workhouse. I imagined they were bastards of pretty well-to-do men who were dumped in school from a very early age. This would have given them a respectability--it would have been after school they would have struggled without further patronage. Perhaps they might manage to go into law or the army but without funds they wouldn't advance far in any of the services. Trade, such as shopwork would have been beneath them, and they would have had to have been apprencticed to do something even as menial as a draper.

So yes, being "adopted" although they are not as adoption didn't become a legal thing until later--by Philip would instantly give them "adopted son" status. They would have been treated as the sons of the house and one assumes Philip would have provided for their futures.

sorry to ramble on! Thanks dear!

Barbara Elsborg said...

Had to laugh about your comment about hygiene. It's always struck me that the last place I'd want to walk would be a city street when there was no proper sewage system, in fact little organised sanitation at all. I think we have to sort of gloss over the unpleasant aspects. No one wants to read that sort of truth.
The book sounds VERY interesting. At least the Norfolk Broads have/had water to swill away filth! Oh damn, back on hygiene agani.

Robin said...

I love historical novel,s especially when they veer off the well-trodden paths and takes us to new places and new times.

Do you sometimes feel the necessary research dauting? Or sit there and think: I can't put that in a novel, even though it would be historically correct? Aside from the whole hygiene thing, I mean.

As for the hygiene. I live in an area where lots of towns still have their medieval town-centers and I sometimes walk around and wonder what it must have been like 500 years ago.

Erastes said...

Thanks, Barbara--If you give it a go, I hope you enjoy it. Philip has some real "mod cons" in his house - even a shower bath where the servant poured the water from above which was actually invented in Regency times, but it's taken some times to hit Norfolk! Plus loads of servants to carry hot water around, but yes, I would imagine lots of the effluent went into the Broads--and considering they are non-tidal, that was probably unpleasant...But I don't mention that. :D

Erastes said...

Hi Robin,

I do find the research daunting, but generally I don't find it so until I've actually got cracking with the book. For example, I started to write "Transgressions" because I thought it would be a neat idea to have friend vs friend--and I thought I had a basic grounding in the English Civil War. It wasn't until I was several chapters in that Irealised that I knew NOTHING about the ECW...and that I thought I knew (gleaned from films such as Cromwell) was pretty much bullshit.

No. I don't think it's right to avoid unpleasant facts--although I know some writers and readers who would disagree with me and will argue the "I want to read a good romance, not a history lesson" -I'm going to haveto deal with slavery at some point when I write the Standish not quite sequel, but it will be from the pov of an Irishman who won't have QUITE the same view as an Englishman. I think. We'll have to see.

StacieDM said...

Mere Mortals sounds lovely. I'm intrigued by the blurb. I adore m/m romances. I love historical romances also. I focused on history in college. I like to see how people in other times lived.

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Erastes said...

Hi StacieDM

Thank you! I hope you enjoy it if you try it - do let me know!