In preparation for working on a short story collection set post-The Adventure of the Colonial Boy, I’ve picked up some books to give me insights into late-Victorian queer culture and society’s attitudes towards it.
Victorian attitudes to sex and sexuality (and to a whole bunch of things) is usually deeper and more textured than a cursory glance would indicate. And while it’s true that terms like ‘gay’ and queerness as it’s currently lived and experienced were not how Victorians understood them, that doesn’t negate the fact people who would probably now identify on that spectrum were managing their lives, one way or another.
Which all brings me to this reading matter, designed to help me understand more about how queerness was experienced and lived in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, so that I can translate those experiences for Sherlock Holmes and John Watson in a world where they have declared their love and physical desire for each other.
I tend to read books on these topics with a block of sticky notes at hand, so I can mark ideas I want to get back to.
The book pictured in the header, Catharine Arnold’s City of Sin: London and its Vices, is already festooned with notes for me to return to when I do the next round of research, which will be to go over marked passages and decide what to use and how.
One note in City of Sin refers to the pornography people could obtain in Holywell Street, including homosexual and lesbian representations. William Dugdale is noted as a “prolific publisher of filthy books” and further on, Arnold refers to the practice of pornographers having to smuggle their books into the UK, risking fines and imprisonment.
I have made a note that the unexpurgated copy of Richard Burton’s The Arabian Nights is very probably in John Watson’s private book collection. He’s an earthy man, after all, with a penchant for gambling and whisky. Why not a little saucy literature?
Further on I’ve marked the pages about the ‘telegraph boys’ who made extra money by having sex with men. The role of the Turkish baths (which Holmes and Watson frequent in canon) in homosexual liaisons is discussed 25 pages on from that.
I expect to read more queer-specific details of London life in the three other books pictured above, and will doubtless leave those pages bristling like a paper-based porcupine in due course.
I’ve already started with Strangers: Homosexual Love in the Nineteenth Century by Graham Robb, and even the introduction has provided some valuable insights.
How will these snippets and suggestions be used? Will they become significant plot points or background detail?
At this point, who knows? But by filling up my brain with some of that colour, texture and depth, I hope to introduce just enough research to make the stories feel authentic and engaging without presenting them as a series of lectures of What I Learned About Queer Victorians This Summer.
NB: A version of this post originally appeared in my Patreon on 2 February 2018.
In December 2017 I began a Patreon account to help fund my fiction writing.
My first Patreon project is to re-release my first book, made up of two novellas – Fly By Night and Sacrifice – as a novella series under the banner, Duo Ex Machina.
The Duo Ex Machina series is about Frank Capriano and Milo Bertolone, loving couple and members of the two-man band, Duo Ex Machina, and their infrequent and unpleasant encounters with crime.
Fly By Night
My first Patreon target has been achieved – I’ve re-edited and re-released Fly By Night with a beautiful new cover by Willsin Rowe.
Sacrifice is being edited and posted as fortnightly chapters to my supporters, and will be released to them as a complete e-book in due course.
I’ll be writing three more e-books in the series: Number One Fan, Kiss & Cry, and Little Star, each set in years and decades following the first two novellas, set in 1999 and 2004 respectively.
Your Patreon pledges will allow me to make time to write these three new novellas, as well as paying Willsin Rowe for new cover art and formatting of the final stories for mobi and epub versions.
I’ll also be collecting a number of other short stories and writing new ones for free story collection, Scar Tissue and Other Stories, when I reach my initial income goal of $100 a month.
I aim to give my backers value for money, so there’ll be posts about Melbourne (where most of the stories will be set), my inspirations, sneak peaks of other works in progress, bits of other writing and writing tutorials (depending on which tier you support).
Stay tuned for the new cover images and new releases, or support me on Patreon for early access to the stories, other fiction, writing advice and more!
When 2016 came to a close, I was very happy with my writing year. A new novel, a new one-shot erotic spy adventure, several short stories and a poem all published! Who knew 2017 would get better?
The biggest writing news of 2017 for me was winning the ‘Body in the Library’ category of the Scarlet Stiletto Awards with my ghost/crime story, ‘Jane’.
I’ve been nominated and shortlisted for recognition before, and it really is wonderful to have my work highlighted alongside brilliant writers. But I have to say, winning an award is also pretty damned lovely.
The success of ‘Jane’ is cherry on a wordcake this year. My eighth novel, Ravenfall, was released in September – it’s currently in paperback, but the ebook is being prepared and will be out soon.
I also wrote more lesbian romance this year, with the one-shot romance set in Melbourne, Near Miss.
I didn’t neglect horror either, with ‘Passive Aggressive’ appearing in Myths, Monsters, Mutations in December – just in time for me to enter it into the Aurealis Awards (along with ‘Jane’ and Ravenfall.)
My epic-best-friends Sherlock Holmes short stories have also come both halves of the year, with ‘The Adventure of the Temperamental Terrier’ in MX Publishing’s sixth volume of Sherlock Holmes stories in May, and ‘The Mystery of the Miner’s Wife’ appearing in the already widely acclaimed Sherlock Holmes: The Australian Casebook, an anthology of stories set in Australia in 1890.
Coming in 2018
I’m not done with 2017 yet, and already I have projects underway for the new year!
Beginning with the confirmed publications, in April 2018, ‘The Problem of the Three Journals‘ is in the Table of Contents for the fabulours Baker Street Irregulars: The Game is Afoot anthology. It’s the second in a series full of alternative universe stories. In mine, Holmes and Watson are a pair of Melbourne hipster cafe owners, serving superb coffee and solving crime!
A release date hasn’t yet been set for Jay Henge’s Wavelengths anthology, but it will contain my foray into SF, ‘Earworm Armageddon’.
The rights for The Opposite of Life are mine again, and I’m negotiating with Clan Destine Press to re-release it as an ebook, as they already publish its sequel, Walking Shadows. I’ll also be working on a third book in the series, though I have other commitments in the first half of the year so it may not be seen until 2019 or later.
I have Holmes♥Watson works underway for Improbable Press, short stories in a modern setting. I have a fantasy-romance to be expanded and resubmited to an interested publisher, and a few other story irons in fires that may come to fruition during the year.
My biggest project for 2018 is the launch of my Patreon to re-release and then right more of the novellas that formed my first book, Fly By Night.
I”m in the process of having a new cover created for the first novella, Fly By Night – as soon as that’s done, I’ll be making it free to all my Patreon supporters. I’m also re-editing the second, Sacrifice, which will be released first there too. After that, I’ll be writing three more novellas in what is now called the Duo Ex Machina series – named for the two-man band featuring the lead characters, Frank and Milo.
My longtime readers know that I’ve loved Tansy Rayner Roberts’ work for years, from her Creature Court series through to the crime cosies set in Hobart that she writes as Livia Day and the delightful Castle Charming series. When I discovered she had a Patreon account, I rushed on in to pay $3 a month to read new work as it arrives!
The latest of her series that has won my heart is set at a magical university. Fake Geek Girl was the first, and with The Bromancers (the fourth in the sequence) now out, I asked Tansy to tell me more about writing these lovely books.
Tansy Rayner Roberts
How do you describe the Belladonna University series?
Belladonna University is a series of fun novellas about the everyday lives and loves of a bunch of Aussie student witches and their rock band Fake Geek Girl.
You have four novellas out in the Belladonna University series, starting with Fake Geek Girl, then Unmagical Boy Story, then you prequelled those with The Alchemy of Fine – and now The Bromancers is out. The stories are sharp, funny and full of heart, and play with a lot of ‘magic school’ tropes while being utterly fresh and modern. What were your influences in creating Belladonna U?
I first started thinking about it when visiting Melbourne – the idea of a uni sharehouse full of witches, in a square full of hipster coffee places and slightly skeevy pubs. So many influences.
Eainbow Rowell’s Fangirl made me think a lot about fandom and how fannish people relate to the world. I wanted to write about people who lived in a supernatural world, and what THEIR fandoms would be like. I was also inspired by fannish musicians, having been a big follower of trock back in the day (ahh Chameleon Circuit). The geeky sister act The Doubleclicks and the way they write and perform about big, important contemporary issues through a fannish lens was hugely influential. And of course there’s Harry Potter and the age-old fanfic trope that asks the question what WOULD wizards do about university?
What are your basic rules about how magic works in this world?
I don’t have a simple answer to this. The majority of people have some form of magic and identify as witches, probably around 70% of the population? But everyone has their own relationship with it. Certainly high magic is associated with both wealth and privilege. Magic is always presumed to be the default.
But we have families with different approaches – the Hallows are very hippie-dippie old school hedgewitches with strong practical magic running through their line. The Chauvelins, Vales and Nightshades are far more about your fancy, advanced high-status sorcery. Then we have families like the one that Sage came from, who exist in isolationist anti-magic communities.
One rule is that technology and magic don’t mix – often with explosive and messy results, but it’s not always that predictable. Another is that caffeine has quite a powerful numbing/dampening effect on personal magic, which means some very different social rituals for our uni students, but also many of them will use it deliberately. Strong magic in two people in physical proximity can be complementary or quite destructive. (yes, this affects their sex lives) I’m feeling my way through this!
The characters all come across as very real as well as very contemporary. Have you drawn on experiences or people you know to get that very modern sense of characters?
Not really? Which is to say, yes, probably. But they’ve all been in my head so long, I think of them as being themselves rather than being based on specific people. There’s a lot of my uni years jammed in there, and people I knew in my early 20s, though I didn’t experience a lot of the traditional uni student “tropes” myself – so there’s a lot of imagination in there too!
Do you identify more closely with one of the characters? (I won’t ask your favourite – I can’t even pick one myself – though if you have a favourite, do share!)
Hebe and Sage are probably the easiest to write, not least because the stories so often revolve around them. Hebe reminds me a lot of myself at 19 in some ways, though not at all in others. Sage isn’t like me at all, but he looms so large in my head! I have no idea where he came from. Viola is a lot like me too, in some ways – though she’s a lot more ambitious! I have fond memories of my postgrad years and I like her intellectual side very much, even though there is VERY LITTLE UNI WORK that gets done in these stories. Juniper is uncomfortable for me to write because she’s a little too close to the bone for me – again, in some ways, not at all in others.
Basically the characters who are the most active protagonists are probably my favourites, but that’s a vicious cycle. I’m getting fonder and fonder of Holly, especially since The Alchemy of Fine where I started letting myself see the world through her eyes a bit.
The stories speak very positively about fans, fandom and fanfic (well, with one very big caveat in the latest). What has been your experience of fandoms?
I see the world through fannish eyes. My experience of fandoms as such as been very mixed – lots of positives, lots of negatives, but they are worlds I understand. I met some of my closest friends online through fannish or fan-adjacent activities. I’m raising kids via media criticism.
So yes on the whole I think of fannishness as something lovely, though there’s always that slightly darker edge to it that I did bring in with the most recent story – fan entitlement and possessiveness (and developing hatred/anger towards the creator) can be very uncomfortable at times, and there are fandoms I have removed myself from because of that overwhelming negativity.
Are you planning any novel-length adventures for the band?
I don’t want to because I am so over novels, but it’s probably inevitable. I have a Ferd/Chauv scene in my head that feels like the start of a novel. Damn it.
Are any of the songs actually being recorded anywhere?
Nope nope nope!
Either way, how do you feel about the idea of readers with musical talent writing music and performing the songs?
Aww that would be so lovely, but it’s a world I know nothing about. I’m horribly unmusical. Writing the songs that I have was confronting enough! (and I feel I need to write more but it’s so HARD, writing about songs is easier)
The stories are released first to your Patreon supporters, usually after you’ve podficced them. What do you enjoy most about creating Belladonna U as podfics?
The freedom and indulgence to write whatever I want. My readers like them. I don’t have to think about pleasing an imaginary audience out there – I have a nice cosy one right here. I don’t think about whether my stories are Important or Meaningful, I write them purely to entertain myself. Having said that, I do think they are quite meaningful, to me at least.
How have you found the Patreon experience overall?
I love Patreon. I first used it to fund the writing of a serial novel, Musketeer Space, and once that project wound up I put a lot of thought into how to create an ongoing project that was sustainable.
Some authors put out a short story a month, but I couldn’t keep up that pace, and I particularly wanted to write more stories that were at the novelette/novella length, following the same characters across multiple stories. Those kinds of stories are difficult to sell to magazines etc because of the length and because of being sequels. Fake Geek Girl was actually one of the stories that gave me this idea – to create and publish via podcast and also through the Patreon itself, building an audience who want to read more stories that are completely TANSY.
I can’t manage a whole story every month, but I can manage a new instalment of a novella/novelette every week – and the best thing is that having the waiting audience gets me writing, even when there aren’t other publisher deadlines on the horizon.
I can also use it to reprint stories that have appeared elsewhere, giving them new life and helping them find a wider audience. I’m really happy with how it’s going — though of course it would be a lot more sustainable if I had twice the number of patrons! Still, I just hit 100 which is a marvellous milestone.