Tag Archives: other: stories

stories: In a Dark House

art by johnhain on Pixabay

This story follows a character or two from Twelfth Night into a future beyond the play. The story grew from a seed planted so long ago I can’t remember quite when or where.

I once read in a scholarly tome that if we are looking for queer characters in Shakespeare’s work, then we needn’t rely only on the relatively explicit declarations of same-gender love from characters such as Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet, Antonio in Twelfth Night, or Antonio in The Merchant of Venice. Disclaimer: These can be interpreted as declarations of affectionate friendship, of course, rather than romantic love or attraction.

If we are looking for queer characters, however, we might also consider the characters who are left alone at the end of each play. This particularly applies to the “comedies”, in which most of the main characters are finally paired up in heterosexual couples, and left to a (presumably!) happy ending. For me, the fact that the Antonios in Twelfth Night and Merchant of Venice are each left to walk away alone at the end of their plays, only reinforces my romantic interpretation of their devotion to Sebastian and Bassanio respectively.

So, I wondered, all that time ago … what about Feste? He is, as I’m sure you remember, the Fool in Twelfth Night, belonging to the Countess Olivia’s household (though having been long absent) and also welcome to visit and perform for the Duke Orsino.

Shakespeare’s fools are usually clever and funny, and adept at using language to score a witty point. They entertain a court or household, in the traditional role of jester – but they also challenge people by speaking truths, and turning expectations topsy-turvy. In these ways, they could be seen as operating in a queer space, outside the social norms.

Given all of that, and that Feste is one of the few main characters left alone and unmatched at the end of Twelfth Night, I felt it wasn’t unreasonable of me to write him as queer.

So, what would he do next, once he has performed the play’s concluding song and the curtain has fallen? Would he stay with his newly married mistress Olivia, or would he go wandering again? And if the latter, then where…?

You might care to read my story to find out one possible answer!

stories: In Fair Verona

“The Death of Mercutio, Romeo’s Friend” (1904) by E. A. Abbey (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

My second story for this anthology was In Fair Verona, which features a character from Romeo and Juliet. Well, I couldn’t let this queer Shakespearean anthology go by without claiming a spot for Mercutio, could I? I’ve spent most of my life convinced that he was deeply in love with Romeo, after all.

At the time this thought occurred to me, I was reading the English Heritage anthology Eight Ghosts, and writing my own ghost story, An English Heaven. So, in a spectral mood, I wondered whether there are some ghosts out there who aren’t the remnants of human beans – but of strong characters from literature? We authors often like to say that characters take on lives of their own… What if some of them continue on beyond the inspiration and even the life of their author, in a kind of literary afterlife?

If so, then Mercutio certainly has the chutzpah to exist in his own right. And he might be found in a number of places, but one of them could certainly be Verona… And who else has visited Verona, and might encounter him…?

Enter Lord Byron and entourage, with a suitable flourish. Though the timeframe is neither here nor there, I set the story in early November 1816, when Byron travelled to Verona with his friend Hobhouse. Though I admit to conveniently ignoring Hobhouse (let’s pretend they went their separate ways while in town), I did draw on some of Byron’s thoughts on Verona, to be found in his letters.

And I have to admit to feeling rather pleased with the results… I hope you might give it a try – and if my story isn’t quite the thing, no doubt you will find something else in this quixotic tome to bewitch you!

stories: An English Heaven

This story had an odd genesis … though I probably always say that, so maybe they all do!

English Heritage recently released an anthology titled Eight Ghosts, which features eight ghost stories set in various English Heritage properties. The authors include Sarah Perry, Kamila Shamsie and Jeanette Winterson. Following this, English Heritage ran a short story writing competition in which members were invited to write their own ghost stories along similar lines. There was a 1,000 word limit, which I found a bit of a challenge, but I was determined to have a go.

Of course I wanted to feature LGBTQ+ characters, so I started with a search of English Heritage’s LGBTQ History pages – and promptly discovered William Lygon, 7th Earl of Beauchamp, who lived for some years at Walmer Castle on the Kent coast. Mr B and I had visited Walmer Castle during a holiday a while ago, so I already had a feel for the place. And it seemed an obvious location for the story that was growing from its initial kernel of an idea.

Photo of Walmer Castle by Nessy-Pic, sourced on Wikimedia Commons.

I dashed out about 1,100 words which caught the substance of it, and then started paring it back down to just under the limit. I didn’t know how strict they would be, so I didn’t stop editing until the final word count (including the title, author name and section markers) was 998 words.

Continue reading stories: An English Heaven

stories: We Live Without a Future

When Manifold Press decided on a new anthology – a companion piece to our Great War anthology A Pride of Poppies, but this time about the Second World War – I thought long and hard about the subject matter. The fact is, I know far less about WW2 than I do about the Great War, so I felt it all too possible that I would have nothing to contribute.

One abiding interest of mine, though, is the Bloomsbury Group and in particular Leonard and Virginia Woolf. I love them both dearly, and for me they are indelibly associated with a great deal of the first half of the 20th century, including the Second World War.

The relationship of each member of the Bloomsbury Group with war was quite complex and individual. There’s a great little article by Roy Johnson exploring their varied actions and reactions on the Mantex site, if you want to explore further. His initial focus is on the Great War, but he includes later developments.

I knew that Leonard and Virginia were afraid of a Nazi invasion of Britain – a possibility that was very real at the time. We tend to dismiss such notions now, because of course we know it never did happen, but it was experienced by people at the time as a genuine fear.

Continue reading stories: We Live Without a Future

stories: Elinor and Ada

I had three or four ideas about what to write for A Certain Persuasion. However, my contribution came from one of the notions I came up with initially as possible inspiration for other authors, that went into the Call for Submissions: “What if Elinor Dashwood was repressing her love not for Edward but for a woman?” It was an idea that stuck with me – and as I re-read Sense and Sensibility with my editor’s hat on, the decision was made as I realised how very much I love and identify with Elinor.

I like that she’s sensible and responsible, and takes things such as promises seriously. But I like that she also has a full emotional life going on in there, even if she chooses to keep it to herself most of the time. We see it, however, when she and Marianne finally have the whole horrible truth confirmed by Willoughby’s last letter to Marianne – Elinor promptly lies down on the bed beside Marianne and bursts into tears just as passionate as Marianne’s. We see it after her brother John Dashwood leaves Mrs Jennings’ house after talking to them about Edward’s engagement to Lucy – Mrs Jennings, Elinor and Marianne are horrified at how heartless the Ferrars family are being, and the three of them have a righteously satisfying vent about it. Elinor judges to a nicety when such things are appropriate and when they’re not.

Maybe I should say I ‘aspire to be’ Elinor rather than ‘identify with’, because heaven knows I get such things wrong at least half of the time!

Anyway! This became the story Elinor and Ada.

Of course Emma Thompson and Hattie Morahan each had an effect on my portrayal of Elinor, but my main source of inspiration was the following sketch of Anne Seymour Damer and Mary Berry.

Mrs Damer and Miss Berry by Cosway (c.1790s, Lewis Walpole Library, Yale)

The warm look of affection between them is exquisite! I wish I were an artist, to capture such a thing in a few pencil-strokes, as Richard Cosway has done here. (The image belongs to the Lewis Walpole Library at Yale. I found it via the book Homosexuality and Civilization by Louis Crompton.)

Other writers no doubt do the same: I like to have a visual that captures something of what I want to achieve in a story, and I display it on one screen while I write in the other. This sketch was certainly it for me!

stories: No Man’s Land

I contributed two stories to A Pride of Poppies, the first being No Man’s Land. The main character in this story is 21-year-old Drew, who was born intersex and raised as a man. We discover during a conversation between Drew and his doctor that perhaps the decision about his initial gender assignment was made for the wrong reasons – his father demanded a son – but Drew is fiercely attached to his identity as a man.

The story is set in November 1914; the war broke out a mere three months before. Drew is desperate to enlist, to prove himself. But his older lover, Henry, who fought in the Transvaal, is just as desperate to protect him – not only from the realities of war, but from a situation that would expose Drew to the scrutiny of men who are unlikely to understand or be sympathetic.

 

stories: Lena and the Swan

This is the second of my stories that appeared in A Pride of Poppies. The other story explored a difficult and challenging situation for its main character Drew. This story, however, is far more positive and up-beat.

image courtesy of Pezibear on Pixabay

The men are away at war. Lena has taken on her uncle’s work, and is delivering the mail in her village and to the outlying farms. When I first started writing the story, I began with two or three paragraphs of exposition about these facts – but luckily it occurred to me to start with something rather more powerful.

When we first meet Lena she is flying along a country lane on her bicycle, enjoying the speed and the sunshine, and revelling in the sheer freedom of it. There’s no denying that war is a tragedy, but it did serve to open up opportunities to women to do different kinds of work, to contribute in different ways than usual.

That’s all well and good, but Lena is also taking the chance to provide a very personal kind of comfort to the lonely wives.

I very much enjoyed writing the cheerfully outrageous Lena, and I’d love to return one day to write more about her and her friends. In fact, I’m going to go add her to my To Write List right now …