Tris: My guest today is another Etopia Press author and another Brit, Elin Gregory. Her novella, Alike as Two Bees, has recently been published and has been selling well. Elin, welcome chez Tris.
Tris: Would you first of all clear up one thing that’s really intrigued me? In your author bio at the back of your book it says you live in a beautiful place between England and Wales. Is there some mysterious land that doesn’t show up on any map of Britain?
Elin: Not any more . The border is engraved on the map, now, pinning it down once and for all, but it’s not long, historically speaking, since it used to swing back and forth between England and Wales and sometimes bits fell through the gaps. Monmouthshire, my home, was particularly contentious and it wasn’t until 1967 that it was officially recognised as being part of Wales. Also I live near the pretty ‘kingdom’ of Hay on Wye, second hand book capital of the world. I like borders – if it’s neither one thing nor t’other it’s nice to think it might display the best qualities of both.
Tris: How long have you been writing?
Elin: Ever since I learned to write so – oh dear – over 50 years! Before that I made up stories and told them to anyone who would listen. Making up stories is a nice, quiet, and above all cheap, way for a child to amuse herself when her parents are busy. The plus side of writing a story down is that, when one is satisfied with it, one can let other people read it – if anyone wants to. I have a pile of partially completed manuscripts. I may take another look at some of them.
Tris: Why did you decide to write historical fiction?
Elin: It seemed natural to me to write about the things I knew. No I’m not THAT old, but the house I was brought up in was built in 1625 and if I climbed over the garden wall I could go and play in the remains of a medieval castle. When one hears about some historical event – say, the execution of King Charles – and thinks “There were people living in my house when that happened. I wonder what they thought about it?” it doesn’t take long before one starts to try and fill in the dialogue.
Now I work in a museum in a Georgian hunting lodge in the remains of a different medieval castle, built on the edge of a Roman fort. Ideas for historical subjects are ten a penny – all I have to do is look around.
Tris: And why Greece? I assume you know it well?
Elin: I have to put my hand up to having been a big Mary Renault fan ever since I got my little paws on a copy of The King Must Die. When I was about nine I desperately wanted to be Theseus! Or maybe brave little Hippon. Also I ‘did’ Classics (but not the languages, I’m unfortunately monoglot ) as a mature student for my degree. I have to admit that it’s also a draw to be able to write about a period when two men contemplating entering into a relationship would attract approving nods as long as the correct forms were observed.
I wish I did know Greece well. It’s high on my list of places to visit should I ever win the Lottery.
Tris: How much research went into Alike As Two Bees?
Elin: I still have all my books from my degree and memories of what I read, so I went back to the books to check half remembered facts. Also I was lucky enough to have seen and chatted with a sculptor as he was making a piece for one of our displays. That was in 2009. I thought that what he was doing might come in handy at some time so I made notes. The hand carving techniques hadn’t really changed since the days of Pheidias, nor had the tools. But no matter the amount of research one does, it’s easy enough to slip up. One hopes one will notice any errors before publication but, if it’s after, one just has to take the criticism stoically.
Tris: Alike As Two Bees is a gay love story, an MM as they are known. You have a long association with glbt fiction and writers, and you’re involved with Speak Its Name. You yourself are not gay but married with grown up children. Can you explain what it is that compels you to write this kind of story rather than a standard boy meets girl historical romance?
Elin: I don’t like reading (let alone writing) standard boy meets girl historical romances. Never have. Talking to friends who do like them, there often seems to be some element of identification with the heroine. I can’t do that. I have always identified with male characters in what I read – see above about wanting to be Theseus. My ideal story would be an action adventure story but with the intensity of emotion one finds in some kinds of romance. Insert a female love interest and she either becomes something to do between battles – like Sophia in the Patrick O’Brien novels – or a trope – the feisty heroine raised as a boy by a doting father who taught her to ride/shoot/fence etc etc as well as any man – like Teresa in the Sharpe novels. I find it much more believable for the relationship, either close friendship or love, to be between two men.
That was the analytical reason. The emotional one is that I read Sword at Sunset by Rosemary Sutcliff when I was small and cried my eyes out over two minor characters, Galt and Levin, who were in love with each other. They were as brave as any other men in the company and it was tragic that, the book being much of its time, they had to die. I want to write their story – or the stories of those like them who have behaved with exemplary courage and grace even if society might have disapproved of where they bestowed their affection.
Tris: Some MM stories are highly explicit. In fact, from my experience I’d say a lot are (at the expense of other content in some cases) and one could get the feeling that some writers are involved in a kind of pissing contest to see who can be the most explicit. You haven’t done this. Alike as Two Bees is as discreet as a Victorian butler. Was this a conscious decision and, if so, why?
Elin: Alike As Two Bees it was never intended to be erotica so I wrote what I felt I needed to write in the scene and left it at that. I don’t think I’m much good at writing sex for its own sake. I’ll write a sex scene, and make it clear what’s going on, if the plot calls for it. For instance in a WIP I have several sex scenes that I hope will demonstrate how a relationship develops from “I haven’t had a shag for weeks and you’ll do” through “friends with benefits” to a deeper commitment. I hope it will work and I’ll ask someone who knows about that kind of thing to look the scenes over to check that I haven’t written anything glaringly ridiculous.
It worries me that that my very mild story will automatically be lumped in with the erotica. It’s bound to arouse expectations that the story won’t fulfil.
Tris: Is there a difference between erotica and porn?
Elin: Assuming that we’re talking about things that are generally accepted as legal, and assuming that it is accepted that this is only my opinion and doesn’t reflect on anyone else – not really. It all comes down to taste. There’s that rather flippant definition – “If I enjoy it, it’s erotica, if I don’t, it’s porn”. I think there’s an element of truth in that for most people. But, basically, whatever floats your boat is fine with me. I just reserve the right not to look at it/read it if I don’t feel like it. However, I’m less tolerant of subject matter where lack of consent is presented in a positive or titillating manner. Informed consent is key. Make it “safe, sane and consensual” and it’s good to go. But again, that’s just my level of comfort. There are plenty of people who enjoy reading rape, torture and abuse and class it as erotic whereas it gives me nightmares.
Tris: So, what can we look forward to from you in the future?
Elin: Quite a long way forward, I’m afraid. I’ve several stories in the pipeline set in different historical eras. None of them class as romances since the heroes are putting more effort into staying alive than they are into getting together. Closest to completion is a full length novel about pirates (summer 2011 I put on an exhibition about pirates and didn’t want all the research to go to waste), but I also have half a novel about 7th century conflict in Northumbria between the Celts and Saxons, part of a spy caper set in 1928 London and plans for stories set during the Second World War, and in 1st century Rome. I have no idea which one will be finished first. Heck, I might have a rush of blood to the head and write sparkly vampires or something! I doubt it but …
Tris: Thanks for dropping by and chatting, Elin. Before you go, please tell us where we can find you and, of course, that all important book!
Elin: I’m about the place at http://elingregory.blogspot.com/ (Blogspot)
http://elin-gregory.livejournal.com/ (Live Journal)
or Twitter as @ElinGregory
I had a website too until some ratbag hacked it and made it unusable.
Oh, and the book!
Alike as Two Bees
By: Elin Gregory
Published By: Etopia Press
Published: Mar 02, 2012
ISBN # 9781937976194
Word Count: 19,664
Heat Index: mildly spiced – korma rather than vindaloo
Horses, love, and the tang of thyme and honey…
In Classical Greece, apprentice sculptor Philon has chosen the ideal horse to model for his masterpiece. Sadly, the rider falls well short of the ideal of beauty, but scarred and tattered Hilarion, with his brilliant, imperfect smile, draws Philon in a way that mere perfection cannot.
After years of living among the free and easy tribes of the north, Hilarion has no patience with Athenian formality. He knows what he wants—and what he wants is Philon. Society, friends and family threaten their growing relationship, but perhaps a scarred soldier and a lover of beauty are more alike than they appear.
Available from Amazon US http://www.amazon.com/Alike-as-Two-Bees-ebook/dp/B007FN4U92
Amazon UK http://www.amazon.co.uk/Alike-as-Two-Bees-ebook/dp/B007FN4U92/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1330778174&sr=8-1
and Kobo http://www.kobobooks.com/ebook/Alike-as-Two-Bees/book-pHxwYP54VESBjFXkqCbhcA/page1.html
Thank you very much, Tristram, for your hospitality. It’s been fun.