Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Scenting Blood.... what does historical fiction smell like?

I should like you to imagine, gentle reader, a soft, late April dusk. The darkening sky is a lightless violet, and in the apple tree at the end of the little walled kitchen-garden a blackbird is singing as if the heavens are falling.

So far, so the view from Het Babbitt's parlour window. (Give or take the smoke-blue cat stalking through the long grass with an eye to the blackbird. Mathurin, regrettably, is a very real cat with a very real habit of slaughtering the wildlife.)

Imagine the smell of woodsmoke on the air. Imagine, if you can, that faint tang of incense that means that someone's burning apple logs. The sweet, thin, heady slightly-almond fragrance of the last wallflowers, in a blaze of brick red and yellow against the garden wall. The smell of clean air, and damp earth.

I like to think I write three-dimensional fiction. It's a matter of record that Hollie Babbitt is a ragged at the edges, slightly over six foot, underfed-looking individual with a prominent nose and rather too much reddy-brown hair. I know what he looks like. (Remarkably fine eyes. An aside. Het quite agrees.) but that's not really enough. If you're to think of my Rosie as a real, thinking, feeling, breathing man who was alive in 1642 - more than a vehicle to drive a plot along - then there's got to be more.

Try a little experiment for me. Close your eyes, and put your face to the crook of your elbow. What can you smell? What does it feel like? You smell of soap, in all probability - soap, or washing powder. Hollie - and even the fastidious Russell - would smell of neither. Depending if he was at home, in which case Mistress B would have him changing his personal linen with zealous regularity and his shirt would likely smell of lavender, or of the sweet sachets with which she'd be hoping to disguise the smell of horse keep the moths out. Of fresh air, and air-dried laundry, and a little of the rosemary bushes Mistress B spreads her washing in to dry.
And, yes, let's not lie about it, Hollie is going to smell a little bit of sweaty male, because he's a guy in 1640s England who probably has a strip-wash first thing in the morning with cold water and that's him done for the day, thank you, till bedtime, no matter how hard he happens to be working during the day.
- Nat Rackhay of blessed memory was a man for oil of civet as a substitute for soap and water, and he did smell like a cheap bordello.

(Russell, if you're curious, is almost obsessive about changing his linen - but then you may have come across his sister in the books. Cleanliness being next to godliness, which is it's a hard habit to break. So. Anyway. Russell smells of something like lye-soap, and sunshine. Luce? Clean, uncomplicated, slightly sweaty healthy young man, who will occasionally dab a bit of rosewater behind his ears on special occasions but feels very degenerate when he does it.)

Smell is a much underrated trigger to imagination, I find. Rackhay's horrible greasy musk fragrance as a substitute for washing - tells you all you need to know about Nat Rackhay, doesn't it? Poseur. Fur coat, as his best mate might grumpily put it, and no drawers. Somewhat vain, and very lazy.
Luce's mother's house at Witham, that smells of baking bread and pot-pourri and beeswax and faintly of river-damp - is a home, where a family live.

The smell of the back room of a charity shop is one of the most forlorn odours in the world: of old dreams, and cast-off hope, and airlessness. A stifled, hopeless smell.
The belly fur of a sunbathing cat, on the other hand, smells of sunlight.
I used to sniff my late fiance's hair sometimes, when he came in from work. "What do I smell of?" he'd say. and, "Thoughts," I'd tell him.

The smell of frying onions and cheap sausages is eau de fairground.
Woodsmoke is the smell of camping, to me - woodsmoke and wet canvas and black powder, but then I am a re-enactor.
Someone used to say to me that my old leather jacket smelt of cheese on toast and patchouli oil - which actually, I deny, most fervently, but she reckoned it smelt of me

Smells trigger memories. I can't smell Je Reviens without thinking of the inside of my mum's handbag, and how when I was little that was the most fascinating and exotic place I could imagine, full of grown-up secrets and surprises. Roasting lamb smells of Sundays, when my nan used to roast a joint in her freestanding gas cooker.

Anyone can describe an appearance. But if you go that bit further - what does it smell like? taste like? - you're tapping into something richer, and more memorable, and more real.

Immerse yourself in what you're writing about. Live in it, cook with it, wash in it. And then revel in it.

Monday, 27 April 2015

Kersen - the Early Years free to download

Kersen - free short story

To celebrate the release of A Wilderness of Sin, the Uncivil Wars prequel Kersen is available for free download until April 30.

And yes, the Thirty Years War will be next, when I run out of English Civil War. I think Nat Rackhay has rather too high an opinion of himself for anything so banal as death to put a cork in it!

(And as for the Amazon... Well, she has unfinished business with that lad, doesn't she?)

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Writing. Responsibility. Ramblings.

Someone sent me a review of Wilderness earlier on and I am still pondering this one. Lots of bits in my head but heck, if you read my meandering regularly you'll know all about that.

My late father was a jazz musician in the Swinging Sixties, playing the club scene. My mum has always told me the story of how they first met - you have to imagine, Michael Caine with a tenor sax and the incredibly glamorous, slender, black-haired dolly-bird in matching mini-skirt and knickers, in a smoky dive where you had to buy chips to stay after pub closing time because that made it not a pub and therefore not subject to the same opening hours legislation. Anyway. I am responsible, he told her, very seriously. I am responsible for making all these people happy.

And I think in that respect I am my father's daughter (although I look nothing like Michael Caine). I read the review, which was a wonderful piece of writing in its own right, and I was very flattered and I sat about looking smug and the cats looked at me oddly and then I thought - yes, and that's going to go Out There. People will read that and think, that's an author who can write, who can entertain me, who can maybe teach me a bit about history, who can make me feel like I'm there. And actually, that's a hell of a responsibility.

On the one hand - there will be more hands going on than Kali here - I've got Rosie Babbitt muttering darkly that he's bloody sick of being called a Crophead, with his hair halfway down to his backside, and how come people don't know that half of it's cobblers - there was no more poets in the King's Army than there was in Parliament's, and even Cromwell's fearsome Ironsides were just lads doing a job, wanting to get home, wanting to get paid. And Russell with his head up, quivering like a greyhound, passionately declaring for freedom of thought and conscience, and the poorest he that is in England having the same right to a voice as the richest. And Het in the background, carefully piecing them all back together, having the same problems as wives and mothers through the ages: trying to keep a safe, secure roof over her family's head, bringing up her children right, trying to make a pound stretch till payday.

So there's that lot, the fictional lot, wanting me to tell it like it was, to make the lived experience of ordinary men and women in the 1640s real to you guys. On both sides, King and Parliament. Not people in books who talk in thees and thous, but people like me and you, who loved and hated and felt just like we do. Had favourite foods, got cold, worried about the state of their linen. And, you know, I hope I do a sort of okay job there. Someone told me once they could imagine bumping into Rosie Babbitt out shopping, to which I could only think God help them both, then, for I'd not imagine he'd be good at queuing.

And then on the other hand there's the real lot. The people (who will remain nameless) whose good opinion matters to such an extent that the Babbitt-boy keeps the cursing down to a dull roar unless under extreme provocation. Who expect good writing, and a bit of adventure and a bit of sweariness and a bit of romance and a bit of intrigue, and who'd be disappointed if they got less. Who are proud to say they know me as a friend as well as an author.

So. Well. It's hard work,.then.

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Doing something wrong..... surely?

It's all right, I'm not going to promote this post

- but seriously.... what??

You know like when you write and you idly peruse your Amazon ranking, thinking, ooo, check me out, aren't I summat like, and you come across -

Gay werewolf Highlander porn.

What am I doing wrong? How come I'm not writing gay werewolf Highlander porn, which must be an absolute laugh riot to write, let alone read?

"Show me your claymore, MacDubh!"

Instead of thrashing about in the mud with Rosie Babbitt, whose definition of nakedness is leaving his sword on the table.

Going to keep me up all night, that is. Gay werewolf Highlander porn. And I thought keeping your bloody buffcoat and boots on was kinky.

A Confession - Happy Happy Joy Joy

Probably, some time over the weekend, I am going to pull the paperback copies of all three books from my storefront temporarily.

No, I've not retired. Not given up, not run out of Babbitt stories, because when I've done the Civil Wars in England, the russet-haired ruffian spent the better part of twenty years kicking around in Europe raising hell with Nat Rackhay, and since he came out of it with one sergeant, one best mate, a wife, and a maladjusted horse, that's quite a lot of story.

Anyway, when I run out of Babbitt stories I'll be about a hundred and three, and then there's a degree of insistence from certain people to know what's going to become of Thankful Russell, so he's next up.

- an aside, at this point. Hapless is not a brooding romantic hero.Seriously. Don't worry about him. He's having a rough time occasionally, but he's not going to turn into Ross Poldark. He's twenty-one. Most things can be cured by the generous application of cake. I would not leave Russell alone and cake-less, okay?

Oh and then there's Drew Venning, the world's least likely romantic hero, but there he is.

Anyway. That lot are okay.

It's like this. The National Civil War Centre have had a copy of my books for review, and they like them, I think they liked them quite a lot. So the Babbitt-boy and his rebel rabble are now officially endorsed by the Civil War Centre. (They said that. In words. Well, they didn't call them a rebel rabble, but - meh.) They liked the content, they liked the cover art, they thought the template enforced by Amazon sucked the big one and they couldn't market them alongside mainstream published novels in the current format.

Um, just go back and read that again. They couldn't market them alongside mainstream published novels in the current format. 

No, I didn't believe it either, so I asked the Commercial Services Manager to repeat it for clarity's sake, and yes, he is happy to take the Babbitt books. My Rosie, and Luce, and Hapless, and Tinners-the-dog and Drew Venning, all glowering across the shop at the likes of Bernard Cornwell and Michael Arnold. Bestselling proper authors, who make a living out of it, not mad cake ladies in possession of a cavalry backsword. I d'reckon we know what Rosie Babbitt would say and it would start with "Eff" and end with, "Me."

But, he needs them to look more like professionally published books and less like some bint with a laptop knocked 'em up in the back room.

And so the bint with the laptop is talking to people. And is talking to a publisher who actually likes the covers. And a very helpful friend in the business who is talking to their manager about borrowing Babbitt, or rather borrowing Mistress B, for a day or so to corrupt young innocents buying decent sensible military books into reading ungodly fiction, probably with lewd promises of cake.

So. There you go. Still astonished. Still inclined to say "Bloody hell!" in a strong Lancashire accent, but -

See that bint with the laptop? Thass a proper writer, that is.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

"STOLEN" by Sheila Dalton - a review; Ordinary People Doing Extraordinary Things

 "Stolen" by Sheila Dalton

I was lucky enough to be offered the chance to review this book recently. Well. What can I say?
I started to read this and I thought it was serendipity.
I'm a West Country 17th-century historian. The book begins in 17th century Devon, where young Lizbet, a fisherman's daughter, is sent on an errand by her mother. It's set in places I know, and clearly, so does Sheila Dalton, because I recognise them from her writing!
While she is away pirates raid the village and capture or murder all the inhabitants, and there begin Lizbet's adventures, as she tries to pursue the pirates and free her beloved parents.
At first, in the early part of the book, when Lizbet is held willing captive by an enigmatic French privateer, I thought that the book was going to take a traditional romantic turn - lush erotic fiction reminding me of a less graphic version of Anne Rice's "Beauty" series.
And then I was surprised.

And after that, when Lizbet achieves her goals, I expected the book to take another turn, that of the fierce woman-pirate, holding her own in a man's world, fighting for her independence and taking on all comers.
And then I was surprised again.
I expected Lizbet to fall in love with her ungentlemanly pirate, and - maybe she does, and maybe she doesn't, but it's not glorious technicolour high-seas swashbuckling heroic fantasy, and Gentleman Jake is no Errol Flynn.
I don’t envy the author trying to categorise this book, because it's so complex and multi-layered: it's not a romance, it's not an adventure, it's not a book about coming of age, but it's something of all three and much more than the sum of its parts. The characters are so well-drawn and rounded that it's impossible not to sympathise with characters even that you don't necessarily like - or agree with - for instance Gentleman Jake's defence of slavery is shocking to our modern sensibilities, but it's so cogently argued that it's impossible not to see a sympathetic logic to what he says. You might not agree with it, but he's no leering caricature slave trader. Likewise, the controlling privateer Jean, who teaches Lizbet her first lessons in love, has the potential to be a deeply sinister and disturbing character, and instead is darkly alluring - but he's not her hero. I think it's a measure of the author's skill that she has created a believable, fantastically detailed world peopled with characters so three-dimensional that they are able to say and do things that we as contemporary readers find disturbing, whilst remaining sympathetic. (Murder. Piracy. Slavery. That kind of thing. When I say pirates, we are not talking cuddly Jack Sparrow piracy here. We are talking grim, realistic, bloody vicious piracy, with no quarter given.)
It's a world where heady romance and brutal realism rub shoulders, where men are definitely men, and women are equally expected to stand on their own two feet. It’s a very real and convincing world, where the author's research is seamlessly incorporated into fiction, so convincing that you can almost taste sea-salt on board the ship and feel the blisters on your palms.
I loved it, and I cried at the end, because the thing that happens is almost what you want to happen and yet it's not quite all of it. It's got proper, awkward loving in it between real, awkward people - this is important to me, as a long-time loather of romances where only beautiful people find happiness - and yet it's also got proper, awkward friendships between people who are afraid to be friends, and proper, developing relationships. The heroine who begins the adventure is a different woman to the one who ends it; she's stronger, more self-reliant, yet at the same time she is not wholly triumphant. She has found serenity, but at a cost.

If you like Diana Norman, or Diana Gabaldon, or any other authors where the heroines are strong, stubborn, human, but ultimately realistic - you'll love this book.

Friday, 10 April 2015

In Praise of the Plain Russet-Coated Captain (or, Why Historical Fiction Needs Anti-Heroes)

 I was reading a review of a Bernard Cornwell novel this morning and once again I am inspired to set fingers to keyboard (around the cat, who is demanding cuddles with menaces)

Once again, you see, I cannot do the dashing white knight on his trusty steed thing.

Sharpe. Let's take Sharpe. (Please, someone, let's take Sharpe.)

You know when you open a certain genre of book, or a book by a certain author, pretty much to the last semi-colon what you're going to get. You're going to get an infallible hero, who may be wrong-footed but never fail. He will come good in the end - he will get the girl, kill the baddies, and save the entire planet. Laughing in the face of doom, and clearing tall buildings with one bound.
And, you know, that's kind of nice. It's all soft and comforting and cosy. No nasty surprises.

But history is full of nasty surprises.
After the battle of Naseby, the godly Army of Parliament hunted down and massacred over a hundred Royalist camp followers for the unpardonable sin of speaking their own native Welsh language, and therefore being suspected of being either whores, witches, or dangerous Irishwomen.
After the siege of Bolton, the Royalists massacred anything between eighty and two thousand people, both soldiers and inhabitants including women, making it reputedly the worst massacre on English soil.
That's not nice stuff. On either side. 

My Babbitt is anything but indestructible. He spends most of the books wrong-footed, miserable, irritated, wishing he was anywhere else but tagging on the back of the Army of Parliament. Periodically taking a pasting and then, being middle-aged, hurting. Not being irresistible to the fairer sex, even if he wanted to be. Missing his wife and wanting his supper, mostly, and wondering when he's next going to get paid. Ans how he's going to manage to run a troop till Parliament gets round to paying them.
A superhero, he is not. (He had a cape when he was seventeen, bought for the express purpose of impressing his first wife, but he never got the trick of not catching his sword hilt in its swirliness and Margriete told him he looked a tit in it, so he never really took to cape-wearing after that.)

Hollie's a decent man, fighting a war he doesn’t want for a cause that's shafted him fairly thoroughly, and committed to it for the sake of six troop of horse who expect him to stand their corner because he's the only bugger stupid enough to open his big mouth in company.
Luce is a ditherer, a dreamer and a romantic. Luce is a nice boy who ought not to be let out of the house without directions. (Luce is not, bless him, officer material. But you work with what you got.)

Russell - well, Russell's a bipolar functioning alcoholic with anger management issues, and certainly not someone you want to be on the wrong side of.

The Army of Parliament had a bad habit of not winning glorious victories. Powick Bridge - lash-up. Edgehill - no-score draw. Naseby - not the finest moment in Parliamentarian history, gentlemen. No glittering triumphs. No moral high ground.

No heroes. No villains.

Ordinary men - and women - on both sides, people of honour and principle, as well as ruffians and rogues: people fighting to defend their freedom of conscience, or just to stay alive from one week to the next. People not too dissimilar to me and you, standing up for what they thought was fair. A good cause, fought by good men, badly.
Now I ask you. Sharpe and his like - men of honour, or principle? Sexy, maybe, if you like that kind of thing. Love 'em and leave 'em, almost certainly. Daring and gallant and swashbuckling, probably.

Believable - maybe not.
Surprising, amusing, appealing, poignant, gripping - almost certainly not.

So, meh. More people read the adventures of Sharpe et al, knowing what they’re getting, than read the misadventures of one plain russet-coated captain of horse circa 1643, where believe me, they do not.
Be nice if millions of people read the Babbitt books. I'd like it. (He'd like it, the smart-mouthed Lancashire bugger. Be thrilled to bits, he would. In a sort of not-admitting it kind of way.) But…. Would I rather write books that make people laugh out loud on public transport, and three chapters later make them cry?
Where people tell me off because it can’t end like that?
(Google Burford, 1649, and work it out.)

Ah, hell, yeah, I would. Because Hollie Babbitt is real. He's all the lads in 17th century history whose names never made it into the books, the ones that did their duty and stood their ground, that weren't glamorous or poetic or noble or well-connected. He is what he is and God willing, the lad will remain a joy and a sweary, scruffy, appealing maverick from now until the end of the Civil Wars.

As you were, gentlemen.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

A Writer's Lot Is Not A Happy One

Today, I cannot settle to writing.

There are too many little sub-plots going on in my head. I want to write the Putney Debates, where I know Hollie is going to lose his temper with the prosing and I know Russell will be hurt and humiliated. (I want to know where that one is headed, because I think there may be friendships broken at Putney, and they are characters I like.)

I want to write Ireton's wedding, which may be done as a standalone just for fun, because Het will attend that (well, dear, you couldn't expect poor little Bridget to stand up on her own in front of a room full of soldiers, could you?) Where Het goes the girls will go, and where the girls go there is often trouble, of the sort customarily engendered by toddlers.

I want to carry on with the start of the as-yet untitled Marston Moor book, which starts so horribly, and is likely to continue for a good three hundred-ish pages with brawl after brawl until the Gray/Russell dynamic sorts itself out to everyone's satisfaction. Russell is taller than Gray and considerably madder. Gray is rougher than Russell. Neither of them will back down, and both of them have their little sore points on which they cannot bear to be baited, and both of them will continue to bait each other until they've worked out who's top dog. Russell's a half-mad Puritan with a drink problem. (He drinks because it hurts, and it doesn't stop hurting, so he doesn't stop drinking. All too logical. She says ruefully.) Gray is an enigmatic little bugger with a chip on his shoulder who can't stand authority and doesn't take orders. You might wonder at this point how come Gray hasn't yet been shot or disciplined for his rebellion and there is an answer to that...

And of course it's such a lovely sunny day that I find myself sitting in the garden with a sprig of rosemary in my fingers, snuffing at the scent of clean linen and rosemary and fresh air. Thinking that even in the mini Ice Age of the 17th century, even in the middle of a civil war, surely Hollie must have got a bit of time off for good behaviour. Time to skulk off somewhere by himself for an hour with a pen and a bit of paper, and find himself a nice tree to lean up against and write letters home to his wife. (He has a habit of gnawing the end of his pen when he's thinking, and as Luce has pointed out, if it causes him that much internal anguish to set pen to paper, it can't be good for him and he ought to stop doing it.)
It won't be the good-humoured Blossom that's snuffing the back of his neck at this point, the velvety muzzle exploring Hollie's collar will still be Tyburn's. But I think for the morning, we can leave Captain Babbitt sprawling in the grass trying to edit his recent exploits so as not to scare his good lady, and sending his best love to his daughters. Luce is reading the poetry of Catullus, to the amusement of the rest of the troop.
(This one shuts 'em up somewhat. Um. Girly? Sorry, Luce, no offence, mate...)

And Russell? He's doing - absolutely - nothing. And he's enjoying it.

Wednesday, 8 April 2015


…. I was challenged to seven, but I already admitted to one!

1) I don't write sequentially. I have a habit of writing a vignette in my head, and then another, and then another, and then putting them together like a rather badly-strung length of pearls.
This does rather mean that I have to keep rewriting the end of my novels but calling the Uncivil Wars books character-led is a bit like saying that water can be a little bit wet at times.

2) I have no idea what Hollie Babbitt looks like. Actually that's not true, I know what he looks like, I just don't know who he looks like, other than himself. I have read a number of books where characters are evidently based on actors. Mine are not amongst them. In an ideal world, I would cast Christopher Eccleston c. "Jude" as Babbitt, and it'd be close, but it wouldn't be quite right. Orlando Bloom in his Legolas moments for Luce, again not absolutely right, but as near as I can get it, and Julian Sands (when he was young and pretty) as Russell. It's not spot-on, but it's close.

Stephen Fry has been suggested for Drew Venning…. Right accent, wrong colouring.

On the other hand, I have no problem at all casting Tyburn!

3) I know what happens at the end of the series and I'm not telling. The actual ending has never changed. It's already been written, and everything else is just working up to that point. Which is not to say that Hapless Russell will not get his own series, and that there isn't a Thirty Years' War series on the blocks. (Is that a spoiler? Only if your chronology is off-cock. Our Hollie is thirty-four at the beginning of the English Civil War and went out to the Low Countries as a big fifteen year-old with an attitude problem. That's twenty years of learning his business, by my reckoning.)
I didn't start the Uncivil Wars books with the intention of involving Hollie in Leveller politics. It just sort of happened that way. He started off being absolutely partisan and then it just got personal, the more he put down roots in England again. He is not, absolutely not, any kind of political statement. Someone did suggest that he was and I would like to set it down - really, absolutely, categorically - that Hollie Babbitt is not any kind of political metaphor. He is his own dear bad-tempered self and his involvement in the Leveller movement is purely an emotional response to the treatment of his own soldiers by Parliament.

4) I don't think I write like anyone else. Possibly Simon Scarrow, whom I quite like. The thought of Rosie and Luce as the Civil War Maco and Cato - hmmm. Certainly sufficiently sweary. Possibly slightly more political, especially as the series progresses. With more poetry. I have to admit to a near-heretical loathing of "Three Musketeers" soundalikes. I struggle horribly with Alatriste, although cannot guarantee that someone very like him does not stray across the radar of a young Hollie Babbitt. Hollie (drunk on his sixteenth birthday at Breda, natch) offered to punch him repeatedly in the head. I believe he took exception to the Spanish gentleman's facial hair. Being a redhead, he never has succeeded with the fashionable moustache thing. Rather a tragedy for him, in the elegantly goatee'd part of the seventeenth century…
Anyway. I hate all that mannered thee's and thou's and have at thee, varlet, stuff. The seventeenth century was the golden age of the English language, undoubtedly. Let's not forget it was also funny, filthy, and accessible. People spoke in it. To each other. They didn’t order their ale in rhyming quatrains. (Apart from Lucey Pettitt, probably, and I imagine even he only does it when egged on by his mates, or drunk.)

5) I have always written. The first thing I ever wrote was a Sherlock Holmes story, aged about four, and all I can remember about it was that it involved a graveyard at the full moon. Unfortunately it was written in the back of the car on my way to a family holiday and I get car sick. I don't remember the end…
Hollie and Luce, on the other hand, first appeared in a time-travel comedy romance co-written with a friend of mine, sadly lost to posterity, in which the gallant Captain Babbitt began as a stern and easily-shocked Puritan officer in the Army of Parliament who was repeatedly seduced in some very unlikely environments by a most unwomanly miss.

Luce was a very camp transvestite who desperately wanted to get into the twenty-first century because he could wear make-up to work and no one would pass remarks.

There was a full-length novel written about this foolery (and a horse called Bastard who had a habit of widdling contemptuously on people he didn’t like) but it sadly did not survive a computer crash. It was hellish funny, though.

6) I have a habit of writing longhand on public transport, which is where I do most of my background thinking. There is a pink notebook which contains some very, very intimate information on the matter of the private lives of my lads.
Not all of it will ever make it into the books…

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

A Little Commonwealth - some thoughts on romantic fiction

I hate genre romantic fiction and I can't write it

There, it's said. I joke about it but I was once signed off work for a month with whiplash, and amused myself by reading the entire canon of A N Other writer of Regency romance. (Who will remain nameless.) The first one, I thought, what a hoot, fluff, frolics and frocks. The second one I was starting to know what was coming. By the third one I was actually rather scared.

See - and this is me being serious - though a straight down the line Dissenter and thoroughgoing Independent, with (dare I say) atheistic leanings, I am increasingly inclined to agree with the Puritans' view of marriage, to wit, it's all about companionship and affection and mutual respect. Genesis 2:18 - And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him. Since sexual intimacy in marriage was part of God’s plan for man before the Fall, it could not be less so following the Fall, and therefore sex within the confines of a loving relationship was not the ultimate transgression that caused man's expulsion from the Eden.

And this book - these books - portrayed relationships about as far from companionable, equable, loving marriages as my cats are from bars of chocolate. Brave, feisty, innocent heroine meets arrogant, tortured, handsome hero with a dark past. Misunderstanding in which hero thinks heroine is more experienced than she is and treats her with sexual contempt. Heroine falls in love with this pillock in spite of the fact that she is fully well aware that he's a toe-rag. Misunderstanding upon misunderstanding, at the end of which tragedy of errors even hero realises that he's a bloody idiot, does the decent thing and falls in love with the heroine. The End.

That appalled me. Because there is a whole genre of these books, these peddlings of the Cinderella myth - that love is all about passion conquering all, that sexual desire is the be-all and end-all of a relationship, that a man (and it's almost always a man, as if, poor things, they are little better than beasts driven at the mercy of what my mother discreetly used to call their "urges"...) if he really loves a woman should be made unreasoning by violent passion.

I think I can safely say that my Hollie desires his wife. (Makes no secret of it, the libidinous creature, but then after several months apart, she rather misses having her bed warmed by that lolloping great object as well.) Would he ever be driven to lay ungentle hands on her, shout at her, abuse her in a jealous rage? Would he bloody hell as like. I think - I hope - that there has never been any dramatic will-they won't-they tension about the relationship of Het Sutcliffe-as-was and her gallant captain. They meet. They like each other. After a while, they love each other. And isn’t it that way for most of us? We meet someone, we like them, one day we wake up and realise that we love them, want to spend the rest of our lives with them. We don’t want to hurt them, or frighten them, or control them, or humiliate them.

And yet we encourage our fictional heroes to be emotionally retarded - to be abusive. To commit acts of sexual violence on women. The number of "forced" kisses and torn gowns I've come across in that certain genre, defies belief. It's a funny thing, but I'm in a line of business where I work with victims of crime. Dealing with a young man at the moment who's come my way because he "forced" himself on a girl. He didn't rape her, didn’t hurt her physically, but frightened her and distressed her: he touched her in places she did not want to be touched. In certain books, if he'd been a strong, silent alpha-male, that would be her fault, you see - that the strength of his desire was such that he just had to have her. That she encouraged him, led him on. It's a compliment, girls. Did you not know that you only have to leave the house for those poor lust-maddened menfolk to be tearing at your clothes, such is the power of your womanhood?

That's not emancipation, that's just tricking out an old whore in new paint, and calling it escapism. And life throws up enough intrigue and uncertainty, without a need to invent some more.

I leave you with a quote from the 1598 "Godly Form of Household Government", by Robert Cleaver -
"Matrimony, is a lawful knot, and unto God an acceptable yoking and joining together of one man, and one woman, with the good consent of them both: to the end that they may dwell together in friendship and honesty, one helping and comforting the other, eschewing whoredom, and all uncleanness, bringing up their children in the fear of God: or it is a coupling together of two persons into one flesh, not to be broken, according unto the ordinance of God: so to continue during the life of either of them."

Take out the religious references, if you like. But - to dwell together in friendship and honesty, one helping and comforting the other?

In all honesty, can you see Christian Grey and Anastasia in twenty years' time, one helping and comforting the other?

Because I'm damned if I can. 

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Awarded for Excellence in Research by 17th-Century Specialists

Awarded for Excellence in Research by 17th-Century Specialists