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Free* Think of England short story

Earlier in the year, when the appalling earthquake hit Nepal, I made a deal with the members of my Facebook chat group. If they’d donate to the Disaster Emergency Committee to help Nepal, I’d write them a short story set in the world of my book Think of England.

So they did, raising a little over $2000. And I did, writing a short from Daniel’s point of view.

I’m now making the story generally available: find it in the Free Reads section of my website. You can get it as a pdf, with no restrictions; however, if you like it, and you’re in a position to donate to the Nepal fund, please consider doing so. Nepal is still in desperate straits, they need help, and if you enjoy the story and have even just a couple of bucks to spare, it will make a difference.

‘Song for a Viking’ is 3,500 words, and it overlaps the last chapter of Think of England. If you haven’t read Think of England it’ll be no good to you. Sorry. If you have, you may wish to refresh your memory of the ending first so you see what’s going on.

It was fun to write from Daniel’s point of view, and to go a bit beyond where I left our heroes in that book; I hope you enjoy it!

 

*The story is not precisely free, because it was brought to you by the generous donations of the KJ Charles Chat Group (the Facebook group where I talk about my books, give advance news, and occasionally post exclusive extracts, deleted scenes and whatnot). If you’d like to join the group, click here; if you feel like expressing your appreciation or helping some people who need it, donate to the Nepal fund right here.

KJ Charles: my big news

This one’s all about me.ToE Blog Tour Banner

First, just so we know, the Think of England blog tour is underway, with a giveaway through the tour of a copy of the book and a $25 gift certificate to All Romance ebooks. Here’s the dates, links as they go live:

Sunday 29 June            MM Good Book Reviews (“The suspense was excellent! … There are also a lot of layers to this story, which I find to be the best marker for success of any plot. I loved it all!”)

Monday 30 June            Boy Meets Boy Reviews (Spotlight)

Sinfully Sexy Blog post about Edwardian attitudes to homosexuality, and separate giveaway, plus lovely 5* review. (“Downton Abbey meets M/M romance ~ an absolutely brilliant historical novel with industrial espionage, murder, blackmail and two unlikely heroes up against the odds. What more could I wish for?”)

Downton Abbey meets M/M romance ~ an absolutely brilliant historical novel with industrial espionage, murder, blackmail and two unlikely heroes up against the odds. What more could I wish for? – See more at: http://sinfullysexybooks.blogspot.co.uk/2014/06/think-of-england-by-kj-charles-review.html#sthash.njfvEWNG.dpuf
Downton Abbey meets M/M romance ~ an absolutely brilliant historical novel with industrial espionage, murder, blackmail and two unlikely heroes up against the odds. – See more at: http://sinfullysexybooks.blogspot.co.uk/2014/06/think-of-england-by-kj-charles-review.html#sthash.njfvEWNG.dpuf
Downton Abbey meets M/M romance ~ an absolutely brilliant historical novel with industrial espionage, murder, blackmail and two unlikely heroes up against the odds. – See more at: http://sinfullysexybooks.blogspot.co.uk/2014/06/think-of-england-by-kj-charles-review.html#sthash.njfvEWNG.dpuf

Tuesday 1 July               The Blogger Girls (Excerpt) and a great review

Charlie Cochrane’s blog (interview)

Wednesday 2 July          Boys in our Books (Interview)

Thursday 3 July              Prism Book Alliance (Excerpt)

Friday 4 July                  Joyfully Jay (Guest Post on sex and the inexperienced hero). Also a fab review: ” another fabulous story from K.J. Charles. I have totally fallen in love with Curtis and Daniel and was thrilled to hear Charles plans more for them.  Excellent story and very highly recommended.”

Saturday 5 July              Love Bytes (Excerpt)

Sunday 6 July                The Novel Approach (Guest Post)

Think of England is out 1 July. Lovely reviews coming in already (“witty banter and rich dialogue…sizzling erotic tension…a fast-paced, action-filled plot full of imaginative twists and quirky ideas and a smoothly flowing narrative.”). It’s a Heroes & Heartbreakers Best Read of June with a fabulous review by Kate Rothwell (“I love those two separately, but they’re even better together—which is the mark of a successful romance, after all.”)

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After all that… The big news is that I’m quitting my job to go freelance. This means bankruptcy and doom more time to write; it also means that I’ll be available for editing work from September (years of experience! reasonable rates!). There will be details on my exciting brand-new website in due course.

I’m really excited about this. I’ve spent nearly two decades in publishing and there is no denying that the admin-heavy treadmill of book production gets draining. I’m doing too little of what I love and am good at: the actual getting MSS into shape and making them work as their authors hoped and readers want. And I have a lot of stories of my own to tell, too.

This is inevitably going to mean marketing. I have a Facebook page and, more interestingly, a Facebook group. Do join the group if you want sneak peeks into works in progress or forthcoming MSS, advance info, and general chat about my books and stuff.

I’m also racing through a Regency short for a charity anthology, and then I have a whole lot of exciting writing plans to make for my new life. Given all that, this blog may go a bit quiet for a couple of weeks, because there’s only so many words a woman can scrape together at one time. See you on the other side of Promotional Mountain.

Curse you, Captain Exposition!

I was playing the fool on Twitter the other day.

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(This reminds me to note that Alexis Hall’s Shadows & Dreams, the second Kate Kane book, is out 15 June. The first, Iron & Velvet, was one of my favourite reads of last year, and if you like noir, urban fantasy, hardboiled lesbian detectives and/or laugh-out-loud funny writing, snap these up right now. But I digress.)

Captain Exposition is a menace. His pernicious influence is particularly apparent in historical and fantasy writing, where Terry Pratchett dubbed it ‘As you know, your father, the king…’ In this form, characters sit down and explain things to one another purely in order to inform the audience.

As you know, General, you led the invasion force that toppled our neighbouring country of F’l’zz, bringing the F’l’zz’rahi people, for such you know they call themselves, under our rule for the first time. You lost an eye in that conflict, to the sword of the notorious rebel known as the Black Persimmon.

You can just imagine the General muttering, ‘I know. He stabbed me in the eye.’

Exposition is vital to a book, of course. It’s how you convey backstory, setting and systems. What happened to the hero, which countries are at war, how the magic system or the terms of the grandfather’s will or the secret service division operates. The question is, how to convey it in a non-glaring fashion that doesn’t destroy characterisation or bring the plot to a screeching halt.

Exposition in narrative

You can, of course, plonk it on the page with all the bravura of a farmer tipping a pile of manure off a spade.

Rachel and Kirsty had a secret. Unknown to their parents, the girls were secret friends with the fairies and often helped them when they were in trouble.
(Daisy Meadows, every goddamn Rainbow Magic book ever)

My children, aged 5 and 6, are capable of spotting this, and will chorus a scathing ‘Infodump!’ at any adult foolish enough not to skip this bit when reading aloud. (Then again, when my daughter gets asked to ‘make a book’ for school, she always puts an ISBN and barcode on the back and writes a blurb, eg ‘A brilliant story for all little children.’ Editors shouldn’t breed.)

If you have the right narrative voice, of course, you can tell the reader anything you want.

But first a word must be said about Peter. He was the man that taught me all I ever knew of veld-craft, and a good deal about human nature besides. He was out of the Old Colony – Burgersdorp, I think – but he had come to the Transvaal when the Lydenburg goldfields started. He was prospector, transport-rider, and hunter in turns, but principally hunter. In those early days he was none too good a citizen. He was in Swaziland with Bob Macnab, and you know what that means. Then he took to working off bogus gold propositions on Kimberley and Johannesburg magnates, and what he didn’t know about salting a mine wasn’t knowledge. […]

He was a man of about five foot ten, very thin and active, and as strong as a buffalo. He had pale blue eyes, a face as gentle as a girl’s, and a soft sleepy voice. From his present appearance it looked as if he had been living hard lately. His clothes were of the cut you might expect to get at Lobito Bay, he was as lean as a rake, deeply browned with the sun, and there was a lot of grey in his beard. He was fifty-six years old, and used to be taken for forty. Now he looked about his age.
(John Buchan, Greenmantle)

Shameless exposition, sure. But the spirit of place rolls off it. The reader is flatteringly included – I have no idea what Bob Macnab did in Swaziland, but I’m pretty sure it was dangerous and maybe illegal, and I like the narrator’s confidence that I’m part of his in-group even if I’m not. The exposition doesn’t just tell us about Peter, but about the narrator’s past and character, and about the world we’re in, and the kind of story this is.

Exposition in dialogue

Exposition can be conveyed through dialogue, with one character explaining things to another, but you need to beware Captain Exposition here most of all. The above speech about the Black Persimmon would establish the speaker in the reader’s head as a tedious cypher, and the General as some kind of idiot with short-term memory loss (‘Who was it stabbed me in the eye again? Oooh, his name’s on the tip of my tongue…’). If you find yourself typing ‘As you know’ or, even worse, having the victim of the exposition exclaim, ‘I know all this!’ then junk the conversation and do it again.

Characters should say things for a reason that isn’t ‘the reader needs to know’. In Think of England I have a crucial bit of exposition around the terribThinkOfEngland72weble thing that happened to the hero and his comrades in the war, which needs to be spelled out early on. I decided to have the hero insist on explaining it at a dinner party, to some social awkwardness, because he’s trying to get a reaction out of the other guests. It clues in the reader at the same time, of course, but as far as the character‘s concerned, he has every reason to say it.

It can work to have a rookie character, to whom everything can legitimately be explained (the Will Smith role in Men in Black), but apply some sense. I have read many a scene where the new recruit arrives on his first day at the paramilitary antiterrorist organization and is walked through their purpose and mission, and I sit there thinking, ‘Did nobody explain this to him before he signed up? Your recruitment process sucks.’ (Once again, Men in Black rocks this and makes it work.)

Make sure the conversation is worth having in itself, not just for exposition. If it helps us get to know the characters and shows their reactions and thoughts, it’ll feel much more like an interaction that humans might have.

You can use character thoughts for the same expository effect as dialogue, but again, fear Captain Exposition. ‘He reminded himself about the history of the Black Persimmon’ should set off the Infodump Klaxon just as much as ‘As you know’ in dialogue.

Also, beware the pluperfect in character thoughts.

The General had been tasked with tracking down the Black Persimmon, but when he had arrived in Fl’zz he had had second thoughts.

Too much makes for a painful reading experience.

Exposition in flashback

At least you can avoid pluperfects, and show action. But flashbacks must be controlled. Spread them out, make them clear so the reader doesn’t get temporally unhitched, and make them work for their place. They shouldn’t just be there to inform the reader, but to build character and increase anticipation. They absolutely cannot be allowed to stop forward momentum in the overall story – they should inform and drive the main narrative, should hold information that the reader is desperate to learn.

My latest MS, Jackdaw, has a huge amount of backstory (it starts with an established relationship that has fallen apart, and the flashbacks give the story of the relationship up till the collapse). I tell it with flashbacks throughout the first half for three purposes:

  1. Avoids infodumping it all in one go.
  2. Tantalizes the reader: we know from the start that a terrible thing happened but you have to wait till half way through to find out exactly what it was.
  3. Varies the tone. The main story begins very dark and angry, the flashbacks are at first to a wonderful happy time, which lifts the angsty mood and shows us different aspects of the MCs, as well as supplying necessary information. The flashbacks bring us up to where the main narrative started, and right as the two strands converge, we reach a turning point. Telling the whole story in narrative order would make the turning point feel less climactic. So the exposition supports the structure of the book instead of feeling tacked-in. (I hope.)

Incluing

Your best way of handling exposition is what fantasy and science fiction author Jo Walton calls ‘incluing’ (clueing in the reader). This is “the process of scattering information seamlessly through the text, as opposed to stopping the story to impart the information.” Know your world and systems and setting. Allow your characters’ backstories to inform and bubble through their current reactions. Show it all in action.Don’t tell me that F’l’zz is a slave-based economy: show me slaves as a casual accepted part of the background. Don’t tell me the Black Persimmon stabbed the General in the eye: have a F’l’zz’rahi prisoner refer tauntingly to it, and show us the General’s reaction of quivering with remembered fear, cutting off the prisoner’s head in a snit, or reflecting that the Black Persimmon was kind of hot apart from the eye thing.

Let information trickle out in dialogue and thought and narrative and description, as part of character and events. Put it there for the reader to pick up on, let it soak in as you go, and have confidence in your story. You don’t have to tell everything at once in a big rush. Some things you might not have to openly ‘tell’ at all.

 How do you like to see exposition handled? Do you hate flashbacks? Got any good or bad examples? And will Captain Exposition defeat his arch-enemy Doctor Metatext? Tune in next week!

KJ Charles is off to the UK GLBT Meet for authors and readers 6-8 June so probably won’t be around for a bit. Think of England is out 1 July.

The Stiffest Upper Lips: my top ten early pulp fiction reads

I’m writing a lot about Victorian/Edwardian adventure fiction currently. This is because I love it (shamefully – see here for why it’s a Imageguilty pleasure) and because my forthcoming book Think of England is a romance set firmly in the Edwardian pulp milieu, with spies, derring-do, reticent British officers and mysterious foreigners (sort of). As a small tribute to a beloved genre, I rather cheekily grafted my hero, Archie Curtis, onto the family tree of one of the great Victorian adventurers: Sir Henry Curtis, the warrior hero of King Solomon’s Mines.

This isn’t something that will affect a reader’s enjoyment if you haven’t read King Solomon’s Mines, though I hope it will give a bit of extra pleasure if you have. However, discussions on this led various people including Liv Rancourt to request a reading list of great Victorian/Edwardian pulp fiction – so here it is.

A few provisos:

  • This is my personal Top Ten, spanning thirty years, randomly scattering among British and American, straight adventure, occult and sci-fi. There are many others I love and more I haven’t read so this makes no claim to be exhaustive or definitive. Recommend the hell out of me in the comments, please!
  • All these books are out of copyright. Free books! I’ve linked to Project Gutenberg where possible, where you can download them in various electronic formats for free, though the formatting can occasionally be a little shonky. You can also mostly get them for a few quid in new and tidier editions, or a few pence in a second-hand bookshop.
  • This is problematic stuff for a modern reader. Again, see my earlier post on bigotry in Edwardian fiction. Many of these books are written from a very imperialist perspective that unconsciously assumes British/white/Christian/male/het superiority. That’s how it was; the best of them challenge it. I haven’t included the most egregious examples of racism (Bulldog Drummond, Fu Manchu), but you are likely to come across it in casual comments throughout, and the sexism is frequently eye-watering. In a lot of ways these books also challenge the prevailing assumptions, and generally reveal, rather than actively support, the prejudices of their era, which was very different and a long time ago. But consider yourself warned.

Right, here we go. Images have been selected for my personal entertainment and may not be good reflections of the book.

King Solomon’s Mines by H Rider Haggard (1885)

Haggard-King Solomons Mines

The daddy. A grizzled South African hunter, Allan Quatermain, narrates his adventure with Sir Henry Curtis and Captain Good RN, as they seek Sir Henry’s estranged brother through Africa. Includes desert treks, mass elephant slaughter, evil wizened priestesses, lost kings, diamond mines, hardship, derring-do, the classic ‘predict an eclipse of the sun and amaze the natives’ gag, and a roomful of dead kings being turned to stone.

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Take a wild stab in the dark what impression the film was trying to give.

This is just a magnificent adventure story. It is, obviously, massively imperialist and of its time, and the cod-medieval dialogue of the more heroic characters will make your hair hurt, but in its favour may I offer Foulata: a young black woman who falls for the white Captain Good, wins his affections and is not condemned for having a sex drive. I can only think of one other example of this happening in all Victorian lit, so kudos to Haggard, even if the character is so cardboard she’s flammable.

The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope (1894)

The book that gave us Ruritania as a name for pointless romantic little Mitteleuropean kingdoms. A magnificent tale of mistaken identity, scheming dukes, swordfights, love, duty, sacrifice, characterless heroines, sexy redheaded men, and the utterly irresistible villain Rupert of Hentzau. You can’t not read this, honestly.

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Why do they never use a redheaded hero? Growl.

The King in Yellow by Robert Chambers (1895)

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I cannot encourage you enough to read at least the first four stories in this collection. They are a tremendous example of early American Weird and a big influence on HP Lovecraft. ‘The King in Yellow’ itself is a play that sends anyone who reads it mad. The stories of its disastrous influence are incredibly decadent and perverse and unsettling, until the last three stories in the collection, which are so-so romantic fiction. I have no idea why this happens.

Dr Nikola series by Guy Boothby (1895-1901)

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Dr Nikola is a full-on antihero, a brilliant occultist looking for eternal life via Tibetan wisdom, but without any of that Buddhist ‘being nice to people’ stuff. Think Professor Moriarty but with a little bit more humanity, a tragic past, and possible uncanny powers. Dr Nikola has piercing hypnotic eyes and wears a black cat on his shoulders and is involved in large-scale plots across exotic locations and basically is a Bond villain. He’s the antagonist in his own books, with the victims of his plotting tending to be the viewpoint characters. Lovely stuff.

The Beetle by Richard Marsh (1897)

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Possibly the most magnificently inappropriate and inaccurate cover ever. This doesn’t happen.

Another occulty one. This is pure bloody genius and I implore you to read it. It was published the same year as Dracula and was initially more popular. The…villain? thing? person? god?… at its centre is deeply sexually ambiguous and the books is all about threats to the British Empire: homosexuality, the rise of the East and the power of other nations, the New Woman, the urban poor – basically it’s a sweaty, hallucinatory, sex-reeking fear-dream. Marvellous.

The Four Just Men by Edgar Wallace (1905)

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A cracking novel of psychotic vigilantes that would make Frank Miller proud. The four just men (actually three, one’s dead) are basically rich international terrorists who judge and murder people ranging from criminals to aristocracy. But let’s not say terrorists because they’re heroes. Honest.

If you’re okay with the brutal murder of a member of the British government, and I see no reason why you wouldn’t be, you will enjoy this hugely. It’s a howdunit rather than a whodunit: the main puzzle is how the Just Men get at their latest victim. Wallace made an epic mess of publishing this: he offered a gigantic £500 prize in the newspapers for anyone who guessed the solution correctly (it was serial publication) but forgot to limit the number of possible winners. Even though the book was a massive bestseller, the prize money bankrupted him and he had to flog the rights for £75. However, he went on to write another 170 novels and nearly 1000 short stories as well as 198 plays, so he was fine. (Sanders of the River is a great Kiplingish read set in Africa, if you want to read more, and there are several other Just Men books.)

Weirdly, this isn’t on Gutenberg but there are many cheap electronic editions.

The Mysterious Mr Sabin by E Phillips Oppenheim (1905)

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Got to have an Oppenheim. This is my favourite of his, another book more interested in the villain than in the nominal hero and heroine. Mr Sabin’s schemes are complex and large-scale, his morality flexible and his story a brilliant read. The sequels aren’t bad but – inevitably – he gets redeemed by the love of a good woman, which, meh.

The Lost World by Arthur Conan Doyle (1912)

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Don’t argue with me. This is brilliant.

Dinosaurs. Alive dinosaurs. Like Jurassic Park but on a big South American isolated plateau. Did I mention dinosaurs? And a hero who is basically, if Brian Blessed was a brilliant scientist? What the hell are you waiting for? (By all means read the other Professor Challenger stories, except, for the sake of your own happiness, The Land of Mist, where Doyle bastardises his own magnificent scientist hero to put forward his newly found Spiritualist beliefs. Depressing beyond words.)

King of the Khyber Rifles by Talbot Mundy (1916)

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His disguises are rather better in the book. The uniform is a giveaway here.

If you’ve read The Peshawar Lancers you’ll recognise this book. The first half is a magnificent pulp classic about the adventures of a British secret agent in India during the First World War. The second half goes into mystical sub-She shenanigans and I wouldn’t bother, but the first half is amazing.

Greenmantle by John Buchan (1916)

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I assume you already know about The Thirty-Nine Steps. Greenmantle is the second Hannay adventure, putting together his team of recurring characters: Peter Pienaar, the crack-shot Boer scout; John Scantlebury Blenkiron, the obese, dyspeptic, wonderfully placid yet brilliantly scheming American; Sandy Arbuthnot, the sex-on-a-stick Scottish aristo, Eastern wanderer and international man of mystery. God, I love Sandy. He may be even sexier than Rupert of Hentzau, with the thoroughbred-nervous thing he has going on. Mmm.

This book takes us from Berlin to Constantinople in the depths of the First World War, with shelling and spies and a sexually ambiguous thug of a German villain and a plot to set the Middle East ablaze. A tremendous galloping plot, and if you can read the last chapter without goosebumps you may be dead. Buchan was a man of huge talents and great sympathy, and although Richard Hannay glories in his duty and gets caught up in the struggle, he never loses sight of the humanity of the enemy or the pity and terror of war. If you like this, go read everything else Buchan wrote. You won’t regret it.

 

That’s my top ten (today; if you asked me tomorrow I might give different answers). Feel free to argue, scorn or add your own in the comments! Anything say 1870 to 1920 is legit…

Anglo-Saxon Attitudes: bigotry in historical fiction

This is a post about offensive historical attitudes. If you don’t wish to see offensive words and ideas, move on swiftly.

I love late 19th/early 20th century pulp with a fiery passion. John Buchan, H Rider Haggard, E Phillips Oppenheim, Edgar Wallace, Talbot Mundy, Sax Rohmer and Richard Marsh. I love derring-do and English gentlemen tackling dastardly plots, mostly executed by dastardly foreigners.

It’s so awful.

I don’t usually believe in the concept of guilty pleasures, especially because people apply it to things like watching Buffy or reading romantic fiction or eating chocolate HobNobs, and if that merits guilt, I really wasted a Catholic upbringing. But I feel guilty as hell about some of these books, even bearing in mind the different mores of the time. I actually can’t read Bulldog Drummond, it’s too hateful. In pulp we fear, look down on, distrust or hate the following:

  • Foreigners – which is everyone unBritish, unless they’re American. Americans are good, if faintly ludicrous.
  • Women with breasts. Or sexy women. It’s OK if you have no secondary sexual characteristics or desire and are ‘boyishly slim’, also ‘brave’, and of course ‘gay’.
  • Queer people. Especially Germans, the filthy degenerates, who are also foreign of course. The Germans are all about unspeakable vice. Evil Colonel Stumm in Greenmantle has “a perverted taste for delicate things” (i.e. a nice room) and a “queer other side which gossip has spoken of as not unknown in the German army” and which scares the daylights out of poor Richard Hannay, before he goes on to marry a boyish brave gay, uh, girl. (Definitely.)
  • Jews. Don’t even. I’m not quoting this stuff.
  • Black people. Again, I shall leave this to your imagination, although here’s something worth considering:

What is a gentleman? I don’t quite know, and yet I have had to do with niggers—no, I will scratch out that word “niggers,” for I do not like it. I’ve known natives who *are*, and so you will say, Harry, my boy, before you have done with this tale, and I have known mean whites with lots of money and fresh out from home, too, who *are not*. (King Solomon’s Mines, H Rider Haggard, 1885)

Okay, the overwhelming assumption of white superiority is cringeable, but for 1885, that’s not bad. King Solomon’s Mines may reek of paternalism at best, but it has a black hero shown to be the full equal of the white hero, and a black woman with sex drive who is acknowledged the heroine of the book, however hamfistedly. Again, 1885. Give Haggard some slack.*

In general, though, the attitudes were really pretty gruesome, and it shows in the books. Though it’s often a little bit complicated. Fu Manchu, for example, is an appalling caricature of Chinese stereotypes, a living yellow peril, threat to the white race, blah. Genuinely, massively, horrifically racist. But I can’t help noticing that he always wins. Denis Nayland Smith can stiffen his upper lip till you could use it to scrape wallpaper, but he usually ends up bound in a remote strangely carved cavern under the influence of mysterious Oriental drugs, while Fu Manchu buggers off to get on with running the world.

And again, here’s a very interesting passage from The Thirty-Nine Steps. The spy Scudder tells Richard Hannay:

‘For three hundred years they [Jews] have been persecuted, and this is the return match for the pogroms. The Jew is everywhere, but you have to go far down the backstairs to find him. Take any big Teutonic business concern. If you have dealings with it the first man you meet is Prince von und Zu Something, an elegant young man who talks Eton-and-Harrow English. But he cuts no ice. If your business is big, you get behind him and find a prognathous Westphalian with a retreating brow and the manners of a hog. He is the German business man that gives your English papers the shakes. But if you’re on the biggest kind of job and are bound to get to the real boss, ten to one you are brought up against a little white-faced Jew in a bath-chair with an eye like a rattlesnake. Yes, Sir, he is the man who is ruling the world just now, and he has his knife in the Empire of the Tzar, because his aunt was outraged and his father flogged in some one-horse location on the Volga.’

Okay, that’s not nice. But.

Firstly, the passage acknowledges the oppression of Jewish people, even if it’s in a passing, sneering way.

Secondly, and more importantly, it’s spoken by a character who is full of crap. Sir Walter Bullivant, the spymaster says, quite specifically, that Scudder was an unreliable fantasiser and a bigot. ‘He had a lot of odd biases, too. Jews, for example, made him see red.’ And the book shows us that there is no Jewish conspiracy. Scudder is simply wrong. (It was the Germans. Of course.)

So it’s not entirely simplistic. The pulp fiction often takes a much more nuanced view than you’d think.

Nevertheless, this was an overwhelmingly racist time. This was the time of the Dreyfus Affair, of gross and open anti-Semitism of the sort that led Europe down that awful path. The general attitudes were of the sort lightly outlined here, and you probably feel that’s quite enough.

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Now, I wanted to write an Edwardian pulp pastiche. (Because. Don’t judge me.) It’s pretty hard to do that without the attitudes of the times. And it’s even harder to do it with.

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I write queer romance. I work on the assumption that my readers are non-bigoted humans who don’t need to be told that oppression and bigotry are bad things. I’m here to do pulp adventure and romance, not overt politics. And I don’t want to sit down and write hate. It’s draining and horrible.

But Think of England is a book about, among other things, being an outsider, being isolated, the odd one out. One of my heroes is not only Jewish, but gay, foreign-looking and (gasp!) a poet. It would have missed the point not to have that commented on and used as a weapon against him by the villains. It would miss the point if he wasn’t isolated by the supporting cast too, not because they’re evil but because that’s who he was in that time. And then there’s the other hero…

Because my other hero is an English officer and gentleman who would, technically, be just as ready to use those words and those attitudes as any villain, at least till he knows better.

I’ll be honest: I skimped it. I think you could write a dyed in the wool thoughtless racist hero and make it work, but I didn’t want to. I started to and then I decided that actually, a little bit of bigotry goes a long way. Once the reader understands the general atmosphere of casual dismissal, contempt, disregard, once we’ve seen the hateful hostile language, we don’t need it rammed in our faces again and again to keep on making the same hateful point. Line it in, let it sit, give the atmosphere without having to reiterate the words. Enough was enough a very long time ago.

It would be both dishonest and pointless to write an Edwardian pulp novel without any bigotry, but this is one of the very few times when I think homeopathic doses work.

What do you think? Should historical novels ignore the modern readers’ sensibilities for realism, or can we take the bigotry on board along with the poor dental hygiene and lack of plumbing, and not dwell on the gory details?

*If you should read both Think of England and King Solomon’s Mines you will get a sense of my fondness for the latter.

Think of England is out 1 July.