TNA: Hi, Sarah, thanks so much for being here with us today. Why don’t we start out by having you tell us a little bit about yourself: hobbies, interests, things we might not know about you but should?
Sarah: Thanks so much for having me here today, Lisa! About me – well, I live in England on the edge of the Cotswolds, so there is an ever present temptation to go walking in the beautiful countryside. My Labrador is always happy to encourage me in these endeavours! I love reading, writing, and am not quite so keen on the gardening thing that’s so popular with my neighbours. I enjoy losing hours reading in the name of research (I’m both nosy and easily distracted).
TNA: Have you always written M/M Romance, or is that something that came along later in your creative writing? What is it that drew you to explore gay relationships in your writing?
Sarah: Apart from some scribblings as a teenager, all of my writing to date has been M/M romance. From the moment I first encountered it as a reader, I loved it so much that I wanted to write it myself. I find it difficult to pinpoint exactly why I enjoy it, but I love exploring the dynamic between two male main characters.
TNA: What was your first published M/M title? If you could go back in time, to the moment you sat down and began writing it, what’s the one piece of advice you’d give yourself, now that you have the benefit of some experience?
Sarah: My first published M/M title was The Long Road Home. It’s a very different animal from A Minor Inconvenience, and I have so much advice to give myself now that I’d probably still be talking and wouldn’t have written it! In terms of identifying one piece of advice, that would be that there weren’t only two options open to me in writing style – at the time, I thought I had to choose between some sort of quasi Middle English to reflect the setting, or to write as the characters would have heard one another, portrayed in today’s language and therefore using modern idioms. Now, I realise I could have found a third way through.
TNA: Do you remember the first M/M book you ever read? If so, what was it, and what about it made the most lasting impression upon you? Do you feel it influenced your own writing at all?
Sarah: My first encounter with M/M romance was Mary Renault’s The Persian Boy, many years ago. At this remove, I remember very little about it (I have a shockingly bad memory), but I do remember the love between the characters and the uneasy balancing of Alexander’s love for both Bagoas and Hephaestion. I also remember crying when reading it. I don’t feel that it’s influenced my writing for the simple reason my memories of it are so vague, but of course, it’s impossible to say what has crept into my subconscious.
TNA: How would you describe your books to someone who hasn’t read them yet? Do your characters share common qualities? What’s your idea of a great protagonist?
Sarah: I’d describe my books as character-driven romances, in which there’s usually some angst and ultimately a hopeful ending. The one quality my main characters all share is that they’re good people at heart. They may have issues, they may be damaged, and they may be misguided, but they’re trying to do what they believe to be the right thing.
I need to be able to like the protagonist if I’m to enjoy a book. I don’t necessarily need to identify with them, but I definitely need to like them. So I guess my idea of a great protagonist is first and foremost someone who’s likable.
TNA: Let’s talk a little bit about your latest book A Minor Inconvenience. Was this your first historical novel? What made you settle on the Regency era as your setting?
Sarah: It was my first historical novel, but hopefully not my last. My choice of period was because I grew up reading Georgette Heyer’s Regency romances and I fell in love not only with her writing but also with the Regency world she portrayed.
TNA: How much time did you put into researching not only the Regency era, but also working to be sure you got the voice and language of the era just right?
Sarah: I probably spent rather longer on research for this book than I care to think about! :) The parts that took the most research were the Peninsular Wars. I was aware of them in general terms as that grim roll call of battles is part of the fabric of our history, but I’d previously avoided reading too much about them because of the terrible cruelties and loss of life.
As for the voice and language—once the characters were fully realised, the language generally flowed very easily, simply because that was just how they talked! That much said, I needed to check several words and phrases. I wish so much I’d known of the existence of the marvellous online etymology dictionary, http://etymonline.com/, before I wrote this book—it would have saved me hours of cross-checking dictionaries. I also had a wonderful editor for this book, Amy Sherwood, who picked up a couple of anachronistic words I’d missed.
TNA: Did you ever consider setting the story in another time period? If so, which? If not, what makes Hugh and Theo belong there more than anywhere else in time?
Sarah: The short answer is no, I didn’t consider setting this in any other period. The characters came to life as Regency gentlemen and it seems to me that’s where they belong, primarily because of their worldview. I’m sure they’d still be recognisably them if they were Roman centurions or noblemen in the Elizabethan court, but they’d also be different, as they’d be products of a different environment.
I’m not sure how clearly I’ve explained that. Perhaps I should stick with: They belong in the Regency because they look so good in their uniforms.
TNA: What would you say was the most challenging part of telling Hugh and Theo’s story, and why?
Sarah: The part I was quite unsure about was how they’d express their interest in one another in a society where punishment for homosexual acts was so brutal. As it happened, they took care of that quite nicely for themselves, the way having been eased by Hugh’s brief, disastrous foray into a molly house.
TNA: Would you care to share an excerpt from the book with us?
Blurb: Duty, honor, propriety…all fall in the face of love. Captain Hugh Fanshawe returned from the Peninsular War with a leg that no longer works properly, thanks to a French musket ball. Now his fight against Napoleon is reduced to quiet, lonely days compiling paperwork at Horse Guards headquarters. His evenings are spent dutifully escorting his mother and sister to stifling social engagements, where his lameness renders him an object of pity and distaste. But his orderly, restricted life is thrown into sudden disarray with the arrival of Colonel Theo Lindsay. Theo is everything Hugh is not—a man of physical perfection and easy yet distinguished address. Surprisingly to Hugh, Theo appears to be interested in making his acquaintance. Lindsay turns out to be a most convivial companion, and Hugh finds great pleasure in his company. Their friendship deepens when they become lovers. In spite of himself, Hugh falls desperately in love. But when a French spy is suspected at Horse Guards, Hugh discovers nothing is as it seems…and the paper he shuffles from day to day could be the instrument of his lover’s death.
Excerpt: Lindsay’s set of chambers was luxurious—larger than Hugh’s and ideally appointed.
“As you are only here temporarily, I had thought you would put up at a hotel rather than take a set,” Hugh said, indicating the gracefully proportioned room.
Lindsay stretched out beside him, warming his boots at the fire. “I keep this set permanently for whenever I am in London.” He took a delicate sip of his sherry. “I find it affords greater privacy than a hotel.”
Hugh shot a questioning glance at Lindsay and found Lindsay was looking at him in a most particular way. Surely even he could not be misreading this. He swallowed. “I imagine it must.”
“Were you able to conclude your business satisfactorily?” Hugh asked, when the silence between them had gone on a little too long to be entirely comfortable.
Lindsay glanced away. “I did,” he said. “I was entrusted with a message to Colonel Murray of the Monmouth Light. They’re marching reinforcements out to meet Wellington, but we have wind that the French know of this and will set up an ambush, so we’re sending them to Coimbra by ship instead. It was felt inadvisable to entrust such sensitive information to a letter and as I had, apparently, nothing better to do with my time, I was dispatched to Colchester.” He affected a shudder. “Ghastly place—entirely uncivilised with no comfort to be found anywhere. No wonder the plague tried to wipe it from the face of the Earth.”
“I can see how it must have compared unfavourably to a draughty bivouac on the Castilian plain,” Hugh agreed.
“You have no idea. Do you know, the wine they served in the Mess was mislabelled?”
“Dear God, no!”
“Yes. And what is even worse, my host did not appear to notice.”
Hugh adopted a suitably grave expression. “It was evidently vital you shook the dust from
your feet just as soon as you could.”
Lindsay levelled a narrowed glance at Hugh. “I think you are not taking my travails seriously enough, Fanshawe,” he complained. “I have been quite overset by venturing into the wilds.”
The meal that was served to them appeared to put Lindsay on the mend, however. It was a splendid repast, accompanied by a particularly good—and most definitely not mislabelled—Moscatel. As a result, when the port was finished and they had repaired to the sitting room, Hugh was feeling comfortably satisfied, warm and full of good cheer.
He sat upon the sofa. Lindsay, having dismissed his man, brought him a glass of brandy and sat beside him.
“Did I miss any scandal in my absence, Hugh?”
Hugh froze at the unexpected sound of his first name on Lindsay’s lips. When he met Lindsay’s gaze, it was steady and friendly, and there was something else in it also. He placed his glass upon the side table, because otherwise Lindsay—Theo—might see the sudden slight tremor in his hand.
“I believe the ton survived tolerably well without you,” he said, “although I am sure your absence has resulted in several maidens’ decline, Theo.”
There was a very good reason why Hugh had joined the army, and it had nothing to do with wishing to fight Napoleon. He entirely lacked the easy social graces of his brothers and sister. Unlike Theo’s natural tone, his use of Theo’s first name was ugly and clumsy, and seemed almost to vibrate in the air for minutes afterwards to ensure it had drawn enough attention to itself. He could not hold Theo’s gaze.
“I’m sure you stepped into the breach heroically,” Theo said. He placed his hand upon Hugh’s thigh. The shock of being touched and the warmth that began to come through the wool of his pantaloons left Hugh breathing unevenly. “There is something I wished to discuss with you, Hugh. I have not forgotten my promise to introduce you to other gentlemen, should you so wish.”
“I—thank you, no,” Hugh managed. His mind was a fog, one in which he could not find his way. All he could think of was the weight and warmth of Theo’s touch, and the quiver of excitement deep in his stomach. He wet his lips and tried again. “I have no interest—that is to say—”
“Good,” Theo murmured. “I would not wish for you to kiss me only because you lacked alternatives.”
TNA: I know this is sort of like asking you to name your favorite child, but of all the characters you’ve written, do you have a favorite? If so, which and why?
Sarah: Right now, I have to say Hugh. He’s stubborn and can be a little unaware of things around him, but he’s a really good man who cares deeply about those close to him. He keeps going with quiet courage and dignity through the most adverse of circumstances.
TNA: If you could bring one of your characters off the page and into the real world, whom would you choose, and why?
Sarah: Lady Emily from A Minor Inconvenience. She’s sharp-witted but kind and I’d like to see her as she really is, rather than through Hugh’s slightly rose-tinted spectacles (he tends to see the very best in people). I’d also love to get an outsider’s perspective on Theo and Hugh!
TNA: Would you care to share a little bit of information on any of your current WIPs with us?
Sarah: Well, this is actually a little sad – I’ve just made the difficult decision to abandon my WIP. Something about it isn’t quite right, and the more I rewrite to try and resolve it, the more of a compromise the whole thing becomes. So right now I have a clear run at whatever decides it would like to be written. I’d very much like to write another Regency next, but I’ve learned the hard way that I can only write the stories that come to me.
TNA: And finally, would you share with us all the places we can find you on the internet?
The Giveaway: THIS CONTEST IS NOW CLOSED