Alex: This is where I go ‘Oh, blimey, what do you want to know?’ because I’m socially inept and never know what people expect me to answer to this. How do you sum yourself up, after all? I’m the one who doesn’t talk a lot but when they do, they come out with an observation so odd, nobody knows how to reply. I’m INTP, which apparently means I ought to be in my room trying to figure out the internal dimensions of the Tardis right now.
On a ‘just the facts please’ basis, I am a hetromantic asexual agender person largely regarded by the world as a straight married woman with two children. But for most of my life I haven’t known the right labels, so I’ve just thought of myself as weird and identified hard with the aliens and robots of SF. Which naturally made me want to write, and here I am today.
TNA: Writing historical fiction is obviously a passion for you. How many hours of research time would you estimate goes into each of your books? Is that a part of the process you enjoy, or is it what you’d call the tedious part of the writing process?
Alex: I feel a little guilty about answering this the way I’m going to, but actually my passion is for the strange and the bizarre. As LP Hartley said – The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.
What I love about historicals is that adventure into a time when the world was a completely different place – when people thought different thoughts and behaved strangely, and wore interesting clothes, and fretted over things we don’t consider important at all any more. Essentially I like historicals for exactly the same reason why I also like Fantasy and SF – I like to boldly go to a world where I’ve never been before.
So having said that, I do consider the research one of the most fun parts of the process. Getting to encounter things I’ve never seen before is a real thrill and it makes me eager to run around excitedly shouting “Wow, come here and look at this!” – or to write a book about it, at any rate.
TNA: Do you have a favorite historical era in which to write? If so, which is it and what makes it a particular favorite?
Alex: I do love the 18th Century with its fascinating dichotomy of sensibility and savagery. You get savagery in lots of eras, but the 18th century is beginning to mix that with a robust independence and a new concern for human rights. Having said that, I also love the 9th Century in England. Or at least, I love the literature of the time. The Anglo-Saxon monks who did all the writing in the 9th Century seem very likeable people.
TNA: Let’s chat a bit about your book The Reluctant Berserker, a story set in the Viking Age but focusing largely on the Saxons. During your research, what’s the most fascinating thing you discovered about them that you hadn’t known before?
Alex: Yes, the Vikings appear as a marauding hoard briefly, but they just provide our hero with an opportunity to escape his captor.
One of the things I wanted to do with this book was write a book set in this time that focused on the Saxons instead, because I like the Saxons – they’re a civilized, thoughtful, literate people whose society runs on principles of cooperation – and it does irk me to know that everyone considers the Vikings more interesting. So, yep, it’s a Saxon story really.
TNA: When I picture a Viking, I admit to picturing the burly man decked out in animal skins, wearing braids and a horned helmet, something I’m sure is more caricature than fact. What would you say is one of the greatest misperceptions we might have about the Vikings?
Alex: LOL! All of that :) The horned helmet is a terrible misconception which was perpetrated on popular culture by the Victorians. There is some evidence that a helmet with bird-headed projections might have been used in some sort of ritual dance among the Vikings, but the actual war gear lacked anything that might catch the blade of a sword and wrench the head to one side, causing the warrior’s neck to be broken. You can see why.
Also, Viking women were producing some excellent cloth at the time, so Viking clothes were largely made of normal woolen or linen cloth. (Though doubtless the occasional bit of fur trim or lining would have been used in the winter.)
Possibly one of the biggest misconceptions about the Vikings is that they were extraordinarily manly by our standards. In fact, Viking men wore makeup and were looked down upon by the Christian priests of the era as having an effeminate degree of concern about their appearance, with all that bathing and hair combing and so forth.
TNA: In terms of M/M Historical Romance, the Viking Age seems largely untapped, especially when compared to the number of novels set in the Regency, Victorian, and Edwardian eras. What drew you to writing a story set in and around that period in history?
Alex: To be honest, like most things in my writing career, it was Tolkien’s fault. When I read The Lord of the Rings in my teens, I really wanted to be an elf. But that was sadly not possible. So the next best thing was to be one of the Riders of Rohan. And who did Tolkien base the Rohirrim on? Why, it was the Anglo-Saxons, of course. So in my fascination for all things Middle-earth, I studied the Anglo-Saxons at university, and found them to be a people I could quite admire. They believed they were a small oasis of light in a universe of darkness, and that around their halls, out in the wilderness, prowled monsters who looked on their happiness with murderous envy. They spent a lot of their time worrying about how to be a good person in a universe like that, and I love their thoughtfulness and the resigned, stoic bravery of their world view.
TNA: Would you care to share an excerpt from the book with us?
Alex: Here you go.Blurb: “Manhood is about more than who’s on top. ”
Wulfstan, a noble and fearsome Saxon warrior, has spent most of his life hiding the fact that he would love to be cherished by someone stronger than himself. Not some slight, beautiful nobody of a harper who pushes him up against a wall and kisses him.
In the aftermath, Wulfstan isn’t sure what he regrets most–that he only punched the churl in the face, or that he really wanted to give in.
Leofgar is determined to prove he’s as much of a man as any Saxon. But now he’s got a bigger problem than a bloody nose. The lord who’s given him shelter from the killing cold is eyeing him like a wolf eyes a wounded hare.
When Wulfstan accidentally kills a friend who is about to blurt his secret, he flees in panic and meets Leofgar, who is on the run from his lord’s lust. Together, pursued by a mother’s curse, they battle guilt, outlaws, and the powers of the underworld, armed only with music and love that must overcome murderous shame to survive.
Warning: Contains accurate depictions of Vikings, Dark Ages magic, kickass musicians, trope subversions and men who don’t know their place.
Excerpt: Coming in to the porch, a little too fast, his eyes dazzled from the light indoors and his mind mazed with thoughts, he didn’t hear the other man until he collided with him. The breath went out of him in a round thump. There was a brief impression of long limbs, slim and bony. Then a resonant voice went “Oh!” without any of the apology or the instant deference Wulfstan knew himself entitled to.
He didn’t think before grabbing narrow wrists and holding on, but he did twist so that the light of the fire fell on his companion’s face, and he did breathe in, hard, to see he had finally caught the fish for which he had been angling all night. For this young man had the sheepskin bag of a lyre on his shoulder and a bone whistle clutched in his right hand.
Loose curls the colour of Byzantine gold bounced absurdly around a face as thin as his master’s. Hard to see it clearly in the leap and cower of firelight, Wulfstan only got glimpses, enough to believe he saw beauty, sharp and fine. A gazehound of a man, built for speed. In the shifting bars of radiance through the door, his eyes looked full of fire, so that Wulfstan couldn’t tell the colour, though he tried.
The harper breathed out—a sigh that was also a laugh, and the ends of his lips turned up. Wulfstan couldn’t be sure, but he thought the smile mocking. It lit something in Wulfstan that snapped into sparks with a crack.
“I’m waiting for your apology, churl. Then you may step aside and let me pass.”
The laugh was a little louder this time, and the mockery more certain. “You ran into me. It’s you who should apologise.”
He couldn’t believe it. The creature had only an eating knife at his belt. He was as frail and thin as straw, and a beggar in the hall. Wulfstan had never been so affronted in his life. “Men like you get out of my way.”
He really thought the man’s eyes were that colour—all madder red and gold with fire. The thin mouth twisted up, and underneath the laughter there was pride like a coiled snake. The snap of it took Wulfstan by surprise, no more so than the shove in the centre of his chest. At some point he must have let go of those sinewy wrists, for now he found himself pushed back into the join of door and joist and pinned there, all the other man’s weight crowded against him.
He saw stars over the harper’s shoulder shining down on him like spear tips, and he knew he should push back—that this man didn’t have either the weight or the training to hold him. He should push back, and hit and hit again until the little nobody was taught how to deal with his betters. A profound helplessness seemed to have come over him. The man was beautiful in the darkness, and his body and his anger were hot against Wulfstan, and the thin fingers with their calluses that had risen to yank at his hair in childish spite were slowly ungripping and sliding down to bracket his face.
Here there was less light, their combined weight holding the door shut, the fire inside. The harper’s eyes were dark now, but they were wide open, fixed on Wulfstan’s, and everything behind them was sharp and hard and proud, demanding. Though slight, he was taller than Wulfstan.
He pulled at Wulfstan’s face, angling it, and Wulfstan let him. Just at that moment, Wulfstan would have let him do anything. He felt that someone had taken his bones out and replaced them with honeycomb, and that as long as he didn’t frighten this away, if only he didn’t move, he might burst into puddles of gold, sticky sweet.
“Huh.” That small laugh again, surprised, delighted, and the harper leaned in a touch more and the mocking lips closed hot over his own.
Breath against his mouth and the tentative press of a very daring tongue, and Wulfstan’s mind and scruples joined the wash of thick liquid gold that was oozing out of all his pores, making his heart thud slow and heavy and his loins ache deep. All the resistance in him, false as it was, melted into warm oil and left him boneless, compliant, waiting for the other man to take the lead, wanting him to.
Who knew where it would have led, but just as the young harper had shaken off his surprise, taken back his long hands and might have done something more interesting with them, the door bounced against them both, and a determined pressure began to grind it open.
Someone was coming through. The thought knocked at the gates of Wulfstan’s mind once and was ignored. The second time it battered them down. Someone would see!
TNA: Would you like to tell us about some of the projects and/or upcoming new releases you’re working on now?
Alex: Well, I have three new contemporaries set in my fictional little-England city of Trowchester, where there seems to be rather more murderers per square mile than you’d expect of a place so full of morris dancers. That’s Trowchester Blues, coming out in January from Riptide, followed by Blue Eyed Stranger and Blue Steel Chain. (They have a theme! I’m so proud.) And currently I’m working on a bit of a Fantasy epic and a smaller SF story which seems to have the potential to grow into an epic too. After that, I intend to do another historical, possibly even Brid’s story, since people have wanted a happy ending for the Cornish slave bought by our hero’s Lord in the first chapter of The Reluctant Berserker. But I need to look into 9th Century Cornwall to be ready to do that.
TNA: Thank you again for the visit, Alex, it’s been a pleasure. Will you tell us all the places we can connect with you on the internet?
Or you can be daring and sign up for my new newsletter, which I swear I will get a handle on before the Trowchester books come out :)
The Giveaway: THIS CONTEST IS CLOSED