Write What You Know They Say
by Alex Beecroft
Probably the most hoary and well known piece of writing advice in the world is ‘Write what you know.’ Normally, I have to say I don’t pay a lot of attention. I would rather write what I imagine. However that was mostly because I was writing about 18th Century war ships or elves, neither of which I’m sad to say I have had much experience with in my life.
The decision to write a few contemporaries changed everything. I exist in contemporary times! Astonishing. Suddenly, I really could write about things that I have encountered in my real life. A mind boggling prospect. I was floored for a time. I didn’t know how to treat real things as if they belonged in fiction. Real things have an immovability and gravity that resists being too easily played with. How could I tell stories about things that existed outside my own head?
Believe it or not, it took me a good couple of years to solve this problem, and it was Alistair Maclean’s Caravan to Vaccarès that finally gave me the clue. Caravan to Vaccarès is, in theory, a contemporary, in that it is supposed to occur in the same real world in which the author lives, but there is a sinister ‘gypsy’ and a fat, jovial mastermind with a remarkable car. There’s a perky manic dream girl, the hero reinvents bull-leaping when the sinister figures attempt to murder him in the bull ring and the whole thing ends with an all action chase between a sports car and a speed boat.
It was huge and ridiculous good fun, but it wasn’t remotely believable as an account of anything I could imagine actually occurring in real life.
That’s when it struck me – it didn’t have to be.
I don’t know why it had never occurred to me before that contemporaries were also fiction, and that fiction by its very nature was, well… not real. When I realized that contemporaries could come at reality from a different slant – that they could include all the things the author liked and leave out all the contemporary things that the author disliked, I positively quivered. I quivered with joy, and also with power.
Because suddenly I realized I could do whatever I liked with my fictional contemporary. It could be as realistic as The Bourne Supremacy, if I wanted it to be. It could be as realistic as James Bond, if that was where my fancy lead me.
It wasn’t, of course. If you know me, you know that my fancy turns more towards the whimsical than towards the slick. But now I had my chance to create a contemporary setting that tickled my fancy, and I have to say, I tackled that prospect gleefully.
What do I like? I like small towns with lots of beautiful countryside around them. I like the intimacy of a small town setting where the community spirit is strong. Where you can meet friends accidentally when you’re walking through town.
I like bookshops. Especially those tardis-like ones that are larger on the inside than they appear from outside.
I like history, so naturally my town has Roman walls and a Bronze Age barrow nearby, and a manor with tied cottages where the wishes of the land owner still count as commands to their tenants. I wouldn’t like to live somewhere like that myself, but I’m glad to know such places still exist in England, just because it’s such a strong tie to the past.
But while I’m liking the cosy, sentimental small town setting, I’m also liking explosions and kidnaps and car chases and cops and robbers and mysterious figures glimpsed when their shadow is cast on the garden wall. It’s no fun if I have a whimsical Miss Marple’s St. Mary Meade sort of town and then don’t have shenanigans afoot in it.
And again, but. Having said all that, I also don’t want to have so much fun stuff that the thing stops feeling genuine at all. So amid all of that froth, there need to be characters I can really believe in, with trials and emotions I genuinely care about. And there I can write what I know without having to pass it through a filter of unreality. I know what it’s like to be middle aged and to wonder where the time has all gone. What happens now? I know what it’s like to be finally forced to face a childhood you spent your whole life running from.
I hope there’s enough honesty in Trowchester Blues to anchor the fun parts of it to something that is worthwhile. Trowchester might be a compendium of all the good bits stolen from other cities because I thought they were shiny, but Michael and Finn’s struggle to make themselves new on the other side of losing everything turned out to feel very real to me after all.
About Trowchester Blues
Michael May is losing it. Long ago, he joined the Metropolitan Police to escape his father’s tyranny and protect people like himself. Now his father is dead, and he’s been fired for punching a suspect. Afraid of his own rage, he returns to Trowchester—and to his childhood home, with all its old fears and memories. When he meets a charming, bohemian bookshop owner who seems to like him, he clings tight.
Fintan Hulme is an honest man now. Five years ago, he retired from his work as a high class London fence and opened a bookshop. Then an old client brings him a stolen book too precious to turn away, and suddenly he’s dealing with arson and kidnapping, to say nothing of all the lies he has to tell his friends. Falling in love with an ex-cop with anger management issues is the last thing he should be doing.
Finn thinks Michael is incredibly sexy. Michael knows Finn is the only thing that still makes him smile. But in a relationship where cops and robbers are natural enemies, that might not be enough to save them.
Available at: Riptide Publishing
About Alex Beecroft
Alex Beecroft is an English author best known for historical fiction, notably Age of Sail, featuring gay characters and romantic storylines. Her novels and shorter works include paranormal, fantasy, and contemporary fiction.
Beecroft won Linden Bay Romance’s (now Samhain Publishing) Starlight Writing Competition in 2007 with her first novel, Captain’s Surrender, making it her first published book. On the subject of writing gay romance, Beecroft has appeared in the Charleston City Paper, LA Weekly, the New Haven Advocate, the Baltimore City Paper, and The Other Paper. She is a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association of the UK and an occasional reviewer for the blog Speak Its Name, which highlights historical gay fiction.
Alex was born in Northern Ireland during the Troubles and grew up in the wild countryside of the English Peak District. She lives with her husband and two children in a little village near Cambridge and tries to avoid being mistaken for a tourist.
Alex is only intermittently present in the real world. She has led a Saxon shield wall into battle, toiled as a Georgian kitchen maid, and recently taken up an 800-year-old form of English folk dance, but she still hasn’t learned to operate a mobile phone.
She is represented by Louise Fury of the L. Perkins Literary Agency.
Every comment on this blog tour enters you in a drawing for an e-book from Alex Beecroft’s backlist (excepting Trowchester Blues). Entries close at midnight, Eastern time, on February 15. Contest is NOT restricted to U.S. entries.
Don’t forget to check out Heather C’s review of Trowchester Blues to see what she thought of it!