Some books just happen

A guest blog post by Adam Fitzroy

THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER WYE happened all by itself, over a very short period in 2013. As has occasionally been the case with Manifold Press, our editors found they had a vacant publishing slot for February when another project was delayed, and asked around for anything that might be completed quickly enough to take its place. I’d been floundering for a while, trying to decide between competing story ideas, but this gave me the impetus I needed to get off my backside; I had a piece of fan-fiction ripe for redevelopment, and I pulled it down off the shelf and took a fresh look at it.

I’m not remotely embarrassed to admit that this particular book was originally fan-fiction, and the reason is this: as soon as I started to rewrite it, it completely took on a life of its own. In fact, it’s so very different that the original story is actually still online somewhere – and I defy anyone to come up with the name of the TV show it was based on. (Entertaining guesses will be welcomed!)

What happened after that is all a bit of a blur. The basic plot featured a character stepping in to take over the farm of a brother who’d died in mysterious circumstances, inheriting responsibility for his brother’s family (and debts) at the same time. He would then meet up with an old flame/passing love interest, and they’d rekindle their relationship while working for a shared objective. This, basically, is all the book has in common with its fan-fictional progenitor! Anyway, the fact that I’d been watching rather too many cooking shows on TV guaranteed that there would be a chef or chefs involved somehow, and historical research I’d done for another project gave me a location – not a million miles from the setting for MAKE DO AND MEND, as it happens. If you ever look at a map of the River Wye, you’ll see that there’s a large lazy bend in it with the villages of Welsh Bicknor and English Bicknor on opposite sides. There are, too, several derelict bridges along that stretch that used to carry railway lines but have been allowed to decay for a hundred years or more – they’re quite spectacular, but probably very dangerous to cross.

Also, when I was writing the book, gangmasters and illegal immigrants were much in the news; one company was revealed to be housing migrant workers in a ‘temporary village’ in its fields – a situation which only became apparent when they applied for planning permission to build them a cinema. Friction between a small, independent organic farmer – with good intentions but little money – and a large dominant agri-business with massive resources but questionable ethics, made for a good conflict scenario, which becomes more powerful still if the large dominant agri-business happens to be boosting its profits by employing undocumented workers and housing them in sub-standard conditions. So, in essence, what I ended up with was David versus Goliath – with a side order of organic mange-tout!

Fleshing out the minor characters was one of the most enjoyable parts of the process. They always start off as people needed for a specific purpose – to deliver a piece of information, or to be knocked out (or off!) so that someone has to take their place – but the moment you start thinking about who they are and why they’re in the place you need them to be they begin to grow all by themselves. One such was Sharon, the police officer who guides the characters through the latter part of the story. I’d been on a bus once when an unruly passenger started acting up – and, after a few minutes of suffering in silence, the (stunningly-dressed – I think she was on her way to a wedding) woman in the seat in front of me got up, leaned over, quietly produced her warrant card and said, in effect, “Look, I’m off duty at the moment but it would only take one phone call. Shut up, or get arrested.” He chose to shut up.

I have no idea who the woman was, but she stayed in my mind – largely because I would never have looked at her in her finery and thought ‘police officer’. She stepped out of her civilian life just for a moment, did her job, and then stepped back. That intrigued me, and Sharon was the result; she doesn’t actually look like a copper at all, and she’s all the more effective for that reason.

I had a lot of fun, too, writing Rupert’s friends Gary and Steve. (Minuscule clue there to the series of origin!) Believe me, I researched their apartment very thoroughly; I’ve seen the view from their balcony and it’s wonderful. I’ve also stayed at the hotel where Jake and Rupert had their rudely interrupted night of passion – and yes, you can hire a car at Victoria in the middle of the night, but I bet it costs a small fortune!

So I think what I’m trying to say is that this was a book that – as Rumer Godden apparently used to say – was ‘vouchsafed’. It dropped into my lap almost fully-formed, precisely when I needed it, and I wrote it very quickly to fill a need. Everything clicked into place smoothly, and it was one of the most enjoyable writing experiences I’ve ever had. I wish more books would ‘happen’ like that, but I mustn’t be greedy; I’m just grateful that THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER WYE* came along at all, and particularly just when it did!

*PS: I can take no credit for the title. I stole it, as I should have made clear in the book itself, from an episode of the short-lived (but absolutely excellent) TV series Extreme Archaeology.

Scholarly review of A PRIDE OF POPPIES

We were delighted to see a very thorough review by Marie Ramsland of our Great War charity anthology A PRIDE OF POPPIES in the ISAA Review volume 15 number 2 of 2016. This came about because the anthology’s editor, Julie Bozza, is still a member of the Independent Scholars Association of Australia (ISAA) despite her years of living in the UK.

We felt the review was worth sharing with you in full, though please be warned that some of the following remarks about story arcs are spoilers.


Review by Marie Ramsland

For a long time, homosexuality was heavily punished. Often withdrawal from society was the only safeguard. Yet male camaraderie during the war was encouraged by military authorities, encouraging male bonding. Most of the time this was platonic; sometimes more intimate relationships were experienced. Silence or denial is generally no longer needed for such emotions. Therefore, with the centenary of the Great War well underway, this special anthology is a welcome contribution. The stories deal with the impact of war not only in the battle arenas, but also at home, for women and men, parents, siblings and friends. The hurdles the protagonists have to overcome to realise ‘happiness’ or even some sort of individual fulfilment are set up by contemporary social mores supported strongly by religious beliefs. Credibility is enhanced by real locations and lived experience.

Each story offers something special, revealing human weaknesses and strengths that unite us all, creating equilibrium from dichotomy. They reveal aspects of not belonging to the conventionally accepted norm indicated by the anthology’s titles. Three stories stand out for their depth of characterisation: ‘Inside’ by Eleanor Musgrove; ‘A Rooted Sorrow’ by Adam Fitzroy; and Barry Brennessel’s ‘Anh Sang’.

Readers are taken ‘Inside’ Alexandra Palace in north London set up as an internment camp for Germans, Austrians and Hungarians on British soil, citizens and visitors. Life is hard for all, more for the homosexual: ‘… you have to snatch your tender moments when you can … I hope, after the war, things will be easier’.

Fitzroy’s story is set in an English village where attitudes are imbedded in daily life, but love proves stronger than convention. It deals with strong relationships – mother/son, lovers – and the healing power of memory. The powerful narrative, enriched by including several contemporary issues, compels the reader’s attention.

Set in Indochina, ‘Anh Sang’ shows how the French colonisers treated their subjects daily. Fifty thousand Indochinese served in France with heavy casualties. The protagonist avoids enlistment, while his lover is imprisoned but freed during an uprising. They stay together – in hiding, hoping for a better future.

Continue reading “Scholarly review of A PRIDE OF POPPIES”

Layers of love

A guest blog
by Heloise West

Julie Bozza asked us to talk about the love we have for our novels—I had to give ARDENT a re-read in order to capture the ghost of that feeling again, but it’s there, buried beneath the layers of paint and plot twists.

I loved creating these characters, watching them come to life, and it’s challenging working within the historical context. We always ask what a character wants when we start this journey, and, in general, they want what we all want. To be happy. But every character’s definition of happiness is different, an expression of that person’s core qualities.

Morello is the simpler of the three main characters. Art is his love, his family, but not having had a home or a family to call his own, he yearns for that, too, and for someone to share it with him.  He is as honest as he can be; he wears his heart on his sleeve. His journey to happiness is the hard work of loving, supporting, and waiting for Benedetto, though it’s a trial that affects him on a professional level. When he had no love, at least he had art, and loving Benedetto has endangered his reputation.

Benedetto, I’m afraid, doesn’t have his best moments in the beginning of the book, but I think he redeems himself. His evasions, theft, and regret hide a passionate, loving nature. His journey to happiness lies in revealing the truth and dealing with the consequences, and loving Morello the way he deserves to be loved.

Leo, like Morello, is honest about his emotions and his desires. He doesn’t want to hurt anyone because of his affairs, but he remains true to his wandering, lustful nature. He looked out for Benedetto as an elder brother would when they were younger, taught him all he knew about art, allowed Benedetto to manage him, and taught him to love. The only lesson Benedetto couldn’t learn from him was the art of letting go.

It’s an odd triangle, considering one of these characters is absent for most of the story, though his influence is felt throughout.

The character of Falcone at first was just a thug with an uglier name, but weirdly, he showed up at the palazzo where Leo had died and soon became more fully realized, an important plot point of the story. An orphan like Morello, he did not have the kind local priest to raise him, but the mean streets of Florence. I do love my darker characters and one my favorite scenes is the confrontation between Falcone and Benedetto when Falcone needs help fleeing the city. I’d love to write Falcone’s story, about how he finds himself loved and redeemed.


(It’s Julie here, chiming in to say oh how I do pine for that companion volume exploring Falcone’s story. How intriguing that would be! Well, in the meantime, we still have ARDENT to treasure…)

Manifold Press is currently offering five of our recent novels – including ARDENT – at discount prices on Smashwords. Follow these links, and then click the Buy with coupon buttons for the books of your choice. (Whether you then click the Give as a gift button is entirely up to you, but hey it is the silly season soon!)

Happy reading!

Three cheers for the Rainbow Awards 2017!

We’re absolutely delighted by the final results of the Rainbow Awards 2017, which have been announced overnight. The Press received some wonderful recognition, amidst a patently strong field of entries.

Author and stalwart colleague Morgan Cheshire deservedly won first place in the category Best Gay Historical for her novel A TIME TO KEEP (details at the Press website).

The judges said:

1) This was a beautifully written book that had me enthralled from the first page to the last. I was emotionally involved with the characters and transported in time and place to the village of Thornton and into the lives of Matthew, Ben and Sam. I have no hesitation at all to give this book top marks.

2) This felt like one of those generations-long epics. You can feel time fly by, how people try to grasp at happiness and love, only to be foiled by life, war, and death, and in the end renewing their passion for life. The writing is plain and matter-of-fact, yet full of rich natural imagery and lovingly painted landscapes, and that is what makes the whole thing work. There’s the historical framework of WWI against the lives and loves of two young men–and then a third. This story speaks of memories gilded by the passage of time, of a nostalgia for better days before wars decimated men and left them as walking shadows. It speaks of hope most of all, how love endures even in the face of death, and how love can transform sorrow to happiness. An absolutely beautiful story, and I’m not even a fan of the 20th century.

A TIME TO KEEP was also a Runner Up for Best Gay Book.


Meanwhile, debut author Dorian Dawes came equal second in the category Best LGBT Anthology / Collection for their anthology HARBINGER ISLAND (details at the Press website).

The judges said:

1) There was much to like about this book. The title was evocative, and the diversity of characters was both welcome and believable. It was a solid, good read.

2) Delightfully creepy tale that could well have been part of the Twilight Zone series, complete with menacing townsfolk and rotting buildings A different twist is given in part by the main characters who are mostly transgendered. Interesting and spooky plot.

3) I loved the way the stories all linked together to form a full story. Great sense of evil and horror, and interesting diverse characters. Hope there’s a sequel as it feels as though the fight against evil has only just begun.

HARBINGER ISLAND was also a Finalist for Best LGBT Book.


This recognition is on top of Honourable Mentions for A TIME TO KEEP and HARBINGER ISLAND, as well as:

(This may be a good time for a reminder that HARBINGER ISLAND and TO THE LEFT OF YOUR NORTH STAR, as well as other titles, are currently on sale at Smashwords.)

Congratulations to all the authors and publishers who took part! Hearty thanks for the efforts put in by the judges, and above all by Elisa Rolle, who really is a miracle worker. Thank you! ♥

What people think about UNDER LEADEN SKIES

UNDER LEADEN SKIES by Sandra Lindsey is a solid wartime novel, mixing the best of realism with a turn-the-page approach to story-telling.

How have people responded to it … ?

UNDER LEADEN SKIES received an Honourable Mention in the Rainbow Awards 2016, and was a Finalist in the Gay Historical fiction category. Among other things, the judges said:

It was a pretty good story. It kept me curious as to what would come next.

Stevie at The Good, the Bad and the Unread rated it Grade A, and concluded:

I loved this book, both for the story told within it and for the style in which it is told – addressing the reader throughout, as Teddy passes his story on to an individual whose identity only becomes clear at the very end. There’s a lot of scope for sequels – and possibly a prequel – so I hope this isn’t the only visit we pay to the characters and their world.

Dan at Love Bytes LGBTQ Book Reviews gave it four stars, and said:

This was one of those books I finished reading and then sat there gazing at my Kindle…reflecting on the story I had just read…and the book hangover it left me with. Did I like it? Yes, very much. Did I like it all? No, to be honest…there were parts I didn’t like, but only because they tugged at my heartstrings. […] Is the book complete as it is? Yes. But I enjoyed the story and would like more, darn it!

Freya at Sinfully Gay Romance Book Reviews gave it four stars, and concluded:

Under Leaden Skies is a delightful, engaging tale that took me into a world far from my own. There is death, dealing with life in difficult circumstances, injury, drama, loving from a distance and making the best of the hand one is dealt. This would be a lovely story to lose oneself in during that sunny afternoon, lay in a hammock under a shady tree, with a cup of Earl Grey at your side.

Our readers are loving it, too! On Amazon, Andyj9511 gave it five stars and said:

A cracking good read … This is a fantastic story of “forbidden love” in difficult times. It is well written and gives a good insight in to the struggles of two young men coping not only with their love but of a Country at war.

While Stephen H gave it four stars and said:

Very good! … My wife and I included this book in our bedtime reading-to-each-other hour. We were both excited about a book that had LGBTQ characters. We enjoyed it very much. Our only complaint is that we wanted the story to be longer! 🙂


Indeed! We love it when the readers are left wanting more – though we have to admit it does also make us feel a tad cruel. But this is obviously a marvellous book to read alone or with the partner(s) of your choice … The people that read together stay together!

Manifold Press is currently offering five of our recent novels – including UNDER LEADEN SKIES – at discount prices on Smashwords. Follow these links, and then click the Buy with coupon buttons for the books of your choice. (Whether you then click the Give as a gift button is entirely up to you, but hey it is the silly season soon!)

Happy reading!

Creating a world of modern horror and magic

A guest blog
by Dorian Dawes

HARBINGER ISLAND came out of a dark place in my life. I hadn’t written much in the way of fiction in nearly three years. I’d become isolated, virtually agoraphobic, hiding in my boyfriend’s room and doing nothing but playing video games or browsing the internet. Some days it was a chore just to get out of bed. I’d resorted to dying my hair crazy colors just to retain my creativity.

The only thing I looked forwards to was playing D&D and Pathfinder every week with my boyfriend’s gaming group. Getting to escape, be anyone who wasn’t me, and to tell a story without the pressure of succeeding. The discouragement over lack of interest in my work, coupled with personal recent traumas made the very act of writing anything out a Sisyphean task. I loved the world we built and the characters we played, and somehow out of that, found the inspiration to write my own campaign.

I wanted to do something different, to create a world of modern horror and magic and combine my various aesthetic sensibilities into one cohesive vision. Part modern-day Dungeons & Dragons and part X-Files, I created the town of Oakridge and beset it with undead horrors shambling out of the fog. I had some friends online, gay and trans alike who were interested in playing, and together we laid the groundwork for the world that would become Harbinger Island.

To help facilitate exposition for key plot-points, I created a character named Professor Bartley Prouse. He was modelled after specific horror-archetypes, the old man who’s battled evil before (Donald Pleasance in Halloween) and the eccentric and creepy scientist (Jeffrey Combs in Re-Animator). The shades of darkness and light that surrounded him compelled me, and I wanted to continue his story long after the campaign ended.

The drive to create for creativity’s sake had rekindled within me, and I set about writing the prologue story that introduces Harbinger Island. From there, once a month, I made myself write a story within that setting, some which didn’t make it into the book. I kept returning to that world, because it was something I made that I liked. Despite all its horrors, I wanted to live there.

Harbinger Island is a world where oppressive darkness exists, horrors and conspiracies that lurk around every corner, but it is a work of fiction where minorities like me are seen fighting back. Bartleby Prouse is an asexual trans man utilizing his knowledge and powers to protect the queer minority students beneath him from the horrors that surround them. He remains one of my favorite characters I’ve ever written, and ever roleplayed in a tabletop game. I’m currently embroiled in work on other projects, but I hope to return to that world someday again soon. It gave me my writing back, and for that, I will be forever grateful. No matter what I work on in the future, this book will forever be held in my heart affectionately as the one that started it all.


Manifold Press is currently offering five of our recent novels – including HARBINGER ISLAND – at discount prices on Smashwords. Follow these links, and then click the Buy with coupon buttons for the books of your choice. (Whether you then click the Give as a gift button is entirely up to you, but hey it is the silly season soon!)

Happy reading!

New review of SPRING FLOWERING

Reviewers are still enjoying Farah Mendlesohn’s debut novel SPRING FLOWERING, with the most recent comments being from respected author, editor and academic Ali Williams on her own blog.

“This is a novel that highlights how female friendship in the Regency era provided opportunity for closeness, and gives our heroine an independent happy ever after with her perfect woman, untinged with sorrow or familial disapproval. Gorgeous.”

Thank you, Ali, we couldn’t have put it better ourselves, and – as the Northern Hemisphere winter gets its icy teeth into us – we’re grateful for the reminder that Spring itself exists: so, if you’re in need of something to brighten up your long dark evenings, you may find that SPRING FLOWERING could very well be it!

What people think about TO THE LEFT OF YOUR NORTH STAR

TO THE LEFT OF YOUR NORTH STAR by Michelle Peart is a terrific story of an otherworldly pair of misfits on a road – well, a river trip. Edward just wants to go home to Earth, while Burn wants to see more of his own home planet Abaytor as they travel by raft down the Copper River. Does either of them get what he wants?

And how have people responded to this novel…?

TO THE LEFT OF YOUR NORTH STAR received an Honourable Mention in the Rainbow Awards 2017. The judges said:

This book was AWESOME. I was captured by the characters and story from the first page and was held captive until the last. The world building was vivid and captivating, the characters distinct and fully rounded. The plot moved along at a cracking pace as I went on a journey of discovery with Edward and Burn. Both of the boys worked their way into my heart and I eagerly await for more. What a debut!

On AmazonO.M. Carey Jones gave it five stars and said:

Very imaginative storytelling – an excellent read! … The story is so imaginative and different and so interestingly written that I did not know what to expect next as I turned each page. And the ending was completely unexpected, both sad and inspiring – I loved it!

Brightwood also gave it five stars and said:

This is an engaging, romping, rollicking adventure of two teenage boys on another world. As the river in this outer world tosses them about and challenges them to the limit, their inner worlds begin seismic shifts. The author’s use of descriptive language is beautiful and evocative – you are right in there with the boys – and I love the way the story unravels in unpredictable twists and turns, just like the river they’re riding, just like life. It’s messy, it doesn’t turn out how you expected or how you wanted it – but isn’t it interesting how it’s often just what you really need? A brilliant story, brilliantly told.

On Goodreads, Sabrina gave it four stars and said:

What a delightful read! Really did love the dynamic between the main characters a lot. Totally fell in love with the flirty Burn and the grumpy Edward right from the beginning.

While Rosie gave it five stars and said:

Loved absolutely everything about it. Desperate for a sequel now…


Does this romping, rollicking adventure sound like something you – or a loved one – would enjoy reading? This novel is suitable for people of all ages who are young at heart.

Manifold Press is currently offering five of our recent novels – including TO THE LEFT OF YOUR NORTH STAR – at discount prices on Smashwords. Follow these links, and then click the Buy with coupon buttons for the books of your choice. (Whether you then click the Give as a gift button is entirely up to you, but hey it is the silly season soon!)

Happy reading!

The culmination of a dream

A guest blog 
by Eleanor Musgrove

When I was asked to write a post explaining what I love about SUBMERGE, I had to think about it for a bit. Truth be told, I hadn’t read it in a while, due to a combination of having other things to write, real life getting in the way, and the fact that by the time I’ve edited something a million times (Manifold’s high standards don’t just happen, you know!) I generally can’t bear to look at it for a while. But it was about time I revisited my story, and I’m glad that this post gave me a good reason to do so, because suddenly the things I loved about the story, and the things that made it so much fun to write, came flooding back.

What do I love most about Submerge? Well, the first thing is Submerge itself. The book is named for the nightclub where most of the story’s main events take place, and that nightclub is the sort of place I would hang out if I could. It’s a very warm, friendly LGBTQIA+ safe space, with the big noisy dance-floor/bar setup alongside a smaller, quieter performance area, both with plenty of tables and chairs to sit down at if, like me, you’re not quite up to partying all night. Miles – the manager, and one of the main characters – has gone to a lot of trouble to make sure that it’s not just a gay/lesbian bar, for example by offering free pronoun stickers to make introductions easier between people with varying gender identities. And that makes a lot of sense when you think about Miles’ friends, who make up the main cast of the novel.

That’s the second thing I love about Submerge (though I know some people found it a bit off-putting) – the group of friends it centres around is quite varied in terms of LGBT+ identity. My main characters are two gay men, a bisexual woman and a lesbian, but the supporting cast includes a transman (one day I’d love to write more of his story, and indeed if I ever expand Submerge into a series I will go deeper into his life), an asexual woman, and a pansexual drag queen with a glitter obsession. Though it might seem like a box-ticking exercise, it is actually more to do with the friends I found when I was first beginning to understand my own identity, and the friends I continue to have now. I have always had friends from all over the sexuality and gender spectrum, and I didn’t see many of those mixed queer groups in fiction. Besides, when you set a book in a gay bar, you have to go all-out and pack it with a range of colourful characters, don’t you?

Submerge is my first published novel and the culmination of a dream I’ve had since I was fourteen years old. Well, I say ‘culmination’, but that suggests that I’ve finished, and I haven’t. I’ve learned a lot from the process, and I definitely still have stories to write! I really enjoyed writing Submerge, so I really hope people enjoy reading it just as much.


Manifold Press is currently offering five of our recent novels – including SUBMERGE – at discount prices on Smashwords. Follow these links, and then click the Buy with coupon buttons for the books of your choice. (Whether you then click the Give as a gift button is entirely up to you, but hey it is the silly season soon!)

Happy reading!

Santa Baby, slip a paperback (or two) under the tree…

Life having slightly got the better of us here at Manifold Press lately, we’ve unfortunately missed a couple of opportunities to bring new paperback editions of some of our titles to your attention. Today, however, with the launch of the paperback version of Morgan Cheshire’s A TIME TO KEEP, we have an opportunity to put that right. So, out with your time-turner (or, if you prefer, hop into your blue Police box) and let’s take a brief trip back to May 2016!

 

Adam Fitzroy’s THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER WYE sneaked out in paperback a good eighteen months ago, and we completely forgot to mention it at the time! It’s the modest little tale of an organic farmer, the obligations he’s inherited from his dead brother, and the return of a long-lost friend who seems determined to share his burden. Join Rupert, Jake, and their assorted family and friends as they investigate a series of mysterious occurrences on an isolated Welsh land-holding, and juggle with the demands of an irascible TV chef!

 

F.M. Parkinson’s THE WALLED GARDEN is really too well-mannered a book to make a great fuss about itself, but for those who enjoy Dickens, Mrs Gaskell, the Brontes and other authors of the period who tell a story slowly and with masses of corroborative detail the new paperback version will be a welcome addition to their library. When William Ashton is employed as Edward Hillier’s gardener he is attracted to his master but – in an unforgiving social climate – love is slow to blossom, albeit lasting when it does.

 

Morgan Cheshire’s A TIME TO KEEP is another of her trademark gentle love stories, this time taking place in the years immediately surrounding the First World War. Two workhouse boys in love, Ben and Matthew, make their tentative way in the world, determined only to stay together. Ben secures employment on a farm, Matthew becomes an assistant lock-keeper on a busy canal. When war comes, however, their hopes are crushed, and Matthew must continue alone – until, that is, the providential arrival of a stranger gives him something new to hope for.

 

We love all three of these books, and we’re delighted to see them in paperback form; there’s loads of good reading here for the long winter evenings, and they’re just the thing to slip into someone’s Christmas stocking … or, indeed, your own!