This week on my lockdown book blog, I have my first encounter with a genre I didn’t even know existed and get a chance to quiz accomplished author Fiona Glass.
…the doctor was still watching him in an I’m waiting kind of way. He took a breath. ‘It was in a bar, sir. In Belfast, coming up to a year ago. We got a call. There’d been a coded warning to one of the papers – usual thing, time and place, not much more. Our unit was on duty, we went in mob-handed to get as many of the kids out as we could…’ His throat felt raw. This was the killer part. He paused, and licked his lips. ‘Bastards set the thing off early, while we were still inside. They knew. They must have known…’
The swirling grey clouds threatened to part and suck him in. He focussed on the hygiene notices on the wall, forcing himself to read them and stay alert. Always wash your hands… never re-use equipment or supplies. ‘It was right before Christmas and the place was rammed. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the screams. And all the lights went off and it was dark, and full of dust and smoke. Felt like I couldn’t breathe. I wanted to get out, to get more of the kids out, but I got thrown against the wall and something heavy fell on my leg and I couldn’t move.’ Never share needles, even with your friends. The place was on fire, sir, and I couldn’t get out. All I could do was lie there and listen to the screams as civilians – kids – died and the flames spread closer and closer…’ His voice broke on a half-sob. ‘Sorry, sir.’
‘That’s all right, my boy.’ Latimer’s voice came from a great distance but sounded kinder than it had. ‘I’m sorry to have to put you through that but I had to be sure.’
It’s the early nineties and Sergeant Nat Brook has spent months in hospital undergoing treatment for the physical and emotional trauma of being caught in a Belfast bomb blast.
Nat is transferred to an army rehab facility in the heart of the English countryside. The former Frogmorton mansion is austere, but he begins to find solace in its overgrown garden and wider estate. While efforts to rehabilitate his badly mangled leg have some success, his psychological scarring takes longer to deal with, partly because he’s reluctant to admit his sexuality. Being openly gay would mean instant dismissal from the army, which is the only family he has, given his parents threw him out.
Fiona Glass creates a completely credible character and situation – gripping, down to earth, a man crushed and needing recovery – and then with admirable aptitude with pace and plot, she arouses the reader’s curiosity further by introducing another thread. When Sergeant Nat Brook randomly follows an overgrown path and stumbles into an area of diffused sunlight, manicured lawns, statuettes and fountains, is he hallucinating? This special place exists one day, but it eludes him the next. Is this a sign of his increasing mental instability, like former army mate Jazz? Or something else entirely? And what about the equally elusive Richie, the undeniably physical twenty-something who leads Nat to those secluded places under the apple trees and inside the red and gold Chinese pagoda?
December Roses held my attention from start to finish. In Nat Brook, Fiona Glass has created a three-dimensional and convincing main character – sometimes irritable, barely containing pent-up anger, sometimes physically and emotionally vulnerable – who matters to us as we’re reading and in the quiet moments after we’ve set down the book. As events move forward, the reader inhabits Nat’s world, intrigued and curious, eagerly following clues to unlock the puzzle of the garden and Richie. Is he real? Can their relationship work? Where will Nat go, when he heals – in or out of the army?
CMcK: Fiona, welcome to my lockdown book blog. I have so many questions to ask you! But first, with the news this week that the army is being called on to recompense soldiers dismissed because of their sexuality, it seems incredibly topical. What drew you to this subject matter?
FG: Thank you for having me, and for letting me do what all writers enjoy most, which is witter on about myself. Yes, I spotted that story and thought how topical it was – I might have to blog about it myself! I’m racking my brains a bit about what inspired the original story that led to December Roses, because I first wrote it way back in the late 1990s. I seem to remember seeing a photograph of one of my favourite actors at the time dressed in a paratrooper’s uniform for one of his roles. He was quite probably bisexual, and I remember wondering why it was that a bi man could portray a soldier but not serve as one. This was at a time when it was still illegal to serve in the armed forces if you were gay, which always struck me as illogical and deeply unfair. I think the story, and later the novel, grew out of that – and a recent (at the time) trip to Biddulph Grange gardens in Staffordshire, which the National Trust were in the process of restoring, gave me inspiration for the setting.
CMcK: Gay paranormal romance. When I heard that label, I thought it sounded very niche. But your story is universal in its appeal. Beautifully written – expertly crafted in terms of plot and pace. What attracts you to this genre?
FG: Thank you for your kind words – I’m blushing! I guess I’ve always been interested in things I’ll never experience for myself, and I also have a strong belief in equality and the right to relationships irrespective of gender. And although gay romance might sound niche it’s actually incredibly popular, not just with gay men but with people of all genders and from all walks of life. I first got involved in writing it back in the 1990s and not only wrote a great many short stories, plus a handful of longer works, but also ran an online gay romance magazine called Forbidden Fruit for about eight years. It started small but with the help of like-minded friends I grew it until it became something of a success. I even had gay men commenting that they could get porn anywhere but had never been able to access romantic stories before, so I’m really proud of the achievement.
CMcK: Oh wow – that’s lovely!
FG: I wandered away from the genre for several years as I felt I was getting stale, but have recently dug out some of my back catalogue and am re-editing, rewriting, or using it to inspire new books. And really enjoying it, actually!
CMcK: Tell me about your other writing – and what’s in the pipeline.
FG: Most of my work involves history, the paranormal, and romance, in varying (and varyingly weird!) combinations. I currently have three more books available. Two of them are also gay romance: Echoes of Blood, which is a dark vampire tale set in modern-day Liverpool but involving New Romantics and a missing Roman legion; and Just Visiting, a time-travel romance about a man’s struggle against bullying and discrimination. The third, Got Ghosts? is a paranormal romp set in a haunted manor house, where a TV crew filming for a popular show disturb something they really shouldn’t and all hell breaks loose. I’m also close to finishing the first draft of a brand new book set on an archaeological dig, featuring a lost priory, a ghostly presence, a gold cross and something unexpected lurking under the cloisters! If I can finish and edit that, I’m hoping to publish it later this year. I’m a bit ‘seat of the pants’ when it comes to writing, so after that, who knows?
CMcK: You’re so prolific! Enviable! Last question – where can we find out more about you and where can we buy your books?
FG: If you’ll forgive the pun I tend to haunt the internet so you can find me in all sorts of places. First of all there’s my website (http://www.fiona-glass.com) which is where I list all my books and stories, as well as information about myself, my writing, and any bits of news. Then there’s my blog (https://fionaglass.wordpress.com/) where I rabbit on about trips out, gardening, history, various TV and book reviews, and my own writing; and my new Dreamwidth account (https://fionaglass.dreamwidth.org/) where I’m posting snippets and samples of my work. And of course you can always find me on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/fiona.glass.33) and Twitter (https://twitter.com/F_Glass_Author). All my books are available on Amazon (you can find my author page at https://www.amazon.co.uk/-/e/B009E93MJ4); December Roses, Echoes of Blood and Just Visiting are also free on Kindle Unlimited. You can also buy Got Ghosts? directly from the publisher, Fox Spirit Books (https://www.foxspirit.co.uk/).
CMcK: Thank you so much for joining me on the blog!
FG: Thank you!