Archive for February, 2008
From the blog of Emma Collingwood:
You can now have a look inside “Lieutenant Samuel Blackwood (deceased)” on Amazon Germany. No worries, you don’t need to know any German, just click on the “Search Inside” icon, and you can read the first couple of pages plus have a look at the first of Mlle de Villeneuve’s wonderful illustrations.
For the undecided. 😉
From the blog of Emma Collingwood:
Lieutenant Samuel Blackwood (deceased) has been reviewed by two more online rec sites, and hey, they liked my book! Both raised some points of criticism which are well justified, and it’s great they took the time to give constructive criticism. My hints about the sexual orientation of Daniel were probably really too subtle for some – just because I know that, in my work, the captain always ends up with the lieutenant, I can’t expect everybody else to know. 🙂
Gifted reviewers are as rare as gifted authors. But even the best among them hardly ever get the recognition they deserve. The reviewers. Not the authors. Ok, the authors as well, but we’re talking about reviewers now.
If my writing should be repetitive, full of cliches and cringworthy, I want to know. If I use anachronisms, I want to know that as well. And I also want to know if something in my book doesn’t work for the reader. Sometimes it’s a matter of different perceptions, and there’s not much I can do about it, but more often than not, the readers do have a point. And then it’s my job to roll up my sleeves and have a critical look at my writing. That’s how I learn. That’s how I grow as a writer, and it’s important to me. So I can’t thank those readers and reviewers enough who let me know what they liked and didn’t like about my work.
But now on to the reviews! I’ll be honest, I had no idea how my book would do on DEAR AUTHOR. But looking at the website I found that the reviewers were giving their honest opinions, and so I knocked on their door and asked if they might want to give my book a try. They did. 🙂
About the book in general:
“(…) In summation, I wouldn’t suggest this to fans simply looking for a MxM romance, as the speed with which romance was introduced and the little face-time it was given made it unconvincing. As an old-fashioned ghost story set at sea however this excels, and anyone who likes those would enjoy the booklet for that alone. If the physical copy lives up to its pictures, it would only add to the enjoyment. Grade: B. (…)”
And about the illustrations by Mlle Amandine de Villeneuve:
“(…) The illustrations are marvelous and Amandine de Villeneuve is to be commended. (…)”
Val Kovalin of THE OBSIDIAN BOOKSHELF is one of my favourite reviewers. Not only because she liked my book (which makes me happy, of course!) but because it’s so obvious she puts as much love and dedication into her reviews as the authors she reviews put in their work. Her reviews are insightful, detailed, fair, and I’ve learned to rely on her judgement. Currently there are two of her recommendations on my shopping list, and I know I won’t be disappointed!
Two short excerpts from her review – first about the book in general:
“(…) Readers might also desire more emphasis on the romance itself. But that would be missing the point: the book wants to keep its plot elements in balance and achieve closure while attempting this short and challenging literary form (kind of like writing a sonnet). I’m impressed at what a good job the author does while keeping it fun for the readers. The book does have one brief sex scene that is tasteful but hot! (…)”
And about the illustrations by Mlle Amandine de Villeneuve:
“(…) She does fingers extremely well, showing each one distinct and shaped with realistic tension. The four interior drawings highlight important moments in the narrative. I almost screamed with delight when I saw that one shows the first kiss between Daniel and his captain: it’s one hot and romantic drawing! (…)”
The Obsidian Bookshelf is definitely a website you should bookmark; it’s a treasure trove!
A word about the “high price”, because it’s been brought up in various discussions:
I live, unfortunately, in a very expensive country. Still, I’ve kept the price of the book as low as possible. Once all expenses are covered (which will hopefully be the case in the year 2017) I make about 20 – 30 pence off each copy. Fortunes! Riches! World domination!
Living on a very tight budget myself, I have all sympathy in the world for those who find a price of £ 4.90 / $ 9.90 too high for a book with 80 pages. But at the risk of sounding like I was suffering from a bad case of megalomania: I think my writing is worth it. I think Mlle de Villeneuve’s illustrations and cover art are worth it. If I wouldn’t believe in our abilities, that book would have never been published in the first place.
Yes, e-books are a less costly alternative. E-books are great. All power to e-books. But no e-book could transfer our intention behind this book: paying homage to the “Penny Dreadfuls” of ye olden days. You have to hold it in your hands, feel the pages and see Miss de Villeneuve’s wonderful illustrations right in front of your eyes, not pixelised online. If a reader tells me that s/he read the book in bed, with a mug of hot chocolate while it was raining outside, I’m one happy Emma.
I want cocoa stains on your copies, darn it! I want them to have dog ears! All the signs of repeated reading! Yes, an e-book would be cheaper. But we’re not working for Wal-Mart. We’re working for Penny, Dreadful & Tarbottom.
BOYS AT SEA
Sodomy, Indecency, and Court Martial in Nelson’s Navy
by Professor B. R. Burg (Arizona State University, USA)
Hardcover, Palgrave/Macmillan, ISBN 978-0-230-52228-2
“(…) ‘Boys at Sea’ is a study of homoerotic life on board ships of the Royal Navy in the age of fighting sail. It deals not only with sex among ordinary crewmen, but reveals that the most conspicuous feature of prosecutions for sodomy and indecency from the reign of Queen Anne almost to the dawn of the Victorian age involved officers forcing their attentions on unwilling ships’ boys. (…) It provides a probing look into the careers of youngsters who served on board Britain’s warships, revealing a dark and terrifying aspect of their lives. (…)”
* * *
I’m aware that my researches have always been one-sided – had to be, because I have neither the means nor the connections to get insight into archives. I’m not a scholar; I’m a writer of Age of Sail adventure with a touch of supernatural and male/male romance. I write Penny Dreadfuls, not the 50980986th biography of Nelson. While I try to keep the historical settings correct, I’m well aware that the characters I write about are fictional not only because I created them, but also because they would not have behaved the way they do in my stories if they had been real. That’s why it’s called “fiction”. But this doesn’t mean I’ll wear blinders when it comes to the dark side of history.
History, so they say, is written by the winners. That’s true, but I’d like to add: history is also written by those who could actually write. When researching information regarding the Age of Sail, we find journals, reports and letters by the officers – but it’s very unlikely that a ship’s boy or powder monkey would have kept a diary. At least I don’t know of any such case. Those who could write might have sent a letter, but oral tradition and the odd article about a mutiny in the papers aside, the voice of the lower deck is a faint whisper compared to the mighty choir the higher ranks have left us as a legacy.
One of the few occasions where “Jack Tar” could be heard was in front of a court. The words of the illiterate have been immortalised by clerks, the records are now in libraries and museums, for us to read and study. Professor B. R. Burg’s book is mostly based on court martial records, which gave the ones who couldn’t leave a track in history their own voice.
“(…) a large majority of the defendants were officers and that in almost every case the officers were accused of forcing sodomy and indecent acts on unwilling boys. Ordinary sailors customarily found partners among their peers, as did midshipmen, but no officer was ever called to account for buggering another officer. Neither did men holding commissions or warrants select those immediately below them in rank as sexual partners. They chose only those in the lowest tiers of the naval hierarchy. Captains did not have sex with lieutenants; lieutenants did not have sex either with petty officers or with the “ratings” or “the people,” as seamen were variously called by those in posts of authority. The preferred partners for officers of every level were the boys that comprised between 8 and 10 percent of ships’ crews. (…)”
Learning about homosexuality in the Royal Navy of the 18th century is like trying to put a puzzle together. Letters. Reports. Journals. Gossip. Court records. Paintings. Caricatures. These are all part of the puzzle, but what we’ll never know is how many men were not “caught in the act”; how they felt, lived. It’s speculation, so a large part of the puzzle will always remain missing.
What we do know, though, is that not every case of “buggery” or, when played down for decency’s sake, “uncleanliness”, found its way in front of a court martial. There were various reasons: it took ages to get the number of captains together that were required for a court martial. Buggery was considered such a heinous crime that even the mention of it, no matter how insubstantial the claim was, could ruin a man’s career and the precious reputation as a “gentleman”. Last but not least, the reputation of the ship was tarnished as well.
We know that Collingwood, for example, absolutely “wouldn’t suffer” officers calling the men “buggers” when unsatisfied with their work, as he considered it an outrageous insult. Then we have Captain Graham Moore’s journal entry about a case of “uncleanliness” aboard his ship:
“(…) Yesterday I did what I had no right to do, in flogging and turning a seaman ashore, who had acted in a manner disgraceful to the character of an Englishman. I must either have acted as I did, or taken the fellow round to be tried by Court Martial; it was impossible for him to remain in the ship after it. The horror and indignation which our countrymen have for attempts of that nature could not brook such a man remaining amongst them. Besides I am of opinion that morality suffers by such practices becoming notorious. (…)”
(For source and more information, please see here.)
I think we can assume that Moore wasn’t the only one who preferred to punish a man for a lesser offence than risking a court martial, and we know of another instance where two “buggers” were encouraged to desert the navy (with the knowledge of the officers!) rather than drag them in front of a court martial and get the ship a bad reputation. It’s very likely that many occurrences of “uncleanliness” were swiped under the sea chest.
The court martial records are at times explicit, yet by far not as bad as your average news report on television. They deal with crimes of a sexual nature, so you can’t expect modesty when it comes to abuse or rape. The court martial records show that every detail of the “crime” was researched and questioned – who topped? Who was the bottom? Was there an agreement about the act? What, exactly, did the act consist of? Did one or both parties ejaculate? If yes, where? What was the light condition like? Did the moon shine or not? At times, the mind boggles, and some of the reports make a downright absurd read.
But it’s exactly the ancient style of the records which helps reading them with the distance needed, and we have to see them within the context of the century they have been written in. A “boy”, for example, was not necessarily a child (the distinction between “child”, “adolescent” and “adult” was not as clear-cut as it is today); it was also a position aboard a ship. Every officer had his boy(s) – servants, aides. They could be every age up to eighteen. It takes a while to understand that our modern words might not have had the same meanings in the 18th century.
Luckily, Professor Burg doesn’t fall into the trap of applying our 21st century viewpoints and morals on the 18th century. He reports and analyses, he doesn’t judge; a difficult task. Of course the first reaction when reading of an officer trying to get his way with a fourteen year old boy is “give me ye olde rusty knife so I can cut ye sick tossers balls off” – but pretending no such occurrences happened would be a beautification of history. It’s the last thing we need; we shouldn’t forget that there weren’t only heroes in the Age of Sail.
What I found the most interesting and to me new fact was victims of unwanted sexual attentions and aggression did inform their officers. They told their ship mates, each other. They didn’t mind going to court. They didn’t mind giving testimony, with exceptions of some cases where they feared retribution. This doesn’t only show courage, but also a trust in the authority of the court martial to serve justice.
Was this trust justified? I’d say “yes, but…” – sometimes the words of the victims were doubted, especially when they were very young or had a bad reputation for lying. A “gentleman” would be considered to be more trustworthy than a common man. Still, they were heard out, and the younger the victims, the less likely there would be any punishment for them, even if the court suspected “agreement” from their part.
We can also catch a glimpse at the way the navy dealt with the people of colour in their service. The British Empire was huge – there were men serving from all places serving in the navy, and according to some sources, a third of them were not white. That’s a separate field of research, but the fact that a sailor’s word was deemed to be less worthy because he was “a foreigner” and not white gives us a hint of the way the authorities dealt with POC. Maybe aboard a ship, a world and society on her own, ones origin didn’t matter much, but it certainly did in front of a court martial!
The closer the records get to the Victorian age, the more difficult they are to understand. New prudery and more deeply religious officers in the navy had a strong influence on language. While the old records called spades spades and arses arses, you will have to make your way through “yards” and “fundaments”. With some excerpts, you can almost imagine the clerk writing the testimonies down blushing and cringing.
To me Burg’s core sentence is that
“(…) Ordinary sailors customarily found partners among their peers, as did midshipmen, but no officer was ever called to account for buggering another officer. (…)”
He seems to be of the opinion that “partners” (willing or unwilling ones…) were always chosen from the “(…) lowest tiers of the naval hierarchy. (…)” – captains did not have sex with their lieutenants.
And that’s where I disagree. Just because there were no court martials about it doesn’t mean it never happened. All through mankind’s history people have broken the law out of love, not to talk out of lust (probably even more so!) and of all the men aboard a ship, high-ranking officers were the ones with the most privacy and the most opportunities to break that specific Article of War. Considering how much weight was put on reputation and honour, on being a “gentleman”, they would have been extra-careful and had only chosen partners on whose discretion they could rely.
I refuse to believe that in a century of naval history, not once an officer has been involved with another officer.
I bought “Boys at Sea” despite its horrendous price (£ 50.00 regularly and £ 32.00 if you’re lucky to get it used) – a price which is justified, by the way, considering the research that has gone into it – because I want to complete the puzzle as far as possible. Can I recommend the book? Yes, absolutely, if you’re interested in getting a halfway realistic view on homosexuality and the legal system within the RN in the 18th century. And for me, and my writing, it’s important to understand the general spirit, the way of thinking, the morals, values and social structures aboard a ship. For that, “Boys at Sea” is an excellent source.
Edited for additional comments.
When asked what genre my original writing is, I should reply that it’s “Age of Sail” adventure with humour and mystery and drama and gay romance and supernatural elements. I should, but I don’t, because the next question will be: “QUOI?” and so I’ve settled for either “I write Georgian ghost stories in a naval seeting” or “Penny Dreadfuls which are not dreadful and cost more than a penny.”
“Supernatural themes” and “Age of Sail” shouldn’t be that odd a “pairing”, though. Folk lore is full of ghost ships and spooks of all kind connected with the sea and those conquering it. Today I went through some of my books to look up some details about the Brown Lady of Raynham for a friend of mine. This is certainly one of the most famous “hauntings” ever; it’s well documented and there is even a very clear photography of the ghost, which you can see HERE.
Now imagine my surprise when I realised that Captain Frederick Marryat – you will probably remember his drawings of a Midshipman’s life and his book Mr. Midshipman Easy – had a run-in with the Brown Lady and had to learn that dealing with a ghost the “good old Navy way” doesn’t work. This might be an old story for some of you, but I just had to share; it gives a nice insight into Captain Marryat’s character.
The “Brown Lady of Raynham Hall” in Norfolk is believed to be the ghost of Lady Dorothy Townshend. From all we know, she was a rather wicked lady, and this reputation is the reason why experts still argue what really happened to her. Did she die of natural causes, as is the official version? Did she commit suicide? Was she murdered by her husband, throwing her down the great stairs? Did her husband secretly lock her up in her room until the day she died? Or was it smallpox – not very exciting or romantic, but probably the version closest to the truth?
But whatever the reasons, Lady Dorothy has reportedly haunted her old home for centuries. It’s said she even frightened King George IV who paid a visit to Raynham – quite obviously, she shared the general dislike for said gentleman. She appeared next to the King’s bed, looking all scary and dishevelled and pale, and his Majesty, used to the charms of Mrs. Fitzherbert (ah, the gossip of ye olden days!) was not amused. Much yelling ensued.
Enter Captain Frederick Marryat, Royal Navy, officially not prone to superstition and convinced that the Townshend family wasn’t dealing with a ghost but smugglers or poachers. Considering that the haunting was well-documented and going on for many, many years already, this was not very likely, but we can assume that Curageous Fred wanted to make a point that “such nonsense” didn’t exist. My personal opinion is that he just couldn’t resist the thrill of chasing down a ghost. Men and their fancies…
Anyway, Marryat was invited and insisted in sleeping in the room where the portrait of Lady Dorothy hung on the wall. One night, the two sons of Lord Townshend knocked on his door and wanted to show them a new pistol that had been recently bought. Marryat agreed and took his own loaded pistol with him, joking about a man having to be armed just in case a ghost should cross his path.
The pistol was inspected, found to be of good quality and the two young men jokingly offered Marryat to escort him back to his room – just in case a ghost should cross his path. In the dark corridor, they suddenly saw a woman approaching, carrying a lamp. Marryat, not wearing much more than his breeches and a shirt, didn’t want to embarrass the lady of the house or any other female by running into a half-naked Captain in the middle of the night, so he and the two lads quickly stepped into an empty room and hoped they wouldn’t be noticed.
Alas… the lady stopped and turned to them. Marryat recognised her immediately, for she wore the same brown dress as she did on the portrait in his room. So he had finally met the ghost – Lady Dorothy obviously wanted to leave a lasting impression on our great naval hero, and held the lamp up so he could see her face more clearly. Pretty but wicked she was, with an evil smile.
What would a captain of the Royal Navy do when confronted with such horror? Cry out in fear? No, that’s what Kings do. Faint? That’s for chamber maids. Saying a prayer? No. He made a step forward, aimed his pistol at the ghost and pulled the trigger.
Deeply offended by such behaviour not fitting a gentleman, Lady Dorothy vanished into thin air with a huff and a grim smile, and didn’t make any further appearances for many a decade. One can argue that it’s rather pointless to shoot at a ghost, as one of the basic requirements for a ghostly existence is already being dead. And we’ll never know whether this was an act of outstanding bravery on Captain Marryat’s part or the reaction of a man who was scared witless. Let’s be kind and assume the latter.
So that’s the story, and all that was left after the incident were a sulking ghost, a very puzzled captain and a bullet hole in the door…
Having grown-up in a “haunted” house, I feel with the family. Either you arrange yourself or you move out, there’s not much else you can do. Anyway, compliments to Captain Marryat for trying to help the Townshend-family getting rid of the annoying lady, and thanks for leaving us with this interesting story.
Posted today on Emma Collingwood’s blog:
Order now and save money!
I do sound like a market crier, don’t I…
As you know, I’ve set the price for my book as low as possible. Means: my main target is to cover my costs and maybe manage to get an extra tin of cat food or Woodpecker’s cider out of it (the cider is not for the cats, by the way).
There have been some currency fluctuations recently, and so I have to raise the price for “Lieutenant Samuel Blackwood (deceased)” by 30 pence. The new price will therefore be £ 5.10 (current price: £ 4.90). I will, however, not change the amount for “postage and packing”.
The price will be changed on the online shop by Tuesday evening, so if you have been thinking about buying my book and not done so yet, now would be the moment!
* * *
Interview with Lieutenant Daniel Leigh (RN)!
An interview with Daniel has been published on the blog of author ALEX BEECROFT (who has just published her outstanding novel CAPTAIN’S SURRENDER on Lindenbay – a book I can only highly recommend. Review to follow!)
If you want to read Daniel’s thoughts on estate management and the advantages of the front flap on his breeches,
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Another day, another review. Reviewer Sandra gave my book four out of five possible hearts on
This means “very good” and makes me one happy Emma. The book is not available from the source they listed, but I trust in people’s willingness to use Google.
Yes, I’m a hopeless optimist, how did you guess?
Happy ordering and reading,