Improbable Press has a new anthology of Holmes/Watson romance stories, celebrating the celebrated sleuth Sherlock Holmes and his biographer, friend and (in these stories) lover John Watson.
Some stories are sweet, others steamy. Many involve cases. Some are set in the Victorian era while others take place in 21st century London. In some they are young men solving crimes, and in others they have retired to Sussex.
They all contain some sort of reference to bees or honey.
I’m utterly delighted to have both a short story and a poem in the book and to be in the company of other writers including Kerry Greenwood (the Phryne Fisher series) and Atlin Merrick (The Night They Met) as well as many excellent writers being professionally published for the first time.
Think of Sherlock Holmes and you think of mysteries, John Watson…and bees. While Arthur Conan Doyle sent the great detective to tend hives in retirement, here bees are front and centre in stories of love and romance, war and hope, of honey on the tongue and a sting in the tail. In tales of rare nectars, secret diaries, and the private language of lovers, bees may be the buzzing heart of the story…or as ephemeral as a murmur. What you’ll find in every tale are John Watson and Sherlock Holmes helping one another, wanting one another, loving one another.
To encourage a world where such love is seen for the precious thing it is, profits from “A Murmuring of Bees” will be donated to the It Gets Better Project.
Excerpt from my story, Nectar
After they’d been in the basement for thirty six hours, they weren’t joking any more. Sherlock refused to discuss his symptoms but John knew them anyway: the decreased sweating; the onset of muscle cramps; the increased respiration and the incipient fever. Sherlock was more dehydrated than John, and was betraying the signs sooner. Neither of them was critical yet, but they were far from comfortable.
After everything they’d been through together, it began to look like this was how they’d die. Together. Of thirst.
In the thirty-seventh hour, the storm broke out.
Rain spattered through the open window onto John’s face, waking him from a reverie that was more a stupor. He absently licked drops of water from his lips, and again: then his eyes were wide open. He lurched to his feet and staggered towards the window.
The pattering rain became a driving downfall. It ran in rivulets through the broken window.
John pushed his cheek against the wall, shoving the side of his mouth against a steady stream that gathered in a crack and poured down the bricks. Water flowed over his lips and tongue and down his dry, dry, dry throat. The water tasted of dust and brick and God knew what else, and it was the best water John had ever tasted in his life. He pooled a mouthful and swallowed it. Pooled a second. Swallowed it.
He tried to put his hands under the stream, but the chains wouldn’t let him get that close. So he pooled a third mouthful, larger than the first two, and held it behind pressed lips.
He took two strides to Sherlock’s side, dropped to his knees, and shook Sherlock awake.
Sherlock peered at him with weary perplexity. John tapped Sherlock’s mouth with his fingers. When Sherlock didn’t respond immediately, John poked his fingers between Sherlock’s dry lips to part them, hovered—his mouth millimetres from Sherlock’s—and then he opened his mouth to let the water dribble carefully down.
Sherlock made a small, desperate noise and swallowed the water. He tried to catch a spilled droplet with his tongue.
“Sorry,” rasped John, “Had a full mouth and couldn’t warn you. Wake up, now.” He was already moving back to the wet bricks; to the precious rivulet of rainwater.
After a small swallow, John filled his mouth and returned to Sherlock. He transferred the precious cargo into Sherlock’s cupped hands. Sherlock was sucking at his wet fingers as John returned to the window; came back ready to fill Sherlock’s palms again.
Sherlock tilted his head back. “Lose too much that way,” he croaked, and opened his mouth.
London rained on them for an hour. It was almost like she wanted them to live. For an hour, John went back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. He drank sips almost as a by-product of collecting water for Sherlock, and fed mouthful after mouthful of water to his friend. Buying time.
Sherlock revived a little with every mouthful, though his first strange thought on waking to John watering him mouth-to-mouth persisted.
What kind of flower actively feeds nectar to the bee?
The rain stopped, and John stopped, slumping in exhaustion beside Sherlock on the floor. They leaned against each other.
“Don’t thank me,” laughed John, “You’ll make me think we’re not getting out of this.”
Sherlock didn’t say anything.
“You’re welcome,” said John.
To find out how they are rescued (of course they are rescued!) and what happens afterwards, pick up A Murmuring of Bees and support a good cause at the same time.
Pre-orders for the 5 December paperback release are now available at:
- A Murmuring of Bees (Improbable Press)
- A Murmuring of Bees (Amazon US)
- A Murmuring of Bees (Amazon UK)
- A Murmuring of Bees (Barnes & Noble)
- A Murmuring of Bees (BookDepository)
A Murmuring of Bees is already available as an ebook.
- A Murmuring of Bees (Amazon US)
- A Murmuring of Bees (Amazon UK)
- A Murmuring of Bees (Nook Book)
- A Murmuring of Bees (Kobo)
- A Murmuring of Bees (AllRomance)
During my train adventures in late October, I spent a few days in Sydney, taking in the MAAS Museum and its excellent Large Hadron Collider exhibition, the splendid production of My Fair Lady and a marvellous little shop called The Martian Embassy.
The Martian Embassy is the Sydney equivalent of the The Time Travel Mart literacy project I visited in Los Angeles in July this year. (The Melbourne version, The 100 Story Building, doesn’t have an entertaining shopfront, sadly, but does the same good work with young people.)
The Martian Embassy is filled with bizarre and entertaining ‘Martian’ exhibits and artefacts for sale, which makes it a fun place to visit and shop. The proceeds all go to the programs run by the organisation behind the Embassy – the Sydney Story Factory.
Those programs are aimed at assisting young people in the area to changte their lives through literacy, creative writing and storytelling. The seating and tables at the back of the store host workshops, and there’s a library for attendees to use.
When I was at the Time Travel Mart, I bought a little booklet of stories written by the kids who did the workshops. The Martian Embassy offered the same chance to support their project here. Whelp contains stories, poems and essays by young people from Sydney.
Its forward is by one of my favourite writers, Benjamin Law. The stories are hugely varied, full of flair, humour, imagination and, from time to time, startling insight. Some of the tales are downright Kafka-esque! It’s fabulous to read the result of the project’s work with young people.
Next time you’re in Sydney, drop in to The Martian Embassy at 176 Redfern Street, Redfern NSW 2016. In the meantime, you can:
In late October I had the wonderful opportunity of joining Tim Richards, Travel Writer, on a train journey across Australia. I’ve crossed the Nullarbor once before, when I was moving from Canberra to Perth. That was by bus and I don’t have very fond memories of it. I can’t even recall the landscape, though I seem to be able to remember the back of the seat in front of me, because I stared at it for three days.
The first leg of the trip was the overnight XPT from Melbourne to Sydney, courtesy Destination New South Wales. I like taking the overnighter to Sydney.
Sleeping on a train is a slightly odd sensation, but the train leaves from the middle of Melbourne and arrives in the middle of Sydney. Cutting out the airport – the getting to and from, the having to be there early, all the security brou-ha-ha – is surprisingly relaxing.
It’s also unexpectedly charming to have this little cocoon of time away from the usual frantic activity. You can kick back in your compartment (shared, usually, so travel with someone who you like, or at least doesn’t snore) and read, look out the window, contemplate your sins or, if you’re me, all of the above while also plotting a new book.
If you have time to travel overnight, it’s a more calming way to both leave and enter a city. And of course rail retains the romance of being a 19th Century mode of travel that is more flexible, more relaxing and more pleasant than either flying or driving.
In case you can’t tell, it’s quite my favourite mode of travel.
After a few days in Sydney (and more on that in some other post) we lobbed up for the journey across Australia to Perth, via Broken Hill, Adelaide, Cook and Rawlinna – the latter two a ghost town and a sheep station respectively.
Great Southern Rail hosted us on this journey, and launched us in style with cocktails and live music on the platform.
Sleeping on trains, with its unexpected rocking cradle motion, still takes a bit of getting used to, but I tell you now, I adapted right away to just being on a train sliding through the landscape.
If you think the journey’s better done by plane, you’re probably missing the point of this version of travel, which is all about the getting there, not the arriving.
There’s always something liminal about being on a train, especially at night, and especially in unfamiliar territory. That feeling of being separated from time and space is both strange and soothing.
It’s an opportunity to contemplate; or to strike up conversations with strangers. In this time of constant connectivity, I really enjoyed having long periods of time to focus on some books. Tim and I also caught up on a few episodes of Game of Thrones.
I of course spent time gazing out the window. Australia is a vast country, varied it’s true, but also vast stretches of land that doesn’t change for hours.
The Nullarbor itself is almost hard to look at, especially for this city dweller. I’m used to having objects that interupt my line of sight constantly. It’s never just a smooth plain to the horizon. But the Nullarbor is just that – a vast expanse of red dirt and low shrubs, that goes on and on and on and on and on… it induces an almost horizontal vertigo.
Not all the scheduled excursion stops were possible – wet weather is not always your friend – but a trip to Hahndorf in Adelaide, a stop by the ghost town of Cook and dinner under the stars at Rawlinna were all fantastic, and part of that sense of just mooching along and enjoying the sense of time and space expanding out from our little bubble of forward motion.
Speaking of dinner, the food was endlessly excellent, using local ingredients where possible, and these two vegetarians were very well nourished from start to finish.
I enjoyed the XPT, but I absolutely adored the Indian-Pacific. The journey gives you three and a bit days of quiet but not solitude; of contemplation in motion. There’s time to talk, to listen, to think.
You can look at a far horizon across land so very flat that you can feel how you are sitting on the disk of the Earth.
Or you can have a really nice nap before the next glass of champagne and fascinating dinner conversation with a stranger.
For those three days, you may be living in a smallish metal tube that’s hurtling across the landscape, but you are also living unfettered by your established routine and out of your usual environment, so you can cocoon or commune as your heart sees fit. There’s nowhere else to be, after all.
Modern LGBTQ+ fiction inspired by Jane Austen’s novels.
Thirteen stories from eleven authors, exploring the world of Jane Austen and celebrating her influence on ours.
Manifold Press’s anthology of queered Jane Austen short stories became available on 1 November 2016. Some of the stories use Austen’s characters in their original setting; some are modern takes on Austen’s tales; and some are original characters in the Regency period.
My contribution to the anthology, ‘Know Your Own Happiness’, is a modern take on Persuasion. It’s the story of Cooper West, who was persuaded by his brother four years ago that it was easier to pretend to be straight than admit to being bi and having a boyfriend. It was a stupid decision that cost him the love of his life, Archer Flynn. Now out, recently dumped and still harbouring regret for his lost love, Fate and Cooper’s cousin Kate are about to intervene.
Here’s an excerpt:
“Come to my book group with me on Thursday, Coop,” Kate told her melancholy new flatmate.
Cooper sighed and shook his head, resisting the inevitable.
“C’mon,” she wheedled. “You’ve been lying around the flat like a depressed slug for eight weeks. So it didn’t work out with Ruby.”
“Or with Shen, or that boy with the mohawk,” she added, “or … Helena wasn’t it, before that, and Mandy? They were about the same time, anyway, and before that Isla, Poppy … “
He grunted again. More of a snarl, really.
“Okay, so you’ve had a run of miserable luck. Shake it off. Read a book, eat something with vitamins in it, have a fucking bath, spritz up your sad hair and come out with me on Thursday. We’re reading Jane Austen this month.”
Cooper made a noise like it was the end of the world, and the end-times smelled like cheap dog food. “Aren’t you meant to make this sound appealing?”
“What’s not appealing about Austen, you cretin?”
“It’s all fucking bonnets and county balls.”
“Shows what you know,” Kate sneered back. “It’s all sass and snark, though I will admit there are bonnets. And you like balls, don’t you? As well as boobies?”
“Ha fucking ha.”
“No, really Coop. You smell like a school bathroom. Scrub up, pull on your glad rags and come to book club. You could meet a lovely girl. Or a lovely boy. With or without bonnets. Besides, if you don’t, I won’t have anyone to be my wingman at the club after. And I need a wingman.”
“You said I had a face like a wet week and to stay the hell away from you when you were on the pull.”
“That was last week. This week I need a wingman. So get up you lazy, mopey sod, and read this.” She tossed a pre-loved paperback at him, “And gird your loins for Captain Wentworth. He’s hot. Imagine Hugh Jackman in tight breeches.”
Cooper took up the copy of Persuasion and leafed through the first few pages. “All right,” he said, unenthusiastically, “I’ll come to your book group. I’ll even wash.”
“That’s the spirit,” said Kate, with a little air punch. She grinned, then sobered at Cooper’s frown. “Really, Coop,” she said, “it’ll be good.”
Cooper smiled at her, giving her some crumb of effort in exchange for hers.
His cousin patted his shoulder and it made him want to weep.
“Are you ever going to tell me what happened? I mean … you came back with one bloody suitcase, and Ruby sent four boxes over, and that was it. Most of your stuff was still here in your room. My spare room.” She shook her head. “Your room. You never really moved in with her, did you? That was the problem.”
Cooper looked at his feet. “It was a manifestation of the problem.”
“Want to talk about it?”
“Is it about what happened when you came out to your mum and dad?” Which was why Cooper now lived in Kate’s spare room on such a regular basis.
“Before then. But. I don’t want to talk about it. I messed up. I ran away because I was scared of losing everything, and lost it anyway when I stopped pretending I wasn’t bi. So.” He shrugged. “I’ll get over it.”
Kate stooped to kiss his forehead. “You’re a good guy, Coop. You’ve got a good heart, and a good brain. It’ll get better.”
He nodded and smiled, more successfully than last time.
He was better than he’d been after abandoning Archer. He was better than he’d been after his family abandoned him. It would get better again. Not as good as it had been with Archer, but better.
You can get A Certain Persuasion here:
- A Certain Persuasion (Amazon Kindle)
- A Certain Persuasion (Amazon paperback)
- A Certain Persuasion (Amazon UK)
- A Certain Persuasion (Amazon UK paperback)
- A Certain Persuasion (Smashwords)
- A Certain Persuasion (AllRomance)
- A Certain Persuasion (Kobo)
- A Certain Persuasion (Nook)
Quintette asks writers five quick questions. This week’s interview is with:
1.What’s the name of your latest book – and how hard was it to pick a title?
My new book is called Submerge, and it was a bit of a nightmare to name, actually – I was referring to it as ‘The Bowler Hat novel’ and even ‘Bowler Hats 1’ until the day before I sent it to my publisher! In the end, it wasn’t until I started thinking about a continuation of the story that I realised it would make sense to name it after the central club – and it relates to the themes of the story quite well, too!
2. If you could choose anyone from any time period, who would you cast as the leads in your latest book?
As Jamie, I’d probably cast Jaz Deol, who gamers may know as the voice of Henry Green in Assassin’s Creed Syndicate – he matches up very nicely with how I picture him. For Gina, I’d be inclined to go for Natalie Dormer or someone like her – fun and effortlessly glamorous. As for Addie and Miles, I have yet to find the perfect cast! I think it’s important for people to imagine the characters in their own ways, though, and I’d love to hear who readers would cast as my leads.
3. What five words best describe your story?
Ooh, these questions always stump me. Hmm, let’s see…
Mystery. Friendship. Intrigue. Deception. Romance. How’s that?
4. Who is your favourite fictional couple or team?
Ooh. Well, I won’t lie – my first thought was of Aaron and Robert from Emmerdale! They are playing my heart like a rocking guitar solo right now. My usual answers, however, is that my favourite couple are Benedick and Beatrice from Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. They’re bickering children half the time, but they’re very devoted to one another and they feel very real, even centuries after they were written.
What song reflects a theme, character or scene in your book?
Deviating from the four main characters for a moment, I have a secondary character readers will see a fair bit of who has a drag act. The show always starts with a combination of ‘Copacabana’ and ‘Whatever Lola Wants’ – the latter actually makes me think of both Luke and his alter-ego, for different reasons, so that’s the song that immediately comes to mind. It’s probably one of the most regularly-heard songs at the club, too!
The version I’m most familiar with – and therefore rather fond of – is Della Reese’s – from the Magnum advert! That said, Ella Fitzgerald does a cracking rendition, too.
Jamie Hill walks into his local LGBT+ nightclub, Submerge, intending to make friends and have a good time. When he meets comedian Addie Crewe and her girlfriend Gina Wilson, his night is already looking up – but it’s the man Gina introduces him to who really catches his eye. Miles Bradford seems to be everything Jamie could want in a man: smart, funny, kind. Jamie can’t take his eyes off him.
But though Submerge might sparkle on the surface, Jamie knows that the club, just like himself, hides darker secrets in its depths … and even Miles might not be as clean-cut as he appears.
About Eleanor Musgrove
Eleanor Musgrove was born in a seaside town on the South Coast of England, where she developed a love of writing when she was very young. Other ambitions – and homes – have come and gone, but she has always wanted to be an author. After lots of practice, both through writing fan fiction and through participating in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) most years, Submerge is her first novel. She’s pretty excited about it!
I have this neat little writing room in the Nicholas Building in Melbourne, which I share with a few other writers. The room right next door to ours is home to Verve Studios, an acting school. Every now and then my writing time and their rehearsal time coincides, which isn’t necessarily the right atmosphere for getting much writing done, but when you’re as endlessly nosy curious as me, it’s just another insight into my fellow human beings.
When I learned that Verve’s graduating actors were appearing in a La Mama co-production out in Kensington, naturally I wanted to see it. The play, Falling Apples, by Norwegian playright Lene Therese Teigen, talks about “how we see our personal futures and how we so easily relinquish self-determination and sew our destiny into the lives of others”.
This link between Verve and me is an intriguing parallel with the themes of Falling Apples, in which a cast of thirteen fill up a long stage facing the single line of chairs for the audience. The characters wander to and fro – sometimes running, sometimes performing subtle pantomimes that reflect scenes to come – and in groups of two or three, they coalesce into a short exchange of dialogue, before the characters spin back out to bounce through the vast stage.
Slowly a story emerges – a husband and wife in a terrible car accident and falling into persistent unconscious states. This affects their adult children; the people that these adult children know – a neighbour, a lover, an employee, his brother and his girlfriend, the employee’s ex-girlfriend, her sister and her sister’s boyfriend, the driver of the other car, and a woman from Russia seeking more than just a job. The links get more and more tenuous, yet the filament of connection remains.
Most intriguing of all is the thirteenth character – a young woman who has been a painting for 500 years. Her ambitions to become an artist herself were frozen by her father, but she steps out of the prison of this painting where she’s been an observed object and now observes, and tries to help, all the others.
A strong sense of both attraction and repulsion exists in the way characters are drawn together and fly apart. Almost like a tray of balls sliding about, these people meet, collide, spin off, until there’s a sudden moment of coalescence. Dressed in black for a funeral, these thirteen characters all pull together in the gravity of the situation. Seated directly opposite audience members, stories are finally revealed, connections made clearer, disconnections resolved…
Until, in the final moments, a storm seems to break out and refracture the group once more.
The aforementioned gravity seems to be part of a scientific undercurrent to the story of how this group interacts. Even the title is a reference to Newtonian physics. There’s a sense of watching bodies in orbit, of falling and flying, of entropy and creation. Their fates and how they intertwine seem to be subject to even bigger forces than their own desire to find somewhere solid to stand.
The acoustics of the Kensington Town Hall can be a bit challenging, but the cast do a fine job of delineating their characters and using the vast space in a complicated but engaging way. It takes a little while to get into the rhythm of this unusual production, but it’s fascinating and unusual and worth seeing.
Falling Apples, directed by Peta Hanrahan for Verve Studios in conjunction with La Mama Theatre, is on at:
- Kensington Town Hall, 40 Bellair Street, Kensington
- until 8 October 2016.
- Tickets: $29 | $19
- Book online
Find out more about Falling Apples at La Mama Theatre
I’m delighted to announce that I have another short story coming out this year. What’s more, it’s in a Sherlock Holmes anthology that is raising funds for a school housed in Arthur Conan Doyle’s old home, Undershaw.
The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories Part V: Christmas Adventures is the latest anthology from MX Publishing. The book is, as the name implies, the newest of the MX anthology series containing trraditional, canon-era adventures, with sale proceeds all going to support the Stepping Stones school for children with learning difficulties. (This means that I and my fellow writers have waived payment to ensure the maximum funds go to this project.)
The anthology is edited by well-known Holmesian writer, David Marcum, and its contributors include Wendy C. Fries (author of The Day They Met), Denis O. Smith and James Lovegrove, with forwards by Jonathan Kellerman and Steve Emecz, among others.
You can back this project up until 21 October 2016 on its Kickstarter. (After that date, you’ll be able to get the anthology, along with its predecessors, online at MX Publishing or through Amazon.)
There are plenty of options, including a PDF, a paperback or a hardcover copy of the book. You can even back it by getting Volumes 1-5 as a paperback or hardback set.
Find out more or back the book at:
As a bit of a taster of what you’ll find in the anthology, here’s an excerpt from The Christmas Card Mystery:
The mantelpiece was as cluttered as ever with pipes and the Persian slipper, a few stray plugs of tobacco held against his morning smoke, unopened correspondence, the clock, a collection of curved wooden shapes of obscure function, and a retort containing pale yellow fluid sitting in a cradle – some half completed or completely forgotten experiment, no doubt. The morocco case was thankfully not to be seen. An engaging case, then.
Sitting among all of this habitual detritus were five Christmas cards, each depicting scenes of a macabre humour. A frog that had stabbed its fellow, two naked-plucked geese with a man on a roasting spit, a wasp chasing two children with the unlikely subtitle A Joyous New Year, a savage white bear crushing an explorer in A Hearty Welcome, and a dead robin which read May yours be a joyful Christmas. The latter at least hearkened to the Christ story, the rest to a certain black wit about Holmes’s profession.
It seemed likely to me that one card had been sent by Lestrade, others by Gregson or Jones. I took up the card depicting the frog-murder but found it inscribed merely with To my dear friend at the top and Mrs Inke Pullitts underneath. The script was disorderly, as though done in haste, and struck me as more a masculine than a feminine hand.
I was startled out of my examination when the door flew open and Sherlock Holmes strode through it, a dozen newspapers under his arm.
“Ah, Watson, I see you are making yourself at home! No, no, my dear fellow, go right ahead, and tell me what you make of my Yuletide correspondence while I pour us a brandy. It’s a cruel day out, and my blood’s in need of warming.”
He abandoned the papers over the arm of his chair. His pale cheeks were rosy with the cold he’d just escaped, and his grey eyes sparkled with the merriment I had long associated with an intriguing case.
“I had thought our friends at Scotland Yard were sending you cards,” I admitted, “But I realise I must be quite wrong. They’ve never sent you any before now.” In fact, Holmes rarely received such personal missives, except from me and Mary or his brother Mycroft Holmes. “Did you retain the envelope?”
Holmes placed two glasses on the table and fetched five envelopes from beneath a book on folklore. The topmost he gave to me. I examined it closely – it was addressed in the same untidy hand as the card to the attention of Mr S Holmes, though scrawled so untidily as to appear to read ‘Mrs Hulmes’. The paper was inexpensive, matching the quality of the card, and bore no return address. The corner of the envelope was marked, fore and aft, with a peculiar indentation, as though it had contained something other than the greeting. I saw a similar mark upon the matching card. I sniffed the paper, as I had seen Holmes do in his investigations, but it told me nothing and made me feel foolish. I couldn’t bring myself to dab the tip of my tongue to the paper, another of Holmes’s investigative techniques.
“What was in it?” I asked.
Once more – you can find out more or back the book at:
In 2013, I visited a beautiful lodge in the Canadian wilderness, where I spent several days grizzly-bear-watching, observing hummingbirds and enjoying the Great Bear Lodge. I blogged about the experience (and the importance of Not Surprising Bears).
I’m not especially outdoorsy (pause to allow the people who know me to stop howling with laughter at the understatement) but I did enjoy the Lodge. The Lodge itself was comfortable, with nice cosy beds, an excellent chef. I even saw some bears.
Some of my fondest hours over the three days were spent on the deck of the floating platform of the lodge (designed to ensure bears and other large wildlife didn’t get too up close and personal). I watched the haze over the river, the splash of the occasional seal, the curious buzz of the pretty hummingbirds hovering like wee helicopters and chasing each other from the feeders. Time slowed down (except I suppose for the hummingbirds) and I soaked up all the fresh, green, untamed atmosphere beyond the very elegantly tamed portion of the lodge itself.
Naturally, almost my second thought was “How can I take this tranquil setting and introduce mayhem into it?”
Marge, one of the people who runs the lodge and Great Bear Nature Tours, said that it was oay for me to use the lodge as a location in the story, provided I didn’t make the bears look bad.
So. Grizzly bears do not get a bad rap in the latest story of my Secret Agents, Secret Lives series – but bears, bear wallows and the wilderness in general all play their part in the story.
Wilderness brings us back to the lives of agent Martine Dubois – a former cop caught up in disgrace when betrayed by her partner – and spymaster Philip Marsden.
Martine Dubois is on a mission to extradite Thomas Reilly, a dangerous criminal, which ends in treachery and a crash landing in the Canadian wilderness. Grizzly bears are the least of Martine’s problems as she and Reilly hunt each other through British Columbia’s Great Bear Forest. Whatever the outcome, Martine is determined to survive and return to Phillip Marsden: top spy, the Grey Ghost, her boss who is also her lover.
- Secret Agents, Secret Lives 3: Wilderness (Amazon Kindle)
- Secret Agents, Secret Lives: Wilderness (Clan Destine Press)
This new story comes out along with a re-release of Double Edged and Expendable with their new covers.
If you’re after a bit of action and spy adventure with your sexy romance, the Secret Agents, Secret Lives series delivers quick reads that pack a punch.
In my review of Ice in Sunlight, I mentioned how often I felt teary reading of the protagonist’s pain and journey to healing and love. Well, perhaps I’m feeling especially sappy this month, though I think it’s more to do with excellent writing, because Stewart Jackel’s Albert’s Wars had me crying for the last 50 pages.
Albert’s Wars tells the story of two boys who end up lying about their age and joining up the armed services during World War II, though for very different reasons. Albert, with a passion for machines but in trouble with local authorities, joins the navy while Harry, looking to escape from a father he doesn’t get on with, joins the infantry.
We follow their separate paths for a while until fate brings them together – the ship on which Harry finds himself is sunk by enemy fire and it’s Albert’s ship that rescues him from the sea. Albert finds half drowned, barely conscious and delirious Harry in his cabin, and instructed to look after him. No punches are pulled in the realism of his state, including having soiled himself, and Albert’s non-judgemental and compassionate care of him is thoughtfully handled in the writing.
It’s a potentially awkward first meeting, but this is war and it’s the least of the terrible things to happen to combatants. A deep friendship springs up almost instantly between Harry and Albert, who share a cabin and all kinds of shenanigans until Harry can be returned to the army.
It’s also clear early on that Albert is gay, and that his feelings for Harry run deeper than friendship – but that friendship is plenty deep and plenty reciprocated. In defending Albert from a bullying superior officer, who accuses Harry of being Albert’s ‘soapy’, Harry declares, “I’m not his and he’s not mine, but if he was anybody’s I’d be proud that I was his.”
Albert’s Wars is about these boys and their friendship – but it’s also about war, and therefore about the cost of war.
Hence the crying I mentioned at the start.
Because in war, terrible things happen and you lose people you love: suddenly, stupidly, tragically. After becoming so fond of Albert and Harry and invested in their friendship we are faced with the loss of one of them. Jackel proceeds to delicately and with great compassion lead us through the grieving with the survivor.
Jackel tells Albert and Harry’s story with a robust 1940s Aussie vernacular and an energetic style that keeps you engaged from the start. The period slang could easily be too much, but instead it provides a vivid cultural and personal background for Albert, from Fitzroy, and Harry from Wangaratta. The language feels true to the era and to each of the boys’ backgrounds, and reminded me of ways in which my grandfathers used to speak.
It certainly works to create a rich background and to paint pictures of these two lively, likeable lads in their home lives, in training, in their deep friendship and in their grief.
Jackel has written a vivid, very Australian yet very individual account of two young men at war. It’s textured, humane and deeply moving and I hope one day that a hinted-at sequel will come to pass. I’d like to find out what happens next.
Buy Albert’s War
Some stories that become beautiful start in ugly places. Mary Borsellino, writing here as Julia Leijon, is a master of this progression, never shying from harsh realities while simultaneously always offering hope for redemption.
Ice in Sunlight opens with a slave, Corwen, hiding in the kitchens while the assassination of his owner – the King of Genest – is taking place upstairs. Corwen is cold, cynical and unpleasant. He is in the habit of tormenting the kitchen dogs and comes from a society where the eating of one’s enemies is a literal thing, and several bodies are hanging in the pantr
For all this harsh beginning, it’s very easy to see how Corwen’s meanness and acceptance of cruel practices stem from his own experiences. He’s been a sex slave to a tyrant since he was ten years old; he carries a scar on his throat from a childhood attempt on his life; he has survived to almost twenty through cunning and cleverness. And yet his thoughts of the prince who was his friend remain kind. In the midst of his unpleasantness, there is a kernel that there may be more to Corwen than life has allowed him to be.
Corwen has been brutalised from an early age, and his greatest comfort seems to be imagining how he will die – young, certainly – in ways that give him more power and personhood that his life, and how he believes his end will really come. His antipathy towards the castle dogs comes from a very awful and bitter understanding.
The King’s assassins turn out to be philosophers of a sort, here to do this one unpleasant but, they think, necessary deed. Corwen believes he will be slaughtered as a traitor if he stays, so they allow him to return with them to Ardvi Aban, despite their misgivings and his.
Nobody, thinks Corwen, can be as kind as these people pretend to be. Certainly, Corwen does not think he has any worth at all, and cannot understand why anybody would think better of him.
And so we get the story of how Corwen, made flinty and cynical through abuse, discovers kindness. He learns that sex doesn’t have to be about power, and learns not only that love is possible, but that he does deserve it.
That paragraph makes it sound like a sweet and sentimental journey, and Ice in Sunlight is not that. Corwen’s self-worth (or rather, self-loathing) is also caught up with his sometimes complex relationship with his abuser (or abusers, if you consider how he got his scar). There’s a lot of pain in his growth, and often I was close to tears as I read. Many of his thought processes, and the revelations he has on the way, reflected things I’ve read from people who have survived abuse and how complex the thinking can be when you are both reliant upon and frightened of the person doing you harm.
Ultimately, it’s a beautiful story of redemption and love. Not every problem is solved by the end, but there is growth and a place of peace. Corwen is written with compassion even for his worst behaviours, because he has been taught it is literally an ‘eat or be eaten’ world. That the reader can be invested in him, even at his worst, and can feel pain for his pain, is a deft bit of writing – one at which Leijon excels.
The supporting characters are also beautifully written: the seeming Utopia of Ardvi Aban is indeed a wonderful place, but it’s a very wonderful human place, a sanctuary of the best that humans can be, in contrast to the Genestian environment in which he was warped. People aren’t perfect, but they are seeking balance. The final philosophical revelations – about water and waves and ice – are perfect metaphors for love and loss and Corwen’s journey of transformation.
In Ice in Sunlight, Corwen finds peace, kindness and love. He is healing from his terrible wounds of the soul. It makes for heartbreaking reading at times, but by the end my heart was mended and as full as Corwen’s for the new hope he has for his life.
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