Preparing A Just and Upright Man for publication as an audiobook – an audiobook in which I, the author, am also the narrator – has brought me closer to the people behind the text than I’ve ever been. Sometimes I empathise; but sometimes they make me laugh. Take this passage, which is part of what I dictated today:
Blakiston stood in the dark looking out of his window onto the silent, deserted road outside and thinking about the day. The dreadful sight and smell of Reuben Cooper’s burnt body. The strange interview with Martin Wale. Claverley’s account of so many children, all to be investigated if the death turned out not to be the work of malign fate. A man wandering the roads, who might be Irish or might not, and might be a killer or might not, but who at any rate must be found and questioned. The looming shadow of enclosures. A drunken farmer and an idle one, both to lose their livelihoods if he had anything to do with it.
And, underlying all, the painful recollections that never quite went away, of the woman he had expected to marry and the hurt of his loss. He would never allow himself to love again. Of that he was certain.
So, James, you’ll never love again? Listen, mate, this is a Romance. Capital R. Which I am writing. You, my friend, will love whoever I tell you to love.
That Kate Greener’s a nice girl – don’t you think? What? Not your class? Get outta here.
At the Chorleywood Indie Fair on 16th November a lady asked me to tell her about my books. I did that and when I reached A Just and Upright Man I said, ‘This is an historical romance and crime book. It’s set in the north-east in the 1760s. So, you see, men can write romance.’ I meant that as a little joke and she didn’t seem to have a problem with it but one of my fellow ALLi author members who was listening to the conversation spat out a derogatory remark about the very idea of romance and male authors. A review in Romance Reviews Magazine, quoted on the front cover, said, “A very enjoyable and worthwhile read” and the Historical Novel Society (also quoted) said, “A truly superb novel and indie publishing at its very best” but clearly this lady was not impressed. Men can’t write romance and that’s that.
I covered up my irritation (at least I hope I did) and it was only later that I looked dispassionately at the question. That’s when I realised that twenty years ago – perhaps even ten years ago – I couldn’t have written A Just and Upright Man. Romance to me then was not what it would be now. I don’t have to search very far for the reason. In my early sixties I had trouble sleeping. It wasn’t serious enough to see a doctor but I did mention it when I was at the surgery for a cholesterol check. ‘Oh, I can fix that,’ said the doc. ‘Testosterone Replacement Therapy – that’s the answer.’
He must have been joking; in fact, I told him so. Almost all the trouble in my life has come from an excess of testosterone. I don’t think that’s unusual; it’s what people mean when they say that having testicles is like being chained to the village idiot. Be that as it may, now that that tedious hormone was depleted I had no intention of building it up again. And that turned out to be the right decision because the sleeping problem went away. It’s now, in this post-lunatic stage of my life, that I find romance easy to write.
I wrote this post in my head this morning during a six mile walk along the country lanes close to my house that I took because it’s such an unexpectedly beautiful day (especially as tomorrow is the first day of winter). While I was composing it I remembered that I had actually used that testosterone replacement suggestion in a short story. I hope you will enjoy that story – it’s free and available for download here.