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Read an Extract

Here you can read sample pages from our stories along with blog posts by Rohase Piercy and Charlie Raven.
We hope you enjoy them and become encouraged to forge ahead and read more! We love reviews, reviews are gold dust so please, if you've read and enjoyed the books, leave a review on or or Goodreads! Thank you so much!

David Bowie made me do it

Charlie's Bloggy Bits Posted on 10 Jan, 2018 10:27:16

It’s two years since we lost David Bowie. I was going to write something to mark his birthday; but then I realised that it was his death that did it. There was that sudden gaping absence in world culture, announced in the cool, neutral tones of the BBC as I was getting ready for work. Then, over the next few days, came the realisation of his astounding courage and artistry in the face of death. The sense of loss just grew and grew. It caused me – and many others – to begin creating again. It’s almost a cliché now to say that his death inspired many to recommence journeys we thought we weren’t good enough or brave enough to make. It was as if a warning bell rang out: do it now, do it before it’s too late.

The internet abounds with personal accounts of projects that were picked up again after 10th January 2016: artwork produced, novels written, dances inspired, songs sung as a direct result of his death. Millions, young and old, urgently reclaimed aspects of our personalities when ‘something happened on the day he died/ spirit rose a metre and stepped aside’. I’m no exception. A lot of people have mentioned a strange sense of precognition too; and so it was with me. A few weeks before his death, after years of not paying much attention to his oeuvre, he was in my head again. I was unaccountably humming his tunes – particularly ‘Time’ and ‘Rock’n’Roll Suicide.’ I had remarkable dreams.

Of course, I’m a child of his era. In fact, an account of one of the many ways he affected me is available in ‘My Bowie Story: Memories of David Bowie’ ed. Dale K. Perry. And like all his other fans, I sought out the culture he was so passionate to share, the philosophies, the artists, the singers and writers. My young teenage self tried to keep up with him: to read William Burroughs, understand Buddhism, buy a copy of Nietzsche’s Also Sprach Zarathustra (and leave it on the shelf for years). I was thrilled to recognise the themes of Orwell’s ‘1984’ in ‘Diamond Dogs’ and took delight equally in Iggy Pop and Brecht/Weill cabaret songs. There still seems no end to the labyrinth of Bowie’s influences. Which brings me to Aleister Crowley.

Now, Bowie is well known for his early fascination with Crowley. He later publicly disowned this and said he thought Crowley was a ‘charlatan’ and that he preferred Israel Regardie’s work: a rather casuistic quibble, seeing as Regardie was actually Crowley’s personal secretary, transcriber and disciple. In an interview in 1995, Bowie admitted that in his early days, ‘My overriding interest was in Cabbala and Crowleyism. That whole dark and rather fearsome netherworld of the wrong side of the brain … and more recently I’ve been interested in the Gnostics.’ Of course, Bowie had a compulsion to play with our expectations about his public personae so we can never truly be sure of his stance on any given issue from one statement to the next, but it looks as though he wanted us to know that he moved on from the limitations of Crowleyism to something more universal. Nevertheless, his work is a rich field for research into its Occult content (this isn’t the place to dive in, but Peter-R Koenig’s interesting essay, ‘The Laughing Gnostic’ is well worth seeking out at

The extraordinary imagery in the videos for ‘Lazarus’ and ‘Blackstar’, however, released not long before his death, brought us right back to that early obsession of his. The videos were crafted in part by the director Johan Renck, a self-described ‘fan’ of Crowley, and have been widely identified as containing references to Thelemic rituals. Bowie even wears a striped ‘astral travel’ outfit, similar to the one in the famous 1976 photoshoot by Steve Schapiro (in which he is shown sketching the Tree of Life). Bowie loved to explore and shock: above all, to ignite ideas, to teach, to incite curiosity in the minds of others. He undoubtedly approved of and encouraged Renck to elaborate this Crowleyan imagery. It seems to me that he wanted his audience to seek meanings through these symbols. Typically, he didn’t want to define or confine those meanings.

Anyway, those symbols got to work somewhere in my own unconscious mind and, as any good ritual magic should, set off a series of coincidences which brought me to write ‘The Compact’. Although Bowie isn’t in it – I wanted him to be, but felt far too delicate about putting him in – it was nevertheless rather a surprise when I discovered a young Aleister Crowley was there, ready to walk onstage and take a large part in the proceedings. If anyone objects, well, David Bowie made me do it.

The Atlantis Bookshop gets us lost …

Charlie's Bloggy Bits Posted on 25 Nov, 2017 22:28:00

It was only some time after we left the occult bookshop that
we realised we were lost.

The London streets were busy, the clientele of popular pubs spilling out onto
the pavements with a genial Friday Night atmosphere. A crisp wind seethed through
scaffolding, round unexpected corners and up little side streets with odd
names. We had to catch a train, we had
to find our way down to the river and Blackfriars. It should be easy. We knew
all these streets, all their names – and yet we couldn’t connect them together
in a coherent plan. Frequently, we stopped and consulted a vague little
streetmap which managed, each time, to leave us with less clue than before.
Finally, I had recourse to the compass on my rapidly-dying phone. Yes, that was
it. We were travelling in precisely the wrong direction.

It had not begun like this. A day devoted to the British
Museum, a slow walk round one of the exhibitions – ‘Living with the Gods’; after
that, gradually being enticed, then swallowed whole, by the endlessly
fascinating galleries – oh yes, it was like a scene from my own novel, The
Compact. Into Ur of Chaldees, the Jericho cave, Assyria, Knossos and the bull
leapers … And then, dusk had fallen and we were on our way to find a place to
eat; and as an afterthought, to seek out a certain little antiquities shop and
of course, the celebrated Atlantis Bookshop in Museum Street. The Atlantis Bookshop
was a favourite haunt of Aleister Crowley’s. Gerald Gardner used to hold
meetings of his own coven in the basement. And it is the most home-like,
enchanting and tingly of places, lined with the kind of books to make a Mr
Norrell pine (he would undoubtedly send out Childermass to buy them all up).
The atmosphere in there is rich and intriguing. It seemed to accompany us down
the street when we left. Or perhaps it was Mr Crowley and Mr Gardner seeing us
firmly off the premises.

Whatever the reason, once we stepped into the streets, we entered an unaccountable labyrinth. We
managed to spend a lopsided, disorientating hour wandering to and fro, our composite
thirty or more years of London residence set utterly at naught. Chancery Lane
Station kept looming up at us while somewhere behind us, poor Miss Flite from Bleak House seemed to
rustle the useless litter of papers in her reticule. Oh, London is full of
ghosts all right – real ones and literary ones. It was all slightly strange and
very delicious. Thank goodness for Nando’s.

Night Walks

Charlie's Bloggy Bits Posted on 19 Nov, 2017 10:51:52

Yes, it will be a Howards End-inspired post, but you don’t
mind that, do you? Night walks – and a night walk I took recently.

It was an evening last summer, and I said to my daughter –
who had spent most of her day on her smartphone – I said, ‘You need to see the
stars, away from all these streetlamps.’ So we packed supplies of drinks and
nibbles and a blanket to sit on and set out to have a picnic in the dark. We
took the bus to near the Downs. We walked for about an hour to get onto the
high chalk paths. After a while, we settled down on the brow of a hill facing
the distant sea, waiting for the stars to come out. It was warm and the
downland grass was short and springy. The sun went down in drifts of amethyst and
pink. Shades of violet and grey crept over the hills. We waited absolutely ages
for the first stars to prick through. I’d brought a star map and had every
intention of naming all the glorious constellations we would see: for I
remembered camping, lying and looking up for hours. In the deep night, the
stars spread out above were discernible as globes of light set at increasing
distances: not flat like a map but vast, unguessable, like an amphitheatre of intelligent
eyes looking down, populous and real. At those moments, it seems just as likely
that humans should float upwards as stay weighted to the planet.

Meanwhile, back on our hillside, Daughter, who was checking
to see if she could get wifi on her phone and choosing some music to play
quietly to accompany the unfolding magnificence of the universe, suddenly said,
‘Sshh! There’s a man over there.’

We peered into the night. A fence ran alongside us and
swooped away down into the valley. It was difficult to make out whether the
standing shadow over there was a large wooden post or a person. We went very
quiet and stared intently at it. The modern age, despite the twinkling lights
of the town below, suddenly withdrew and we were plunged into history. The
figure was a sentinel from a neolithic tribe; he was a Roman soldier, the last
of a massacred legion; he was a thief, lurking to find unsuspecting females who
might come here a-picnicking in the dark of the summer night. He was watching
us. Or he was sign post.

‘I think we should be getting back now,’ I said. ‘Let’s go
and catch the earlier bus after all.’

‘Yes,’ said Daughter, without demur.

Hastily, we packed up. The shadow may or may not have moved.
We began the rapid march back, stumbling along the chalky, rutted path in the
darkness. Daughter gripped my arm like a vice. ‘I’m really scared. What was
that? Is that a man? Did that move? How far is it?’

I spoke in a calm, cheery way, feeling every muscle toning
up, hair standing on end like a scared cat, hypervigilant in the darkness. Why
was I so stupid? Hadn’t there been a murder up here once? Yes, yes, said my
rational voice: the murder you’re thinking of happened a hundred years ago –
and it was a shepherd – and so, answered the superstitious peasant in me, was
that his forlorn ghost, standing by the fencepost? The entire night seemed
thronged with supernatural visitors, passing up and down this ancient pathway,
this thread of chalk across the hills, used for ten thousand years.

‘Is that a person up ahead or a post?’ asked Daughter.

‘I can’t make it out, darling. Don’t worry. I’ll take care
of everything.’ I was getting ready for a fight now. Memories of struggles and
terrors came back. I knew I could become a killing machine, all five foot three
of me. All this extra fat would just add weight to my deathgrip on the attacker’s
throat. And I’d fight dirty – I’d gouge out his eyes and Daughter would run and
get help.

‘Is that something running low across the ground?’

‘Oh yes. Perhaps it’s a badger or a fox.’

‘It’s coming towards us! Help! Mum!’

The clot of absolute darkness crept across the dim chalk
path. In the gloom, a signpost stood tall and motionless. The clot of absolute
darkness resolved itself into a small, rotund and friendly dog. Ah, the tall
signpost, yes, it was a man. He seemed to shrink: he was elderly, dressed in
modern clothes, walking his dog in the warm summer night. ‘Good evening,’ I
said. He answered politely. I felt a fool. But we were very glad to get back to
the bus stop.

And this little tale reminds me: there’s a bit in Howards
End when Leonard Bast explains how he walked all night to experience what it’s
like to walk all night – to ‘get back to the earth’. He’s an insurance clerk,
desperately reading literature to escape his stultifying life. In a visit to
the Schlegel sisters (those hypercultured, hyperprivileged ladies), he explains
why Jacky (see previous post) came looking for him at their address. His
attempt to break free (via Wimbledon Station and the hills of Surrey) reminds
me of our abortive stargazing picnic. For us, it was one of those brushes with
primordial terror, the danger – yes, yes, it was all imaginary – the danger
that our ancestors lived with, the Fear of the Dark. Afterwards, I loved it –
we never feel so alive as when we think we’re about to die. For Leonard Bast,
his night walk helps him cut through the caul of literary allusion to a direct
experience of the world: ‘Within his cramped little mind dwelt something that
was greater than Jefferies’s books – the spirit that led Jefferies to write
them; and his dawn, though revealing nothing but monotones, was part of the eternal
sunrise that shows George Borrow Stonehenge.’

Howards End: a dreamy distillation of spirit.

Charlie's Bloggy Bits Posted on 16 Nov, 2017 11:00:47

Probably half the British Isles is currently re-reading
Howards End, what with the new BBC adaptation rolling out. They’ve done rather
a good job, judging by the first episode – and I always have my doubts about ‘doing’
Forster. It becomes necessary to focus upon plot and action in order to hold viewers’
attention and yet, in Howards End or A Passage to India, plot and action serve
only to express the intangible. Forster’s achievement is untranslatable – to have delineated a Mrs Moore or a Mrs
Wilcox, to show us a cave in which the terrible void speaks or a house in
Hertfordshire where the numinous borders the quotidien with such quiet
deftness. Forster excels in the shadowy places where intuition brushes up
against materialism – a kind of dreamy distillation of spirit. But how does he
do it? By not telling us what he is doing, that’s the first thing.

Mrs Wilcox first appears from a distance, in the early morning of her garden, watering
the flowers, smelling the fresh-cut hay,
her skirt trailing over the dewy grass. And we glimpse her at a double-remove, through
Margaret’s perusal of her sister Helen’s letter, who herself is observing from
the window of her bedroom. A little later, Helen has a brief encounter with the younger Wilcox son, Paul, which channels her romantic
fascination with the family – but ‘Mrs Wilcox was so different’. We are left with a question mark –
different from whom? We are given no
other details of her personal appearance. She intervenes a little later to calm
an argument, ‘trailing noiselessly across the lawn’ and Forster here begins to
show his intentions in her: ‘She seemed to belong not to the young people and
their motor, but to the house, and to the tree that overshadowed it.’ She draws
on ‘instinctive wisdom’ in her actions.

In contrast, Jacky, the exemplar of inarticulate poverty,
makes her appearance shortly after our first sighting of Mrs Wilcox and her
physicality is described in meticulous detail: ‘She seemed all strings and
bell-pulls – ribbons, chains, bead necklaces that clinked and caught … As for
her hair, or rather hairs, they are too complicated to describe, but one system
went down her back, lying in a thick pad there, while another, created for a
lighter destiny, rippled around her forehead.’ Forster describes her like a
specimen of a different species, with sarcastic gusto, except that disgust is
mingled with pity, for we are given insight into her desperation: ‘She was
descending quicker than most women into the colourless years, and the look in
her eyes confessed it … Jacky ate contentedly enough, occasionally looking at
her man with those anxious eyes, to which nothing else in her appearance
corresponded, and which yet seemed to mirror her soul.’

While young Leonard Bast proclaims how he’ll stand by her
and ‘make it all right’ as she asks him to (i.e. marry her), we realise that
even more than Leonard, Jacky has been irrevocably brutalised by poverty and
the corrosive anxiety that poverty brings. The very flat the couple inhabit is
sunk beneath ground level – a metaphor
explored later when Margaret talks of the island of money upon which her class
stands, ‘and because we don’t want to steal umbrellas ourselves we forget that
below the sea people do want to steal them, and do steal them sometimes, and
that what’s a joke up here is down there reality .’

When we next meet Mrs Wilcox again, Forster begins to fill
in some details – but paradoxically, not by providing more detail. Unlike
Jacky, her appearance is mainly left to the imagination. We are told what she
does not enjoy, which is almost everything that the Schlegels and indeed
Leonard Bast would define as ‘culture’: discussion, argument, politics, art,
music, dinner parties. Mrs Wilcox should be as desperately dull and uncouth as
poor Jacky, whose only topic of conversation is, ‘But you do love me, Len, don’t

And yet Forster delicately leads us to believe that Mrs Wilcox
is not weighted by her ignorance but indefinably transcends it. She is ‘different’.
When Margaret tumultuously descends upon her in the midst of a day of bed rest,
we see her first through the effect of light: ‘The light of the fire, the light
from the window, and the light of a candle-lamp, which threw a quivering halo
round her hands, combined to create a strange atmosphere of dissolution.’

Dissolution: things dissolving, certainties becoming
uncertain, the physical shimmering into the spiritual. ‘I always sound
uncertain over things. It is my way of speaking,’ she says in answer to
Margaret’s determination to get proper answers, to get things fixed and pinned
down. Impossible in the world of emotions, Forster shows us. The conversation
shifts from the mundane to the eerie and back again; and throughout, Mrs Wilcox
is presented not through facts and opinions but through her love for history: history
expressed through her family and her house, for as we have previously learnt,
she ‘cared about her ancestors and let them help her.’

In contrast, Margaret is deracinated and aware of her
rootlessness, soon to be moved on as the lease on her own lifelong home
expires, split between Germany and England, forever seeking an intellectual
explanation for life. ‘I – I wonder if you ever think about yourself,’ comments
Mrs Wilcox; and in the pause that follows, ‘- a pause that was somehow akin to
the flicker of the fire, the quiver of the reading lamp upon their hands, the
white blur from the window; a pause of shifting and eternal shadows,’ Mrs
Wilcox attempts to put her thought into words. What emerges is a mundane,
rather anticlimactic remark, ‘I almost think you forget you’re a girl.’ A
little later she says uncertainly, ‘I only mean that I am fifty-one, and that
to me both of you – read it all in some book or other; I cannot put things

Forster wants to demonstrate that certain elements in human
experience cannot be defined. ‘Clever talk alarmed her and withered her
delicate imaginings,’ he tells us of Mrs Wilcox; and despite her failure to
engage in smart conversation or contribute to the world of ideas, ‘it was odd
that, all the same she should give the idea of greatness … she and daily life
were out of focus: one or other of them must show blurred.’ He uses that funny
little word ‘odd’ and again hangs the question mark over what ‘odd’ means. We
must go on an inner search to find our own definition of ‘odd’ in the context
of shadows of trembling light and wisps of hay.

As in the expedition to the Marabar Caves, the practicalities
of Mrs Wilcox’s Christmas shopping project with Margaret are neglected and bungled.
‘[Margaret’s] name remained at the head of the list, but nothing was written
opposite it. They drove from shop to shop. The air was white, and when they alighted
it tasted like cold pennies. At times they passed through a clot of gray.’ When Mrs Wilcox meets a friend, we are told
(from Margaret’s point of view) that she ‘conversed with her insipidly, wasting
much time’. The choosing and buying of
presents only comes about because Margaret herself manages the process. It is
this complicated nexus of spiritual and material represented by Christmas and
its commercialisation that moves Margaret to ponder, ‘But in public who shall
express the unseen adequately? It is private life that holds out the mirror to

The planned trip to Howards End which abruptly comes about after a slight argument represents a kind of invitation of spirit to flesh.
Margaret teeters on the brink of a visit to an Other Realm, like the granting
of a sudden access pass to Faërie. It is interrupted by the arrival
of the materialistic branch of the Wilcoxes, who (brutalised by riches as
Leonard and Jacky are brutalised by poverty) arrive to snatch Mrs Wilcox away ‘before
imagination could triumph.’ And then, just as abruptly, Mrs Wilcox has died and
we find ourselves witnessing her funeral from the point of view of the local
people, the man pollarding the elms in the churchyard and his view across the
ancient fields of Hertfordshire.

Re-encountering Constance Wilde

Rohase's Bloggy Bits Posted on 15 Nov, 2017 18:34:36

The highlight of my Bank Holiday weekend was a one-woman show in the Brighton Festival entitled ‘Mrs Oscar Wilde’, written and performed by talented actress (and fellow Goodreads Author!) Lexi Wolfe. It consists of a series of short vignettes in which Constance Wilde writes letters to her brother Otho Lloyd. The research is meticulous, based on real-life correspondence and writing, and it was riveting to see Constance transform before our eyes from star-stuck young girl to newly fledged ‘celebrity wife and mother’ to passionate, confident political activist and feminist; and then age and diminish as increasing disillusionment with her neglectful spouse and concerns about his dangerous lifestyle take hold. The final scene was particularly moving as Constance, ill and dying in exile, hounded by her husband’s disgrace and torn by concern for her boys, wonders what her legacy will be – she hopes to be remembered for her literary and political work, and for her championing of the burgeoning women’s movement, but fears she will only ever be remembered as ‘Mrs Oscar Wilde’.
It was exactly this sidelined legacy that I was trying to challenge in ‘The Coward does it with a Kiss’ – published back in 1990 when there was less biographical information about Constance publicly available, and also consisting of a series of (fictional) letters, written in this case by Constance to Oscar. It’s so nice to see that the balance is now being redressed, both by Lexi Wolfe and also of course by Franny Moyles in her 2012 biography ‘Constance: the tragic and scandalous life of Mrs Oscar Wilde’ (which I’m ashamed to say I have yet to read – I shall remedy the situation over the summer, and post a review right here on Goodreads …)
I do love to see a neglected, invisible character given a voice, and looking back I can see that writing ‘The Coward’ gave me the confidence to tackle Anne de Bourgh in ‘Before Elizabeth – the story of Anne de Bourgh’ – a fictional character in this case of course, but a voiceless, sidelined one in ‘Pride and Prejudice.’
I’m hoping to republish ‘The Coward’ in the near future, but in the meantime there seem to be a few second-hand copies knocking around if anyone wants to give it a go! And do try and catch ‘Mrs Oscar Wilde’ if you get the chance to see a performance – it’s off to Leeds next I believe!

Jane Austen’s Bicentenary

Rohase's Bloggy Bits Posted on 15 Nov, 2017 18:31:27

Amongst her own contemporaries, Jane Austen was not regarded as a literary phenomenon. The rise of the female novelist in the late 18th – early 19th century is well documented, and Austen’s original readership would already be devouring the popular and often sensational works of Fanny Burney, Ann Radcliffe, Maria Edgeworth and Hannah More. This is not to imply that female writers were ten a penny, or that publishers were welcoming them with open arms – thirty years after Jane’s death, the Bronte sisters were still so fearful of the stigma attached to female authors that they published under male pseudonyms – but the precedent had been set, success had already been achieved by others, and while Jane Austen’s work was praised and admired, it wasn’t regarded as unique. Today however, when it could be said (and has been!) that female writers ARE ten a penny, she is definitely regarded as unique – a literary phenomenon still topping the bestseller lists two hundred years after her death.

The reason? Her characters. Psychologically believable and instantly recognisable, they’re unshackled by their historical context and still make perfect sense to us today. Look at it this way: while many of us may lament the fact that we’ve never encountered Mr Darcy, I’ll bet we all know a Mr & Mrs Bennet with teenage daughter Lydia (‘Pride and Prejudice’), a ditsy Marianne Dashwood convinced she’s met Mr Right when he’s obviously Mr Wrong (‘Sense and Sensibility’), a fussy, nervous, dependent father like Mr Woodhouse (‘Emma’), and a small-minded, manipulative Mrs Norris (‘Mansfield Park’). Austen’s characters, like Shakespeare’s, can and have been played in modern dress and language in present-day settings without having to change a single sentiment expressed or a single reaction to their situations. They’re utterly memorable because they’re utterly believable.

There’s one Austen character who seems to me to achieve this feat without being allowed one single word of dialogue: Anne de Bourgh, Lady Catherine’s ‘spoilt, sickly’ daughter from ‘Pride and Prejudice’. Fussed over by her former governess Mrs Jenkinson, Anne sits silent and lumpen while her mother holds court and Mr Collins pontificates, Elizabeth Bennet sparkles and Fitzwilliam Darcy smoulders and sulks. She is described as ‘pale and sickly; her features, though not plain, were insignificant’. Her mother assures the assembled guests that she would have ‘performed delightfully’ upon the piano ‘if her health had allowed her to apply’. She appears to speak not one word to Elizabeth Bennet or Maria Lucas during the whole of their visit to Kent, though on their final departure she ‘[exerts] herself so far as to courtesy and hold out her hand to both’. We are given no hint of her feelings towards her cousin and supposed fiance, Mr Darcy, who is courting Elizabeth under her very nose; his casual indifference towards her, however, is made abundantly clear.

The first time I saw Anne de Bourgh portrayed with any individuality on screen was by Moir Leslie in the 1980s BBC adaptation starring Elizabeth Garvie and Nicholas Rintoul. When Anne ‘holds out her hand’ to take leave of Elizabeth Bennet for the last time, she actually grasps her by the arm and looks into her eyes with timid longing, as though wishing she’d been able to pluck up the courage to make friends. That brief scene set me wondering – what would Anne’s story be, what perspective might she have on the courtship and eventual marriage of her cousin to this lively, witty usurper? What must her childhood have been like, with such an overbearing mother? What was her relationship with her late father? Why was she so sickly and delicate? What happened to her after Darcy and Elizabeth married? These were the questions that eventually led me to write ‘Before Elizabeth: The Story of Anne de Bourgh’, and which I’ve tried to answer as believably as possible in a writing style as close to Jane Austen’s own as I could make it. It takes the form of a diary, in which Anne looks back at her childhood and early youth, recalls her father, her cousins, her formative years, and tries to gain some insight into her own state of mind and situation. The ending I’ve imagined for her may come as a bit of a surprise … why not celebrate Jane Austen’s bicentenary with a delve into one of her most neglected characters?

Bromance/Womance Part 3

Charlie's Bloggy Bits Posted on 15 Nov, 2017 11:30:16

So, last time we noted that while an awful lot of women need and want to imagine romantic male bonding or Bromances, hardly any men, apparently, need or want to imagine romantic female bonding or Womances. Womances simply do not figure in their scheme of things.

On the other hand, the Bromance thing is vitally alive and functioning at full throttle, even among the non-novel reading youngsters of today. There’s a galaxy of Bromantic YouTube stars performing to a new generation of adoring females, hopefully demonstrating that males are rounded people whose secret lives (separate from their relationships with women) are warm and playful.

Side note: Funny, isn’t it, that in gay Bromance written by females, the protagonists must be monogamous and faithful to each other? Not surprisingly, I’ve come across several online comments to the effect that this does not at all reflect the norm for gay men. (I will say nothing of my observations in this field except – well, duh.)

Meanwhile, among male authors, we get the oft-noted tendency to narrate female characters in sexual terms, to see them exclusively as relating to male needs, to have them appear in dark or light versions of that Triple-Aspected Muse, Damsel/Vixen, Destroying or Loving Mother, Sexual Playmate/Whore.

Boiling it down, then: females write male characters as sensitive, monogamous and a little bit wild (but actually predictable); males write female characters as genuinely interested in sex and more compliant. Ah, l’amour.

OK, sit down. Have a cup of tea. It’s not like it’s come as a shock to us, is it?

But now let me do what I promised, let me look at the broader meaning of Romance. What we now think of as ‘Romance’ is not how it all began. Nowadays, a romantic story involves the complications of relationships, emotional rumination, tenderness, heartbreak, happy endings. It is also a much-devalued genre, dismissed out of hand by literary snobs and all that lot (I’ll leave you to guess why). Anyway, not so long ago, Romance was written by males, highly regarded and involved Courtly Love, noble ideals, chivalry and shipwrecks.

And it is the Courtly Love aspect that still comes into play here. I find this old idea relevant to my less-than-rigorous study of Bromance: in the tales of the Troubadours, the longing for an unattainable lady by a knight of valour was an ennobling passion which led him to go off and do wonderful deeds. There’s a lot more to it than that, of course; and don’t go running away with the idea that the ‘lady’ was necessarily female (see Susan Schibanoff’s ‘Mohammed, Courtly Love and the Myth of Western Heterosexuality’)

Anyway, in this tradition, the lover is deeply afflicted by a love verging on monomania. It can never be fulfilled – his ‘lady’(q.v.) is usually married or unattainable in some way. To consummate the relationship is to invite death; but, as Love’s Law transcends those of society, the lover is bound to pursue it or hang suspended between happiness and despair. The result is usually disastrous.

Well, clearly, this fits the bill for any number of doomed narratives of the Bromantic tradition. See ‘The Flight of the Heron’ by D.K.Broster, for example. My little theory is simply that the noble ideal of Courtly Love has not been ignominiously thrown off its pedestal and dragged into the backroom of history.

The slow evolution of more mutually respectful, realistic relations between the sexes has not deleted the need that drives Romance. But it is an ideal which doesn’t fit in with proactive, self-determining, modern females. Therefore, the circumstances which evoke the archetype are not so much traditional heterosexual liaisons any more.

Is it too fanciful to say that a variation upon Troubadour tradition has morphed out of the Middle Ages to reappear in modern female writing? I’m not talking about a direct descendant from a literary past – I’m talking about a psychological driver expressing itself anew.

I think that women are providing a version of Courtly Love for themselves through a new Bromantic twist on a very old tradition. And in this age of Trump, we need Bromance to reassure ourselves that, however tainted masculinity may become, there have always been – and always will be – males who transcend its toxicity. It’s now up to men to reclaim their right to write their own romance again.

Bromance/Womance part 2

Charlie's Bloggy Bits Posted on 15 Nov, 2017 11:25:26

Welcome to part two of my rather frivolous look at the phenomenon of straight women writing adoringly about platonic or not-so-platonic male romance a.k.a. Bromance.

In my effort to track down its meaning, I wanted to look at its mirror image i.e. straight men writing adoringly about platonic or not-so-platonic female romantic friendship. So first of all, I googled to find out what name it might have picked up in pop culture. What, I asked innocently, is ‘female equivalent of bromance’? What came up was lesbo, lesbianism, homance, womance, chickmance. Personally, I liked Womance. That’s clever. That’s why it’s at the top of the page.

But could I think of an example of it in literature? I racked my brains. I googled it and came up with long lists of literary female bonding. They were almost all written by women.

I could find plenty of examples of men writing about ‘women in relation to men’ – sometimes in sensitive, insightful ways; sometimes, alas, in derogatory, objectifying and demeaning ways. Check out this hilarious page at to show you how it works (if you didn’t already know).

But the fact is, I could not find anything which treated of a female friendship with the kind of serious regard, let alone the romantic homage, that happens the other way round. I know men tend not to write romance anyway, not in anything like the quantity that women write it … but I thought there must be something! I was looking for sweeping, deep, satisfying, written by a male about heroic female friendship – even if only one example.

I deliberately excused myself from searching ‘men writing about lesbians’, of course. I couldn’t think of a way to phrase it without opening the gates of hell. Anyway, I didn’t, you know, want to repeat what happened when my daughter’s cello string broke and I needed to source a new one and typed the word G-String into the search bar.

So I was disappointed – but not surprised – to realise that male writers do not coo and gurgle and puppify and squee about female friendships. In fact, they’re not really interesting for them. There are no spin-offs and prequels or sequels – no hopeful rewrites of ‘Emma’ from the point of view of Harriet, along the lines of Rohase Piercy’s ‘My Dearest Holmes’.

Disclaimer: If you think I’m tending to man-hating here, please note, I’m simply looking at a cultural phenomenon; and in fact I do love, admire and dote on countless male writers – I just want to put that in here, in case you think I just don’t like men – I do. I do love my sons!

Right, now we’ve got that out of the way. So. The question was begged, if men don’t write what could be styled ‘Womance’, how DO they write about just any old female friendship, the kind that happens when the male characters aren’t there and female characters aren’t discussing the hero? A memory surfaced of the creepy Miss Wade in ‘Little Dorrit’ who persuaded the orphan, Tattycoram, to run away with her.

And that was it – out of all those years studying Eng Lit and stuff. I am ashamed that I can’t think of anything else, and I know it shows I just haven’t read enough of the right books. Educate me, please. If you can think of anything, please suggest it in the comments below – promise I’ll read it.

Perhaps it is not in the printed word, thought I. Are we to look at ‘The Killing of Sister George’? That was a farce by Frank Markus, which became a film. The on-screen version entailed a more heavy-handed portrayal than he’d intended of the relationship between the two protagonists. They were clearly lesbian, but presented with creepy music and dysfunctional behaviour. (Incidentally, if you look up the original film poster, they managed to get a naked female form into Susannah York’s hair, didn’t they? But I digress.)

Are there more in Tellyland?– Cagney and Lacey, Rosemary and Thyme, Birds of a Fevver, Scott and Bailey (don’t ask me, I don’t watch TV). When I checked, incidentally, to see who did write those scripts, they were three-quarters female. Perhaps we can add Calamity Jane and Katie Brown singing ‘A Woman’s Touch’ and tidying up their little cabin? OK, I’ve stopped being serious now. But, sadly, I think that’s about as near as it gets.

So why DON’T males take the same interest in Womance as females do in Bromance? Is it simply that most Romance (as the genre is understood these days) is written by women? Or is it that the male 20% of mid-teen authors contributing their slashfic to the internet do not need to explore their feelings for the opposite sex in quite the protected, sane and safe online playground that their female teen equivalents do? In other words, could it be that the boys don’t feel quite so terrified of the girls?

Now, here I will just mention that that study on ‘Bromance’ I quoted from in Part 1 of this little series said that the chaps don’t feel as ‘judged’ by their boy friends, which is why they feel comfortable and cuddly with each other. Because of this fear of judgement, they prefer not to reveal the entirety of their experience to their girl friends or girlfriends.
I will just pop in a little quote from Wiki here: ‘Novelist Margaret Atwood writes that when she asked a male friend why men feel threatened by women, he answered, “They are afraid women will laugh at them.” When she asked a group of women why they feel threatened by men, they said, “We’re afraid of being killed.”’

On that rather sombre note, I will leave you till next time, when I’ll be asking myself questions about the nature of Romance.

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