We are very happy to welcome Alex Beecroft to the Smoocher’s Voice blog today. Beecroft’s latest book, Trowchester Blues, is available on Riptide Publishing.
Alex Beecroft is an English author best known for historical fiction, notably Age of Sail, featuring gay characters and romantic storylines. Her novels and shorter works include paranormal, fantasy, and contemporary fiction.
Beecroft won Linden Bay Romance’s (now Samhain Publishing) Starlight Writing Competition in 2007 with her first novel, Captain’s Surrender, making it her first published book. On the subject of writing gay romance, Beecroft has appeared in the Charleston City Paper, LA Weekly, the New Haven Advocate, the Baltimore City Paper, and The Other Paper. She is a member of the Romantic Novelists' Association of the UK and an occasional reviewer for the blog Speak Its Name, which highlights historical gay fiction.
Beecroft was born in Northern Ireland during the Troubles and grew up in the wild countryside of the English Peak District. She lives with her husband and two children in a little village near Cambridge and tries to avoid being mistaken for a tourist.
Beecroft is only intermittently present in the real world. She has led a Saxon shield wall into battle, toiled as a Georgian kitchen maid, and recently taken up an 800-year-old form of English folk dance, but she still hasn’t learned to operate a mobile phone.
Connect with Alex Beecroft:
Jodi: Thank you, Alex, for joining us on the blog. It is nice to meet you. Your latest book, Trowchester Blues, is a contemporary novel. You also write in the paranormal and fantasy genres. Do you have a preference?
Alex: Thank you! I was very happy to be asked. It's lovely to meet you too.
I have to admit that I like fantasy best, at least to read. That's probably a bit too simplistic an answer though. The truth is that as I was growing up I read nothing at all other than fantasy and science fiction, so that's where my roots are. However, as I grew up, I started branching out and learning to appreciate other genres. Now I tend to cycle through them – I'll have a contemporary binge and then suddenly go off those and onto historicals. Then after two or three historicals, I'll decide I need to read some fantasy. I would say that I prefer contemporaries and fantasies that have a dash of historical, and historicals that have a dash of fantasy (ghosts, curses etc). If you make a venn diagram of all the genres, I prefer the space in the middle where they overlap.
Jodi: Trowchester Blues takes place in the town of Trowchester. It is the first book in the Trowchester Blues universe. Is this fictional location based on a real location?
Alex: It's not based on a single real location. I've essentially taken my favourite things from lots of places around Britain and put something similar into Trowchester. So it's got York's Roman walls, and Glastonbury's spirituality tourism, and Chesterfield's church with the twisted spire, and a very splendid tea shop unashamedly based on Peacock's Tea rooms in Ely. Anything I see and like in the UK is likely to end up in there at some time or another.
Jodi: This is book has a gritty vibe, and I was hooked from the first chapter. The plot of this story is engaging and has a few twists and turns with a bit of mystery and crime thrown into the mix. Was it a challenge to incorporate murder, mayhem and romance?
Alex: Oh thank you! I like a bit of action-adventure with my romance. Isn't there a famous bit of writing advice that says if you don't know what to write next then have a man with a gun run into the room? I've always taken that a little more literally than it's probably meant to be taken. It is important to me that my characters have lives outside the romance, so that they don't seem to have no independent existence from each other at all. It's not healthy for anyone to exist only for their significant other. And if characters are going to have lives, there's no reason why they should be boring ones.
Jodi: The two main characters are intriguing and seem to fit the adage that opposites attract, although in some ways, both characters are broken, a fact that seems to draw them together. Michael May, a police officer by trade, is on the verge of a nervous breakdown when we meet him. Tell us a little about why May, a veteran police officer, loses it at the crime scene.
Alex: I have a friend who used to work in the police force, and she had to retire because she simply couldn't cope with the thought of entering another room and finding another dead body. Michael, who works in the missing persons unit, is facing that kind of experience every day in his job, and I feel that probably takes a toll on anyone's mental well being. I think it's because he's a veteran that he finally loses it. You know? The sheer misery of desperately trying to find lost children and finding yet another dead one has been accumulating for him for years before this. Add that to all his unresolved issues brought to the forefront of his mind by the recent death of his father, and he's just reached the point where he can't take it any more.
Jodi: Michael’s rage seems to be hereditary. Does the relationship he had with his father influence his decision to become a police officer?
Alex: Definitely. He has an instinctive sense of justice, and growing up in an environment where he could never figure out the rules – he could never work out how to avoid setting his father off – made him yearn for a world where everything was above board and fair. He saw going into the police force as a way to protect the vulnerable from people who couldn't be trusted not to use their brains and strength to hurt them. He's always been terrified that he might turn into the man, although I could have told him that aside from the anger they aren't anything alike.
Jodi: While Michael is dark and brooding, Fintan Hulme seems to be light and, in general, happy. Tell us a little about his character.
Alex: Finn does have some inner scars and fears, but he's adept at working around them. He takes a great deal of comfort from beauty and fine things, and he's talented at spotting them and appreciating them wherever they are. He also has a good laugh over the foibles of others and takes a lively interest in other people's lives and concerns (though he doesn't much like it when they pry back.) He's actually quite lonely, I think, but he doesn't realize it until Michael comes into his life.
Jodi: As a reader, I am drawn to Michael because of his brooding nature and inner turmoil. What is it that attracts Fintan to Michael?
Alex: Oh, shoulders, definitely. At least initially it's Michael's brutal looks combined with his air of being emotionally fragile, and needing someone to look after him. Finn is something of a dominant bottom. Michael, who's tough enough and strong enough to hurt him, while also being biddable and lost and looking for someone to tell him what to do, pushes all of his buttons.
Jodi: On the surface, Michael seems broken, angry and depressed. Yet, he goes out of his way to help Sarah, and when she attacks him, he folds in on himself. Why does he want to help her so badly? And, why does he hide this from Fintan?
Alex: I think she's come to represent to him all the children he couldn't help in his career. He wouldn't think it consciously, but by saving and helping her, he's trying to atone or earn forgiveness for all the times he didn't manage to help a child. Including the one that opens the book. He's got so many things to work out with Finn first that he doesn't think of mentioning Sarah to him. And he hides the bruises on his arms because he feels guilty about being hurt, the same way his mother hid the wounds on her arms – not to draw attention or make anyone angry by being in need. He has some bad habits left over from his childhood, that's for sure.
Jodi: The families in this book are a bit unconventional. Finn has made a family of the book club men. How did they all get together? Are these men the focus of the other books in the universe?
Alex: Finn has excellent gaydar, so when he arrived in Trowchester and found there were no gay clubs at all, he had some fliers printed advertising the book club and handed them out to anyone who looked even vaguely interested in joining. Five years later it's evolved into a comfortable social club in which they have chips from the chip shop and sometimes cake, and occasionally discuss a book if it takes their fancy.
I certainly meant to give the book club boys their own books, but it hasn't really turned out that way so far. James the archaeologist gets his own book in Blue Steel Chain, but Idris hasn't yet, and although Billy from Blue Eyed Stranger received a flier he's quite shy and he's never yet turned up. So I don't know what's going on there. Idris really deserves a book, I think. Maybe next time.
Jodi: Finn has clear reasons for not trusting the police, but as a former police officer Michael believes in the law. Was it challenging to show both of these perspectives in the book?
Alex: Not really. While I tend to be fully in favour of Michael's view that the police ought to be there to protect people, and that they ought to be allowed to be proud of that, I'm also fully in favour of Finn's view that they ought to leave me alone to live my own life without suspicion and harassment. I used to live on an estate famous for drug dealing, where it was a dull month when nobody's car got slashed or set on fire. One night the police hammered on my door at three o clock in the morning, waking my sleeping children. They were after the people who had sold the house to us – no doubt for some good reason – but I certainly didn't appreciate being treated like a criminal because they hadn't done their research. If I had been a criminal, I'm sure I would have appreciated it even less. It's a worthwhile job and I am glad that there are people who are willing to do it, but that doesn't make them comfortable to be around.
Jodi: This is the first book in the Trowchester Blues universe. It looks like there will be at least two more books on the horizon. The next book, Blue Eyed Stranger, is scheduled for release in April. Can you give us a sneak peak?
Alex: Absolutely I can. For the full understanding of this excerpt you need to know that Martin is a Viking re-enactor, and Billy is a morris dancer. They’ve newly met each other for the first time and are still in the stage of being dazzled. Here you go:
Matt walked off. The fiddler began to play, standing with her back to Bretwalda as though she didn't acknowledge their existence. Billy, facing the fiddler, was also facing Martin. He had taken off his black jacket to reveal a long, slender torso in a white linen shirt. His bright blue gaze lifted and locked on Martin's as he stood loosely, head up, waiting for the music to give him his cue.
What was all this then?
Billy began to dance, leaping, stepping, stamping, his feet beating against the ground as if sounding a kettle-drum. Those long legs were graceful and powerful, his arms raised and balanced and bright against the blue sky. Martin couldn't see the expression on his face even now, but his body was clearly boasting about its own prowess - I'm faster, lighter, stronger than you. I can jump higher and endure longer. You want virile? Look at me.
And damn but it was effective. He was the most beautiful creature Martin had ever seen, with sweat dampening that white shirt and turning it translucent, his grin all challenge and his laughing gaze never varying from Martin's face.
With two great bounds forward, Billy fell to one knee in front of Martin, his arms spread wide, red handkerchiefs dangling from his hands like flags. Martin looked down, embarrassed and aroused and singled out, as though he had just been propositioned in front of the summer crowd.
Billy raised his eyebrows. “Top that.”
Oh, he was on. Martin leaned down to give him a single stage direction. "Run."
He began to beat his spear against his shield, making a hollow, wooden drumbeat. Used to this, the garrison echoed the sound in a slow hand-clap of weapons designed to psych the enemy out. Billy's grin narrowed, became conspiratorial. He got to his feet, made a show of looking Martin up and down as if only just realizing what he was up against.
Sword slid from scabbard. Martin stepped forward and bellowed a war-cry into Billy's face. Billy leapt four feet in the air, turned and came down running. To the welcome sound of the entire audience roaring with laughter, Martin gave pursuit. But he had barely made it into the centre of the ring before fleet-footed Billy had hurdled over the straw bales at the outer edge and disappeared.
Jodi: What other projects are you working on?
Alex: This very week, I'm expecting to finish the first draft of a space opera m/f romance called Lioness of Cygnus 5, in which my heroine is a captain in the space navy, and my hero is a pacifist vegetarian nanobot designer condemned for murder, who she is transporting to a penal colony. I wanted to see if I could write a m/f romance in a way that I would enjoy – subverting as many of the tropes as I could find. And it's really quite exciting to have such a martial, kickass, masterful female character. I've no idea what to do with it when it's polished, but I'll find that out when I come to it.
After that, I'm not sure. I probably ought to do the Trowchester book in which Michael's ex-wife comes back into his life. Or Idris' book! Poor Idris. Always the bridesmaid and never the bride.
Michael May is losing it. Long ago, he joined the Metropolitan Police to escape his father’s tyranny and protect people like himself. Now his father is dead, and he’s been fired for punching a suspect. Afraid of his own rage, he returns to Trowchester—and to his childhood home, with all its old fears and memories. When he meets a charming, bohemian bookshop owner who seems to like him, he clings tight.
Fintan Hulme is an honest man now. Five years ago, he retired from his work as a high class London fence and opened a bookshop. Then an old client brings him a stolen book too precious to turn away, and suddenly he’s dealing with arson and kidnapping, to say nothing of all the lies he has to tell his friends. Falling in love with an ex-cop with anger management issues is the last thing he should be doing.
Finn thinks Michael is incredibly sexy. Michael knows Finn is the only thing that still makes him smile. But in a relationship where cops and robbers are natural enemies, that might not be enough to save them.