As part of my non-writing life, I attended a development day, where one of the speakers discussed “Relationship Marketing” and the increasing loyalty as someone moves from being a prospective customer to a brand advocate. (How does this relate to the story behind “Awfully Glad”? Bear with, bear with…) I immediately could relate this concept to a potential reader moving, one hopes, to being someone who recommends your book to their friends, but the more I thought about it, the more I realised it could apply to me and my characters/settings.
I’d better explain.
I’ve always loved the war poets of WWI, especially Wilfred Owen, and I have a penchant for visiting war graves. (I maintain a war grave in our local churchyard.) So I guess I was always a “Prospect” in terms of writing a story set in the era, not least because I could visualise the scene – and hear the cadence of the language – so clearly from reading old soldiers’ reminiscences. It would always be an easy era to write from the technical point of view, if not from the potentially harrowing storylines.
I became a “customer”, ie first time writer of the era as part of my Cambridge Fellows Mysteries series. From the very first book, set in 1905, I could feel the shadow of war hanging over Jonty and Orlando. They’d have signed up, they’d have been officers, officers had a notorious small likelihood of survival, so what would have happened to them? I explored that in All Lessons Learned, but writing that book wasn’t enough. I’d become…
…a Client (repeat purchaser!). Or in this case, repeat writer. Awfully Glad is my fourth foray into WWI, and I’ve also had a short story featuring a guardian angel who was a WWI soldier before he died. My usual writing style tends to be light and humorous, and I have some pretty odd storylines (who else has written about weresloths?) but when I start exploring this era, my stories are more serious and my style more sober. That’s not to say there aren’t lighter parts – the wonderful humour these soldiers maintained in the face of such suffering is astonishing and that had to be reflected, too. But each of my WWI stories has had to deal with loss, either of one of the main players or someone close to them, because that’s the reality of the times. As is romance, and finding new hope among the ruins, and that’s featured heavily, too. I promise a happy ending for all my stories.
The next step on the marketing line is a supporter, who tries new products, which made me think of how I’ve tried to take a different look at the era rather than just repeating “soldier meets soldier, soldier loses soldier, soldier gets soldier back”. Awfully Glad was inspired by stories I’d read about WWI concert parties and the wonderful female impersonators they’d had entertaining the troops. Some of these had been so convincing they’d ended up being ogled by their own commanding officers! That’s exactly the sort of snippet which gets the plot bunnies breeding. Soon I had a character – Sam Hines – who’s beautiful and glamorous when he’s in drag, but butch and heroic when he’s back in uniform. That element of playing a part, taking up a role which wasn’t really you, gave me the idea for a storyline which would delve into the real dangers gay men faced in their everyday lives back in the early twentieth century. They’d always have “keep a face in a jar by the door” to wear for the world.
So that just leaves “brand champion” and maybe that’s what I’m doing now, talking about my book and trying to get people to read it, especially people who would normally give historical romances a miss. Although I think there’s more to it than just selling. I want to encourage people to find out more about WWI and the real soldiers who fought then. I’m researching the soldiers listed on the memorials at our two parish churches, as part of a Diocese project to mark the centenary of hostilities breaking out. I’d like to persuade people to explore the poems of Wilfred Owen, and read his biography, to become as besotted with the era as I am.
As I write this, I look out of a sash window that must have been opened and shut during that time (our house is Edwardian). The past is just a hairsbreadth away. Come and explore it with me.
Bio and links: As Charlie Cochrane couldn’t be trusted to do any of her jobs of choice—like managing a rugby team—she writes. Her favourite genre is gay fiction, predominantly historical romances/mysteries.
Charlie’s Cambridge Fellows Series, set in Edwardian England, was instrumental in her being named Author of the Year 2009 by the review site Speak Its Name. She’s a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association, Mystery People and International Thriller Writers Inc, with titles published by Carina, Samhain, BSB, MLR and Cheyenne.
WWI hero Sam Hines is used to wearing a face that isn’t his own. When he’s not in the trenches, he’s the most popular female impersonator on the front, but a mysterious note from an anonymous admirer leaves him worried. Everyone realizes—eventually—that Sam’s not a woman, but has somebody also worked out that he also prefers his lovers to be male?
When Sam meets—and falls for—fellow officer Johnny Browne after the war, he wonders whether he could be the man who wrote the note. If so, is he the answer to Sam’s dreams or just another predatory blackmailer, ready to profit from a love that dare not speak its name?
THIS CONTEST IS NOW CLOSED