We’re so pleased to welcome author Charlie Cochrane today with an interview on the tour for her new story collection, Wild Bells.
Q: Hi Charlie. What historical period do you write in?
Charlie: I guess I’m most well known for writing in the period either side of world war one, but I do have several contemporary books. Wild Bells combines my two Regency/Age of Sail era stories. Why such a breadth of settings? I guess it reflects the authors I read. Conan Doyle, Jerome K Jerome, Patrick O’Brian, Jane Austen – I’ve spent so long immersed in them I can almost see and hear that time and writing the right cadence for the dialogue comes naturally.
Q: Can you share your top resources for historical research?
Charlie: For me, the best resources are ones contemporary to the time. Books or plays written in the same decade, newspapers from the era, non-fiction books which draw on the experiences of people alive then (like Max Arthur’s wonderful series of “voices” from various wars). If you read a history textbook, you always get the story told with the writer’s bias and a touch of whichever axe they’re trying to grind. Take some of that away and you build up a truer picture – and the better a picture you can build up in your head of ordinary life, the more convincing your portrayal will be. And I’d also recommend Oxford English Dictionary online, to check if words and phrases are appropriate for the time. Some words go back a lot further than you’d think and some (“blizzard” for example) are surprisingly modern.
Q: What’s your opinion on using dialect, archaic language, accents or foreign words?
Charlie: I think it’s a minefield. Like those awful films where you have people in France, supposed to be talking in French, but they’re just speaking English with a French accent. Any aspiring historical author should read Mary Renault’s Alexander Trilogy. Nobody speaks cod-Greek or cod-Persian. It’s the cadence of the language and the sprinkling of specialist terms (like names for items of clothing) which depict the setting and the era. I don’t mind using – or reading – some dialect terms, especially if the story is set in a part of Britain where the local argot is distinctive. Geordies don’t use the same words as cockneys and a reasonable amount of local words helps to flavour the story. But if you use so many your readers can’t understand what’s going on (or if you need to provide an index to explain the words) then you’ve gone too far. Don’t let the detail get in the way of telling the story; everything in moderation.
Q: How do you balance the genre expectations of writing romance with the historical reality of the bias and oppression gay men and gay relationships have faced during different time periods?
Charlie: With a delicate hand and a lot of pragmatism! There always have been gay men and some of them have managed to stay under the radar (or the equivalent to radar of the time!) Using discretion, employing marriages of convenience, hiding in plain sight (for example within traditionally all-male institutions), gay men have found ways to survive, deflect suspicion and find a sort of happy ever after, or at least a happy for now.
Clearly one can’t have the big white wedding or other typical romance genre ending, but you can find imaginative ways for your heroes to stay together. And actually, that’s a great challenge and stimulus for a writer, creating that believable happy ending. The advantage we have, of course, is that we don’t have to conjure some threat or danger to a relationship. Having to keep the emotions hidden to the world supplies that ongoing tension – and creates plenty of space for UST.
Q: What’s your best tip for avoiding the dreaded historical info dump?
Charlie: Um. Just don’t do it? Seriously, if you feel tempted to show off your knowledge, restrain yourself. Or edit it out. And never explain – if something needs detailed explanation or even a glossary, find another way to say it. To give an example, if you’re writing about some upper class lads in the Edwardian era, you could have them raising their hats as they pass a lady in the street, or have a scene where they change for dinner (with perhaps a valet at hand to help them). You don’t need to explain why they’re doing any of these things. It’s just part of their lives.
And please (personal plea to historical writers) could you restrain yourselves from the sort of “Oh, I see the Titanic’s sunk!” type of conversations? If you can’t find another way of telling us your story’s set in 1912 London, put the date and location as a chapter heading. By all means, have people discussing contemporary events but make the dialogue believable. Rant over.
Q: How is historical fiction relevant in a genre often dismissed as porn or fluff?
Charlie: How long have we got? Sad to say, some historical fiction is simply porn/fluff with added ruffles, poorly researched, poorly written. Fine if you want plenty of sex and no plot but not if you want a solid storyline. So a well written, well researched, story transcends the accusations of this not being serious writing. (And I’d like to see anyone dismiss “The Persian Boy” or the “Regeneration” trilogy as fluff.
About the Book
Wild Bells – Two stories by Charlie Cochrane
The Shade on a Fine Day:
Curate William Church may set the hearts of the parish’s young ladies aflame, but he doesn’t want their affection or presents, no matter how much they want to give them to him. He has his sights set elsewhere, for a love he’s not allowed to indulge. One night, eight for dinner at the Canon’s table means the potential arrival of a ghost. But what message will the spirit bring and which of the young men around the table is it for?
The Angel in the Window:
Two officers, one ship, one common enemy.
Alexander Porterfield may be one of the rising stars of the British navy, but his relationship with his first lieutenant, Tom Anderson, makes him vulnerable. To blackmail, to anxieties about exposure—and to losing Tom, either in battle or to another ship. When danger comes more from the English than the French, where should a man turn?
About the Author
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, sometimes historical (sometimes hysterical) and usually with a mystery thrown into the mix.
She’s a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association, Mystery People, and International Thriller Writers Inc., with titles published by Carina, Samhain, Bold Strokes Books, Lethe, MLR, and Riptide. She regularly appears with The Deadly Dames and is on the organising team for UK Meet.