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Awarded December 2013 for MAKE DO AND MEND by Adam Fitzroy

Wednesday, 11 December 2013


Things were quite a muddle over the weekend, and I'm afraid I didn't manage to get this LJ entry copied over to my blog as usual. I'm only just catching up with myself now!

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Believe it or not I had actually managed to forget all about the Rainbow Awards winners being announced overnight, but I can assure you now that the penny has well and truly dropped! Word came through before I was properly awake this morning that BETWEEN NOW AND THEN had been a runner up in the Paranormal Romance category, swiftly followed by the news that MAKE DO AND MEND had been awarded not just Best Gay Historical Romance but also - and I find I'm having a lot of trouble comprehending this and am expecting to wake up from the dream at any moment - Best Gay Novel as well.

At the moment I'm struggling to process the news. I've been writing for many years and have had little or no feedback from anybody in all that time except dear personal friends who are always very sweet - but one does occasionally have to wonder whether or not they're being unflinchingly honest. ("Did you enjoy reading that?" is the literary equivalent of "Does my bum look big in this?" - sometimes a tough question to answer truthfully!) Putting a book out into the big world and knowing that it will be scrutinised in minute detail by people who really know their stuff is a bit like sending your child off to face an especially tough exam; you know you've done everything you can to prepare them, but in the end they will have to stand or fall on their own merits - and afterwards you're balanced between hoping for success and bracing yourself to say something reassuring and supportive should they fail.

Well, this 'child' has exceeded all my hopes and expectations and I couldn't possibly be more thrilled. It's a huge honour, and I'd like to thank everyone who voted and all those who organised the awards procedure. You can be sure that this is a moment I will never, ever forget for as long as I live!

I would also like to congratulate those of my fellow Manifold Press authors who impressed the judges: Jane Elliot for her delightfully kinky MONTANA RED and Julie Bozza for her tender age-gap romance THE APOTHECARY'S GARDEN. I know how hard we all work and how much we all care about what we're doing; it's just wonderful that somebody else has recognised that, too, and has marked that recognition in such a public way.

Go us!

Friday, 16 August 2013

BETWEEN NOW AND THEN - the question answered

I was thrilled to see Elisa Rolle's review of BETWEEN NOW AND THEN when I woke up this morning, and in particular I loved her speculation about precisely why it was set in the winter of 1991/1992.

In actual fact - although Elisa's theories are absolutely fascinating and I actually wish they were true - the real reason is a lot more down-to-earth than she imagines. The factors controlling the date of the book's setting were that it needed to have taken place before the opening of the Channel Tunnel in 1994 but after the sinking of the Herald of Free Enterprise in 1987, a very precise window during which Cross-Channel ferries were (barring expensive air travel) the only means of travelling to the Continent from the UK - especially if you wanted to take a vehicle - but were regarded with a certain amount of trepidation by nervous travellers.

Now, add in the fact that the characters would have to be on certain specific roads in order to end up crossing WWI battlefields, and that limited the number of places they could have been visiting; as they weren't likely to be either military history buffs or culture-vultures - they had to be very ordinary, working-class people - football seemed the most obvious reason for the journey. The match between Poland and England, which took place on 13 November 1991, was absolutely ideal - one of those gratuitous pieces of luck which so often elude an author! (It was part of the qualifying campaign for the 1992 European Championship.) November+Flanders added up to "fog" in my mind, giving the time-travel plot both atmosphere and a mechanism, and the fact that it was all a neat 75 years after certain events in the First World War (although the Battle of Torville Wood is completely fictitious) made everything click into place beautifully.

Oh and one more thing; I wanted the guys to be relying on old-fashioned methods of communication like the telephone and the BBC World Service. In an era when everyone has smartphones, problems like a ferry company going bust are so much easier to solve - and so is the business of finding accommodation; when you can just hop online and fine timetables for alternate sailings and book yourself into a nice little guest-house somewhere, everything's just a little bit too safe and predictable to make for a good story!

There are times as a writer when plots/storylines can be extremely awkward to put together - because you want the characters to be somewhere they couldn't possibly have been, or because the situation you want to put them in would be far too easy to get out of. With BETWEEN NOW AND THEN, however, I was very lucky; everything I needed fell into place with very little difficulty - and when a book comes together as smoothly and as readily as that all an author can really do is just hang on tight and let it happen all by itself. I wish more of them would do that, it would make my life a lot easier, but I'm just grateful that it happens that way from time to time; I'll have to remind myself of it, next time I'm stuck with a particularly intractable plot!

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Catching up

I'm embarrassingly aware of the length of time it's been since I updated this blog.  It isn't because I've forgotten about it, or even - alas - because I'm so busy on a new book that I just haven't managed to find the time.  No, unfortunately, it's the outside world that's been getting in the way, and it's caused a radical revision of my plans.

I work several part-time and casual jobs - because my health and my lifelong intolerance for stupid bosses have made me pretty much unemployable in any other form - and one of them has a nasty tendency to get out of hand from time to time and demand energy and intelligence that I don't usually have to spare.  I'm sorry to say that this is a job I'm not really in a position to give up or change, either, so when the worst happens I just have to grit my teeth and hang on.  If it happens when I'm in the early stages of a new book, though, it's a perfect storm, and that's what it was this time.  I emerged from the latest crisis a couple of weeks ago to take a good, long look at BOUNDARIES and admit to myself what I'd been trying for months to pretend wasn't the case - that it would be a much bigger book than I was going to have time to write without losing my present deadline.

That was why I carefully piled all my research notes back into the folder, wrote a synopsis of the next set of plot developments, and reluctantly returned the file to the shelf in favour of something which I know will be a less substantial book but which can easily be ready to be published in February 2014.  I should say that I almost always have several books in the preparation stages at any given time, and I'm usually gathering material for more than one, and sometimes writing one and preparing the next simultaneously - but not, I'm afraid, when one of my other part-time jobs gets in the way, as it has this summer.

So, anyway, now we're going to talk about OFF THE GRID, in which Rupert - a chef - returns to the UK after three years in Australia during which his hoped-for new life on the other side of the world has crumbled to dust around him.  Fortunately he's still got plenty of friends, though, and a good chef will never lack for employment - but he gets obsessed with finding out what's happened to Jake, who used to sell him vegetables on the local market.  Jake, it seems, has gone off the grid and is now running his family's organic smallholding in the Wye Valley - and when Rupert goes looking for him he finds himself getting caught up in a very nasty little local war in which both property and lives are very much at stake.

Barring any more crises, or unpleasant developments in any of my other part-time occupations, it should be possible to have the first draft of OFF THE GRID finished in three months, leaving plenty of time over Christmas and the New Year for revisions.  It's supposed to be in its final form by 1 January, but luckily Manifold Press are usually able to be reasonably flexible about that sort of thing and can 'temper the wind to the shorn lamb' if necessary.  One thing's for sure, though - BOUNDARIES could only have been ready on that timetable if I'd written three times as fast as I've ever written before, and for a sustained period; since this didn't look likely to happen, I've decided to take the pragmatic view and change direction while I still can.  I hate doing it, it feels like failure, but it really is the most sensible course.

I really, really don't like having to be sensible, though.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013


I gather some people have received strange e-mails from 'me' containing just a link.  As someone so rightly said, it seems to be one of those virus things that just runs through a mailbox and sends things to random addresses; I hope nobody was seriously inconvenienced by it.

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I've been absent from LJ, from blogging, and from just about everything else for the last few months.  I had a bad case of burn-out after rushing to finish BETWEEN NOW AND THEN to fill a gap in Manifold Press's schedule, and progress on my new book, BOUNDARIES, has been abysmally slow so far.  (These things are not unconnected!)  However I do seem to be inching forward with it at last, and hopefully after the forthcoming weekend - when I have my last social engagement for quite a while - it will be a whole lot easier to concentrate.  Once I'm 'in the groove' I can usually write quite quickly, but getting into the groove seems to take longer and longer every time!

Saturday, 30 March 2013

What goes around comes around ...

It's coming up to two years now since STAGE WHISPERS was published, and I truly thought that it had failed to find its audience.  It is, as Elisa Rolle pointed out in her lovely review at the time, a very 'English' book, packed with parochial concerns, and is set in the less-than-glamorous world of provincial theatre - where, if magic happens, it is often more by accident than by design.

Elisa was in a bit of a minority, though.  Other reviewers didn't like it; one suggested for example that the text had been artificially inflated with the addition of borrowings from the classics, presumably to increase the word count/price - a bit of a disastrous tactic if it had been true, since cheaper books seem to sell in larger numbers.  Another commenter completely failed to recognise that a period of eleven years had passed for the characters in the book, so that by the end their relationship was much more acceptable generally and Jon's daughter was now a young adult and less likely to be taken away from him if his relationship with Callum became known.

Anyway, as I say, I'd resigned myself to not having made much of an impact with this particular book and had already published three more by the time when - quite out of the blue and within the past few days - the first couple of really enthusiastic reviews appeared.

A reader called Jess Candela on Goodreads seems to have completely understood why the characters spout a lot of Shakespearean lines:

The characters were nuanced and realistic, with no one all good or all bad. Many of them, being actors, had a tendency to pepper their conversations with quotations from and references to the classics. Having spent some time with a theater crowd, I found that very realistic too, and it enhanced my enjoyment of the story.

When I read that, I wanted to leap up and down and shout "Yes, yes, that's what I meant!"; there are some people for whom Shakespeare just seems to leak out of their ears ... they can't even hold an ordinary conversation without quoting something or other.  If you've never met anyone like that, then their dialogue would look very strange written down; if you have, however, it suddenly all makes sense.

And then there's bill m, commenting on Amazon, who says:

Adam Fitzroy is probably a pen name for an actor or someone with some acting experience.

Well, I understudied (and went on for) the lead in Rumpelstiltskin at my primary school, but I haven't so much as tried out for the chorus in anything since!  However I am completely besotted by theatre and have spent more time and money than I care to admit sitting in various darkened auditoria watching groups of players strut and fret their hour upon the stage, and I also studied Shakespeare at university.  In truth, I think I probably would have liked to be a classical actor - but unfortunately such things as looks, talent and opportunities were not forthcoming, and therefore I have had to enjoy the experience vicariously.

Mind you, I do like bill m's suggestion that STAGE WHISPERS:

could be the basis of a script for a fascinating play itself.

Sometimes, in my most extravagant daydreams, I imagine it being made into a movie - and, believe me, I know exactly the right person to direct it!  (I could even make quite a respectable stab at casting it, if pushed.)  But these are far-off fantasies; we all have them, and perhaps they're better not shared.  However if my poor orphan book is at last coming to the notice of people who are prepared to invest a bit of time and effort into reading it, and who actually enjoy it when they do, then it begins to seem as if almost anything may be possible.

Meanwhile, I want to take this opportunity of thanking the two readers who wrote such wonderful reviews; they've helped to restore my faith not only in STAGE WHISPERS as a story but also in myself as an author - which, as I am at a very tricky point with my new book, was more necessary than I feel I can ever adequately convey!  You really make me believe that I may be able to cope with this writing business after all ...

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Interviewed by Elin Gregory

Recently I did an interview with Elin Gregory which has now appeared on Speak Its Name. It was quite an unusual experience - the whole publicity/marketing thing is completely alien to me, and I've never quite been able to shake the notion that there is something fundamentally wrong with talking about oneself. However Elin made it all nice and simple and kindly allowed me to talk about things that are important to me - and it was very good to be able to get in a plug for my all-time favourite book, The Cruel Sea, too. (Not that it needs any plugging from me, I hasten to add.)

I was also extremely impressed that Elin had managed to find a picture looking back from the top of the fictional 'Sermon Pass'; down into the valley which features so strongly in Make Do And Mend - a picture in which the sun is shining, no less! The last time I was up there it was January and blowing half a gale, and the photographs I took largely comprise of very cold-looking sheep and a very cold-looking companion all trying not to get blown off the hillside. We then drove on into the darkness and had the world's largest portion of fish and chips in Welshpool - but that, as they say, is a story for another time.

Anyway, a couple of people left very kind responses to the interview, for which I thank them; writing can be a bit of a lonely and introspective process and it's always nice to be able to remind oneself that there are actually people 'out there' (in the significant proportion of the world that is not my study, that is!) who are interested in the results. It certainly helps to be able to remember that, at times!

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Here we go again!

I started the new book at the beginning of the month, but hadn't got very far with it when I had to take time off again due to a combination of family illness and real (i.e. paid) work.  However I have managed to pick up the threads this morning and now have a much clearer idea of where I'm going with it; the characters, Alistair and Rex, are really beginning to make their presence felt.  So are the other people who form their background - family members, the teachers at their school, Rex's landlord, and some of their neighbours.   As usual there will be a tight focus on a small community, this time based in the sooty environs of the East End of London as it slowly recovers from the depradations of both the Luftwaffe and various misguided post-War planning decisions.

Whilst doing some preparatory research earlier on today I found myself investigating - among other things - Bengali surnames, the history of heart surgery, and the Morris Oxford J2 minibus.  This is one of the more delightful aspects of writing, as far as I'm concerned, and I particularly enjoy the fact that most of what one needs to know can usually be discovered without even having to get up from the keyboard and reach for a book - although that doesn't mean that I'm not habitually surrounded by books, maps and even music for all occasions.

I have no idea how long this is likely to take, anyway, or how long a book it will be, but I'd prefer it not to be another epic-length saga like MAKE DO AND MEND or STAGE WHISPERS; if I can keep it down to under 60,000 words I'll be happy enough, but watch this space!

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Amazon Kindle and other news

A step into the big(ger) time this week, with the Kindle release of DEAR MISTER PRESIDENT.  Manifold Press are uploading their titles in batches of three but on an irregular basis, which means that STAGE WHISPERS will follow shortly, and GHOST STATION soon after that.  Then there will be a break, with MAKE DO AND MEND and BETWEEN NOW AND THEN being uploaded towards the end of the sequence.  The idea is to mix and match so that they don't upload all of a single author's books at one time, which seems perfectly fair to me!

Meanwhile, I've made a tentative start on the new book, which doesn't yet have a title.  It's set in 1966, and the main characters are Alistair - a widowed teacher who lives with his daughter and his former mother-in-law in a less-than-salubrious part of London, and whose daily life of trying to get geography into the heads of teenaged boys who would rather be smoking or playing football offers him very little challenge - and Rex, younger, relatively new to teaching and to London, whose darker skin sometimes gets him the wrong kind of attention in a city still struggling to accept multiculturality.  Hopefully this will be a book about prejudice of many different kinds, and about learning how to deal with it; choosing one's battles, and making progress slowly.

Monday, 28 January 2013

Flat spot

I'm in that depressingly flat place between books at the moment. It doesn't usually hit me quite this hard, but rushing to finish BETWEEN NOW AND THEN was such a massive effort and required so much adrenalin - coming so soon after Christmas and a major DIY effort on the house, and then a week's supposed 'break' (through which I worked continually) which also had a major surprise wrapped up in it - that anything else by comparison is bound to feel a bit second-best.

I'm also in the position of juggling two potential plots, both fairly well-developed. One of them concerns two schoolteachers from different ethnic backgrounds who meet in the cultural melting-pot of London in the mid-1960s. The other is about three generations of a family reconciling themselves with their own sexuality - and one another's. The latter is likely to be a longer book, though, and Heaven knows longer books don't exactly seem very popular at the moment. Besides, knowing the rate at which I work, a book the length of STAGE WHISPERS or MAKE DO AND MEND could take me up to a year to write, and that's really not what's needed at the moment. I need to tackle something that isn't going to take more than six months, so effectively that leaves me with the London book - and eventually with writing/having written four historical subjects in a row. Most of the other ideas in my projects folder seem to be historical too, though - there's another World War II piece, and something about the Railways Inspectorate, and a possible mediaeval piece, and something set in 1837 that doesn't take place in Paris or feature revolutionary students.

Well, it's going to be a question of thinking about this quietly over the next few days, and hopefully coming to some sort of decision by the end of the month. I find that if I just do something else and let my subconscious make the decisions I'm usually satisfied with the results, but there does seem to be quite a lot of waiting and displacement activity involved - and that, in my opinion, is almost more stressful than working flat out!

Friday, 11 January 2013


Anyone who's been reading my work for the last couple of years will probably have realised by now that I don't write very quickly. In fact, I generally reckon that 500 words per day is a fairly good rate of progress - especially when you consider that I very often get caught up in quite detailed research, and that tends to take quite a lot of time. (When I was writing MAKE DO AND MEND, for example, I had a delightful couple of hours' diversion to work out how Kitty could possibly have made her own pickling vinegar. It wasn't used in the book at all, but I had to satisfy myself that it could actually be done.)

This being the case, therefore, you'll realise that having to write quickly doesn't really suit me. However when Manifold Press suffered a mini-crisis and ended up looking to me to bring BETWEEN NOW AND THEN forward three months - it had originally been intended to publish it on 1 May - I had a moment of panic and then settled down to do some very quick calculations. I had roughly half a book already; could I possibly write the other half in time? The answer is, it seems, yes. Writing quickly is not my idea of fun but it is, it seems, quite feasible in an emergency!

BETWEEN NOW AND THEN is the story of Dennis and Allan, two colleagues who work together at a Yorkshire hospital. They - and four of their workmates - are on the way home from watching a football match in Poland in late 1991 when their journey unexpectedly takes them through a former battlefield in Belgium, and a very strange sequence of events begins to unfold. It makes them question a lot of things that they thought they knew for sure, like the nature of time and whether or not there is life after death - and if, despite all evidence to the contrary, they might actually end up liking one another.

I've been very lucky to have had the entire editorial resources of Manifold Press diverted in my direction; everyone has been incredibly helpful and supportive, and I've had more kind offers of help than I really knew what to do with. I was also lucky that there was nothing in my schedule for this part of the year that couldn't be postponed; I was intending to devote it all to writing, anyway - just not at quite this pace. Anyway, the worst is over now; I'm just putting the finishing touches to the book - which is why I've got enough free time to write this! - and then it's up to Manifold to put it all together in time for publication on 1 February. But oh, please, dear Manifold Press, no more emergencies! I'm more of marathon runner than a sprinter - and when I say 'runner', I mean it more in the sense of this man, with whom I feel I have a very great deal (at least 130 lbs) in common!