Turn of the 20th Century and there are more downright evil machinations and family revelations going on in the Holland household than you would think possible. However, if you have Harry Bircham as your house guest then maybe a little murder isn’t out of the question either just to move or help your relationship along a little bit.
Would you like to know how Shakespeare’s Hamlet features in all of this too? Then read on as Erastes tells us why. She is also giving away three eBook copies of I Knew Him to three lucky winners. So what are you waiting for…………..
Hi, I'm Erastes. For those of you who haven't heard of me, I'm a writer of gay historical fiction and I live in Norfolk, England.
I've been a little off the grid for the last year because I've been hit with depression but with the release of my latest book "I KNEW HIM" I've been trying to get back into the swing of things - so thank you so much for allowing me to chat a bit here.
"I Knew Him" had been an idea that had been percolating in my brain for a long long time. I'm a very big Shakespeare fan and some of my earliest memories consist of listening to "Hamlet" on a series of Long Playing Records (ask your mum) with the myriad talents of Michael Redgrave and Peggy Ashcroft and Laurence Olivier. With such luminaries playing the parts, it's unsurprising that I became so fanatical about this story - which, like so many of Shakespeare's plays have themes that remain fresh and relevant despite the fact that several centuries have past. Even today the remarriage of a parent can cause major problems, after all.
I started from the point where I thought "What if Hamlet was gay?" - Once I'd thrown that into the mix, an awful lot of what he does in the play makes a lot more sense. I originally had planned to rewrite the play as a book but leaving the time and setting intact, but writing it from Horatio's point of view. However, once I'd kicked that around a bit it didn't excite me. I didn't want to write the SAME story, there needed to be some point of separation. It was the re-marriage part that eventually swung it. I discovered that up to a certain point in history, it was illegal in England to marry your dead spouse's sibling and then in the 20's it was made legal. Whilst it seems entirely right to us now in 2014, because there was no risk of inbreeding, back then--especially in small towns and villages--it might seem extremely shocking.
So there was my way in, an English Country House set up, redolent of the Agatha Christies I love so well, beautiful and slightly camp young men in tennis whites and Oxford Bags and lashings and lashings of angst, loathing, family drama and hate. Perfect.
My protagonist (although you may not see him as such!) is Harry Bircham, ever so slightly effete, witty with a dark sense of humour; loyal, insecure and perhaps with the smallest of chips on his shoulders. I think I have failed (as did Jane Austen when she wrote Emma) to create a "hero whom no one but myself will love" because I think I loved Harry a bit too much and from much of the feedback I've had on the book, his devilish charm may be rubbing off on readers too.
What do you think? Please feel free to ask me anything. I have a choice of ebook or Audible book to give away to three of the commenters.
Title: I knew Him
Publisher: Lethe Press
Release: 5th August 2014
Genre: M/M (historical)
Harry George Alexander Bircham: Not necessarily an infamous name in the annals of gay fictional characters…yet. But readers of Erastes’ newest historical novel should prepare themselves for many pages of suspenseful intrigue as the miscreant Bircham, a man of Wildean excesses and humours, will do anything it takes to bend Fate to his will. And that sinister will is to keep the affections and attentions of another young English lad. If accidents, if murder, are necessary, then Bircham is just the villain. Or anti-hero, as he is quite the early twentieth century charmer.
“If there can be such a thing as too much fun, this is probably it. It’s Hamlet in white tie and flapper dresses, relocated to the country-house circuit between the wars; but nobody quite acts out the roles laid down for them. This is just too good to miss.” —Chaz Brenchley, winner of the August Derleth Award and author of Blood Waters.
OK guys, the first problem I have is how the hell to review this book without giving anything away. It was a great murder but with a slant I really liked. More about the slant later.
First of all this book was a total delight to read. I would like to start with the writing style. Erastes through her writing provokes a wonderful scene of early twentieth century England. The dialogues are a joy to read and almost have a modern day E. M. Forster quality about them but not that they are archaic or difficult to understand. Apart from the wonderfully descriptive writing you get a real feel of the atmosphere of the historical period, setting the scene brilliantly. Through the dialogues you get the characters come alive, also the times and attitudes that existed during this time too. Therefore, everything is set for Harry Bircham and his devious machinations…….and oh my, devious machinations is exactly what Harry Bircham is about. He is positively Machiavellian, taking charm and manipulation to another plane.
Harry Bircham and Charles Holland are a couple of Cambridge University toffs and Charles asks Harry to spend the summer with him at his mother’s house. They are already what you could call “boyfriends” in a “Brideshead Revisited” kind of way, maybe be a little more intense, but obviously all completely under wraps due to the period of history. He gets to meet the family and then Charles’s mother drops a bombshell for news on her son and guests with an announcement that shocks him to his very core. Well, Charles doesn’t take the news well and is beside himself with anger. As far as one would show anger in a very British society at that time.
“Let’s not discuss anything unpleasant in public, because we’re English and that’s not what we do.”
Harry is very sympathetic to Charles’s plight but obviously has to remain polite as he is a guest. Where do I begin to describe Harry? He is such a complex character and Erastes has really created for me a character that just leapt off the pages. He is intelligent, very eloquent, he delights in shocking and annoying people on purpose by being openly effeminate at times, but he also uses this in a very premeditated way to get the irritate certain people he does not like.
Claude took a position by the fireplace next to Mrs Holland. “So, I hear you hark from Scotland?”
Hark? Who says hark? I had a sudden vision of myself being pursued by kilt-clad lovelies across a purple-heathered landscape. Lucky me.
This is what got me hooked was the psychology of Harry. On the outside he appears to be caring, especially in Charles’s case although this is genuine, he is charming and extremely eloquent. However, he is extremely calculating and has a dark side.
“I’m good at mingling. I dislike it a great deal, holding much loathing for the human race in general – with one or two notable exceptions – but I am good at it. I treat it as a skill like any other.”
His love for Charles is all encompassing, but how far would you go to make sure the affections and wishes of the one you love are guaranteed? Murder maybe? Now we get to that slant that I really loved. The story is told through Harry’s viewpoint in first person. So you know who the murderer is and you get to experience Harry’s reasoning behind the murders. In actual fact I could totally understand him, found him totally likable to be honest and empathised with him entirely. Harry got right under my skin and then I started to question my own morals of should I be finding a murderer to be likable? Well sorry, but I did and I loved the way that Harry got into my psyche. What a mind bender. He even took a morbid delight in the murders, all in the name of love for Charles and took me with him on his evil little trip. It was like dancing with the devil. His love for Charles is all encompassing and he sees the murders more as a quest to make sure Charles stays with him and to ensure Charles’s happiness. Charles the poor bloke has been through hell and back, especially after his father who he loved dearly went missing in action during the war and never returned. Charles spent a time in an asylum or psychiatric institute as he would not believe or accept his father was dead. Is he crazy? Well, maybe not. That’s the other underlying mystery next to the murders. Therefore Charles is a very sensitive person and leans on Harry for support and comfort.
Most of the story is set in and around the house and grounds of Charles’s mother’s house. What did the aristocracy do then? Yes, play tennis all day, lounge around, indulge in the daily gossip, go to the odd polo game and basically see to the running of the house and village. To be honest all very Downton Abbey on a small scale as the family is not titled. I loved it!! So the whole story has a very parlour room, Cluedo, feeling to it. I just love this period and Erastes portrays it in all it’s detail and finery. Fantastic! Oh and then there is Polonius. I just loved this! What a great name!! Want to know who Polonius is? – then read the book – haha!
The cops are called in on the second successful murder, as the attempt before didn’t go quite according to plan and Harry gets away with both scot-free as everyone assumes they were unfortunate accidents. The second is not so easily covered up and you start to feel the noose tightening around Harry. Harry however remains cool in the face of it all which got my adrenaline going on whether he would get away with it or not? Did he? Well, that would be telling too.
The only small personal criticism I have was the book felt like it was in two distinct parts. The first half I really felt wasn’t going anywhere. It was important to set the scene of course, but at a certain point I was asking myself where exactly is this story going and is anything going to happen soon? The one thing that kept me going was the fantastic writing style and my utter investment, curiosity and morbid fascination in Harry. Yes, sorry but Harry again. Loved this character. However, in the second part of the book things start to happen and then I was hooked. Another read where I was sneaking in extra loo breaks at work to read some more. The police get involved in the investigation and it comes to trial, but it felt like it was all in the last 20% of the book. This is where it left me with the impression like it was all wrapped up a little too quickly and could have been a bit better paced or spread out. Having said all this the book was still brilliant and it is really worth staying for the whole ride for sure.
This is my second read from Erastes and once again loved every minute of it. Intelligent, a world class writing style, characters that just get right under your skin, a depth of understanding both historically and character wise, it’s exactly this that makes Erastes for me a must read every time.
About The Author
Born in Essex, England in 1959, Erastes attended Southend High School for Girls.
Erastes is the penname of a female author who lives in Norfolk, UK. She drew her inspiration to write historical fiction from works such as Gaywyck by Vincent Virga and the novels of Mary Renault. Erastes was the Director of the Erotic Authors Association for two years and is an active member of the Historical Novel Society. She is the moderator of Speak Its Name, an influential blog dedicated to gay historical fiction.
Erastes has been writing since 2003, and details of all her books and short stories can be found on her website.
Connect with The Author
Erastes will be will be giving away three eBook copies of I Knew Him to three lucky winners. Just enter the draw below.
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