“I never knew you were like that…”

Draumr KopaCindy Callens, on the Belgian book review site Draumr Kopa, kindly asked me to do a guest blog. I shared some of the more amusing comments people have made since Saxon’s Bane was launched. Click here for Draumr Kopa.

Here’s what I had to say:

People have said some strange things to me since Saxon’s Bane was published.

“I never knew you were like that,” an elderly lady from my local church said one Sunday.

“Like what?” I asked. The question made me stop in my tracks, and the departing congregation flowed around us.

She shuffled, making that eyes-lowered squirm with which Christian ladies of a certain age simultaneously mention and avoid mentioning delicate subjects. “Well, you know…”

“No, I don’t know. What’s the matter?” I sensed that the subject causing her such embarrassment was of a reprehensible and possibly sexual nature, and my mind raced in a frantic ‘Oh-God-what-have-I-got-to-be-guilty-about’ way. I drew a blank, but the worry remained.

“I read your book.”

Ah. Huge sigh of relief. Saxon’s Bane includes pagan practices and probably isn’t a book that the vicar would read from the pulpit.

“And?”

“Your character, he, err, notices women.”

Oh, that. Perhaps she had an innocent understanding of the male psyche. I explained that the main character was a single, heterosexual man in his thirties who has been cooped up in hospital for four months, when his only female company had arrived carrying a hypodermic needle. He may be suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress, and is certainly a little insecure. He’s courageous but stubborn, emotionally incontinent, and flawed. Yes, he notices women. Is that a problem?

The elderly lady made a slight flutter with her hands, vaguely indicative of an area below the waist, before she repeated herself. “I never knew you were like that.”

It was an early lesson for me in being a published author. The autobiographical element is assumed, but assumed selectively. Female characters may be “well drawn” but the male protagonist can only be me. His strengths are my aspirations, and his weaknesses are mine. I wonder what reaction Sebastian Faulks had after writing his brilliant novel Engleby in the ‘voice’ of a man you’d want to scrape off the bottom of your shoe. Perhaps after you’ve written Birdsong and Charlotte Gray your readers take a more balanced view. For those of us still establishing our literary credibility, it’s worth remembering that although good stories match flawed good against complex evil, the trick is to make the flaws appealing.

The reality, of course, is that there is inevitably some autobiographical content. As I wrote Saxon’s Bane the characters became so well known to me that I was able to become the individual I had created, even the female ones, and as I set them loose they’d tell me how each scene must develop. The boundary between self and artifice became so blurry that I sometimes had to stand back and unpick myself from this world of my own creation.

I’ve found I can also write from a female point of view, with a little help and critiquing from my wife and from women at my writers’ group. Over half of my next book is written in a female ‘voice’, and I’m told it sounds totally authentic. I shall be fascinated to hear readers’ feedback, if and when it is published. Will the few, lyrically-crafted moments of female sexuality be dismissed as ‘pure male fantasy’? Will someone again say “I never knew…”?

It is a strange and delightful thing, this ability and willingness to craft a female persona from within a male brain. I think that by the time I finished Saxon’s Bane I may even have been a little in love with one of the female protagonists.

“Great character, that Eadlin,” a man said about her after Saxon’s Bane was book of the month at his book club. “Wonderfully fleshed out.”

“Excuse me?” I looked in vain for signs that the double-entendre was intentional. Eadlin’s character, I should explain, has an earthy, girl-next-door sexuality. She has curves.

“No, I mean she’s well rounded.”

It’s great to watch someone else dig themselves into a pit of their own making. I wish, eight months after the book was released, that I’d made notes of the best remarks that have come my way. Some have been amusing, like the ones I’ve shared. Some have been gloriously, ego-boostingly flattering, while some have been crushing, like the local independent bookseller who declined to stock because she was “inundated with local authors”.

But the prize for the funniest has to go to my wife’s mother, who held on for some time to the view that her son-in-law should be out earning a salary rather than indulging in all this writing stuff. My wife rang her up when Solaris bought the English language rights to Saxon’s Bane.

“Wonderful news, Mummy! Geoffrey’s got a publishing contract!”

“Oh.” A pause. “But has he got work?”

 

 

Published by

Alex Chiltern

Author of DRACA; a novel of the sea, a war-damaged marine, and a vintage sailing boat with a mind of its own.

7 thoughts on ““I never knew you were like that…””

  1. Just finished reading Saxon’s Bane, Geoffrey, after discovering it through Sarah Potter’s website. Loved it – just the type of story I love, a bit of folklore, paganism and mystery. Reminiscent of my favourite author, Phil Rickman. I’ll look forward to the next.

  2. Thanks, Andrea. I hope the next one doesn’t disappoint, and I’m honoured to be compared to Phil Rickman. If you like the theme of slightly-supernatural-but-grounded-in-English-history theme, have you tried Rob Holdstock (Mythago Wood) or the adult novels of Alan Garner (Thursbitch)?

  3. I’ll certainly have a look at them, thanks for the recommendation – I actually would never normally go for what looks like a fantasy series, I know you said on Sarah’s blog your work had been called both fantasy and horror – I think it has a category of its own (what that is, I don’t know but it’s a good thing!)

  4. Andrea, the ‘cross-genre’ aspect caused several large publishers to turn Saxon’s Bane down, not because they didn’t like the book (quite the opposite) but because it wouldn’t fit into a convenient marketing pigeon-hole. Solaris, bless them, were entrepreneurial enough to want to eat the big guys’ lunches, but Waterstones and W H Smiths still have it in ‘horror’. I thought it was too lyrical to live there, but I’m learning, and one of my key lessons so far is that the retail book market is primarily determined by what’s easiest to sell, not by what the reader might like.

  5. I really love that post. Think I’ll return to reblog it at some point soon, as you’ve guested on my blog and are known to my followers.

    Re church — I dread to think the comments that will come my way from the congregation if my novel gets published. It really doesn’t bear thinking about.

  6. Thanks, Sarah. It’s fascinating how readers project a character onto an author. The next book includes sensitive and positive treatments of paganism, with characters who reject the Judaeo-Christian tenet that God gave man dominion over nature but espouse the pagan view that man lives within nature. I fear the church community will suspect me of sacrificing chickens at the bottom of the garden.

  7. Reblogged this on sarahpotterwrites and commented:
    Have any of you unpublished authors, or those published under a pen name, ever worried about what your family, friends and social associates might think about certain risque or controversial elements contained in your fiction? Back in May, I interviewed Geoffrey Gudgion about his novel “Saxon’s Bane”. Since then, he’s published a most amusing post about some of the conversations he’s had with people, including one about “Shush, you know What” in his novel.

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