My guest today is Charlie Cochrane, no stranger at all to those of us who love LGBT historicals, and especially the cosy mystery type stories featuring her academic sleuths, Jonty and Orlando.
Hello Charlie, awfully glad you could make it! Speaking of which – would you like to tell us a bit about your latest release?
“Awfully Glad” was inspired by the preface to Max Arthur’s brilliant book “When this Bloody War is Over”. I knew about the concert parties of WWII (who else remembers “It Ain’t Half Hot, Mum?”) but I didn’t realise they’d existed in WWI. Nor had I realised (although isn’t it obvious it would happen and no, I hadn’t seen the relevant Blackadder episode) that they’d have female impersonators. But they did, and some of them were real lookers.
The more I re-read that preface, the more I was intrigued by quotes like, “…a lot of those young British officers wanted to make a date with Marjorie. She was so good that they couldn’t be convinced she was a female impersonator.” Well, looking at that picture of Marjorie, from The Dumbells, you can see how they could have been surprised to find she was a chap.
The Pedlars had a “gal”, too who “had the unusual experience of being ogled amorously by his own Colonel”. I can’t find a picture of this femme fatale, but admire the pins on display here. Very shapely.
So popular were some of these “gals” that they were kidnapped—physically—before being reassigned to the regiment who wanted them for their own concert troupe. The 51st division acquired a soldier called Connel in this way, made him one of their gunners and benefited from his performances as Isabelle de Hotstuff. (If anybody find a picture of “her”, please let me know.)
With all those plot bunny generators, I was bound to have to explore the story for myself. How would the troops react to Madeleine (my version of a Marjorie type)? How could Sam, who is Madeleine when she takes off her stays, react if she fancied one of the officers ogling her? What would life be like for him after the war? Would Madeleine ever be got out of her make-up box again or would she be discarded?
The story had the capacity to become almost farcical, a sort of “Carry On Lieutenant”. I didn’t want that. I was deeply moved by reading about the real Marjorie – Ross Hamilton – who was quietly discharged from the army by a medical board later in his career, “for reasons other than medical”. I didn’t want Sam to end up in disgrace, but I didn’t want to minimize the threat to him, his good name, and his liberty. This was a dangerous era for gay men, who relied on their own networks – like the one that centred on Robbie Ross – but they were still at risk of blackmail or exploitation by unscrupulous renters.
I hope I’ve managed to do justice to that idea.
I’ve read the book and it certainly worked for me! So get your copy of Awfully Glad, links below, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
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?
Bold Strokes Books