I’m sorry, am I reading historical fiction?
Thanks to Elin for hosting me today. I’m here to talk about my new release ‘When Love Flue In’ and to touch on the some of the history of chimney sweeps. And I apologise in advance to my host for the somewhat depressing nature of what should have been a light and fluffy Christmas post.
Upon reading the blurb of my latest novella and finding out that one of my main characters is a chimney sweep you could be forgiven for assuming you were headed for a historical read, with heaving bosoms, forbidden love across the class boundaries, and tragic child working conditions.
In actual fact, ‘When Love Flue In’ is a contemporary gay romance set in the South West of England. It’s a sweet story of hope and new beginnings, of yearnings not acted upon and years of unrequited pining that isn’t so unrequited after all, of realisations and sexual awakenings.
However, your first assumption is a valid one. When people think of sweeps they immediately think of Mary Poppins and horrendous cockney accents. In fact when I told my Mum I’d written a book about chimney sweeps she assumed I had written a children’s story and wanted a copy for every child in the family. Anyone know a good child therapist that does a family rate?
The reality of life as a chimney sweep prior to the 1864 ‘Act for the Regulation of Chimney Sweepers’—and even after it—is neither romantic or suitable for children, despite children playing a leading role in proceedings.
Prior to the 1864 Act–that banned the use of ‘climbing boys’–children of both sexes would be used to clean chimneys. Normally they would be orphans and street children, although sometimes families with too many mouths to feed would sell a child to the Master Sweep. The Master Sweep would ‘employ’ these children, sending them up the chimneys to sweep and scrape the deposits of soot and tar from the inside of the flue and in exchange he would provide them with clothes, food, and lodgings.
They often slept on bags of soot in a cellar, they rarely washed (we’ll find out why this was so bad later on), and even if there had been an abundance of available food it was in the Master Sweep’s interest to keep them thin. A portly child was far more likely to get stuck in a chimney, and a stuck child meant calling out and paying for a bricklayer to free them. And probably finding a new climbing boy since the child would almost certainly have choked to death or suffocated before being found.
If the children survived to adulthood another killer awaited them and one that affected the adult chimney sweeps of the time as well. Chimney Sweeps scrotum. Sweeps of all ages often would climb the chimneys naked to avoid their loose fitting clothes from snagging on bricks. The soot would stick to their sweaty, naked bodies, getting ground into the folds of their skin, and combined with a poor level of personal hygiene, the carcinogen would be absorbed into their bodies.
But these are not happy tales for a sweet and sexy romance story.
Add to that the dangers of loving another man in those times and the fact that any type of relationship between a lowly sweep and a rich lawyer would be frown upon, if not expressly forbidden. The resulting story would be an angst-filled saga rather than a novella suitable for Christmas, all fluffy and sweet.
After waning in the latter half of the 20th century chimney sweeping as a profession is on the rise as people, especially in more rural areas, are turning back to traditional log burning fires.
Reagan, our contemporary sweep, doesn’t face many of his predecessors’ problems. He’s never had to climb up a chimney—apart from that time he abseiled down a disused factory chimney for testicular cancer during a sweep’s jolly—or sleep in a coal cellar. He slept in a brewery cellar once but that’s an unconnected story which he’d tell you if he could remember any of it.
As one of a small number of self employed sweeps in Somerset and the surrounding area Reagan makes a decent living, even if it isn’t as much as a lawyer. He owns his own home—or he will when he’s finished paying off the mortgage—and his vehicle might be a van rather than an Aston Martin but it’s his and it’s only a couple of years old and it suits his work.
More over Reagan is out and proud, determined not to hide his sexuality from anyone. Or apologise for it.
He’s his own man, with nothing to stop him from getting a boyfriend or a husband even, except for one thing. His long term crush on one of his clients.
Dominic Pearson is gorgeous.
He’s also married, straight, and way out of Reagan’s league.
Until he isn’t any of those things.
When Love Flue In
A soot-haired chimney sweep, an exploding flue and an uncooked turkey. It’s an unholy trinity that may make all of Dominic’s Christmas wishes come true.
Dominic is celebrating his first Christmas since his divorce, and although he’s spending it on his own, he’s determined to have a traditional Christmas morning, including a roaring fire. Unfortunately, Dominic’s chimney is blocked, which is why Reagan, a soot-haired chimney sweep, is head and shoulders up Dominic’s flue. Dominic is just lucky the man had a cancellation on Christmas Eve.
Unable to take his eyes off Reagan’s low-slung jeans and enticing arse while Reagan sets about the hearth with rods and brushes, Dominic knows five years is a long time to be obsessed with the man who sweeps his chimney every Christmas. This year there’s nothing to stop Dominic from acting on his desires—except his own insecurities.
An exploding flue provides the opportunity for more than just polite conversation and could be the catalyst for a perfect Christmas. But Dominic will need to stop hiding who he really is before a special sweep can light a fire in his heart.
Publisher’s Note: This book was previously released by another publisher. It has been revised and re-edited for release with Totally Bound Publishing.
About the author
An avid reader, Lillian Francis was always determined she wanted to write, but a ‘proper’ job and raising a family distracted her for over a decade. Over the years and thanks to the charms of the Internet, Lillian realized she’d been writing at least one of her characters in the wrong gender. Ever since, she’s been happily letting her ‘boys’ run her writing life.
Lillian now divides her time between family, a job and the numerous men in her head all clamouring for ‘their’ story to be told.
Lillian lives in an imposing castle on a wind-swept desolate moor or in an elaborate ‘shack’ on the edge of a beach somewhere depending on her mood, with the heroes of her stories either chained up in the dungeon or wandering the shack serving drinks in nothing but skimpy barista aprons.
In reality, she would love to own a camper van and to live by the sea.