My guest today is Jay Lewis Taylor, a historical novelist whose works are shouldering their way to the front of my TBR list. Can’t wait to get stuck into them.
Welcome Jay and thanks for answering my questions.
What inspired you to write your story for the anthology?
I am proud to have two stories chosen for the anthology: my thanks to the editor!
‘At the Gate’ was inspired, first, by a brief memoir written for his professional journal by a naval surgeon; second, by the poem which is quoted in the epigraph; third, by someone whose portrait I found online.
‘Break of Day’ was inspired by Julie Bozza’s comment that there was surprisingly little Western Front / poet material in the anthology so far; and by the poem which is quoted in its epigraph.
Could you tell me a little about them?
‘At the Gate’ – The details are as accurate as I could make them – and you won’t believe how many times I called back the “completed” version of ‘At the Gate’ to amend it the smallest bit more … I almost used the writer of the real memoir as a character; he certainly had a sense of humour, and went on to become a famous anaesthetist and a detective story writer, of all things. What I aimed to do with the character who eventually came to me was to portray shipboard life in time of war, and how perhaps the “normality” even of something as abnormal as war may enable a man to work through his grief when it can’t be expressed.
‘Break of Day’ – I came across the “queer sardonic rat” from Rosenberg’s poem ‘Break of Day in the Trenches’ long ago, and using it as a link between the stories (there is also a rat – a real rat – in ‘At the Gate’) was too good an opportunity to miss. What I wanted to show here (apart from bringing two characters together) was the range of good and bad chances of war, and how poetry can be going on at the edge of things, like Icarus falling into the water unnoticed in W.H. Auden’s poem ‘Musée des Beaux Arts”.
Could you please tell me about your other work?
Historical fiction seems to be my métier. I have two books with Manifold Press:-
‘Dance of Stone‘ is set in the late twelfth century, the great cathedral-building age of England. Its two main characters are a Norman/English mason and an Icelandic/Irish trobador. I’ve always been fascinated by the collision of cultures and by how people on the margins in one way or another learn to cope and to cross the borders.
‘The Peacock’s Eye‘ shares its launch day with the e-book of ‘A Pride of Poppies’, I’m proud to say. This one is set in the last years of Elizabeth I’s reign and a few years after it – in other words, Shakespeare’s London and James VI’s Edinburgh. It features two actors from a company rival to Shakespeare’s who become entangled in Sir Robert Cecil’s plans for the changeover of monarch.
What are you working on at the moment?
At the precise time of writing, I am not working on anything, as ‘The Peacock’s Eye’ went to the proof-reader two nights ago! However, next on the list is ‘Across your Dreams’, another historical novel, set during and after the Great War, which tells the story of what happens to Lew and Russ from ‘Break of Day’ and to Alan from ‘At the Gate.’ Somewhere in the gap between finishing ‘Dance of Stone’ and ‘The Peacock’s Eye’ I wrote about 1,800 words of it.
Please could we have an excerpt?
Almost in slow motion the beam, with the wall behind it, tilted, gathered momentum and crashed down.
He was underneath, his face crushed into the mud, pain exploding like star-shells inside his hip, the fire of it crawling up his back and legs, flaring again in his right shoulder where something was wrenched and torn. With an effort Lew turned his face sideways, whooped air in through nose and mouth, then closed his teeth on the scream that was trying to burst out of his lungs.
Outside in the distant light was a turmoil of noise, a horse screaming, a shot, silence for a moment. ‘Number off!’ someone shouted.
His heartbeat hurt in his chest. He was sweating. His hair had fallen across his forehead, and tickled; the small, infuriating sensation dwarfed by the pain but still pin-prick clear.
‘Who’s missing?’ A voice nearby, impossibly far off.
‘Greenhalgh. Allred. Lieutenant Lewry.’
He tried to call out – ‘here!’ – but wasn’t at all sure if he’d made himself heard. Couldn’t raise his head to get his mouth free of the dirt. Could hardly get enough breath, dammit … He’d been here before. When he met Russ …
“Despite having spent most of my life in Surrey and Oxfordshire, I now live in Somerset, within an hour’s drive of the villages where two of my great-great-great-grandparents were born. Although I work as a rare-books librarian in a particularly abstruse area, I am in fact a thwarted medievalist with a strong arts background.
I have been writing fiction for over thirty years, exploring the lives of people who are on the margins in one way or another, and how the power of love and language can break down the walls that we build round ourselves.”
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A Pride of Poppies – an anthology from Manifold Press
Modern GLBTQI fiction of the Great War
Ten authors – in thirteen stories – explore the experiences of GLBTQI people during World War I. In what ways were their lives the same as or different from those of other people?
A London pub, an English village, a shell-hole on the Front, the outskirts of Thai Nguyen city, a ship in heavy weather off Zeebrugge, a civilian internment camp … Loves and griefs that must remain unspoken, unexpected freedoms, the tensions between individuality and duty, and every now and then the relief of recognition. You’ll find both heartaches and joys in this astonishing range of thought-provoking stories.
An anthology featuring authors: