Monique Daoust: It is my pleasure to welcome Lynne Connolly to Fresh Fiction! Congratulations on your new book SINLESS, which I loved!
Lynne Connolly: Thank you so much. It’s wonderful to be here.
Monique Daoust: Lynne, you have just started your new series, The Shaws, and the second book, a novella, features an m/m romance, your first, I believe. What prompted you to do an m/m romance in the middle of the series?
Lynne Connolly: It was all because of the hero, Darius. He is the twin of Valentinian, the hero of an Emperors of London book, and he’s a notorious dandy and man-about-town. Val had tired of his outrageous behaviour some time ago, but he kept it up for his brother because Darius was gay in an age when it was illegal. You could be hanged for it. So Val acted as cover for an increasingly irritated Darius.
So many people asked me to write Darius’s book that I had to do it.
Monique Daoust: SINLESS and The Shaws are set in the Georgian era; would you tell us more about the research you had to do regarding homosexuality? What surprised you the most? How was homosexuality perceived at that time? Did the perceptions differ according to class?
Lynne Connolly: I did a lot of research, but most of it was primary. Very few people have studied what it was like to be homosexual (they didn’t use that term – they used the more down to earth “sodomite”) in an age when you could die for doing what came naturally. And yet there were houses for transvestites, molly houses, where homosexuals also congregated, and some people were widely known as being homosexual or bisexual. Perceptions didn’t exactly differ, it depended on the personality and how literally they took the bible, which was the basis of the law. At this time people were beginning to question whether all the bible should be taken literally, and the Age of Reason saw a lot of people moving away from blind religious belief. Class protected a man. Darius is protected because he belongs to a very powerful family. There would be repercussions if Darius was taken, so he knew he was safe. But he also knew that the men he took as lovers could be at risk.
On the other hand, the other hero, Andrew Grey, isn’t protected at all. He could easily be taken up, tried and hanged for the offense. I wanted that element of risk, to point out how truly dangerous it was to follow your desires in that period. And how unfair it was.
Male brothels and molly houses were not only places where men met to talk openly and meet potential lovers. They could also be a place for espionage. That was surprising, that spies sometimes associated with them. A notorious case in the 1720s involved a male brothel which was also used by French spies to exchange information and as a place to meet. When homosexuality was against the law, then it could also be a weak spot, a way to blackmail a man.
Monique Daoust: Did you find some real-life examples of m/m romances? Did you base your characters on real people?
Lynne Connolly: I didn’t base Darius and Andrew on real people, but took bits here and bits there. The real thing? There was Hervey. Lord John Hervey was highly intelligent, a prominent member of the government, a poet, and a married man whose wife adored him. He also had a male lover he was devoted to. This amazing man wasn’t discreet or even soft-spoken. He didn’t just get away with it, he blazed a trail for others to follow, daring them to live life their way.
Monique Daoust: Did you read m/m romance before writing one? What do you like about m/m romance? What does it bring to the romance world?
Lynne Connolly: I have been reading m/m romance for a while. I love some of them. But while this is a story about two men falling in love, it wasn’t an m/m romance as such. It’s the only m/m romance in a series of m/f romances. I had to respect my readers and give them something they could relate to, instead of plunging completely into the world. Had I been writing a purely m/m romance my approach would have been different. But I saw this as a story about Darius, who happened to be gay.
Monique Daoust: What made you decide to make Andrew a lawyer?
Lynne Connolly: Andrew Grey, the other hero of the story comes from a solid background, but he is far from aristocratic. He has worked his way up to being a lawyer, and he is a new barrister, having just obtained his qualification. That was a surprise, to discover that in the mid-eighteenth century, a man could be both. The profession was only just coming into prominence, and having a barrister in a criminal trial was a new concept. Trials were very, very different to the way they are now. In fact, I gave the court at Bow Street a roof, because in fact the court was open to the elements in those days, but I didn’t know if anyone would believe me, and it did receive a roof shortly after that date! Andrew is a hard-working lawyer who believes in the law, which again was very different in those days (no police force for a start!). He knows he’s gay, but he married and is a widower, feeling a burden of guilt that his wife, who loved him, couldn’t cope with the fact. Even though he told her before the marriage, she continued to believe she could “convert” him. And homosexuality is against the law, so how does he reconcile falling deeply in love with a man with his profession?
Monique Daoust: When you wrote FEARLESS, book #1, had you already planned to give Darius his story?
Lynne Connolly: Oh yes. Andrew features in Fearless, and that is where Darius and Andrew first recognise their attraction to one another, but I fear it was too subtle for some reviewers! Or maybe they didn’t read that one. But Darius accepts Andrew’s reasons for not getting involved until fate throws them together again in Sinless.
Monique Daoust: Are you planning to write other m/m romances, and why or why not?
Lynne Connolly: If I write another gay character as popular as Darius, then certainly! I did write one years ago, the brother of Richard Strang in the Richard and Rose series, but he never got his own story. I incorporated his love story into the other books in the series. But I would have loved to have written his story. With the re-release of the series later this year, maybe, finally, I can do it!
Monique Daoust: What challenges did you face when writing a romance between two men? Did you change anything in the way you write dialogues, for instance, if so what?
Lynne Connolly: I did try to keep them characters rather than types. So as always, I wrote about two people, rather than sticking to convention.
Monique Daoust: Why should readers of traditional historical romance read SINLESS?
Lynne Connolly: It illuminates a part of history that has been long hidden. Of the writers of historical m/m romance, I don’t know any who write about the problem set in such an early era. It’s also about the law in that era, and how different it was then, something I want to pursue in future books.