Thank you, lovely Addison, for having me as your guest again! [Always a pleasure, Ellie!] I’m Ellie Thomas, and I write Historical Gay Romance. In this blog, I’ll be chatting about A Tricky Situation, my contribution to JMS Books’ Trick or Treat Halloween stories.
It was a real treat (if you’ll excuse the pun) to join in with all the other JMS authors who took part in this. However, given I write historical stories, a Halloween idea had to be handled slightly differently. Since my story is set in late 18th century Bristol, there were no pumpkins for my characters to carve or Halloween parties to attend wearing witch or skeleton costumes! So the Trick or Treat theme had to suit the context.
As Bristol was historically known as the “City of Churches”, it seemed a fitting background to set a story in the week leading up to All-Hallows Eve, where my main character Kit suffers a crisis of the soul.
Outwardly, Kit’s life is more than comfortable. He is a privileged young white man, son of a wealthy merchant and living in a comfortable outer suburb. A chance encounter with Edmund, a working-class blacksmith and man of colour, who rescues him from a gang of thieves, upends Kit’s existence with their instant mutual attraction.
Following this chance meeting, Kit faces facts about his life direction and sexuality as Halloween approaches. He realises that in blithely following the easy path, obeying his ambitious father, befriending upper-class louts and tolerating their bad behaviour, he is betraying his true nature and embarking on the road to a personal hell.
In researching this story, as Kit’s family home is in the beautiful 18th-century area of Kingsdown, it was lovely to revisit the website for The Kingsdown Conservation Society, a residents’ group that, in its first incarnation in the early 1970s, saved much of the area from the wrecking ball of developers. The photos and information were informative and enjoyable and helped so much with the local geography.
However, as usual, I had a look through my bookshelves to see if I had any relevant reference books and came across a hidden gem. The Bristol Landscape is a book commissioned by the City of Bristol Museum and Art Gallery to acknowledge the early 19th century watercolours of Samuel Jackson, known as “the father of the school” of Bristol artists of the period.
The reproductions of Jackson’s work are from the 1820s, some forty years after my story. However, they have a timeless atmosphere of the pre-Victorian city before the building of the railways and subsequent rapid urban expansion.
Leafing through this beautiful book, I could visualise Kit’s home in one of the few grand houses newly built in rural Kingsdown, depicted in the charming painting of nearby Mother Pugsley’s Well before it was built over and became Somerset Street. Then there were the paintings of the busy port area and the vistas over the city centre churches, where Kit prays desperately for inner courage on Halloween night.
One of my favourite watercolours in this collection is the view down St. Michael’s Hill, slightly outside the old city with its fine houses that were old even then! As this is the route my couple take when Edmund walks Kit home to Kingsdown at night, I could imagine them turning off the hill to climb peaceful Horfield Road, holding hands in the darkness.
Samuel Jackson’s paintings inspired my visual impression of Bristol for this story. So, it seemed only fitting to pay tribute by placing the fictional blacksmith’s shop owned by Edmund’s father in city-centre Wine Street next to the dry-salters in which Jackson’s father was a partner.
These delightful paintings are not only a pleasure to look at but were the perfect background for my characters and their growing romance. As I enjoyed each illustration, I could picture Kit’s apparent life of ease while inwardly grappling with a life-changing decision between shallow aspiration or meaningful love and loyalty.
Christopher Holloway lives a comfortable existence in 18th-century Bristol as the son of a wealthy merchant. Until, when on a night out with some aristocratic companions, he is set upon by thieves.
His grand friends don’t come to his rescue, but he is led to safety by a stranger, a working-class man of colour, Edmund Lowe. Although now physically safe, Kit’s sense of danger lingers due to his growing feelings for Edmund. Their mutual attraction forces Kit to question his previous values, causing an inner crisis as Halloween draws near.
Will Kit submit to the demands of family ties and social advancement? Or can he find the courage to follow his true path and choose Edmund?
Crowding around a table near the door, his companions banged on the table, yelling for service. The loudest of them was a scion of the aristocratic Jeffery’s family, full of importance. However, Kit thought, although he brayed blusteringly for his beer, there was no real harm in him. It was his closest companion, Matthew Villiers, who had a spiteful streak.
While the server stoically brought them their drinks, to more general verbal abuse, Kit scanned the uneven corners of the room for Edmund, but to no avail. When Kit had almost abandoned hope, and his noisy cohorts were calling for yet more drink, Edmund entered the tavern with two friends.
As the waiter had disappeared into the kitchen, Kit rose from his chair and offered to find the landlord, raising a rousing cheer. Edmund turned at the commotion and caught Kit’s eye. His smile of recognition encouraged Kit’s approach.
“May I stand you a drink to thank you for your assistance the other night?” Kit asked diffidently.
Edmund grinned as there was another roar from the table. “I think your friends are more in need,” he said. “And I’d better join mine,” he added, nodding his head towards a recess.
Before Kit could walk away, his hopes blighted by such a brief encounter, Edmund asked diffidently, “Perhaps I could walk you home again later? Just to make sure you keep out of trouble.”
“I’d like that,” Kit replied, trying not to sound too eager.
Edmund smiled and went to join his fellows while Kit managed to catch the attention of the landlord to order more jugs of strong ale.
After a while, since the tavern was quiet and orderly, his easily bored companions started to talk of other diversions. One boasted of an assignation with an opera dancer from the nearby theatre, others mentioned a cockfight in a low establishment a few streets away. Having no interest in either activity, Kit thought this might be good timing to make his exit.
As the others left the tavern with a shower of coin and so much carousing that no one could miss their departure, Kit lagged behind, pausing inside the tavern door. Despite it being a quiet night, he did not want to risk loitering in the street for another encounter with the rogues who had singled him out.
His breathing was shallow, but not from fear. Tonight, he was anxious for very different reasons.
Edmund did not keep him waiting long. He greeted Kit with that warm smile and they left the inn, traversing Back Street towards the Exchange.
Kit was tongue-tied. Any attempt at polite conversation was stifled by his nerves. In the end, it was Edmund who broke the silence.
“Looks like your grand gentlemen didn’t notice your absence again?” He said with a smile.
Kit laughed nervously. “They were too busy thinking of their own entertainment, smitten by the lure of a cockfight or the charms of the opera dancers at the Royal Theatre. Neither of those is to my taste,” he added lamely, thinking, you fool, you sound such a stuffy prude.
Edmund merely smiled as if in agreement. A few paces along, it was Kit’s turn to try to converse. “Your friends will not miss you?” He asked.
“Not at all,” Edmund reassured him. “They’ll finish their tankards and head home. Us working men have early starts,” he said with a grin that took the sting out of his words.
“I’ll be employed soon,” Kit protested, urged to distance himself from the vacuous existence of his erstwhile companions.
Edmund said easily, “All the more reason to enjoy your leisure while you can.”
Crossing Baldwin Street, they turned into a shortcut towards St. Nicholas’s Street. “What do you do for enjoyment?” Kit asked.
“I have a jar with my mates when we have a few pennies,” Edmund replied and then he stopped, and turned to look at Kit, who was achingly aware they were alone in the deserted lane. “And I also like to do this,” he smiled faintly, then he bent his head down to Kit’s who moaned at the touch of his lips.
Ellie Thomas lives by the sea. She comes from a teaching background and goes for long seaside walks where she daydreams about history. She is a voracious reader especially about anything historical. She mainly writes historical gay romance.
Ellie also writes historical erotic romance as L. E. Thomas.