Thank you so much, lovely Addison, for having me as your guest today! [It’s always a pleasure, Ellie. Welcome back!] I’m Ellie Thomas, and I write Historical Gay Romance. In this blog, I’ll be chatting about A Midwinter Night’s Magic, my story for JMS Books’ Christmas submissions call.
While I was deciding whether to pick either the Naughty or Nice option for my seasonal story, for some reason, the impishly naughty Puck, from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, popped into my head. At first, I dismissed this as too outlandish even for me, but in the end, I couldn’t resist the storyline of mischievous Puck meets sedate Regency country house party. So the theme is decidedly Naughty!
In parallel to a typical Shakespearean comedy, my main character, Matthew Lewis, is an exasperated victim of circumstances. He mistakenly agrees to attend a Christmas country house party, only to be trapped there by heavy snow and with the former love of his life, Crispin Marley, whom he now loathes. If that isn’t enough, he is obliged to engage in a play reading of A Midsummer Night’s Dream to be performed on Christmas Day. As you can imagine, he’s not a happy bunny!
It was a delight and indulgence to revisit the play as the research for my story. As I’ve been fortunate enough to teach it many times over the years, I could recall the key events sufficiently to rough out my plot based on my amateur actors’ rehearsals.
I had such fun casting my characters in the roles to reflect their romantic circumstances. Matthew, who has a heck of a temper where Crispin is concerned, is an obvious Oberon, King of the Fairies, as he rages at his Queen, Titania. In some modern productions, Oberon and Theseus, Duke of Athens, are played by the same actor to reflect the two contrasting sides of one person. Oberon embodies passion and drama, whereas Theseus is all chilly diplomacy. It seemed ideal for the seemingly controlled Crispin to be the detached Theseus to Matthew’s fiery Oberon, emphasising the couple’s former bond and their current emotional chasm.
Abigail, the bossy young lady of the house whose idea it is to perform the play, has a mild attraction for Crispin and plays Hippolyta, Theseus’ future wife, unaware of Matthew and Crispin’s past attachment. Ironically, she casts a woebegone neighbours’ son (who is secretly in love with her) as Lysander, one of the four Athenian lovers, with his sister to make up the pair as Hermia. The Boltons, a young disaffected married couple, are Helena and Demetrius. To echo the script, Mr. Bolton shows far more interest in Hermia than in his languishing spouse. Then we have the daftly comedic enchanted pairing of Titania and Bottom the Weaver, played by Mrs. Robinson, a neglected wife with an errant husband and Mr. Grace, the jovial local vicar.
How could Puck resist magically interfering with all these possibilities for romantic confusion?
However, any meddling proves to be benign, and as in the play, the silliest liaison lasts only as long as the effects of the love potion. But for the truly-matched couples, especially my star crossed lovers, Matthew and Crispin, magic can only trigger the spark for reconciliation. After the stardust has settled, the rest is up to them.
I hope readers find this a twinkly feel-good Christmas tale that reflects the happy ending of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. And so to finish, I can’t resist quoting Oberon’s blessing,
“So shall all the couples three
Ever true in loving be.”
In late 18th-century England, when Matthew Lewis accidentally accepts an invitation to a festive country house party, he vows to stay only for as long as is polite. However, not only is there a heavy snowfall to detain him but also, the guests are expected to take part in a recital of A Midsummer Night’s Dream on Christmas Day.
If amateur theatricals are not enough to contend with, the unexpected presence of former lover Crispin Marley is sent to try his frayed patience. The pair has had no contact since Crispin abandoned him with no explanation four years previously. Matthew is determined to feel nothing but enmity towards his lost love. But the influence of the play can change everything. Can Puck sprinkle a little fairy magic to bring this warring couple back together?
Before going upstairs to prepare for the evening, Matthew made an excursion into the dining room on the far side of the main hallway to fortify himself with a glass of port. He approached the substantial sideboard where trays of glasses and an array of decanters were placed for guests to help themselves. So he was not surprised to hear the door open and close behind him, assuming it was another gentleman with a similar intention.
But the voice that spoke his name had him whirling around so fast that the port nearly spilled over the rim of the glass onto the expensive carpet. Crispin stood before him, tall, dark, and slightly forbidding, his expression neutral.
“Firstly, I wanted to say how sorry I was to hear about your father’s passing last year,” he began. As Matthew stared at him in shock, Crispin took a deep breath before carrying on. “And I thought since we are obliged to be guests here together, to avoid an unpleasant atmosphere, that we should have a talk.”
“I have nothing to say to you,” Matthew spat out, finding his voice, incensed by Crispin’s presumption.
“We have not seen each other for a long while and I thought…” Crispin began.
Matthew’s temper began to build. “What? You thought that I would oblige you by making amends? You thought that enough time had passed so I was sure to have absolved you for walking out on me without a word?”
The expression on Crispin’s face froze. “I wanted to explain…”
“Now?” Matthew’s voice almost rose to a shout. He controlled his tone with effort, continuing in a fierce whisper, “You want to apologise to me now! After four years of complete silence, you assume you can walk back into my life and all would be forgotten?”
“I beg your pardon. I have made a mistake,” Crispin said, backing away from Matthew, his voice glacial.
Matthew took a combative step forward, “Too damned right you have,” he hissed. “We were in love, we planned a future together and you left me without any reason. Oh, of course,” he said, his voice thickening with sarcasm, “I forget. You left a note. What were the words? Let me recall. I’m sorry but I can’t do this. After more than three years of being inseparable, that was all the explanation you gave me, you total bastard!”
Matthew was beside himself with rage, all those painful, long-buried memories stirred up by Crispin’s ill-timed intervention. He was almost ready to fling his drink into Crispin’s face, only held back by the reservation that it was a waste of good port.
His adversary did not rise to the raging words and searing emotion, his countenance remaining expressionless. Cold-blooded bastard, Matthew thought furiously.
“As I said,” Crispin began in that cool, contained tone that made Matthew want to punch him, “This was an error in judgement. If you’ll excuse me, I will leave you now.”
Undisturbed by Matthew’s ire, he had the presence of mind to perform a bow before making a swift exit, shutting the door quietly behind him.
Matthew was shaking with fury. He turned around to place the glass on the tray before his fierce grasp snapped the delicate crystal stem. He put both hands on the surface of the sideboard, leaning over, fixing the port decanter with a glare, muttering, “bastard, bastard, bastard,” under his breath. The fact that Crispin-bloody-Marley had the gall to approach him expecting clemency fuelled his agitation to boiling point.
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.