Mere Mortals by Erastes - a Victorian Gothic Novel set on the Norfolk Broads.
Orphaned Crispin Thorne has been taken as ward by Philip Smallwood, a man he's never met, and is transplanted from his private school to Smallwood s house on an island on the beautiful but coldly remote, Horsey Mere in Norfolk. Upon his arrival, he finds that he's not the only young man given a fresh start. Myles Graham, and Jude Middleton are there before him, and as their benefactor is away, they soon form alliances and friendships, as they speculate on why they ve been given this new life. Who is Philip Smallwood? Why has he given them such a fabulous new life? What secrets does the house hold and what is it that the Doctor seems to know?
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I’m lucky enough to live in one of the most beautiful (Ok, I’m a little biased) areas of the British Isles—which isn’t short of beautiful places, let’s be honest! It’s the Norfolk Broads, a series of ancient man-made lakes and rivers in the north east of the county. It is believed that the Romans started the digging when they were here, and later in the Medieval period, a huge peat digging business was in operation. Since then the cuttings have filled in with fresh water and it forms one of the most important wetland habitats in the UK. As well as being perfect for novelists. There are surprisingly few books set here, actually.
When I was first looking for a location for my latest novel I knew I wanted somewhere beautiful, remote and mysterious, and my first thought was for Dartmoor or Exmoor—literary favourite haunts for such books as Lorna Doone, Hound of the Baskervilles, and many others, but then I thought that really moors had been done to death. They always seemed to be the first choice for anyone writing a gothic novel—the lonely house on the moorland for example. I knew I needed a house where there could be a sense of isolation, somewhere the protagonists couldn’t easily escape from. Obviously Dartmoor was good for that, with all those treacherous bogs but it wasn’t remote enough.
Then I stupidly realised that Iived a stone’s throw from one of the most isolated, mysterious and beautiful places which would be perfect for my purposes. All I had to do was invent an island on one of the Norfolk Broads, which I did—on Horsey Mere—and Mere Mortals leapt into life complete with a natty slightly punning title.
I found it perfect. It has its own treacherous bogs. Ancient landscapes, and a few surviving windpumps (which look just like windmills but were once used to pump away the excess water to prevent flooding) which tower over the brackish water. For a young man coming from a rather cloistered upbringing of preparatory schools it must have seemed an alien landscape indeed.
Part of what I wanted to explore with this book was the Victorian way of making life incredibly cheap. Books like The Water Babies and Oliver Twist highlighted the abuses of chimney sweeps and orphans and led to reforms, and I wanted to shed some light there too. These days with social services and child protection, it’s unthinkable that a man could walk into a school or orphanage and say “I’ll have that one and that one for my chimney sweeping business” but that’s exactly what happened.
The three young men in Mere Mortals are orphans who have been disgraced for homosexual activity at their schools and all were in danger of finding themselves on the streets. Fate intervened in the person of Philip Smallwood who takes them off their school’s hands, saves them all from scandal and whisks them off to Norfolk to his remote house on an island.
They would simply, have dropped off the map at this point. The schools wouldn’t have cared tuppence what had happened to them once they were rid of them and would certainly not follow up to ensure they were being well cared for. Whatever Philip had planned for them few people would know, or care. Even if Philip were to turn out to be the worst kind of serial murderer, and his neighbours asked “what happened to those boys who were staying with you?” he could answer “Oh, they ran off—ungrateful brats,” or “They are down in London for a time” and again, no one would know or much care.
I hope that I’ve managed to instil some of this sang-froid of society into the book—thank goodness things are much better now—and if you want to know what Philip truly plans for Crispin, Myles and Jude—you’ll have to read Mere Mortals to find out! Or visit the area and see where it all happens!
Erastes writes gay historicals, in many different eras from the English Civil War to the 1960s. A Lambda short-lister, she's the proud owner of "Speak Its Name" the only review site that concentrates on gay historical fiction. She's been published by Harlequin (Carina) and Running Press as well as many well-respected small presses. Her next novel is "The Muffled Drum" (set during the Austro Prussian War) and will be out in July 2011. It's full of soldiers, horses, angsty love, drawers and many many buttons.