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The Comedy of Errors

I. Beacham

24 August 11 words: Rebecca S Buck
"I’m shallow. I write to entertain."
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I. Beacham, Spring 2011

I. Beacham’s novel Sanctuary features two professional fashion designers, competing over Boston fashion house Seraphim. There’s glamour, romance and drama—and clothes—all in a thoroughly American setting. It might come as something of a surprise, therefore, to learn that Beacham grew up in the heart of England and, when she’s not writing, is a Lieutenant Commander in the Royal Navy. But, she says, her need and love to write balances the rigidity of her other professional life. She’s great fun to be around and a self-described “hopeless romantic”, both traits that come across in the pages of her book. We caught up with her on dry land to ask about her writing, her inspiration, and meeting her readers in Nottingham.

Your novel, Sanctuary, is set in the world of fashion design in Boston. Yet you’re a British writer who spends a lot of time at sea, so it seems an unlikely choice of setting…
You’re looking for a deep answer here, aren’t you? Drat. I don’t think it matters where you are, if you’re a day-dreamer, you’ll day-dream anywhere and even better if you have a laptop to hand.  I’ve always had an intrinsic interest in fashion design, more behind-the-scenes, and somewhere in my creative little brain cell, a story just came out of the blue with that setting and two powerful, competing fashion designers.

Do you think romance is a necessary component of a good lesbian novel?
No.  What I do think is very necessary are good, well established characters that the reader can believe in, along with a sustainable plot.  Of course, it depends on the type of book, because the reader will have expectations. For example, if someone reads a ghost story, they don’t necessarily want romance, they want creaking floorboards and misty mirrors. If it’s a murder mystery, they want to be challenged all the way throughout the book, guessing who did it.  Of course, if the book is a romance, then chuck in the love in bucket loads!

Does a romance have to have a happy ending?
Technically, no. Think of Gone with the Wind. But if you’re asking me? Hell, Yes! I am the ultimate Hollywood romance black and white movie sap who grew up with Bette Davis, Ronald Colman, Greer Garson et al. If I’m reading a romance, I want to be lifted up and feel the heart strings tingling. I don’t mind the angst it takes to get to the happy ending, but a happy ending is what I want. Who wants to read that, as Wilma reached out to Edith to wrap her in her arms, Edith misplaced her footing and fell backwards off the cliff?

Would you consider writing a novel that is not a romance?
I never close doors but, whilst my setting to a story might change radically—I’ve always wanted to write a romantic sci-fi—I think I’ll stick with the romance. It’s the genre I feel happiest with…and frankly, I’m not bright enough to do the murder mysteries and cop dramas!

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What do you find challenging about writing?Quite a lot. Anyone who has ever written a book will tell you it isn’t easy, and it isn’t. I adored writing Sanctuary and loved my two characters, who were very alive in my head, but the challenges were many-fold.  I had to build the characters’ personalities on the page from the beginning; I had to make them alive to the reader. They had to develop as the story continued. I’ve already talked about keeping the characters real and in a believable plot.  For me, I wanted the reader to like BOTH my characters and to see they each had their flaws, flaws we could all relate to. At times I felt like a psychoanalyst trying to fathom out why my characters would do what they did. Challenges, yes, but always fun.

Advice for aspiring writers…
Just keep writing. Don’t let people put you off and if you find someone who doesn’t give you the support you’d like, or who tells you you’re writing tripe, never ask them their advice again. There will always be someone out there who believes in you. Again, just keep writing. If it is to be, it will come - I should be cross-legged and meditating as I say that last part!

Which other writers inspire you most?
Writers inspire me for either their ability to transfix me into an all-night read, or with incredible plots. Here are some of my favourites: Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca—what romance! Susan Hill’s Mist in the Mirror—Frightened me hairless and took me ages to look in a mirror again; Khalied Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns—not happy reading but I couldn’t put the book down and I ‘lived’ that book. I was seeing everything he described; Radclyffe of Bold Strokes Books—any of her books, the woman can write lesbian romance and is Queen Bee; Alexander Dumas’s Man in the Iron Mask and The Count of Monte Cristo—what powerful, dramatic stories!

Do you hope to have a message for your audience?
I’m shallow. I write to entertain.

If you could be one of your characters, which would you choose?
In Sanctuary, the two key characters are Cate and Dita.  I suppose because I wrote them, there is a bit of me in both of them but if I had to be just one, it would be Dita. Dita was open-hearted and trusting, and despite having had a lot of bad luck in her early years, she had risen above it, worked hard and moved on…with a wry sense of humour.  I admire people like this, they make good friends.

You’ve said music is a big source of inspiration for your writing?
When I go to the movies, my friends come out saying how much they enjoyed the film and its visual impact; I’m always the one who raves about the soundtrack.  I can listen to music and feel and see stories. It’s usually music without words, any of it.  I suppose it’s the way my creative juices escape.  Music is so emotional and it evokes feelings deep within most of us. For a romantic, this is very useful! 

You’ve also said you’re inspired by the world of online fan fiction. What role has this played in your writing career, and do you think fan fiction should be classed as a new genre of literature and given more respect?
“All Hail, Fan Fiction!”  Writing fan fiction is what got me started. I was—still am—a great Star Trek: Voyager fan and adored the potential romance between Captain Janeway and Seven of Nine.  I discovered online Voyager fan fiction and read it like a looney. It was how I discovered I wasn’t alone.  Later on, I realised I had a few stories in me and dared to put them on line as ‘Beacham’.  The rest is history. I will always be incredibly thankful to the fan fiction readers out there who helped me to write better and encouraged me.  I’m not sure about the question of fan fic being classed as a new genre of literature because I feel it isn’t unique…we were riding on the back of someone else’s creativity…even it we did morph it!  But I do believe strongly that it should be given more respect. Lots of established, published writers today started out in fan fiction.  There are some beautiful stories out there in fiction land that have never been published. Such a shame.

When you’re not writing, what do you do for fun?
I love travel, and have a lot of good friends in the US.  I’m a bit of a do-it-up and fix-it type so I love decorating—I keep House Beautiful in publication!—and also rubbing down old furniture and bringing it back to life.  I enjoy walking, and have been known to kill a few hours browsing in antique shops.  Oh, and recently I’ve been glued to the TV for Wimbledon Tennis.

Are you working on any new projects at the moment?
Yes, I’ve got another romance story developing, set in England, but I’m not going to say anything about it in case I jinx it.

Did you enjoy returning to Nottingham to meet the public again?
Are caterpillars short, fat and hairy with little legs?  Absolutely. I’m from the Midlands so it’s always nice to be in my own backyard for a change. 

Sanctuary is published by Bold Strokes Books, £16.50


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