It's a growing and healthy genre, from the handful of authors who were writing it when the blog started in 2007, there are now going on 100 authors who have tried it or are regular authors. There are books from just about every era now (if not every country) from (believe it or not) cavemen to the cut-off period which I cheekily upped from the Historical Novel Society's cut-off of "50 years ago" to "pre-Stonewall/Wolfenden report" which takes it all the way up to 1971.
But the interesting thing is, is that though there is a positive deluge of the stuff and most of it is good, nearly all of it concerns original characters having adventures in a past time.
print/ebook, ebook only) you will find a smattering of "real life" characters. Some of course lean heavily on supposition. William Shakespeare is a popular subject. It seems that no original gay character can enter Tudor London without getting ambushed by either the Bard of Avon or the naughty Mr Kit Marlowe. Oscar Wilde is also a popular chappie, and there are quite a few books about him, although many (such as the series by Gyles Brandreth) are alternative history, where Wilde becomes a sleuth.
Philipa Gregory even dipped her toes in gay historical fiction. Her "Earthly Joys" is about the famous gardener John Tradescant the Elder who (in her book) ends up falling for the betwitching First Duke of Buckingham who was almost certainly bisexual and King James I's favourite. However attractive this book is--and I thoroughly enjoyed it, I had to stretch my imagination to breaking point to believe that the handsome Buckingham would have been even mildly attracted to Tradescant. But who knows? Perhaps he really was.
|First Duke of Buckingham|
George Villiers - First Duke of Buckingham
John Tradescant - not as handsome as Phillipa Gregory would have you think!
However - what I'd like to see is some damned good novels about real people going through times that we knew actually happened. The trouble is that there's so much been lost. Families who destroyed letters and diaries that would incriminate their sons as to their sexual preferences. People like Byron whose diaries were burned by order of his publisher. Oh! The loss of what they must have held! But there is a fair amount of information about gay characters--and more books are being written yearly (see the non-fiction section of The List) so if someone were to write something about Nijinsky and Diaghilev (why oh why hasn't someone done this already?) or Michelangelo - I'd certainly be standing in eager line waiting to snap them up. I do know an author who is working on a labour of love regarding Ivan the Terrible and his boy toy, but goodness knows when that will get done, (although it's going to be fabulous, I know!)
I mean, look at the Douglases. By that I mean Bosie and his brother. As far as I know (please please correct me if I'm wrong) but there's no book with an account of Bosie's experiences. And as for his brother? It's almost unknown that Francis Douglas who was older than Bosie, was somehow entangled with his boss, The Duke of Rosebery and a near-scandal ensued. Francis was granted a title by Rosebery and only 18 months afterwards (was it a pay off perhaps?) Francis was killed in a "hunting accident" although whether it was suicide, accident or something darker (seeing as how Rosebery was married into the Rothchild family...) Yes yes, supposition, but it's far less Wilde (excuse the pun) than Oscar as a detective!
|Those devilishly handsome Douglas Boys (Bosie, left, Francis, Right.)|
The Douglas Brothers, left-Bosie, Right, Francis
And when you think about it, one suddenly has a glimmer of sympathy (perhaps) for Lord Queensbury whose two sons were both involved with powerful older men. No wonder he went ballistic when Bosie went the same way.
Anyway - come on, authors! Where are the books about E M Forster? Wagner and Mad Ludwig? Siegfried Sasson? Clifton Webb? There are hundreds of subjects to choose from and only a handful of existing books. It's not right.
And if you don't, I may have to do it myself.
Further reading: Queers in History | Rictor Norton | Famous and Gay | List of Gay Men throughout History
Erastes is the penname of a female author living in Norfolk, England with 3 cats and a mad dog. She writes gay historical novels and short stories with gay themes from many genres. Her two books for Carina are: Muffled Drum (Austro-Prussian War) and A Brush with Darkness (coming out in March, which is set in 19th century Florence) Her website is www.erastes.com and she can be found easily on Twitter and just about everywhere else.