I have been emailing author Clare London for a few weeks about a new anthology appropriately called Tea and Crumpet, which is a celebration of “Britishness.” This collection of short stories published by UK Mat was released July 3rd by JMS Books and is a celebration of what it means to be queer in Britain past and present. I asked Clare if some of the writers involved in the project would agree to be interviewed about the anthology and the idea behind it. After much arm twisting a few adventurous souls decided to talk, on condition that I serve tea and crumpets 😕 when we met for the interview. What? No coffee and doughnuts? 😯
Here’s my chat with Alex Beecroft, Charlie Cochrane, Clare London, J.L. (Jamie) Merrow and Josephine Myles. I tried to replicate all the colours of the rainbow flag for the text but WordPress has many limitations, including colour.
What’s Tea and Crumpet all about?
Alex: After the m/m writers meetup last year, we realized just how many of us there are in the UK and Europe. When we decided to put together an anthology with stories from everyone who was attending the meet this year, it seemed obvious to have a theme of Britishness. We’ve all had so many years of watching everyone we know across the pond go to conventions and the big RT do, while we’ve had to look on and think “oh, I wish I could afford to go and meet all those other fans of the genre.” Now that we’ve got a con we can go to in our own country, it seemed right to start by celebrating our own country for a change.
Jamie: Tea & Crumpet is about cricket matches and country villages. It’s about fish and chips and chilly days by the seaside. It’s about the class divide, and the multicultural society. It’s about several countries, each with their distinct identity, all rolled into one kingdom. It’s about the wealth of history we share, and our rich folklore and traditions. Most of all, it’s about being queer, British and proud!
Where did you get that Tea & Crumpet name?
Clare: Watch how they all take credit for this *wink*.
Charlie: I suspect I may have been responsible for the crumpet bit. I was probably thinking about Jamie Bamber (who is often referred to in fandom as “the crumpet”) at the time. I often think about Jamie Bamber. *g*
Jo: Oh, there’s nothing like a bit of crumpet for afternoon tea. Yum.
Jamie: We had a bit of a brainstorming session, where all kinds of ideas were thrown out. I think I may have been the one to put tea and crumpet together, but with these kinds of things, it’s always hard to tell who came up with what!
How did you persuade all those great writers to join in?
Charlie: The offer of endless supplies of jelly babies and the threat of a big stick. Seriously, we were amazed at the generosity of authors; everyone bought into the project right from the start and could see what a potentially effective way of “getting our names out there” this could turn out to be. What’s particularly pleased me is that some of the best stories for the two projects have come from previously unpublished authors. There’s a lot of talent out there!
Jo: A combination of threats and bribery! Seriously, I was amazed and extremely grateful that so many talented and popular writers submitted stories, especially as we couldn’t offer any kind of remuneration and I’ve never edited an anthology before. I’m profoundly grateful to Charlie, Alex, Clare and Jamie for offering to help with the acquisitions and editing, so that my crazy little idea could become a reality.
What was it like being in the acquisitions role rather than the more usual submissions role?
Jo: A very steep learning curve, but an awful lot of fun. I think my favourite moments were reading stories from first time authors and discovering some absolute gems. That gave me a real buzz. It was also rewarding to be able to work on editing stories to help bring out their full potential. And best of all, I’ve made some new friendships with other authors and I’m really looking forward to meeting them all in person at the Meet 🙂
Alex: Very interesting! Charlie and I had had some experience of that before when we put together the I Do anthologies, all proceeds of which go to supporting the fight for marriage equality in the US. (Just thought I’d get a little plug in for those at this auspicious time 😉 ) It’s made me even more aware of how important it is to scrupulously follow submissions guidelines, and make sure your story is as spell-checked and proof read as you can before you send it.
Clare: And many, many thanks to JM Snyder for stepping into the role of publisher and helping us with so much of the organisation and logistics. She’s also ensured we get the book out in time to be available at the Meet itself. It’s been great working with her.
Why the British theme?
Jo: To be honest, for me that was the whole point of this exercise. I was flabbergasted when I started to realise how many US-set m/m stories were written by Brits. I kept hearing that this was what the publishers wanted and what sold, but I couldn’t help wondering if those writers had ever tried writing British-set stories, or if it was one of those myths that everyone accepted as truth.
It’s not that I want to criticise any Brits for writing US-set stories if that’s what they enjoy, but I hope that more British writers in future might question the assumption that they have to. I love our British slang and eccentric figures of speech. We have a beautiful country filled with fascinating characters, and I hope more m/m romance writers will consider telling stories using their British voice. I like to think that American readers have the curiosity and open-mindedness to embrace fiction from all over the world, and can put up with the odd bit of Brit slang – it’s usually easy enough to figure out the meaning in context.
Jamie: National pride—all right, any kind of pride (not to be confused with Pride, which is a whole other skillet of skate)—is rather frowned upon if you’re British. Self-deprecation is more the name of the game, don’t y’know. So this is us breaking through centuries of cultural conditioning, holding our heads—and our rainbow brollies—high, and shouting out loud we’re proud to be British!
After which, of course, we will apologise profusely for disturbing you…
Clare: And, of course, we have the best swear words by far … LOL.
What was the most different thing about writing in Brit-speak?
Charlie: For a relatively small country, we have a huge range of dialects, accents and argots. Go fifty miles up the road – if that – and all sorts of vocabulary changes. Clearly this can lead to all sorts of misunderstandings and if you take a further step it gets better yet. The UK understanding of the word “fanny” or the expression “being pissed” is not the same as it would be across the Atlantic.
Alex: The best thing is being able to write naturally, without having to constantly police yourself and ask “will my readers understand this phrase?” Knowing that if I write “he wore suspenders and dark pants to go to the nightclub,” everyone will picture this
rather than this
The stories were selected by a team of five – was it hard for you all to agree on any of them?
Jo: It was surprisingly easy, as we worked with the philosophy that we would work to get all stories up to scratch with careful editing, rather than rejecting stories. In the end there were only two stories we turned down, and I’m pleased to say that we accepted alternative stories from both those authors. In both instances it wasn’t a case of the stories being poorly written, but rather that one didn’t fit the theme sufficiently, and the other had a novella’s worth of plot crammed into a short story. Next year we’ll make sure the submissions guidelines are clearer!
Alex: We were actually pretty much agreed on everything, except for the occasional technical point. Although we each had different favourites, the overall quality of the stories was easy enough to see.
Clare: What I loved as I saw each submission enter the fray was the amazing range of styles and subject matter. I loved the way the theme didn’t restrict anyone too much – I think it’s brought richness and diversity to the anthology that you may not get with other books. There really is a Story for All Seasons – which, judging by the British weather, is what we need :).
Who came up with the eye-catching cover?
Clare: That would be the multi-talented Alex Beecroft! We all had some fun scouring through photo sites, but Alex found the teapot. She worked with JM Snyder at JMS Books to create a proper LGBTQ colour scheme, and we were all set. She created the British Flash cover as well, of course!
Here’s the blurb for the anthology
Raise your rainbow umbrellas high and celebrate!
Enjoy this enchanting, entertaining and thought-provoking collection, a heartfelt expression of what it means to be queer in Britain, past and present. All these stories reflect the iconic sights and national character of the British Isles: a taste of our idiosyncrasies and eccentricities, but also an unashamed representation of the love, loyalty and laughter of our people.
Including a wide range of style and subject, this is the perfect way to sample different authors and to find both existing and new favourites. Follow the British way of life from historic villages to modern cities, from the countryside to the sea, through history and with a fantasy twist, in gardens, churches, campus and the familiar, much-loved local pub.
The stories cover universal themes of romance, desire, remembrance and reconciliation. The authors range from multi-published to up-and-coming, and they all share a passion for their characters, whether through great drama, erotic excitement, humour – or a combination of all three!
Edited by: UK MAT (UK Meet Acquisitions Team).
This anthology is a souvenir of the 2011 UK Meet, an occasion for GLBTQ supporters to get together in a relaxed setting to celebrate and chat about the fiction community they love. Funds from the sale of this anthology will go towards future UK Meets, to which all are welcome. Please visit the website for details.
Please note that this anthology contains a few stories that are not M/M.
The Team is donating a free copy of Tea and Crumpet to a commenter on the interview.
And a REMINDER that for another FREE taster of British-themed fiction, download the flash fiction anthology British Flash at Smashwords today: