Prism Book Alliance would like to thank Harper Fox for taking the time to talk with us today about her retro title from FoxTales, Half Moon Chambers, her back list and works to come. Prism recently reviewed Half Moon Chambers. You can find the review here.
Harper Fox…Backlist…Favourites…What’s Been and What’s to Come. Plus, her first fan letter from a man…
First of all, let me welcome Harper Fox to Prism…It seems like a long time since we last interviewed you. However, this is a wonderful opportunity to ask questions about your backlist…and initially Half Moon Chambers.
Thank you very much! I’ve been looking forward to chatting with you here again. I still can’t get over having a backlist, to tell you the truth, or at least enough of a one to talk about. It only seems like yesterday that I took the plunge into getting my work published at all, but in fact it’s been almost five years.
Did you enjoy writing a book set in Newcastle, which felt to me like you knew pretty well?
Newcastle’s my home town. I’ve always had mixed feelings about it, a blend of intense loyalty – I bristle when outsiders say anything negative about it – and a clear view of its dark side and limitations. As a city perched on England’s cold northeastern shoulder, it’s shaped by its long winters, and has a tough economic history of broken industries like mining and shipbuilding, only recently overlain by a more optimistic and lightweight approach. We have our own “Celtic twilight” here – those stark, abandoned shipyards brooding in the mist of the Tyne served no purpose, but the sadness of their loss was more inspiring to me as an author than the bars and clubs and high-rent riverside flats that sprang up to replace them. I drew strongly on the contrasts for Half Moon Chambers, on the sense of a city with a flagship art gallery rubbing shoulders with a Brutalist high-rise block, of a brave new world trying to rise from ashes still very much aglow. Despite recent cultural trends and attempts at rehabilitation, Newcastle still provides enough villainy and hardship to keep Detective Sergeant Vince on his toes! I think – I almost hope – that the city’s dark old heart will never be fully opened up to the light of modern day. And, of course, Half Moon Chambers itself is a real building, which was very helpful and inspiring. I remodelled the interior for the book, but the exterior remains in neglected majesty there on the Bigg Market. In fact, one of the things I like best about this particular story is that I can walk around the city and make intimate visits to the HMC locations – the gallery, the Chambers, the police station, Vince’s top-floor eyrie in the road-spanning tower block – and that gives me a sense of being close to my two protagonists. I remain very fond of Vince and Rowan, and it’s nice to reconnect with them there.
It seems like you enjoy creating pairs from the different ends of life’s spectrum, what drew you to a police officer and a recovering drug addict?
You’re right – I do enjoy that dynamic. I began wondering why, as a response to your question, and I happen to be re-reading Norman Mailer’s Harlot’s Ghost at the moment, and the answer jumped off the page at me tonight – a quote to the effect of, “Every unlikely affair is a jailbreak.” That seems about right to me. No matter how free-thinking and liberated we are, we do remain confined within ourselves, and we often end up surrounded by people from our own social / academic / work-related background, and for some of us that can be a prison of a kind. It’s certainly the case for Vince, whose affair with fellow-officer Jack has left him as good as imprisoned in his bitter grief and loss. And Rowan is self-trapped in fear and addiction. Bringing such disparate characters together for an against-all-odds shot at romance was very enjoyable, and not at all easy to write. Vince is a dedicated cop and Rowan’s battle with addiction very far from won. Vince’s family background has programmed him to despise illegal drugs and their victims. Rowan is a hunted fox, and has to make such a painful effort to reach through the bars of his cage to find love in the arms of a man who should have been just another jailer. In many ways, HMC pushes the boundaries of the romance format – Vince throws out his handsome former lover in favour of a life-damaged street urchin, and Rowan is a desperately unlikely hero. I felt it was important to portray his addiction seriously, to avoid any suggestions of a “cure”, to make clear that he and Vince would face a day-to-day battle and a fragile HEA dependent on Rowan’s continuing strength of will and purpose. This was my second self-pubbed book, so I felt I had more freedom, and I’m not sure the story would have gained acceptance as it stood from a romance publisher. Even as a FoxTales release, it attracted a lot of feedback from readers who fell in love with Vince’s charming ex Jack and felt that he should have been the hero of the tale! I also wanted to draw on the unexpected strengths hidden inside Vince and Rowan – the cop who finds compassion for the junkie, the courage latent within Rowan’s battered psyche, each of them finding the qualities he might have expected to discover in the other.
Would you consider writing another book set in Newcastle, and if so would your representation be different now?
HMC is my second Newcastle-based book. Life After Joe is also set there, and I’m interested to see how my perceptions of the city changed between the two books. LAJ is all about the clubbing scene and Matthew’s efforts to emerge from the devastation of his break-up with Joe. The city does provide structure for the story, but not to the extent it does in HMC, where I’ve used buildings as fairly direct and tangible symbols for my protags’ difficulties, and where the murky underworld just beneath the bright millennial surface provides not only Rowan’s drug habit but shapes Vince’s whole life as a copper. So I’ve become more involved with the location, and now that we’re living back in the northeast again, I feel that connection will deepen. Yes, I’d love to write another book set here, and the representation would be different because, to my great sadness and surprise, this windswept town of mine where the worst problems sprang from lack of employment and the tough transition from heavy industry, has now become a focus for a much more dispiriting clash. Today, March 21st, will see a neo-Nazi organisation called National Action take their “White Man March” through the streets of Newcastle in the name of defending the rights of some mythical idea of a “purebred Brit” against some equally mythical threat posed by immigration and non-white populations. It will be the second time in as many months that right-wing extremists have chosen my hometown as fertile ground. What scares me is the expectations of these groups of finding enough supporters locally to make their efforts worthwhile. This is something I haven’t experienced in all my years here, as a student, as a worker and as a proud Geordie/Northumbrian. Something is changing, something insidious, with connections to the whole global backlash against the notion of equal rights for everyone. I’d use another book set in Newcastle to examine these changes, try to get to grips with them. That doesn’t sound too romantic, but neither did the junkie and the cop when I was outlining HMC, so I’m sure I’ll find a way!
I know most authors say that the book they are currently writing is their favourite, but do you attribute any particularly strong emotions to any of your backlist? I know many of your readers cite Life After Joe, Scrap Metal or Driftwood.
I’ll be the exception and say that the book I’m writing at the moment is far from my favourite, but that’s just because I’m having a struggle with two remarkably self-willed, apparently incompatible gentlemen who are taxing my gifts to the limit! I’m hoping I’ll grow to love it more once the gory business of actually writing it is done. With regard to strong emotions, I’ll go back to HMC, simply because I identify so very strongly with Rowan. Not to get too personal, but not wanting to hide or deny anything either, I grew up facing family issues of substance abuse, although these were never allowed to crack our respectable middle-class veneer. I’m genetically predisposed to addictive behaviours, and I have to walk a careful line. So I guess Rowan was an aspect of myself let loose and gone thoroughly to the dogs, crawling back to life and love via such a painful path. If you ask me which book of mine is my favourite… Oh, that’s a tough one. I kind of love all my weird children. Life After Joe has good, raw, anguished stuff of life in it. Abandonment, loss. I didn’t hold back on Matthew’s heartbreak, and following him through the depths and degradations of his reactions was weirdly cathartic. I think it’s a very honest book, and I’m proud of the portrayal, of having been able to break Matt and restore him to happiness with conviction, without compromise.
Do you prefer to write about your characters in a rural background, for example The Tyack and Frayne mysteries and Brothers of the Wild North Sea, or urban as in The Salisbury Key and Half Moon Chambers?
Well, gimme a good background and I’ll write a story set there. It’s less a case of choosing a location for my next story as a kind of compulsion – I can’t feel as if I’ve thoroughly experienced a place for myself until I’ve absorbed and… I’m actually trying to find a nicer word than “regurgitated” here, but I guess that’s what I mean. I need to process places through myself and my non-stop authorial brain. The characters I create are my feelers in any new environment, my eyes and ears. Other people might paint or sketch or write a travelogue – I’m instantly rebuilding the places I visit, the places I live in, as the background for a future story. It’s kind of pathological! So less a preference than a necessity, and I’m always ready to try something new.
Is there a location or type of setting that you would particularly like to write about that you haven’t so far?
Oh, I’m so tempted by Greece! Generally, as well as in storytelling terms! Seriously, I’d love to set a novel on Meganisi or along the Peloponnese coast. We’ve had some stunning travels, well off the beaten track. But I have to be careful here. I market a lot on my Brit settings and locations. Would my readers enjoy being transported to a sunny shore when they’ve come to rely on my misty moors? I suppose there’s only one way to find out. And I’m sure I could transplant a British flavour to the olive groves, perhaps in the form of a very tightly buttoned academic on the edge of a nervous breakdown, sent on an enforced holiday by his boss and just primed to run into a gorgeous wealthy Greek playboy, complete with yacht… Oh, yeah, actually I see great possibilities there!
How does publishing your first differ from publishing your twenty-first? I think I counted correctly, although I may have missed some anthos.
Good grief, is it really twenty one? Can I have a nervous breakdown and a Greek-island sabbatical of my own yet? I am far from sure how on earth that can have happened in five years, except by dint of my plugging away with 1,000 words per day no matter what. This is a very interesting question because the experience has transformed completely, beyond all recognition. For one thing, I never expected to be published, and despite being reassured by my beloved mentor Josh Lanyon that I stood a good chance, when I received the first of three acceptance emails from different publishers for the three books I sent out, I genuinely thought I’d overloaded my systems and was about to have a coronary there on the spot. My whole world altered. Not just that but a huge change happened inside. Of course one shouldn’t write simply with the aim of being published and the golden goal of the royalty cheque in sight, but I’m not about to kid you that, after a lifetime of writing in total obscurity and with a sense of having to grab time for it rather than deserving that time, I didn’t immediately feel completely and gloriously validated. Of course I wanted to dance around flapping this email in the face of everyone who’d ever tried to stifle my creativity, but the problem there was that nobody ever had – I’ve been cursed with horribly encouraging family and friends. Well, not so much the parents, but sadly they’d got to the stage where it would have been cruel and pointless to do the victory dance in front of them. So the validation was inward, a great rush of joy because I could tell myself at last that all the hard work had been worthwhile. Okay, that was book number one. Book number twenty one – well, I’m glad to say I still take huge joy in the process of publication, of being able to share my stories with readers, and the novelty never wears off of making a living from my chosen art. But all that joy and fizz has settled down to day-to-day professionalism. That’s just a necessity – when I published Book One, I was still working my day job full time, so anything I earned in terms of royalties was a welcome extra. Then I was made redundant, and although I still freelance, the vast bulk of my income depends upon my writing. It’s interesting, and extremely challenging, when your beloved lifelong hobby becomes your job. I’ve learned many (probably not enough!) tricks of the trade, and my books aren’t my babies anymore – they’re strapping creatures born on the hoof and expected to hit the ground running. I hope this doesn’t sound discouraging! I wouldn’t change places with anyone else in the world. There’s a line from my favourite poem by AD Hope, Tiger – “I too am of that royal race // Who do what we are born to do.” (The poem is well worth the attention of anyone struggling to home in on their life’s mission.) That feeling hasn’t altered one bit, and it’s why I keep on doing what I do.
Do you ever feel surprised about one of your book’s popularity over another?
Oh, Lord, do I ever. Scrap Metal’s the one. I mean, people have loved my other stuff, but if I look at sales figures, reviews, ongoing popularity… That book just pulled ahead of everything else in its first couple of months of publication and has stayed there ever since. I am so, so grateful for this – me and the missus still live off Scrap Metal, to a certain extent – but I confess that the book haunts me rather, as a goal I fear I’ll never surpass! Will I ever write anything again that sells as well as SM? I honestly don’t know, although of course I’ll keep trying. The temptation is to try to reproduce its success in terms of setting, characters, dynamic, and I need to avoid that at all costs. I can’t rewrite it, can’t conjure that exact same magic again. I’m not exactly surprised by its popularity over my other books – when I look back, Nichol and Cameron are among my dearest creations. If I could lift any of my lads live off the page and meet them, it would be those two. Nichol’s just such a dear, with his lambs and his grumpy old granddad. I don’t quite know why he came out so perfect but it’s lovely to have made a book like that, so I try not to start every new one with the thought, “This might turn out well, but it ain’t gonna be Scrap Metal.” That way madness definitely lies!
Is there any of your back list that you would like to champion…I assure you several reviewers on this site have read ALL of your work and are quite happy to champion any one of them.
That’s lovely to hear, and thank you very much. Do you know, I was glancing through In Search Of Saints the other day, and although that little book didn’t set the Thames on fire (it was certainly no Scrap Metal ;-D), I do like it. One of my most haunting and atmospheric backdrops, and Owen’s an interesting character, superficially a doormat until he’s trodden on in the wrong way, and then just solid as a rock. I also like the paranormal elements of this tale, an unashamed miracle, a return from the dead, and lots of Celtic symbolism and Gaelic language clues. Yes, I reckon Saints does deserve a good shake of the pompons!
As you have returned to Northumbria from Cornwall, can we expect a North East Tyack and Frayne style duo to tramp the moss-covered rocks in the future? 😉
Oh, definitely. In fact a very attractive werewolf ran across those rocks last October, but Wolf Hall was only a shortie and I hope to set a full-length novel here very soon. I’m not sure if the protags will resemble Gideon and Lee in any way – those two guys belong, as does part of my heart, in Cornwall. But police officers make for interesting writing, and I can see a lonely Pennines copper in my readers’ future for sure.
Looking towards the future…can you tell the readers what they can look forward to from Harper Fox’s pen?
I’ve got a pretty busy year lined up. As regular visitors to my FB world and blog will know, I’m contracted to Samhain Publishing for a full-length novel called Cold Fusion. I’ll be trailing this properly once I have a working blurb, but it tells the story of the unlikely attraction (there’s that dynamic again!) between an environmental campaigner and a lonely scientist who might just have solved all the world’s energy problems in a shed on the north-Scotland coast. I’ve broken two thirds of that book, and publication will be late 2015/early next year. Once I’m finished, I’ll turn my attention to the fifth instalment in the Tyack & Frayne series. Lots of people have been kind enough to say they’re looking forward to catching up with Gideon and Lee, and I did leave them at the end of book four with just a hint of a very interesting new arrival. Then it’s my intention to work closely with my agent to develop an idea for my next longer novel, to see where that takes my career. I’m looking forward to the change, and especially to being able to hand over some responsibility for marketing and promo. Finally, I may, just may, be releasing a long-awaited sequel to another popular book of mine… I don’t mean to tease, but I’m not quite sure yet if Part Two is ready to go, and I want to leave myself wriggle-out room!
Do you remember the first time a MAN sent you a fan letter?
I do, because the letter was memorable. A gentleman in his 70s sent me an email saying not only that he’d loved Driftwood, but reading my portrayal of Tom and Flynn had made him feel happy and comfortable about his sexual orientation for the first time. He’d never come across gay romance heroes before. I generally take myself with a bit of a pinch of salt, but I do admit that on that particular day, I felt as if I’d done something – well, significant, if that doesn’t sound arrogant. I was pleased, and very moved.
Lastly, in deference to my Boss…a rapid fire section:
Ooh, I like these. Go on, then!
Town or Country?
Tough one! Has to be country. I love cities for my writing but my ears and nerves need to be out of reach of traffic noise and other people’s racket.
White or Red?
Both, please. I love the fairytale symbolism of blood on snow.
Sun or Moon?
Well, I try to balance my yin and my yang, but I’m a creature of the moon when you boil me down to my essence.
High or Low?
High, please! I’ll take the rush of finishing off that 1,000-word daily tribute to the Goddess of Creation any day of the week. There’s no better feeling.
Music or Movies?
Music, to leave my brain free to do what it needs to do. Movies just tend to confuse it!
Cars or Bicycles?
Oh, God, car. Car! CAR! I’m a terrible petrolhead, I’m ashamed to say. My soul for a Merc SL R107! Any takers?
Wordsworth or Keats?
Oh, I’m glad you asked this. Keats all the way. “..magic casements, opening on the foam // Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn” – that’s why I write, and it’s what I turn to books in order find.
Thank you so much for being our Retro Reads author…we look forward to a lot more ‘Fox Tales’ to add to your backlist of the future 😉
It’s been my absolute pleasure. Thank you for the interview. Here’s to the next twenty one books!
Title: Half Moon Chambers
Author: Harper Fox
Cover Artist: Lou Harper
Publication Date: 11/08/2012
Genre/Sub-Genre: Contemporary, Crime Fiction, M/M Romance
Yet Vince, a street-hardened narcotics officer, is having to reassess his life. Six months ago, he hit rock-bottom. A bullet brought him down, and his beloved partner Jack betrayed him. Badly disabled and in constant pain, Vince is flying a desk these days, and it doesn’t suit him at all. His world is looking grim when he meets Rowan Clyde, sole surviving witness to a vicious drugs-related killing.
Rowan doesn’t want to talk. He’s vulnerable, trying to hold his own life together in the wake of a crippling addiction. Vince should have no time for him, and Rowan certainly shouldn’t trust a cop with an agenda to get him onto the witness stand at any cost.
Yet despite their differences, there’s an instant pull of attraction between these two damaged men. Their new bond is put to the ultimate test on the tough streets of Newcastle during a dark northern winter, as each turns out to hold the keys to the other’s survival – and to his destruction.
About the Author:
Bestselling British author Harper Fox has established herself as a firm favourite with readers of M/M romance. Over the past four years, she’s delivered eighteen critically acclaimed novels and novellae, including Brothers Of The Wild North Sea (Publisher’s Weekly Best Books of 2013), Stonewall Award-nominated Scrap Metal and the enduringly popular Life After Joe. Harper takes her inspiration from a wide range of British settings–wild countryside, edgy urban and most things in between–and loves to use these backdrops for stories about sexy gay men sharing passion, adventure and happy endings. She also runs her own publishing imprint, FoxTales.
Harper has recently returned from Cornwall to her native Northumberland, and already the bleak moorlands around her home are providing a wealth of new ideas for future work.
To find out more about Harper and see updates on her current writing projects, please visit www.harperfox.net
I have a number of paperbacks, most of which are signed, to giveaway. Over the between now (11 Mar 2017) and 31 Mar 2017, every comment on the blog (this post and all other new posts), will be entered to win 1 of these paperbacks. There are also some misc swag items, so there will be a few packs of these to give away as well.
Thank you so much for your support over the last 4 years. Prism will be closing its doors on 1 April 2017. All content will remain available, but no new content will appear after 31 Mar 2017. As such all request forms have been turned off. Again Thank you,
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