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Interview: Lena Worwood

I've been eagerly anticipating this going up, mostly because @Sideways gives thoughtful and interesting answers but also partly because I respectively disagree with a bit of it and want to get my rebuttal in.

So "There's a reason 'Red White and Royal Blue' by Casey McQuiston hasn't generated much attention in the community despite being a best seller - and I think part of it is that we aren't primed to see an LGBT Romance novel written by a woman as legitimate AH."

I see what Lena is saying here but, to semi prove her point, I also strongly think Casey's book isn't 'legitimate AH'.

Red, White and Royal Blue is a romance between the son of the US president and a British Prince. But the US president in question is a fictional one, Ellen Claremont, as is the Prince.

To me AH is about twisting established historical characters not just adding new ones. If this is AH because Ellen is president and not Donald Trump than Inspector Morse is AH because Morse is not the real police inspector in oxford. By that definition, a fictional character holds a real person's job instead of that person, all fiction is AH, and its too broad a definition to be useful.

Now if Red, White and Royal Blue used an actual real royal prince and Alexander Warren, that would pass through my gate keeping hoops. But that book would be considered bad taste and possibly be sued. Which is why I think a book like this has to distance itself from real figures and so AH.

But I think that's more the writers decision than the communities.
 
So "There's a reason 'Red White and Royal Blue' by Casey McQuiston hasn't generated much attention in the community despite being a best seller - and I think part of it is that we aren't primed to see an LGBT Romance novel written by a woman as legitimate AH."

I see what Lena is saying here but, to semi prove her point, I also strongly think Casey's book isn't 'legitimate AH'.

I think this is really fair - and thanks for a balanced response. For me, a key feature of the alternate history I really enjoy is that it raises a mirror to the real world. I feel Red White and Royal Blue was read like that in the initial reviews and does count. It wasn't just a fictionalised version of reality - like say if they'd had Ronald Crump - a far right guy with bad hair. It was a novel about a world where a female Democrat won the presidential election in 2016 - I feel that people reading this in 2019 would definitely recognise a what if there, even if its in a fictionalised form.

So, very very soft AH - I feel like the reviews I read at the time very much saw it as... if not a counterfactual then at least the kind of escapist AH we get when someone writes a "what if my country and the things I like did better" kind of thing. Soft AH in the same way that, say, The Man in the High Castle is soft - so detached from reality as to render its historical accuracy irrelevant but that's not the only purpose of AH and now I feel I need to, like, do a review of it or something
 
am gonna be a pain and plug the writers I compliment is this @Ed Costello , @Time Enough , @Mumby , @zaffre , @Uhura's Mazda and I realise the Darling Buds of May was published as https://www.sealionpress.co.uk/product-page/the-darling-buds-express so sorry for not linking that up
Just finished reading it and I have say wasn’t expecting to be mentioned and be praised like that. It was very nice. Glad you enjoy my lists, there useful for keeping my writing brain occupied whilst I’m dealing with various bits of work.

Amusingly one of my next planned projects to be done hopefully as a Novel Writing November challenge, is a LGBT+ Romance Adventure Road Trip thing set in the 1940s, essentially my attempt at a Gay Porco Rosso as it were. So yeah, hopefully you enjoy that when I’m doing it.
 
Amusingly one of my next planned projects to be done hopefully as a Novel Writing November challenge, is a LGBT+ Romance Adventure Road Trip thing set in the 1940s, essentially my attempt at a Gay Porco Rosso as it were. So yeah, hopefully you enjoy that when I’m doing it.

gosh NaNoWriMo is coming up and for the first time in 6 years I don't have a novel to write anyway so I could do it... gonna have to come up with some ideas...
 
Agreed that even the shortest works like a Presidents/PMs list can have a narrative, not even with a caveat "when done well". Even a brief description of actual history has a narrative, it's just condensed and likely at a high level.

Would be keen to read the horror story. I presume the Millennium Dome still being open in 2020 is the horror aspect?
 
Lexie was me exploring the mindset of what people in the trans community call "bootlickers" - trans people who actively advocate for movements that are opposed to trans rights. I wanted to explore the motivations and personality of people like that. I feel it often comes down to the kind of compromises we make during transition. Like, say you grow up hearing about how bad trans people are - most trans people do. When you transition you might think "I'll transition, but I won't be like those trans women who do things I've always believed are bad".
I used to engage with someone like that at the other place, an outspoken social conservative and strong opponent of bodily autonomy who later came out as a trans woman.
 
I've been eagerly anticipating this going up, mostly because @Sideways gives thoughtful and interesting answers but also partly because I respectively disagree with a bit of it and want to get my rebuttal in.

So "There's a reason 'Red White and Royal Blue' by Casey McQuiston hasn't generated much attention in the community despite being a best seller - and I think part of it is that we aren't primed to see an LGBT Romance novel written by a woman as legitimate AH."

I see what Lena is saying here but, to semi prove her point, I also strongly think Casey's book isn't 'legitimate AH'.

Red, White and Royal Blue is a romance between the son of the US president and a British Prince. But the US president in question is a fictional one, Ellen Claremont, as is the Prince.

To me AH is about twisting established historical characters not just adding new ones. If this is AH because Ellen is president and not Donald Trump than Inspector Morse is AH because Morse is not the real police inspector in oxford. By that definition, a fictional character holds a real person's job instead of that person, all fiction is AH, and its too broad a definition to be useful.

Now if Red, White and Royal Blue used an actual real royal prince and Alexander Warren, that would pass through my gate keeping hoops. But that book would be considered bad taste and possibly be sued. Which is why I think a book like this has to distance itself from real figures and so AH.

But I think that's more the writers decision than the communities.
I think this is really fair - and thanks for a balanced response. For me, a key feature of the alternate history I really enjoy is that it raises a mirror to the real world. I feel Red White and Royal Blue was read like that in the initial reviews and does count. It wasn't just a fictionalised version of reality - like say if they'd had Ronald Crump - a far right guy with bad hair. It was a novel about a world where a female Democrat won the presidential election in 2016 - I feel that people reading this in 2019 would definitely recognise a what if there, even if its in a fictionalised form.

So, very very soft AH - I feel like the reviews I read at the time very much saw it as... if not a counterfactual then at least the kind of escapist AH we get when someone writes a "what if my country and the things I like did better" kind of thing. Soft AH in the same way that, say, The Man in the High Castle is soft - so detached from reality as to render its historical accuracy irrelevant but that's not the only purpose of AH and now I feel I need to, like, do a review of it or something

Related somewhat to this - I once learned that this series is a thing, and I've never once seen it discussed in our circles.
 
A fascinating insight into the circumstances of and possible therapeutic benefits of taking up AH in one writer's case; thanks for the frankness. The reference to a recent fascination with Byzantium is intriguing - it resonates with me because I also got hooked on the Comnene dynasty in the C12th despite not knowing a great deal about it, possibly for its mixture of visible court grandeur, a magnificent Eastern Mediterranean civilization with Roman heritage plus (much more powerful than in modern times) Orthodox Christian self-confidence, and intense inter-dynastic skulduggery which would now draw the same fanbase as 'Game of Thrones'. In my case it was as a teenager in a respectable SE England commuter town where nobody at my school had ever heard of Byzantium let alone had an interest in it, and for a boy of around 12 to 14 football and pop music were far more 'normal' - the sheer 'alienness' of it to the society I lived in and my deeply conventional classmates was a big part of the appeal. The more unusual the better - a sort of History equivalent to liking David Bowie in pop at that point. The triggers were partly leisure media (the visual stimulus of the Czarist, Orthodox Russia splendour of the 1972 BBC 'War and Peace' adaptation) and partly news - the Greco-Turkish crisis over Cyprus in 1974 which sadly is still unresolved, plus accidental finding of a book on Byzantium in my local library.

AH writing and speculation can be therapeutic as well as absorbing if you feel that you 'don't fit in', as well as enabling you to express your thoughts on contemporary politics and society at one remove. I would argue that the concept of 'thinking outside the box' and 'pushing the envelope' in the business-speak cliche, and turning things upside down (at least in your mind) has a real value in later life in, say, politics and creativity. It helps you to escape from just accepting and repeating textbook-derived platitudes and outdated 'givens' of what can and cannot be done, and become cynical about what you are told is 'fact' and 'non-negotiable'. Not just accepting what the 'experts', who are often narrow-minded and out of date, say what is acceptable or possible - eg in economics, which now has a weird similarity with the 1970s as inflation based on energy prices spirals and the MPs fiddle and bicker like nothing has changed. We could do with more of this in places where it matters at the top in govt, and less of the Jim Hacker type ('Yes Minister') and the Gus Hedges type (the business-speak spouting, boss-worshipping yuppie executive news manager in 'Drop the Dead Donkey' - which is still all too relevant). Arguably our - real - 'Climate Crisis Century' - with its escalating chain of interlinked crises is going to need a lot more of this sort of bold planning, as now the nature of the next crisis cannot be predicted very easily and quick thinking will be needed. Not a leisurely 6-week ruling party election process while prices shoot up and the PM goes on a farewell tour like a retiring rocker.
 
The reference to a recent fascination with Byzantium is intriguing - it resonates with me because I also got hooked on the Comnene dynasty in the C12th despite not knowing a great deal about it, possibly for its mixture of visible court grandeur, a magnificent Eastern Mediterranean civilization with Roman heritage plus (much more powerful than in modern times) Orthodox Christian self-confidence, and intense inter-dynastic skulduggery which would now draw the same fanbase as 'Game of Thrones'.
Personally I'm a bit surprised that Byzantium and Byzantium-inspired settings haven't already become a bigger part of mainstream historical fiction and med-fan media. There were trailblazers such as Guy Gavriel Kay with his Sarantine Mosaic duology and the aesthetic choices in the Ghibli adaptation of Ursula K. Le Guin's Earthsea series, but so far it hasn't come out in a big way yet.
 
There is a possibility that the visuals of Byzantine civilization were partly used as inspiration for Dom Lawrence's drawings of the rich, 'Oriental' style court and capital city of 'Hericon' in his 'Trigan Empire' sci-fi adventure series for Look and Learn children's magazine in the UK in the mid-late 1960s and early 1970s, though Sassanid Persia may also have been an inspiration. The main, 'Roman/ Greek' civilization of the 'Trigan Empire' with its capital set on a number of hills like Rome is constantly at odds with this 'Eastern' civilization at first but its princes end up on the Hericon throne as a result of a dynastic alliance. The portrayals of 'Hericon' royalty and courtiers (usually bearded and wearing Byz-style long robes) and the capital city with its domes do give a flavour of Constantinople as it might have been in a surviving, C20th 'Byzantium' with aircraft, and the endemic scheming and treachery of the court politics too - though there's also a possible influence from Mughal architecture in places , or else the Mughal-derived Brighton Royal Pavilion with its domes.
 
My local library lists Red White and Royal Blue as "junior fiction". And a lot of the reviews seem to suggest the plot is bad and/or the setting is incidental.

To me alternate history has a core component of exploring the consequences of divergence - be it social, political, whatever. Otherwise an alternate setting is either fantasy or (what I'm betting is the case here) just an aesthetic/background atmosphere choice, which isn't alternate history.

I think pretty much every political thriller going takes place in an alternate political setting, but that doesn't make them alternate history. If McQuiston is an alternate history writer then Jeffrey Archer is an alternate history writer and yeah that's not a road we want to go down.
 
If House of the Dragon can win back some of the ground Game of Thrones lost in its last couple of years, I wonder whether an ambitious studio could be tempted to do a Byzantine (or Byzantine- inspired) epic. "Game of Thrones (or HotD) but real" could get some support. Glorious settings, political backbiting bad enough to be synonymous with the civilisation, battles...
 
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Related somewhat to this - I once learned that this series is a thing, and I've never once seen it discussed in our circles.

Yeah, this is a more clear example - I mean, an American royalty is definitely AH

I tried to read it, and sadly, couldn't get into it

A fascinating insight into the circumstances of and possible therapeutic benefits of taking up AH in one writer's case; thanks for the frankness. The reference to a recent fascination with Byzantium is intriguing - it resonates with me because I also got hooked on the Comnene dynasty in the C12th despite not knowing a great deal about it, possibly for its mixture of visible court grandeur, a magnificent Eastern Mediterranean civilization with Roman heritage plus (much more powerful than in modern times) Orthodox Christian self-confidence, and intense inter-dynastic skulduggery which would now draw the same fanbase as 'Game of Thrones'.

Thanks, yeah, I mean I feel like ultimately I write for wellbeing and conversation, not for any ind of career based thingumy. And the Komnenoi are amazing.

the sheer 'alienness' of it to the society I lived in and my deeply conventional classmates was a big part of the appeal.

This is it basically - it's so alien and so... forgotten - like you find a part of the map you always knew was big but never knew anything about - and suddenly theres a whole civilisation there.

Arguably our - real - 'Climate Crisis Century' - with its escalating chain of interlinked crises is going to need a lot more of this sort of bold planning, as now the nature of the next crisis cannot be predicted very easily and quick thinking will be needed. Not a leisurely 6-week ruling party election process while prices shoot up and the PM goes on a farewell tour like a retiring rocker.

I guess this is kind of one of the good things about history - it so often forces you to interrogate the fact that the way things are isn't the only way they can be, and isn't immoveable
 
Hurrah for shoutouts to the uber-niche and the humble list narrative (and the uber-niche list narrative)! You can get a lot of narrative - from quick-sketch of the politics to mean jokes - just from party names and who is in them, like recurring use of Centre Party (often by David Owen, often a minor party).

It was a novel about a world where a female Democrat won the presidential election in 2016 - I feel that people reading this in 2019 would definitely recognise a what if there, even if its in a fictionalised form.

That does sound more soft-AH than, say, Whitmore in Independence Day who is there as A President and not meant to be a stand in for Bush Snr or Perot. Looking at the blurb, the publisher doesn't want to promote (or doesn't conceive of it as) soft AH, so not unsurprising the online community would miss that. But American Royals is another kettle of fish, "US has royals" is a venerable trope and in Sliders and everything, but the version aimed at girls & young women in a stereotypical 'girly' way flies under the community's radar.
 
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