Thank you so much to the lovely Nell Iris for having me as your guest today! (You’re very welcome, it’s always a delight to have you!) I’m Ellie Thomas, and I write Gay Historical Romance. In this blog, I’m chatting about The Spice of Life which is my story for a Valentine’s Sugar or Spice submissions call for JMS Books.
After lurking around the 18th century for a few stories, I thought it timely to return to the reign of Elizabeth I. My other Tudor tale, Stage Struck, is set in the world of Elizabethan theatre in 1590’s London. This is a topic for which I have a lasting passion and have read around and taught about for many years.
So I decided to set myself a challenge and get out of my comfort zone and place The Spice of Life a couple of decades earlier in the 1570s amongst the merchant classes and gentry of London. Then I promptly panicked and convinced myself I knew nothing!
That was the cue to reach for my overstuffed bookshelves and my go-to author about all things Tudor, Ruth Goodman. What makes this author so special is that she is a living historian. For television programmes and her independent research, she has spent much of her career living as someone would in the past, with Tudor times being her speciality. Her books are crammed full of detailed observations about how ordinary people lived. As well as giving the reader a wealth of knowledge, Ruth Goodman’s writing is always entertaining and often very humorous, so a fun read.
The two books I dipped into for my research were How to be a Tudor and the splendidly titled How to Behave Badly in Renaissance Britain. Fortunately, I had read them both before, otherwise, I would have got horribly sidetracked, and my story would never have been written!
Having chosen my main character Gregory to be a serving man, I was reminded about the Tudor custom of such employment. Unlike later eras, where being a servant was a job for life, this was a transitional role for young people, as working in a household was regarded as training for an independent future. The same goes for Gregory’s love interest, Jehan. As an apprentice, he would have expected to learn how to become a spice merchant in his own right. So when Jehan gets into trouble through no fault of his own, he has a great deal to lose!
I also learnt details about the pomander, an object which is pivotal to my plot. These canisters contained perfume to ward off noxious smells of the city streets and ranged from something as simple as a lavender bag to costly containers filled with expensive resin, like the one that causes all the mayhem in my story. My imagination was caught by Ruth Goodman’s gorgeous description of a pomander, when worn by a lady, releasing its perfume every time it knocked against her skirts with each step.
Also, her detailed description of Tudor underwear (or lack of it) and the ins and outs of the workings of codpieces were vital for the love scene between Gregory and Jehan. Essential knowledge!
As the story played out in my mind, I could picture Gregory scurrying around London, trying his best to help his beloved Jehan escape danger. It was a boon to have such a reliable source to check those little details of Tudor life to help my story come alive.
At twenty years of age, Gregory Fletcher is content with his life, biding his time as a serving lad for kindly, wealthy relatives in Elizabethan London. Sometimes, he wishes for a spark of excitement in his staid existence. The occasional glimpse of Jehan Zanini, the handsome apprentice of a local merchant, adds spice to his dreams.
Out of the blue, Jehan is accused of stealing from an aristocratic customer. Gregory fears he may never see him again and is concerned for Jehan’s liberty and even his life. When Gregory gets the chance to help Jehan escape his fate, he grasps the opportunity without hesitation.
Can Gregory engineer Jehan’s flight from London and the authorities? Might he even clear Jehan’s name? And will their adventure draw them closer or fling them apart forever?
“Do you have anywhere to go?”Gregory asked.
“Other than trying to reach my uncle in Southwark, no,” Jehan replied.
“Right, then. I can find you a place to rest up for the day, and we’ll make a plan from there,” Gregory said decisively. He attached the leads to the patiently waiting dogs, and with an encouraging smile at Jehan, he said, “This way,” and the ill-assorted foursome left the field.
The dogs had expended their spare energy racing around the field and were content to trot at Jehan’s slower speed, since his limbs were stiff after a chilly night lying on the hard ground. “Where are we going?” he asked tentatively as they walked into the city.
“My family home, at least that of my master, off Bishopsgate,” Gregory said briefly as they turned onto that thoroughfare and passed St. Helen’s church.
“Wait here,” he said as they arrived at the side gate he had unbolted for his morning walk with the dogs. He pushed it open and peered into the yard, which was still quiet and empty.
“Follow me,” he said to Jehan, and the men and hounds crossed the yard towards a cluster of outbuildings, some of which were much older than the house itself. At the back of these was a small barn, sometimes used as an apple store, but currently unoccupied. While mulling over the problem of where to hide Jehan, this seemed the perfect spot.
Gregory opened the door and was pleased that the shed was dry and sound. He jerked his head towards the half-loft. “You get yourself up there, and I’ll find you some blankets.”
Jess and Roamer were content to explore this new place quietly, snuffling around as Gregory went into the stables as stealthily as he could and found some old horse rugs that wouldn’t be missed.
He let himself back into the barn and climbed the makeshift ladder to the loft, where Jehan was waiting, looking slightly lost. “Here you are,” he said, spreading a blanket over the covering of old straw on the planked floor. Jehan lay down obediently as Gregory knelt, heaping the rest of the blankets over him. “I should be able to get some food for you at dinner time,” he said.
Jehan’s eyes looked heavy already, “All I need to do right now is to get some sleep.” Then he hesitated and asked, “Why are you helping me?”
Looking down at that drawn, vulnerable face, Gregory thought, because you’re handsome and charming, and I have a liking for you, so it pains me to see you brought so low. But instead of voicing his thoughts, he said stolidly, “Such a charge could be brought against any of us. But for the grace of God, it could be me.”
“Thank you,” Jehan said, seemingly satisfied with that explanation, his eyelids closing. Gregory was so close to him that he could see the sweep of those long, dark eyelashes over Jehan’s pale cheek. Gregory imagined he could still perceive a hint of intoxicating spices from Jehan’s body as it warmed under the blankets. He ached to run his finger down the elegant cheekbone or even steal a kiss. But he contented himself to put a comforting hand on Jehan’s shoulder instead.
“You get some rest,” he said gruffly.
Ellie Thomas lives by the sea. She comes from a teaching background and goes for long seaside walks where she daydreams about history. She is a voracious reader especially about anything historical. She mainly writes historical gay romance.
Ellie also writes historical erotic romance as L. E. Thomas.