It’s not the first time I have delved into the foggy streets of Victorian London in my books. The period fascinates me, and thanks to all the films I have watched, and the books I have read, it always evokes a particularly dark and brooding atmosphere for me. Lets face it, Jack The Ripper is one of those endearing mysteries that both fascinates and horrifies. It was a particular thread I used in my Dead Camp books.
But it was not only Jack The Ripper who appeared in my Vampire Saga, there was also a particular ‘Gay Club’ that I created, ‘The Damnation Club.’ While the term ‘gay’ had not yet been coined, meeting places for same sex relationships were more common in Victorian London than you may think. But, unlike ‘The Damnation Club’, which oozed an air of horny sophistication, most meeting places back then were seedy, hidden little places known only to those ‘in the know’. More surprisingly, many of these meeting places were in peoples homes!
For the ‘Man Inside Me’, I needed to use the real thing rather than the fabricated wonders of Dead Camp, and in the course of my research, I came upon the infamous ‘Molly Houses.’ When I found the reference to Molly Houses, I was overjoyed, because it fitted the book perfectly and injected a moment of lightness into a book steeped with brooding darkness and repressed sexuality. Even better, I found a reference to a particularly infamous Molly House run by a woman called Miss Muff.
OMG, I didn’t stop laughing for a week! Miss Muff’s Molly House was born with a grin on my face and wickedness in my heart. Miss Muff, who was a man in drag, opens his home to those in need…and well, the things that go on there would make you toes curl. While Miss Muff’s Molly House has its roots based in fact, there is a much darker side to this tale.
Homosexuality was deeply frowned upon during the Victorian era and was made illegal. Imagine that, actually making sex between two men illegal. Not only that, chemical castration was a common practise in an attempt to eliminate ‘the strain’, as was prosecution and imprisonment. Gay men lived in fear of having their lives stripped away from them.
While I based ‘The Man Inside Me’ in the mid 1800’s, much of the legal framework actually came later, more specifically, the Labouchere Amendment in 1885 which criminalised ‘gross indecency’. Even when sodomy could not be proven, things like cross dressing, or even love letters, were enough to garner a criminal prosecution. Police were regularly looking out for places where men would meet, and no-one and no-where was safe. Gay men were driven underground and would not see the light of day again until 1967 when it was decriminalised.
As a writer, I love History. I love the richness that it offers, the deep levels of detail it reveals. But there is also a darkness to that History, and while I relish the opportunity to manipulate it and use History to my own duplicitous needs, I am also painfully aware of the lessons it can teach us. My research for Dead Camp took me to the edge of hell, and my research for this book made me realise that no matter how hard it was for me to grow up as a gay man in the seventies, it was impossible for men in the 1800’s. To love someone, and not be able to be with them, to show them, to hold their hand and declare to the world that they are loved, is heart-breaking. More than any of my other works, this ‘theme’ resounded the most with me, and was one of the driving forces for me writing this book. I really wanted to show what these characters went through. They spend their lives apart because of the society they live in, and even as they grow old as good friends, the spark between them never dies.
When all is said and done, ‘The Man Inside Me’ is a love story. At its heart, it is a pure, traditional love story that explores the journey two men take in order to be together. BUT. It would not be my book if it didn’t have a twist, and this book has the biggest twist of all, and spirals into a direction that may well shock you. Love is a journey, and sometimes that journey can take you to the strangest and most extraordinary places, and I hope you will join me on what has been my favourite journey so far.