Interview with Richard Blake,
published in the Mexican GayPV magazine
on the 5th February 2014
Richard Blake’s latest novel, Curse of Babylon, has a very strong gay theme, and shows gay people in a particularly favourable way.
What is your current novel?
My latest novel, Curse of Babylon, has a very strong gay theme, and shows gay people in a particularly favourable way.I am the author of six historical novels, all published by Hodder & Stoughton in London.The protagonist in all of them is explicitly bisexual. He feels no embarrassment about following his tastes wherever they lead him These novels are:
The Terror of Constantinople (Aelric) by Richard Blake (21 Jan 2010)
The Blood of Alexandria (Aelric) by Richard Blake (17 Feb 2011)
The Sword of Damascus (Aelric) by Richard Blake (16 Feb 2012)
The Ghosts of Athens (Aelric) by Richard Blake (25 Apr 2013)
The Curse of Babylon (Aelric) by Richard Blake (2 Jan 2014)
What inspired your novels?
Briefly put, I’ve written reams and reams of stuff to date, and was ultimately inspired by a steady diet in my teens of historical fiction – Mika Waltari, Mary Renault, Robert Graves et al – and of sicko horror stories. The influence still shows. Further influences are Hollywood science fiction of the 1980s and French grand opera. So far as possible, I like to end with a bang that also resolves everything. My editor at Hodder would add a slight influence in this latter point of Scooby Doo. She ruthlessly sliced out of Terror of Constantinople the line, when the Emperor is brought to bay: “And I’d have got away with it too, but for you bastard children!”
The novels, by the way, are filled with profanities and extreme violence. Actual sex is vaguely described. This isn’t prudery, but a belief that, unless you’re a skilled pornographer and writing for a specific audience, close descriptions of the sexual act are usually funny.
Have you ever visited Mexico?
No. My last visit to the Western Hemisphere was in 2005, when I was arrested by the American Homeland Security people for asking about the use of the biometric data I was required to give. I was eventually pushed into an office staffed by human beings, who apologised and released me, and told me to enjoy my stay. I enjoyed my next two weeks as well as I could in what seemed to have become a coast to coast no-smoking zone. Indeed, my hosts for that fortnight were Mormons. Very nice people, I have to admit – but my moments of greatest enjoyment were when I could creep beyond the no-smoking perimeter of Utah Valley State College and have a ciggie with the Mexican workmen who were laying some drains. They also brewed me several cups of strong coffee.I would come to Mexico, if I could avoid passing through any point of entry controlled by the Department of Homeland Security. Of course, let Hollywood adapt one of my novels, and give me an Oscar, and I’d be on the next plane. I’d take my shoes and belt off with a happy smile.
What is your involvement with the LGBT community?
I’ve been a hardcore supporter of gay liberation since I was a schoolboy, and was writing in favour of gay marriage in the 1980s The friends who came to lunch on Sunday were a gay couple. Several of my closest friends are gay. My dominant sexuality for the past few decades, though, has been straight. You’ll see a picture of my daughter on the page I link to above. She’s pictured in an act of child labour that I told her would help pay for her university.
I use the word “dominant” advisedly. Though his empirical support appears to have been rather weak, I think Kinsey was right when he spoke about a spectrum of sexuality, with very few people at either extreme. Most people are capable of a broader sexuality than they often care to admit. Indeed, though I sometimes go along with it – as I sometimes do with “left” and “right” – I reject the notion of a single spectrum of sexuality stretching from exclusively gay to exclusively straight. This is a product of the 19th century Anglo-American “progressive” obsession with sex, and the resulting persecutions of anything except monogamous heterosexuality. I’ve come across people less concerned about the gender of their partners than age, colour, body shape or some other feature. I know that incest is more common than the criminal statistics suggest, and gender is of limited importance here.
During the past fifty years, traditional homophobia has been a weakening force in the developed world. I predict – or hope – that the next fifty years will see a breaking down of the 19th century categories. I suspect that most people will settle into long periods of semi-monogamous heterosexuality. Many people, though, will be actively adventurous in ways we can barely imagine – some changing sex every few years, and entering into whatever relationships suit their convenience.
These beliefs make their way into all my fiction. Of course, the main purpose of a novel is to tell a story, not to preach. Even so, my historical novels are set in an age where, despite the victory of the Christian Faith, assumptions about sex were radically different from our own. The first laws against gay sex were made by Constantine the Great, but were hardly ever enforced, unless the authorities wanted to get someone for other reasons. For the most part, they were unenforceable. The Church itself was more concerned about adultery and illegitimacy and infanticide. Except they were obsessed by social status, the ancients had a more sensible view of sex than we had until recently, or still have.
If you want to set a convincing novel in an age before our own, you must free yourself from categories that didn’t exist before about 1860. Despite their general excellence as writers, Mika Waltari and Robert Graves fail to do this. But Mary Renault does succeed. Though I’ve come to regard her novels as rather sentimental, and too unfocussed in their plotting, she is one of my models when it comes to the incorporation of sexuality.
Here is the Spanish translation of one of my novels:
Conspiracion en Roma
by Richard Blake
Published by Editorial Planeta, S. A.
Edition: May 2008
360 pp, $19.95
609 d.c. Roma se desmorona en medio de la guerra, la peste y los enfrentamientos por el poder entre el emperador, la aristocracia y la incipiente iglesia cristiana. Sin sospecharlo, el jove britano alarico se interpone en esta colision. Su padre fue asesinado y su herencia robada cuando es obligado a separarse de la mujer que ama, emprende el viaje a roma acompañado de su mentor, el Padre Maximino; juntos buscan algunos textos sagrados que les serviran para continuar las misiones en bretaña pero inesperadamente se ven involucrados en una conspiracion heretica plagada de engaño, asesinato y alta traicion
© 2015 – 2017, richardblake.
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