It’s great to be here at the Purple Rose Tea House to tell you a little bit about my new novella Strokes on a Canvas. It’s set in the 1920s, one of my favourite time periods, and in London, one of my favourite cities in the world, so it’s been a real treat to write.
One of the main characters, Milo, is an artist, and it was lovely to explore such an exciting time in the world of art, as well as fashion and literature. I’ve always been intrigued by the Bloomsbury group in particular, with their radical attitudes to both art and life. The complex relationships between artists and writers such as Duncan Grant, Vanessa Bell and Lytton Strachey were extremely daring in those days, and would probably raise a few eyebrows today! In such artistic and literary circles, being gay was more acceptable than it was in the rest of society, and in Strokes on a Canvas, bank clerk Evan is constantly anxious that his secret will be exposed.
Evan’s life is turned upside down when he meets Milo, who has led a privileged life in which he can be relatively open about his sexuality. Their friendship opens up a host of new possibilities for both Evan and Milo, and I hope you’ll enjoy following their journey together in such a fascinating decade.
Strokes on a Canvas is now available at Amazon.
London, 1924. Bank clerk Evan Calver is enjoying a quiet pint and notices a man smiling at him across the bar. While the Rose and Crown isn’t that kind of pub, Evan thinks his luck might be in, and he narrowly escapes humiliation when he realises the man is smiling at a friend. Eavesdropping on their conversation, Evan discovers the man is named Milo Halstead and served as an army captain during the war.
The next day Evan goes to the British Museum, where he bumps into Milo again. This time Milo introduces himself, explaining he’s an art teacher and would like to paint Evan’s portrait for a competition. Evan can’t believe an upper-class artist would want to paint the son of a miner, but he agrees to sit for Milo. Their acquaintance blossoms into friendship, and Evan hopes it might become more, but when a dense smog descends over the city, their future is as unclear as the London sky.
On the opposite side of the cabinet a man was gazing intently at Evan’s favourite amphora. Evan doubted he was having the same thoughts as himself as he scrutinized the naked athletes, but he seemed transfixed by its sporting design. The dark-haired man was wearing a brown pinstripe suit, the kind seen in newspaper photographs of famous actors and royalty, and which Evan could never hope to afford. The stranger looked born to wear his stylish attire, his confident posture showing the suit’s fine cut to full advantage. Then he raised his eyes, and Evan saw the man was not a total stranger. His hair was smooth with brilliantine, and he wasn’t wearing his gold-rimmed glasses, but he was unmistakably Captain Milo Halstead.
Evan was about to make a hasty exit, when he realised the former soldier was smiling at him through the glass. He may have looked smarter than he had last night, but his smile was still as warm and kind as one of Miss Nightingale’s nurses. Evan didn’t imagine the captain remembered him, but he smiled back, thinking it would be impolite not to, then turned to walk away. To his surprise, Evan’s action was mirrored on the other side of the cabinet as Captain Halstead moved in the same direction. He was still looking at Evan, still smiling, and as they both reached the end of the cabinet, Evan wondered what would happen next. Would words be exchanged? And what would those words be? If Milo remembered him from last night and wasn’t the genial man he seemed, they might hint at blackmail or violence.
Evan was tempted to put his head down and make a run for it, but he didn’t want to attract the attention of the museum guards. He took a breath and steadily stepped forward, only to find Milo standing in his way.
“Excuse me. Could I get past?”
“Of course, but…” Milo’s smile was uncertain now, but he didn’t move from Evan’s path. “It was you I saw in the Rose and Crown last night, wasn’t it?”
Evan lowered his eyes and weighed up his options. He could admit he was at the pub and ask to know what business of Milo’s it was. Or he could deny being anywhere near the place, or even knowing of its existence. The latter seemed the most sensible choice, avoiding all confrontation, but when Evan looked up and saw Milo’s blue eyes sparkling cheerfully back at him, he was overwhelmed by a longing to spend a few seconds more in his company.
With no idea of Milo’s intentions, Evan answered, “That’s right. I saw you there too.”
H. Lewis-Foster lives in the north of England and has always worked with books in one form or another. As a keen reader of gay fiction, she decided to try writing herself and is now the proud author of several short stories and a debut novel ‘Burning Ashes’.
H. creates characters that are talented, funny and quite often gorgeous, but who all have their faults and vulnerable sides, and she hopes you’ll enjoy reading their stories as much as she loves writing them. H. has also ventured into playwriting and was thrilled to see her first play performed at the Southend Playwriting Festival.