Guest Post | Keep it Down! by Ofelia Gränd

Hello everyone! I’m here as Ofelia today. JMS Books is turning 12 years this month 🥳 and there was an in-house call for stories with dozens. Every story should have something to do with twelve. We could pick any genre we wanted as long as it was an LGBTQ+ story. I wrote Keep it Down! which is a contemporary tale about two neighbours who don’t get along… or at least one of them doesn’t get along LOL

But… To epilogue or not to epilogue, that’s the question.

Perhaps it isn’t THE question, but it is a question every writer has to ask themselves. Normally, I’m a to epilogue person, but this time I decided not to be.

I was in the Morning Office with Nell Iris, and I told her, I’m not gonna write an epilogue. I have my 12 Post-It notes, and the last few have all been about deepening their relationship, so I don’t need one.

Feeling like a daredevil, I sent it off to my lovely beta readers.

A few days later, I got it back. All the Dozen stories are to be 8,000 to 15,000 words, and it’s a hard cut-off. Keep it Down! was at 13.5k – it was.

Then one of lovely, lovely betas wrote that she noted that the story was 13.5k long which left about 1.5k to play with and could she suggest an epilogue…

 I laughed to myself. The question had been answered, hadn’t it? And the answer is to epilogue. 

She went on writing that perhaps Nate and Eason could visit Eason’s mother in London… over Christmas… and maybe they’ve moved in together… and maybe there could be a Christmas proposal… and maybe the epilogue could be in Nate’s perspective… 

Since I dislike proposals, I wouldn’t write one, right? RIGHT? Nah… not a real one, at least. 

The story is very close to 15k now, though 😆

Keep it Down - five months later

Excerpt:

Sweat was trickling down Eason’s spine as he climbed the stairs. He was still in his suit from work and was carrying a pizza box. No way he was cooking today. He was still suffering from Nate’s party and the day he’d had… He heaved a sigh.

There had been a man trying to board with a baby he had no ticket for and no passport. When Eason had told him he couldn’t, he’d yelled and threatened—Eason didn’t do well with threats. Who knew what people were capable of?

Not long after, the security guards had arrived, and with them, they’d had one of the drug dogs. It had yapped before jumping on the man’s hand luggage and started digging, and that was after the man had been through the security check.

Eason wasn’t naive. He was aware of there being drugs at the airport, but who carried drugs while also carrying a baby? A baby he had no papers for. People were insane.

Walking up the last flight of stairs, he spotted a green Post-it note on his door. Keep it down! Some of us are trying to sleep in the morning.

For a second, Eason stared, then anger boiled over, and he stabbed Nate’s doorbell with his forefinger. He didn’t let up, simply let it ring and ring. He didn’t stop when Nate yanked the door open. “What?”

Lifting his finger off the button, Eason took a deep breath. “What the fuck do you think you’re doing putting notes on my door?”

“You put one on mine.” Nate crossed his arms over his chest, and Eason noticed the muscles playing under the tanned skin.

“You’re so fucking pathetic. It’s a wonder you’re still alive.”

Nate huffed. “At least I don’t vacuum my balcony at four in the morning.”

“I wouldn’t be either if I didn’t have a dickhead for a neighbor who smashed glass bottles on my balcony.”

“I didn’t throw a bottle!”

Eason sucked in a deep breath, fully aware shouting in the staircase was beneath him but unable to stop himself. “One of your kids did.”

“Kids?” The anger on Nate’s face was replaced by confusion. “I don’t have kids.”

“One of the boys or girls young enough to be your children did the other night. I was too tired to clean it up yesterday because I didn’t get any sleep. Some fucking imbecile with no respect for other human beings played music until after two in the morning, and as you so accurately pointed out, I’m getting up before four in the morning to go to work.”

Nate winced. “Damn, that’s early, man.”

Eason growled and walked past him to his door. “I can’t…” He stomped like a three-year-old throwing a fit. Whirling around, he glared at Nate while searching for his keys. Idiots shouldn’t be allowed to be as attractive as he was. “I can’t stand to look at you.” Nate’s eyes widened. “You’re the most pathetic being I’ve come across in years, and I come across a lot of people.”

Getting hold of his key, he unlocked the door, snatched the Post-it, and left Nate watching him in the stairway.

Blurb:

keepitdown

One day, Eason Wickham will push his next-door neighbor down the stairs. Nate Allen might be hot, but he’s the most annoying person Eason has ever met. He has no respect for the people living in the building, and night after night, he has a party. Whenever Eason rings his doorbell and tells him to keep it down, he flirts and tries to get Eason to come inside. 

Calling the cops does not affect Nate’s behavior, and neither do Eason’s angry Post-It notes. But when Eason is hit by a car and fractures his leg, Nate sends his friends packing and makes sure Eason is okay. He cooks for him, shops for him, and does his laundry, but he’s still the most annoying person Eason has ever met. Right? 

The cute Post-Its Nate leaves for him to find doesn’t mean he’s a different person, and while Eason longs for when Nate gets off work every day, it doesn’t mean they should be more than friends. Does it?  

Buy links 

Contemporary Gay Romance: 14,878 words 

JMS Books :: Amazon :: books2read.com/KeepItDown 

World Naked Gardening Day: Warning! Deep Water

Guest Post

Last but far from least, we have the lovely A.L. Lester on a visit. They too have written a story for World Naked Gardening Day, Warning! Deep Water, and today we’ll get to hear all about it. Welcome, Ally.

Hello everyone! Thank you so much to Holly for letting me pop in today to tell you a bit more about my part of our collaborative World Naked Gardening Day project. Holly, Nell IrisK. L. NooneAmy Spector and I have all written gay romance novellas based around World Naked Gardening Day, which happens on the first Saturday in May. This year it’s the 7th, which is when our stories happen to be released! You can read about all of them here

Warning! Deep Water is a 16,300 gay romance set in the UK 1947, just after the worst winter in living memory and eighteen months after the end of the second world war. Let me tell you a bit about Peter, one of my main characters!

WarningDeepWaterPeter

Peter Tollingham

Description: Thin, untidy, badly cut hair, dresses in layers against the cold.

Personality: Introverted, cautious, taciturn

Occupation: Tramp. Picks up odd jobs here and there. Before the war he was a carpenter.

Background: Called up in 1939. Shell-shocked. Didn’t have anywhere to go back to after the war, he lost his house and his family in the Coventry Blitz. He began tramping and doing odd jobs for a bit of cash and somewhere to sleep when he was discharged from the army.

Peter needs to learn that it’s safe to put down roots again. He doesn’t have to keep running. He walked out of the army and just kept walking, mostly for self preservation. He isn’t sure what’s safe any more and knows he’s really emotionally screwed up—he has terrible PTSD, although of course it’s not called that, he calls it shell-shock. He has nightmares and he’s worried he’ll disturb and upset other people and that civilians won’t understand what’s going on.

Of course, pretty much everyone does understand what’s going on with him, because a lot of the population has gone through the same sort of things he has.

We never find out precisely what happened to him during the war. I didn’t feel I had enough space in the word-cap to explore the impact of what he’d seen properly. Whatever it was, he doesn’t want to speak about it and George feels the same, so it’s not a problem between them. They might confide in each other when they get to know one-another well, but that’s their business, not ours!

Peter is rather like a wounded animal at the start of the story. He’s poorly-sick with the flu and he’s found a warm place to hole up and recover. As the story goes on, we see him gradually begin to come out of himself and realise he’s found somewhere safe where he can begin to process what’s happened to him.

Previously a lot of my stories have been set just after the first world war. I think I have an affinity for people who are struggling to come back to their pre-trauma selves, if that makes sense? Everyone processes that sort of thing differently; but in general if everyone is going through the same thing, or knows people who are, then there must be a quiet, every-day acknowledgement of how hard things can be. I hope that comes across in the way George and Peter react to each other.

Without further ado, here’s some more about Warning! Deep Water. I hope you have as much fun reading it as we all have writing our stories.

Warning! Deep Water

warningdeepwater

It’s 1947. George is going through the motions, sowing seeds and tending plants and harvesting crops. The nursery went on without him perfectly well during the war and he spends a lot of time during the working day hiding from people and working on his own. In the evening he prowls round the place looking for odd jobs to do.

It’s been a long, cold winter and Peter doesn’t think he’ll ever get properly warm or clean again. Finding a place with heated greenhouses and plenty of nooks and crannies to kip in while he’s recovering from nasty flu was an enormous stroke of luck. He’s been here a few days now. The weather is beginning to warm up and he’s just realised there’s a huge reservoir of water in one of the greenhouses they use to water the plants. He’s become obsessed with getting in and having an all-over wash.

What will George do when he finds a scraggy ex-soldier bathing in his reservoir? What will Peter do? Is it time for them to both stop running from the past and settle down?

A Naked Gardening Day short story of 16,300 words.

Buy from JMS Books – Add to Goodreads –  Buy from Amazon US – Buy Everywhere Else

Excerpt

“You didn’t say you liked music,” Peter said, as they were sitting across the table from each other over a cup of tea, once he’d finally pulled himself away from the instrument and reverentially closed the keyboard.

“Well,” said Peter. “It didn’t come up, did it?” He paused. “Mother used to play a bit,” he said, eventually. “Not like that, though. Hymns, mostly. She was big on chapel.”

There was clearly a story there.

“It’s nice to hear it played,” George went on. “Instruments should be used, not just sat there as part of the furniture. And…,” he paused again and blushed, “And you play very well.”

“Well,” said Peter shuffling with embarrassment. “I learned as a nipper and just carried on with it. Dad wanted me to go and study somewhere, but I wanted to get out and earn. It would have taken the joy out of it if I’d had to pass exams and such.”

George nodded. “I can see that. And you’re good with your hands.” He blushed again and became very absorbed with mashing the tiny amount of butter left from the ration into his baked potato.

Peter coughed. “Well yes,” he said. He couldn’t help smiling a little at George, although he didn’t let him see. He forged on. He really didn’t want him to be uncomfortable. “I think mathematics and music sort of go together, you know? And I was always good with numbers as well…it’s a good trait in a joiner.”

George nodded, clearly feeling they were on less dangerous territory. “Yes,” he said. “There’s all sorts of things you can use maths for; but music is pretty rarefied, isn’t it?”

Peter nodded. “This way I get to keep the music and earn a living. There’s always work for a carpenter, like you said the other day.”

He gradually became less self-conscious about playing when George and Mrs Leland were in the house over the next few weeks. It made him feel like another piece of what made him a person was coming back to life.

****

What it didn’t do was make him any less confused about what was happening between him and George. Half the time he thought George was completely uninterested. But then something would happen that would make him reconsider. The comment about being good with his hands was a case in point. It was a perfectly commonplace thing to say and George shouldn’t have been embarrassed. But he had been. Which meant he’d thought of it in a context that might cause embarrassment.

Peter spent several very enjoyable hours spread over several evenings working through different variations of what the other man might have been thinking.

George was nobody’s Bogart. But he was decent-looking. Nice face, especially when he smiled. A bit soft round the middle, but otherwise hard muscled from the physical work he did day in, day out. Clever…did his own accounts. Liked music. Made Peter laugh with his dry commentary on things in the paper or local gossip and the social pickles the girls reported on in the break room.

Peter liked him a lot. And fancied him. After the third night of considering at length how he could demonstrate how good with his hands he actually was, he gave up pretending. He fancied George a lot.

All Naked stories

About A. L. Lester

A.L. LesterWriter of queer, paranormal, historical, romantic suspense, mostly. Lives in the South West of England with Mr AL, two children, a terrifying cat, some poultry. Likes gardening but doesn’t really have time or energy. Not musical. Doesn’t much like telly. Non-binary. Chronically disabled. Has tedious fits.

Facebook Group : Twitter : Newsletter (free story) : Website : Link-tree for everywhere else

 

World Naked Gardening Day: The Hermit of Aldershill Manor

Guest Post

Today, we have K.L. Noone on the blog, and they’re here to talk about The Hermit of Aldershill Manor, their contribution to World Naked Gardener Day. I love the excerpt! Welcome, Kristin!


Hi there! Thank you to Holly for letting me drop in again to tell you about my contribution to our collaborative World Naked Gardening Day project – for which myself, A.L. Lester, Holly Day, Nell Iris, and Amy Spector have all written gay romance novellas based around World Naked Gardening Day, which happens on the first Saturday in May. This year it’s the 7th, which is when all our stories will be released!

My story for our project is called The Hermit of Aldershill Manor, a 17,000-word m/m romance between Lionel, a gardener on a historic estate, and Charlie, the newly arrived historian, here to help with the archives. There’s a bit of an age gap, and an unexpected summer storm, and shelter in an old hermitage. And an instant spark, among rain and flowers and green growing things.

I wanted the title of Hermit to feel a little old-fashioned—it’s not a historical romance, but it is a history-filled setting, and Lionel isn’t technically a hermit-by-profession, in the nineteenth-century sense, but he does live in the old hermitage, and he’s lonelier than he’ll admit. He’s not good at small talk and he’s better at interacting with plants than with humans, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t like people; he genuinely does want people to be happy, perhaps with herbs and lotions and baked goods. He needs someone who won’t necessarily ask him to change, but who can see the big heart under the solitary grumpiness and isolation. And Charlie’s lonely too: having been dumped by the man he thought he’d marry, running from those memories and taking a job in a whole new country, trying to figure out his future when everything’s suddenly been turned upside down. Fortunately he’s just met a tall kindhearted gardener with mud on his boots and a leaf in his hair, who looks at Charlie and offers shelter from the rain, a place that feels like a refuge and a beginning…which it is, for them both. In a garden, where history and beauty meet, where new life can grow.

Plus, there’s baked goods and nakedness (as per the theme!) and terrible puns about roots and seeds. For which I should perhaps apologize, but…oh, well, we’ll just leaf them there. For fun.

Here’s a bit more about Hermit! I hope you enjoy it, and I hope you enjoy all our Naked Gardening stories—I’m so excited to share this project with you all!

Buy Links:

JMS Books :: Amazon :: books2read.com/TheHermitofAldershillManor

Blurb:

thehermitofaldershillmanorCharlie Ash is ready to start a new job and a new life at Aldershill Manor. As a historian, he’s thrilled to dive into the estate’s archives. Plus, he can move on from the end of his last relationship, when the man he’d thought he’d marry broke his heart. He’ll find solace in exploring the manor’s famous gardens…until he’s caught in the rain, and found by a gardener.

Lionel Briar enjoys making people happy, as long as he doesn’t have to talk to them. He does not enjoy tourists, small talk, or social obligations. But he does like plants and history and his job, taking care of Aldershill’s gardens, helping beauty grow. He likes gently tending the world.

So when Lionel discovers the estate’s adorable new historian getting drenched by a summer thunderstorm in his gardens, he offers Charlie shelter…a rescue that could bloom into love.

Excerpt:

Just around the bend, and up the small rise; the old hermitage beckoned: an eighteenth-century fantasia of ornamental tower-curved stone and climbing roses and tumbling ivy, tucked into a garden corner by the stream. The honeysuckle and irises by the door, drenched in rain, perfumed the afternoon. Old stones welcomed wet feet, going up the shallow steps.

Lionel opened the door, tugged Charlie in—the young man was looking at the tower with wide-eyed delight, as if expecting dragons and princesses—and only then realized that he’d done more touching of another person, in the last five minutes, than he’d done in the last three years.

His hands catching a slim arm when Charlie’d slipped, earlier. His hands brushing ungloved fingers, handing over a jacket. His hands resting on Charlie’s shoulders, nudging thinness inside.

It’d felt right. It still felt right. He didn’t know why.

Charlie hadn’t protested being nudged, either. Though he was now gingerly peeling off Lionel’s coat, wincing, apologizing. “I’ll just stand over here, I’m dripping everywhere…” His hair, darkened by rain, had flattened into treasure-box colors: old gold and shimmering amethyst.

“You’re not a problem. You need to get warm.” Lionel yanked off his own boots, winced as the tangle of his hair got into his face, shoved it back. “I’ll find you some clothes.”

“I’ll be right here.” Charlie waved a hand at him. “Which is already better than being out there, thanks.”

Lionel did not know how to answer, and so escaped, heart beating faster than it should’ve done. He felt Charlie’s presence at his back as he went.

The hermitage had been converted to a residence sometime in the nineteen-thirties, and then updated in the seventies, and then again much more recently, with the influx of visitors and finances to the estate. It was an odd shape, only four rooms, the one main tower and the three smaller towers joined on at the back, all of them short and snug. But the walls were white-plastered and the wood floorboards were pleasant, and books lined most of the main room, and the central fireplace would heat the whole space, once he got that going.

Lionel had always liked the hermitage. They fit each other, awkward but hopeful, part of the garden grounds.

He tried to hurry, crossing the main room, opening the third door. He tried not to drip on his sofa or his books or the braided rugs, not too much, at least.

The wardrobe and his bed took up ninety-five percent of the space in the bedroom tower, and that wasn’t an exaggeration: he barely had room to walk around. He liked his bed, though. The wood had been hand-carved by a local artisan, crafted from a fallen oak on the estate; it belonged here, and had a purpose. Right now it gazed at him in silent four-poster astonishment, as Lionel flung open the wardrobe and dove into denim and flannel and knit.

Too large, everything would be too large—sweatpants, perhaps—heavy socks—

His hair, wet, got into his eyes. He swore. Found a hair tie, and contained it.

He ran back out. Charlie had obediently remained in place by the coat-rack, dripping onto the mat, which was designed for that. His lips were more pale, and he was shaking, though he was trying to hide it.

He was still beautiful. Those cheekbones, that chin, the way his eyes were framed by the knowledge of laughter. Lionel swallowed roughly. Thrust clothing his way.

Charlie took the offering, but paused. “Should I…go and change in your bathroom? I mean, unless you want me to sort of do that right here, and not get anything else wet.”

Lionel’s cheeks got warmer. He felt it, wondered if it was visible, tried to recall how to speak to humans instead of rosemary and yarrow. “You. Either door. Bedroom. Or bath. You can.”

“Thank you again,” Charlie said, and went off to the second door, which led to the hermitage’s small but serviceable bath. He was careful, Lionel noticed, to leave muddy shoes back on the mat, and to drip as little as possible along the way. Precise, and considerate.

Precise, considerate, beautiful, and in Lionel’s house. Lionel exhaled, and wanted to collapse back against the aged stone tower wall and let it hold him up. He didn’t, because he was still gently damp. But he wanted to.

A person. A man, obviously an adult but also obviously younger than Lionel himself, probably by a good ten years. Someone he’d only just met.

And now here. In his home. How’d that happened? What had possessed him to offer? For that matter, why had Charlie said yes?

He scrubbed a hand across his face. He also needed to shave. And evidently he’d had a leaf in his hair the whole time, which he only discovered upon dislodging it.

He took a deep breath, let it out. What mattered most was the next step. Charlie was here now, and Charlie needed to get warm. Which meant a fire, and tea. Perhaps biscuits. Or bread.

He could do those things. Concrete, clear-cut, things. Warmth and comfort. Yes.

He found the kettle. He tried not to shiver, because although he wasn’t too wet, he hadn’t managed to change clothes yet.

Which a mysterious young man was doing. In his house. Which he was not thinking about. Obviously.

He built up the fire, in the old-fashioned fireplace. He made it large and glowing.

He turned from poking a log, and found Charlie behind him, having just come in.

Their eyes met. Lionel forgot how to breathe, momentarily, because that was what happened when one discovered a petite American garden sylph standing in one’s living room, dressed in too-long sweatpants and a thick knit jumper. He managed, “Sorry.”

Charlie’s eyebrows went up, spring-blond drifts of surprise. “For what? I hung the wet stuff in your tub, by the way. If you’ve got a dryer—”

“In the kitchen. Don’t worry about it. Sit down.” He dove for tea, a shield. “Tea? Chamomile. From the gardens here.”

Thunder boomed, and rain burst against the windowpane, a sharp rattling clamor. Charlie laughed, and curled up in the chair closest to the fire, giving in. “I guess I’m not going anywhere.”

“No. Yes. I mean. Not in that.”

“Well, thanks for the sanctuary.” Charlie accepted tea, wrapping slim fingers around warmth. He took a sip and made a small pleased sound, and Lionel couldn’t take that and therefore gulped half his own to drown out any thoughts. It was very hot.

“So,” Charlie went on, grinning at him, pushing one too-large knitted sleeve up, “what’s your name? And what do you do? When you’re not rescuing academics in distress, that is.”

Lionel stopped to gaze at him. Academic? A scholar? Not an enchanted flower-sprite or dryad? With that bewitching gift for conversation, familiarity, putting the world at ease?

He was holding the mug halfway up, in front of his face. Neither here nor there. He lowered it hastily. Felt his cheeks flush. “Lionel. Is my name. Lionel Briar. I’m a gardener.”