A Musical Interlude with Alex Beecroft and Blue-Eyed Stranger(guest post and contest)

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Blue eyed Stranger cover

kantele-11-string-model

If you have read the reviews of both of Alex Beecroft’s Trowchester novels, you will know that I am deeply in love with this small village and its inhabitants.  In Blue-Eyed Stranger, the music and musical instruments that Alex Beecroft makes sing through the many passages of this story were old in origin but new to me in sound and shape.  woman playing the kanteleI had to go looking through the web for the pictures of the instruments themselves and the sounds they bring forth.  If only I had this post before hand!  Morris dancing, the kantele, and other folk tunes have become my latest obsessions thanks to these stories and their author.  Read on and let them become yours as well.

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A Musical Interlude – a Blue Eyed Stranger Guest post

It occurs to me that there’s a lot of music in BES, and it’s music of a kind with which most readers may not be familiar. ‘Folk’ in general conjures up different things on either side of the pond, and then there’s the Viking music which scarcely anyone has heard. So, come with me on a whistle-stop tour around the music in Blue Eyed Stranger.

Let’s start with the title. In fact the blue eyed stranger the title refers to is Billy Wright himself, champion dancer of the Stomping Griffins, but this is the dance and the tune that morris aficionados will think of if you ever say ‘Blue Eyed Stranger’ to them.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DQGJj-gkaO0

It’s also a good example of the Cotswold style of morris, which the Boy prefers because of its technical difficulty, (lots of tricky footwork) but which tends to leave audiences cold.

This, on the other hand, is a good example of the Border style of morris, which the Griffins find themselves doing more often because it’s what the people like to watch.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fjRTALO-l1w

Quite honestly I largely agree with the people on this one.

Somewhere around the middle of the book, Billy takes an unsuspecting Martin to a session at his local pub. If, like Martin, you’ve never wandered into anything like that before and are a bit bemused, it goes a bit like this:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KCzMh5f89Wc

Anyone can turn up. If you know the tunes you break out your instrument and start playing along with everyone else. If you don’t know them, you listen hard and try to pick them up by ear, or you go and buy another beer. If no one’s playing and you can think of a tune, start it and everyone who knows it will join in with you. If you don’t know the tunes it’s trickier, so it’s a good idea to go on somewhere like Folk Tune Finder and learn a few things before you go. Most folk music is in the key of D or G. Stick to those and you should be fine.

The world of folk music and dance is still a very vibrant and lively part of most English towns and villages. There’s little difficulty in coming across it if you’re looking. Indeed, sometimes when we break out the instruments people leave the pub, going ‘oh, blimey, we don’t want that!’ So sometimes you can even find it when you’re not looking.

The world of Ancient music is a different story, but it too is out there.

Here is an example of the five stringed kantele that Annette plays. I think if you listen closely you can just about pick up the sound of it singing to itself underneath the tune. It’s clearly something which is difficult to capture on a recording.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1VEr-Suti4M

Technically, the kantele is a Finnish instrument rather than a Viking one, but as I’ve said elsewhere, the Vikings had trade routes just about everywhere. And speaking about things that are found just about everywhere, this next instrument – the Anglo Saxon hearpe (also known as a lyre) – is ancient and ubiquitous and found everywhere. You can evidently do a lot more on it than it initially seems. A lovely thing!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QHA5SvmJyJM&list=RDQHA5SvmJyJM#t=173

this is what Martin lends to Billy and Billy – who is a violinist – picks up immediately.

Later, after the book closes, they start researching the music of ancient Meroe, from which Martin’s ancestors come, but I found when I started looking into it that it was a huge subject about which I was not yet equipped to have an informed opinion. But interestingly, look

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ApHRWB9zcLs

that lyre is not a far cry from the Saxon one, is it? I like to think the musical traditions would fit well together, since their players obviously have.

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STRW Author BookSynopsis

 

Blue Eyed Stranger (Trowchester #2) by Alex Beecroft

Billy Wright has a problem: he’s only visible when he’s wearing a mask. That’s fine when he’s performing at country fairs with the rest of his morris dancing troupe. But when he takes the paint off, his life is lonely and empty, and he struggles with crippling depression.

Martin Deng stands out from the crowd. After all, there aren’t that many black Vikings on the living history circuit. But as the founder of a fledgling historical re-enactment society, he’s lonely and harried. His boss doesn’t like his weekend activities, his warriors seem to expect him to run everything single-handedly, and it’s stressful enough being one minority without telling the hard men of his group he’s also gay.

When Billy’s and Martin’s societies are double-booked at a packed county show, they know at once they are kindred spirits, united by a deep feeling of connectedness to their history and culture. But they’re also both hiding in their different ways, and they need each other to be brave enough to take their masks off and still be seen.

Link to STRW Review:  Find it Here

Buy It Here:  Riptide Publishing

Book Details:
eBook ISBN: 978-1-62649-212-7
eBook release: Apr 6, 2015
eBook Formats: pdf, mobi, html, epub
Print ISBN: 978-1-62649-213-4
Print release: Apr 6, 2015
Word count: 67,000,Page count: 246
Cover by: Lou Harper

This title is part of the Trowchester Blues universe.

 

STRW Author Bio and Contacts

Alex Beecroft is an English author best known for historical fiction, notably Age of Sail, featuring gay characters and romantic storylines. Her novels and shorter works include paranormal, fantasy, and contemporary fiction.

Beecroft won Linden Bay Romance’s (now Samhain Publishing) Starlight Writing Competition in 2007 with her first novel,Captain’s Surrender, making it her first published book. On the subject of writing gay romance, Beecroft has appeared in theCharleston City Paper, LA Weekly, the New Haven Advocate, the Baltimore City Paper, and The Other Paper. She is a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association of the UK and an occasional reviewer for the blog Speak Its Name, which highlights historical gay fiction.

Alex was born in Northern Ireland during the Troubles and grew up in the wild countryside of the English Peak District. She lives with her husband and two children in a little village near Cambridge and tries to avoid being mistaken for a tourist.
Alex is only intermittently present in the real world. She has led a Saxon shield wall into battle, toiled as a Georgian kitchen maid, and recently taken up an 800-year-old form of English folk dance, but she still hasn’t learned to operate a mobile phone.

She is represented by Louise Fury of the L. Perkins Literary Agency.

Connect with Alex:
Website: http://www.alexbeecroft.com
Blog: http://www.alexbeecroft.com/blog
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AlexBeecroftAuthor
Twitter: @Alex_Beecroft
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/Alex_Beecroft

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Giveaway

Every comment on this blog tour enters you in a draw for a $15 Riptide gift card. Entries close at midnight, Eastern time, on April 11. Contest is NOT restricted to U.S. entries. Don’t forget to add your email so we can contact you if you win!  Must be 18  years of age or older to enter.  Prizes provided by Riptide Publishing.

A MelanieM Review: Blue Eyed Stranger (Trowchester Blues #2) by Alex Beecroft

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Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Blue eyed Stranger coverFor Billy Wright and Martin Deng, life presents very different but just as challenging obstacles to overcome on  a daily basis.  Billy Wright’s problem? He’s only visible when he’s wearing a mask, which is  fine as Billy performs at country fairs with his local morris dancing troupe. But when the dancing is over, Billy’s life is lonely and empty, made seriously worse by his crippling depression.

In any crowd Martin Deng would stand out but he is that more startling as a member of a historical reenactment troop . After all, there aren’t that many black Vikings on the living history circuit. But as the founder of a fledgling historical re-enactment society, Martin is  lonely and harried. The headmaster as the school he teaches at doesn’t like his weekend activities, his warriors seem to expect him to run everything single-handedly, and it’s stressful enough being one minority without telling the hard men of his group he’s also gay.  Or coming out to his family.

When Billy’s and Martin’s societies are double-booked at a packed county show, they know at once they are kindred spirits, united by a deep feeling of connectedness to their history and culture. But they’re also both hiding in their different ways, and they need each other to be brave enough to take their masks off and still be seen.

The village of Trowchester crept into my heart with the first story in the Trowchester series, Trowchester Blues.  I fell whole heartedly in love with the layered characterizations, and richly textured story set within a fictional town so memorable and believable that I never wanted to leave. I knew another story was coming but wondered if it could possibly live up to the story that preceded it.  I shouldn’t have worried.   Blue Eyed Stranger is just as moving and rich as the first, perhaps even more.

Blue Eyed Stranger (Trowchester Blues #2) by Alex Beecroft is not a continuation of Finn and Michael’s story.  In fact, Finn, and his book club make only scant appearances here, along with Trowchester’s archaeologist James.  No, this story belongs totally and gloriously with the characters of Billy and Martin, a duo so odd and compelling that I wondered how Alex Beecroft came to think of them at all, let alone as a couple.

Billy Wright has so many layers to his character.  We meet him in the throes of a deep depression attack.  He is unable to move, even if its to save himself from the cold and exposure.  The thought that finally creeps through the  blackness enveloping him is the county fair his Morris troop, Griffins, is to dance at and we begin to understand how important dancing is to Billy’s survival.  The music, on my what  incredible music,that exists in Billy comes later.  With Billy, its at though he is enveloped in an invisibility cloak, one that oddly enough disappears once Billy dons the makeup and yes, cloak of a Morris dancer.  And then he flies, and takes our hearts with him.

I didn’t really understand that much about Morris dancing, the various types (Border, Cotswold, etc) and apparel and facial makeup the dancers put on.  But as Billy explains it to Martin, the knowledge and history (as well as misunderstandings about the black face  makeup), flow as naturally in the dialog as it would in a conversation with someone new and interested in what you were doing.   Beecroft gave me a nice foundation of knowledge that sent me off to Youtube for examples of all types of morris dancing and music.  But its not just in the explanations but in the descriptions of Billy and his troop as they whirl and jump and the clash of their wooden staffs that make this element of the story come alive!  I felt that not only could it see it happening, I could hear the various instruments played and the crowd react with glee and appreciation.

On the other side of this unlikely pair is Martin Deng, a phyically impressive man, whose biracial appearance sets him apart (father is from Ethiopia and an English mum).  His profession is to teach history in school but his passion?  To bring it to life as an active member and founder of a fledgling historical re-enactment society.  Martin is not only passionate about being historically correct in appearance and actions but as a black Viking he calls attention to himself just in his presence alone.  Martin is also gay, a fact he hides from almost everyone, including his family.  His small group, Bretwalda, is a splinter group from a larger more restrictive society and Martin is buried under the pressure of a new troop, obtaining new recruits and managing their increasing fair/event schedule while maintaining his job. It a precarious position, and becoming more so by the minute.   Martin may appear to be the opposite of Billy but underneath, that simply isn’t true.  Both men care deeply and passionately about history and representing it accurately.  While Billy is out with his sexuality, but unless he has his true self cloaked behind his Griffins attire, then Billy is less than assured about his attractiveness and appeal.

Their romance is believably full of obstacles, including Billy’s depression which is handled realistically and authentically and Martin’s fear of being ostracized if his homosexuality were known.   Both Bill and Martin need to address issues within themselves before they can move forward as a couple together and the manner in which Alex Beecroft understands this and makes the reader a part of their process elevates this narrative even higher.

Bily and Martin’s journey is fraught with misteps, fear, and ignorance but the trip they take together is gripping, emotionally rewarding, and results in what is one of my favorite books of the year to date.  You don’t have to have read the first story, Trowchester Blues, to read this one.  It does beautifully as a stand alone.  But together?  The portrait of an amazing small village full of people you would love to meet becomes richer and, quite frankly, more addictive.

Need a new passion or several?  Pick up Blue Eyed Stranger by Alex Beecroft, its my of my finest reads to date this year!

Cover art by Lou Harper.  I love the cover, but the inclusion of the gun (a minor element) surprises me other than to brand the series.  Give me a hearpe or a true Viking helmet instead!

Sales Links:  Riptide Publishing   All Romance (ARe)   Amazon coming closer to April 6th.

Book Details:

ebook, 230 pages
Expected publication: April 6th 2015 by Riptide Publishing
original titleBlue Eyed Stranger
ISBN139781626492127
edition languageEnglish

Books in the Trowchester Series

  • Trowchester Blues
  • Blue Eyed Stranger (Trowchester #2) Expected publication April 6, preorder now
  • Blue Steel Chain (Trowchester Blues, #3)Expected publication: July 27th 2015