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New Books Network Interview: Stephanie Cowell

One of the more interesting elements—to me—of being an author is the mystery of where stories come from. I realize that to most people who don’t write fiction, the answer to this question is a no-brainer: the author makes them up. But as my latest New Books Network interview with Stephanie Cowell makes clear, the reality is not so simple. Yes, we make up the stories, but it doesn’t always feel like that. Some characters find us, nattering in our heads until we sit down and tell their tales because there is no other way to shut them up. And some, as Robbie and Anton did, waft across one’s vision and disappear into the woods, where they linger silently for years until the writer is ready for them. Read on—and listen to our podcast—to find out more.

A young man in Edwardian dress outlined against a background of large rain drops; cover of Stephanie Cowell's The Boy in the Rain

As always, the rest of this post comes from New Books in Historical Fiction.

Robert Stillman, an eighteen-year-old Londoner, has few expectations when he travels to Nottingham to study with the Reverend George Langstaff. Life has not treated Robbie well recently: his mother’s death has left him in the custody of an uncle who has neither the patience to deal with nor the ability to appreciate a young man whose greatest pleasure in life is to draw.

The Reverend Langstaff, however, turns out to be exactly the kind of mentor Robbie needs: a wise and tolerant country parson on the brink of retirement, well able to foster his newest pupil’s strengths. When Robbie meets and falls madly in love with their neighbor, Anton Harrington, it would seem that his life is complete.

But this is Edwardian England, and men who love men live at risk of arrest and imprisonment under the harshest conditions. Anton, who is older by more than a decade, knows this all too well. Although he loves Robbie in return, Anton has spent years covering up both his dangerous romantic inclinations and his socialist political views. The emotional cost of concealing his self and his past inhibit Anton’s ability to sustain any intimate relationship.

In The Boy in the Rain, Stephanie Cowell explores the ways in which Robbie and Anton negotiate their way past these emotional and societal pitfalls with warmth, understanding, and respect. And although she surprises us with her conclusion, her ending feels exactly right.


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