When I started writing Strokes on a Canvas, it was a new and exciting challenge, as I’d never written a story set in the 1920s before. Quite a few of my stories have been historical romances—from Scottish clansmen in To Protect the Heir to Edwardian gentlemen in A Valet’s Duty—but the 1920s was a new time period for me as a writer. While I may not have written about the decade, I’ve always been interested in its art and literature. From fabulously stylish art deco to mind-bending surrealism, the 1920s produced incredible paintings, sculptures and buildings that are still striking and appealing to people today.
It’s in this artistic world that Evan and Milo come together in Strokes on a Canvas, but while I had an appreciation of the cultural world of the 1920s, I needed to build a picture of what everyday life might have been like for an aspiring artist. I looked into the kind of place a single man of his class would have lived and created Milo’s apartment, researching the lighting, windows and furnishing to make it as realistic as possible. I wanted to make his workplace true to life as well, finding out about the daily routine of a college of the time. I also took inspiration from a visit to the Glasgow School of Art a year or so before it was sadly damaged by fire. It was a truly beautiful building and a real work of art in itself, with such detail in every staircase and door, not to mention the breathtaking library. As much as all the amazing design and decoration, I remember the slightly simpler corridors of individual studios. There was an intensely creative atmosphere and it wasn’t hard to imagine generations of students full of energy and ideas honing their artistic skills and discovering their own style.
Just like those students, Milo and Evan are determined to live their own lives and not conform to society’s expectations or rules. Being gay at the time wasn’t just socially unacceptable, it could end in a prison sentence, and this atmosphere of caution and suspicion plays a big part in the story. But there is a lot of fun for Evan and Milo too, with all the opportunities for entertainment that London provides, as well as the company of their friends, who are there for them both – as good friends always are – whatever life throws in their way. I do hope readers enjoy meeting Milo, Evan and their friends, and getting a little taste of life in the 1920s.