Writing The Boy in the Rain

Sometimes an author has a story in her/his head that just won’t let go. In Stephanie Cowell’s case, the experience led to her latest novel The Boy in the Rain.


The writing of The Boy in the Rain first began when I was walking down the wood outer stairs of an old country house many years ago and turned to see a vision of two men. One was slightly older, and both were dressed in Edwardian style. When I looked again, they were gone. I felt a bit shaken and somehow changed.

I was an opera singer and balladeer at the time and when I told two singer friends about the story forming in my mind about what I had seen, they challenged me to write it down. I made a rough short story, little more than a sketch. A year later I had left music, found a day job, and began to write novels.

From the earliest sketches, many colleagues and a few agents and editors were much taken with the book, but it never seemed to fit in quite anywhere and it was still very rough.  It almost sold a few times. Meanwhile I was accepted by a publisher W.W. Norton for my first book Nicholas Cooke, and the second The Physician of London, which won an American Book Award and then a third, The Players, about the young Shakespeare. I hid the printout of The Boy in the Rain in my closet and would take it out every four or five years to work on it. It grew stronger but still needed a lot of work. Sometimes I would despair that I would ever get it together, and sometimes I felt of all my books, this one was just for me. Meanwhile Madeleine L’Engle who was my friend and loved my work, read it and said I must publish it. 

Between my next two novels, Marrying Mozart and Claude and Camille, I worked very hard on it. During the pandemic when I was alone a lot, I worked. And in winter 2021, someone sent me to a small independent publisher Regal House Publishing who contracted it very quickly.

From the first notes in 1984 and the vision on the wood stair above the stream to publication day June 1 2023 was 39 years.

Why a love story between two men, these particular two men? I will never totally know the answer to that. They appeared to me and wouldn’t let me go. I loved them so much. They grew and changed and adored each other and broke apart and rushed back together again. The older one Anton was only comfortable when he was the stronger, the one in charge. That worked wonderfully at first until being the consoled not the consoler, Robbie became frustrated and now quite capable, shouts out, “Have you ever needed me for anything?” And the first great change between them takes place. More will come as they encounter other people and other situations. 

I grew up knowing that homosexual love was as natural and good as any other sort. I had two dear guy friends when I was sixteen and we were sort of threesome together.  But I believe novels which are quite long are composed of thousands of disparate things: a clock, two hands clasped, a story of reckless behavior, longings which have no words, an art exhibition which falls apart, a need to belong to something lasting. And the way these things come together in a story depends on when in your life you write them. The narrative gathers tiny things like fragments of dust and in a novel, the author had a thousand adventures and joys and bitter disappointments and many of them join with memories and feelings. She/he may have found love and lost it again during that time. I did.

If anyone else wrote this novel, it would be very different. Our stories are unique to us, our ways of seeing the world. Yours are unique to you.

To say a few words about what was known as the Gross Indecency Law (the Labouchere Act) passed in England 1885, which would severely affect the lives and love of Anton and Robbie ― this was the terrible law which sent Oscar Wilde to prison for two years of hard labor in 1895, for ‘committing acts of gross indecency with male persons’. Since the legislation was ambiguous about what constituted a homosexual act, men who engaged in any homosexual activity were easily blackmailed. It is estimated that the law sent over 50,000 men to prison until repealed in 1967, ruining their lives and health and in the case of Oscar Wilde and the great WWII cryptographer Alan Turing, causing their deaths. Women were not affected.

I think in the end I wrote The Boy in the Rain because I loved Anton and Robbie so much with a love that would not let me go, and that as it begins to make its way into the world, some new readers feel the same. So this is a very happy time for me. Happy reading!

Such a poignant story, Stephanie. Imagine spending 39 years to create a novel. I’m sure your passion will bear fruit as readers embrace this new novel. Wishing you all the best success.

The Boy in the Rain by Stephanie Cowell ~~ It is 1903 in the English countryside when Robbie, a shy young art student, meets the twenty-nine-year-old Anton who is running from memories of his brutal childhood and failed marriage. Within months, they begin a love affair that will never let them go. Robbie grows into an accomplished portraitist in the vivid London art world with the help of Anton’s enchanting former wife, while Anton turns from his inherited wealth and connections to improve the conditions of the poor. But it is the Edwardian Era, and the law sentences homosexual men to prison with hard labor, following the tragic experience of Oscar Wilde. As Robbie and Anton’s commitment to each other grows, the world about them turns to a more dangerous place.

Stephanie Cowell has been on the blog before talking about what makes historical fiction irresistible.


M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel is THE ADMIRAL’S WIFE, a dual timeline set in Hong Kong. Mary’s other novels, PARIS IN RUINS, TIME AND REGRET, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from AmazonNookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on FacebookTwitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

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4 Responses

    1. That’s wonderful to hear, Nora. Any author in particular you think I should ask to be on the blog??

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