Jay Mountney: Last Christmas

We couldn’t let Christmas go by without a Christmas themed story, now could we? So here’s a sweet-yet-sad little tale from Jay Mountney, obviously inspired by the old George Michael Christmas song. You can find details of all Jay’s books and stories at her website – do check them out and maybe treat yourself to a last-minute stocking-filler or two!

The zine will be taking a short break over the festive season to let all our contributors a well-earned rest. You can picture us lying on sofas, stuffed with turkey and chocolates, or zonked out of our brains on Prosecco or artisan gin. We’ll be back in the new year, suitably refreshed, with more m/m stories for your reading delectation.

In the meantime, Happy Christmas from the RoM/Mantic Reads team! And over to you, Jay…


Pic credit: Jay Mountney

Last Christmas…

I remember it as clearly as yesterday, and you’re lying when you say it all passed in an alcoholic blur because of your new job and celebrating and so on. We were living together so it would have been a bit hard to fool me that much. Most of the time you were sober and a bit morose about having to move, to leave, even though you were pleased with the new status and even more with the new pay package.

I gave you my heart…

…right after the office party, on the way to the station. You were grumbling about having to pretend we weren’t together and I suggested we should stop pretending, let the world know, get married (it’s legal now, after all) and let the office busybodies have their nine days’ wonder, shock and salacious gossip. I said I would come to London with you, find a job somewhere, somehow, so that we could be together. We stopped under one of those huge streetlights on the station approach and you kissed me right there in public. Well, OK, there weren’t many public around and the ones there were were wrapped up in their own thoughts and destinations. But you kissed me without looking over your shoulder and I remember the sleet glistening on your hair under the light, the fiery coldness of your lips and the way my heart sang. Then you held my hand till we had to leave loose and run helter-skelter for the last train, laughing.

Neither of us had had that much to drink. We never did at those office things, too scared, I suppose, of giving ourselves away. So instead I gave my heart away and when we got home we fucked, or rather made love, till almost dawn.

The very next day…

It was Christmas Eve and we went into the village to buy a tree. We thought they might be cheaper, with less than twenty-four hours to go. We found a really nice little tree outside the supermarket, with a huge ‘reduced’ sign on it and we were just going to go in when Anna, that new girl from the typing pool, came past. We hadn’t known she lived in the same suburban village as us; she’d left the party early and of course we normally travelled in by car so we wouldn’t have run across her. She looked surprised then asked if we were together, with one of those smirking, knowing looks that some people seem to find appropriate. I was just saying yes, proud and dizzily happy when you said no, we were just flatmates. I felt the bottom drop out of my world.

We didn’t even decorate the tree and it just stood there all dark and bare till I threw it out on New Year’s Eve, tired of the needles dropping on the carpet, dry and spiked like my thoughts.

You left on the Sunday night and you tossed me your keys without a care in the world.

This year…

I was surprised to see you, pleased for you to hear about the promotion and the return up north, but not impressed that you seemed to think I’d just have been waiting all year, like some kind of doll you can throw into a box and take out again when it suits you. You were never that great a ‘catch’ despite the inflated salary. I could always have found someone else but we were good together or at least I thought we were. You didn’t. Obviously.

…someone special.

He’s already asked me privately and he’s arranged this romantic public proposal under the mistletoe at his mum’s house. They know, too, so there won’t be any outcry, just lots of people pleased for us. He’s really dependable, and not bad-looking. I’m going to be happy.

But sometimes, very privately, I just wish it was last Christmas all over again.

Christmas fun with the team #2

Here’s another selection of entertaining answers to the questions I set the team. I must say cats seem to be popular in this instalment! Have fun reading them, check out the ‘Meet the Team’ tab above for links to everyone’s websites and/or books, and have a great time over the next few days celebrating your favourite winter festival.


Pic credit: Moondance on Pixabay.com

What’s the one thing you’d take to a desert island?

Rebecca Cohen: a magic lamp with ready-to-rub genie in situ

Alexa Milne: Always a tricky one as it depends on the island. It says desert not deserted so I’m going with there being people there and civilisation. In this case, I’d take my laptop. I know it’s a bit sneaky.

K.L. Noone: Definitely some sort of laptop with portable self-sufficient wifi – practicality, for rescue, and also a way to read and write while waiting!

Chris Quinton: Factor 50+ sun block – I burn too easily

What’s your favourite (or least favourite) Christmas song?

Rebecca Cohen: Stille Nacht – the German version of Silent Night is a favourite thanks to 7 years in Switzerland

Alexa Milne: Favourite though it makes me cry is Christmas List. I can’t stand O Holy Night.

K.L. Noone: As a punk rock and pop-punk kid, most of my favorite Christmas songs fall into that category! Songs like the Smashing Pumpkins’ “Christmastime,” or the My Chemical Romance cover of “All I Want for Christmas,” or Green Day’s “Xmas Time of Year”…or even the Rise Against cover of “Making Christmas,” from the Nightmare Before Christmas soundtrack! There’s a good Rock Christmas playlist on Spotify, which we had on while putting up our tree…

Chris Quinton: I’m something of a Scrooge – I dislike them, and cheesy Christmas movies.

If you could shape-shift, what creature would you change into?

Rebecca Cohen: A cat – they have the life of Riley in my house and I want in on their sweet deal.

Alexa Milne: I’d love to be a cat as long as I could be a completely spoiled and pampered cat getting to choose what I eat, when I sleep, when I go out. Oh the mischief I could make and be forgiven every time and loved. I could even have my own social media!

K.L. Noone: Some sort of large happy house cat, like a big fluffy Maine Coon: indoor, cozy, well fed, lots of toys, and soft blankets! Aside from that, it would be fun to be able to fly, so perhaps a raven, or something along those lines – not too frightening, but clever!

Chris Quinton: Now, that’s an easy one! An otter, every time!

K.L. Noone: Openings

Here’s a little flash ficlet on the theme of ‘ink’ for your Friday reading delectation. I’ll leave it to K.L. to describe what’s going on (much better than I could!)

Hello, everyone!

Like Addison Albright’s “Cave Drawing,” this flash fiction story comes from Queer Sci-Fi’s annual flash fiction anthology—the 2021 edition was titled Ink, and all the contributions had to contain queer characters, stay at or under 300 words, be in some way about the theme of “ink,” and fall someplace in the genres of fantasy, science fiction, paranormal, horror, or speculative fiction.

Though romance is technically optional for the anthology, I am at heart (oh, that was nearly a good joke, about romance and hearts) a romance writer: I love stories about people finding each other, and happy endings, or in this case hopeful beginnings.

So “Openings,” below, is fantasy: about bibliomancers falling in love, and the way writing can be a spell.


Pic credit: Geralt on Pixabay.com

“It’s an opening-spell.” Cyan traced spidery black ink like thorns. “A powerful one. No wonder it’s scrambled. No accidental use.”

“Can you solve it?”

“Of course. But I don’t know that I should.” He regarded the librarian who’d brought the scroll; Harrington Burke had short sandy hair and intelligent blue eyes, and had tackled cataloguing the late Duke of Gyre’s eclectic hazardous library with cheerful expertise. Cyan, tall and dark and awkward, the youngest professor at the Magicians’ Convivium, felt himself grow more clumsy and incoherent each time they met.

Harrington had first sought him out to get a bibliomancer’s advice about a troublesome grimoire. Cyan, startled amid book-boxes in his brand-new office, had found himself breathless at sun-hued friendliness, knocking at his door.

He did not know what to say now. Touching letters, he caressed power from a long-ago enchanter’s pen. Ink gave ideas body, shape, threads weaving past and present and future; this ink held puzzles. It tempted his magic.

Harrington raised eyebrows. “Dangerous?”

“All words can be. But think about being able to open anything, one time. Anything.”

Harrington’s expression changed. “Don’t solve it, then.”

“I won’t.”

“D’you want it? For the Convivium Library. Magical.”

“Oh,” Cyan said. “Yes, probably. I’ll ask. Thank you.”

“Should you keep touching it?”

Dangerous, indeed. He put it down. “Probably not. Thank you again.”

Harrington lingered. “There’s ink on your thumb.”

“Earlier. A copying-spell.”

“Ah.” Harrington swung away, turned back. “About openings. Taking risks. Here. For you.” He dropped a folded page onto Cyan’s desk, and vanished.

Cyan, perplexed, unfolded paper. Graceful violet script inquired, Dinner, with me, tonight?

Bashful wanting lingered in the writing: a form of asking Harrington’d hoped a bibliomancer might like.

Dinner. Possibilities. An opening. Magic, Cyan thought, feeling himself begin to smile. Given voice in ink.

Christmas fun with the team

Just for a laugh, I asked all of the contributors the same three silly questions – and these are some of the answers they came up with.

Have fun reading them, check out the ‘Meet the Team’ tab (above) to find out more about all of us, and Happy Christmas!


Pic credit: Pablo Garcia Saldana on Unsplash.com

What’s the one thing you’d take to a desert island?

Jeff Baker: Assuming I wanted to be there and already had food, water and shelter I’d say a Kindle loaded with all the books I want to read. If I didn’t want to be there, I’d take a fully-staffed luxury yacht or a very long bridge!

Jay Mountney: A boat. With an engine. And that’s one thing, not two!

Kaje Harper: A dowsing rod to find fresh water?

Fiona Glass: My first thought was a boat too but as that’s already been taken, a comfortable bed. None of this sleeping on gritty sand!

Ellie Thomas: I’d love to wax lyrical about a favourite tome to take with me, but let’s face facts here. I’m a pale-skinned Celt, so it had better be a vat of Factor 50 sunscreen.

What’s your favourite (or least favourite) Christmas song?

Jeff Baker: I’ve loved “Do You Hear What I Hear?” since Grade School when our teacher told us the song was written “just a few years ago.” Plus, it’s a wonderful song. There are days (usually days spelled with a “y”) where I get absolutely sick of “Simply Having a Wonderful Christmastime!” With all due respect to Sir Paul.

Jay Mountney: Don’t Stop the Cavalry

Kaje Harper: My anti-favourite is I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus (especially the little kid voice version that has the kid threatening to tattle in between the verses.)

Fiona Glass: My favourite is Fairytale of New York, with Greg Lake’s I Believe in Father Christmas a close second.

Ellie Thomas: Honestly, by this stage of December I’m sick of the whole boiling lot of them, so I’ll plump for none. Bah humbug!

If you could shape-shift, what creature would you change into:

Jeff Baker: When I was younger (yes, I think about this stuff and have for a long time!) I thought maybe turning into a crow when I wanted would be handy. They can fly and are pretty inconspicuous since they are all over. Of course, I might go with the traditional wolf, as long as I wasn’t vicious (and didn’t leave a mess on the carpet!)

Jay Mountney: I would rather not have to change into a shifter but if I had to I like hedgehogs.

Kaje Harper: By nature, probably a sloth, but by preference, a peregrine falcon – I’d love to fly.

Fiona Glass: No real preference, but it would be nice to be tall enough and/or have long enough arms to reach supermarket shelves, so perhaps a gibbon. Or a giraffe.

Ellie Thomas: Ooh, that’s a tricky one. I’m undecided between something slightly scary like a leopard that would keep people on their toes or something small, nippy and easily hidden like a mouse. Plus with the second option I might get access to cheese. Win/win!

Jackie Keswick: Stolen Moments

Here’s a lovely, heartbreaking tale about love across the divide at a time of war . And one of the characters has a very appropriate name for our current cold snap!


Mallory sat frozen as Winter set the shaving brush and basin down and reached for the razor. The newspaper in his lap expounded on the previous day’s declaration: Britain was at war with Germany. Which made the man holding a straight razor to his throat Mallory’s enemy.

“Will you be joining up, sir?” Winter queried as he began to remove two days’ worth of sandy-coloured stubble from Mallory’s cheeks.

Mallory hummed. Admitting that he already served his country wasn’t wise while Winter wielded the razor. 

Mallory had been coming to Winter’s small barber’s shop on the Caledonian Road for over a year, though if Winter had restricted himself to offering shaves and haircuts, Mallory might never have met him. He certainly wouldn’t be sitting in this chair now with cold sweat soaking his shirt.

His boss had called him reckless for keeping his usual appointment while his colleagues and the police rounded up scores of German spies. But Mallory felt he owed Winter a final courtesy. In over a year’s surveillance, Mallory had not seen him take a single misstep. That Mallory was here was not Winter’s fault.

“What will you be doing?” he asked when Winter wiped the razor.

Winter shrugged. “There’s talk about repatriation, but… I was born in London. There’s nowhere in Germany for me to return to.”

“No family?”

“No.” Winter bent to his task once more. The razor scraped under Mallory’s chin and Mallory barely dared to breathe. Could one become fond of an enemy? They’d spent a year exchanging views on anything from the weather to politics, religion, and the latest murder trial. And had found they held very similar views. Mallory had never once left Winter’s salon feeling the man was his enemy.

Mallory’s sneeze had Winter whip the blade away from his throat.

“Sorry. Must have inhaled some soap.” Yes, he’d grown fond of Winter, whatever nationalistic hoopla the papers were spouting this morning.

“I assume you’re here to arrest me.” Winter folded the razor. “Who betrayed me?”

Of course, Winter had known. Mallory tugged his cuffs straight and stood. “No betrayal. One of the Kaiser’s military attaches gave himself away. He went well out of his way for a shave.”

Winter closed his eyes. When he opened them again, a resigned smile lifted one corner of his mouth. “What happens now?”

Mallory had men outside waiting to take Winter into custody and turn his home and salon inside out. Faced with the man’s quiet acceptance, it didn’t seem right. He couldn’t let Winter escape, but… Mallory took a breath. “I could… give you a few moments alone to…”

Mallory braced himself as Winter came close, but Winter only stroked the back of his hand down Mallory’s left cheek as if he was checking his handiwork.

“I’m ready to accept the consequences for my actions, Captain Mallory. The times have made us enemies.”

Mallory looked into Winter’s eyes and memorised the flecks of silver in the deep blue. “For now.”

Jeff Baker: “Eric’s Buddy” A Deep Dive into “That 70s Show’s” Gayest Episode

A brand new insight into an unusual episode of an old US comedy show. As Jeff himself says, “Just in case you never saw it: “That 70s Show” was an American sitcom about a bunch of friends hanging out and smoking weed in the 1970s in the fictional Point Place, Wisconsin.” It was first aired in 1998 and ran for eight seasons, but the gay character that was planned for the show never fully materialised… And we m/m fans can dream about Jeff’s final sentence!


Pic credit: usmagazine.com

“So, she’s like your girlfriend?”

            “I dunno. I dunno.”

            “It’s okay to be confused, Eric.”

            Eric Forman isn’t confused, but he is a little naive. Okay, he’s a lot naive.

            We won’t be naive as we go for a deep dive into “Eric’s Buddy,” the eleventh episode of “That 70s Show,” written by Philip Stark, which introduced a Gay character who was supposed to be a series regular. But it didn’t happen that way.

            Buddy Morgan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a somehow unspoiled rich kid who goes to the same high school as Eric and his friends. Buddy and Eric meet when they are assigned to be lab partners in science class. He has a snazzy new car that Eric admires and soon they are riding around and hanging out to the dismay of Eric’s other friends who are dismayed that he seems to be neglecting them. There is a fun montage of the two of them palling around in Point Place with the “Best Friend” song from “Courtship of Eddie’s Father” playing in the background. It is implied that Buddy does not get along with the rest of the gang who hang out in Eric’s basement, as they can be jerks sometimes. A fact Eric actually acknowledges.

            It is while parked and sipping sodas that Eric begins to talk about his relationship with his sort-of-girlfriend Donna and Buddy misunderstands and tries to take their relationship a step further by leaning over and kissing Eric there in the front seat. Eric’s panicky reaction presents a wonderful bit of physical comedy from Grace which was not well-received by the LGBT community at the time but which comes off as very human and very funny at the same time as he registers utter shock at the kiss he didn’t see coming.

            This leads to Eric showing up in the basement hangout and making a big deal out of being straight while trying not to let on that he’s just been kissed on the lips by a guy.

            The scene is plain old hilarious. Especially Kelso (the underrated Ashton Kutcher) and his vain assurance that any Gay guy would first make a pass at him!

            We never learn Fez’s real name, let alone where he’s from but he is the one of Eric’s friends who realizes that Buddy is Gay, even before Eric tells anybody. This leaves us with some implications, some of them rather dark. First off is that probably Fez has been around enough Gays in his young life to put the clues together. Secondly is the very dark implication that the very good-looking Fez (who is straight) had a few Gay sexual experiences in his home country, maybe even some forcibly. This is a very dark speculation which goes against the general pot-fueled merriment of the show and it is unspoken, but it is there.

            It all leads to a well-played scene between Grace and Gordon-Levitt in the school parking lot where Eric asks Buddy timidly “Why…me?” Buddy’s response is wonderful: he likes Eric for probably the same reasons that Donna does. During this scene we get the feeling that Eric has really never imagined himself as the romantic lead in anyone’s story. The two of them realize that they can still be good friends.

            “Eric’s Buddy” caused some controversy among fans, which was probably ginned-up by the conservative right in those early days of the internet who opposed any appearance of any positive Gay character.

            For whatever reason, Buddy Morgan never appeared or was mentioned on the show again. But Gay viewers can speculate that he was always there, just outside the scene and didn’t get along with Eric’s other friends and he and Eric kept up a largely platonic friendship. Probably. But maybe Eric realized he wasn’t as straight as he thought he was, even though he was in love with Donna. Remember, the producers brought Buddy in as a potential “love interest,” so who knows?

            In the episodes where he and Donna split up, maybe Eric sought refuge in Buddy’s arms?

Jay Mountney: Le Manoir

It’s Jay’s turn to feature this week, with a delightful story with elements of The Secret Garden that was inspired by Le Bois des Moutiers near Dieppe in France. Here the house was indeed designed by Edwin Lutyens and the garden by Gertrude Jekyll and the picture shows just how lovely it is. I’d quite like to spend an hour on a bench here too!


Henri was dubious about accepting the invitation in the first place. The Oyster Festival was not something that appealed to him. Oysters didn’t appeal to him at all, except as the source of pearls, which he had always loved. He had been given some pearl cuff links for his eighteenth birthday but rarely had a chance to wear them. Formal attire was not the fashion among his friends.

He came to Le Manoir in the end, not to enjoy the oysters but to luxuriate in the Lutyens house with its strange chimneys, unexpected windows and rooms that were somehow organic rather than constructed. However, he found himself uncomfortable.

When he saw the festival advertised he immediately thought, not of oysters and revelry, but of architecture and beauty. Now, in the middle of it all, he was not so sure.

The other guests were all paired off, not necessarily with the same partner each afternoon or evening but in a definite, decadent sequence of semi-affaires from which Henri felt excluded. Miranda, he knew, would have included him and made numerous advances. Michael, on the other hand, was apparently not interested. Last night Henri tried to work out from the noises of opening and closing doors just who was where and when. He thought Miranda consoled herself with Michael but was not quite sure of the layout of the bedrooms. He hoped he was wrong. Michael deserved better than Miranda even if those deserts did not include Henri.

He found himself retreating from the house, seeking his own consolation in the garden. Gertrude Jekyll designed it around the building, extending the experience into formal outdoor rooms, constrained by immaculate hedges, presenting intriguing views of the structure from outdoors and in turn providing glimpses of flowers and shrubs from those beautiful window alcoves.

Each garden room had a different theme, the planting focussed on a type of flower or a particular colour. Sometimes there were carefully concealed statues or tiny fountains. Sometimes there was topiary or a glorious bed of trailing roses that echoed the ones climbing the man-made walls. The rooms were alive, too, with lazy insects humming and hidden birds making music.

He found a plain wooden bench placed among sweet lavender and facing the morning sun. His book lay unopened on the dark slats as he closed his eyes and drank in the warmth. The quietness, intense despite the natural sounds, soothed him; he tired quickly of the strident voices speaking English and French and other tongues too loud and too fast. He thought at first that it was just by evening that the strain was almost insupportable but this morning at breakfast he wanted to run out of the room, his head swimming with noise, all languages sounding alien and impossible.

Then he was aware of a shadow falling across him and looked up. Michael was standing there, a hesitant but hopeful expression in his grey eyes.

‘May I join you? Or do you want to be alone here?’

Henri gestured to the other half of the seat and moved his book. He felt tongue-tied; it was one thing to fantasise about Michael, another to share the sunshine with him in the privacy of the lavender and the irises. They sat in silence for a few moments then Michael sighed.

‘I love the garden. I thought I would love the house, but…’

‘Moi aussi.’ Henri’s English deserted him. His understanding was suddenly no longer backed by an ability to speak.

‘Out here,’ Michael continued, ‘I feel at peace.’ He glanced at his companion. ‘I think we have a lot in common, you and I.’ Henri nodded. There didn’t seem to be a need to answer. He listened to the bees buzzing in the flower bed and relaxed for the first time that weekend.

‘We should, of course, go back indoors for lunch,’ Michael pointed out with mock severity.

‘Pour les huitres,’ Henri agreed, solemnly, and then they grinned at each other. ‘Mais nous avons une heure et…’

‘And in any case, the oysters can wait,’ said Michael. ‘But this, I think, can not.’ And he twisted sideways, enabling himself to encircle Henri’s shoulders with a confident arm. ‘I’m glad I found your retreat.’ And after that there was no need for words.