Banned books: queer books under attack

The US is continuing to ban LGBTQ+ books from schools and public libraries in an assault on queer literature. A report by PEN America shows that in the 2022/23 school year, over 1,500 books were removed from public access.

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Queer characters in books: How to ensure authenticity

Having queer characters in books can be a powerful tool for authenticity and representation for readers, but it’s important to ensure that these characters are accurately portrayed. Queer characters should not be tokenised or used as a plot device, but rather should be fully developed and three-dimensional characters. By ensuring authenticity in your queer characters, you can help create a more inclusive world for readers.

What makes a character queer?

When it comes to queerness, there are many factors that can contribute. For some, it might be how they dress or the way they act. It could be how they express themselves or who they choose to love. Ultimately, what makes someone queer is up to them and no one else.

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There are plenty of misconceptions about what it means to be queer and often people try to put others into boxes that they don’t fit. But queerness is fluid and ever-changing and there is no one right way to be queer.

For many people, queerness is a way of life and a part of their identity. It’s something that is always with them, no matter what anyone else says. And that’s perfectly okay.

The importance of authenticity in LGBTQ+ representation

When it comes to LGBTQ+ representation in the media, authenticity is key. It’s vitally important that the stories and portrayals we see of queer people are accurate and reflect the real lives of queer people. This is why it’s so important that LGBTQ+ creators be involved in the creation of LGBTQ+ content. They can ensure that stories are true to life and that they reflect the diversity of the queer community.

This is especially important when it comes to stories that explore queer romance and relationships. Too often, queer relationships are portrayed in a negative or stereotypical way. This can be damaging and harmful to the queer community. It can send the message that queer relationships are somehow wrong or inferior to straight relationships. Authentic queer representation can help to counter these harmful messages and show the world that queer relationships are just as valid and worthy of respect as any other kind of relationship.

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Tips for writing and editing queer characters

When writing queer characters, it’s important to keep in mind the following tips:

  1. Queer characters must be written with care and authenticity.
  2. Avoid stereotypes and clichés.
  3. Make sure queer characters are well-rounded and three-dimensional.
  4. Write the character’s story, not yours.
  5. Seek feedback from other queer writers.
  6. Be willing to do revisions.
  7. Have patience and be open to feedback.
  8. Be proud of your work.

Examples of authentic queer characters in fiction

There are a number of examples of authentic queer characters in fiction, many of which are groundbreaking and trailblazing in their own ways. One example is the character of Turing in the novel The Imitation Game. Turing is a gay man who is struggling to come to terms with his sexuality at a time when it was taboo and carries a lot of shame. He is also a brilliant mathematician and code-breaker, which leads him to work on the Enigma project for the British government during World War II. Turing is a complex and fascinating character, and his story is an important one.

Another example of a queer character in fiction is Captain Jack Harkness from the Doctor Who and Torchwood TV series. Jack is a bisexual man who is confident and flirtatious, and isn’t afraid to express his desires. He is also a skilled fighter and a valuable member of the team. Jack is a well-loved character and his bisexuality is never portrayed as negative.

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There are also a number of queer YA characters who are breaking barriers and making a difference. One example is the character of Lynn in the novel Divergent. Lynn is a lesbian character who is strong and determined, and she isn’t afraid to stand up for what she believes in. She is an important role model for young queer people, and her story is inspiring.

These are just a few examples of the many authentic queer characters in fiction. They are all unique and complex individuals, and their stories are worth reading.

Queer characters in books can play a powerful role in creating a more inclusive world for readers. By ensuring authenticity in your queer characters, you can help readers see themselves reflected in the stories they read.

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OED adds new LGBTQ+ terms

As writers and editorial professionals, we know that language is always evolving and changing. A dictionary is not to be used as a rule book but as a reflection of how words are used. This year, the Oxford English Dictionary has added many LGBTQ+ terms to it’s list.

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Guest post: Join me in starting an LGBTQ+ group

Publishing success

I’ve been self-publishing gay non-fiction books for a while now and in the past six years I have had some success. My books sell regularly without too much effort from me and each month I am amazed at the royalties that come through. However, with the three-month time lag between a sale and the royalty payment, it is often hard to know if sales peek at any particular time due to an appearance on a podcast or a piece of social media engagement or if it is just people searching for the topics I write about.

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I do not make a fortune by any means, or even a living, come to that, through my writing, but when I look back, I can see the upward trajectory. We all know it is a slow long haul and is often a very lonely endeavour, writing, publishing and marketing by yourself.

I have good contacts in the LGBTQ+ community and when we work together it always feels like we are making a change for good, but in between times and, particularly in the depths of winter, I feel it is all so hard and takes up so much energy, time and resources. Putting a strain on my mental health to the point that I question, is it all worthwhile? Of course, even if one person picks up one of my books and realises they are not alone in their sexuality and finds some solace and perhaps hope through my books, then my job is done. But I need to feel I am doing better at this than I am. Does this sound familiar?

Starting a group

Early on in my writing career I started a group for writers who wanted to self-publish but didn’t know how to go about that. The idea was simple – the group, with all its different and varied talents, would help each other to reach their collective and individual goals by sharing their expertise and experience.

It was very successful, but after two years, I felt I had gone as far as I could with it, and I wanted to move into gay non-fiction.

Could such a group for like-minded LGBTQ+ people interested in writing and publishing, particularly non-fiction, work just as well?

I miss the camaraderie, support and encouragement a collaborative band of individuals with the same mindset and goals can bring when they boost and help one another, creating new projects, new dialogue and new possibilities.

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Who I’m looking for

With this in mind, are you a LGBTQ+ podcaster, editor, proofreader, writer, journalist, independent bookshop owner, theatre person or perhaps a film maker, vlogger or blogger who’d like to connect with others in our tribe?

Let’s start the conversation. Let’s band together and really support each other through the lows and highs, and get our voices heard by a wider audience.

Get in touch

Email me DavidLedain@hotmail.com or DM me on Twitter, Insta, FB or Linkedin @davidledain

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Guest blog: Tone policing

As writers, how long do we spend, any of us, second-guessing what an imagined reader, our imagined audience, will think of our words? There’s writer’s paranoia – do my words work, will anyone like them, can I do this – the classic that leads to over (or under) writing sex scenes (what would my parents think?) Then there’s a whole other layer that queer writers face.

Queer writer’s paranoia

More writerly paranoia you say? More? Oh yes, more. There’s a logic behind it though, or at least reasons. Some are to do with the industry, big picture things, but there’s a more fundamental creative brake I see in my writing and the words people present for editing, mentoring, at workshops. Experience.

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So, let me take you on a night out. There’s too much gin for there to be words, though I will come to write of the night later, it’s a visceral night, a night of performers, glitter and, perhaps, a little excess. The dancefloor is full, the stairway is a swirling current of ascending and descending smokers. Everywhere, from bar to stage, there are friends, acquaintances, recognition in mirrors and dry ice. Hedonistic, unfiltered. Queer. The last queer night in town, an elegiac, unfiltered, farewell.

Why is that relevant? Well, the thing that night that came up repeatedly as we reflected in corners of its imminent demise was why we valued it. We didn’t tone police ourselves, didn’t worry about our presentation or partner or think about who was near, we just were… Now, whether you’re provocative and ramp things up or if you seek to fade into the background, we are always aware, to some extent, daily in every ordinary interaction, without thinking, of this second-nature response to the possibility of negative reaction. Why would our writing be different?

Self-policing

I know I have policed myself. I’ve edited out the messy bits, the sexy bits. The messy-sexy bits behind Kwik Fit. The queer bits. I’ve created gay characters who are gay but somehow chaste, and I think, how? Why? Why did that happen? How did they become so beige between imagination and page? I was policing my words, bleaching them of a little colour, brushing the glitter beneath the keyboard, turning away so every tryst was chaste. Why? Other – feared and imaginary – people. In my head, oh, the things that were happening… On the page – another coffee.

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Going to a queer writing workshop really helped me in confronting this. I did one recently organised by Colchester Pride with the poet James McDermott leading it. We worked on breaking the rules, on queering the writing, on breaking free of the expectations of what poetry, of what our words should be. To stop worrying about the imposition of form, structure, content, after all, who – what – has imposed those concepts? That’s not to say any collection of words is poetic, but it is useful in reflecting on how we squash ourselves into linguistic boxes. It’s made me more aware of the rules I’m breaking, more reflective of why I’m choosing not to perform this poem, and made my narrative voice the focus of my writing rather than conjuring up a phantom reader.

Words flowing onto the page

So, there you are, that sentence is starting to flow, the words are flooding from your fingers, there’s a flooding cataract of ideas spilling onto the page, when, ahh! What if my mum reads this? You stop. Make a coffee. Freak out a little. Retire to Twitter. Return later, splash the page with euphemisms and elaborate metaphors. Yes, Mum, it’s sex, but it’s literary sex. Cup of tea?

As a queer writer, there are so many metaphorical mums out there. The one-day reader, prospective publishers, your editor… What will they think? I should tone that down, soften the edges of that and make it a little more palatable. After all, what would a straight person think? What? A straight person? Yes, because we carry them in our heads as silent critics, arbiters of the popular, successful or publishable.

It’s taken me a long time, but that whispering critic of conventions is less imposing for me now.

Breaking the mould

As a writer I want to break things. Binaries mainly (although that’s not just in my writing). But also conventions, roles and expectations. I’m writing a queer novel with nine main characters, without a clear love interest, with an eighty-five-year-old protagonist. Sex. Lots of that. Different approaches to style depending on the character, omniscient (except where it’s not), and with lots of swearing – because really, who doesn’t? I worry permanently about whether this is too niche, but it’s my story, one that’s taken a lot to develop, and I’m in love with all those beautiful messy queers sprawling their lives across my pages. That is the key thing.

Similarly, I’ve learnt not to self-police in performance. I used to look at my audience and think, oh dear, I won’t do that poem today. Yet, when I did, because those are my most authentic words, that poem is exactly the one gaining the strongest reaction – from all parts of the audience.

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Free yourself

In workshops, as with writers who trust me with their manuscripts, what I’m always keen to see and encourage is a clear and honest voice. If you’re self-editing to fit in, it’s always so apparent, there’s a limiter on the writing, it can’t breathe. That’s true regardless of your identity, but I see it so often with queer writers especially. Think carefully, when are you able to express yourself best? When you’re being circumspect in a formal setting or when you’re in a comfortable conversation? That’s where your best writing needs to be, in comfortable dialogue, your narrative voice curled up in an intense exclusive tête-à- tête with your reader. To do that you need to free yourself from the tone police.

I say, and this is as a reader, writer, editor and performer: make it queer! Break those walls. Ignore what ought to be, fill your writing with a really strong voice and your writing will be so much more powerfully resonant for it – and have a bigger audience too – because stifling your voice never leads to better writing. I’m going to write about chaos, joy and shagging at three a.m. and perform poems about ill-advised moments because that’s where my art takes me – and what, actually, my audience loves.

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Books for World Aids Day

In the past, Aids was often represented in fiction as a death sentence. But with the introduction of new treatments and the success of prevention efforts, Aids is no longer an automatic death sentence. As a result, Aids has been largely absent from popular culture for decades.

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The media representation of HIV/Aids has been changing over time. In the 1980s and 1990s, there were many TV shows that would portray HIV/AIDS as a death sentence. However, with new treatments and prevention efforts coming out in recent years, AIDS is not always a death sentence anymore. This shift has left the media to portray AIDS in different ways than it did before.

Here are a selection of books for World Aids Day, to increase your understanding of HIV/Aids.


Let the Record Show

ACT UP were the most important activists of a generation, a movement that changed the course of the AIDS epidemic. The ACT UP story has been told largely from the perspective of white, cisgender gay men. Sarah Shulman’s new account – 20 years in the making – demonstrates that ACT UP’s success was the result of a much wider, and unlikely coalition of activists across gender identity, sexuality, race, age and socioeconomic backgrounds. An necessary corrective, Let the Record Show, is also a handbook for radical action.


When we rise

When We Rise is Jones’ account of his remarkable life. He chronicles the heartbreak of losing countless friends to AIDS, which very nearly killed him, too; his co-founding of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation during the terrifying early years of the epidemic; his conception of the AIDS Memorial Quilt, the largest community art project in history; the bewitching story of 1970s San Francisco and the magnetic spell it cast for thousands of young gay people and other misfits; and the harrowing, sexy, and sometimes hilarious stories of Cleve’s passionate relationships with friends and lovers during an era defined by both unprecedented freedom and possibility, and prejudice and violence alike.


The Great Believers

If reading a sweeping history feels too daunting, you might want to pick up The Great Believers instead. In this beautiful novel, Rebecca Makkai tells a story about the AIDS crisis through the intimate stories of one group of friends. In 1985, Yale, a young man working for a Chicago art gallery, tries to keep his life together as he watches his friends die. In 2015, Fiona, the sister of one of Yale’s deceased friends, travels to Paris, searching for her missing daughter. Makai masterfully weaves these two stories together, exploring how pain of the AIDS crisis continues to reverberate today.


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Support for HIV/Aids

Local and national charities and organisations can provide help and support for people living with, or worried about, HIV/Aids.

More books?

Know of any books that should be featured here? Let me know in the comments below!

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Guest blog: Taking the leap

Taking a big leap

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I took my big leap in March 2021. I jotted down the first notes for a bisexual homicide detective who had been pushing hard at the limits of my headspace. It was an unforgettable moment. Why a bi detective in the Seattle Police Department? Bisexuality is largely underrepresented, and in cultural society there are few positive roles. Often, a character who identifies as – or is “shown” to be – bisexual is typically shrouded in maniacal mystery, seeking sex-ravaged romps, or, at worst, cast as disturbed serial killers. I mean, if you’re a serial killer, it makes immoral sense that you’re also bisexual, right? 

I’m a gay man but realise I’m clueless about what bi people experience or face in a binary world where black or white, up or down, this or that – male or female, gay or straight – dominates the discourse. I set out to find out more. Since my protagonist is a bi male, I limited my interviews to bi men from the US to the UK. Each was very generous with their time, sharing intimate portrayals of their lives, thoughts, fears, joys, and anxieties.

Plotting

From there, the framework for plot and story took shape, and before long, I was immersed in months of other research from Seattle history to the intricacies of the city’s police department to taking a firearms class. The latter was definitely creepy, but I needed to know what it felt like to hold and fire a gun. I wasn’t crafting a bobby in England.

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From accounting to writing

I’m not new to writing and have penned articles, columns and books in different genres. But my creative expression always took a back seat to a very different career. Accounting. Makes me yawn just typing the letters. Rather than commit to my talent – and happiness – I became devoted to the comforts afforded me by a steady, well-salaried job. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. I was good in the field and it served me well. Just four months after giving myself permission to pay attention to my protagonist, that was it. I didn’t wake up planning to leave that career on that day, but I had so clearly reached the end of a long and dusty road.

Here’s how I know it was the right decision.

Time evaporates

I poured myself into learning the craft of writing fiction. Taking classes, joining groups, talking with authors, reading even more books. And writing, writing, writing. I rarely tired and never looked back. I was in the zone, a space I rarely experienced in a-c-c-o-u-n-t-i-n-g. OMG – I need a nap.

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Joy is unmistakable

When the creative flow in me wants to be unleashed, it finds a way out even if it’s years in the making. Finding the right word, turning the phrase, adding a twist to character or plot fills me with excitement and intrigue.

Commitment

After many years ignoring a creative life, I have a level of commitment that carries me through every day. I spend time building a creative community, surrounding myself with successful authors – or editors or agents – and am not afraid to reach out. I used to feel like I was a burden to successful creative people. No longer. I may be at the beginning of this mysterious new journey, but I want to learn from those who’ve gone before me and share what I’ve learned along the path.

Concrete plans

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The biggest reason I know the decision to leave a steady career was right? I have solid plans. My debut is in the hands of a developmental editor. At the ready are synopses, pitches, loglines and queries. Agents and publishers who I feel are a good fit have been identified for submission. Notes for the second book in the series have already leapt onto the page, and I imagine the opening scenes for books down the line. I love expanding my platform.

I feel worthy

The most important piece of this entire puzzle is that I finally feel worthy of a second career as a traditionally published author. I envision the success and acknowledge how my soul dances when I’m writing or plotting or letting my mind drift in creative thought. 

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Am I afraid of taking such a big leap? Sometimes. An invigorated soul has its off days after all. When I give one too many minutes to the idea that material comforts can only be the fruits of a right-brained career. When I think I’m too old to start a new journey. When, on those frustrating days where no words come, I tell myself I’m in over my head. Frankly, it’s when I reach these upper limit problems that I’m able to say out loud, “That’s nothing more than bullshit.” 

Gay Hendricks warns that all kinds of obstacles will emerge as we dare to leave our prefabricated boundaries. Fear, anxiety, doubt. Old stories about who we can be or cannot be as told to us by family, friends or “well-meaning” teachers. Accidents happen, sickness prowls. If faced with any of these while initiating – or even contemplating – a big leap, take some time to dig deeper and ask: Have I pressed against a stale idea about who I am, an ill-perceived upper limit? Has illness come to remind me of my place inside that old box?

It’s up to each of us in the creative community to wrestle with these and other questions of genius. Of course, Hendricks also says such events may not be obstacles at all – it could just be an old-fashioned cold. Regardless, take a look. See what wants to be thrust into the light. That’s where I’m at.

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Green editing

Energy use

Energy use. Environmental considerations.

Energy is key to our working life. Throughout the day, I use lighting, heating (I do live in the UK!) and plenty of electricity. I recognise the need to keep this to a minimum, using heating only when needed and setting devices into eco and power saving modes.

At the end of the day, I make sure to switch off and unplug devices to save energy and make sure that the impact of my energy use is minimised.

Printed materials

Printed materials. Environmental considerations.

Working with books, it’s inevitable that I will have to deal with paper! However, generally speaking I don’t need to work with printed materials, working on screen instead.

When I do print, things need to be printed because they are for repeated use, on recycled and recyclable paper. Where possible, I can minimise my paper use by printing double sided and/or use multiple pages per sheet.

I need to further investigate recyclable inks and ink cartridges.

Transport and travel

Transport and travel. Environmental considerations.

I mostly work from home, so there are no daily transport considerations. However, when needed – for networking events, client meetings or editorial conferences, for example – I cycle, use public transport options or, as a last resort, share travelling with others.

Digital storage

Digital storage. Environmental considerations.

Servers and cloud storage all come with an environmental cost. To minimise this impact, I endeavour to store as little as possible in cloud servers and send emails only when needed.

I’m am unaware of my email client and web hosting’s environmental policy and I will definitely need to explore this further.

Other considerations

Other environmental considerations.

There are lots to think about when running a business conscious of the environmental impact it is having. How my work intersects with others, for instance, is one thing that I need to do further work on.

  • Banking and financial services
  • Internet providers
  • Publishers and other corporate clients

As I learn more, I will keep you updated. Download a PDF copy of my environmental policy here.

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Guest blog: Self-transformation

Northie is the pen name of a non-binary writer based in the English West Midlands. They came to writing late, but haven’t looked back since. In this guest post, they look at the self-transformative effect of writing.

Us as writers

When we write, some element of our personalities, our being, makes an appearance on every page.

An acerbic sense of humour, a particular political viewpoint, a tendency to waffle, or maybe, more subtly, a story and its characters filtered through a particular worldview.

Our worldview. Yours. Mine.

It’s that sense of self and where we fit in. How we regard what goes on around us, our hopes and aspirations. 

On a journey

Now consider writing as part of a journey to discover who you are. I don’t mean this in the sense of tracing your family tree or musing on the results of a “where do I come from” DNA test. Rather, imagine setting out as an author, unsure of why you’re putting pencil to (digital) paper and definitely without that settled personal worldview. 

It’s tricky. Unsettling, in both good and bad ways.

How do I know? 

Because this is my story. How efforts to understand myself informed my writing and how in turn, writing became a catalyst to self-knowledge.

It’s taken me a long time to know myself. Most of my adult life, in fact. 

How writing fits into this journey is something I find fascinating.

The need to write

Up until six years ago, I never had an urge to write. I read, yes, but there was no itch, no sense of an unfulfilled destiny, at all. My leisure-time pursuits revolved mostly around making music. In 2015, things with my employer changed. Faced with a variety of unpalatable options, I decided to reduce my hours. Did I know what I was going to do with the extra time? No. Well, sort of. Maybe?

close up view of an old typewriter
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I imagine plenty of people choose this course with only a wishlist in mind. Some will make their change of circumstances a success. Others won’t. Me? Well, I’m not the most self-motivated individual around. One downside of living alone is the lack of someone else to give you that initial shove or hold you to your fantasies.

That first winter passed without any of my supposed plans being put into operation. Learning French – why? An Open University course – too expensive. Editing – really? I did spend more time online – no surprise there – and for the first time tried to make sense of me. Who I am.

However, it’s very difficult to search for something when you don’t know what it is; when you lack both language and concept to describe who you are or how you feel.

Finding belonging

I’ve never belonged. That’s hardly a unique statement. Numerous people experience this, whether because of external prejudice or internal turmoil. For me, it was knowing, at a basic, unspoken level, that I lived life on the outside. Being a teen at school and not taking part in the gossip, petty rivalries, or the inevitable pairing rituals — loving, breaking up, and loving again. 

Growing up in 1970’s Northumberland, I was sexually ignorant in a way I hope is almost extinct nowadays. Even so, I imagine instinct would’ve taken over if things had been straightforward. They weren’t though. At university, my attempts at a relationship were killed off by crippling anxiety. Neither of us broached the reasons why. Looking back, it boiled down to did I fancy an individual for the right reasons? Whatever they may be. The question itself is a much later product of my current self-awareness.

Does that sound weird? Young people can be so aware of themselves today. The internet, information at school, parents who communicate on an emotional level – they all help to create a space in which it is possible to fully know yourself. The early 1980s, on the other hand, meant, even at university, I wasn’t aware of anything outside the cis-het norm. The fact I went from one small town to another – Aberystwyth – for university didn’t help.

A subsequent move to Birmingham didn’t change anything. Brum has a thriving, highly-visible queer community. Even in peak Section 28 times, they were there. Was I in denial? No. Profound ignorance. Confusion. Isolation. But not denial – that suggests I knew who I am now and chose to turn away.

Much later, when I changed to part-time working in 2015, I felt more at ease with myself. This had been a slow, intermittent process achieved without speaking to family, friends, or health professionals or counsellors. And yet the central question remained unanswered. The easing was very far from complete.

Finding community

I joined Gay Authors in March 2016. Although GA is primarily a story site, it also has a friendly, active community. It was this social aspect that drew me in, along with the reading. I still couldn’t have told you why queer spaces attracted me or why they seemed the right place to be. I didn’t even regard myself as queer. 

Again, I was an outsider, lacking a label and the means to select one. 

Although GA quieted some of my frustrations, others grew. Looking back, it was seeing the fruits of other people’s creativity grow and blossom that really got to me. I contributed in minor ways, but I wasn’t an author.

One of my new friends asked the question, Why didn’t I write? I can’t now find the actual exchange, but here’s my part of a later conversation:

The piece of grit [about writing] you managed to insinuate into my head is still there, niggling away at my mind. I don’t know whether I should thank or curse you… I’ve managed to resist so far and now the weather’s much cooler, I’ll be able to find other things to do to drown out its siren call. When Should I get round to tackling something, I’ll be your proverbial puppy bringing you some execrable offering for which I’ll expect a pat on the head and praise! You nearly got me saying ‘when’ in that last sentence…

I seem to recall this concerned writing verse rather than prose. Here’s part of my friend’s reply:

Good. I am glad that tiny bit of grit is insinuated deep down, like the sand in the oyster that generates the pearl. And of course, I too am a puppy, we all are. So what?

The writing bug

This dear, dear, sensible friend not only infected me with the writing bug but has accompanied me throughout. 

Poetry quickly gave way to short stories. At first, fantastical and often humorous, these stories generally settled down to something more like my current style.

Story ideas can come from anywhere – a prompt, a photo, a conversation, or a news item. The germ for the novel that’s featured nearly all my time as a writer came about when the principal character presented himself in my head one day and demanded his story be told.

I obeyed.

My hero

Maybe you imagine my hero to be the young, beautiful man that so many novelists use as their default. You know the sort, with their glamorous or dangerous occupation, few money worries, and a passionate, swoon-worthy love affair. The answer? Err… no. Eric Whitehouse is an older guy – retired, lonely, impoverished, and living out an existence in rural Herefordshire. Laughably, I only realised just how antithetical he was when I started to post the first 16 chapters on GA and got the sort of reader comments that marvelled I’d chosen to write Eric’s story.

Is Eric me? No.

There are elements of me in him. There are elements of me in all my principal characters. Where Eric and I come together, really together, is in our joint exploration of what it means to be queer. His, out on the page; mine, more privately. Eric is a cis, older gay man who opens up about his queerness for the first time. A major plot arc across the entire novel is how this journey affects Eric and those around him. For me to function as his chronicler, I had to fully open my eyes to the diverse, multi-faceted world we live in.

This was a gradual process. A learning process. A process of reorientating myself.

The three parts of Eric’s story have taken me five and a half years to write. Posting each tranche on GA as it was completed means the story clearly follows my development both as a writer and as a queer individual. Taking what there is and making it into one homogeneous novel is going to be a task for this winter and well beyond. It is instructive though to look back.

In the first book, I don’t get much past Eric and the gay volunteer social worker he’s paired with. Andy is rather closer to the stereotypical hero; his fiancé, Adam, possibly more so. Even this meant involving myself in the queer online world – getting a real sense of people, the issues, and most importantly, absorbing the language.

Getting better

unrecognizable eccentric person with orange hair and bright makeup
Photo by Kamaji Ogino on Pexels.com

The second volume of Eric’s tale started posting in January, 2019. Both in this and my other writing from the time, I made a conscious effort to widen my palette of characters. It frustrates and worries me that there’s still so much commercial queer fiction out there that concentrates solely on white, cis, gay men. This hetero-influenced orthodoxy appears to be the extent of their queer universe. If one of these authors is feeling brave, maybe they’ll add in some poorly-understood bdsm or make a character somewhat less than masc.

Am I looking down from a position of moral superiority? 

Absolutely not. Been there, done that. Fortunately, I learned quickly and moved on. For example, I’m white. I would hesitate many times over whether to include a principal character from a non-white background. It’s too far from my experience. That hasn’t stopped me from employing recurring characters from other backgrounds though. Enough to acknowledge that queer colour diversity not only exists, but needs to be represented. It’s not difficult to do.

Connections

However, I still didn’t fully understand my connection to the characters I wrote about. How could I, when I didn’t understand myself. Why did it feel right to explore queer lives over those of their straight counterparts?

This changed almost in the blink of an eye.

One morning in the summer of 2019, I was sitting at home, minding my own business, when a thought popped into my head. Not a question or a proposition or a “What shall I do today” but simply a statement. A statement which answered so many questions. 

I’d found my centre. My worldview.

Change

Did everything change around me? No. First off, it took several weeks to get my head around being genderqueer. Next, although I’m out to varying degrees in writing arenas and social media, I’m not otherwise. At least, not with any particular label. 

So, did this mean my writing changed as well? Yes, and no. 

As far as Eric went, I could hardly change him or the other major characters in the third volume without repudiating what I’d posted previously. What it did mean was a deeper, more visceral understanding of difference. Of not fitting in. And it allowed me to further refine my depictions of other, less prominent, queer characters.

Shaken

Elsewhere, I wrote Shaken (https://gayauthors.org/story/northie/shaken/), a novelette with a major non-binary character. This posted only a few months after my self-revelation. It’s a different story and one that sparked a lot of comment on GA, all of it respectful. However, the use of ‘tranvestite’ and ‘cross-dresser’ as terms to describe that non-binary character’s choices. were, to me at least, disappointing and out-dated. I’m a newbie to the queer universe. Maybe other people have things to do with there lives apart from keeping up with appropriate uses of language.

With the first version of Eric’s story complete, my current project also has a starring role for a genderqueer character. Some three years into my new understanding, this character has more depth. They’re also making me examine myself. Question myself. 

As I said at the start, this is tricky, and again, occasionally unsettling. But this time, the writing comes out of knowing who I am. My new-found worldview gives it confidence. These are vital differences. 

For me, writing and self-knowledge are inextricably entwined. Without the first, I doubt I would have ever achieved the second. 

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The 2022 Polari Prize Winners

And the winner is …

The winners of the 2022 Polari Prize book awards for queer literature have been announced at a fabulous event at the British Library.

I said in my reviews of the books, that all the shortlisted books had the feeling of being hopeful and optimistic about queer futures. And it seems that the judges were looking for that in their final choices.

Deep Sniff by Adam Zmith, Nen and the Lonely Fisherman by Ian Eagleton and James Mayhew and C+nto & Othered Poems by Jeolle Taylor
  • Children’s and YA Prize: Nen and the Lonely Fisherman, by Ian Eagleton and James Mayhew, published by Owlet Press
  • First Book Prize: Deep Sniff, by Adam Zmith, published by Repeater Books
  • Polari Book Prize: C+nto & Othered Poems, by Joelle Taylor, published by Westbourne Press

Nen and the Lonely Fisherman

Ian Eagleton and James Mayhew’s beautiful picture book won the inaugural children’s and YA book prize. Merman Nen ventures to the world above and meets Ernest, a lonely fisherman in a retelling of The Little Mermaid.

The story is innovative and moving, and the artwork truly stunning.

Jodie Lancet-Grant, judge

Click here to buy Nen and the Lonely Fisherman on Amazon.

Deep Sniff

I said in my review that Adam Zmith’s writing was so effortless and easy it’s hard not to want to read this tale. Adam’s acceptance speech, after a hit of the very subject of the book, poppers, was fun, witty and raw.

Witty, well researched and ground breaking book which honours our queer past while also looking to the future.

Paul Burston, founder of the Polari Prize

Click here to buy Deep Sniff on Amazon.

The winners on stage

C+nto & Othered Poems

Joelle Taylor’s collection of poems reflects her amazing personality so well. In the briefest of encounters at the awards night, it was abundantly clear where the strong voice of the poetry comes from.

The poems comes from a place of protest and queer London life; a statement of butch lesbian life.

Taylor has a “Midas touch with words”

Diana Souhami, who won the 2021 prize and was a judge this year

Click here to buy C+nto from Amazon.

Celebrating queer books

It was a wonderful evening, celebrating some fabulous queer books. All the books shortlisted deserved their place and it must have been very difficult for the judges to choose the winners of the 2022 Polari Prize book awards.

I’m very grateful to the Polari Prize for sending me copies of the shortlisted books and it has been wonderful to read, review and support these amazing awards.

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