• A Nightingale
    In The Sycamore

    The moment Nick laid eyes on Dan, standing on a frozen school rugby pitch; he fell in love with him. For Nick, there was only ever Dan. For years Nick kept his love locked inside, never dreaming that Dan could feel the same way.

    Read More
  • The Shadow Of
    Your Wings

    In a stunning debut novel, Tim Bairstow takes us on an unflinching and forensically observed journey in to the darkest recesses of the Church, laying bare the hypocrisy, deceit, self-delusion and damaged lives that lay behind the glittering image.

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  • What Do You Want For Christmas

    Achingly nostalgic and acutely observed, Tim Bairstow's highly acclaimed second novel is by turns sexy, poignant and hilarious. 'What Do You Want for Christmas' strikes deep emotional chords for anyone who has ever been young and in love and not just at Christmas!

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  • Cloven

    Thought provoking and tense, passionate and hugely sexy, Tim Bairstow's latest novel is another compelling addition to British gay romantic fiction.

    Read More
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Calling Octopus In Interflammatary Pants!

I heard it again recently. It was on a TV advert, for what I can't actually remember, and I alarmed my partner by suddenly singing out loud "Calling Octopus In Interflammatary Pants!" The Song in question is actually: "Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft" which was first released by the band Klaatu in 1976 but made more famous by the cover version by The Carpenters in 1977. If you are of a certain age, you'll find it nostalgic I dare say to be reminded of it.

Well, I was only little back then. My parents ran a pub and this song was endlessly on the juke box when it came out. I loved it and the images that it conjured up in my mind were amazing. I mean, what exactly would an octopus in interflammatary pants actually be like???? Wow!!!! I'd never come across interflammatary pants but they sounded amazing. Everywhere I went, I would be singing it. I even taught my friends!

My big sister, as big sisters can be, was scornful and angrily pointed out that I'd got it wrong! Those weren't the lyrics, she insisted. I should be singing "Calling Occupants ..." etc I was, apparently, making myself look stupid and being embarrassing in to the bargain! With my customary mulishness, I was having none of it. She was wrong and I was right. The words of the song were, without doubt, "Calling Octopus in Interflammatary Pants!" and that was that! I sang it more, and more loudly, just to wind her up a bit more!

Well now ... it's an interesting song! Did you know that the original idea for the song actually came from an event that was described in a book published in 1967 by Jay David called "The Flying Saucer Reader." Bet you've got a copy on your shelf, haven't you? In it he describes an event in 1953 organised by the International Flying Saucer Bureau called 'World Contact Day'. In March of that year, all of the members of the Bureau attempted to collectively send a telepathic message to any passing extra-terrestrials and the opening words of the message were ... "calling occupants of inter-planetary craft!" How wonderfully bonkers is that? I just love the image of all these people earnestly projecting their thoughts in to outer space. Part of me hopes that all those thoughts are still winging their way through the vastness of the universe until they do encounter something that can actually hear and understand them. Who's to say not? In fact, March 15th is still 'World Contact Day' so you can join in next Spring, if you like!

There, you think I'm mad now don't you? But, I'm the guy who still thinks that "Calling Octopus In Interflammatary Pants" ranks high on the list of the best lyrics never written! The point is that, as children, we have an inbuilt capacity for seeing the world as limitless in its possibility. We are hard-wired to think outside of the box, to be who we are and to think what we think no matter what anyone else thinks. It's true, because it's true for me! This box is a space ship! My bed is a time capsule! Pink is for boys! Teddy Bears can talk! Somewhere, floating around out there, is an octopus in the best pants ever! Whatever it might be, we imagine and re-imagine the world as it might be and then, and this is the brilliant part, we invite everyone around us to come and join us in that world simply because its great!

What a shame then that, as we get older. and it seems to be happening with greater and greater momentum, others queue up to pummel that out of us. We seem to be living in a 'one-way-world' i.e. there's one way of looking at things, one way of thinking, one way of behaving and it's the only way! Radicals, fundamentalists, politicians, religious leaders and even a PC elite aided and abetted by the media compete to tell us who we must be and how we must be. The competition between these 'one-way' philosophies is at the root of most of the hatred and conflict in the world. We seem to have forgotten what it is to be able to say, in all innocence: "this is my world and you're all very welcome in it! Come and take a look!" Joy, sharing and acceptance in love seems to be being squeezed out by the 'one-way' attitude.

Literature is a way in which we can all participate in this imagining and re-imagining of the world. Shine a light on our world and challenge the often brutal 'one-way-ism' In our writing and in our reading we can, as the great Mama Cass put it: "make your own kind of music, sing your own special song ... even if nobody else sings along!" But, in point of fact, they often do: witness groups of six year olds back in the 70's running around the playground singing happily: "Calling Octopus In Interflammatary Pants!"     




It Pays to Lie ...


59 year old Anglican Lay Reader, Jeremy Timms has just had his license to preach revoked by the Anglican Church in the shape of our old nemesis, Archbishop Sentamu of York. Why? Because he was open and honest about 'converting' his existing civil partnership to the status of a marriage. He's been living with the threat of the ban since July and, now, it has come to pass!


The basic argument around fundamental human freedoms once again flouted by a church that is happy to trumpet its allegiance to a whole range of other 'human rights' causes whilst sticking the knife in to sincere gay Christians doesn't need rehearsing again ... it's been said and it is getting tiresome keeping on and on and on saying it. The church, with its inexorably declining membership, is reaping the whirlwind of its own antiquated and unpleasant stance on this which hasn't even the smallest connection with any of the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth with which to cloak itself. Small comfort, I know, to someone like Jeremy who I have no doubt would like nothing better than to see his church and faith grow. Nor does that fact take away the pain that he is suffering right now.

But the really perverse thing about the C of E is that it pays to lie! They are happy with deceit and dissimulation but have a real problem with honesty. I know, I really do know from my own circle, that many priests in the church live in civil partnerships. I also know that many of them are very quietly converting those CP's in to marriages. Furthermore, there are even more priests and those who would be priests whose way of dealing with their sexual appetites ranks as casual and often anonymous sex. All of these things, including the latter, are winked at by a church that is happy to know so long as it does not officially know. It pays to lie! Honesty is the surest route to perdition within the C of E. It can cope with liars it just can't deal with honest individuals who would rather be open and straight-forward.

I can't think of a more damning indictment of a church still reeling from sexual abuse sandals that its modus operandi should still be: "don't ask, don't tell." How can it be remotely right, how can it be remotely in keeping with the Christian faith to attack and cast out those who seek only to love and to do so in the open. How can this be anything other than abusive?

And the results for the individuals, those who choose to lie rather than lose their vocation and their church? These can be devastating. You can read about it if you so choose:


Keegan Hirst: "I'm from Batley ... no-one is gay in Batley!"


Firstly, from one Tyke to another, to express my huge support and admiration for Keegan Hirst. That, my friend, took guts!!! I only hope that someone, somewhere is giving him all the support that he needs and I think that there must have been people in his life who have helped him to come to the point that he has. Like any worthwhile thing, this has been sacrificial for him to do. But, as he rightly pointed out, not to do it would have been to sacrifice his own identity and his own life to one extent or another. It's good to see that the initial reaction from fans and friends and so on has been positive. It won't all be but, if I know the people of West Yorkshire, they do have generous hearts and appreciate honesty. There will be those curmudgeons, for sure, who will be muttering in to their beer but, since the initial response has been a positive one, I imagine that they will just put up and shut up until they either come to terms with it or forget about it. Don't forget that the man has just ended a marriage to a woman he genuinely loved and a family life that meant a great deal to him ... he needs some space now and his family and friends around him.

Having been born and bred in West Yorkshire, not far from Batley as it 'appens, his response to why he hadn't accepted that he was gay made me laugh out loud: "I'm from Batley, for goodness sake! No-one is gay in Batley!" If you don't know Batley then there's no compelling reason why you ought not to leave it that way. It's a typical former mill town and not the prettiest one at that. It's most famous (or was) for being the home of the Batley Variety Club in years gone by ... which was where I first saw Danny La Rue live. But that's another story!

What struck me is how little must have changed. Keegan is twenty years younger than me. I too grew up in a working class family in a West Yorkshire mill town and ... no-one was gay! The only remotely gay figures in my day-to-day life were people from the TV such as John Inman and Larry Grayson. They weren't talked of as gay ... 'fey' maybe or just 'a bit of a woofter'. There was one chap, rather outré and very overweight, who people just seemed to accept except insofar as, when a child, I was sternly warned to keep away from him. 'Gay' might have been the quaint Christian name of a maiden aunt and even a local coach company didn't see fit to change it's name until towards the end of the 80's. It was called "Gay Line" !!! Even for a lad growing up in the same neck of the woods twenty years after me there was still, apparently, that feeling that people like you just weren't gay!

The other thing that struck me was him saying that he felt it was all a 'phase' and that it would go away. Whoever started to put that tripe about a 'gay phase' in literature for adolescent boys wants stringing up! It just came along when I was in my mid-teens and, boy, did I seize upon it. All that was necessary was to ignore it (apart from guilty thoughts when having your alone time, as it were) and continue to live a normal life. Acting normal would make you 'normal' ... that was the idea! Sound very much like Keegan Hirst fell hook, line and sinker for that too. But who should be surprised? It's near enough impossible to grow up and accept who you are when, to coin a phrase, "no-one is gay in Batley" and I'm not singling out Batley for any special criticism here, the same could be said of countless places and not only in jolly old West Yorkshire either.

I got out. I went to a good state school and from there to Oxford and suddenly life opened up ... even if the 'behave normal to be normal' (and if you can't hide it at all costs) mantra took a  little while to finally go away. But there is a powerful story to be told here. You've heard me say before that the idea that young gay people repress their identity and conform is old hat and that the world has moved on. Not in the "Batleys" of this world it hasn't, not for the majority it hasn't. It's still a story to be told and it's a necessary one. People out there need to hear it in books, television, film and every other way of communicating that we have. You see, Keegan Hirst is not alone! There are countless Keegan Hirst's out there, albeit not all of them outstanding Rugby League players which must have added another layer to his agony. Sport is a deeply homophobic environment, it often appears.

There are loads of people out there, ordinary blokes, not conforming in any way to the 'gay stereotype' just like Keegan doesn't. They work and they play in environments where it probably doesn't cross anyone's mind that people might be gay, in which it is just not on the radar, so to speak. If it ever is, most probably the reaction amongst fellow males is, to whatever depth, negative and very much so. Lives are lived in this agony of repression and self-hatred and, for some, there is no way out. I was very struck that Keegan Hirst frequently thought that he would rather be dead than have the truth about himself revealed.

There have been calls, amongst some publishers, for more 'blue collar' stories and characters. Amen to that! However, what seems to be beginning to emerge is a lot of 'blue collar' characters as an added spice to eroticism of one sort or another: sort of 'I shagged the plumber ... woo-hoo!' level. That's not what is needed. In just the same way as the great, British novelists of the 1950's and 1960's began to tell the story of the working class straight world and reflected a mirror of choice in so doing, it is the real stories of those who still feel an overwhelming pressure and indeed a need to conform that needs to be told. Their story and the stories of those who love them ... let's spare a thought for Keegan Hirst's wife in all of this and those like her.

There's no doubting that Keegan Hirst is a very attractive young man. He's lovely in fact and you would need to have a heart of stone not to have had it melt at the vulnerability in his tired eyes during television interviews today. You just want to cuddle him and tell him it'll all be Ok! But let's not insult him or others in his position by turning them in to erotic figments of a largely middle-class imagination. Let's not be too quick to jump on the 'what a role model he is' band-wagon either. He may be or he may not be. But let's remember that he did this because he had to do it and he had to do it for himself and that is absolutely Ok, brilliant in fact. That is inspiration enough, surely! He has every right now just to carry on with his life in privacy and it wouldn't be in any way wrong of him to do that. Not everyone wants to 'share' their story beyond what his professional circumstances have meant that he already has had to.

What Keegan Hirst's story says to those of us in the world of gay literature is surely that it simply won't do to confine ourselves more and more to a niche market and only to write 'erotic' or romantic tales for other gay men (and often straight women too) set in a little bubble of a gay world. There's always a place for that, for sure, and I don't decry it as such. Hell, I enjoy a lot of it! What I am saying is that there is a bigger job to do too which is as important as ever it was. Equally, we need to be howling outside the premises of publishers, TV production companies and film makers until they consent to start accurately reflecting that story far more often. This isn't about a minority group ... it's about life and it's about the whole of Society. Things have got better but acceptance, pure and simple, is still a very long way off for the overwhelming majority.

Well done, Keegan and God bless you! And with apologies to Batley: a lovely place, really!



Back to School! How gay do you feel now? ...

Well, here it is! It's started! The TV adverts, the signs up in the shops ... everywhere you go the same message is being screamed at you: "It's Back To School Time!" For sure, this is a time when harassed parents (and grandparents for that matter) are beginning to see a ray of light at the end of the tunnel and those of us that inhabit that wonderful, term-time, kid-free world that goes on when the schools are all back are counting the days. But we have all been there: that first twinge of gloom that broadens and deepens as August goes on and the seemingly endless days of freedom, late morning get ups and the absence of all the annoying, hateful and unpleasant things that happen whilst incarcerated in that school building start to dwindle inexorably down to none.

Don't think either, for one minute, that teachers are salivating with relish at the thought that soon they will be back in charge of a classroom again. Why do you think September is my favourite time of the year? I was a High School teacher for a number of years and, since I was able to stop teaching, the best day in the calendar is September 1st ... it's all starting again but now without me!

For some, though, 'Back To School' is more than just an end of holiday feeling of gloom. For some, there is real fear. I remember very well trying to hide from my family the fact that the approach of the first day of term (any term) made me want to howl with fear, anger and despair. I was good at school (very good in fact) as far as the lessons were concerned. But I didn't 'fit'. I was a 'queer'. On no evidence, actually, since I am not at all 'camp' and didn't have my first boyfriend until after having left school, that was a label that stuck. It was accurate, for sure, but it wouldn't have made any difference if it hadn't been. It was enough to be 'accused' and labelled for life to become hellish.

Many people might say that things have improved. Maybe they have, here and there, but not as much as one might like to think. Certainly, gay teenagers these days do have role models to look up to and there is an aspirational lifestyle out there on display for them to aim for. But never, ever forget that such a lifestyle can alienate as much as it might compel. You see, there is a toughened glass divide between being stuck in Form 4B and the life that might exist beyond it. For many gay teenagers, that life of openness, fulfilment and acceptance exists rather like life on Barbados exists: You know its there; you can see images of it and, one day, you might even like to go there. However, it has absolutely no impact upon the day-to-day circumstances of your life and a little voice keeps on telling you that its unlikely ever to be like that for you.

What remains is a paranoiac hiddenness or a cringing if accidental discovery and then ... pain and fear and, too often, self-loathing. There's also deceit. How many girls out there are falling for boys who are, actually, as gay as a daisy ... or vice-versa? I wrote about that in "What Do You Want For Christmas?" and some have said to me that it isn't like that anymore ... thank God! Oh, but it is! Oh, it really is! It's great to see the stories of brave young people proudly being 'out' at school. Its encouraging to see the steps that government and charitable organisations are taking to eradicate homophobia but it is merely scratching the surface. For every one positive story that you show me, I will point to a dozen hidden miseries. That's not to denigrate the positive stories ... I love them and applaud them ... it's merely to redress the balance a little and prevent a self-congratulatory cast of mind that says the battle has been all but won. Get Real! It has not and very, very far from it! Mainstream secondary education in this country remains what it has always been: a highly toxic place to be gay.

In part, this may be to do with where you live. Remember: not everyone lives in Islington, as it were! But its also important to remember that to equate the prevalence of homophobia in schools with socio-economic background is as facile as it is offensive. There is every bit as much, if not more, homophobia both overt and subtle in the schools educating those from leafy suburbs, rural communities and the higher income brackets as you would find in any school set in an impoverished area. Bigotry is by no means the preserve of the economically dispossessed.

Why am I telling you all this on what is supposed to be a literary blog (if a rather poor one)? It's because one of the banes of gay literature at the moment is the almost weariness with telling the story that so many still face. It was literature that first sounded the clarion call to resistance and reform. It was literature that first reached out a hand to those whose lives had thus far been undocumented. It was literature that opened the eyes of the good hearted to the life that was going on around them in which people were suffering. It was literature that first let us laugh at ourselves in print and literature that began to form a global  community from the disparate pockets of people who clung together here and there for support and acceptance. It is literature that lets us celebrate ourselves to ourselves and invite others to join the party. Literature should be there to reach out a hand to those who are going through what it depicts, challenge those who are a part of it and remind our own community that just because life is better for us now in many ways this doesn't mean that our brothers and sisters are now having an easy ride. Nowhere is this less true than in school. Daily, hourly, unseen and hidden and overlooked very often by those in authority youngsters are going through exactly what many of us did ... even worse given the more pernicious uses of social media. I was safe in my home. It ended when I got to my room. Now, it does not.

For sure, we read and we write to entertain ourselves and others. That's great! But in what we read, in what we write let us also remember that we are custodians of experience and have a role to play in bringing that experience to light. The storyteller is far, far more powerful than the bully. The written word hits hard and lasts after the bruises of the victim have gone. To write is a privilege and it is also a responsibility. In writing, we are all lobbing pebbles in to a pool. Telling the story will, little by little, make the story change. Write it if you can. Read it avidly and share it widely in any event. Let us say to those who, at this time of the year, are feeling a sickening dread at the inescapable call: 'Back To School!' and to everyone, everywhere who is still afraid and hidden because of who they are: we know; we've been there and we've come through. You can too and you have a voice until you find your own ... ours! Take it; use it and pass it on!