• 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.

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  • 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
    Tongues

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



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No Sex, Please .... We're Gay!

"What's this place called?

He told me and, on the instant, it was as though someone had switched off the wireless, and a voice that had been bawling in my ears, incessantly, fatuously, for days beyond number, had been suddenly cut short; an immense silence followed, empty at first, but gradually, as my outraged sense regained authority, full of a multitude  of sweet and natural and long forgotten sounds: for he had spoken a name that was so familiar to me, a conjuror's name of such ancient power, that, at its mere sound, the phantoms of those haunted late years began to take flight."


This sentence, and it is one beautifully and elegantly crafted sentence, must rank as among the finest ever written. You'll recognise it; it's from the Prologue to Evelyn Waugh's masterpiece: "Brideshead Revisited."

I confess that I saw the ITV adaptation on the television long, long before I read the book. I saw it when I still dwelt in my own 'Arcadia', a time before anything ever connected up in my mind with sex. I didn't really know about sex beyond the smutty and ill-informed speculation that I occasionally tittered over with friends in the playground - more appalled and horrified than titillated though we were. Had our parents really done that?

Yet, I remember it so well. I remember that the depiction of that inter-war Oxford and Venice, where Charles Ryder "drowns in honey" seemed to me more wonderful than anything else could have been. More than this, I can still feel the ache inside my chest, an ache of longing, that was put there by Waugh's haunting evocation of the friendship of Sebastian and Charles. I remember that I longed for a friendship like that; I longed to be Charles and to meet my own Sebastian. I wanted a friendship like that more than I had ever wanted anything though quite how it was to be achieved in the drab little Northern town in which I lived, I couldn't quite imagine.

Waugh intended the book to be about the potent hold, the power of Roman Catholicism which was so compelling to him and which tormented him and sustained him simultaneously. It's true, that is what the book is about. It's perhaps a shame, from Waugh's point of view, that what makes the book a classic, what stands out above all, what it will always be remembered for is something else entirely, the very thing that Waugh fought so hard against in himself and that is: the most poignantly beautiful relationship between two men, a glimpse of paradise, all too soon lost, that haunts Charles Ryder forever after.

The relationship between the two men isn't even explicitly shown to be gay in the sense that the only, rather coded, hint at sex between them is Charles' reflection that their life contained "its naughtiness, high on the catalogue of grave sins." However, the relationship is explicitly about love. The love between the two of them leaps of the page and burns deep in to the soul of the reader.

This is where I learned what a relationship between two men should be. I can honestly say that I didn't in any way, in my own mind, equate it with sex. That came later. At the time, I had no comprehension of what sex between the two of them might have involved; I didn't even know that such a thing existed. And yet, I saw and I recognised and I wanted at the very deepest level what they had .... romantic friendship.

What's really interesting is that Waugh manages, without any reference to sex still less any depiction of it (it wouldn't have been allowed by law for him to do that even had he wanted to) to define the very essence of a gay relationship. It is a romantic friendship between two men that creates a bond that is, ultimately, as strong as if not stronger than any other in human life.

I was twenty one before I actually read the book. Ten years had passed since I saw the wonderful television adaptation and, by then, I knew all about sex and had found, to some extent at least, echoes of the relationship between Charles and Sebastian in relationships that I'd had by then. What strikes me now, however, is just how formative the story of Charles and Sebastian had been for me. I knew, even if I couldn't put a name to it by then, that I was gay because I wanted to be like them. To be gay was to long for that romantic friendship, that bond above all other bonds in life. The want for, the need for, the enjoyment of that "naughtiness, high on the catalogue of grave sins" as a part of that friendship came later. Because of that, though I am no plaster saint nor ever have I been, I have always at least wanted sex to be rooted and grounded in that bond of friendship and love. I think, maybe, and it probably wasn't what he consciously wanted to do, Waugh's inestimable contribution to the emotional well-being and the dignity and honour of gay men everywhere is that he established with enormous power and skill the fact that what it means to be gay actually resides in the look that Charles gives to his beloved Sebastian as they picnic under the tree ... here rendered so perfectly by Jeremy Irons.

For that, we owe him a debt of gratitude and, as writers, we have a responsibility both to our own dignity and worth and to generations to come, to ensure that at least some of that comes through in our own work.

Back to the 1980's and a Great Read from Jay Northcote

If you're my age - ish, I hope you've been following the BBC 2 series, "I Love the 1980's" (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00784n4) and that you had a jolly good wallow last night in revisiting 1988 ... took me right back to being 19, in my first year at Oxford and all the fun and freedom and frolics that involved. Ah, yes! The 1980's when every good looking guy, when you look back on them now, appeared to be trying to look as gay as possible. There really wasn't any hope for us, was there? A while ago, I left you with the delicious Lorenzo Lamas. Here, of course, is another of my favourite heart throbs from back then: Rob Lowe .... lovely! I particularly remember him in that quintessentially '80's film: "St Elmo's Fire" ... remember that? The 'strap line' (horrible phrase, but there you go) was: "The Passion Runs Deep". It is the ultimate coming of age movie, capturing the zeitgeist of the 1980's perfectly as well as the pain of emerging in to the 'real world' and leaving behind the carefree, cocoon of student-hood and the adolescent bubble of endless possibility to find that the pit-falls get deeper and the challenges steeper.

Speaking of coming of age stories: here's a nice one for you if you like them. "Not Just Friends" by Jay Northcote is a happy little book. It's a simple tale, set in contemporary Britain and is beautifully and sensitively written. It evokes the angst and the pain of being gay and on the cusp on manhood and has a lovely happy ending in to the bargain - a summer afternoon read, I think! Well done, Jay!

Lovely cover too - reminds me, I must take my friend Jamie Lake's advice and seriously re-vamp my cover design for the autumn ... if I haven't mentioned it before, but I will again, my next novel "A Nightingale in the Sycamore" is due for release in September. Much more of that soon ...

Congratulations to Colin Coward

Never has a man been so inappropriately named .... many, many congratulations to Colin Coward, founder and Director of 'Changing Attitude' and fearless campaigner for LGBTI rights in the inhospitable world of the Church of England on being awarded the MBA in the Queen's birthday honours list. I well remember Changing Attitude being formed in 1995, the year in which I had my own very bruising clash with the jolly old C of E. It was an attempt to fill the gap left by what was then a rather remote and out of touch LGCM. To this day, Changing Attitude remains an open and 'listening' organisation, in touch with its members and responsive to where they actually are rather than where the organisation thinks that they should be.

When gay meets God, huge faith is required ... and guts! These Rev Coward has in abundance and has built up 'Changing Attitude' from nothing to its current status and influence; a thorn in the side of the establishment, long may it flourish.

You can follow Colin's blog and keep up to date with the work of 'Changing Attitude' here:

http://changingattitude.org.uk/

I hope that the Church of England is sitting up and taking notice - it's quite something when the state is in the position of speaking the prophetic voice to the church! In honouring Colin's work, it has done just that!

Put Your Clothes Back On ....?

Put your clothes back on ... said no-one ... ever! There's loads of these about now and they make me smile, the perfect thing for a screen saver unless you work in an especially unreconstructed environment! I mean, with such perfect physique, it ought to be compulsory to have no shirt on when the temperature is above a certain, very low minimum level. It's almost a public service!

I don't know if you caught the wonderful programme by Tyger Drew-Honey last week: "Tyger Takes On the Perfect Body". If not you can get it here for a few more days http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b044w1hr/tyger-takes-on-2-the-perfect-body It's a laugh a minute, really it is. This lad's beautifully ironic sense of humour shines through with gorgeously laconic comments, for example about the lad who takes over an hour to 'do' his hair before going out the result being imperceptibly different from how his 'barnet' looked before he started. We can also enjoy his delicious agony and subsequent, bow legged and resentful soreness after having submitted to a B.S & C at a male grooming parlour!

What's really good is his highly intelligent reflection upon the current obsession with bodily perfection amongst men. It has often been argued, and rightly so, and not merely by feminists, that it is unfair and unhealthy to promote a largely unattainable idea of physical perfection for women to aspire to. Maybe that's changed, largely I think that it has not. What is changing is that the same standards are now being dangled in front of men. Why are men not supposed to have body hair? Liking men with plenty on chest, belly legs and other places, like I do, makes one almost a devotee of a niche and antique style these days. Equally, what's with the imperative to have a perfectly defined, pumped chest and a washboard stomach? Luckily the very lovely Tyger reflects on his own less than perfectly toned body and is perfectly happy with it. So would I be - gosh, I could cuddle and snuggle and happily get to know every inch of him for hours at a time. He's beautiful; he really is - naturally so!

I wonder. Do those of us involved in the depiction of gay life in the arts need to pause for thought for a moment? Of course, gay fiction like any other fiction is about escapism to one extent or another. Some gay fiction is explicitly (no pun intended) about titillation - it's intentionally pornographic in content. Given that, maybe it's natural that our characters are so often utterly gorgeous. Mine are: Jonathan and Felix in 'Shadow of Your Wings'; Mark and Jonathan in "What Do You Want for Christmas?" I comfort myself that at least Adam and Rob in "Cloven Tongues" aren't also young. They're in their 40's but ... still gorgeous!

I'm not being an old kill joy and I doubtless will continue to populate my fiction with some very lovely young characters - after all, being brutally honest, that's what sells. Actually, that fact too might give us pause for thought?

Very few of us are physically perfect. I think that many of us do like to take care of ourselves and not, as the old saying goes, "let ourselves go" as we advance from the sunlit uplands of our teens and twenties in to the golden afternoon of our forties and fifties but the model of perfection held up as the only thing that is desirable is something that we need to question and maybe we need to do that artistically as well as in our activism ... at least some of the time.

Every teenager goes through the phase of acute body image crisis. It's hard. It's hard to grow up being gay too but if we allow our youngsters to think that the only way that they can ever be attractive and desirable and even really fit in with their own tribe is to be plucked and pumped and perfect then I think we are being cruel. Equally, how might it feel to be old and gay. It's bad enough being middle aged and gay in some circumstances. Do we really look after our seniors and do we have as a part of our culture an understanding that beauty isn't only the province of the young and perfect and that physical love can and ought to remain a beautiful and life affirming thing even as we approach the autumn of our days. Maybe we do ... but I'm not sure. One thing I wonder out loud today is this: do those of us in the arts have something of a responsibility to help to develop that culture and to counterbalance the tyranny of the idea of youth and perfection with something a little more grounded in the reality of ordinary lives? Escapism is one thing: it's a perfectly valid function of fiction and we do all like to read about attractive people in a variety of different scenarios. Maybe too, though, we need to be aware of what harm can be done when escapism tipples over in to an unhealthy approach to reality and be prepared to do our bit to restore the balance.

Well, I've been on a bit of an '80's nostalgia trip these last few weeks: My first gay read courtesy of David Leavitt, my guilty obsession with the cardinalate thanks to The Thorn Birds and so on. So, let me leave you with my favourite '80's hunk of them all. Here he is: 'Lorenzo Lamas' from the fantastically cheesy "Falcon Crest" one of those wonderful soap operas brought to us by the creators of 'Dallas', Lorimar Productions. You usually got at least one shirtless shot of this fella every week - so you had to pay attention and make the image last!!!! Looking at him, these days many would say that he needs a total make-over! Nah, it would be like whitewashing a Titian!

By the way - I'm hoping that there will soon be a 'comment' facility on here. I know that a lot of people are actually taking the time to read this - for which thank you - and it would be good to hear back from you from time-to-time. In the meantime, however, please feel free to hit the 'contact' button and e-mail me. I'd be delighted and I always reply!

I'll let you enjoy Lorenzo now - no waxing required, I'm sure you'll agree!

Tim x