• 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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Great Reads from Dan Skinner and Brandon Shire

One of the good things about finally dragging my sorry tush in to the twenty first century and realising that I needed to get 'out there' and let people know that I scribble merrily away in my little study at home is that I've encountered many other authors whose work I might have missed in the welter of stuff available. When another author is kind enough to make contact with me, I always pop along and have a look at what they're doing and buy a copy of something that takes my fancy. I'm so glad that I do since otherwise I would have radically missed out.

Some of the stuff that I have been reading are well written, 'feel good' stories. They're all very different. I must just mention "Always" by Kindle Alexander. This is a chocolate, log fire and heavenly liqueur of a feel good book. It almost ought not to work, but it does! If you want something just to relax with and enjoy, no questions asked, this is it! Slightly different, but in the same vein, is John Inman's "Paulie". This combines a sweet and nicely written romance with a house full of stunningly attractive guys who seem to spend most of their time naked, aroused and having sex in the most peculiar of places ... even underwater! Now there's a recommendation for you! If you're British and over the age of 35, don't be put off by the fact that 'John Inman' conjures up images of Mr Humphries in "Are You Being Served?".... ("I'm Free...!") Mr Humphries would probably have a seizure if he read this book!

However, there are two stand-out reads from the last few weeks. The first is "Memorizing You" by Dan Skinner. Skinner's writing seems effortless as he powerfully evokes the era of the late 1960's in which the novel is set. As a 'coming of age' story from a writer of Skinner's evident powers, you'd expect a 'classic' of its kind and you will not be disappointed: elegiac, captivating and redolent of the agony and ecstasy of the beautiful confusion of first love, this has it all. On top of that, Skinner brings a stunning new twist to the genre. I won't spoil it for you, but, in the best possible way, the ending will live with you for a long, long time!

Seldom does a novel have the power to subtly change one's mental and emotional landscape, to make you look at things thought familiar in a radically new way. Brandon Shire's stunning "Listening to Dust" is one such book. Don't be put off by the first few pages which may leave you with a slight frown of 'what's going on here'. All will be revealed, and how! This book is raw and its impact is devastating. It feels to have been an intensely personal work; first novels often are and I know mine was. It is packed full of unforgettable imagery as the love story between 'Dusty' and his British lover Stephen unfolds ... and I mean unforgettable!

This book will make you think, and think hard, about what love really is and about the various different levels that are comprised within the idea of loss. As an aside, Brandon Shire pulls off the trick of an American writer that actually gets British idiom spot on ... except that we Brits talk about 'the sea' and not the 'ocean' ... and, for a British reader like me that adds to the overall impression of a deeply thought out, carefully written novel of unforgettable potency.

Right ... off to watch re-runs of 'The Thorn Birds' .... damn those cardinals!!!

 

The Curse of "The Thorn Birds"

It's 1983, Saturday evening and I'm fourteen years old and snuggled in the corner of the sofa munching a piece of home-made cake and watching "The Thorn Birds". If you're around my age, I guess you'll have been doing something very similar. Never mind the fact that Colleen McCullough, author of the book on which the mini-series was based, described the TV spectacular as 'instant vomit' when she was interviewed by the Daily Mail in 2009, this thing ought to have been banned by law. It was psychologically damaging in the extreme and yet ... it became the most watched mini-series in the whole world, ever! I imagine that Ms. McCullough was vomiting all the way to the bank!

Why do I say that? I might rail against the unutterably wooden acting and the dodgy, early synth incidental music and you'd probably smile and laugh with an indulgent nostalgia for more innocent times. In fact, I love the wooden acting and the music is gloriously naff and the whole thing is as camp as a very, very, very long row of tents. My God, it's even got Barbara Stanwyck in it and which must put it on the top ten 'kitsch but I love it' list of every self-respecting gay man!!! What is it, I hear you cry, that this harmless televisual whimsy could have done to your poor, innocent ephebe soul? 

Well ... ahem ... it's like this ... it gave rise to a guilty pleasure that persists to this day! There, I've said it! I've finally come out and said it!!!

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Remembering Paul Monette

I wrote last week about the power that the very first gay romance that I read had in my life and that set me thinking about the importance of literature in the struggle for gay rights and equality, a struggle that begins really inside our own hearts and lives. No-one exemplifies the power of 'writing our story' more than the wonderful Paul Monette. I never met him - how could I have done? - but I feel that at some essential level I know him.

Paul Monette's earlier novels are quite light and a good read. But it was as a chronicler that he came in to his own. Paul Monette's generation was the one that saw the first shoots of acceptance, rejoiced in a new liberality towards the homosexual community and a new sense of freedom to be. However, it was their fate too to be suddenly faced with the appalling cataclysm that was the onset of HIV/AIDS - a terrifying, bewildering and devastating illness that achieved almost epidemic proportions in some areas of the gay community. It was this disaster that Paul Monette reflected back to his own 'tribe', as he called the gay community, and to the wider world.

If you weren't there, its very easy to underestimate the enormity of the impact that Paul Monette's "Borrowed Time: An AIDS Memoir" had on its first publication in 1988. At the time, HIV/AIDS was an unbelievably welcome 'shot in the arm' to those who condemned homosexuality as warped, depraved and as having no place in polite or civilised society. It was variously seen as the punishment of God for the sin of Sodom (not that the sin of Sodom actually has anything at all to do with homosexuality, but there you are) and as indisputable proof of how un-natural, despicable and degenerate homosexuality was.

With scarifying honesty, Paul Monette told the story of his lover, Roger Horwitz's battle with the disease. In so doing, he humanised the narrative of this catastrophe. He showed that AIDS was not a deeply shameful judgement but was, in fact, a cruel and capricious illness that suddenly turned upside down the world of two happy, successful, productive men living a normal, everyday life alongside their family and friends. Paul and Roger's story turned the tide. It evoked both sympathy and empathy and, more than that, it evoked hope in its powerful affirmation of life's rich possibilities even in a time of pain, grief and calamity. So much of our current understanding of what HIV/AIDS is and the impact of it on peoples' lives and communities, things we can take for granted, stem back to Paul Monette. He was the first to say it!

In 1992 (1994 in Britain) Paul Monette published "Becoming a Man - Half a Life Story" which recounted his life up to the point of his meeting Roger Horwitz. This utterly unflinching record of the tyrannical self-denial of the closet and the fearful struggle of growing up gay in the 1950's and 1960's is possibly the finest autobiographical account of the 'dark ages' that I have ever read.

These two books, together with "Last Watch of the Night" , a book of essays that can have you weeping with both laughter and pain, ought to be required reading for any self-respecting gay man. More than that, they should be required by law on the school curriculum since they would be a fabulous antidote to ignorance and its bedfellow: hatred. If you know of a youngster struggling to come to terms with who they are, give them a copy of "Becoming a Man" and tell them to read it very, very carefully. That would be the best service that you could do for them.

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Do you remember reading you first gay romance?

I certainly do! In fact, the battered copy of it is sitting here on my desk having just had its annual re-read! The first time you read a gay romance is almost like the first time you ... well, you know ... you never forget it and this is an unforgettable book! "The Lost Language of Cranes" by David Leavitt is, in its own right, a superb novel. For me, when I stumbled across it in Blackwell's bookshop in Oxford, during my first term as an undergraduate in 1987, it was a revelation!

Odd though it seems now, I'd never seen any gay 'porn' (short of soap stars and film stars with their shirts off ... hey, it worked for me back then!!!) and never seen or read anything with a gay theme. Well, I was a working class lad in the industrial North of England and this was the 1980's! I vividly remember, walking back to my room in college clutching the bag containing the book where I devoured the thing. I laugh when I re-call reading the first sex scene between the 'hero' Philip and his boyfriend Elliot. Not that it is, as these things go, an especially explicit one and, in the context of the book, its a little sad. However, it left me positively hyper-ventilating! It wasn't just the inevitable 'turn-on' (though that was certainly there!) it was more the fact of reading someone else describing things that had only ever existed in my fevered imagination before.

You see, the glorious thing about this book is its very 'ordinariness'. Ok, so it's set in mid 1980's New York and I was in little old England but Leavitt masterfully portrays a gay lifestyle lived out in ordinary circumstances. His depiction of 'first love' (albeit not the wisest of loves) and the agonies of a young man feeling forced to 'come out' to his parents in the light of it - unaware of his father's demons! It was like a glimpse, a compelling glimpse, in to a world that I hoped existed somewhere and was determined to try and find! Reading it, I felt that I could taste and feel and smell that world.

The other great thing about the first gay romance that you ever read is that, reading it again, catapults you back to the time that you read it. For me, that's being 18. A naïve and nervous North country lad suddenly propelled in to a wonderful new world of possibility and freedom. I can still see the autumn trees in Christ Church Meadow and smell the tang of wood smoke in the air. I can hear the laughter and my heart stirs to that euphoric sense of anything being possible. I decided that I wanted to find my own 'Philip'(I thought Elliot was a bit of a bad sort!) and ... what do you know ... I did! He was even called Philip!!! It didn't last forever; not everything amazing always does. But David Leavitt's fabulous book still sparks that time in my head and heart - it was, if you like, my road map.

And then, of course, there's that compelling image at the heart of the book (literally as well as figuratively) of the 'crane child'.

Maybe we should remember that, for young adults just starting out, gay fiction is of immense importance. Hey, they have no shortage of access to porn and I'm sure they enjoy what a friend of mine wonderfully refers to as a 'one handed read'. Nothing at all wrong with that. But it's those books that set their burgeoning experience in to an ordinary setting, shows them what life is and can be like, that are so important. They're not alone; others have travelled the path before!

I'll stop now before I get too lyrical. But what I would like to do is for you to help me to put together a series of reflections on 'my first gay read'. Just e-mail me from the contact link here and let me know what you first read and what it meant to you so that I can blog them from time to time - I won't use your name, if you prefer me not to.

In the meantime, enduring and heartfelt thanks to the wonderful David Leavitt!