• 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

    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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Morton Harket and the Soundtrack To Your First Love ...

If you are a certain age (and even if you are not) you are welcome to this gratuitous photograph of probably the sexiest thing to grace the 1980's pop scene ... the sublime Morton Harket! It's become rather fashionable to snigger and pull faces at bands like 'A-ha', hasn't it? That is what the early part of the Twenty First Century will be known for: sniggering, smirking and sneering at almost anyone and anything that doesn't live up to an achingly sophisticated norm. Just when did we start being held prisoner by a gang of cognoscenti who take themselves and everything else in life so damned seriously such that there's almost a feeling that these days most of us have not the love that dare not speak its name but the 'taste' that dares not speak it's name. How many contemporary performers have a vocal range that effortlessly through five octaves like Harket's? There, that's that off my chest ... but why, aesthetics apart, have I shared this my favourite photo from the 80's pop scene?

There's a soundtrack to most of what I write. I tend to think in pictures, scenes and actually also in tunes. My partner (a professional musician) tells me that I have the best musical ear he's ever come across despite the fact that I don't read music and I can't play a note even on a penny whistle. He means my weird ability to capture tunes in my head, store them and re-play them. We recently (to my delight) found the 1982 adaptation of Stan Barstow's 'A Kind of Loving' on DVD. As I brought it to the machine I was singing away to myself. Having not seen the programme for 33 years, apparently I was singing the theme and note perfect to boot. Well ... it's a strange gift but mine own!

It's no surprise, then, that music is powerfully evocative to me. I use it a lot in my writing, hoping that others will find such tunes powerfully evocative too. In "A Nightingale in the Sycamore" I used Carly Simon's "Stuff That Dreams Are made Of" and it really isn't Christmas until you've heard "Last Christmas" by Wham as Jonathan and Mark found out in "What Do You Want For Christmas?"

It's pretty common, though, isn't it? I mean, how often have you heard a song on the radio and paused, suddenly catapulted back to the time, the event or the person with which you subconsciously associate the tune ... songs are like a personal little time machine aren't they? We all have 'em: those songs or tunes that link us right back in to the time when we first heard them, a time when (if you're old enough) such tunes formed the backdrop to our lives almost wherever we went when they were in the charts and lived on for years in pubs and clubs. Novels, like good TV or cinema, should have a soundscape - an author can hint at it, maybe, but the rest is up to the reader.

"A Nightingale in the Sycamore" is essentially about first love ... the power of it, the sheen of it, the depth of it and the endurance of it if only in the memory. It's one of the biggest things that ever happens to us and the soundscape to the time is therefore one of the most potent. As you will have gathered, all that stuff was happening to me nearly thirty years ago so my soundscape is a bit 'dated' in this respect but ... youngsters will have their own and many of them are now re-visiting the stuff from the 80's and 90's in much the same way as we did the 60's.

I mean, the essence of that time is summed up for me in the main theme from "St Elmo's Fire". I had the record (yes, vinyl) of the soundtrack and virtually wore out the main theme. It still makes me feel positive, excited, as if anything and everything is possible ... even love!

Then there was T'Pau and the glorious "China in Your Hand" which was Number One when I met him ... ah, 80's disco ... first term at University ... first lots of things such as the very special resonance that Wham's "Careless Whisper" has for me. I don't mean the school discos when it first came out (shudder!) but rather the reason for its special place in the pantheon of my special tunes that it earned for reasons that I'm not going in to detail about here ... my Mum does sometimes read this (Hi, Mum!)

We all have them ... loads of them, those songs and tunes that form the soundscape to the novel of our own lives. Kick back for a bit, pour a drink and go raid You Tube or something. Relax, think back and start searching out some of your special songs. It's a recipe for a very appealing nostalgia fest and the perfect thing to do when you've just finished a really good book!

Maybe this one?

Richard III: When Do Last Wishes Stop Counting ...?

I'm sure that I will not be alone in being fascinated by the re-burial of King Richard III today. After all, it isn't every day that one gets to see a royal 'funeral' dating from the 15th Century but my point is, and I know that I am prejudging this to some extent since it hasn't yet happened, that this almost certainly will not be anything like the kind of ceremonial that a fifteenth century, Roman Catholic monarch would either have wanted or expected. There is some argument around whether Richard ever explicitly said that he wanted to be buried in York Minster. However, one thing is clear and that is that he wouldn't have wanted to be buried in Leicester where his remains, having been subjected to extreme humiliation by the victorious Tudor forces, were hastily buried by the Grey Friars whose friary subsequently became the car park under which he was eventually found. Most of his family are buried in York or, as King, he could reasonably have had every expectation that Westminster Abbey might have been his last resting place ... but not Leicester! Equally, he was a Roman Catholic! The very existence of the Church of England would have horrified him let alone other reformed churches. Multi-faith relations would have been foreign to him too. His funeral, though the Catholics will be participating, will not be according to the rites that he would have recognised and valued. Ultimately, just because he died 500 years ago, does this mean that he is now public property? Does this mean that everything that he held dear and mattered to those who knew and loved him can be set aside in favour of a 'national' jamboree that will put Leicester on the tourist map? Is it right that we use the deceased King to say something about ourselves to ourselves using this actual individual as the platform, the blank canvass, with which to do it? When does an individual stop mattering? This isn't just historical geekiness - though I confess to some of that - this is actually a very important point. Merely because someone has died, is it therefore OK to use them in any way that those left behind see fit? Things have certainly got a lot better but many of us can remember all too well the times when gay partners or friends were commonly 'airbrushed' out of funeral arrangements when they lost their partners and loved ones; the funeral arrangements being used by families to reinforce and proclaim an image of the person who had died that was far from the reality of that person! If you think that doesn't still happen, think again! It does!!! And it all stems from this same impulse to make the final obsequies of a person who has died say more about ourselves and how we think things ought to be rather than honouring what the person was and what they would have wanted. In this sense, a long dead monarch who has certainly posed some very controversial historical questions, is again posing a very vital point. Richard Plantagenet, sometime Duke of Gloucester and latterly Richard III, by the grace of God, King was a real person from a real context with real wishes, hopes and fears. If we simply acquiesce in allowing this real individual to be treated after death in a way that would have made no sense to him and would, in some ways, have horrified him merely because that makes us feel good ... what argument do we have for saying that our own last wishes and the last wishes of those whom we love ought to carry any more weight than those of this man, humiliated once in death and poised on the brink as I write of seemingly certain further humiliation.

"Cucumber" - a bit too hard?

Stuart and VinceLike many other gay men of a certain age, I imagine, I have been deluged by e-mails and phone calls from friends over the last few weeks all asking the same question: "What do you think of 'Cucumber?'" I suppose that is a testimony to its impact; it could hardly fail to have had that being the only such high-profile drama since 'Queer As Folk' some fifteen years ago.

The response from friends has been various: some loved it, some absoluetly hated it but most had a similar response to my own ... 'Erm ...?' That's it, really, just an 'Erm ...?' as in I'm really not too sure what I thought about it. To criticise Russel T Davies is tantamount to a Catholic suggesting that the Virgin Mary was no better than she ought to be and I don't intend to do that. I could see what he was trying to do and there were some golden moments in and among for sure allied to some stellar performances (e.g. the incomparable Julie Hesmondhaulgh)

However, there is still that quizzical 'Erm...?' Why is that there? Why does that seem to be such a common response? Maybe its because, for those of us that were there, especially those of us that were there and on the cusp of turning thirty at the time, it is almost impossible not to draw comparisons with 'Queer as Folk'. The impact of QAF, the stunning exhilaration of actually seeing 'gay life' unapologetically laid bare on our TV screens at prime time, would be hard to overestimate. It was truly groundbreaking: brave, real and beautifully observed. In discussion, time after time, it has come up that "Cucumber" wasn't a patch on QAF.

For a start, there were precious few characters in 'Cucumber'that could be called sympathetic. To be honest, I really didn't care one way or the other about them even in the truly gruesome, post-sex, murder scene. In QAF, there seemed to be a multi-layered quality to the characters that lent them a reality and evoked a sympathy even when they were behaving rather badly. I confess that I fell in love with Vince (played to perfection by Craig Kelly) as the'decent' lad, doing his best, providing for his Mum and the feckless lodger Bernie whilst fruitlessly searching for a love that would over-lay his deep attachment to Stuart, his childhood friend. The 'will-they-won't-they?' question that hung over the entire series was wonderfully poignant.

Stuart VinecEven Stuart, the rather un-lovely in some respects and sex driven object of Vince's affection wasn't one dimensional. Never will I forget cheering and crying myself hoarse when Stuart blew up the car belonging to Alexander's (Anthony Cotton of Corrie fame) horrendous Mum ... "Bang!" Or when he upstaged Vince's Australian boyfriend ("He can't fancy me ... he's Australian!") by giving the Doctor Who obssessed Vince a life-size replica of K9 for his 30th birthday.

This is all personal taste, I know. One man's meat and all that. By comparison, "Cucumber" just felt hard and saddening without that leaven of hope and a vein of love running through it (Henry's devastation over Lance notwithstanding). Maybe, it was because it was set within the 'village' again ... older guys leering at the edges of a youthful culture ... that made it uncomfortable for older guys to watch? It could be argued that it held up a mirror in some respects but, then again, I would tend to dispute that. It seemed to me to contain little of hope and even less of 'redemption' in the broadest sense of that word. The characters appeared to be mired where they were, trapped on an endless merry-go-round and only at the very end was there any sense of: stop, I want to get off!

Ultimately, it was what it was and it did what it did and in its own terms it did it well. Some hated it, some loved it and others were equivocal. From the writer's point of view, that is 'job done' and I hope that RTD feels a well-deserved sense of satisfaction. My main fear, and it is a real one, is that this could be 'it' as far as gay themed TV drama is concerned for maybe another ten or fifteen years ... box ticked! Were 'Cucumber' to open the doors to other explorations of gay life, maybe not so 'village' focussed (as if that were the only place that gays live and move and have their being) and with a broader compass than an admittedly realistic casual sex obssession then I would stand up and cheer unequivocally, looking forward to more and different takes on the experience of gay people. As it is, I really fear that this will have to stand as the 'gay' drama for some while. If so, that is really very, very depressing indeed and I feel that the author himself would most probably agree with me there.

First Love ... Best Love ... Only Love? Hope you love this!

I guess many of us have, in our past, haunting memories of standing like a lemon, shivering on a frozen school Rugby pitch and dreading the ritualised humiliation that was about to follow! If you have, it's a memory that never leaves you! It is, maybe, an unlikely place to find love but that is what happens to young Nick Jocelyn - it's there that he meets the lad who is to become everything in the world to him and more besides. It's there that Nick meets his first love - Dan White. A friendship blossoms between the two of them - one of those tight bonds of comradeship, camaraderie and a curious kind of loving that is common amongst teenage lads. Of course, for Nick, as they grow up his feelings are deeper than that. He loves Dan in a way that goes far, far beyond merely being Dan's best friend. We've all done it; we've all had to hide those feelings and pretend that they weren't anything more than the 'norm' and this is just what Nick does. It's all he has and, given that, it's enough!

Yet, as their 18th birthdays pass and parting looms, Dan suddenly makes a move that shatters all of Nick's certainties. In fact, it's almost worse than before since he feels to be living on a precipice where the loss of everything is only one false move away. Instead, though Dan struggles to admit it, the two of them find love for the first time ... Nick's world is turned inside out in the most glorious, unforgettable way.

In every paradise, there is a serpent! There's one here too, I hope sympathetically drawn and not just a caricature 'bad man'. Nick's heart is smashed in pieces when Dan leaves him and he doesn't even fully know why.

We've all had a first love. Maybe some of you are still there with them now. Most of us are not, however. For those who are not, maybe we keep the thought of that first love wrapped gently in the tissue paper of our memory and stored in a secure and deep place in our hearts. Then we move on and we love again (fifteen years and counting in my case ... bless him, he's put up with me that long already!!!) But what happens when you can't move on? What happens when that first love is so deep and so compelling that you simply can not let it go? What happens when, like Nick, you bump in to the boy you once loved, now a man, twenty years later?

I hope that this novel really uncovers the agony and the fear and the anxiety that accompanies the joy and the wonderment and the all consuming passion of first love. I hope, too, that it is a novel about the enduring power of the human heart to love and be loved. Above all, I wanted it to be about hope ... a hope that perhaps conquers all? I hope you enjoy it every bit as much as I enjoyed writing it and that, maybe, it strikes some chords in your own memories and hearts. Enjoy! Tim x