Never underestimate the power a book can have on you…
I’m sat downstairs in the very early hours of the morning, with two sleeping cats and a snoring puppy for company. Why am I awake at such a Godforsaken hour? Well, I believe the upcoming BSB UK book event is to blame. A potent mixture of excitement and nerves has started to kick in and as a result I’ve got an evil attack of insomnia. So, I figure now is an ideal time to write my blog, rather than procrastinate (which I have been doing) and end up having Vic Oldham chase me down.
What should I write about? Well, as I’m new to the BSB family and this will be my first official book event, I think I’ll introduce myself, explain why I’m passionate about LGBTQ fiction and how I ended up becoming an author at BSB.
I was a fairly late bloomer in terms of accepting my sexuality. It happened in my fourth year at University. At the age of 22, my sexuality hit me like a tonne of bricks. I fell head over heels for a close friend and there wasn’t anything I could do to prevent it. Although it was a major surprise for me, annoyingly, my sister and all of my friends revealed that they’d always known and had been patiently waiting for me to realise.
To be totally honest with you, I’d secretly always known deep down, but had succeeded in pushing all thoughts away from the forefront of my mind. For years I fooled myself into believing I was happy to ignore them.
Throughout secondary school I had a best friend, he and I were inseparable. Having a best friend of the opposite sex meant that we always had a date for prom and we didn’t have to worry about peer pressure when it came to relationships. When we went to college he came out as gay, which wasn’t a surprise to either of us. We shared the occasional night out in Nottingham’s only gay club, during which I ignored my feelings and the fact I was blatantly checking out women, by convincing myself that I was only there to support him. A little while later I went away to University and he and I drifted apart.
At University I went on to surprise everyone, myself included, by joining the rugby team. Half of the team was made up of straight girls and the other half was made up of gay girls and we were like a little family. Although I got teased mercilessly for being such a prude, those four years at Keele University were the happiest and most content of my life up to that point.
From the ages of 12 – 21 I genuinely considered becoming a nun. (Sister Act had a lot to answer for.) I’m not sure that being locked away with other sexually repressed women for the rest of my life would have necessarily helped my plight.
Looking back, I believe my subconscious had been trying to get me to come to terms with my sexuality for many years, but I’d done my very best to ignore all of the signs, regardless of how blatant they were. And let’s face it… some of them were pretty blatant.
Not long after I graduated, my very first serious relationship ended and I returned home to live with my family. Now, my family are Catholic and initially they really struggled to accept it when I’d told them I was a lesbian. It didn’t help that I did it over the phone while drunk. (Never, ever, come out over the phone, let alone when drunk. It’s never going to end well. Trust me.) And it certainly didn’t help that the lesbian relationship that I’d been in, had been spectacularly damaging in many ways and ended up taking its toll on me both emotionally and physically.
Now that I was back home, my family made it clear that my ‘experimental phase’ was over and that they wanted me to find a nice boyfriend. I felt ashamed. I just didn’t have the courage to tell them it wasn’t going to happen. Instead, I resigned myself to keeping my head down low and accepting the fact I was most likely going to become a spinster, who would one day get eaten by her large array of pet hamsters.
Then one night, while shopping online, I came across a section for LGBTQ Books. It was like an epiphany! I felt the usual sting of Catholic guilt, but I also felt invigorated at the same time. The loneliness I’d been wallowing in began to disappear and I felt happier than I had in weeks. I sneakily ordered a few books and eagerly awaited their arrival. When I received them, I hid them in my room and devoured them, one after the other, after the other. I probably spent more on books in that month alone, than I did in the whole of the four years that I was at Uni.
Those books helped me, more than I can explain. It wasn’t just lesbian escapism that I discovered and treasured. It was solidarity. I wasn’t alone anymore. The feelings I’d secretly harboured became validated and even more importantly, were shown to be perfectly natural. Those books made me proud to finally accept who I was and they also ignited a burning desire to write my own lesbian story.
They enabled me to change my life and six years on… I now have a beautiful wife, two cats, a puppy and unconditional love from family and friends, who have accepted us wholeheartedly. My wife and I continue to read LGBTQ books and have no intentions of stopping.
It was only two years ago that I came across a posting on Facebook. It listed the information of the Bold Strokes Books 2nd UK book event that was taking place in Nottingham. As soon as I read that some of my favourite authors would be there, I was adamant that I was going and my lovely partner said she’d accompany me. I’d never been to a LGBTQ book event before and was a little apprehensive about what to expect.
We both had an amazing time and I spent a small fortune on books. It was wonderful to meet new people, who perhaps we normally may not have come across. The atmosphere and the attendees were friendly and inclusive. So much so, that we both ensured we had the weekend off last year, so we could attend the 3rd Book event which was even better!
We listened to the authors talk and they all described how being apart of BSB was like being a part of a family. In fact, they all spoke so highly of BSB that from that point onwards I became determined that if my manuscript was ever going to get published, it would be by BSB.
It took me a year to re-write and edit my manuscript before I eventually found the guts to submit it. I later received an e-mail politely saying that it had been rejected. I was disappointed, but strangely, it made me become even more determined. They gave me some excellent constructive feedback and so I went away, worked my socks off and then resubmitted it. In December last year my manuscript was accepted and I can’t express how happy it made me.
I’m please to announce that Secret Lies is due to be released on 16thDecember 2013 and I can’t wait to hold a copy of it in my hands for the very first time.
So, what have I learned about writing lesbian fiction so far? I’ve learnt that writing is a labour of love. There’s a reason why not everyone chooses to write books… it’s actually really hard. You have to motivate yourself, even when it’s the last thing you feel like doing. You have to put in so much time, much more than you initially think. You have to accept that most people won’t appreciate or truly understand how much time and effort you’ve invested, with the exception of other writers and loved ones (who sacrifice the time you should be spending with them, so you can write). You have to develop a thick skin, be prepared to accept constructive criticism, make changes (even if you don’t entirely agree) and work really hard. But most importantly, you have to be passionate about what you’re writing, because ultimately, that’s what’s going to get you through.
I also keep getting asked the same two questions over and over again:
- Q) “Why do you want to write lesbian fiction?”
- A) Because I’m a lesbian and I enjoy reading and writing lesbian fiction. Simple.
- Q) “If you wrote a mainstream book, wouldn’t you get loads more cash and maybe even become famous?”
- A) Perhaps. But my main motivation for writing isn’t to make loads of cash or to become famous. I write the stories because I enjoy writing them and hopefully readers will enjoy reading them.
So, now that I’ve written an essay—oops, sorry. I’m going to go and try to sleep. But I do hope that if you’re in or around Nottingham on the weekend of the 8thand 9th June, that you do come along. ( I’ll be the short one, that looks panic stricken.)
It really is a very social occasion and everyone is welcome.