Thursday, 30 May 2019

When Life Brings You a Homophobic Aunty...

An aunty from my mam's side of the family came into my Facebook ken recently, bearing very welcome photos of all kinds of wonderful moments from the distant 60s/70s past. But you have to be careful. I realised her timeline was full of really homophobic and transphobic Christian trash propaganda. When challenged on it, she said it was her right to disagree with who and what I was and if i couldn't agree with her point of view, I was free to defriend her. She kept calling me 'love', all through this.

I didn't defriend her. I asked a couple of questions - about how maybe tolerance, love, respect and understanding were things that we should all be aspiring to, regardless of faith? And that if your religion tells you to deny human rights and respect to those unlike you, then maybe that's your problem, and not the LGBTQ communty's?

Well, then she defriended *me*, of course. And it makes me sad. She isn't old. She's in her 60s. She isn't beyond help. She lived through the amazing changes of the 60s, 70s, 80s... There's no excuse for being as blinkered and dogmatic.

Her page was also full of dimwitted Brexit crap, too, I realised - all that 'we voted out' and 'will of da people' etc. That kind of crap - usually spouted by people who've had it pretty good, intent of shitting up the future for those that come next.

It makes me sad for the little kid in the photos she sent. Me as a toddler, visiting these relations in Yorkshire in the early 70s. Glad, all that time later, to see the pictures. But knowing now that they don't even really think of him as worthy as the same human respect that they'd give to others.

Yech. Depressing thoughts in a week that's made me depressed all round. I've been fighting depression all week and the gloom's been winning.

Be nice to each other, everyone. Here was a woman who seemed friendly. Seemed reasonable. She wasn't frothing and crazy. She just wanted to post nice old lady messages about how gay people can be cured and how trans people talking to school kids are emissaries of Satan. She wanted to say it and not have the likes of me call her out on it.

I've had a shit week, like I say - and I'm trying not to let the gloom win.

Sunday, 26 May 2019

My Nineties Novels...

Then came my Phoenix Court trilogy, which was published between 1995 and 1998 by Chatto and Windus. These were the novels I wrote in my twenties. Council estate Magical Realism set in the North East! Featuring tattooed men, leopard boys, glamorous trans heroines, super-powered Sixth Formers, invisible ex-boyfriends and Queer shenanigans of all sorts…! Last year Lethe Press reissued the whole set with new covers, introductions and related short stories I’d published at the time.

Saturday, 25 May 2019

Twenty Five Years Since My First Story Sold!

I’ve realized that it’s twenty-five years since I sold my first short story.
            At the time I was so fed up – and felt defeated by everything. I’d written three full-length novels and I’d finished my MA in Creative Writing back in 1992, two years previously. Nothing had come of any of it… But I’d forgotten that, in amongst all the short stories I’d sent out for submission, there was one, called ‘Patient Iris’ that I’d sent to the British Council’s anthology, ‘New Writing.’
            Then, one day late in May 1994, I packed up my stuff in Lancaster and returned across the country to the North East. I went home to my mam’s house and there was a letter, right at the bottom of a huge pile of post, and it was from the British Council’s Harriet Harvey-Wood, AS Byatt and Alan Hollinghurst. They loved my story and wanted it to be in the book.
            It was just at the right moment for me, in terms of giving me the boost I needed to keep going. I’ve since learned that there can be terrible lows further on in your carrier, too, and you still need those boosts and pushes and little nudges along the way. But selling ‘Patient Iris’ and being paid for a story for the very first time – that’s still one of the great moments for me and my career.
All that time ago! I’m glad to say I’m still here, still doing it. And I’m still glad as anything when I sell a story or a book, or hear that someone has liked something.

Monday, 20 May 2019

Thank My Lucky, Lucky Stars - Bowie in 1995

I do a Patreon page thing, where I publish a chapter every week. They're usually an episode from my past. There was an awful lot going on in my life during 1995 and 1996. I thought I'd post an excerpt here from the night when I went to see David Bowie on the Outside Tour in Newcastle in 1995, and hope that it might hook some of you into going to subscribe to my page: 

Thank My Lucky, Lucky Stars

December 1995

On the coach from Darlington to Newcastle for the concert at the new Arena. The woman in charge of the microphone goes: ‘Hello, good evening all. Now, I’ve been asked already and yes, there is a toilet on board. No big jobs, please. What I want to ask now is, has anyone got a David Bowie tape? We had one but some nice Bowie fan nicked it when we went to Sheffield last week. What we have got is a Simply Red tape, or Freddie Starr tape with all the swearing. Do you want that? It’s risqué. Now we’ve got a raffle for this T-shirt with David Bowie on it. It’s a picture of him painted green with blue fish strapped to his chest, his mouth stitched up and his hair standing on end. It’s a pound a ticket.’
            The arena was breezeblocks and concrete, smelling very new. There were posters for the Gary Glitter and Suzi Quatro Christmas Show. Lots of Goths and families around for Bowie. There was a tall man, unshaven in a work suit, who was very calm until the show started, and then he was shouting: ‘Come on, Davey man!’ at the top of his voice.
            In the middle of the show a woman shoved through the crowd carrying a black art portfolio. She was in a green velvet dress, smiling as she unzipped her folder and held it up so that its contents could be seen above the heads of the crowd. She took out a few large sheets of drawing paper and when you looked, you could see it was pencil drawings of David Bowie, in all his different incarnations. They looked a bit funny, and they were getting crumpled as she waved them above her head at the stage.
            The mad bloke in the suit, who was leaping up and down behind her, snatched one of the drawings off her, and bounced about, pointing to it. ‘Davey man! Look at this, man! This lass has been drawing ya, man!’
            This was in a lull between songs and Bowie actually noticed. He gave a little wave, frowned at the pictures and gave the woman in green velvet a thumbs up. Then he sang ‘Teenage Wildlife’, which was a song I never thought I’d hear him sing live.
            ‘Same old thing in brand new drag / Comes sweeping into view…’
            When the song finished the woman in green velvet turned to the jumping man and said, ‘Thank you!’
            Her drawings were really crumpled up when she pushed them back inside her portfolio.
            It was strange watching David singing all his new avant-garde, deliberately weird songs. Funny things to be singing in an arena. It wasn’t ‘Let’s Dance’, was it? But the Geordie crowd didn’t mind at all, and they were word-perfect even on the new, weirdo stuff. ‘This chaos is killing me,’ they sang along, quite cheerfully.
            Bowie was in overalls and a sleeveless t-shirt, spattered with paint, standing under harsh fridge lighting with a sign over his head: ‘Open the dog.’ He looked like he was thoroughly enjoying himself. He cracked up laughing when he sang those lines from ‘We Prick You’ that go, ‘Shoes, shoes, little white shoes’ and the people at the front threw a whole load of baby shoes at him. It was like they were at the Rocky Horror Show. He picked up the shoes and the flowers they’d chucked and hugged them to his chest. ‘Thanks for all the shoes,’ he said at the end.
            I loved being there, right at the front at a Bowie concert. Up close, you see that he carries on like everything is a scream. He does all the old gestures and moves going back to the days of Ziggy Stardust, and he shrugs and rolls his eyes every now and then at his own daft theatricality.
            I was surrounded by this strange crowd. A family of ginger midgets who blocked theirs ears during the noisier bits of drum-n-bass. There were three blonde girls with a bullnecked bloke who smelled of corned beef pasties. There were tanned fellas with golden earrings and that madman who kept yelling: ‘Gan on man, Davey!’
            I was in a red checked shirt with a little orange scarf tied round my neck, and I fancied that when he sang ‘Look Back in Anger’ it was me who Bowie pointed straight at on the first line.
            ‘You know who I am, he said / The speaker was an angel… / He coughed and shook his crumpled wings…’
            In the coach on the way home there was a bloke done up like Gary Numan, saying: ‘I fucking love that ‘Look Back in Anger’ song. Y’knaa, I reckon he was pointing straight at me when he sang that the night. I fuckin’ love it. ‘Waiting so long, I’ve been waiting so waiting so…’
            ‘Yeah,’ said the girl with him. ‘I’m glad we came. And I’m glad we got right down at the front. It made it all more real than Depeche Mode were in Birmingham, eh?’


Home again that night at Mam’s, I sit up with my sister’s copy of ‘Fairy Tales From Around the World’ that she’s left in the front room. I’m reading a story that might be one of my favourites. Call me mawkish. It’s Hans Christian Anderson’s ‘The Fir Tree.’
            I’m putting the Christmas tree lights on after everyone’s gone to bed and I read it again.
            ‘Oh, I was happy then, just a few minutes ago, when things were like that… And look at everything now..! I never thanked my lucky, lucky stars when I had the time…’
            Something like that, anyhow. That’s how that story goes. That story’s on the list with my all time faves.