Tag Archives: GLBTQ UK Meet 2012

Day 63: Maidstone to Guildford (a personal journey)

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During my 20s, I lived in Chatham for a while, so Maidstone was my nearest big town, and I used to pop in for shopping now and again. One of the really fun things I remember was that over Christmas, instead of having a Park and Ride facility, they had a Park and Sail on the River Medway into town. It was bliss – so very relaxing and easy, and THE way to do your Christmas shopping if you can manage it.

Ah, happy memories!

Then, after two or three years, I met my husband-to-be and eventually we moved to Godalming, which is near Guildford, to start our married life. So while the Olympic Torch jogs along from Kent to Surrey, it’ll be following in my footsteps pretty closely.

We’ve been in Surrey ever since. Guildford’s got great shops, some fascinating history and some really haunting (ha!) ghost tours, so definitely somewhere to visit if you’re in the area. The cobbled High Street is a particular draw, though, believe me, in the snow and ice, it’s NOT good!

Part of my bisexual thriller, Thorn in the Flesh, is set in Guildford – my heroine Kate lives in Godalming (in my old house actually – well, it’s easier to describe …) and works in the University of Surrey in Guildford, so she’s a local lass through and through. The blurb for this particular novel is:

Bisexual Kate Harris, a lecturer in her late thirties, is attacked in her Surrey home and left for dead. Continuing threats hinder her recovery, and these life changing events force her to journey into her past to search for the child she gave away. Can she overcome the demons of her own personal history before time runs out?

It was longlisted in the Crime Writers’ Association Debut Dagger Awards 2006. Here’s a very brief extract:

As soon as Kate Harris closed the door behind her, she knew the house wasn’t empty. She dropped the students’ test papers on the hall table and all thoughts of marking them, or having the evening off and spoiling herself with a hot bath and a glass of Chablis, disappeared. It was not that the signs of another person were obvious; on the contrary, the narrow hall revealed no hint of disturbance. The telephone was in its usual place on the half-moon rickety table. Her address book was on top, open at the M slot where she’d left it in her rush to get to work and, underneath, she could see her soft green pumps nestling side by side in regimented innocence.

So she could see no physical clues of any intrusion, or even a surprise visit by her best friend, Nicky, but still she knew. It was a knowledge that tingled its way into her skin. As if an unseen but not unfamiliar presence were beside her, moving back each time she turned her head.

She took three steps along the plain blue carpet. As she passed the hall mirror, she realised that the sudden downpour had turned her hair a darker shade of red.

‘Hello,’ she called out. ‘Nicky? Is that you?’

Then she remembered. Of course it wouldn’t be Nicky. Her friend was, lucky indeed for her, away with her family on holiday in France for her usual spring break. So she took the remaining five steps down the hallway and pushed open the kitchen door.

The first thing she saw was the broken window pane. The second thing was the young man. He was sitting at the table. She couldn’t see his face, which was covered with a black mask, but his hands, long-fingered and elegant in a way she would always remember, were already stroking one of her own kitchen knives.

He looked up.

‘Hello, Kate,’ he said.

 

More details can be found at: http://www.gayreads.co.uk/novels/thorn-in-the-flesh/

Happy torch spotting!

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Day 33 – York to Carlisle

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Wystan Hugh Auden (1907-1973) is associated with many places. He grew up in Birmingham, studied at Oxford, lived in Berlin, London and New York among other places, and died in Vienna. However, he has an association with York, too. He was born there, at 54 Bootham, a substantial three-story double-fronted house built around 1840. 

It’s now Grade II* listed and part of a conservation area, and it’s been used at various points as a school dormitory and a Buddhist centre. It’s now the registered offices of the York Conservation Trust (there’s a picture of it and some notes on their website). 

I’ve chosen to write about Auden despite his fleeting association with York, because aspects of his life and work remain very relevant to us today. He was very much a liminal figure, moving between different worlds, a private person who led a complicated, conflicted life, and who was often in the public spotlight – sometimes for reasons that he found embarrassing. It’s a position many of us are in as writers. And his life reflected both the problems of his time and, it seems to me, many of the issues of marginal and dispossessed people today – which is to say, almost all of us.

Auden was both praised and criticised for his left-wing political views. He was criticised for his rejection of religion and, later and from another perspective, for his return to it. He was dogged by his decision to move from the UK to New York in January 1939; some people felt he’d sought to escape the war and rumours to this effect circulated for years afterwards. And in 1951, he became a ‘person of interest’ to the FBI and MI5 because he’d been telephoned by Guy Burgess shortly before Burgess defected to the USSR. It was only decades after his death that the full story came out. Burgess had tried to phone Auden – they moved in similar social circles – but the call had come to Stephen Spender’s house, there was confusion as to whether Spender had told Auden about it or whether Auden had been too drunk to remember it, and in any case he never returned the call. Auden’s own ‘suspicious disappearance’ after the call was because he’d gone to Italy to be present for the rehearsals of a Jean Cocteau play he’d translated (the BBC recorded it for broadcast, though MI5 seemed unaware of this). Yet this transient and unasked-for association with the world of espionage shadowed Auden for many years. 

Perhaps strangely, given the times he lived in and the laws against homosexuality that were current, Auden’s sexuality was never a matter of public discussion or criticism. His marriage to Erica Mann in 1935 was a strategy to enable her to escape the Nazis; they didn’t have a subsequent married life, though occasionally lived at the same address. He’d left England in 1939 with Christopher Isherwood, but they soon parted. He had many brief same-sex relationships, and developed a relationship with the poet, librettist and translator Chester Kallman; it’s been widely stated that they ceased to be sexually involved from 1941 onwards, though continued to live together as companions for the rest of Auden’s life.

And his sexuality was complicated: he wrote at one time that: “words so excite me that a pornographic story, for example, excites me sexually more than a living person can do.” (W.H. Auden, The Prolific and the Devourer, 1993: Ecco, New York, page 10 – the book was originally written in 1939, but never finished and never intended for publication). 

Auden will be remembered by many for the clutch of well-liked poems that appeared during his lifetime. Probably his most accessible and best-known work, Night Mail, came about as the final part of the commentary in the Basil Wright film of the same name in 1936, which followed the journey of an overnight mail train from London to Scotland.

He may also be remembered for his time at February House, a property in Brooklyn he shared with Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears, the American writer Carson McCullers, Gypsy Rose Lee and others. February House became, for a few years during World War II, one of the epicentres of New York culture. There’s even, now, a musical about the people and relationships within the house (by Gabriel Kahane and Seth Bockley) and more details of that period are in Sherill Tippins’ 2006 eponymous book, February House).

But interestingly, in some quarters he will be best remembered and applauded for material he never intended to publish.

Auden had written a poem with a gay theme, ‘The Platonic Blow’ (aka ‘A Day for a Lay’), in 1948 and circulated it privately to some of his friends. In 1965 a copy fell into the hands of Edward Sanders, of Fuck You Press in New York. Sanders published it. Auden initially denied having anything to do with it, though did eventually acknowledge it to one journalist in 1969. 

In the years since, it’s become perhaps the iconic gay poem and, despite Auden’s reluctance to discuss his own sexuality, an encouragement to others to accept and celebrate theirs.

If there are lessons to be drawn from this, one is that fame and notoriety can come from unexpected quarters at difficult moments of one’s life. And another is that the legacy of a writer’s or poet’s work may be the inspirational impact of a single work on a social group that feels itself marginalised.

If you want to know more about The Platonic Blow, it’s been republished in many places and appears on quite a few websites – for example at www.lapetiteclaudine.com. You can also see it on YouTube, being read at a Bowery Poetry Club meeting (where it’s announced as the ‘Throbbing Sex Poem’). And there’s discussion of the piece in a range of places, including snopes.com and erols.com.

For more on Auden and the surprising complexity of his life and his work, there is of course the Auden Society website which includes a huge amount of material – recordings, recollections of others, scholarly articles and the full text of about 15 of his best-known poems. Oddly enough, though, you won’t find The Platonic Blow there. 

Fulani writes erotic fiction; he blogs at fulanismut.blogspot.com and with his partner at deliciouslydeviant.wordpress.com.

Day 10: North Wales (via Deneb)

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Do you recall, if you’ve seen that movie, what Captain Kirk says in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, when asked if he’s from outer space? “I’m from Iowa. I only work in outer space.” Well Alyn Evans, one of the heroes of a work in progress of mine could say “I’m from Gwynedd. I only work in outer space.”

Yes, he’s a “Gog”, a lad from North Wales. For most of the story he’s going around being captain of a spaceship and having captainly adventures and, of course, a romance. But the story brings him in the end back home to Wales, where he takes the time to make his choices about love and life and how he goes forward.

It’s key, I think, to know about where characters come from, what kind of place they grew up in, because a person will always takes their culture with them, wherever they go, for the rest of their lives. This is true, even if they reject that culture, even if they are escaping from it when they leave. It will always shape them.

Alyn’s a man from a place of hard rock and few people. He’s tough and self-reliant. But he knows that no-one can survive alone, that his community is what keeps him going, however harsh life becomes. He takes that with him in his work, and in this story is rebuilding the community aboard the ship – the Indiaman — he takes command of.

Below is a sneak preview of a scene from the WIP. It’s a while away from being submitted anywhere yet, but I hope one day you’ll have the chance to read the book, and then the rest of the planned series! Because Alyn Evans and his lover Jarvez are not men I can write only one book about. I will definitely try to bring them back to Wales again. Maybe for the wedding…

Read the rest of this entry

Day 5 – Bristol to Cheltenham

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The Matthew

Bristol – home to the Matthew, John Cabot’s tiny ship. In 1497 he was supposed to sail to Asia and trade there. Instead he reached Newfoundland, beating Columbus.

SS Great Britain

Then there’s the SS Great Britain, the great iron ship – the first of its kind, created by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the man who also designed the Clifton Suspension Bridge, an engineering marvel of its time.

Bristol was a thriving port for centuries, and with a history stretching back into the mists of time. Stone Age hunter/gatherers left traces behind, in the pre-Roman Iron Age the local Dobunni tribe created hillforts around the area, the Romans built a town – Abona. But Bristol itself began round about 1000 AD as Brycgstow, meaning The Place at the Bridge in Old English. The Rivers Avon and Severn, and the Severn estuary made it one of the most important maritime towns in Britain for nearly a milennia. Today it is a huge, sprawling metropolis, and it’s the UK’s eighth biggest city.

 

 

 

 
Okay, enough with the factual. I used the city in The Psychic’s Tale – Mark Renfrew works as a researcher for The Dominic Waldron Experience, a reality TV show in the stable of Goldstream Media, based in Bristol. Mark himself lives in Staple Hill, a suburb of Bristol, and Jack Faulkner, his lover, studied archaeology at Bristol University.

The Psychic’s Tale – First part in The Fitzwarren Inheritance Trilogy by a trilogy of authors – Chris Quinton :: RJ Scott :: Sue Brown

from Silver Publishing

“I curse you and your children’s children, that you shall all live out your allotted years, and that those years shall be filled with grief and loss and betrayal, even as you have betrayed and bereaved me.”

Four hundred years ago in rural England, a mob burned two men to death, but not before one of the victims, Jonathan Curtess, hurled a dreadful curse at the mob’s leader, Sir Belvedere Fitzwarren. The curse has followed the family through the centuries, bringing grief and loss to each generation.

Mark Renfrew is a closeted psychic and openly gay. When his grandmother discovers a family link to a 17th century feud and a still-potent curse, she insists he investigates and do his best to end it. He travels to the village of Steeple Westford, and meets and falls for Jack Faulkner, an archaeologist. He also meets the Fitzwarrens, who are facing yet another tragedy.

Then Mark learns that the man who cursed them had twisted the knife by leaving three cryptic conditions that would lift the curse, and he knows he has to try to break the curse his ancestor had set.

 

 

The Pump Room, Cheltenham

Cheltenham Spa – the discovery of mineral springs in 1716 brought royal patronage in the 18th centuary, though it never quite overtook Bath as the fashionable choice, and Spa was added to its name. It seems to have taken that name from the River Chelt, but the actual meaning of Chelt is lost. The town was a thriving community long before the Regency period, receiving a market charter in 1226.

 

 

 

Cheltenham Racecourse

The town is possibly most famous for its racecourse – the Cheltenham Festival draws the finest racehorses and jockeys from around the world, and huge crowds flock there.

 

 

 

 
My story, Home and Heart, is set in the area – the business base of Home-Safe Pet and House-Sitting is in the town itself, and Ben Elliot lives above his uncle’s shop in Charlton Kings, a suburb of the town.

Home and Heart

From Silver Publishing

Deep in the Cotswolds in the heart of England, Ben Elliot settles in for a quiet Christmas house-sitting and caring for an elderly woman’s two dogs while she’s away. When her black-sheep grandson, Adam Prescott, turns up on the doorstep, Ben takes in the human stray as well. Destitute and betrayed by family, boyfriend, and Fate, Adam has lost all faith in others, and in himself.

Determined to help, Ben soon loses his heart to the other man and believes Adam has feelings for him, too. Then Adam’s ex shows up, offering him the world if only Adam will come back to him. Now Ben must choose whether to step aside, or reach for the only gift he wants this Christmas.

Christmas may not be a time of celebration for Ben.

Olympic Blog: Exeter to Taunton – the joy of cream teas …

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I’ve always loved Devon and have had some of my best ever holidays there. The pace of life is much slower than here in Surrey where I live, and of course the Devon cream teas are to die for.

I can honestly say that the best cream teas I have ever tasted can be found in the Cathedral Café in Exeter Cathedral, and teach me more about the joys of heaven than any number of pitch-perfect choirs and stunning stained glass. And I say that as a committed Anglican too.

Exeter also has the best public toilets I’ve ever experienced – I do believe that a society can be judged entirely on the standards of its public conveniences – so the Olympic procession will have a lot to enjoy in their journey from Exeter to Taunton. Then again, I must admit that I did happen to be in the city on the first day of opening the new facilities, and it was a joyous occasion of flowers and cleanliness, and they even had very chatty staff who were happy to show you around. I went back three times, and I didn’t even need to …

So when it came to writing my gay thriller The Bones of Summer, realising I had a significant back story to tell when it came to my hero, Craig, I knew I had to set it near Exeter. This is where Craig grows up, in a farming household traumatised by the narrow religious faith of his father, and where he meets Michael, the first man he falls in love with.

Even later on when Craig is settling in to his new life in London, the memories of what happened in Exeter and why he had to leave are never too far away. When a threatening letter arrives, Craig knows he must return to his childhood rural home in order to face and overcome his past if he’s to have the chance of a future at all.

Bearing our Olympic theme in mind, I’m also proud to say that The Bones of Summer was Commended in the UK Writers’ Conference in 2008, and placed third in the 2009 Rainbow Mystery Fiction Awards. So not quite a Gold, hey a girl can dream …

Anne Brooke
Gay Reads UK