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Literary Stalker – A ‘Gay Novel’ by a Straight Author

February 1, 2019 Leave a comment

As part of The Ginger Nuts of Horror LGBTQ+ Horror Month, I have penned this piece concerning the rationale and technical challenges I faced in producing Literary Stalker as a ‘gay novel’, with references to gay novelists Alan Hollinghurst, William Burroughs, Joel Lane and others. William Burroughs’s second novel Queer was a particular inspiration, as was Joel Lane’s From Blue To Black. Queer photo: 1986 Picador edition.


 

At the Hay Festival last year, prominent gay novelist Alan Hollinghurst declared that the gay novel has had its day. He said that in earlier decades it possessed urgency and novelty, but now it is ‘…dissolving back into everything else and we are living increasingly in a culture where sexuality is not so strongly defined.’ Broadly speaking, Hollinghurst feels that as homosexuality is now so familiar and generally accepted, the ‘gay novel’ no longer has an edge.

Yet the recent story of Matt Cain and The Madonna of Bolton (published in 2018), shows there is some vibrancy left in the phenomenon of the ‘gay novel’. A tale of a northern gay lad growing up in the 1980s and worshipping the singer Madonna, Cain’s novel was widely rejected by publishers for being ‘too gay’, ‘a little niche’ and also for not having the highbrow literary credentials of Hollinghurst’s work. But through a crowdfunding campaign and the support of backers such as David Walliams, Mark Gatiss and Lisa Jewell, it was published and proved popular with a large audience.

Nonetheless Hollinghurst does have a point. In an age where gay love stories and their tribulations are featured universally in screen dramas and soaps such as Coronation Street, what can the ‘gay novel’ do to be transgressive again? It has become a well-trodden path with familiar tropes, and so has the status of a genre one can dabble in, such as horror or science fiction. Which is the precise point where I personally interfaced with its world. For reasons of plot expediency, I set out, as a straight man, to manufacture – to the best of my ability – a ‘gay novel’.

Read more on: The Ginger Nuts of Horror

To read other Ginger Nuts Literary Stalker pieces, please follow these links:

Book Excerpt, Medusacon 2006

Author Interview with Roger Keen

Review of Literary Stalker by Jim Mcleod

Ginger Nuts of Horror Interview with Roger Keen

November 22, 2018 Leave a comment

In conjunction with other Literary Stalker-related material on the Ginger Nuts site, this author interview deals with early influences, my views on horror literature, writing technique, social media and the process of being reviewed by peers. It contains thoughts about the semi-autobiographical and metafictional strands in The Mad Artist and Literary Stalker, and other things, such as the importance of character naming.

Could you tell the readers a little bit about yourself?

I went to art college in the 1970s and was very involved in the counter-culture scene of that era. I particularly loved the Beat writers, Burroughs and Kerouac, and surrealist painters such as Dali and Magritte. I painted for a while and then took up photography and filmmaking, and after college I worked in TV, including the drama series Robin of Sherwood in the ’80s. I’ve always liked Gothic fiction and movies, and in the ’90s I started writing horror stories and got into the scene, as it was then. More recently I’ve been reviving those associations because Literary Stalker is a return to the horror/crime genre and also it’s ‘about’ the horror-writing world.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

Watching films and TV and reading, naturally. I try to root out more obscure films and novels I’ve always meant to watch and read – and also classics – and when I finally get around to experiencing them it’s always rewarding. Also I like walking, sometimes in wild country such as the Lake District and the Alps, and occasionally I play golf and ski in winter. I’m a big fan of Indian food and West Country cider, usually in that order.

Read more on: The Ginger Nuts of Horror

William S. Burroughs: A Life

October 3, 2018 2 comments

What follows is an extended review of Barry Miles’s biography: William S. Burroughs: A Life (American title: Call Me Burroughs: A Life), which was published in February 2014 to mark the centenary of Burroughs’s birth.

The review first appeared in the Psychedelic Press magazine Vol IV 2014, and has never before been online. It is reprinted now because of its in-depth quality and the fact it provides a whistle-stop tour of Burroughs’s life through the lens of Barry Miles’s updated facts.


 

Barry Miles is no stranger to writing about William Burroughs or the wider Beat scene. He had known Burroughs and been part of his circle since the mid-1960s, when Burroughs lived in London, and has catalogued his work, collaborated with others on restored texts of his novels and has written a portrait of Burroughs, El Hombre Invisible, which for many years has served as the standard primer or introduction to the life and work of the man. Miles has also penned biographies of Kerouac and Ginsberg and other works related to the Beats, such as The Beat Hotel. He therefore seems ideally equipped to write this new definitive biography of Burroughs, published to coincide with the centenary of the author’s birth in 1914.

As he tells us in the introduction, Miles had a hand in the making of the myth of Burroughs, a phenomenon which has now become so powerful that it has ensured Burroughs a place as a character in history independent of his place in the hall of great writers. It was in 1984 that Miles discovered a lost Burroughs manuscript, Interzone, which together with another from the past that he’d previously uncovered was instrumental in getting Burroughs a new publishing deal. That other manuscript was Queer, Burroughs’ second novel, written in the early ’50s but never published at that time. In the ’85 edition Burroughs supplied a short introduction, a few pages of autobiographical background that were to prove seminal in establishing the Burroughs ‘myth’.

Read more on: Medium

Literary Stalker Blog Tour Finale

All good things come to an end, and sadly that’s true of the terrific Literary Stalker Blog Tour with Confessions of a Reviewer. Confessions themselves have hosted the final stops, which include a two-part in-depth interview with myself and a review of the novel. Big thanks to Nev Murray and the rest of the team for the excellent hard work in putting the tour together, other social media publicity and the concluding pieces. I would strongly recommend Confessions if you are considering publicity for a horror-related book.

The first part of the interview covers early influences, my writing and TV careers and the evolution of ‘mad artistry’. And the second part looks into the ideas behind Literary Stalker, metacrime and metahorror and also the challenge of a straight author creating a gay narrator, drawing on novels such as Queer by William Burroughs and From Blue to Black by Joel Lane. Then there are some more revelations of social media debacles in the ‘Ten Confessions’ section.

From the review:

There are a lot of references to movie plots and murder scenes, as you would imagine when the main character is murdering people just like in his favourite movies. This part I enjoyed because having watched most of the movies mentioned, it was easy to relate to them…It is full of a darker kind of humour and on occasions, a certain Britishness comes through in the story and it certainly lends an extra flavour to it.

Read more:

Confessions Interview Part One

Confessions Interview Part Two

Confessions Review

The Beat Hotel & Shakespeare and Company

November 16, 2017 Leave a comment

This short film was assembled from recently rediscovered footage I shot in 2006, showing the legendary Beat Hotel in Rue Gît-le-Cœur in the Paris Latin Quarter, and the nearby equally legendary bohemian bookshop Shakespeare and Company.

In the 1950s the hotel was home to Beat luminaries William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso. Burroughs completed his novel Naked Lunch here, and in conjunction with the artist Brion Gysin, he discovered the consciousness-altering dreamachine and the cut-up literary technique, used in subsequent novels, including Soft Machine and Nova Express.

The original Shakespeare and Company was founded by Sylvia Beach in the 1920s, and writers such as Hemingway, Pound, Fitzgerald, Joyce and Beckett gathered there. It featured in the Woody Allen film Midnight in Paris, but it was shut down during the Nazi occupation in 1941. The bookshop, in its current location, was founded by George Whitman, an expat American of literary leanings, who at the time of filming was still alive and active at the age of ninety-two. Back in the ’50s he knew Henry Miller and Anais Nin, as well as Samuel Beckett and, of course, the Beat writers.

George Whitman died in 2011, just after his ninety-eight birthday, and the bookshop is now run by his daughter, named after Sylvia Beach. As for the Beat Hotel, in its present incarnation – as the Relais Hotel du Vieux Paris – you can stay for around 150 Euros per night, and if you ask they might give you Burroughs’ old room.

The Beat Writers and the Psychedelic Movement

March 16, 2017 1 comment
Allen-Ginsberg-and-William-S-Burroughs cropped

Allen Ginsberg & William Burroughs in later years.

 

This article was adapted from my talk at Breaking Convention 2015, held in London at Greenwich University. It has now been published by the excellent Oak Tree Review, which investigates the many branches of psychedelic culture throughout history, specialising in its manifestations in art and literature.


 

In their activities and writings in the late 1940s and ’50s the Beat writers – principally Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg – prefigured and influenced the Psychedelic Movement, which came into flowering a generation later. When those epoch-making cultural changes got underway in the ’60s, the Beats were naturally looked upon as mentor figures and elder statesmen, and Timothy Leary, who was of the same age group as them, was happy to recruit and induct them into the cause – through his Harvard program. This produced some unexpected and volatile results – Tim Leary got more than he bargained for – and the end product as regards the three major Beat writers was one spectacular success, one mixed case, and one spectacular failure.

It all started in New York in 1943, within the Columbia university scene where the Beats first hooked up. At the time Jack Kerouac was in his early twenties, and already saw himself as a writer. Bill Burroughs was older, in his late twenties, and was known as a raconteur and intellectual, and became a mentor figure to the group. Allen Ginsberg was the kid, still a teenager, and just enrolled at Columbia. There were other key people in the group, such as Lucien Carr, another student, and everybody became fictionalised in Kerouac’s novels – most notably On the Road.

At around this same time Burroughs first tried morphine and became an addict, so the events of his first novel Junkie run roughly concurrently to On the Road. In both books, which are strongly autobiographical, there are many references to recreational drug use, and they open a marvellous window onto pre-psychedelic bohemian life – exactly the kind of scene which would develop eventually into the hippie scene.

Read more on: The Oak Tree Review

The Beat Writers and the Psychedelic Movement

January 11, 2016 4 comments

My Breaking Convention talk from July 2015 is now up on Vimeo.

In their writings and lifestyle experiments, the Beat writers Kerouac, Burroughs and Ginsberg were very much the precursors of the psychedelic movement – in particular with regard to their employment of drugs for recreational and psychonautic purposes. They were pioneering users of ayahuasca, mescaline, psilocybin and LSD; and when Timothy Leary began his Harvard work he naturally tried to induct the three as elder statesmen figures. The results were somewhat volatile and unexpected, with one resounding success, another a mix of good and bad, and another a resounding failure. Nevertheless the Beats remain highly influential figures and today’s psychedelic culture would not be the same without them.

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