Once upon a time, in a universe far away, I landed my first writing contract. It was all terribly exciting. Getting a real book into print, ad being commissioned. I was a post-grad student terribly excited by ‘gay theatre’ and ‘gay drama’, the new ‘queer politics’ that had emerged in the 1990s and which seemed to inhabit different areas of my life – politics, friendships, relationships, culture. I was in the process of trying to make sense of all this when Cassell started its own pioneering ‘queer studies’ publications list, and I was invited to be in the first round of authors to contribute. My research enthusiastically – and probably, naively – coalseced around an idea of ‘gay theaterical manoeuvres’ – the notion that sexual identities are created through our body, our language, and the spaces we inhabit/invade. A clumsy, but idealistic way, to try and marry some of my lived experience as a young queer writer and activist following a backlash from the AIDS crisis, and new(re-emerging) prejudices and homophobia. No equal age of consent, no equal marriage, no gays in the military, no ‘promotion’ of homosexuality.
What strides, what leaps there have been since then. And, for me, that book – Impertinent Decorum – was published in 1990, and I was then offfered a second commission, for a collection of oral histories on the theme of ‘Young people and HIV/AIDS ‘- an area I was doing work in as a dramatist, activist, and writer. I got the opporunity to write another book, and to sit and listen to many inspiring life stories. ‘It’s like talking to a counsellor’, one of them told me. Which is what I also eventually became.
My third commission from the same supportive editor/publisher was to document the rise and history of the direct action group we both belonged to, OutRage! I had lots of chats, listened to a whole load of gosssip and rarguments, from people I barely knew and people I knew well – ‘including ‘the busiest gay man in London’. Even then, we found we were looking back at a world that was changing and disappearing, hence the title of my introduction to the book ‘Now Was Not Like That Then’, after a comment from a vociferous anti-gay contributor on a television talk show. Much of the time we were being vindicated and ‘str8’ society was coming round to a rather more liberal (or assimiliationist) vision of ‘equality’. It wasn’t exactly the ‘Queer’ agenda we’d started off with, but if that got the police to investigate homophobic murders rather than hanging round toilets trying to entrap gay mean, it seemed an imporvement. OutRage! was published in 1998, at a time when the organisation itself was changing and diminshing, but before the real impact of its arguments and campaigns saw fruition. Many will argue that OutRage’s direct action was counter-productive and it was the more measured politicking of groups like Stonewall that were responsible for the change.Wotevs.
It was kind of exhausting wirting non-fiction about things I felt so strongly about. Writing the books was a way for me to re-imagine, but also to record, what was happening around me. After those books, I took to greater flights of fancy with queerotica and sci-fi. But it was glorious to have a commision, and to have space, simply to write,with a supportive publisher backing me.
As with gay rights, publishing has moved on and Now Was Not Like That Then. My publisher was acquired by a much larger publisher, so I find myself strangely housed within the Giant Halls of Bloomsbury, who have recently confirmed that they will be e-publishing those early books. E-publishing! My edior and I talked about such a thing in the 1990s and we both thought there might be something in it, but at the time the publishers themselves weren’t so convinced. All that business about licenses and formats seemed too complicated. So I continued to take a train down to That There London and the gleaming and daunting publishing houses, with a big fat print-out opf my latest 200 page book, Ofcourse, I LOVED going down to the Big City with a physical print-out of my latest book. It was so …. heavy and impressive. And, even better, to get the print copies or proof-copies through the pose, so I could hold MY BOOK in my hands. Mmm, Precious ….
I still write. Mostly, these now get e-published in the first instance. Which is equally exciting, for me, but it’s rarer to go to a bookshop in Vancouver or wherever I travel and find one of my books on the shelf. But, for me, those first three titles remind me of the many thoughts, conversations, arguments and struggles of a young writer. I’m welcoming their return, and hope I can forgive myself the mistakes which will be so evident to me today.
My first published words were It’s Cool To Be An Artichoke which have also been quoted in the blog. Recently, professional footballer Thomas Hitzlsperger and Olympian Tom Daley have come out. Moves are foot for equal marriage. Now was not like that then. Later today, I have an appointment with a space station. Funny where your writing and (re) imagination can take you …