Doing Dark Doings at Miskatonic

'Touch' is included in Dark Doings At Miskatonic U

‘Touch’ is included in Dark Doings At Miskatonic U

Occasionally I get invites, to write or participate in various creative projects. Mostly, there are all sorts of questions about contracts, boundaries, storyline, theme, characters.  As you might expect. Occasionally, you just say Yes.  In this case, I was being invited to participate in a mystery world and given only the merest hint of what might be involved… HP Lovecraft’s Miskatonic University. A creative play/battleground for the bizarre, unnatural and terrifying.

I don;t have a huge knowledge of gothic or classic horror/science fiction, and not caught up with HP Lovecraft, aside from being vaguely aware of controversies over alleged racism. The challenge was to write a story within a very strict deadline, with a very specific theme to explore around. Yes, I was in.

At the time, I had just started a couple of online courses, and was experiencing th freedom and limitations of the internet. It seemed a great way to join up to Miskatonic – let my process dictate the form and theme. What if Miskatonic started online tutoring? What if it entered the 21st century and its darkness spread onto the internet?

And then those beautiful, terrifying gothic and steampunk elements. I could see the type of machinery, feel the heavy keys to type on, the smells and colours of the world. It scared me. It felt a dark and potent world, full of uncertainty and fear. For those who regularly read this blog, you may be aware of some of the fear and uncertainties it might tap into for me. But, you know, that’s what writing is about …

So I had some vague ideas. I had a voice, a narrative, and a few emotional landscapes I wanted to explore. The rest was just … writing the damned thing. Or to become a conduit for the story to tell itself. To become a little lost in the horror and chaos of Miskatonic University, and in the process of writing a story for a project that was still a mystery – indeed, a secret. ‘Shhhh … don’t tell…’

It’s always great for writers to be challenged. A little structure, a little gem of an idea, and then for the hounds of creativity to be released. A scent to follow, wherever it goes. It’s surprising, and scary, what lies in the dark recesses of the mind. Which, I guess, is the whole point of Miskatonic University.

It’s now out there. The story and its premise still haunt me, if I’m honest. Particularly seeing the results as New Horizons goes spinning towards Pluto. But, shhh, spoliers.

You’ll have to go read it for yourself. I dare you – Touch

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scribbles from a Polari Writing Workshop – on happiness, anger, change, and love

 

Today I had an opportunity to speak out some creative writing jottings in a fun and rather fantabulosa workshop run by Polari literary salon hosts Paul Burston and VG Lee, with a bunch of West Midlands aspiring writers. I stumbled through reading aloud, to the background of a clanging radiator, and in the setting of the Birmingham Lesbian And Gay Centre cafe/kitchen. Here are some of the scribblings, though none have reached a status of a ‘work in progress’. Just exercises on themes. Don’t judge me.

happiness

Skippy* came again last night. It’s the first time I saw her eating the biscuits I put out. She appeared bang on midnight, like Cinderella running home from the ball.Our eyes met, and she half scowled, half grinned. I never know with her. The fireworks have made her all skittish and flighty.

Then the alarms went off. Was that you, mischievous Skippy? And then you were gone.

The alarms were still going off when I left this morning, and you presumably lay dreaming with the biscuits heavy in your belly.

Anger

So I was expecting that this wouldn’t be a problem, turning up here, and then I came across you and your standoffishness and snotty insensitive attitude. It’s a routine medical procedure, and you seem surprised that I didn’t carry round the make and model of my heart valve.. “Isn’t that in my medical records?” I ask, as politely as I can. “If it was me, I’d want to know what was in my body.” It’s not you, and you’ve no idea what I’ve been through. I feel told off and I only turned up for a bloody MRI.

And then I get told the scan won’t happen because you don’t have the details. THEY’RE IN MY RECORDS! just …. have a look. Or ring the Cardiology Unit. I’LL DO IT FOR YOU.

I get my coat, and I’m off. Fuck you very much. FUCK YOU VERY MUCH!

And then the anger quietens, and I begin forming plans, and complaints, and ways forward. And I thank you, you bastard. Because I survived my surgery to spite bastards like you.

A moment of change

London. You big, scary, beautiful, exciting tart. I’ve run away from you every time before. I’ve felt the panic, and my head was swimming with noise and chatter, and I became small and ran away.

But tonight, it’s a New Year. There are lights and crowds and a friend walking beside me. And I can see your lifeblood, that river, and all of a sudden it sparkles with adventure and promise.

I’m no longer scared. I’m going to embrace you, for all your largesse and danger and pigeons and tubes and cockerney villains, and all those people I know here, and all those people I may get to know here.

Hello, London.

Love

It’s soppy and dirty and infectious and sudden and hard and forever and gone in the blink of an eye.It’s me and you and them and him.

It’s Saturday night and Monday morning, births,deaths and marriages, the in-laws and the out-laws.

It’s words and songs and films and books and plays.

It’s murder and hate and war and unfair. It will kill you and it will save you. Protect me from its cruel deceit, and give me more, more, more.

It’s hard to put into words.

 

*Skippy is my local neighbourhood fox. This was her first public appearance.

I was lucky to catch Polari on tour. Troll along to their website to find out more.

For more on Cinderella and polari, varda my previous blog

 

The End Is Nigh – on (nearly) completing a novel

the-end

I’m coming to the end of my novel. I’ve known for a while that I was hitting the last 10,o00 or so words, as I aways had a target. But, more than that, the story has been told, and a journey has come to an end- for me, for the story, for my characters. We’re all a little relieved, and a little upset. Voices in my head are telling me to tie up a few loose ends, to make sure that I don’t forget to mention this or that. Most of the characters have survived, and a good few haven’t. There are, I hope, good reasons why.

It’s my fifth novel, and the whole process has been very different to any of the previous ones. Usually, I’m very disciplined, and can write 3-5000 words a day without much problem. It’s tough, but I haven’t found it too difficult to actually reach my self-set – or publisher imposed – targets and deadlines before. And so it’s hard, and disappointing and frustrating, to find that I haven’t been able to work that way with this particular novel.

But, it’s also been exciting and frightening and enjoyable. You never learn to write ‘a novel’. You can only learn to wrie your current novel. And every time is different – hoepfully beacause each story is different, and needs to travel a different landscape. This one has been through illness, and fear, and anxiety, and self-doubt. You can read about some of that on other pages of this blog. It’s also been a lifeline and a crutch for me. It’s filled my days and demanded my time and commitment when I really didn’t want, or feel able, to write.

And it needed to be that way, for the story to find its true nature. The other day I had a real revelation about the central protagonists, a genuinely surprising  realisation that I would have missed if I’d travelled any faster towards the end. The story is much, much better and richer  because of it.

I’m so not finished. There’s the difficult plotting and tying up of plotlines at an end, and then starting again right at the beginning to edit and rewrite.  It’s a hard slog and demoralising as you question every line, every word, of something that seemed perfect as it was pouring onto the page first time round.

And then, I have to persuade editors and publishers and agents and readers that it’s as good as I thought it was when I was in the middle of that unreal,  hallucintary trance of writing the first draft.

No-one else knows the story yet. It’s lying there, waiting, for you and your imagination to bring it to life. But it’s not quite ready yet. It lies mewling and seeking attenion somewhere between my mind and the computer. Which is another story, as I’ve just bought a new computer but simply dare not move my documents over in case something awful happens and it’s gone forever.

A little longer yet, I tell myself. A little longer yet, and then it really will be

THE END

Now Was Not Like That Then

outrage impertinent decorum growing up positive

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 …

more beautiful for having been broken

kintsukuroi

Kintsukuroi, the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with gold paste, ‘to repair with gold’  has also been described as ‘more beautiful for having been broken’, or the beauty of being broken. It’s been part of this year’s blog experience for me as rogue and queen (from the Eartha Kitt song All By Myself, also about becoming beautiful through painfulexperience.) The proof of its fragility and its resilience is what makes it beautiful.  I even like the fact that the gold paste used is potentially poisonous – repair itself is dangerous.

My journey this year has been through cancer, strokes, heart surgery and loss of lovers and loved ones. The picture above is of something I chose not to repair, as it reminds me of my best friend Mary Harlot, who I wrote about in another blog entry Betty Bones And Mystery Of The Phantom Clipper Knicker. Mary was my oldest, oldest, oldest,  schoolfriend and I bought him the candle holder  as a birthday present to keep on a lovely glass table in his beautiful scarlet papered front room in his home in South Wimbledon home (once used as a setting for a hovel in an episode of The Bill which caused me no end of amusement.) At some point, in drunken revels, he broke one of the glass candle holders. He died suddenly and tragically over ten years ago and I read a poem , shaking like a leaf, at his funeral. When his parents cleared out his flat, they offered me the opportunity to take something away as a momento and I chose the candle-holder. When my Mum saw it, her immediate reponse was ‘you can get that fixed.’ I told her I didn’t want to fix it. Dad understood, but she didn’t – she wanted to repair it, as she always wantes to make things better. I keep it broken, because I like fragile things, and resilience. Not quite kintsukuroi, as it’s not mended with gold, but certainly more beautiful for having been broken.

This year, I’ve written two novels Second Moon and Endlings (which, to be honest, I should be working on finishing now),  and a collection of short stories A Happy Finish. Both novels have touched on my experiences of being broken, or beautful fragility and resilience. Earlier this year, I had a very polite thank you/but no thank you rejection for an earlier romance novel The Leading Man I had published a while ago which I was looking to re-publish. It was also written after a period of illness and brokenness.  Fortunately, as a writer, I’ve had very few rejection letters, but know it is part of most authors’ experience, and we have to believe in the beauty or resilience of our writing to carry on. I encourage myself, and other authors, to treat rejection with politeness and gratitude – not only might you need the contacts again, but someone has taken the time to read your work and respond, and you can learn something valuable both from their criticism and the experience.

We’re all broken. We’re all beautiful. I remind my counselling clients of The Power Of Gratitude – reflecting on the things we can be grateful for, however difficult or painful the experience might be. Often, they will choose to create Gratitude Lists – reflections on what is positive in their lives, as an antidote to the Negative Chatter we often experience. Gratitude often allows us to accept, to look beyond and through the pain itself, and move on.

I hope your experiences of being broken reveal your beauty in 2014.

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Hot On The Trail v.2 (#HotT) – “A sizzling bedtime read” (Attitude)

Hot On The Trail by Lukas Scott #HotT

Hot On The Trail by Lukas Scott #HotT

Bacon in the pan

Coffee in the pot

Get up an’ get it

Get it while it’s hot!

– old Cowboy song

..And so began my first queerotica novel, originally published by the Virgin/Idol imprint in 1999. This week, I signed a contract with RandomHouse/Penguin to drag those cowboys kicking and screaming into the 21st Century by publishing it as an ebook. Blowing some life into a couple of old friends, as it were.

The Midwest, 1849. Hot on The Trail is the story of the original American dream, where freedom is driven by wild passion. And when farmboy Brett skips town and encounters dagerous outlaw Luke Mitchell, sparks are bound to fly in this raunchy tale of hard cowboys, butch outlaws, dirty adventure and true grit.

Find out how wild the West really could be … a place where men were men and pleasure was theirs for the taking.

It was a hugely exciting time to write about and research. The ’49ers’ embodied the idealism of The American Dream, goldhunters who gave up everything in their pursuit of liberty and happiness. It wasn’t difficult to add the notion of sexual feeedom into the story, and #HotT is as much a story about Gay Liberation as it is about the American Dream. It’s a coming Out story on an epic scale.

I hadn’t read gay erotica before, although I had written short stories in the genre. A novel was completeley different – an opportunity to follow an emotional, as well as erotic, journey, and to rewrite history. There can be no dubt there were gay cowboys, and they’re a staple in gay porn, erotica and fantasy. And why not? Rugged men in big hats and tight fitting clothes looking for trouble, breaking the rules. No wonder Village People included them in their motley collecion of gay archetypes.

And I really wanted to write a novel. I’d spent the first few years of my writing careeer writing and researching worthy academic gay/queer books – most of which documented the political and social struggle of gay life in the 80’s and 90’s. It’s hard work, and I ended up with a lot of homophobia in my head and around me. Much of the stories I was telling were about changing the fiuture, and I also wanted to change the past. They re closely related. Time past, present and future. What if it wasn’t always like this? Where are the gay histories? The gay voices from our past?What if the world wasn’t straight?

Somewhere along the way, Brett and Luke befriended me by their campfire and told me how they’d met, and the adventures they’d had. Some of those were together, and ome of them  during the times they’d been forced apart. Hot On The Trail is their love story more than anything. Not in the sense of them wanting or needing to get married or live happily ever after, which is where a gay romance would have taken them.  Their story was grittier, harder, dirtier. Bad boys who just happened to find each other and hit it off. More like cowboy fuck buddies. Making Brokeback Mountain look like The Waltons. Bear Grylls gone badIn a good way …

Brett and Luke will be coming at you digitally probably early in 2014. I’ll let you know when and we can set the campfire up and glug a few fingers of  bourbon. Just don’t tell the sheriff ….

There Were These Two Nuns In A Bar ….

I’ve just added a bit more of my writing/directing/performing portfolio on my page for Other Projects.  There’s an anecdote in one of the books about Sister Beladonna and Sister Frigidity,  two Sisters Of Perpetual Indulgence, in the Coleherne Bar in London.  And, faithful reader, it’s all true. I know, for I was that sister …

So it happened that Sister Belladonna was in his rubber habit and I was wearing my mini with fishnets, and we were having a pint with the regulars at the Coleherne in Earl’s Court, London. Exactly a year ago, we had first worn our habits at the same pub, to join a demonstration against the local police who’d raided the Coleherne and harassed customers. While we were supping our bevies, a leather queen started chatting to us. All of a sudden, he burst into tears. ‘Why me?’ he asked. ‘I must deserve it.’ ‘Bullshit,’ we replied, bought him a drink and discussed the effects of moralising, guilt and stigma surrounding HIV. After drying the tears and a drink or two, like a phoenix he clambered up onto a pool table, which had been used for a stage by a stripper earlier that evening. Once upon a time, the leather queen had been a drag performer, and he started to dance one of his routines. Salome could not have been more beautiful. So there were two gay male nuns and an ex-drag queen, surrounded by butch leather clones. It may not have been Kansas, but it was some kind of home. Dolphins can swim, drag queens can dance, but we can all be heroes.

 

Preface, Impertinent Decorum: Gay Theatrical Manoeuvres (Cassell, 1994)