The Bristol Gay Ghetto

I live in Bristol, in the UK, in an area of the city called Old Market. (There used to be an old market here a few hundred years ago. IDK. We’re not particularly creative when naming stuff.) The pub across the road was built in 1483. It’s old, yo.

For years, the area has been known as the ‘gay village’ of Bristol, though there’s another street full of gay bars on the other side of the city centre too. Along my street there’s six dedicated gay bars (including the Bristol Bear Bar and the Gin Palace, which is mostly haunted by trans women), a sauna, a ‘men only grooming salon’, and at least two brothels. When I moved here my dad referred to it as a “colourful” area of the city.

Last night I went out with a few friends and bar hopped a bit. We learned that one of the gay bars in Old Market will be closing next weekend. Another is in trouble. The owner of the bar we were in was saying he’s concerned – people around here like to bar hop, sometimes they’ll hit the same place three times in one night as they move around. (Which explains why the streets are so noisy all the fucking time.) The fewer bars there are, the less time people will spend in the area before they move on.

The ‘gay village’ of Bristol is in danger.

And I’m conflicted.

The thing is, LGBT people in Bristol don’t need a ghetto any more. My friend and his husband were saying how they’ll go to the infamous Bristol prohibition bars, or one of the big clubs, or anywhere they feel like really, and they hardly ever get hassled for being openly gay and affectionate with each other.

(When I asked, my friend said the last time he can remember getting any shit when he was out was about a year and a half ago, from a very drunk guy who wouldn’t stop wolf-whistling at him and his husband holding hands. They actually thought it was hilarious.)

Of course there’s still homophobia, of course we still get gay-basing. But actually, it’s so uncommon that two guys who have been together for 15 years are comfortable going to pretty much any pub or club or bar in the city.

The gay villages and ghettos sprung up as safe spaces. Gay people used to know they could come to Old Market and find gay people in gay pubs and bars. Now they hook up via the internet or apps, and go on dates wherever the fuck they like.

PROGRESS!

At the same time, we’re losing part of our history and culture. I doubt the Old Market Tavern will close – the clientele there is very diverse and they do a wicked Sunday roast. The Gin Palace is probably safe too. But the dive bars? The dirty, mean, cramped clubs that smell of sweat and where your feet stick to the floors? Why the hell would anyone – gay or straight – want to go there?! Those are in danger. And when one bar folds, the whole area is at risk.

I don’t want to lose the very unique character and atmosphere of Old Market. The very buildings here are defiant; they’ve stood through two world wars, the English civil war, through serial killers, slum clearance, gentrification.

That defiance has been a cornerstone of the gay rights movement: we’re here, we’re queer, get used to it. It seems right, somehow, that this part of the city hosts the LGBT community.

I love that we have these places where people are actively encouraged to be themselves. But this city is incredibly liberal, and LGBT people are welcome to be themselves anywhere now.

I’m not sure what will happen next; gay bars aren’t going to disappear, but they need that herd immunity to survive. I really hope the Retreat will get new owners who will give the place a facelift and re-open (if only for the sake of the lesbian pool and snooker club who won’t have anywhere to play from next weekend).

Anna

 

p.s. I did a bit of research while writing this and found out that Cary Grant worked at the theatre in Old Market when he was young. Thought that was pretty cool!

Throwback Thursday – Solitude

Since my Solitude co-writer, Tia Fielding, has another book out soon, I feel now is a good time to revisit this one!

I’ve known Tia for a long time, since our shared beginnings in fan fiction. That probably makes it over six years, though as far as I’m aware, neither of us are counting. We’ve always been able to do this thing where we bounce ideas back and forth at a rapid speed, shamelessly and unselfishly taking each others ideas and expanding on them. Our brains work along similar lines. I scream “GET OUT OF MY HEAD” at her far too often!

I know I approached Tia with the idea for Solitude, only because it came out of the list of very random notes I keep in a spreadsheet. (Always a spreadsheet. I love spreadsheets). I’d heard of a town called Solitude in Utah and it had always appealed to me, this idea of ‘what sort of person would run away to a town called Solitude?’. Another one of my notes was ‘Porn stars in love’. It took crashing the two ideas together to come up with the plot.

Solitude
incredible cover art by Reese Dante

The answer to ‘what sort of person runs away to a town called Solitude’ is obviously a dramatic little twink. Bitchy, theatrical, heart-of-gold Liam. If there was any doubt in anyone’s mind—yes, I wrote Liam! I knew exactly what I wanted him to be: life-toughened, cynical, yet so very young and naïve.

And I doubt anyone who has read our other works questioned the fact that Tia wrote Gael. That incredibly strong character, calm and solid, with Finnish roots could only be a Tia Fielding creation! Although I became very familiar with Gael when we were writing, I’ve always felt like he ‘belonged’ to Tia. She was able to build that character in a way I never could.

Though ‘Porn Stars’ is a well-worn trope in gay romance, I really wanted to push at the edges and see if we could do something a little different, without undermining the dangers and realities of such a career. I think both Tia and I were inspired by the CockyBoys site when we came up with Woodspring—from what I’ve seen, CockyBoys take pride in taking care of the performers they work with. We knew from the start that our fictional porn studio wasn’t going to be predatory and grim, and our performers weren’t going to be human-trafficked tragedies.

That’s not to say that Liam doesn’t have issues…

“You could get a real job,” he said with a little smile.

“Fuck that,” I said emphatically. “Anyway, doing what? I’ve got a high school diploma from years ago and no employment history whatsoever. If I got an interview for McDonald’s, what am I supposed to tell them? My idea of interpersonal skills is taking two dicks at the same time.”

… which kind of shows how his life is changed by his career choices. Liam has no revulsion towards his job—as far as he’s concerned, it’s just sex—and it provided him with the opportunity to build his own life on his own terms.

I think the most controversial part of the story is the ending (spoilers ahead!) when Liam continues to work do sex work after he settles into his relationship with Gael. Gael doesn’t approve, but he’s supportive of Liam’s decisions. This was actually a really important part of the story for me. I didn’t want Liam to be “saved” from porn and prostitution. Like I said before, it was a big part of him being able to be independent and start a life on his own terms, and to take that away from him just because he found a loving relationship.

One of the best parts of Solitude was getting to write with Tia, something that’s definitely on the cards again for the future. I think she’d agree, we’re both just waiting for the stars to align and the right project to come along!

In the meantime, Tia’s next novel is currently on the Coming Soon page over at Dreamspinner Press and you can pre-order it now… go check it out.

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Thanks for stopping by on this little nostalgia-fest!

Anna

NEW THINGS!

 

Hello friends!

This week has been my gap week in between leaving my old job and starting the new one on Monday. It’s been nice to have a breather, though I have technically still been working.

I’ve kind of been feeling down for a little while now about my writing (and lack thereof). My tricky relationship with my own mental health has meant creative output has been severely reduced while I focused on bringing myself back up to normal life speed. I’m not quite back to 100%, but things are certainly looking up.

Last week I signed a contract with Dreamspinner Press for a short story called Rainbow Sprinkles. Some of you might recall the open call for submissions for the ‘States of Love’ collection – there will be 52 stories, each set in one of the United States – and I’ve got California.

The story is actually an idea I’ve been sitting on for some time. Those of you who know me will be aware of my obsession with Disneyland, Disney World, Disneyland Paris… and I haven’t made it to any of the Asian Disneylands yet, but be assured it’s on my to-do list. Rainbow Sprinkles is the story of a young actor who plays a Prince at Disneyland in California, and his budding romance with a handsome guy in a local ice cream parlor who tops all of his sundaes with rainbow colored sprinkles. It’s a ridiculously cute and fluffy romance!

I’m hoping it’ll be out before the end of the year, schedule permitting.

I also just finished a book that I’ve been working on for well over three years. It’s called The Impossible Boy and I swear, this book has kicked my arse like nothing else. I thought I’d wrestled with Signs! (I really did wrestle with Signs. This was worse.)

It’s the story of a young guy who works within the fashion industry as a fashion journalist. His name’s Stan, and he’s genderfluid/gender non-conforming—he presents and ‘passes’ as female a lot of the time. The novel is about Stan’s move to London, where he meets and falls in love with Ben, who plays guitar in a band.

To say this story has been a labour of love is an understatement for sure. It’s probably the most angsty thing I’ve ever written, to the point where I abandoned it for months at a time because it just hurt too much to go back and keep hurting my boys! I’ve never been good at writing the hard stuff. What can I say, I love love too much.

The book doesn’t have a home yet but I’ve got a few ideas, so I’m hoping very much it will be out in the world next year.

The last thing to mention will be my current work-in-progress, which I am having so much fun with. I’m not quite ready to give away all the details, but I will say that anyone who knows me will be very unsurprised when they see what I’ve come up with! That sounds super cryptic now…

Thanks for stopping by. I’m going to send another Throwback Thursday your way this week, so don’t forget to subscribe if you don’t want to miss it!

Anna

Throwback Thursday – Jurassic Heart

I know, I know. So original.

But here’s the thing. In the past five years I’ve released fifteen novels and seven short stories. A few of them were co-authored, a lot were my own, and it’s been such an intense journey sometimes it feels good to sit back and reflect.

Bloody hell.

(That’s me reflecting.)

Today I want to talk about Jurassic Heart. It recently got a shiny new cover by Garrett Leigh, which I adore – here it is if you haven’t seen it already.

JurassicHeartLG

Jurassic Heart came about from my deep and intense need to write a ‘dinosaur book’. Some of you might know that I’m an insane dinosaur nerd. I am the person who dragged MJ O’Shea and LC Chase to the T-Rex Café in Orlando earlier this year, just because it’s dinosaur themed! I can remember my parents wouldn’t let me see Jurassic Park when it was released in 1993, probably because I was only six years old. Even when I was a bit older they still thought it was too scary so I rebelled and bought the book instead.

(As a side note, this is probably a good example of how my parents should have policed my reading more than they policed my screen time. I found Harlequin romances at far too young an age!)

The thing with Jurassic Park that I still find even now, is that I can re-read the book and discover something new every time. It’s such a rich and layered and complex story. The science is incredible, and was totally accurate at the time it was written. The characters are fantastic. The dinosaurs… the freaking dinosaurs.

So, you can see what an effect that book had on me!

As far as Jurassic Heart goes, I can remember back around November 2012 I went to London to do some Christmas shopping with a friend and we stopped into the Natural History Museum. If you’re not familiar with the museum, there’s a huge and very famous diplodocus in the main hall. As we were wandering around, I got into my head an idea about a palaeontologist running through the main gallery, past the statue of Darwin, and down the magnificent staircase to the skeleton of Dippy the Diplodocus.

That’s where Nick was created, and that scene is actually the opening of the book.

I started writing in earnest in December 2012, and then I had a little accident on Christmas Eve.

I was totally sober (important) and slipped at the top of a flight of stone steps. Both my feet went out from underneath me and I went down all half dozen or so steps on my bum, fracturing my coccyx (tailbone) in the process. The coccyx is an interesting bone to break. It’s not like they could put my arse in a plaster cast to heal, so I was stuck on sofa/bed rest for about six weeks while I healed up. Going back to work in my office, sat at a computer for eight hours a day, was totally out of the question. So that’s when I wrote Jurassic Heart.

Research for the book didn’t feel like work at all. I spent hours and hours reading about dinosaurs, where in the world different species were found, what dinosaur skeletons are most common and which ones are barely known. Narrowing in on ‘raptors’ was instinctive—I suppose they must be my favourite dinosaur, I have a velociraptor tattoo!

I already knew about some of the famous excavation sites across the US, but wanted to create my own little place to set the book, so I picked Alberta, Canada. The famous “Dinosaur Park” is in Alberta, so it’s already an area where digs take place, lending some authenticity to my fictional town.

I knew I needed someone to really contrast and butt up against my adorable nerdy paleontologist main character, and that’s where Hunter stepped in. Hunter is the total opposite of Nick; he’s tall and broad, hunky, First Nations/French Canadian (and he speaks French too) with dark hair and smoky eyes. He’s also an eco-conservationist, and has serious issues with the damage the paleontologists do to the environment when they dig. The two characters couldn’t be more different and I loved writing that clash of personalities.

I couldn’t write here about Jurassic Heart without mentioning Boner. I can’t quite remember exactly how it happened, though it’s certainly a reflection of my own personality that I would find naming a paleontologist ‘Boner’ absolutely hilarious

A great friend of mine, Rhys Ford, recently posted about Jurassic Heart on Facebook and I’ve received more than one nudge to write a sequel since. I can’t say one is in the works right now, but if the world is ready for another paleontologist romance, I’m certainly not one to deny it that.

So, there you go! My first Throwback Thursday novel post. I’ll be working my way through all my previous books as I go along—you can subscribe to my mailing list over there on the right to make sure you don’t miss any. Thanks for reading!

Anna

 

Mental Health Awareness Week

I really had to think about whether or not I wanted to blog about Mental Health Awareness Week. Partly because I wasn’t sure if I had anything I felt like I wanted to say. It’s not always easy to be open.

I don’t talk about my mental illness on social media for a few reasons. I think it’s partly because I’m actually quite private, and I think carefully about what I want people to think about me. When a large majority of my interactions with readers and other writers is online it’s easy to filter and present a certain image. Although I do my best to be very genuine and open, the darker side of my life is one I try and keep hidden from view.

This year I was signed off work for almost four months due to depression. I’ve only been back at work for a few weeks; when I made the trip to the States for RT I was technically still absent from work due to my mental health.

I’ve only been able to accept the fact that I have depression in the past couple of weeks. Before that I would insist that it was just anxiety—as if “just anxiety” is a thing! I suffer with panic attacks, insomnia, and being physically sick. Those were the worst symptoms, I think; throwing up often several times a day, not being able to sleep, and that awful tight feeling in my chest that never really went away. I found myself focusing on those physical symptoms because it was easier than trying to deal with the root cause. I really didn’t want to accept that I was ill.

For the first few months—through January and February—I pretty much refused to talk to anyone about my issues except my doctor (who I had to tell what was going on since she was the one to sign me off work). I refused CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) and any other type of therapy, and I didn’t want medication either. Looking back now, I really don’t know what I did for the four months I wasn’t in work. It’s like that time is a black hole. I didn’t write, I didn’t go anywhere, or do anything in particular. I just existed.

When I left for RT I felt like I was starting to lift out of it a bit. Having an amazing three week adventure to look forward to focused my attention, and travelling on my own always forces me to pay attention to the here-and-now, what’s going on around me and how I feel about it. I started to pay better attention to things like hunger cues, and though I still wasn’t (and am still not) sleeping that well, some of those awful physical side effects started to lessen.

I think part of the reason why I didn’t—and don’t—want to talk about my mental illness is because I like the fact that people see me as a bright and upbeat person. I am that person. I like being the sort of person who my friends look to to organise the parties and the nights out. I like baking just to see my colleagues smile and to brighten their day. (And because I like cake). I always strive to be the friend who lifts people up, instead of dragging them down. I hug a lot.

What I am learning is that I can still be that person—bright, full of life Anna—and accept and deal with my depression and anxiety in a healthy way. Having depression and anxiety doesn’t take away from that bright, full of life person. I am still her.

The way we talk about mental illness is changing rapidly. Even a few years ago I wasn’t prepared to discuss my anxiety attacks, even though I’ve been having them since I was sixteen. I buried the idea that I could be a person who suffered with mental health issues. It may be that coming to terms with the existence of those issues in the first place has been harder than overcoming the effects the issues have caused. I’m still working on it.

And I’m going to keep working on it. This journey is probably going to be one I’m on for the rest of my life. I may have lost four months of my life to depression, but I’m not going to let it dictate the next four months, or the months after that. I know there’s every chance—even a likelihood—that it’ll come back, that I’ll sink again, and I may lose more time. But I know who I am, and I know where I’m going, and I’m going to work my ass off to make sure that my mental health problems don’t define me as a person. I’ve got so much more to do.

Anna

Five Times My Best Friend Kissed Me

(and One Time I Kissed Him First)

It’s out today! Thank you so much to everyone who has been liking/sharing my posts and making me feel all smiley about this book being out. I can only hope you all enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

I am currently blog-touring to spread the news about this book, so you might have already heard a bit about it. I also had ‘Five Times’ bookmarks at RT, which turned out to be a bit pre-emptive as the book wasn’t even on the Dreamspinner Press ‘Coming Soon’ page that week. Oops. You live and learn!

For any of you who may have read fan fiction, the concept of 5+1 might already be familiar. It certainly is to me. I started writing fan fiction when I was about fifteen years old (half my life ago, jeez). In those days I was firmly entrenched in the world of Harry Potter and I wrote what I call “fill the gap” scenes. I hadn’t figured out what shipping was, I didn’t know that Harry/Draco was a thing, and I definitely didn’t read or write smut. All of that would come later.

The thing is, I still read and write fan fiction. I never left that world. This novel is my homage to fanfic and the online communities that basically taught me how to be a writer. I didn’t do a creative writing degree and I hadn’t taken any writing classes until after I’d already become a published author. I’ve always said that I see my writing career as evolving from an apprenticeship in fan fiction, rather than being taught.

I know some people look down their noses at fanfic and part of me does understand why. However, I think what those people don’t appreciate is how difficult it can be to take someone else’s characters and world and recreate them accurately. It’s actually not easy to write in the world of Harry Potter. JK Rowling wrote something so incredibly rich in detail and nuance that it takes a huge amount of skill to manipulate and emulate her world. I’ve read fan fiction stories which have touched me so deeply, the storytelling being so incredible and moving. That’s good writing, however you want to look at it.

With ‘Five Times’ I wanted to pay homage to that part of my history.

Which leads me back to 5+1!

5+1 is a writing format which has been used for literally decades. Like I write in my author’s note in the book, it started back in the 1980’s with a Star Wars story, and has been used in hundreds of fan fiction stories since. In fact, a quick search on Archive of Our Own (a fan fiction site) yields over 3,000 works tagged as 5+1 stories. I’m sure the overall number of stories is much higher.

Though the format is quite flexible, the most common interpretation is ‘five times someone did something, and one time they did something else’, which is what I used for this novel. If you’re interested, these are some other examples I came across when I did that search –

  • 5 Times Steve Rogers Felt Awkward Talking About Sex, and One Time He Stopped Talking Altogether
  • Five Times Derek Failed To Tell Stiles How He Feels (+1 Time Stiles Knew Anyway)
  • Five Things the Avengers Caught Tony Stark Trying to Put in His Ass
  • The Five Letters Harry Wrote Louis, and the One He Sent

You get the picture.

When I decided I wanted to write a 5+1 story I knew I needed to work it slightly differently than most other novels I’ve written. There’s not actually any chapters in the book. Instead there’s six sections that were each written independently from each other, and should be fairly self-contained (if I did it right!). It’s more like an anthology of short stories than a novel, one that follows the lives of these two people from childhood through to their mid-thirties.

So, you know what, I’m not going to tell you any more about the novel. Whenever I sit down to write something new my goal is always, always to write something new and fresh and different, and I definitely think I achieved that with this one. Hopefully whether you’ve read fan fiction in the past or not—and you definitely don’t need to have read any fanfic at all to get this story—you’ll find something totally new with ‘Five Times’. And if not, I’m pretty sure it’s the longest book title Dreamspinner Press have ever published.

Anna

Cover art 2

Travel Recap

In my last post I wrote a bit about my experience at the RT Booklovers Convention, but I was actually in the United States for two more weeks after the con. Here’s what I was up to.

Most people, after a busy and intense con like RT, go home and sleep for a week. I decided to go to Disneyland.

I left Vegas on Sunday afternoon, arrived in Anaheim late on Sunday night, and went straight to bed. The next morning I got up, put a lot of suntan lotion on my very pale skin, and skipped off down the street to Disneyland.

Although I’ve been to Disneyland Paris and Disney World before, this was my first trip to the original Disneyland, and it was awesome. I become a big kid in theme parks, and I’m a particularly big fan of anything Disney, so this was definitely my jam. I got to spend a day in the original Disneyland park, then the second day I got a “park hopper” ticket which meant I could go back and forth between the two. It was a fairly hot couple of days and I did get a little sunburned on the top of my head, but I loved it. I’m including some of my photos because of who I am as a person.

 

When I left Anaheim I went up to Los Angeles for three days to explore another gorgeous city. I stayed in a hostel, which I did quite a lot in my younger days, and I do like the unique hostel vibe. One night I sat outside enjoying a beer with a girl from France, a girl from Finland, a guy from Poland and a guy from Sweden. It’s always fun to talk to other people and get their impressions on a place.

After getting a bit more sunburned down at Santa Monica beach I headed east to New York. I’ve been to NYC a few times before, but not in about ten years and never on my own. I love this city, it’s one of the few places outside the UK I could see myself living.

I stayed at the incredible Jane Hotel on the Lower West Side; the hotel was once a boarding house for sailors and actually housed the surviving sailors of the Titanic. All the rooms are like ship’s cabins and the bar is incredible! It’s a much cheaper and far more interesting option for a hotel in New York, so check it out if you ever visit the city.

During the week I did lots more walking around, seeing the city and catching up with friends. I spent a couple of hours with the wonderful Damon Suede, chatting about this year’s RT and planning next year, though the conversation did drift into our shared history and love of theatre!

I’ve been fortunate enough to do a lot of travelling over the past few years, much of it the result of being a writer. Last year I visited Orlando (for the Dreamspinner Press workshop weekend), Munich for Euro Pride Con, and Morocco with my sister. This year I’ve already been to Paris, my three weeks in the US, and I’ll be going back to Edinburgh this summer like I always do.

I really love being able to explore new places—in particular I’m drawn to cities. I love finding the little hidden gems down side streets, or restaurants that look incredibly dodgy on the outside but have the best food you’ve ever tasted.

So let’s make this one interactive—tell me your favourite place you’ve ever travelled to, and somewhere you’re desperate to see one day. I might add some more places to my bucket list!

Anna