The following short essay was first posted on my external blog, A Pencil is Best. While I realise a lot of it is preaching to the converted, I hope some elements may be interesting.
It's such a simple phrase, but to many LGBT couples, it's been a long time coming. Or it is still the stuff of dreams. A hope kept barely alive amidst widespread persecution for simply being who they are.
In this Pride season, it is sobering to be shown how many countries don't allow their LGBT citizens to register their partnership. Human Rights Watch has issued an interactive map illustrating exactly that. Simply looking at the graphic rubs the facts in. Since 2006 when South Africa allowed same-sex marriage, it is still the only country on the African continent to allow any form of partnership. Looking eastwards beyond Greece, on one edge of Europe, and Finland and Estonia on the other, the map is entirely blank up until it reaches the Pacific ocean. The only exceptions are Cyprus and Israel.
In fact, out of the 195 states that exist in the world today, 41 allow a same-sex relationship to be registered. The fact this list is expanding is a cause for optimism - Australia joined last year, and HRW notes that:
However that still leaves in the region of 150 states who don't.
In some states, being gay is tolerated, in the sense there is no criminal law being broken. Sometimes though, this is a sham. Writing about a report published by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association, a Guardian newspaper article last year noted that while living a gay life isn't illegal in Egypt, LGBT individuals
It gets worse. It will come as no surprise, I guess, to be told that Saudi Arabia is one of five states where the death penalty is actively invoked for being gay. Should you wish to give expression to your love for another by having sexual relations, there are still 71 states where this could result in a prison sentence. This isn't for any crime as would be recognised by any right-minded individual - stealing, assault, murder - this is for displaying love or desire for another like-minded individual.
Looking around the web for gay fiction, you'll find, amongst all the porn, a huge number of romance stories. Again, no surprise perhaps, given how popular straight romances are. But there's a difference, particularly with the older stories. Many of these don't have the hero walking off into the sunset with a prince, a millionaire, or a handsome stud. They are content to show two individuals getting married and living a partnered life together. That's the height of their romance - simply a desire to mark their love and commitment like any straight couple can.
These stories are food for the mind and soul of those who aren't able to give open expression to who they are. And that could just as easily be in the UK or US. They give hope. They make normal what may be labelled perverse, sinful, or abhorrent.
There are many organisations dedicated to changing attitudes towards LGBT individuals, some international, some country based. The Guardian article notes another cause for hope, where in
There are also those which seek to make young LGBT people feel less alone, to be able to accept themselves. To hope perhaps, that they might one day find love and marry. In a slight detour, I'd like to highlight one group whose reported reach made my jaw drop.
Frameline is mainly known for the LGBT film festival it runs every year in San Francisco. One of its outreach projects, Frameline Voices, provided free access to queer films for anyone to view. What made my eyes widen was the statement that these films had been viewed in every country of the world. Yes, you read that right. Yemen, Saudi Arabia, North Korea. Three and a half million views in five years. The power of the internet as a force for good.
What I've mentioned so far are small beacons, trying to lighten the darkness that too many LGBT individuals live under. So in this seasons of weddings, if you're tired of making decisions, having to buy another outfit, or listening to speeches, spare a thought for those would love to be at a wedding. Their own.
My thanks go to @droughtquake for the information about the Frameline outreach project.
I'm about to start work on a potential entry for the next GA anthology. As the plot stands presently, one of the main characters is a young Polish man. You can probably see where this is going already. I have no intention of writing large chunks of dialogue in Polish, but I do want my character speak a little in his native language. Greetings, expletives, some other short phrases, and the occasional word forgotten under pressure.
I am well able to use a dual-language dictionary, and I'm used to the fun of using Google translate, but I really need someone to tell me whether what I've come up with is appropriate. Both literally and in character. I may also handover a number of English sentences to be translated.
It will be a number of weeks before anything is ready, and I have no intention making anyone's life burdensome. But I do like my stories to reflect real life and society. A young Polish man doing nothing but speaking English, even to his mum, doesn't strike me as right. So, if you, or someone you know of, might be able to help, please get in touch.
Just to be clear - I'm an English writer, and the story will be set in an English city.
In a moment of January madness, I decided to inflict my writing on the wider, virtual public by starting a blog on WordPress. I already blog on there in a work capacity, but this is rather different. This is me (as northie) putting myself out there in a very crowded arena. I'm under no illusions about the amount of attention it'll garner, but I think it's worth a whirl. A Pencil Is Best serves both to display my writing, but also to promote the community here. If it results in additional interest for GA, I will be very happy.
In addition to republishing a number of my shorts from here, I hope to be using some of the prompts available from other bloggers. Although I have to say, my current writing time is pretty much taken up already. I'll see. From time to time, I'll also be using the blog to give form to some of the many thoughts about writing and the creative process which swim around my head.
So if you're already a WordPress denizen, or you simply pass through occasionally, please stop by to say hi. By just going to the site, I will know someone has looked at it (and believe me, that'll be something worthy of note ), or if you're feeling adventurous, anyone may leave a comment. However, there is one significant proviso: you can call yourself whatever you want as the name to go with the comment, but it will only be accepted if you give a valid email address. As the 'owner' of the blog, I see that address along with the comment (it is never displayed publicly). I realise that might be a significant disincentive, but still ...
As the title says, I'm venturing forth. What will result? Who knows ...
I'd been wondering how to communicate what's currently happening with my writing, when I decided to add another entry to this blog. It's been quite some time since I last wrote anything here, so I re-read my last effort as I couldn't remember what I'd written. It turned out to be an interesting, if salutary read. Comparing what I thought my writing plans were last June with what actually happened, has just given me a few smiles and the odd eyeroll. If you know my writing, and you're curious, give it a read - it won't take you long.
Anyway, as my predictive skills obviously leave something to be desired, I'll stick with what I know will be happening.
The next chapter in Soul Music will post 5.1.18. and should settle back down to being fortnightly after the Christmas break. The likelihood of the previous prompt stories being recycled is very low - the characters are subtlely different, timelines have changed ...
After a somewhat longer hiatus, I'm about to start on the next chapter for Hell_is.com . This was about the only thing i got right in the previous entry. Chapters for this do only appear when I have time and inspiration.
The next short monologue in the Night Thoughts series should be along soon.
And finally, I've reached the new story of the entry title. I wrote the first chapters for this in November 2016, so soon after I started writing at all. Never too late is the story of an older man's coming out, leaving behind loneliness and self-repression to start exploring what it means to be a gay man. It's been complete (as Part 1 of 2) for quite some time, but it's needed quite a lot of work to bring up to my current standards. Look out for it on alternate Fridays from Soul Music, starting 12.1.18.
Anything else will be a surprise to you and me both.
A quick update about what's happening in my neck of the woods.
Departures, a new chapter about my Demon will be making its appearance shortly in Hell_is.com. Chapters to this will post only as I have the time and inspiration.
My sequence of stories featuring Geoff and Tony will be extracted from my prompt collection and be posted separately so I can add other stories. This will mean I'll lose all the lovely comments but it's not the end of the world. I may take the opportunity to edit and alter the existing stories but essentially I'll be posting old stuff as new ...
My first chaptered story is getting close. Part 1 of a longer tale, I decided that I'd just about reached a point where I could stop, get it out there, and see what responses are forthcoming. Early versions of the first few chapters were posted on the GA test server. Never too late is the story of a coming out with a difference.
I've also been creeping out my long-suffering editor with the start of a supernatural tale. It came out of a prompt response but it's already much too long. It may be a stand-alone story or it might end up being my entry for the next anthology (Secret spaces).
So, all in all, I'm keeping myself out of mischief. As ever, I thank @Parker Owens for his skill, advice and patience.
And beta-readers, for that matter.
My editor and I had a slight blip a couple of months ago. I was about to publish my second prompt response when I realised that my main character changed his name halfway through. Neither of us had noticed. In the same prompt, I committed a style faux-pas which had also passed my editor by. He wasn’t impressed with himself and suggested that the next blog post I wrote, should be used to comment on his editorial abilities. So, I’m doing so, just not quite in the way he intended.
What I’m going to say will inevitably be focussed on him because I’m a newcomer to writing and he’s the only editor I’ve had. But they’re also meant as a general note of thanks and praise to those who edit here on GA.
I’ve only been writing stories for a few months but I do have a good knowledge of English and reasonable grasp of grammar. So, in theory at least, my editor’s life could be a lot worse. I’m lucky to be writing in English as my first language, something I share with my editor, sort of …
He is the person who started me writing and he has been unfailingly supportive, encouraging words at hand whenever I feel down or unsure about my writing. He has a full-time, mentally and physically tiring job, yet he always makes time to read and comment on anything I send him. And there’s the little matter of his own writing, as well.
I suspect that I’m lucky to have someone who, although not English, understands my quirky Englishness. His comments are often funny, always illuminating and they’re always couched as suggestions. Whenever I have a sentence or paragraph which doesn’t quite work, he always notices it and comes up with a reason why and a solution. I may not go with his solution, but his reasoning, I always follow and so, find my own solution. When I do make a recurring grammatical or stylistic error, it is corrected with an explanation of why, so I can learn.
These comments and notes are short, but they’ve all taken time to write and he’s had to think about the story in some detail. And just in case you’re thinking that three prompt responses are the sum of what he’s had to wade through, there are some 26,000 words of two ongoing stories as well.
He also acts as my beta-reader and his reader responses are fascinating. One chapter I wrote which I thought was nothing out of the ordinary, he raved about. Another, which I trailed because I was so convinced he’d love it, got a warm but unexceptional response. It’s an excellent reminder that I’m not my best judge when it comes to second-guessing reader responses.
Why does he do this? For the love of it and so he can help other writers express themselves to the best of their abilities. Certainly not for any payment. I thank him with all my heart - my writing improves all the time because of him. I also thank all the other editors and beta-readers on GA who give of their time and expertise so freely.
A little early for January, I know. But now seems a good time to look back andlook forward.
Two years ago, I was sitting in a featureless room together with most of my colleagues, being told that the workforce had to be reduced by well over 50%. This was a week before Christmas. It had pretty much come out of the blue and we felt betrayed. We'd spent four years working bloody hard to get our collections ready for moving to a brand new building and then we'd survived an amazingly successful opening year and a bit.
I was lucky - I had a job I could apply for within the organisation. Other people attended that meeting to discover that their section, never mind their job, didn't exist any more. It took eight months of uncertainty, indecision, wrangling, and surviving some of the worst hands-on management I've ever endured, before I was confirmed in the part-time post I'd managed to secure.
The winter that followed was odd. I'd had to adjust to being part-time but once that had happened, I didn't quite know what to do with my time. I am not a good self-starter, especially when it threatens to take me out of my comfort zone (and many things do that). So I felt rather at a loose end and my mind, in particular, was starting to feel just a little rusty. It also affected my mood.
This is where GA came in. I've said elsewhere what effect this site and its wonderful inhabitants have had on me. I'm pleased to report no such problems this winter. Rather, I'm wondering on some days whether I really need to go to work because I have a chapter sculling busily round my head which I would much rather be committing to paper. (And I do mean paper, to be written on with a pencil ... )
In many ways, this year has been (and continues to be) a true annus horribilis on so many levels. I am going to buck the trend in my own small way, and say that this year has been the best for a long time. I feel a very English urge to apologise for my good fortune but I have managed to ignore it so far ...
When I first joined GA in March this year, it was as a reader (with posting photos as a sideline). I had no urge to write anything except the odd review. In fact, apart from one local history booklet written as part of my work, I haven't written anything of any length since my student days. I've never thought as myself as a frustrated novelist, poet or any other sort of writer.
GA (and you, its wonderful inhabitants) have been slowly working your magic. First, I was persuaded that I might have the odd verse or two in me, and then I found myself writing a couple of filmic scripts set in the Last Post Wins universe. I now find that the effects of the writing bug are long lasting and seem to increase as time passes. My latest LPW effort is 9000 words long and counting, I've completed one (prose) prompt and another one is brewing slowly in the background.
So, I shall soon (ie in the next few weeks) take the plunge, become an Author and so be the latest, very wet-behind-the-ears recruit to the ranks. I know I have much to learn but where better to do so than GA? I don't understand where this desire to write came from – but I'm happy that it's here.
On the way to read a partiular poem here on GA, I got side-tracked and read another instead. It was a piece of blank verse and as I read it, I thought I'd like to give it a go. As a rank amateur writer of verses, it was a bit presumptious, perhaps, for me to think that - I have given it my best go but I realise that may not be good enough ... All comments are welcomed. As ever, I thank Parker Owens for his patient assistance. However, all deficiencies are mine, and nobody else's.
This response follows on from my Last Post Wins ballad.
I know about your plots, your wicked lies, Your heartless, knavish tricks against a man, A knight so brave and fair, who risked my wrath To save your wretched, worthless life. So hear Me when I say that you do not deserve Such love, so generously given – I Do now command it be your lifelong quest To worship, serve and treasure him for all His time. Go, leave me now to seek your knight And truly sing to him your songs of love.
This is the second response.
How long have we been friends? Some three decades? The passing years have not increased the depth Of this, our longtime bond; of each, we know So little, yet somehow we thrive and still we travel far to meet, then play and talk Of music, striking, hitting things, both how, And where and when; and this is how it goes, I know, because your life elsewise does not Connect with mine: no talk of art or sport, Or gardens, food, or books and such – just this.
Yet another Last Post Wins entry . The Emperor penguin has just had a promotion and this is my congratulations card. If you're not familiar with the characters in use, you might want to read my previous blog post here http://www.gayauthors.org/forums/blog/664/entry-16424-a-peaceful-transfer-of-power/ .
[A solitary hack waits in an airless hotel room for the start of an interview. The benevolent Penguin Emperor has decided to allow the publication of the ex-queen's memoirs. They have been heavily vetted (the ghostwriter has seen to that) and anyway, her Penguiness was becoming rather annoyed by the constant stream of whinging emails, texts and voicemails from the ex-queen complaining about her restricted income, freedom, internet access – in fact, her restricted ... everything.
The ex-queen and her PR minder enter – she with her best, meaningless smile in full view. The minder starts ...]
Just so we're clear – no questions will be allowed which haven't already been submitted for approval. The ex-queen will talk only about the publication of her memoirs – any attempt to move away from this topic will result in the interview being terminated.
[The ex-queen's smile dims momentarily before coming back in full force. She seems very aware of the minder's presence. The interview continues until the minder takes a call …]
…. Yes, your Penguiness, I quite understand … Yes, immediately, your Penguiness ….
[He hurries out, leaving the other two behind. The ex-queen leans forward and whispers to the hack …]
Well, what did you think of it? God, it was so much fun to write – well, I didn't actually write it, somebody else did that, but still … Isn't it amazing? I dished so much dirt on all the court …
[The hack produces a copy of the book, a very slim volume. He gives it to the ex-queen. She puts it to one side, thinking it's something he wants her to sign. As she opens her mouth again, he butts in with his own question (from the list, of course).]
You are doubtless aware that our glorious Emperor has written many, fine things: stories, novels, and poetry. My readers would be very interested in your opinion of them.
[The ex-queen looks confused.]
She writes things? You mean, she actually does it herself? Doesn't she realise that's what the bard's there for? At least, he was when I was queen. I imagine he's moved with the times, hasn't he? I remember when he wrote an ode …
[The door opens and the minder looks suspiciously at them both, The ex-queen jerks back in her chair and flushes. The hack recovers first.]
I was just asking her opinion of our glorious Emperor's literary masterpieces …
[The minder looks at the ex-queen expectantly. First, she has that 'caught the headlights' look, then she swallows hard and her voice takes on a fawning tone …]
Of course, I make it one of my daily tasks to read something written by our glorious Emperor …
[she chokes slightly but continues]
... and to reflect upon the wisdom it contains. I marvel at her Penguiness' imagination and literary skill which only serve to enhance her glowing reputation and honour.
Another Last Post Wins entry. I am no longer queen - I have been usurped To welcome our new monarch, Valkyrie, I wrote the following to help her pass the time as she's recovering from an operation.
[A bunch of hacks are waiting in a palace anteroom for a press briefing to start. They look engaged but not exactly riveted. The door opens and their eyes all swivel, focussing on the individual who enters. The (now ex-) queen walks up to the podium - she is dressed regally but lacks one vital item: the crown. She looks tired and somehow defeated.]
Good morning, all. I have a short statement to make; I will not be taking any questions.
[she looks fixedly at the autocue. The words come out in a monotone and sounding, somehow, as if the speaker is grinding her teeth at the same time. The hacks are sitting back in their seats and writing without fervour.]
In the early hours of this morning, an involuntary transfer of executive authority occured. I was informed of this fact shortly after it happened. In the interests of my, sorry, our country and after consulting my advisors I have decided, reluctantly, not to challenge it. I wish ... I wish my ...
[The ex-queen appears to splutter to a halt. She coughs and tries again. The hacks move forward in their seats and a sense of anticipation spreads ... Suddenly she thrusts the podium aside.]
WTF! Do you seriously expect me stand back and let a penguin, a penguin, take control!
[This sounds as though it could make the hacks' day. They start making calls while scribbling furiously.]
I'd sooner die fighting than let some tuxedo wearing bird from Africa ...
[The ex-queen's knowledge of geography and natural history are not her strongest suits.]
… ruin my country. I mean, it can't even fly! What does that tell you about its abilities to govern effectively?
[she is just getting going properly when a courtier sidles up and turns the mic off. He whispers in her ear, gesticulating as he speaks. The hacks are trying to hang onto every unheard word, wishing they could lip-read. After a couple of minutes, the ex-queen drags the podium back to its place and prepares to resume. The courtier turns the mic back on.]
I wish my successor luck and good fortune in governing our amazing country. Thank you.
This is the second (and concluding) part to my ballad which I wrote to cheer a friend up. If you haven't read part 1, you can find it here: http://www.gayauthors.org/forums/blog/664/entry-16410-the-bards-pursuit-1-an-l-p-w-ballad/ As a reminder, it's loosely based on elements of Last Post Wins, a popular game here on GA. I had enormous fun writing this and I hope you enjoy it.
The bard's pursuit (Part 2)
The bard he came straight to the Queen
And found her quite alone.
Her crown it shone with gold so bright
He cursed and stopped a moan.
He so desired to snatch the prize
His head did swim with greed;
The lust he felt was red and hot
And drove him to the deed.
The Queen looked up and saw the bard,
She fixed him with her glare.
Her icy calm and regal look
Near stopped his traitorous dare.
The evil man, he honed his tongue
Foul havoc for to wreak,
His words, all fell and steeped in blood,
Were on his lips to speak.
One cough was heard and then a bark,
A chirp, a fearsome growl.
The bard he chittered, honked and squeaked
And gave forth one lone howl.
“Feel my power, you wretched man!”
The Queen she said wth glee.
“Your voice has lost its magic spell
And has no hold on me.”
He growled and whined, then sobbed and sighed,
His life it had no worth.
He would not live so long to see
A last night on this earth.
The Queen called forth her knights so bold,
Who should have been her guard.
A single man before her stood,
The wretched, speechless bard.
One knight did know the bard full well,
His heart from love did bleed.
He stood before the Queen and said:
“Pray, spare his life, I plead.”
The knight, he pled his cause with skill
And never a vengeful thought.
This man his eyes had opened wide,
Love's ways had he been taught.
The Queen she sat in judgement long,
Then gave forth her reply:
“This man, I see, means much to you
I cannot let him die.”
The bard could scarce believe his ears,
He kissed his saviour's hand.
He looked up at the Queen and said,
“I wait for your command.”
“Beg pardon of my knight so fair,”
The Queen she said with force.
“You spurned this man most heartlessly
Yet love does through him course.”
“This crown is not for you to take
It is the Queen's alway.
Now go you forth and do good deeds
In memory of this day.”
A friend has had a trying August (his words) - so, to cheer him up, I started writing this ballad. It is loosely based on elements of Last Post Wins, a popular game on GA. It is a fun piece with the consistency of a meringue and the emotional depth of a puddle
The bard's pursuit (Part 1)
A grasping bard did gold desire,
He plotted all the while.
He drained his cup all through the night
And thought with all his guile.
One cool, bright morn he hurried forth
And thought he had a plan.
He'd schemed and plotted wicked things
As only a rhymer can.
The crown he sought was of the Queen
Whose knights were fair and strong.
The cunning man had only words
All fancy, short and long.
The bard did walk close by the gate
And hailed a knight within,
'Good sir, pray let me in full speed
I have love's heart to win.'
The knight looked at the man in front
And what he saw was fair.
To let him through would be a crime
And that he did not dare.
The cunning bard let loose his tongue,
He flattered with all his might.
He sang sweet songs of love and praise
And made all wrongs seem right.
The knight he blushed as pink as dawn
And then he felt a kiss -
So sweet with love and tender care,
His heart was full of bliss.
He sighed full long then gave the word
And let the man straight in.
The wily bard him spurned, then ran,
The shiny for to win.
He sought the queen throughout the court
Her knights he kept at bay.
He wreathed himself in smiles of love,
They stood not in his way.
The bard at last he found the queen
And thought, 'The crown is mine!
I am its rightful owner now,
No more shall it be thine.'
Part 2 will follow in due course ...
My garden – if this brings up a vision of a wide, green expanse, think again. My garden is a collection of around 40 pots and planters crammed onto a patio outside my ground floor flat and I love it dearly.
When I moved down here for my first job I was terribly homesick. Mum (who had the greenest of green fingers) included two ready-planted pots in my stuff when it was sent here. I didn't really have any interest in gardening then but those pots were a connection with home and I made sure I looked after them.
Money was tight for the first few years but then the delayed bug took hold and the number of pots has increased, gradually – my skill, interest and pleasure has increased with them.
What do I plant? Well, what I have at the moment is quite a mixture: fuschias, poppies, foxgloves, miniature roses, several varieties of scabius, pinks, aquilegia, clematis, sweet peas and quite a number of others. I also have box, a miniature fir, an acer and several other foliage plants. I've learnt what works and what I like by trial and error – nowadays I aim for plants which will last more than one season, attract bees and other pollinators, and have some height. I have no colour scheme – I have shades from the darkest purple through to white via orange, pink, red, blue and yellow. The overall effect is a cross between a cottage garden and a herbaceous border and I'm happy when plants spread beyond their planter and create more continuous effect.
I love the sense of peace and connection I get when I'm gardening and of course, I take pleasure in my successes. My neighbours probably wonder about me because I do have a habit of standing, looking at my plants while letting my mind wander. I'm fascinated by the insects I see – as are some of the birds …
My only issue with my garden is that it always seems larger in my mind - when I go buying plants I always seem to buy more than I need: that gap now seems have a couple of possible plants and it seems to have shrunk since I left … I also find it almost impossible to leave any garden I've visited (National Trust or otherwise) without buying a plant or two on the basis that there's always a corner somewhere that could do with something new. I could always buy a new planter if necessary...