Jonathan, you’ve just published The Stars Just Watch. This is a new version of your story in our collaborative publication Is It Her? How is this different and why did you decide to go it alone? Abject apologies in the form of cake are acceptable.
I should think being thrown on a disposable barbecue is recompense enough?! The Stars Just Watch is essentially the same story as Is it Her? But there are tweaks throughout and, most significantly, an entirely new chapter towards the end, which replaces the chapter centred around the painting on which our stories were based in the aforementioned collaborative release. I’m pleased with this new chapter as I feel it adds greater depth to the story, not to mention the introduction of another character.
As to why I’ve rereleased the story… well, it felt apt given that this year marks fifty years since the decriminalisation of private homosexual acts in England and Wales. I wanted to give the story a new lease of life, alongside my other gay literary fiction works, especially as collections of stories - such as our collaboration - notoriously (and sadly) don’t appeal to readers as greatly as stand-alone stories.
Tell us about your recent London literary success.
Oh yes! The Queen has requested that FAG be delivered to her royal Kindle and I hear that she is presently devouring the novel!
Oh… you mean the other news I have! Well, I’m delighted to report that my debut novel FAG is now on the shelves at Gay’s the Word, a well-known London bookshop - recently given more fame following it being featured in the hit film Pride. I can’t describe how it felt seeing my book alongside other authors I love and admire. And yes, of course I got photos!
What are you working on next? More in your gay literary fiction genre or another comedy?
I’m currently working on my second full-length novel. Again gay literary fiction, but as with all my books, I am keen to stress that ‘gay’ is just a label, and the themes and storylines I cover in my prose are for everyone. I have a title and cover for my work in progress, but I’m keeping those under wraps for now. However, I can reveal that the book is set in wartime Berlin, and it’s involved more research than for any previous book.
Is there a topic you’d like to tackle but simply haven’t got around to?
I’m sure there are quite a few. Much as I enjoy writing comedy, I also love to explore the darker side of life, controversial subjects. The trouble with tackling these, though, is that although you’re writing fiction, there will always be some who feel you are glorifying or endorsing the subject
This summer marked the 50th anniversary of the Sexual Offences Act. How significant is this for young gay people who never felt the rush of freedom as they’d never had to hide away an important part of themselves?
Oh, I think it’s hugely significant. Firstly, it’s important for everyone, no matter their sexual orientation, to remember that just fifty years ago, it was illegal to be yourself with another person.
Secondly, I think it can be of comfort to gay people nowadays that anniversaries such as this are highlighted. They bring such relevant issues to the fore, show them that there is hope, change is possible and that acceptance is (generally) on the rise. But let me be clear. There is still not equality. Two men cannot walk down the road hand in hand without people looking. They cannot share a quick kiss on the high street without risking homophobic abuse. So in this sense, out gay people are still hiding away an important part of themselves. And everyday I see heterosexual couples being intimate in public, and it angers me because everyone should be able to do this. Everyone. We have come so far, but there is still much work to be done - and I hate the word ‘work’ in this context as work should never have to be involved with basic human rights. We are fortunate in the UK as many countries are worse off than we are for equality, but there can never be complacency. A glance at the news on any one day shows us that minority groups are still treated differently by some.
Thirdly, and finally, I think most gay youngsters do feel that rush of freedom - probably not to the same extent as fifty years ago, when the stakes were so much higher - but coming out (which isn’t a one-off process; you are coming out all the time throughout your life, when you meet new people) nowadays can have that feeling of freedom and release and catharsis. I know this from my own initial coming-out; much later in life than most nowadays, it was akin to a dam breaking, years and years of build-up behind it.
Despite the need for further change, I sense that the future for LGBT people is looking brighter all the time. We just need to make sure that upward streak continues.
"We are blowing one another to bits and the stars just watch. Whether we live or die, kill... or love... the stars just watch. We shall extinguish one another, but no one shall extinguish the stars."
Tonight four sit round a table playing cards. Tomorrow two leave to fight. Over an evening already fraught with tension, emotions run deep and life-shattering secrets threaten to escape.
A powerful novella from the author of 'FAG', 'Pride' and 'Not Just a Boy'.
Readers should note that this is a new version of the story previously released under the title 'Is it Her?'
My thoughts -
The Stars Just Watch
It’s wartime, and Cliff and Tom have been called up. Jack, Cliff’s brother, is exempt as he’s got a serious leg injury. Violet, Cliff’s wife and Tom’s sister, gets them all together on the eve of their going off to war. The mood is, naturally, dark, edgy, tense and fearful. We soon find out what else Cliff has to fear, in addition to death at the hands of the enemy.
Most of the story is dark and dramatic, especially when Jack’s true role is revealed, though there is a glimmer of hope towards the end, when the climate has changed for Cliff. It’s a hugely thought-provoking book and I hope this slightly altered version sees it being more widely appreciated. It’s genuinely both awful and awesome.