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What I’m Reading: Autoboyography

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What I’m Reading: Autoboyography

Books about writing books are like finding fresh Mary Sue tracks in the sand. There’s a fine line between “write what you know” and “write what everyone who likes books knows”. Christina Lauren’s Autoboyography bounds twenty kilometres over that line, and there was no way on this Earth I was going to pick it up and read it.

If you do not read this book, you are making a grave and unforgivable mistake.

Yes, it’s a book called Autoboyography, which is about writing a book called Autoboyography. But. It also manages to bring to a conclusion one of the most emotionally complicated dilemmas I have ever encountered. I remember being two thirds of the way through, seeing how few pages I had left and thinking: how on Earth are we going to get ourselves out of this mess in time?

Set in a high school in Utah, Autoboyography follows non-Mormon Tanner as he falls for the bishop’s son, Sebastian. Sebastian is religious, takes solace in prayer, loves his family, loves his Church, is excited about his mission… and Tanner’s crush could destroy all of it in an instant.

Unfortunately for them both, Tanner has been tasked with writing a novel in a semester, and Sebastian is the only thing that brings him inspiration. Turning in the novel for a grade would mean exposing them both.

Autoboyography explores the ways that romantic, familial and platonic love can both harm and heal, and how they can often do both at once. The tale Lauren weaves is utterly heart-wrenching, and as a reader I felt every impossible choice that Tanner was forced to make deep in my chest. Love can look a lot like madness, and often Tanner finds himself on the brink of wreaking untold chaos in the life of someone he supposedly cares about.

The one problem, however, with writing a book called Autoboyography about the writing of a book called Autoboyography, is that you wish the second book was the one you had in your hands. You wish this book was written by a gay man rather than two straight women. Unlike Simon Vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda, which treads respectfully, Christina Lauren left me feeling cheated. Which is a shame, because I personally enjoyed Autoboyography a lot more.

I firmly believe that LGBT characters and stories should not be off-limits to straight cis authors. However, I do think that more room needs to be made for LGBT storytellers. (On an unrelated aside, I will be launching The Heart-Seed in November.)

Let then this novel be a call to arms. Read Autoboyography. Use Tanner’s story to fuel your novel. Write, write, write.

Buy it here.

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What I’m Reading: They Both Die at the End

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What I’m Reading: They Both Die at the End

A lot of LGBT readers have a mountain to climb when summoning the courage to pick up a new book- a mountain of dead gays. The Bury Your Gays trope has its origins in lesbian pulp fiction, but persists across the entire LGBT spectrum to this day, with Out magazine reporting 62 lesbian and bi WLW killed onscreen in just two years.

I would therefore forgive people for hesitating before picking up Adam Silvera’s They Both Die at the End. But only briefly.

The premise is this: on the day a person dies, they get a telephone call from Deathcast letting them know- this is it. Mateo and Rufus, both strangers, have had their call, and now they need a Last Friend to make their final day special.

It goes without saying that the book isn’t a laugh a minute. But Silvera conveys a believable optimism- that it is possible for the right person to change your life in a single day. I must admit to not liking either of the protagonists at first. Mateo is weak, frozen by indecision, and terrified of the death that the front cover deems inevitable. Rufus is selfish and reckless, and his first scene is shocking and repulsive.

However, they redeem themselves- or rather, each other. Over the course of the book, we get to learn more about each boy through the other’s eyes, as well as how the world they live in is shaped by the fact that everyone is aware of their impending death.

Although one character is gay and the other bi, this goes beyond merely tackling LGBT concepts. Yes, Silvera made the decision to meet the Bury Your Gays trope head-on, but the key themes are death and isolation rather than either character’s sexuality. It pains me that non-MLM readers might overlook this book on account of it being “gay”, when actually it has a lot to say to anyone who has been touched by terminal illness or loss.

Both boys are already familiar with death, but that doesn’t stop them from needing to grieve for themselves. They muse on the afterlife while facing the impossible challenge of living their entire lives in a single day.

This book is clever, but not pretentious- its concepts are universal, presented from the perspectives of two teenage boys who know no more about death than any of the rest of us. Therein lies Silvera’s genius- none of us have either the time or the answers. We are Mateo and Rufus, and we aren’t going to make it out alive.

This book is far more uplifting and inspiring than I ever could have prepared myself for. There’s no getting away from the fact that They Both Die at the End– but so do we all.

What I’m Reading: Simon vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda

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What I’m Reading: Simon vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda

When I was a child, I was told if I wanted to watch the film, I had to read the book first. And while I now see this as my mother’s literary pretentiousness, it’s something I now enjoy- and so, upon the release of Love, Simon, I bought myself a copy of Becky Albertalli’s Simon vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda. 

It’s a comfortable read, told from 17-year-old Simon’s slightly unreliable perspective. Albertalli has succeeded in making a realistically flawed main character who also succeeds in being likeable- Simon is both naïve and nosy, but neither of these things actually caused me to dislike the character. 

It features a diverse range of supporting characters, which betrays just how much time and effort Albertalli put into researching the book. As a straight woman, she took some criticism for writing a book centred on the coming-out of a gay teenager. However, if the LGBT community declares these topics off-limits to straight authors, we can hardly complain about a lack of diversity. While it is true that we need more LGBT authors, there is no reason why a dedicated author like Albertalli cannot produce authentic stories. 

Becky Albertalli spoke to a wide range of young LGBT people, and wove some of their experiences into Simon vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda. As a result, the book was littered with moments and feelings that I recalled from my own late teens. Readers with varying orientations will find parts of themselves in the fine details of this story, which encapsulates the tumult of negotiating teenage friendships and crushes. 

People who have seen the film should be aware that the book differs greatly, often in key ways. Most remarkable (without being a spoiler) is the difference in Martin’s character, as the book takes a lot longer to look at his motives, and as a result he ends up, while still not likeable, far more fleshed-out. I would definitely recommend the book to anyone who wanted to read more about Leah, especially as she is the protagonist of Albertalli’s sequel, Leah on the Offbeat. 

Although the book was richly emotional, and I found myself crying at points, the overall tone was light, and an ideal read for anyone looking for an escape from the stress of the everyday. 

Click below to buy your copy.

Good things come to those who…

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I am delaying my book launch. I don’t feel guilty, or sad- I’m doing it for some very good reasons.

Getting my book “finished” has been an eye-opening experience. It’s gone from being a scrawl in an 80p notebook to a fully-illustrated story. Suddenly it seems like it’s actually worth something, and I want to do it justice.

I always knew The Heart-Seed was a story that I loved and was genuinely proud of. Back then, however, it only belonged to me. I was the only person who had ever read it. However, now that it’s Alma’s as well, I feel like I owe her something in making sure people actually see the beautiful thing we made together.

Now, I don’t know the first thing about marketing. But my brother does. He’s been an incredible help- from teaching me about the Amazon affiliates program to the nuance of placing Facebook ads.

I didn’t show The Heart-Seed to anyone for two years because it was private. I had written it from the heart- it shows- and I was a little afraid of baring myself to the world like that.

I’ve never been one to post my blog or my art to Facebook. I don’t like to be seen to be asking for attention. I don’t really have a self-publicising bone in my body.

99% of books make a loss, and I was perfectly happy to make a loss if it meant never having to speak about myself or my book.

But this isn’t just my book any more. It’s Alma’s and it’s Raf’s. I may not have faith in myself but I have faith in them.

I had often heard the phrase “It takes a village”, but I never understood it until now. Sharing my book hasn’t just allowed me to show off- it’s meant I get an outside perspective. It’s motivated me to do much-needed edits and means I now have something that looks an awful lot like a finished product.

But without me taking this extra time, it won’t actually be finished. So I’m taking the time out to finish The Heart-Seed, because that’s what we all deserve.

What I’m Reading: The Night Watch

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Strictly speaking, I’ve finished reading it, but it’s not a review per se.

Sarah Waters is well-known for her historical novels, which all touch, in some way or another, on lesbian themes. They are exciting, well-researched and actually treat women like humans capable of sexual desire, rather than just being objects of it.

So, after reading Tipping the Velvet and Fingersmith, I was highly curious as to what a Sarah Waters novel was doing on my 14 year old cousin’s bookshelf. A quick look inside established that the book had been acquired from a charity shop, rather than sought out.

I slipped it out and rearranged the bookshelf to make it less obvious I had removed something. I’m not out to my family because I’m a spanner. I’m not ashamed, I just find it difficult rather to explain that I’m not a lesbian, and that there are alternative explanations for my interest in lesbian film and literature.

I liked Tipping the Velvet. I saw the BBC adaptation first, but thoroughly enjoyed the book too, much preferring the book incarnation of the main character, Nan. That’s not to say the TV version isn’t worth a watch, because it very much is. Off the top of my head, it has Keeley Hawes, Benedict Cumberbatch and Johnny Vegas in it.

Fingersmith was less good. It was a riveting, complex plot, filled with duplicitous characters, but felt very much as if lesbianism had just been shoehorned into it. It might just have been me, but the ending left me feeling more than a little awkward.

So, I wasn’t expecting much. Doctor of English Literature Waters may be, but the vast majority only have one good novel in them. As Fingersmith wasn’t half as good as Tipping the Velvet, I was expecting The NIght Watch to be only a quarter as good as Fingersmith.

I am glad to announce that I was wrong.

Set, to begin with, in 1947, it marked a departure from the Victorian novels that I had read, which was a pleasant surprise. There were four central characters, all with enormous secrets, and it was engaging to try and work out the connection between the four of them, and what these secrets might be.

As the novel moves on, it also moves backwards, before climaxing in 1941.

Yes, that does preclude a happy ending, which bothers me only because I haven’t read one for quite some time. But it was really interesting to look at these stories as having a resolution, not for the character, but for the reader.

For example, the character of Duncan is first introduced as an anonymous young man being watched from a window by Kay. So much of his story is told from the perspectives of others, that I felt, as a reader, compelled to make the same assumptions that other characters made of him.

I wouldn’t say I was pleasantly surprised by the climax (read above re: no happy ending), but as a reader, I found it utterly compelling to the last.

In some ways, The Night Watch is better than Tipping the Velvet, because it reads simply as a novel, and not a “lesbian novel”. I would recommend it therefore, to anyone who is not particularly squeamish- set partially during the London Blitz and subsequent offensives. There are also some nastily graphic scenes which I cannot spoil, but just take note that this book is honest and brutal and sad.

Chapter lengths make it sometimes a tough read, but the prose is easy enough to follow. Just remember to stop when there’s a change in point of view, rather than trying to continue to the end of the chapter, because you will be exhausted.

So, yes. Utterly recommended, to men, women, straight, gay or anywhere in between any of the options. Just not people who faint at the sight of blood or desperately need happy endings.