It shouldn’t be difficult to guess that as a writer, I much prefer living in fiction. The real world has a rather caustic aftertaste, people die, they desert you, there’s disappointment and loads of other words beginning with ‘d’ which build up, until there really is no other option than to retreat into fantasy. Of course this is just one reality. It didn’t start this way. I’ve just been going through a bad patch. It’ll get better etc.. The truth is, I use my writing to escape from having to deal with complex things in my own life, which I can’t really talk about here. It’s good for the stories, but for the past five years, I’ve been reclusive. Instead of trying to fix my situation, I’ve been skilfully avoiding having to deal with it. *Clicks fingers,* this is your cue, Katherine.
If only I had my very own Katherine De Somme! In my head, at least, she is the earthy and practical solution to Alexand’s airy turbulence. I’ve only ever experienced this sort of love through watching other people. According to a lot of exes I’m remote, and distant (oh another ‘d’) and couldn’t therefore function in a ‘proper’ relationship, be it with a man or a woman. Cats seem to like me though. In fact I’m surrounded by them as I type this, as well as many fictional characters. Maybe I need an Alexand in my life instead? I don’t think Katherine could put up with my nonsense. I need someone who can drag me back into reality, wake me from this perpetual flickering in and out of fiction. Or is this just a dream within a dream? I feel depressed. Too many ‘d’s.
I am in a privileged position, because my readers seem to be the most awesome and open minded people I’ve had the good fortune to meet (virtually.) In real life I’m a very private person and therefore won’t usually volunteer information about myself, unless someone asks me. Anyway.. being a writer, allows a certain anonymity and freedom to explore subjects such as gender and sexuality. Katherine De Somme and Alexand Merek, live in a world where their relationship is regarded as a normal part of the social structure. In fact a same sex relationship is something of a non event, in that it is quite ordinary. The other characters rarely comment on it. They are simply two people who have fallen in love.
I adore these two, for so many reasons. Alex is brazen and unapologetic when it comes to her sexuality. In fact I enjoy the ambiguity behind her orientation. It’s fluid. She is what we would describe in the 21st century as bisexual (with an overwhelming preference for a certain Katherine De Somme.) Alex identifies as female, is comfortable in her body, and to a large degree, encourages Katherine to celebrate her own physicality and strengths. Katherine however is more reclusive and shy. She isn’t comfortable in her own body. Her father always wanted a son and she never felt able to celebrate her womanhood. Don’t misinterpret her. She is a strong and intelligent person, but ‘librarian’ would be an apt description. She has a cat and surrounds herself with books. She’s exclusively attracted to women, and before she met Alexand, lived primarily in her laboratory. Technically (and without throwing in too many spoilers) Katherine is a trans character, in that she identifies as both male and female in various stages of her life, although that is fluid too.
Alexand’s identical twin sister, Heyem is also part of what we call today, the LGBTQ community. Although unlike Alexand, Heyem is exclusively attracted to women. Like her twin, Heyem is also unapologetic about her sexuality, but refreshingly, Heyem’s narcissistic tendencies allow her to be even more enforcing of her entitlement to live life openly and abundantly. But as in real life, being a non-heterosexual still encourages marginalisation, especially for Heyem, who isn’t the most socially accepted woman in my cast. Heyem isn’t as likeable as her sister, Alexand, and can be borderline intolerable. This can encourage hidden resentment and homophobia and as exemplified in a story called Maria Thamian Part 2, prejudice lurks beneath the surface of seemingly acceptant and educated groups of people. To be honest I don’t like to dwell on prejudice and instead concentrate on emancipation, but as a non heterosexual myself, I am constantly reticent to share too much with large groups of people. Ironically I’m doing just that now, and I have no idea who is reading this, but I thought I’d over share, so you don’t think me hypocritical for outing my characters and not mentioning anything about myself.
Let’s just say as a child I spent a lot of my time running around with my brother, pretending to be Poncharello from C.H.I.P.s (and although my Nana believed that I secretly wanted to marry Erik Estrada when I grew up, I actually wanted to BE Erik Estrada.) So from an early age I knew there was something different about the way people expected me to behave outside in their world. It contradicted what was going on inside my head. (Yes I am aware that the photograph to the left is frequently used in hilarious homophobic slants around the internet.) Anyway, after years of repression and self loathing (did I mention I was a Christian?) I became more and more introverted. I found I identified as male, and was attracted predominately to women, with some exceptions, (Johnny Depp to name but one) Anyway, backwards in time, there were very few positive LGBTQ role models in the 1980’s when I was growing up. I identified with or possibly was mesmerised by Doctor Who, I loved his independence and strangeness. (But that’s a whole thesis.) So I found myself drawn to strong independent female characters to compensate for the fact I couldn’t identify with many other character types.
And so there came…. Dempsey and Makepeace. Besides, hero worshipping Harriet Makepeace, or more specifically, Glynis Barber, (I actually wanted to marry her..but as James Dempsey would say, “Life is hard, ‘den you die.”) I realised I wasn’t like the other girls. I actually spent a whole year living like Sarah Connor when I was 17. I’d even rigged up my own prison cell to recreate the escape scene in Terminator 2, in my bedroom. I decided I had to do something other than consume snippets from fictitious people’s lives. I had always escaped into books, into writing my own stories, and illustrating them. I’d even written a very bad Dempsey and Makepeace novel in the hopes that I could persuade LWT to regenerate the show and bring it back to life with my magical scriptwriting. Of course that didn’t happen. I am the sort of person who faked my eye test so that I could go to school dressed like Clark Kent.
This is another example of conflicting realities. In my head, I would get to school and find that the other children would be awestruck by the uncanny resemblance I had to the undercover Superman. I would, like Clark Kent, have a double life. By day I was a misunderstood geek, and in reality I was actually a pretty awesome superhero, capable of great feats of courage. People would look at me differently. I wouldn’t be that weird kid who the popular girls only allowed to play with sporadically. I would take off my glasses and they would see, at that point, I was actually someone else. Someone they’d want to get to know. That didn’t happen. It turns out that my glasses were blue National Health glasses, and when I whipped them off in the playground and tried to find my cape, there was laughter (and tumbleweeds) instead of applause. What’s this got to do with non-heterosexuality you may ask? Seriously? Cheryl Moore as Clark Kent? (and yes I love Margot Kidder too) Cheryl Moore has a psychosis. She lived a lot of her childhood imagining herself, or himself, as someone else. This transference is fantastic, when you think about the genesis of becoming a writer. I have to become other people, I love becoming other people, male, female, trans, hetero, bi, etc, you get the gist… Empathy is a weapon, it has been slowly learnt over years of feeling like the outsider. Yes I am bisexual, and yes I identified as a boy when I was a girl, and yes I feel more like a woman now, but human beings are so complex, and I love that about our species.
You are complex, whoever you are, if you’ve managed to read as far as this point. We may not get on, we may not share the same views about sexuality and gender. For example, I celebrated the fact that in the United Kingdom, Gay and Lesbian people can now get married, as of 29th March 2014. (Just as my characters Katherine and Alexand had done, written a few years before the act was passed) I was raised a Christian, and although I’m not a Christian now, I understand that there are so many ways of viewing sexuality from a religious perspective. To be honest, I try to avoid talking about religion in my work, replacing it with spirituality. Although I’ve met some very liberal Christians, (my mum being one of them) I know there are others who wouldn’t recognise me, or some of my LGBTQ friends as fully functioning people with the same rights as everyone else. Well, again, I use this as an example of why retreating from the world can be on occasion quite a cowardly but necessary thing to do in the life of a writer, who just so happens to be non-heterosexual. And no, it wasn’t a choice, as Lady Gaga likes to put it, I was born this way.
Anyway, the point is, from an early age I learnt that who I was on the inside was wrong. That it didn’t match what was expected of me. I’m talking generally here. No one person is to blame. I am lucky as my family are awesome, and when I came out (not by choice I may add) they were very supportive and accepting. However, society isn’t so accepting. From the comments you hear in the playground, to the slants you see written on the internet, to the general homophobic chatter which is used in everyday conversation, when large groups of friends get together. “That is so gay!” is used as derogatory, and probably will be for a very long time.
I can retreat into a world that is more accepting of me, and I can become someone happier. Just like my childhood self tried to be, when she faked her eye test in the hopes of being more accepted by the other children. I am still not comfortable with myself. Like Katherine De Somme, I feel awkward in my own body, and live a lot of my life inside my head. Thankfully I have found a place where I can feel safer, perhaps more displaced between many different people. I am a disembodied soul riding around in the ether. The Lawnmowerman of the 21st Century, minus the psychopathic tendencies to take over the world. I can share my world Unbound Boxes Limping Gods with people who want to travel there with me. I feel overwhelmingly excited that my characters are now living breathing people, and if you are another displaced soul, looking for a place to belong, you are welcome to join me there.
I think at some point, all writers encounter obstacles. Life, simply gets in the way. This past year has been the most challenging for me, since I was 17, in terms of being able to find enough time to sit down and write (or illustrate) stories. Many things (including redundancy) have thrown invisible scatter bombs into my routine, and I’m finding myself scrambling around attempting to find those precious moments I used to take for granted. I am seeing only fleeting glimpses of Alexand’s world at the moment. My son and my cats depend on me making a living. My new job is hard, and I work longer hours than before, and so, Alexand doesn’t speak to me as much. It’s not because she’s upset with me, but because she understands I need to exist in this physical world, and that I have responsibilities outside of her own. I’m grieving for her, of course, but I know this lapse is only temporary. I also know I’m good at scheduling. I have eleven stories in my story bank, issues which last up until late February 2015. I’ve got others which need illustrating, and so many unwritten stories inside my head, which go as far back as the time I first met Alexand on a park bench in Farnham in 1992.
In the illustration above, (From a story called, Love in a Box,) Alexand is grieving for the loss of her fingers. She thinks she will never play the piano again, and that makes her deeply unhappy. Like my writing, Alexand’s music is her life. She feels lost and empty when she isn’t creating something. It’s one of the things we have in common, and possibly why she chose me to write her story, and not someone else. But, as with a lot of things in life, she was unable to see that things would get better for her.
In fact the woman she is deeply in love with, a very practical and misunderstood scientist called Katherine De Somme, came up with a solution. She cared so much about Alexand that she had a fellow scientist develop some metal fingers for Alexand. This enabled Alex to play again, but not only did Alexand get her music back, she and Katherine, finally admitted that they were in love with each other. Who knows, maybe my own life will get better some day, and I just can’t see it yet.