TNA: Hi, Liam, thanks so much for being here with us today. Why don’t we start off by having you tell us a little bit about yourself: hobbies, interests, things we don’t know about you that you’d like to share with readers?
Liam: I am into cars; I have a subscription to a weekly car magazine and I go to the classic car shows. I’m a member of the Mazda MX 5 Owners Club and the Gay Classic Car Group (GCCG) – a club for gay people who like classic cars. I like to buck the trend for gay guys in this way. I went to the GCCG stand at a big classic car show and they said people were walking onto the stand, then reading the banner with the club’s name, then asking questions like, ‘Is it the cars that are gay?’ or just leaving the stand *head desk*. I love cooking, baking and spending time with friends. I love cats and give a monthly donation to the local cat sanctuary where we adopted our cats from. I also like the normal things people always say are their hobbies: films, music, watching good absorbing TV dramas. I’ve managed to wean myself off I’m A Celebrity Dancing On Ice Get Me Out Of Here Britain Has Talent shows. I would much rather watch The Good Wife, Nashville, Breaking Bad, or on my own – the BF doesn’t come to Stars Hollow with me – a bit of Gilmore girls.
TNA: Your first full-length novel, Best Friends Perfect, and the first book in the series, has just come out on June 4 with Wilde City Press. How many books do you have the series planned out to, and will it follow the same characters throughout?
Liam: The whole series is three books. The second one will be published in August, the third one in December 2014. Yes, it follows the same characters throughout the series. It’s all written from Kieran’s first person point of view, and it’s about the ups and downs with his old best friends, Hannah and Grace, and how they get on with his new gay best friends, Kev and Jo. There’s plenty of fun and conflict and adventures for them. I’ve also got plans for some books from the point of view of the other characters, but they’re still at the *mulling over* stage.
TNA: The book is labeled a comedy? Without giving too much away, what about the story do you find the most lighthearted and comical?
Liam: Comical is very subjective; in the story it’s *my* sense of humour. The characters are late teenagers or in their early twenties. I wanted to reflect how at that age the most trivial of things feels like a really big deal, and how important things can just be brushed off as if they’re nothing. That’s the definition of camp as far as I’m concerned. In terms of specifics, there’s a story one of the characters tells about a university interview to study English literature. I hope the outfits the characters wear to gay pride marches raise a smile too. I’ve just skimmed through it and I think, without wishing to blow my own trumpet, the way I tend to write is comic and lighthearted throughout. It is a comedy, but it isn’t all light hearted and has sadness too.
TNA: Tell us a little bit about Kieran, your protagonist in the book. What did you find most endearing about him as you were writing?
Liam: He’s an optimist and a bit too naive: he comes out and thinks he’s immediately going to find his Prince Charming, his perfect Boyfriend, with a capital B. This optimism is very refreshing to find in what I think has become quite a cynical world. He’s also very unselfish, giving himself over fully to his friends, their problems, spending time with them in the most appropriate way for each friend. And when his friends do the same back to him, he’s surprised they care for him as much as he does them. This is pretty sweet, I thought.
TNA: It sounds like he has a very colorful circle of friends. Which would you say was your favorite character to write, and why?
Liam: Kev. He is a gay man Kieran meets at the gay youth group, different in many ways from Jo, but also similar in many others. So many beta readers loved Kev and asked for more from him, I added quite a lot more of him into later drafts. Kev is a bit of an old romantic too, looking for the perfect Boyfriend, but not quite getting it right. He’s also a great laugh to have around on a night out, singing/miming/dancing his way through the evening. I love Kev’s fearlessness about life, and his ability to just roll his sequined sleeves up and get on with any challenge life throws at him.
TNA: Would you care to share an excerpt from Best Friends Perfect with us?
Blurb: Kieran, 18, comes out to himself then his family by going to a youth group. There he meets Kev, a cross dressing gay man with awful taste in boyfriends and Jo, a grade A drama student, at college and in his real life. Kieran navigates his way through the maze that is being a gay man in the late nineties, with help from his two new best friends, and his two old best friends; Hannah, just coming out too and trying to work out if Steps are Abba for the nineties; Grace a one woman charity shop bargain hunter with encyclopedic pop knowledge.
We were like “Thelma and Louise”—Kieran and Jo. His real name was Jonathan, but he didn’t like anyone calling him that, and would only answer to ‘Jo’, specifically spelt that way. Jonathan Davis. We did everything together, we were best friends. We weren’t boyfriends, more like girlfriends, or maybe brothers, if we were feeling a bit less camp.
It’s amazing what you can get over: death, betrayal, loneliness. No matter what life throws at you to change your plans, to stop you as you try to make your perfect life, somehow you pick yourself up and continue. I survived all those things, because I’m here, happy in my life now.
Only it isn’t what I thought my life would be; when I was eighteen, taking my first steps into the whole new world of being gay, my idea of perfect wasn’t anything like what I have now.
Back then, I thought I had it all worked out. I’d find my perfect Boyfriend––capital B; my perfect new gay friends Jo and Kev would join my two other best friends, Hannah and Grace, to complete my perfect life. How wrong was I?
Instead, life came along, and it wasn’t nearly that simple. Only now, that part of my life is an ancient memory, along with the music, combat trousers and sleeveless tops. Now I’m ready to tell you my story.
I met Jo at a gay youth group. I discovered my local youth group in Salisbury, a small country town in Wiltshire. It alleges it’s a city since it has a cathedral, but really, it’s just a big town. The doctor at the family planning clinic gave me a leaflet that described the group and a number to call to discuss it with a ‘youth worker.’ This was a whole new concept to me, that you could have people who were employed to work with young people, particularly gay young people. I left the clinic clutching the leaflet in my hand. Shall I call the number now, or shall I buy the new Steps single?
I walked around the car park for a while, watching everyone else go about their days, pushing supermarket trolleys full of shopping, sitting on benches to grab a twenty minute lunch-break from their office jobs. I thought they all knew what the leaflet was about, they could all see my guilty secret and would report me to the sex police or something like that. It’s him, he doesn’t know what he’s about.
As it happened, I bought One For Sorrow by Steps and called the number from a phone box just off the market square.
“Hello, this is Out! I’m Bruce, how can I help?”
“I was wondering, you see, I was given the leaflet from the clinic and, well…”
“Would you like to make an appointment to see me? I can go through what we do at the group, and you can see if it’s something you’re interested in.”
“Yes, I…that would be good.”
“OK I’ve got an appointment in about an hour, is that any good? If not, I can do next Thursday at four o’clock.”
The silence just hung there. My mind had frozen.
“Hello, are you still there?”
“Yes, can I come in an hour please?” I wanted to make the most of this new found ability to make a decision about something, which I’d managed to not think about or act on for a long time.
“Do you know where we are?”
“Yes, I’ve got a map on the back of the leaflet.”
I put the phone down and noticed the call girl cards stuck to the window. I felt as if I’d just run a marathon and was waiting for someone to wrap me in a silver blanket and comfort me.
It turned out Bruce had the silver blanket for me. We sat in his stuffed office, piles of papers and files covered every surface. We were surrounded by AIDS awareness posters, pink triangles and rainbow flags. Up to this point, I’d never understood what all these rainbow flags and pink triangles meant. Bruce explained they used the pink triangles in prisoner of war camps to mark out gay prisoners, in a similar way to the yellow stars of David used for Jewish prisoners.
He made a cup of tea and, smiling, passed me the rainbow mug. His temples showed the beginnings of grey hair making an appearance. “So, what brings you here then, Kieran?”
“Well, I’ve been thinking about some things lately. I’ve had more time since I finished my A levels. I’m having a gap year—you know, a year off before going to uni—I’m off to Australia, you see. Don’t even get me started with those people from that GAP organisation—telling me I had to teach sport if I wanted to go to Oz with them. I said to them, do I look like someone who plays sport?”
“I’ve been to Australia––ten, fifteen years ago, when I was your age. It was amazing. I climbed Ayers Rock and stayed in Alice Springs, visited Coober Pedy, the lot”
“Did you have to teach sport while you were there?”
“No, I went with a friend. I didn’t go with an organisation.”
“Wise choice, I think that’s what I’m going to do. I said to him—this old guy from GAP, in his office in Reading— ‘so what you’re telling me is, if I can’t teach sport, I can’t go to Oz with you lot?’ He nodded. ‘That’s gotta be illegal, hasn’t it? Against some sort of human rights, isn’t it?’ He said it was their policy and offered me some shite in the Black Forest of Germany for four months. Black Forest of Germany, I mean I’ve heard of the gateaux, but apart from that, I’m not arsed about that, it’s all sausages and beer, isn’t it? I said if that’s all you can offer me, I’m off and you can stick your fee and teaching sport up your arse. So I swept majestically out of his office. Mum drove me home in shock.” I wiped my sweaty hands on my trousers.
“It sounds like you’ve got some interesting plans for your gap year. What did you decide to do in the end?” Bruce probed a bit more into the recent drama.
“I’m going to Oz, but I’m going with Catherine, my friend from school. She’s having a year off before uni too, and her parents wouldn’t let her travel alone, and since GAP didn’t want me, we thought we’d go together. We’re going to travel all around, climb Ayers Rock, just like they do in “The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert”, and they can stick their fee and sports up their arses.”
“Is that why you want to go to Oz, because of the film?”
“It’s not the only reason, but it certainly helped make up my mind. I mean that Guy Pearce was great, wasn’t he? Much better than when he was in ‘Neighbours’.”
“Yes, he was. Kieran, I think Out! is going to be exactly what you need.” He smiled; his eyes sparkled and formed crow’s feet.
“It’s just a feeling. When you’ve been doing this sort of work for a while, you can sort of sense these things when you meet young people. Would you like me to tell you where the group meets and what sort of things we do there?”
“Yes, why not? I mean, if I don’t like it, I don’t have to go again, do I? And it’s free, isn’t it?”
“Yes, no obligation to ever come again, and it’s completely free to you, Kieran, completely free.” He described what a typical night at Out! included, the age group of people who came, and hunched over the map and described the best way to reach the location of Out!, which apparently was in a Portakabin. Very glamorous.
I drove home that afternoon feeling sick to the pit of my stomach. I put my new CD single on repeat while I had a shower and got ready to go out.
“One for sorrow, ain’t it too, too bad…” sang Steps on the CD over and over. I’ll learn the dance moves later.
“What are you doing, Kieran?” Mum called upstairs. “I’m making dinner. Are you eating here tonight? I’m doing lasagne and chips, it’ll be nice.”
“Yes, I’ll eat, but I’m going out afterwards. I’m going round Hannah’s to watch a film,” I shouted, hoping if I lied quickly, it wouldn’t hurt as much.
It took me about an hour to choose what to wear. Eventually, I settled on my black velvet jacket, a red polo-neck jumper, dark flared jeans and black River Island boots, which I’d bought off my friend Mike from college as he said they were too noisy when he walked. I, on the other hand, loved the noise their heels made when I walked along the pavement.
I sat, tucking a tea towel in my top, then started to inhale the dinner, a mass of carbs with a tiny amount of salad on the side of the plate, covered in salad cream. Mum didn’t believe in mayonnaise or French dressing. ‘Foreign stuff,’ she called it.
“Do you want some more cheese on the lasagne?” Mum asked. “It’s a special new sort of cheese, I bought it today. Someone in the salon said if I was making lasagne, I must have this.”
“What’s it called, Mum?” A few mouthfuls remained on my plate.
“Hang on a minute, let me get it from the fridge.” She walked over to the fridge, took the new cheese off the cheese shelf, and read the label. We all waited in suspense.
“Says here its Parma something, then Regina.” She squinted to read the label.
“Parmesan? Sounds nice, Mum.” I smiled at my brother Paul as Mum got the grater from the cupboard.
My plate now cleared, I thanked Mum especially for the ‘newly discovered cheese.’
“Aren’t you staying for pudding? I got a frozen apple pie—they’re never as big as the boxes, are they?” Mum pointed to the defrosted pie on the work surface.
“I’ve got to go.” I stood up.
“It said on this big box—look how big it is—it said you could serve it with ice cream or custard, so I got both.”
Dad winked at Paul across the table.
“Not even a little bit?” Mum picked up the pie. Paul looked at me, still in his dirty blue overalls covered in grease from the garage where he was doing his apprenticeship. “And where do you think you’re going, dressed like that?”
“None of your business,” I said. “Why do you ask?”
“He’s going to Hannah’s, leave him alone.” Mum patted my shoulder. “You can have the pie later, can’t you, Kieran? He looks nice, doesn’t he, Dad?” She had a habit of calling my dad—known as Michael Donovan to everyone else—‘Dad’ which was endlessly confusing, especially when she talked about her dad, my granddad. Hours of confusing fun could be had. Being someone who rarely read—the only newspaper in the house was the weekly free paper, which she used to light the fire, and the only books she read were recipe books—she regularly mispronounced words or just used the wrong one. If Mum were at school now, she’d have undoubtedly been diagnosed with dyslexia and could have used it to explain these little mistakes. But in the sixties, you didn’t have dyslexia, you went to a Secondary Modern or became a hairdresser. Mum chose the latter. She didn’t have the dyslexia excuse, so she tried her best but didn’t always get it right. Conscious of using the wrong word, she would become nervous and talk more and so ran the gauntlet of tripping over more words. Memories of a particularly painful English lesson where she had been laughed at by the whole class—the deciding moment that led her to hairdressing college—meant we all ignored her mistakes, at most allowing ourselves a good-natured smile or a wink to each other. Sometimes, when we really couldn’t work out what she was talking about from the context or the word was so mangled out of recognition, we would then ask her what she meant, but most of the time, it was just part of how she spoke, like someone’s accent.
Now, Dad looked up at me in my carefully chosen ensemble and nodded before quickly returning to his “PC Today” magazine. Clothes—not one of Dad’s strong points. Dad was a man of few words, and if you wanted him to say even fewer, ask him about clothes or shopping.
“Thanks for dinner, I’m off now, bye.” I grabbed my coat from the hallway. I checked for my wallet, not that it had any money in it, but I liked to feel its comforting bulge in my trousers.
I picked up my car keys and got in Priscilla, my red and white Citroen 2CV Dolly, parked next to Mum’s Citroen 2CV. In typical “maybe I should…” mode, she’d bought hers exactly one month before I bought mine. I should have seen it coming. She’d taken a detailed interest in the research I’d done at Salisbury reference library—once Dad had pointed me in the right direction, research being one of his fortes, unlike clothes. After one long conversation when I’d described what the plus points were of these cars, she’d sipped her tea and said, “Write it all down for me, will you?” Next thing, she and Dad had earmarked a Saturday to go Citroen shopping, cars being the one subject where Dad could talk for hours. During the intervening month until I bought my Priscilla, every mealtime Mum extolled the virtues of the new car. “So cheap to run…the roof’s easy to roll back and it’s like a soft top…lovely soft seats…” To which I bit my tongue as it was me who’d told her each of these points in the first place.
By the time Dad came with me to buy what was to become my Priscilla, we were both Citroen 2CV experts and spent the day in his car testing each other’s knowledge. I cherished our time together like this, easily talking about cars, discussing my library research, Dad said: “It’s a good skill to have, research. I use it every day, I need to keep up to date with the latest computer changes. Useful when you go to university.” Laughing about Mum buying the car first he said: “She likes to know she’s making the right decision, and you’d done all the research for her, so of course she got the same one.”
Mum didn’t just reserve this “maybe I should” just for me. One summer, she’d asked Paul to copy all his dance music CDs: “I’ve heard your music, and I want something new to listen to on my new Walkingalongman Dad’s got me for when I do my exercises. The girls at the salon swear by this special exercise. I read the brochure they showed me, and it all made sense so I’ve got to go…”
Despite this, Priscilla was my pride and joy. To my friends, she was an ‘upside down pram’, but I didn’t care. I’d saved up for the whole previous summer. Priscilla represented freedom, independence and the ability to play endless mix tapes on my own without anyone criticising my taste in music. And at eighteen, that was very important.
Best Friends Perfect: Book One is published 4 June 2014 at Wilde City Press | Other retailer buy links will follow on my blog when they appear
TNA: If you could bring one of your characters off the page and into the real world, whom would you choose, and why?
Liam: I am lucky in that I have some real friends who are similar to some of Kieran’s friends. Kev, I reckon. He would be a great friend to have, a great person to have on a night out.
TNA: Would you care to share a little bit of information on any of your current WIPs with us?
Liam: I have quite a few WIPs: And Then That Happened; my Nanowrimo novel, Guardian Angel is about a man who falls in love with his guardian angel; The Wrong Room is about a secondary school English teacher, who, frustrated with teaching, goes to a local writers group. At the writers group, he’s told he needs to find some sources of more interesting stories. The teacher walked into the wrong room at the village hall where the writers group met, and stumbled across a Cocaine Anonymous group meeting.
TNA: And finally, would you share with us all the places we can find you on the internet?
Liam: I would love to hear from readers who’ve enjoyed my writing – stories, blogs, anything really. You can read my blog, where I write about things like gay marriage, Behind The Candelabra, the HBO series Looking, the film GBF, Dallas Buyers Club, my views about society and camp men and books I’ve enjoyed reading.