So, with full intentions to return to and release that novel in 2017, I have a couple of further releases up my sleeve for this year, the first of which I am pleased to announce here. Readers of FAG, Pride and Is it Her? will know I'm passionate about writing gay characters. I hesitate to categorise my recent work as 'gay'. It isn't. It's literary and involves gay characters but much of the stories I create could quite easily be translated to other walks of life. My writing is for everyone and I am keen to reinforce the fact that well-written fiction should not be categorised but open to all. That said, I look forward to my gay readers experiencing another of my books and I really hope that others will read this for what it is. A quietly moving coming-of-age story.
Enough waffle from me. Readers, meet my next book... Not Just a Boy.
There was precious little evidence, and certainly nothing concrete, to confirm that I liked boys. I just knew that I’d fallen for him. And if he’d been a girl or a… or a frog… maybe I would have felt just the same love towards her or it.
When two friends move to a new school, they expect some change but nothing like the events that unfold over several terms.
A schoolboy crush takes hold and refuses to let go, propelling both boys towards a moment so devastating it will change their lives forever.
A gripping and moving coming-of-age novella from the author of the award-winning novel FAG and the novella Pride.
Opening chapter: Running
Every inch of me is riddled with pain and if I stop to think how bad the pain actually is, it is enough to make me want to tear off my limbs with my own teeth. But the pain in my head - inside my head - is worse and I have only managed to run this distance at all because the agony from that physical exertion comes close to overpowering, even if only temporarily, what’s going on in my mind.
I chance looking back and see (or think I see) movement in the trees. They are coming after me. But, no, it is just a bird freeing itself of the claustrophobic tangle of trees and flying high into the sky where the world must seem that much purer.
Oh, to be a bird.
I turn back to face the way I’m heading. A steep incline, the top of which is the road. My road out of this hell, but I am all too aware that my hell might only just be beginning.
I take stock while my breath returns. I have lost a shoe. My trousers are caked in mud, my shirt torn and bloodied, my schoolbag abandoned.
Of course, I cannot see my face, but if I had a mirror, I would not dare look into it.
I can taste blood.
I can smell blood. And dirt and lavender and sweat. My sweat, his sweat, their sweat…
I am panting more softly now and my lungs feel less likely to explode or implode or whatever they felt on the verge of doing while running. Running, fleeing full speed, twisting my body this way and that and ducking branches so efficiently it was as if my unconscious mind had been anticipating them before I even saw them.
The adrenaline of an escape.
It is now fading and my heart still beats strongly but with a force less likely to punch a hole in my fifteen-year-old chest.
I assess the slope, uncertain whether I have enough energy to make it to its peak. But I have no choice. It is either up here or back there. And while a part of me more than anything wants to be back there, thinks I even deserve to be back there, that part is nevertheless dying by the second. My instinct for survival is painfully intertwined with cowardice and, to my mind, they are now one and the same.
My first attempt is weak. It is as if I’m trying only half-heartedly to mount the tilt of soil and woody debris. I am trying, but… the pain… the agony and the exhaustion and the urge to lie down and sleep and wake and discover that none of this ever took place…
The second attempt is successful and, despite slipping back twice, after which I kick off the remaining shoe to grip the slope better with my toes, I make it before my legs threaten to give up altogether. As I reach the top, new tears start to trickle down my face and then they gather speed, forming rivers that roll over my cheeks to a sea that simply doesn’t exist. Never have I been so relieved and yet so afraid to have reached somewhere… something… someone…
I hear the lady before I see her and the blurred pulsating blue just behind her informs me who she is. I wipe away the tears from one eye and look down at the muddy, bloody mess on my hand. Then it all goes out of focus again as fresh tears fall.
I feel like a small boy - five or six - an adult come to my rescue. I hope she takes pity on me and treats me that way. Like I’m too young to know better.
I don’t want to take responsibility for this. I shouldn’t have to. More tears.
She is saying things that I can’t hear, but I am not frustrated. I am just glad she is there. That is enough. And I don’t mind if I never hear another human voice again. At one point, my ears tune into what she is saying but it is impossibly brief, like when a dial touches on a radio station for a fraction of a second before moving on. It is an upward inflection. She is asking me a question. Or questions.
But still I do not hear. Or is it that I do not want to hear?
She is bending a little and looking into my face, which must be a cakey mess of mud, blood and lipstick. In comparison, her own face is a glowing pink orb of fuzziness, eyes and nose and lips each coming into focus independently of one another and for only a second at a time.
A muffled squawk penetrates my skull and I blink faster to clear my vision for long enough to make out the bird to my right.
She is still talking to me, still asking me questions, but all I can do is wonder whether it’s the same bird as before, come to reject freedom and enter the wood’s confines once more.
Stupid, stupid bird.
Unless it knows that back there, in the clearing, is a freedom greater than that which lies ahead. In which case I am the stupid one.
“I need to know…” she is saying.
What does she need to know?
I want to know too, whatever it is…
And then I collapse at her feet.