The words came thick and fast and before I knew it I had written a chapter. And another. And another. The story seemed to write itself at times. The characters were evolving and propelling the plot forward faster than I could write. For the first time in my writing career, I reached no dead ends, experienced no dreaded writer's block. At one point, I wrote ten thousand words in a single day; I could have written more, but for the sake of my sanity I forced myself to stop. During key scenes in the novel, I'd write with my heart pounding and hands sweating, furious at the characters I'd written. How could such monsters exist? And yet they do. How could they treat fellow human beings in this way? And yet, in real life, sadly they do. I'd finish passages mentally and emotionally drained. Something was happening. And not just in the book.
The book was becoming more than just a story, more than just a means of entertainment. It was not long before the bongs of Big Ben signalled the arrival of 2014 that I told a very close friend something about who I am. Something so important and integral, yet something which I'd hidden my entire life. The relief I experienced, along with emotions not done justice by the term 'roller coaster', is something only those who have undergone a similar rite of passage can understand.
I returned to the book sooner than I thought I would. The story had to continue. I had to tell it. I had to drive the characters into Hell for them to have any chance of coming out the other side. Do they come out the other side? Well, that would be telling; you'll have to read the book for yourself. Readers have described the book as devastating, gripping and harrowing. I have never made out that FAG is an easy read. It isn't. It's brutal, unflinching and honest. To write anything less would be to do a disservice to all those who have suffered and continue to suffer, surrounded by bullying, oppression and prejudice. To my knowledge, thus far, only one reader has not finished the book, unable to bear reading on. It's rare that a writer sees a reader not finishing his book as a compliment, but I do. I now know I have written something powerful enough. And those who have reached the novel's end? I feel so fortunate that they have felt the journey worth it.
Despite the pause during the writing of the first draft, I finished it in a little over two weeks, something I never expect to achieve again. Over the following months came several edits, all the time honing, cutting and adding to satiate the perfectionist in me. I strongly considered publishing the book under a pen name. How on earth could the author of the light-hearted Maureen books be seen to be publishing something so daring, so... adult? What if fans of Maureen bought a copy expecting something along the same lines? As one reviewer pointed out, this is most certainly not Maureen Goes to Boarding School! Furthermore, or principally (I realised on reflection), if I published FAG under my own name, everyone would soon know the real me. And therein I had my answer. I would not be the hypocrite who, using a pseudonym, wrote the novel about oppression and the tragedy that can arise from lies and dishonesty. No, I simply had to publish under my name. Because if I didn't, it would undermine the whole point of the book.
The publishing of the book in May 2014 marked something of a milestone in my life. I nervously awaited feedback, the first thoughts and reactions to something so different from a writer people thought they knew. I mentally prepared for hostile reactions and, worse, rejection. The title itself, a deliberate play on words, caused some offence upon publication. To this day, I have not once doubted the suitability of the title. Several months after publication, a reader from the US (where the word 'fag' is considered highly offensive, more so than in the UK) wrote in his review that the title could not be anything else; it had to be FAG. I cannot describe how wonderful this was to hear.
Unfortunately, despite allowing the title through its unfathomable web, Amazon includes 'fag' in its blocked words list, which means that readers can discuss the book on its forums only with great difficulty and reviewers are unable to review the book with any reference to the title. I understand the reasoning behind Amazon's decision but am continuously frustrated by it. I have published a book I never thought I could have written and now someone is trying to censor it. Such is life.
The reviews continued to roll in, endorsing the book's message and praising its content, and FAG is now my most consistently selling book. I'm eternally grateful to friends, family and readers who have trusted me enough to pick up the book and read it and accept me for who I am.
The book is of course still available on Kindle, but if you wish to purchase a copy of the paperback, you can do so through Amazon UK (Amazon US) or directly through me, should you wish for your copy to be signed (with or without dedication).
So, as one journey ends, another begins. FAG undoubtedly changed my life for the better. Here's to the future...