Saturday, March 28, 2009

Interview with Rupert Smith by Radcliff Gregory

Rupert Smith isn’t your average gay novelist – not that there is anyone in danger of achieving that dubious accolade. He has managed to become not one, but three separate critically acclaimed novelists. After nine top-selling novels, he recently won the ‘Erotic Oscar’ for work published under his James Lear pseudonym. This is in addition to working as a journalist for 25 years, interviewing hundreds of celebrities, and ghost writing autobiographies. Apart from his regular contributions to Gay Times, Smith now mainly focuses on writing novels. His next novel, Silk, is released this summer.


RG: What does 2009 hold for you?
RS: A lot! Silk - a big blockbuster set in the worlds of fashion and the law. Then Man’s World (November). Soon I’ll start work on the 2010 James Lear novel. Later this year Cleis is reissuing the first ever James Lear novel, The Low Road (out of print for ages and changes hands on the second-hand market for a lot of money)!

RG: You spent many years working in the media industry. Were you consciously collecting material for a novel?
RS: Yes, sort of - I met so many interesting, ridiculous, amazing, annoying people in that world, I kept saying “If you read this in a novel you’d never believe it”.

RG: What inspired I Must Confess?
RS: The character was based on a good friend of mine, who was an aspiring actor-singer, who never made it – but in his own mind he was always a superstar. When he passed away I thought about him a lot and thought he’d make a great basis for a character. The book was also hugely informed by the celebrities I’d interviewed and their agents, managers etc.

RG: What is it like to be two writers simultaneously?
RS: It helps me to differentiate my output: Rupert Smith is basically gay literary fiction with a strong comic element, James Lear is gay erotica, and the new one is commercial fiction. Writing under a different name freed me from the stifling concept of “art” and made me realise that you have to put markets first, yourself second. Once you’re successful you can do what you like and serve Literature, but you have to get to that position first.

RG: Why do you write under two separate identities?
RS: When I started writing porn, I was working for the BBC and I didn’t think they’d take too kindly to it, so I used a nom-de-plume.

RG: Did you always intend to write erotic fiction?
RS: I always have written erotic fiction, from when I was a teenager writing wank fantasies about my mates in a secret diary. I did a bit for mags. The James Lear stuff came about because I was unable to get another novel published. It sold very well.

RG: Sex is notoriously difficult to write well.
RS: I don’t know why so much sex writing is so bad. I think it’s because people try to be literary, which is absolute DEATH in erotic writing. A cock is a cock, not a veiny maypole or a throbbing thrill-hammer. You have to have narrative context: danger, a sense of the forbidden, a frisson of guilt or power. Two people getting off is not very sexy in itself. And you have to have humour to defuse the essential ridiculousness of the exercise.

RG: Does the publishing industry understand there’s a market for queer fiction?
RS: Categorically. the publishing industry does NOT understand. Hardly anyone in the UK is publishing gay stuff, apart from a handful of literary writers like Sarah Waters, Alan Hollinghurst. Nothing about the world we live in now. It’s terrible – our stories and experiences are going unrecorded. This is why I wrote Man’s World and I had a hell of a job to find a publisher for it! No major publisher has the guts to bring out a gay list.

RG: What inspires you to write?
RS: For the porn, I take a favourite literary model and rework it with a lot of sex. The characters come largely from men I see at the gym, or people I know. For the commercial, I take good solid situations and spin out a, melodramatic, sexy, funny yarn. For the Rupert Smith stuff it’s more personal. Fly on the Wall was inspired by TV “docudrama” and the weird people I see walking past my house. Service Wash was inspired by a big job I did on EastEnders, and years as a TV critic for the Guardian, fantasising about what could go wrong with a programme like that. Also from my observations of the gay scene.

RG: What about the gay literary evenings?
RS: The House of Homosexual Culture is a forum to explore and celebrate queer history and culture. We’ve done events on subjects from disco to drag, Aids, politics, porn, punk, the law, and literature.“Live journalism”. Lots of exciting stuff coming up. We’re resident at Southbank Centre now, a great honour. One of the aims of this project was to bring the generations together. To get young people interested in their own history, which is in danger of being forgotten, and to give respect to older people who earned us the freedoms we enjoy today. See http://www.southbankcentre.co.uk/festivals-series/house-of-homosexual-culture

RG: Do you think it would be a positive thing to reinstate Polari in the Queer vocabulary?
RS: It never died! I use it constantly.

RG: Tell me about your next book.
RS: Man’s World is set in 00s gay London, and 50s queer underworld when being gay was illegal, it’s a dual narrative that joins up when one of the survivors of the “old” world meets the narrator of the “new” world. It’s about how much has changed in 50s years, and how little. It’s very funny and sexy but it’s also very romantic and has some serious points to make. I met a lot of great people in their 70s and 80s who witnessed gay life in the 50s and they were massively inspiring.


Radcliff Gregory is the author of Everywhere, Except…, and the sold-out Fragile Art, and Figaro’s Cabin (under a pseudonym), and also anthologised in Chroma, Poemata, Coffee House and Poets International literary publications, and a dozen books by publishers including Crystal Clear, Forward Press and Poetry Now. Outright winner of six UK poetry competitions. Also writes non-fiction articles and essays on literary criticism, literature, disability and gender issues. Currently organising Polyverse Poetry Festival, which he founded. He also tries to find time to pull in a little PhD research at Loughborough University.

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