I Spent 9 Years Writing a Gay Novel
Updated: Dec 17, 2022
I’ve never actually tried to work out before how long I spent writing 'The Space Between Galaxies.' Sometimes I say five years, sometimes I say eight. I got the idea from a series of dreams I had about a Christian guy when I was seventeen. The first attempts to start writing it were when I was going out with my second boyfriend; Percy Tankengine. And I finished it in a hostel room in Guatemala with a view of a volcano. Facebook tells me I went out with Percy in 2010, and I went to Guatemala in 2019 – so that’s nine years. There was something very reassuring about having such a long-term project – wherever I was, whatever I was doing I was working towards this novel. It was like my child that I was pregnant with for 12 times the normal gestation period. I watched a documentary once about a guy who said he’d spent a decade creating the greatest work of art ever. Then you see it and it’s a slightly wonky looking hyper realistic portrait of Marilyn Monroe. I worried at times my novel was like that. But I had to write it, unlike other creative projects, this story never stopped being interesting to me.
When I started, I truly had no idea what I was doing. I would write a few random excerpts from whatever point in the book I felt like and then at some point attempted to piece these together into chronological order. At first, I found writing dialogue the most difficult bit, but over the years the two main characters; Kyle and Felix, became so real to me that writing a conversion between them was nothing. I remember a job where I got to live in a fancy rural hotel for two weeks and spent the entire time writing one house party scene. Writing characters is sometimes almost like channelling, and that scene took so long because I had to put myself into so many different points of consciousness - all interacting in one space. If I’m getting stuck on a certain character, I think of a few people I know that they’re a mix of. I’ve found the two main characters in both my novels have been opposing aspects of myself. Kyle is my vanity and arrogance, and Felix is the bit of me that tries to love everyone.
There’s advice online that you should stick to a simple plot and one genre for your first novel. But I had about 5 genres and these very complex interlinked parallel storylines. One thing I struggled with was all the places they visit in the book. I would watch days of Youtube videos about a single place before I felt I could write it realistically. But I was writing the book so long that I ended up going to most of the places featured anyway; the USA, Mexico, Guatemala, Egypt, Mykonos, Thailand, and Taiwan.
Kyle is a London club kid, like I was briefly in 2011; going to exclusive London bars and getting free drinks while wearing balloons and lingerie. I'd always rather be writing from experience. But there’s a storyline about Leukaemia in the book that I really had to intensely research. My favourite reference book was this really dry self-published book by a native American high schooler who had leukaemia. I loved it because he included all the names of medication, treatment timelines, everything that every other writer thought was too boring to include. I also got advice from a friend called Woodchild who died from cancer while I was writing the book.
The plot was so complex that at one point I had a large detective style noticeboard covered in heavily annotated post it notes to make sure everything in each storyline happened in the right order. I think I re-wrote the whole book a couple of times – which sounds very dramatic. But it was never a case of me thinking I was re-writing the whole thing. I would re-write parts, then re-read it and they’d be so good, that I’d have to re-write the bits around them. A lot of that was getting to know the characters well enough - I’d re-read earlier writing and think – Felix would never say that. The four boyfriends I had while writing it helped a lot too - especially with creating realistic conflicts between the characters! There was one argument I had that was strangely similar to a plot line in the book. I'm being vague because I don't want to ruin all the plot twists for you.
For about five years my new year’s resolution had been to finish this book. And by the end of 2019 I finally did it. I put all twenty two notebooks into a fire in my friend’s garden. I always write fiction in notebooks - staring into Microsoft word seems to shortcut my creativity. And burning them all gave me closure and meant no one will ever get a hold of the random scraps of unrealistic dialogue I was writing back in 2010. Then I sent it off to every agent that had ever had anything to do with a gay novel. They all either rejected it or didn’t write back. It didn't make me doubt it - everyone who’d read it said it was so good, it made them laugh and cry. But I have noticed that all gay fiction at the moment is either romance novels - by women for women, Young adult, or the occasionally high-brow literary novel. So, I slowly accepted I was going to have to self-publish my weird amazing unmarketable gay novel.
I read somewhere that if you don’t want to be so precious about your novel, write another one. So, during the pandemic I wrote a novella and self-published it – it was a trial to make putting out ‘The Space Between Galaxies’ less scary. It took a whole year till I had a cover for this novel anyway. A guy in Mexico made me one that looked like a spacey gay Disney film. Then I experimented on photoshop for six months before I had enough money again to pay an amazing graphic designer in Kazakhstan to make this:
I really don’t feel like my slightly scattered ADHD self-promotion has done enough, but I just want to get it out there now, I want people to read it! My aim was to write something with non-mainstream gay characters, and a really unique storyline. I’ve read so much gay fiction where the only interesting aspect is the character’s sexuality. This isn't that! I’m prouder of this book than anything I’ve ever done and in three days’ time I’m going to put it out into the world.
So here's the blurb:
Kyle is an arrogant club kid who gets paid to take drugs and look fabulous.