Friday, 8 January 2016

My Favourite Authors. Their Influence on My Writing and My Life


Storm Constantine holds the dubious honour of being the person who ignited my interest in writing gay characters,  Whilst it is not entirely true to say that the characters in the Wraeththu books are gay as they are non human hermaphrodites who have entirely alien genitalia which allows total interbreeding in that everyone has the capability of impregnating and becoming pregnant.

When I first read the books I was living in a bubble, a completely innocent, naive girl living in an insular environment. I had no idea about gay issues, or even that being gay was an issue. The only gay person I had ever met was a flaming queen who a total local character known for his personality and not his sexuality and it wasn't until much later did I realise there was any element of 'gayness' in it. That's who he was and who he was known - and generally loved - for being.

It wasn't until much later, after having a daughter 'come out' meeting her friends that I realised with a shock that some people actually had a problem with someone being LGBT, and they actually mistreated their own children because of it. That was a sad, sad, day. It was an even sadder one when one of my daughters friends wept in my arms at her engagement party wishing I was his mother so he could find acceptance. He was such a lovely, bright, friendly, helpful boy I couldn't, and can't. understand why any parent would not be proud of him.

At about that time, I revisited these books and was not shocked but surprised to find the whole gay issue a non issue. Although neither human, nor technically gay, almost every character is outwardly male, having sex (called aruna and pretty much a spiritual experience) with other males. The first chapter of the first book concerns the seduction by a har (one of the non human species) of a human boy. The boy's family are worried only because of the character not the gender of Cal, who they believed to be, a human boy.

For his part, the human, Pel, heartaches over falling for Cal, for many reasons, not one of them being his gender, and he thinks nothing of it when he's taken to a town inhabited entirely by males. Even now, having had a long history of fighting, and living with, homophobia, this feels fluid and natural to me.

When I was reading the books, the characters, locations, politics and strangeness drew me in and kept me hostage to the extent I never once even registered the genders of the protagonists. The books are unrelentingly sensual (not only sexual and not always pleasant) and the relationships so well crafted, I came out after three books with a profound and lasting love for androgyny and romantic relationship between males. I have no illusions that this was an creation of interest / awareness / preference, but rather an awakening, or reawakening, of a latent core that had been shut off for a long time. An almost spiritual restlessness and sense of wrongness I had felt since puberty began its long journey toward the illumination of understanding and awareness. Of course it made my life hell in the meantime, but that is another story.

The upshot of all this is that if you have a love for beautiful, androgynous, not-exactly-gay characters who live and die  within an exquisitely crafted world, already rich with lore, diverse spiritualistic, new gods, powers and civilizations and just amazingly bizarre, weird but entirely normal characters, you HAVE to read these books. Everyone should find a character in here to drool over, whether it be the delicate, almost fey Pelaz, the etherically sinister Uluame or one of the strong, silent warrior types. They're all beautiful, beautifully imperfect and completely screwed up. There is decadence aplenty, alongside squalor and cruelty. 

On the other hand, if you like gender and sexuality being an issue within the story, or any kind of examination of what it means to be gay, these aren't the books for you.


Terry Pratchett is best known, I think, for being a prolific author who wrote the massive, forty one books, series of Discworld books, another example of world building at its absolute best. He has also had an epic collaborations with the equally brilliant Neil Gaiman. Their Good Omens is one of my top ten all time favourites.

I can't even begin to describe the characters and locations on the Discworld, a wonderful, flat world carried through space on the back of four elephants on a giant turtle. There are everything from vampires to dwarves, werewolves in the police force and a friendly tyrant who used to be a member of the Assassins Guild. Let me single out a few for special mention. 

The Witches

The Discworld witches are neither good witches nor bad witches. They practice headology, which means that if they can make you believe in magic without having to actually do it, they will. They say things like "When will we three meet again - well, Tuesday afternoon works for me" and keep whiskey bottles in their kicker elastic. Nanny Ogg is the matriarch of a large family of boys and, and sings a song called The Wizard's Staff Has A Knob On The End.

Granny Weatherwax on the other hand is no one's granny. She's fought off vampire venom, seen through elven glamour to the evil little bastards they are, and sometimes 'borrows' the minds of animals to gain insight and information, or, I suspect, because she is well aware that animals are, on the whole, much nicer than people

Magrat suffers from New Age. She wears amulets and silver jewellery and believes cauldrons should be used for other things than making tea. Nanny Ogg likes her drop of tea, and Granny Weatherwax has no time for 'props'. She's a bit of a wet fish, but she does end up marrying a king

The Wizards

Not your usual kind of wizard. They inhabit The Unseen University, where the librarian is an orangutan (the long arms are useful to negotiate shelves that do not always inhabit the same space and time as the rest of the Discworld), the way to the top is not through academia, but 'Dead Man's Pointy Shoes' ie killing the person whose job you want and stealing his shoes, and one of the students is unable to learn anything because a spell jumped out of a book into his head, and no other spell is brave enough to occupy the same brain.

They've recently developed a new machine called Hex, which is powered by ants and is supposed to be able to answer any question put to it. The Wizards are deeply suspicious of it.

One of my favourite things about the wizards is that their magic bears a strong resemblance to theoretical physics, and there are, in fact, two companion books about The Science of the Discworld that explain some incredibly complex Physics in an almost (to me) understandably way, as it relates to familiar characters that allow a somewhat more 'hands on' method of learning theorums. The space/time continuum is much easier to understand when related to libraries and orangutans. 

The Watch

The Discworld equivalent to the police force. What can I say about them?!!

Corporal Nobby Nobbs is a grown up street urchin with a distinct body odour and a definite talent for causing finding trouble. He is as finely crafted character as I have ever read even though he doesn't have many speaking roles.

Commander Vimes is...Commander Vimes. He's a complex character with a far to well defined sense of justice and fairness to be in the Watch let alone commanding it.

Captain Carrot is a six foot tall dwarf prince who is in love with a werewolf - Captain Angua, and Constable Dorlf is a freed clay golem. There are a number of undeads, including a vampire, and a troll.

The history of The Watch is detailed and rich, with a historical timeline and past members/patrons/enemies that crop up from time to time in various books.

This historical dialogue is prevalent throughout all forty one books with the histories, families and exploits of characters, guilds and factions intertwined seamlessly. The Discworld has it all - maps, history, lore, fairytales, languages. myths and anecdotes, to name but a few. How Sir Terry ever managed to keep track of it all through forty one inter-meshed books is a mystery to me. I know I couldn't do it and I can't think of a single other book or series that has that amount of detail. Lord or the Rings and Harry Potter don't even come close.

On the face of it, the Discworld novels might seem like a series of hilariously funny and infinitely quotable fantasy books, but they are so much more than that. There are so many different levels to each book I would defy anyone to find all of them on first reading. Among the many different kinds of comedy covered within the pages you will find humour that is subtle, in-your-face, light, dark, darker, sarcastic, farce, pie-in-the-face, slapstick, lavatorial, euphemistic and innuendos abound. Oh, and satire. Dear Gods, so much satire.

You will also find references to popular myth (leaving milk out for fairies), literature (Masquerade is clearly based on Phantom of the Opera). famous characters (the Hogfather) etc. You will find references to popular culture everywhere, along with an uncannily in-depth knowledge of magic (high and natural) physics, chemistry, politics and dozens of other things you will only discover WHEN  you read them.

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