#LGBTQMonth: The Wrap Up!

Hi everyone!

Can you believe it’s the end of June? That felt like the quickest #LGBTQMonth of my life! I hope you all had the best month and enjoyed everything! I had such a busy month so I didn’t actually get to read as much as I liked to, but I did manage to read 8 books!


Books on my June TBR: 10
Books Read in June: 8
Books Read from the TBR: 5
Books Read Not From the TBR: 3
Left on the TBR: 5


My June Wrap-Up


These are the books I’ve read this month:

  • Nothing Burns As Bright As You by Ashley Woodfolk
  • Heartstopper: Volume 4 by Alice Oseman
  • The Colour Purple by Alice Walker
  • Gay Bar by Jeremy Atherton Lin
  • This Poison Heart by Kalynn Bayron
  • Endgame by Malorie Blackman
  • Devotion by Hannah Kent
  • Hello Mum by Bernardine Evaristo

My stand-outs of this month were The Colour Purple, Devotion and This Poison Heart!


And what about you? What were some of your favourite reads in June? Let me know in the comments below!

#LGBTQMonth Author Interview: Erik J. Brown!

Hello everyone!

I’m so excited to welcome you to the next Author Interview of #LGBTQMonth 2022! How is the readathon going for you all? What are you reading? Let me know in the comments below!

For the next interview, I’m immensely excited to welcome the wonderful ERIK J. BROWN to my blog! . If you don’t know, Brown is the author of the recent ALL THAT’S LEFT IN THE WORLD!


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

He graduated from Temple University with a degree in Film and Media Arts with an emphasis in Writing for Media. When not writing, he enjoys traveling (pre-pandemic), collecting disco compilations on vinyl, remodeling his haunted house with his husband, and embarking on the relentless quest of appeasing his Shiba Inu, Charlie.

In 2021 he was selected as a Lambda Literary Emerging Writers Fellow.

His debut Young Adult novel, ALL THAT’S LEFT IN THE WORLD, was published by HarperColllins/Balzer+Bray in the US and Hachette Children’s Group in the UK Commonwealth.


ABOUT ALL THAT’S LEFT IN THE WORLD

When Andrew stumbles upon Jamie’s house, he’s injured, starved, and has nothing left to lose. A deadly pathogen has killed off most of the world’s population, including everyone both boys have ever loved. And if this new world has taught them anything, it’s to be scared of what other desperate people will do . . . so why does it seem so easy for them to trust each other?

After danger breaches their shelter, they flee south in search of civilization. But something isn’t adding up about Andrew’s story, and it could cost them everything. And Jamie has a secret, too. He’s starting to feel something more than friendship for Andrew, adding another layer of fear and confusion to an already tumultuous journey.

The road ahead of them is long, and to survive, they’ll have to shed their secrets, face the consequences of their actions, and find the courage to fight for the future they desire, together. Only one thing feels certain: all that’s left in their world is the undeniable pull they have toward each other.


THE INTERVIEW

Hey Erik! What was your journey to publication like for All That’s Left in the World?

It was somehow both very slow but very fast all at once! I started the first draft of ATLITW in 2015 and didn’t even query with it until spring 2019. I knew something was wrong with it, but I couldn’t figure out how to fix it until one day in maybe 2018 when it just hit me. From there, it was fast again. I got my agent in fall 2019, we went on submission Feb 2020, and it sold March 13, 2020. But then it was over a year before I finally could even announce it, and it would be another year before the book came out!

Wow, that is LONG!! You’ve got such a great title for your book. Does it take you long to come up with a title or was it pretty instant?

It takes me a long time to come up with a title, if I ever do. Some novels I’ve written still don’t have the right title. I’m editing my second book now, it’s due out next year and we actually don’t have a title for it! I didn’t have a title for ATLITW until I was writing a query and wrote the line: “they’ll have to learn to survive when all that’s left in the world is the love they have for each other.” And I went “Oh! That’s the title!”

I love that!! Have you got any advice for aspiring writers?

I was going to say ‘keep writing!’ because everyone says that, and it genuinely is good advice. But it’s 2022, we’ve had a rough couple of years, and I think maybe we should normalize saying ‘stop writing!’ Not forever. But just take a break. If you keep getting rejections and it begins to feel like you’re being beaten down and you’re forgetting why you’re even writing, stop for a bit. Take the time you need to do something else you enjoy. There are going to be readers for your book no matter when you publish.

Yes, such great advice!! Who was your favourite character in All That’s Left in the World to write?

I really loved writing Henri. She somehow became this amalgam of all the strongest women I know in real life and actresses that every gay man loves. I also loved her dichotomy to Andrew and Jamie. When Andrew and Jamie meet, they’re alone and very much starved for human interaction. Whereas Henri raised three kids, worked civil service, had a long and loving marriage before the apocalypse. And now she’s just kind of moseying around Bethesda with a shotgun, living a quiet life. She doesn’t need people, she likes them, but she’s a lot better off on her own. Despite the apocalypse she’s still living her second best life.

What LGBTQ+ books and/or films have stood out to you lately?

For books: The Loophole by Naz Kutub, A Little Bit Country by Brian D. Kennedy, The King is Dead by Benjamin Dean, And They Lived… by Steven Salvatore, The Lesbiana’s Guide to Catholic School by Sonora Reyes, How to Excavate a Heart by Jake Maia Arlow, Out of the Blue by Jason June, and Nothing Burns as Bright as You by Ashley Woodfolk.

And I can’t really recommend people watch it, because it’s definitely not everyone’s cup of tea, but I absolutely loved the movie Titane. It’s a very queer, very disturbing body horror that somehow by the end made me feel more emotions than I’ve felt watching a movie in years. So much of the movie is this tense, horrifying serial killer/body horror film, but it slowly turns into a metaphor for unconditional love and what it means to be a parent. But again, not for the faint of heart. 

Some amazing books recommend there!! As a queer writer yourself, what do you think the importance of LGBTQ+ representation is, especially in young adult fiction?

It’s important for young people to see they aren’t alone. Teens already feel like they’re the only person in the world who feels what they’re feeling. It isn’t until we’re older we find out everyone goes through similar emotions and experiences. So seeing ourselves presented, and especially seeing that others feel the same way we do, can be life saving for some teens.

As a kid, when I realised I was gay, I thought it meant I didn’t have any future. I thought it meant I would have to lie to everyone I loved and all the dreams I had about my life disappeared because all I knew back then was what the media and kids in school said. Gay people in the media were never portrayed having the life I wanted. It wasn’t until I was seventeen or eighteen that I realised I could still have the life I wanted. It’s important for kids to know they aren’t alone and that there are so many queer people in the world living the lives they want and deserve, and they can have that, too. Seeing themselves represented in media, in a realistic way, is the first step to that.

That’s so true! What three things are an absolute must for you to have a good writing session?

I’m a very simple writer: my computer, an idea, and hopefully no distractions! Sometimes I will put on music, sometimes I write in silence. But if the idea, or even knowing what happens next in the book, isn’t there it’s a struggle. That’s when the distractions come in and I jump on my phone or just walk around my house. But I love when I know exactly where the story is going and I lose whole hours writing it out.

Sounds like a dream! What can we expect to see next from you? Are you working on anything at the moment?

My second book is coming out next year, I’m not sure how much I’m allowed to say but it’s a coming-of-age contemporary YA about a queer teen working at an old-folks home. It’s based on the after-school job I had in high school. I’m also hoping one day enough people will have read ATLITW to warrant a sequel, because I have been outlining what that would look like! Fingers crossed! (Also if it does happen hopefully no one gets mad at me…)


That sounds like a book I definitely want to read! Thanks again for being a part of #LGBTQMonth, Erik! I am delighted to have had you onboard!

And for everyone else, I hope you enjoyed this interview! Do stay tuned for the rest of the month!

ARC Review | Nothing Burns As Bright As You by Ashley Woodfolk

Nothing Burns as Bright as You

by Ashley Woodfolk

YA Verse, Romance, LGBTQ+

Goodreads | Bookshop | Waterstones


Two girls. One wild and reckless day. Years of tumultuous history unspooling like a thin, fraying string in the hours after they set a fire.

They were best friends. Until they became more. Their affections grew. Until the blurry lines became dangerous.

Over the course of a single day, the depth of their past, the confusion of their present, and the unpredictability of their future is revealed. And the girls will learn that hearts, like flames, aren’t so easily tamed.

It starts with a fire.

How will it end?


Thank you to the publisher for sending me an early copy in exchange for an honest review!

Nothing Burns As Bright As You really took me by surprise, in the best way possible. I had not read Ashley Woodfolk before, only her part in the epic collab that was Blackout, so I wasn’t really sure what to expect. But this was a totally gorgeous novel, with a mystery at its centre that kept you reading and a tender and tumultuous romance that was brimming from the very pages. 

This is a verse novel about a love that blossoms between two girls—neither who are ever named, which I thought was a nice touch. It felt like it could be anyone; it could be me, it could be you, it could be any reader who found this book in their hands. And it is a novel about a fire, about the events that happen beforehand and the events that follow. 

Woodfolk is an insanely lyrical writer. I feel like there are verse novels that tell a great story, but there are also verse novels that make you feel something so vividly, so strongly, and Woodfolk’s latest is definitely the latter. There was so much raw emotion in her words and I could tell that each line was chosen and crafted so carefully, as though each page was a gift to the reader. I really enjoyed this young, innocent story of falling in love for the first time and how powerful of a feeling that can be. It felt completely authentic and true, and I savoured every word. I also liked how she interspersed the novel with different timelines, with before and after montages, with truths and with lies. It really elevated the book into something so much more. So yeah, I really enjoyed this. If you’re looking for a nice sapphic romance with a mystery threaded through, this one is for you. 


#LGBTQMonth Author Interview: Jarlath Gregory!

Hello everyone!

Ah, I’m so excited to welcome you to the fifth Author Interview of #LGBTQMonth 2022! How are you all getting on with your TBRs? Let me know in the comments!

For our next interview, I’m very excited to welcome JARLATH GREGORY to LGBTQMonth, where I got to interview him all about his writing process and his publication journey with his latest novel, What Love Looks Like!


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jarlath Gregory is from Crossmaglen, Co Armagh, and currently lives in Stoneybatter, Dublin. He is the author of Snapshots (2001), G.A.A.Y One Hundred Ways to Love a Beautiful Loser (2005), The Organised Criminal (2015) and What Love Looks Like (2021). He has also worked as a bookseller in Chapters Bookstore, and written for Attitude, Esquire and GCN magazines. He recently completed the M.Phil in Creative Writing in Trinity College Dublin and currently works as a freelance copywriter.


ABOUT WHAT LOVE LOOKS LIKE

Ben is 17, gay, and happy most of the time. He’s finished school and is on track to a great career – all that’s missing is falling in love. Romantic but a little naïve, Ben meets Peter online. But the guy of his dreams is still in the closet, his pal Soda is suddenly more interested in nights in than nights out, and his old school bully seems determined to ruin his life. Then, on top of everything else, his best friend, Chelsea, goes AWOL – just when he needs her most.

Everything is changing and Ben’s not sure what to do. But change brings all kinds of possibilities. You just have to be ready to see them.

Can Ben navigate the pitfalls of modern gay dating, with all its highly sexualised expectations, and be true to himself?


THE INTERVIEW

Hey Jarlath! What was your journey to publication like for What Love Looks Like?

Getting the novel to publication was a slow journey. I was completing a Masters in Creative Writing and writing this book on the side. When it came to submissions, I was finding that a lot of publishers weren’t interested in LGBTQ+ books. However, I saw that O’Brien Press were actively looking for Irish LGBTQ+ books and took a chance on it. Then the pandemic happened, which delayed the editing and publication process. But we got there in the end.

You know what they say – all good things are worth the wait! Do you listen to music when you’re writing or do you prefer to work in silence?

I always create a playlist to get me in the mood for writing. What Love Looks Like is set in 2015 and a large part of the action happens in Ben’s favourite gay pub, Pantibar. The soundtrack for this one was the kind of music you would’ve heard there at the time – Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Kylie Minogue – all the pop-dance divas.

All the best queens! What LGBTQ+ books or films have stood out to you lately?

I think Heartstopper has captured the moment – it’s an instant feel-good classic. I’ve just picked up The Second Cut by Louise Welsh, a dark, gay thriller set in Glasgow. And I’m looking forward to Moon Witch, Spider King by Marlon James, the second in a queer, African fantasy trilogy that started with Black Leopard, Red Wolf. And the film Bros looks interesting, as it’s setting out to subvert the norms of a romantic comedy through a queer lens.

I’ve seen that trilogy around for so long now, I really need to get stuck into that! As a queer author yourself, what do you think the importance of LGBTQ+ representation is, especially in young adult fiction?

I think it’s vital that young queer people see themselves represented on screen and in books. It’s something that cis-het teens and adults take for granted but is often missing from the young queer experience. Aside from that, it’s unrealistic to have no queer characters in fiction. Fiction should reflect the world we live in, and the world we live in is diverse.

Couldn’t agree more! Who was your favourite character in What Love Looks Like to write?

Soda, because he gets all the best lines. He’s bitchy, funny and rude. I’m still cackling!

Truly the best type of characters, for sure! How long does it generally take you to write a book? Do you have any special rituals for each draft?

It really depends on the book. A first draft takes about a year, but the edits can take a lot longer. As for the ritual, I usually make notes on what I want the next chapter to do, make a cup of tea, and force myself to sit down and get on with it. Same with the edits – I’ll make notes for myself on what’s missing or not working, then tackle each part one by one until I’m happy with it.

Great method! Have you got any advice for aspiring artists?

I think everyone has to figure it out for themselves. If you’re an artist, you’ll know it. You need to keep practising and getting better, until you’re confident your work is bullet-proof. At that point, you can begin to share it with the world and try to find an audience. They might like it, they might not, but if you can stand by it and say it’s your best work, you’ve done your job.

Such good advice! And finally, what can we expect next to see from you?

Hopefully another YA novel – I’ve just finished the first draft and the edits are looming over me. Time to put the kettle on.


And I am very excited for what comes next, Jarlath! What Love Looks Like is out now from O’Brien Press and I urge you all to go check it out!

I hope you enjoyed this interview with Jarlath Gregory – and stay tuned, because we’ve still got a few more to come!

#LGBTQMonth Author Interview: Kalynn Bayron!

Hello everyone!

Ah, I’m so excited to welcome you to the fourth Author Interview of #LGBTQMonth 2022! How are you all getting on with your TBRs? Let me know in the comments!

For our next interview, I’m very excited to welcome back the amazing KALYNN BAYRON to my blog for a special interview. I absolutely loved Cinderella is Dead and I can’t wait for her newest book at the end of this month!


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kalynn Bayron is the award-winning author of the YA fantasy novels CINDERELLA IS DEAD and THIS POISON HEART. Her latest works include the YA fantasy THIS WICKED FATE and the middle grade paranormal adventure THE VANQUISHERS. She is a CILIP Carnegie Medal Nominee, a two-time CYBILS Award nominee, and her work has been featured on Booklist’s Editor’s Choice list. She is a classically trained vocalist and musical theater enthusiast. When she’s not writing you can find her watching scary movies and spending time with her kids. She currently lives in Ithaca, NY with her family.


ABOUT THIS POISON HEART

Briseis has a gift: she can grow plants from tiny seeds to rich blooms with a single touch.

When Briseis’s aunt dies and wills her a dilapidated estate in rural New York, Bri and her parents decide to leave Brooklyn behind for the summer. Hopefully there, surrounded by plants and flowers, Bri will finally learn to control her gift. But their new home is sinister in ways they could never have imagined–it comes with a specific set of instructions, an old-school apothecary, and a walled garden filled with the deadliest botanicals in the world that can only be entered by those who share Bri’s unique family lineage.

When strangers begin to arrive on their doorstep, asking for tinctures and elixirs, Bri learns she has a surprising talent for creating them. One of the visitors is Marie, a mysterious young woman who Bri befriends, only to find that Marie is keeping dark secrets about the history of the estate and its surrounding community. There is more to Bri’s sudden inheritance than she could have imagined, and she is determined to uncover it . . . until a nefarious group comes after her in search of a rare and dangerous immortality elixir. Up against a centuries-old curse and the deadliest plant on earth, Bri must harness her gift to protect herself and her family.


THE INTERVIEW

Hey Kalynn! Now having written a series with the upcoming sequel to This Poison Heart and also a standalone with Cinderella Is Dead, which do you prefer writing? 

It’s hard to choose! There are great things about both standalones and series titles. I love standalones because I don’t have to be too concerned with what happens after the book is done. However, writing a series allows me more opportunity to really dive into the worldbuilding and characters. I will say, writing a series, for me, has been more difficult. Maintaining consistency over the course of two or three books can be really challenging.

Oh, that’s interesting! How do you like to spend your time when you’re not writing?

I love music and I love movies. So I spend a lot of time enjoying those things. I’m a huge musical theatre fan and now that I have recently moved to New York I’m hoping to spend some time in the city catching my favourite Broadway musicals in person.

What LGBTQ+ books or films have stood out to you lately?

There’s so much amazing work being done right now. I really love seeing queer content in big franchises like the Marvel cinematic universe. Seeing openly queer characters in movies like the Eternals feels like a big step forward. And seeing characters of color get to take center stage is always a big plus for me. I’ve really been enjoying Our Flag Means Death. In books, my TBR is a mile long but some of my favorites so far include No Filter and Other Lies by Crystal Maldonado, Golden Boys by Phil Stamper, Ophelia After All by Raquel Marie, and Right Where I Left You by Julian Winters.

Some really great recs to add to my TBR!! What’s your favourite part about being a writer than doesn’t involve the writing?

I won’t lie, the free books. I’m a reader first, so getting free books and fun book boxes is always a highlight for me. 

Have you got any advice for aspiring artists reading this?

With the recent spate of book bans, with the target being placed specifically on marginalized groups, I know there is some hesitancy about entering into publishing or other creative fields. What I’d like to say to aspiring artists is that your work is important, and it’s needed now more than ever. Take care of yourself and understand that there is a place for you and your work.

Some amazing advice! What does an ideal writing day look like to you?

It’s always changing for me. For the most part any day that I can get words on the page is ideal but if I could have the perfect environment, it would probably start with a big cup of coffee, a clean desk, and some quiet time to get the words in. I try to be flexible though because it doesn’t always work out like that and I still have to get the words in!

That’s so true! Sophia and Briseis are such great characters just to name a few. How do you go about crafting such strong, realised characters in your work?

I think the key to making strong realistic characters is to make them flawed. Real people have fears and hopes and dreams and quirks, it makes sense that my fictional characters should also have those things. It usually takes me a full draft to really get to know my characters and then they come alive in revisions. During the revision process I can really dig into who they are, and all of the little things that make them unique.

And finally, can you tell us what to expect next after This Wicked Fate?

This Wicked Fate comes out June 21st and then on September 20th my middle grade debut comes out! It’s called The Vanquishers and I am just so excited! It is a vampire story that takes place in modern day San Antonio. My main character Malika “Boog” Wilson is living in a world where vampires were known to have existed but were wiped out twenty years prior by a group of masked slayers called The Vanquishers. When suspicious things start happening in San Antonio, Boog questions the history she’s been taught and wonders if, perhaps, the Vanquishers might be needed once more. It is Stranger Things meets Watchmen, with a Buffy twist. I am SO excited! It’s going to be a lot of fun! 


Oh, and I cannot wait from the sound of that! This Wicked Fate is out on the 21st of June and I urge you to go all and pre-order it from your local indie!

I hope you enjoyed this interview with Kalynn Bayron – and stay tuned, because there’s plenty more to come!

ARC Review | Her Majesty’s Royal Coven by Juno Dawson

Her Majesty’s Royal Coven

by Juno Dawson

Adult Fantasy, LGBTQ+

Goodreads | Bookshop | Waterstones


At the dawn of their adolescence, on the eve of the summer solstice, four young girls–Helena, Leonie, Niamh and Elle–took the oath to join Her Majesty’s Royal Coven, established by Queen Elizabeth I as a covert government department. Now, decades later, the witch community is still reeling from a civil war and Helena is now the reigning High Priestess of the organization. Yet Helena is the only one of her friend group still enmeshed in the stale bureaucracy of HMRC. Elle is trying to pretend she’s a normal housewife, and Niamh has become a country vet, using her powers to heal sick animals. In what Helena perceives as the deepest betrayal, Leonie has defected to start her own more inclusive and intersectional coven, Diaspora. And now Helena has a bigger problem. A young warlock of extraordinary capabilities has been captured by authorities and seems to threaten the very existence of HMRC. With conflicting beliefs over the best course of action, the four friends must decide where their loyalties lie: with preserving tradition, or doing what is right.

Juno Dawson explores gender and the corrupting nature of power in a delightful and provocative story of magic and matriarchy, friendship and feminism. Dealing with all the aspects of contemporary womanhood, as well as being phenomenally powerful witches, Niamh, Helena, Leonie and Elle may have grown apart but they will always be bound by the sisterhood of the coven.


Thanks to the publisher for sending me an advanced proof copy in exchange for an honest review!

I mean, I don’t even know where to begin with Her Majesty’s Royal Coven? With the fact that it has cemented Juno Dawson as one of my favourite authors? With the fact that it has everything in the world that I love merged together in one book? With the fact that I have never been left on a bigger cliffhanger and I am quite literally going to die unless I find out what happens next? Or maybe that Dawson’s foray into adult fiction is a complete success and this novel is absolutely going to be one of the standouts of 2022. Yeah, all of the above. 

Her first adult novel follows a Spice Girls esque coven of witches, who used to be close but drifted apart. Then when an ancient prophecy begins to surface, they are forced to come together again, despite their differences and how much they have changed, and face the greatest battle they can imagine. 

God, this was a total triumph from Dawson. I’ve obviously been following her books for a while now, and have loved everything I’ve read – but this was next level. If she had not already found her footing before as a writer, then there can be no argument that she has not now with HMRC. A masterclass in pacing, character, story, wit and warmth. There are a plethora of characters in this novel but not a single one is wasted, same with the plots of the book. So much happens, and Dawson does an incredible job of weaving it all together so perfectly and leaving the reader breathless for the next page before they’ve even finished the one they’re on. 

What I loved most about this was the really subtle but also in-your-face commentaries on so many issues in our society today: gender, sexuality, womanhood, family, identity. This was just an incredible read, and it was bloody hilarious. You will seriously not want to miss out on this novel when it’s out next month. I couldn’t recommend it enough. 


#LGBTQMonth Author Interview: Benjamin Dean!

Hello everyone!

Ah, I’m so excited to welcome you to the third Author Interview of #LGBTQMonth 2022! How are you all getting on with your TBRs? Let me know in the comments!

For our next interview, I’m very excited to welcome back the amazing BENJAMIN DEAN to my blog for a special interview. I geniunely mean it when I say that Benjamin is one of my fav authors, I just love the stories he tells and the joy it spreads. He is the author of Me, My Dad and the End of the Rainbow as well as the more recent The Secret Sunshine Project!


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Benjamin Dean is a London-based celebrity reporter. He has interviewed a host of glitzy celebrities and broke the news that Rihanna can’t wink (she blinks, in case you were wondering). His middle-grade debut, ME, MY DAD AND THE END OF THE RAINBOW, was described as ‘One of the most joyful books you’ll read this year’ (The Bookseller). Benjamin can be found on Twitter as @notagainben tweeting about Rihanna and LGBTQ+ culture to his 10,000+ followers. 


ABOUT THE SECRET SUNSHINE PROJECT

Bea’s family are happy. Like, really happy. Like, kind of gross but also cute happy. So when they visit London Pride together and have the ultimate day out, Bea doesn’t think her family could possibly get any happier. But a year later, a grey cloud is following Bea’s family around. Dad has passed away, and without him around they have no choice but to pack their bags and move to the countryside to live with Gran.

With Bea’s big sister, Riley, taking the news hard, Bea will do anything to cheer her up. So with the help of new friends, The Secret Sunshine Project is formed – Bea’s plan to bring Pride to the countryside and a smile back to Riley’s face. There’s just one teeny tiny problem – the village mayor. A grumpy old woman who’s on a mission to rain on Bea’s parade . . .


THE INTERVIEW

Hey Ben! Now that you’re venturing into YA with your upcoming release, The King Is Dead, what has been your biggest challenge moving from children’s to young adult?

Hi Ross! Umm, I think for me personally the biggest challenge was needing to change my usual approach to writing stories. With my middle grade books, I do plan some of the bigger elements beforehand, but I tend to use the voice of my main character to help guide me through the story, so it feels a little more spontaneous. With The King is Dead, I knew I couldn’t do that. It’s a mystery with some thriller elements, so I needed to have a solid foundation to build the story on. I’m not the best at planning because I usually want to get straight into the story and figure it out as I go along, but this time round I had to work against my natural instincts a little and plan the story properly, chapter by chapter, so I could make sure everything came together. I still allowed myself a bit of freedom, and things definitely changed as I was writing, but yeah, this time round was much more planning!

Did you feel any pressure writing The Secret Sunshine Project after the success and love for Rainbow?

Oh absolutely! As a pop music fan, I’d always heard of the dreaded second album fears and I’d been joking for ages that it was going to be me when I had to write The Secret Sunshine Project, but my god it hit me like a truck. It was without doubt the hardest book I’ve written so far. I just felt this huge internal pressure that I was putting on myself to make sure anybody who enjoyed Me, My Dad and the End of the Rainbow wasn’t disappointed but also wasn’t just reading the exact same story. It took me a long time to get over those fears and actually write the book I wanted to.

Oh, yes, that’s totally true!! But if you want my opinion, I think you nailed it. How long does it generally take you to write a book? Do you have any special rituals for each draft?

It varies a lot. Rainbow took me a year or two because it was my first and I just didn’t know if it was going to be published or not, so there was no great urgency. Sunshine took a few months, and then The King is Dead took five weeks to nail the first draft – the words just tumbled out of me for that one! I’m pretty impatient, so I like to get a draft done quickly.

That is INSANELY quick, wow!! Have you got any advice for any aspiring artists?

Keep going! It’s so cliché but it’s so true. All you need is that one lucky break, that one person to say yes, and your whole life could change. Also, make sure you’re creating work that you personally love and are proud to stand by. Don’t bow to trends just because you think it might sell or perform better.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

Anything that gets me away from my desk! I love a bit of trash TV and playing tennis. I’ve also been trying to do this thing lately where I do things I actually want to do? I know that sounds stupid but I’ve always been that person who says OH I REALLY WANT TO DO THIS THING and then I just never do it. I always wanted to go to Paris, so when I quit my full-time job, I took myself there for a day trip and I had the BEST time. It just reminded me to do the things I’ve always wanted to, even if that’s something as simple as trying out a new skin regime or going for day trips out with friends somewhere close by. I think I’m in my live laugh love era tbh.

I so love that for you. I know you’re a Little Mix Stan like me, so I wanna know which songs of theirs matches each of your books?

Oh I absolutely am!!! This is a toughie oh my god. I think Rainbow would probably be something like Wings, Sunshine would be No More Sad Songs and The King is Dead would be…Wasabi maybe?   

Just the mention of Little Mix since they’ve gone on hiatus hurts, but they are some total bangers!! Has there been any LGBTQ+ book and/or film that has stood out to you lately?

I mean…of course Heartstopper has me in my feels at the moment. I’m obsessed with Alice and I’m so glad to see the show getting the love it deserves!

Heartstopper is truly the best. And finally, can you tell us a little about anything you’re working on at the moment?

I’m currently working on my next middle grade book, which hasn’t been announced yet so whoops. I can’t say too much about it just yet but it’s a step in a slightly different direction to my previous two and has some fantasy elements to it. But of course, it also shares a lot of the same themes too. And then it’s on to my second YA. I’m cooking up some treats for you all!


Oh, and I cannot wait for each and every one! The King is Dead is out in July and I really cannot wait!

I hope you enjoyed this interview with Benjamin Dean – and stay tuned, because there’s plenty more to come!

#LGBTQMonth Author Interview: Darren Charlton!

Hello everyone!

Ah, I’m so excited to welcome you to the second Author Interview of #LGBTQMonth 2022! How are you all getting on with your TBRs? Let me know in the comments!

For our next interview, I’m very excited to welcome the wonderful DARREN CHARLTON to my blog for a special interview. If you don’t know, Charlton is the author of the award-winning Wranglestone as well as upcoming sequel (out in September!), Timberdark!


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Darren lives in Hastings and has worked in social care for the last fifteen years, most recently for the homeless team at Guy’s and St Thomas’ hospital in London.

Lifetime passions for the National Parks of America, genre, film music and 80s kid’s movies have all worked their way into his writing.

​Darren’s debut, Wranglestone, was listed as one of the Times Best Children’s books of 2020 and has been shortlisted for the Costa Book Awards, the YA Book Prize.


ABOUT WRANGLESTONE

In a post-apocalyptic America, a community survives in a national park, surrounded by water that keeps the Dead at bay. But when winter comes, there’s nothing to stop them from crossing the ice.

Then homebody Peter puts the camp in danger by naively allowing a stranger to come ashore and he’s forced to leave the community of Wranglestone. Now he must help rancher Cooper, the boy he’s always watched from afar, herd the Dead from their shores before the lake freezes over.

But as love blossoms, a dark discovery reveals the sanctuary’s secret past. One that forces the pair to question everything they’ve ever known.


THE INTERVIEW

Hi Darren! What a thrillingly atmospheric story Wranglestone was! Is there anything you do whilst writing to help get you in the mood and in the eerie setting of the story?

​Thank you, Ross. That’s very kind of you to say. When I’m writing I generally sit in a darkened room wearing earplugs so I can maintain a pretty insular state. The reality of the day taking place around me gets in the way otherwise. But, walking and film scores (Goldsmith, Morricone, Williams, Desplat) are an absolute love since childhood. In between writing, doing both often allows me to dream up stuff in ways that sitting at my laptop doesn’t. Before covid, I hiked in Mont Blanc every year, kipping in a back-packers hostel in Chamonix. I’ve just said goodbye to Peter & Cooper for the last time. I’m excited to get back there again in June.  

Oh that’s such a good approach! What do you think your inspiration for Wranglestone was?

My stock answer is the two big trips I took hiking and camping the national parks of America back in 2007 and then again in 2010. I started writing as a result of those visits. They ruined me really. Seeing the planet on that scale created a restlessness in me – or maybe just reminded me of my own restlessness – making regular 9-5 life even more impossible when I returned to it. Wranglestone’s sequel, Timberdark, in its conclusions, is the summation of that feeling really. But actually, the book’s inspired by a lot of stuff. Love of film, the natural world, genre and, of course, a deep desire to give readers the kind of book that didn’t exist when I was growing up; an adventure that just happens to have two boys in love at its heart without the usual trials of coming out awaiting them. Peter & Cooper are occupying the same space in fiction as their heterosexual counterparts like Katniss and Peeta. They’re not justifying their existence. They just are. That was my MO for Wranglestone, really. And, of course, occupying more types of stories is the progression we’re starting to see now. I’m stoked that Wranglestone is playing its part in that movement. But writers will have to keep pushing if they want more types of stories. There’s still caution and resistance out there and, let’s be clear, homophobia in children’s publishing. Wranglestone barely made it through. Books that aren’t either contemporary, issue-based or coming out stories aimed predominantly at an LGBTQ+ readership will generally be regarded as a risk and not having any appeal to a general audience. I had to fight to get here. Then I had to fight for Peter & Cooper to have any presence in the book’s messaging. If you’re coming into this industry, I’m afraid you’re going to have to fight those fights.

You’ve got such a way with words, that really struck me. Has there been any LGBTQ+ books or films that have stood out to you lately?

Jane Campions’ The Power of the Dog. I love revisionist westerns and this spoke about sexuality and masculinity and the American west in ways I’ve not seen explored before. I regret that I didn’t know about Savage’s novel beforehand. It’s on my TBR.  And that TBR pile is huge. I’m afraid I don’t read fiction whilst I’m writing so I have so much to catch up on. But, it feels as if there’s a quiet revolution in LGBTQ+ stories in children’s publishing going on, from picture books right up to YA. Picture book, Grandad’s Camper by Harry Woodgate is particularly lovely. I hope this encourages publishers to be bolder in their choices, but for the time being, it’s likely that we’ll still be considered to be a publishers’ ‘diversity’ title, acquiring one book per season if that. It’s one of the reasons why it’s so vital that our stories, when they come, are written by own-voices writers. Few of us are let in. When we are, the battle won isn’t just for the author but the whole community. 

So true! Such a great picture book, too! With your upcoming sequel Timberdark, did you feel more confident going into this draft knowing your characters already or did you feel more pressure?

More pressure. I mean, I had the benefit of knowing Peter & Cooper intimately this time around, but everything else was harder. Wranglestone had a pretty inauspicious start. But now, there feels like there’s something to live up to. And readers may want more of the same. More twists. More rug-pulls. But I realised early on, that trying to chase and surpass those things would be both impossible and a hollow victory even if I could. And also, whilst you know you always have to tick certain boxes when it comes to genre to make sure you don’t frustrate readers coming to the book just for those things, I was always more interested in using the zombie sub-genre to explore socio political allegory. Having honoured the promise of the Dead taking to the ice at the climax of Wranglestone, it’s time to step out from inside that trojan horse to focus on the reason I’m here, which is to explore what it is to be human and to live and to love. This time, I want to make sure I leave the reader not just with thrills and feels, but with ideas. There’s a lot of story to cover in this one. And things keep moving. But I’m aware this book will please some more than others. But, taken as one story told over two books, Timberdark does exactly what it always set out to do by the half way point in Wranglestone, when the book completely pivots into something else entirely. 

Well, now I am really intrigued!! I want to know what the best piece of advice you’ve learnt so far for all the aspiring artists reading this!

If you want to become published, write because your soul has to. If writing’s not that for you, do something else. Because, quite honestly, everything beyond your own relationship with your work is out of your control. Publishing is a funny old business and a flawed industry not designed to look after authors.  

Harsh but necessary advice. Who was your favourite character in Wranglestone to write?

Oh, all of them. Cooper. Rider too. I love Peter’s dad and writing for Bud. I get endeared to gruff characters. In Timberdark there’s a new adult character called Marge. All she does is push people away which, of course, only makes Peter work harder on her. I’ll miss her.

Are you a planner or pantser? There were so many great twists and turns in the book that it felt so intricately crafted! Was this the case, or did you just sit down and write and see what came out?

Bit of both. I get bored stiff if I know everything going in. It’s like transcribing not creating. Also, your first idea isn’t always the best. Wranglestone, was most definitely a pebble worn into shape by many drafts. Each time, I made sure that every new idea was sewn into the fabric of the story to make sure it felt inevitable and meant to be, but I’d be lying if I said I had half of the complete thing going in. I didn’t. You’d be shocked if you knew what wasn’t there in that first draft. 

And finally – tell us a little about what we can expect from the sequel in September, Timberdark!

Answers.


Ooh, how very vague and teasing of you, Darren. I don’t know about all of you, but this interview has definitely made me very excited for the sequel to come out.

I hope you enjoyed this interview with Darren Charlton – and stay tuned, because there’s many more to come!

#LGBTQMonth Author Interview: Simon James Green!

Hello everyone!

Ah, I’m so excited to welcome you to the first Author Interview of #LGBTQMonth 2022! It is day three of the readathon, so full steam ahead! Have you all started your TBRs? What are you reading? Let me know in the comments below!

For our first interview, I’m immensely excited to welcome the wonderful SIMON JAMES GREEN to my blog for a special interview. If you don’t know, Green is the author of the fabulous recent Gay Club! as well as several other books, including Noah Can’t Even and You’re The One I Want to name a few!


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

His middle-grade books include Sleepover Takeover and Life of Riley: Beginner’s Luck, which was shortlisted for the Blue Peter Book Award and featured in BookTrust’s Great Books Guide 2021. He has also written two picture books – Llama Glamarama and Fabulous Frankie – both illustrated by Garry Parsons. His young adult novels include Noah Can’t Even (long listed for the Branford Boase and picked by WHSmith as one of the most important LGBT books of the last 50 years); Noah Could Never; Alex in Wonderland (nominated for the Carnegie medal and selected as one of the top 20 LGBT books of 2019 by Attitude); Heartbreak Boys, You’re the One That I Want (winner of the Bristol Teen Book Award), and Gay Club! (‘One to Watch’ in The Bookseller).


ABOUT GAY CLUB!

A landmark comedic novel about a group of queer teens at their worst – and ultimately their best – from one of the UK’s leading writers of LGBTQ+ teen fiction.

Barney’s a shoo-in for his school’s LGBTQ+ Society President at the club’s next election. But when the vote is opened up to the entire student body, the whole school starts paying attention. How low will the candidates go to win? Buckle up for some serious shade, scandals and sleazy shenanigans. It isn’t long before it’s National Coming Out Day – for everyone’s secrets!

But when the group faces an expected threat – and a big opportunity – can the club members put politics aside and stand united?


THE INTERVIEW

Hey Simon! What three things are an absolute must for you to have a good writing session?

A clear mind (i.e. not being on social media!), peace and quiet, and plenty of coffee. 

Plenty of coffee is always the way! What have been some LGBTQ+ books or films that have stood out to you lately?

I’ve really enjoyed Only on the Weekends by Dean Atta, and The King is Dead by Benjamin Dean. I think we’re living in something of a golden era for LGBTQ+ media and I’m so here for it! 

I couldn’t agree more!! You have such an impressive collection of fully realised characters, starting from Noah all the way up to Barney. What makes a good character to you?

I need to completely get inside their heads and know what really makes them tick. For me, it’s about knowing them inside-out, even down to details that don’t make it into the books. Noah, Alex, Jack, Nate, Freddie and Barney are so real to me, they’re like friends and I wouldn’t bat an eyelid if they walked through the door at any moment. 

Have you got any advice for aspiring artists?

 Anything in the creative industries is hard. The word you’ll hear most often is ‘no’. ‘No’ we don’t want your book, ‘no’ we don’t want to option it for TV, ‘no’ it isn’t right for us, sorry! You have to find a way to believe in yourself, even when it feels like no one else does, believe in your story and your talent, and try to keep going. In this game, for most of us, you have to keep knocking at the door until someone opens it. 

Great advice!! Gay Club! is your sixth YA novel, not including your other kids books and picture books. Do you still feel nervous when it’s coming close to publication or are you eager for your books to get into the hands of readers?

Yes, it’s terrifying, and I think it always will be. With any book, you’re putting yourself out there and it’s a really vulnerable feeling, because your heart and soul are on those pages. 

What’s the most special thing about being author to you that doesn’t involve the writing?

Meeting readers, no question, but especially readers in schools, who have loved the book, and found some comfort or hope within them. Honestly, that means the world.

Yes, that must be the best feeling in the world! If a character from Gay Club! had to meet a character from any of your other books, who would that be? And what do you think they’d get up to?

I think Barney should meet Noah. They are quite similar is many ways, and both are quite ambitious, so while there might be a bit of competition between them to start with, I think they’d find a lot of common ground and things to bitch about! 🙂


That sounds like a book I definitely want to read! Thanks again for being a part of #LGBTQMonth, Simon! I am delighted to have you back!

And for everyone else, I hope you enjoyed the first interview of the month – and stay tuned, because there’s many more to come!

My #LGBTQMonth TBR!

HELLO!!! And happy June and welcome to the FOURTH YEAR of #LGBTQMonth!! Ahh, can you even believe it? I’m so excited for everything I have planned this month – there’s some very exciting things coming your way, so you better stay tuned!

I figured the best way to kick off the month is to share my TBR and all the books I’m planning to read for this readathon! So without further ado, here’s the books I’ve chosen for each of the prompts.


Trans/Non-Binary Rep

The Transgender Issue by Shon Faye


Orange On The Cover

Nothing Burns As Bright As You by Ashley Woodfolk


A Book Recommended By A Friend

The Colour Purple by Alice Walker


A Fantasy Book

This Poison Heart by Kalynn Bayron


Free Choice

If This Gets Out by Sophie Gonzales & Cale Dietrich


Set In Ireland

What Love Looks Like by Jarlath Gregory


Published in 2022

Devotion by Hannah Kent


Adapted into a Film/TV Show

My Policeman by Bethan Roberts


An Author You’ve Never Read Before

The Prophets by Robert Jones Jr.


So there you have it – my TBR for June and for #LGBTQMonth. I am SO excited for all these wonderful books!

And what are you reading for #LGBTQMonth if you’re taking part? I would LOVE to know! Remember you can double or even triple up on the prompts if you don’t think you can get through one book for each in a month! So do let me know in the comments below if you’re taking part!