My guest today is J L Merrow, a British author perhaps most renowned for her knack of combining seriously sexy stories with a generous sprinkling of humour.
She is also on the organising committee for the UK Meet, a little convention for British writers of LGBTTQ fiction that is rapidly growing into something much bigger.
Hi, JL, thanks so much for joining me today.
Thank you for having me! *settles into chair* My, that is comfy. *looks suspiciously at host* It’s not going to tip up like the one on the Graham Norton show, is it?
Elin : The first book of yours that I read was Camwolf, a novel that combines life in a university in Cambridge with lycanthropy.
Since then there has been Midnight in Berlin and Tortoise Interruptus. Can you explain to me the allure of shifters? Also how do you make YOUR shifters different?
JL : Well, a classic explanation of the werewolf myth is that it’s the id, unleashed—a man stripped of his humanity, and controlled solely by his baser desires. I’m not sure that quite holds true for tortoises!
I do think there’s a wonderful dichotomy between the perfect freedom werewolves have when transformed—and the way they’re trapped by their dual nature. It can make for a nicely tortured hero!
I think my wolves in Camwolf are fairly classic werewolves, but in Midnight in Berlin my main wolves are rather different—and for a very sinister reason. Which I won’t go into here because, heh, spoilers…
Elin : You have, bravely to my mind, tackled issues that one doesn’t normally come across in M/M romance. Chris, the hero of Permanently Legless is just that, having lost limbs to a Taliban bomb, Marcus of Wight Mischief, has some serious psychological issues, poor lad and Al of Muscling Through (Oh AL! I <3 Al!) isn’t stupid but certainly has his own way of looking at the world. How difficult is it to think your way into the mindset of men who have to cope with these problems? (Though again, in Al’s case, it’s not a problem, it’s just the way things are.)
JL : Heh, you forgot Niall in A Ghoul Like You, who eats people… *g*
Whenever someone tells me I’m being brave, I know the book will probably either do well or else go totally tits-up!
Honestly? Perfect people bore me. Probably because I can’t relate to them in any way, shape or form. I know some readers like to read about fantastically handsome guys getting it on together, but I’d rather see real people (or ghouls, as it might be) overcoming their difficulties and finding love despite everything.
Both Chris and Marcus came about because I was annoyed with the way society treats people who are physically different. I don’t use a wheelchair myself, but I have a good friend who does, and she constantly has to deal with people pretending she’s not there—for example, when she goes shopping with her husband, he now deliberately walks away when she buys something, as they’re both sick to death of shop assistants handing the change to him instead of her.
Marcus has albinism, and having read a couple of (non m/m) books which sold rather well and basically treated the condition as a sort of shorthand for “look: creepy weirdo here” I wanted to show it’s no barrier to being a romantic hero—in fact, as you say, it’s the psychological issues which are much more of a threat to him finding happiness. Poor lamb.
How do I get into their heads? Well, as with all writing, you do the research: you read around the subject, including as many first-hand accounts as you can find. I’m probably as lazy an author as they come, which is why I tend to write about things I feel strongly about. Otherwise I’d never get the research done!
I have to say I found it an absolute delight to be in Al’s head. There’s a certain childlike quality to him, and I have vivid memories of incidents in my own childhood where the way I saw things was not at all the way the adults around me saw them, and I guess I drew on those memories a little.
Actually, the character I found most of a challenge to write is Leon, in Midnight in Berlin. He’s good-looking, brash and cocky, and didn’t come naturally to me at all!
Elin : Hard Tail – which is a JOY – has a language all of its own, which suggests you’ve spent a fair amount of time hanging around with well toned young men with shaved legs and cycle shorts. What was the best bit of writing it?
JL : Can I say, all of it? I really enjoyed writing Tim’s story. Totton and the New Forest are steeped in memories for me, from childhood holidays with my grandparents. And I’ve always loved cycling, even though (or perhaps because) back when I was growing up, it was less of a leisure activity than a practical necessity. I cycled to school, I earned my first wages doing a paper round on my bike, and met up with friends that way too.
Elin : I’m a big fan of humour in my reading material. Angst and drama are fine but people like to laugh and those joyful giggly moments can make heart pangs that much more wrenching. But humour is hard to do well and its success also depends on the reader. I often pick up a book that has reviews extolling it as ‘hilarious’ and a ‘laugh a minute’ and find myself underwhelmed. Do you think that there is as big a difference between British and US humour as we are led to believe or is it down to age and/or personal experience?
JL : I’m really not sure there’s as much difference between UK and US humour as there’s cracked up to be. Traditionally, we’re supposed to see US humour as less subtle, and lacking irony, but particularly in TV shows, we’ve seen some great humour come out of the US. I’m a huge fan of Joss Whedon’s wit, which came out to great effect in the recent Avengers movie.
I think humour is a very personal thing. Like you, I’ve read books which are supposed to be hilarious, and been left scratching my head—but I don’t think it’s necessarily a UK/US thing. I’ve never been able to really “get” the humour of Catch 22, but a close (British) friend of mine adores it!
Elin : UK Meet! J I’m not sure if you’re as excited about that as I am because you and the rest of the team are doing so much of the work (for which my most sincere thanks). However – would you like to give us a bit of the gen about it? Who will be there? Why should we make every attempt to attend and so forth?
JL : I am HUGELY excited about the UK Meet, and not just because I’ll get to meet one of my all-time fave authors, Jordan Castillo Price (and probably be struck entirely dumb with an extreme case of fangirl-itis). The first UK Meet was good. The second was fantastic. The third, this year, is going to be even bigger and better! We’ve got a host of great sponsors on board, a great location (dirty weekend in Brighton, anyone?) and an unbeatable programme! For a list of who’s signed up to be there already and a draft schedule, see our website here: http://ukglbtfictionmeet.co.uk/
I’m also really excited about this year’s anthology, Lashings of Sauce. Once again, we’ve got a fantastic selection of stories, and a fabulous cover!
Elin : Poking around on your website I notice that you list some WIPs. Care to tease us a bit by telling us about them?
JL : *scurries back to website to check* My, that needs updating! I’m currently working on a romantic comedy set in Cheltenham, featuring my campest romantic hero yet. He’s a half Japanese, dog-owning, violin-playing amateur poet who falls in love with a big, butch karate black belt. Yes, it’s a return to one of the themes of Hard Tail, but this time we’re seeing karate from the perspective of an outsider, which has been a lot of fun to write.
Elin : I ask everyone this – so you didn’t honestly think I’d leave you out, did you? – out of all your characters who would you snog, marry or avoid? Alternatively who would you most like to push downstairs, share a cab with or have move in next door?
JL : Oh, decisions, decisions…. Well, I’d definitely snog Luke from Pricks and Pragmatism! For marriage, it’d be a toss-up between Will from Wight Mischief, because he’s very caring, and Matt from Hard Tail – actually, no, Matt would definitely win. I’d never have to cook another meal again! ;) Avoid? That’s tougher, if we leave aside your actual murderers and suchlike. If we’re looking at main characters here, I think I’ll have to go with Niall from A Ghoul Like You. You never know when he might be feeling peckish!
Your alternative question makes me feel horribly guilty, because of course I did push Will downstairs! Poor lamb. He really didn’t deserve it. Although, heh, the research was fun!
(Disclaimer: No actual romantic heroes were harmed in the making of Wight Mischief).
Elin : Finally – can we have an excerpt please? Current works, WIPs, anything you like?
JL : Here’s a sneak preview from Pressure Head, which will be out from Samhain Publishing on 18th September:
“Oh, bloody hell—how did he find out about this?” I looked up from the photo to see Dave glaring at a tall, blond figure striding our way across the common. The new guy was big in a totally different way to Dave—his shoulders were broad, his legs were long and lean, and the bulk of his chest wasn’t all due to the bodywarmer he was wearing over a thick sweater. Well, it was a bit nippy up here, as I was finding to my cost. I gave my hip another rub.
There was something vaguely familiar about the bloke. “Who is he?”
“Private bloody investigator. Hired by our girl’s mum and dad. Private bloody pain in the bum, if you ask me. Ex-copper, couldn’t hack it, so left to go private.” He gave me a speculative look. “Course, you might get on all right with him. He’s one of your lot, not that you’d know it to look at him.”
“What, a plumber?” I asked innocently.
“Piss off. And he’s not a bloody psychic either. He’s queer, all right? And if I catch you two canoodling on police time, I’m taking pictures and bunging them on the Internet.”
“I’ll try and control my raging homo desires,” I said as dryly as I could. “I’ve managed to keep my hands off you all these years, haven’t I?” I added to wind him up.
Dave shuddered. I wasn’t offended. I was too busy fighting off a shudder myself. Dave’s a great bloke, and I love him dearly, but not like that. Dear God, never like that.
I had to admit I wouldn’t mind a bit of canoodling where the PI was concerned. Dave’s comment about his sexuality had piqued my interest, no doubt about it. As he approached, the sense of familiarity deepened, and I wondered if I’d seen him around somewhere. I was fairly sure we’d never hooked up or anything embarrassing like that. This guy was way out of my league—with a body like that, and a square-jawed, classically handsome face above it, he could take his pick, and he looked like he knew it too.
He nodded at Dave as he got up to where we were standing. “Southgate.”
Dave didn’t so much nod as curl his lip. “Morrison.”
And it hit me where I knew him from. It was all I could do not to stagger back, winded from the blow.
Morrison. Phil Morrison.
Thanks, JL for answering my questions so patiently!
JL Merrow is that rare beast, an English person who refuses to drink tea. She read Natural Sciences at Cambridge, where she learned many things, chief amongst which was that she never wanted to see the inside of a lab ever again. Her one regret is that she never mastered the ability of punting one-handed whilst holding a glass of champagne.
She writes across genres, with a preference for contemporary gay romance and the paranormal, and is frequently accused of humour.
Find JL Merrow online at: www.jlmerrow.com