On Being British
I am ridiculously British. To the point where even in my writing, it is glaringly apparent that I have spent the vast majority of my life on this damp cluster of rocks in the middle of a not especially welcoming sea. I even have, when I’m being all posh and shit, a BBC accent.
No prizes for guessing my writing’s like that too.
I am also bred from northern slum stock: my father remembers being moved out of the tenements after his four-year-old sister jumped out of bed and landed in the flat downstairs. Having more than two types of vegetable in a meal is ‘fancy’ and any meal without meat is a disappointing snack. And the only acceptable foreign food is curry.
The majority of me, including my author voice, stems from this upbringing. I don’t write the millionaire-meets-the-hooker trope, because a romance between the local drug dealer and a copper’s son is infinitely more interesting to me, especially the characters that would have to be involved. I love every minute of Red Dwarf, because the hero is a Scouser space bum who spends his existence playing the guitar (badly), riding around the ship on a dirty space bike (badly), and point-blank refusing to admit that his crewmates are his friends (badly). Because, you know, blokes. Not good at this emotional stuff.
Being British, I would never say ‘I love you.’ The nearest might be, ‘Yeah, well, you’re alright, I suppose.’ I would also never say ‘I hate you’ – that is measured on the scale from ‘he’s a bit of a knob’ to ‘he’s an absolute fucking cunt.’ The sentiment is there, but the words aren’t.
And that makes writing in a British voice both very difficult, and very fun. You’re massively open to misinterpretation of what you and your characters mean. What is affectionate between two British lads can often be viewed as rude, aggressive, hostile or even violent by outsiders. Show and not tell becomes not just a writing tip, but a writing necessity if you want your readers to follow the story, like the right characters, or even recognise subplots for what they are. It’s bloody hard, old bean.
But if you are like those lads, it can be very funny to watch the outsider struggling with what in the hell to do when they can’t read the situation. I’ve seen plenty of people on my Facebook struggling when I and another Brit – or even I and some of the most awesome non-Brits who really get this shit – start sounding off at each other. One of my oldest friends is a lad from Iowa with an intensely British sense of humour, and I’ve lost count of the number of times people have been thrown by our rude, aggressive, and very friendly and entertaining slanging matches. It’s hilarious, in a vicious little way, and something I do enjoy triggering on boring Sunday evenings.
With Spy Stuff, I had an opportunity you might not expect out of a transgender character: I got to channel that entertainment.
Sure, Anton is firm in his identity as a boy. He knows what he is. But he’s also very new to other people identifying him as a boy. Because social transition isn’t just a transition in how a person presents themselves but, as a natural consequence, how others treat them. And as we all remember from being kids ourselves, boys and girls often act very differently in the presence of the other. So Anton’s a bit lost when it comes to the other boys for a while – is this friendly? Is this okay to join in with? Is he going to react in a way a girl might, and be teased or even found out for it?
And as the writer, I have to say, I enjoyed the shit out of those scenes: Anton watching warily from the sidelines while a personality smorgasbord of madcap British kids went for each other for…well, no real reason. From the habitual book-throwing at each other in morning registration to the technique of expressing happiness at the football results by jumping on each other, Anton is initially hesitant to join in for fear of reading the situation wrong, and being caught out.
In doing so, I found I’d managed to show one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned from my own experience in transitioning: sometimes, acceptance won’t be found in the crowd with rainbow flags on their profile pictures and who can recite the entire alphabet soup…but rather in the daft, insulting, aggressive, volatile clusters of idiots who don’t damn well care what you are, as long as you don’t support Manchester United.
About the Book
Anton never thought anyone would ever want to date him. Everyone knows nobody wants a transgender boyfriend, right? So he’s as shocked as anyone when seemingly-straight Jude Kalinowski asks him out, and doesn’t appear to be joking.
The only problem is … well, Jude doesn’t actually know.
Anton can see how this will play out: Jude is a nice guy, and nice guys finish last. And Anton is transgender, and transgender people don’t get happy endings. If he tells Jude, it might destroy everything.
And if Jude tells anyone else … it will.
About the Author
Matthew is an asexual, transgender author dragged up in the wet and windy British Isles. He currently lives and works in West Yorkshire, and has a special fondness for writing the rough-edged British working class society in which he grew up — warts and all.
He roams mainly on Twitter and Facebook, has a free fiction page, runs a blog chronicling his own transition from female to male, and has a website. His young adult backlist can be found on his JMS Books author page. And as a last resort, he can also be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
An Excerpt from Spy Stuff
Anton slowly relaxed as Jude started to brighten up and just … talk. Jude chattering, Anton was starting to realise, was a sign that everything was alright. And Anton desperately wanted it to be, so he simply clung on to Jude’s hand — even though it was raining outside, and really too cold to not be wearing gloves — and let the noise wash over him all the way home.
Which meant, when he let them into the house and the smell of Aunt Kerry’s drunk spag bol invaded their clothes, Anton was … actually in kind of a good mood. Maybe he could do this. Maybe Jude would listen, even if in the end he still decided dating a trans guy wasn’t for him? There was a chance, right?
So when Lily appeared in the doorway, took one look at Jude, and screamed, Anton laughed.
“What the hell!” Jude yelped as she tore back into the kitchen.
“Mummy, Anton’s friend’s on fire in the hall!”
“– kinda weird.”
“No shi — er, hell?”
“Just ignore her,” Anton advised, hanging up their coats. A nervous swoop made itself known when Jude grinned and kissed his ear, but he laughed it off and pushed him in the direction of the kitchen. “Go get us drinks or something.”
“It’s your house,” Jude said, but wandered off obediently. Anton took a moment to simply breathe before following him.
Lily had firmly decided — despite having seen Jude before and not having really clocked his hair — that Jude was on fire, and Anton had to wrestle a cup of water away from her before it ended up on Jude’s head.
“Nooo, give it back!” she wailed, stretching up to grab his belt as he put the cup in the sink and rummaged in the fridge for Cokes.
“Yeah, Anton, give it back. I might start melting the counter,” Jude said, sliding onto one of the stools at the island counters. Aunt Kerry, busy with dinner, simply chuckled at the both of them.
“You’re being mean!” Lily yelled, stamping her foot, then turned on Jude, skidding across the tiles to grab at his trousers. “You need a fireman!”
“It’s always that colour,” Jude said in a serious voice, but he was wearing an ear-splitting grin, and Anton’s heart clenched hard at the sheer beauty of him, despite the battered face.
“No, it’s on fire!”
“No it’s not,” Jude said. “It’s ginger.”
“That’s not ginger, ginger biscuits are ginger!”
“If they’re brown,” Lily said seriously, “then why are they called ginger biscuits, huh?”
“Because they have ginger in them.”
“Which makes them ginger and that’s not ginger and you’re on fire!”
“Lily, leave Jude alone,” Aunt Kerry interjected.
Jude dropped his head onto the counter with a muffled cackle into both hands, and Anton couldn’t help but laugh at sight of him. “Oh God,” he said. “Come on, let’s go into the living room, and –”
“Noooo, you can’t, he’ll put the living room on fire!”
“Lily, seriously, stop it with the fire, he’s not on fire.”
“Jew!” she screeched, and Jude did a full body twitch like he was trying not to curl in on himself. “Jew!”
“Jude!” Anton corrected.
“Jude,” she echoed scornfully, throwing Anton a fabulously dirty look for a kid who wasn’t even six yet. “Jude!”
“What?” Jude managed, coughing and rubbing at his eyes, still grinning.
“Tell Tasha to stop it!”
Anton froze. Like a bucket of ice water being dumped on his head, every muscle seized up, and the Coke in the cans started rattling in his shaking hands. “Lily! Stop it!” Aunt Kerry barked, but Jude — oh God, Jude, totally oblivious Jude —
“Okay,” he said. “Who’s Tasha?”
Lily blinked, then flung her arm out, and pointed right at Anton. “Anton’s Tasha,” she said, like it was so obvious.
“Lily, that’s eno –”
“Anton was Natasha only then she became Anton and Mummy says I have to say he but I forget sometimes,” Lily continued in a loud, inescapable voice. It bounced off the walls and tiles, and one of the cans slipped through Anton’s hands and burst open on the floor. Coke was flung everywhere in long, fizzy bursts, soaking his socks and trousers, and through Lily’s indignant shriek and Aunt Kerry’s yell, all he could see was — was —
The wide-eyed, confused stare that Jude was giving him. And the single word, that word, the word Anton hated.
Anton opened his mouth, found nothing coming up to save him, and did the only thing possible.