North Morgan on telling contemporary gay stories


Between London and Los Angeles, the gym and the gay scene, Instagram and Grindr, what it means to be a gay man has never been so bisected. North Morgan’s third novel moves beyond the confines of fiction to examine how homosexuality’s acceptance into society has created a new breed of demons for a generation of men born as outsiders yet living at the forefront of popular culture.

Heartbreaking but never far from humour, Love Notes to Men Who Don’t Read confirms Morgan’s place as the leading interpreter of gay culture on either side of the Atlantic. We spoke to him about the “scene”, about gay male culture’s newfound place at the forefront of pop culture, and about the future of gay storytelling.

This is your first book written from an explicitly gay perspective – was there any gay media you’ve loved or been impressed by that drove you to write about that aspect of your identity, or any other impetus?
My first two novels had protagonists who were straight, or at least sexually ambiguous. This time I felt that I needed to write from an explicitly gay perspective, because I wanted to make this book as true to my own personal experience as possible. I also hadn’t read anything recently that gave a true account of what it’s like to be gay in this day and age, with all the freedom and acceptance we are finally moving towards, but also dealing with the struggle and insecurities lots of gay men still experience. So this was something I wanted to explore.

You write a lot about the gay scene. Have you found a publishing/writing/creative “scene”?
I’m actually a very solitary writer. I have some friends who also write (mainly screen writing, which makes me want to vomit, but still) and I’ve been invited to join writing groups, etc, but that’s something that would never work for me. Writing is just a very personal thing.

You’ve published all three of your books with Limehouse; can you describe your favourite aspect of publishing with them?
It’s a very friendly relationship that we have and it doesn’t ever feel like a business engagement. We discuss things and come up with a plan together and I like the freedom that this type of relationship gives me.

Love Notes is described as a book about “a generation of men born as outsiders yet living at the forefront of popular culture.” It seems like gay male culture has found a new place in the centre stage of pop culture recently with the popularity of Drag Race, HBO’s Looking, the ubiquitous yaass. How do you feel about that? Is it acceptance or appropriation, or both?
I kinda feel that any societal expression that allows gay men to be themselves should be viewed positively. I’d never accuse mainstream culture of appropriating gay culture, because gay culture has to be part of mainstream culture, if we’re going to make any genuine progress. It’s so easy for gay men to self-segregate and surround themselves with other gay men exclusively in order to feel the freedom to be who they are and behave the way they want. But I don’t think that’s enough. So, given this higher exposure of gay-specific themes in popular culture, I think it’s a great thing if a gay guy can sit there and watch an episode of Looking with his straight housemates, or if he goes to a pop concert with a girlfriend who wants to shout out the yaaass catchphrase.

Your writing is about the everyday and, though this is fiction, it reads a lot like a personal essay. Are you a believer in the power of “telling your truth”?
Yes, definitely. My writing has always toyed with the whole “is this fact or is it fiction” trope. This is a personal choice, because I do enjoy hyper-reality in literature and I can’t stand anything that’s remotely fantastical or magical, etc, but I also feel that my most relatable, pervasive work comes that way. Honestly, the main feedback that I’ve gotten from Love Notes in particular so far, is how people see their lives in there. And that’s something that I intended to do.

What as-of-yet untold stories from the gay community would you love to see put out there in the future?
I think traditionally a lot of gay writing has fallen in two extreme categories: tortured aristocrat covertly dealing with his homosexual tendencies in a social class that will never accept him vs. shirtless fluff stuff. It’s been The Line of Beauty vs. sleazy bath house accounts. But not everyone is an upper class toff who can’t come out to Mummy and lives and secret life until his 55 and not everyone is a runaway hooker with a crystal meth problem and a fetish for unprotected sex. I mean, I get why these extremes have been written about to death, but in 2016 most of us lead normal lives that fall somewhere between the two and I’d like to read a lot more about that.

Love Notes to Men Who Don’t Read is published 8 September by Limehouse Books

Post by Heather

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