Patrick Gale Transcript

OUTcast S2, Ep 1 • 28 Feb 2022 • 42:37

Rosie: 00:00:05 Welcome to OUTcast, the podcast where we catch up with some of the most engaging, courageous, and inspiring LGBTQ+ people from all over the world. We ask our lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and queer guests where their coming out journeys began; what they’ve gone through along the way – the joy and the pain – but we promise there will be more joy; and what gives them hope. I’ll be interviewing people from all walks of life, from hardworking queer people behind the scenes to more familiar faces you might have never known even had the coming out stories they’re about to share. You can follow us on social media at @OUTcastLGBT, and you can find us online at

Rosie: 00:01:00 Welcome back to OUTcast. It’s amazing to be back for another series. This week, I have a guest I’m really excited about. Of course, I’m excited about all of my guests, but people who know me will know that I a) love books, and b) love South West Cornwall, which is where I’m from. And today I’m joined by the author Patrick Gale. Patrick is a best-selling British novelist, Emmy-winning screenwriter and Artistic Director of North Cornwall Book Festival. He was born on the Isle of Wight in 1962 and was the youngest of a big family. He has described not coming out as such, having been pretty much born out and he explores LGBTQ+ themes in most of his novels. He has written 21 novels, the most recent of which is Mother’s Boy, out this month. In 2017, Patrick wrote for the screen for the first time and his two-part BBC drama, Man in an Orange Shirt, won the 2018 International Emmy for Best Miniseries.

Rosie: 00:01:59 He has lived in Cornwall since 1988 and as someone born and raised in South West Cornwall I totally condone that choice. He threads wonderful descriptions of Cornwall, and especially the areas I grew up in, into many of his novels, which is part of the reason I love them so much, but they’re also wonderful books. He now lives in far west Cornwall on a farm near Land’s End with his husband Aiden Hicks. They raise beef cattle and grow barley and garden obsessively, and Patrick also fulfils his other great love, which is playing the cello. So I’m delighted to be speaking with you today, Patrick. Welcome to OUTcast. It’s great to have you with us.

Patrick: It’s a real pleasure. 

Rosie: You’ve mentioned that you didn’t come out as such in one big go. What is your experience of coming out?

Patrick: 00:02:42 My experience coming out is quite surreal. In a way, when I came out, my mother stole my thunder completely by outing my father to me. Which I don’t think, I don’t think many men or women have to go through. I was 21. I had just finished my first novel, which was a very, very gay novel called The Aerodynamics of Pork, which I had no expectation of it ever getting published, it was so gay. And in those days that was a real block to being published. And I had given a copy to my mother to read, and it was my not terribly subtle way of forcing her into having the conversation finally, because I’d been an extremely camp child. I mean, I’m sure it was blindingly obvious, but my mother was one of those very sweet, very Christian women who could just ignore evidence right under her nose.

Patrick: 00:03:35 Anyway, I gave her this book to read and I – poor woman, it was her birthday treat – I took her out to the theatre and then took her out for a meal afterwards – and about halfway through the meal I said, ‘so, what did you think of the book?’ And without drawing breath, she just said, ‘well, darling, I think it was very funny and sweet and rather sad. And uh, well I’ve given it to a father to read because I think it’ll help him come to terms with himself.’ And so of course the rest of the conversation all evening was about her trauma. Nothing to do with me being gay at all! Because she then told me this story, that when she was pregnant with me – I was the sixth of her children, only four of us survived into adulthood – when she was pregnant with me, they were moving house and she, typically bossy and interfering, was tidying my father’s desk for him, to be helpful.

Patrick: 00:04:34 And she found a bundle of love letters and she was terribly amused and excited because he’d never mentioned a girlfriend before. He was always very, very uptight and virginal. And so she thought, ‘ oh, what fun I fun, I’ve found a secret.’ And then she started to read them and realised very quickly they were not only from another man, but it was quite clear that he and this man had had, as she put it, a passion which he had never shown to her. And that it had gone on right up until the eve of their wedding. And that it was, she said it was clear from the letters, that the two men had spent the night before the wedding in a hotel together. And said man was my father’s best man at the wedding. My father was best man at his wedding. And they were both godfathers to each other’s first born children.

Patrick: 00:05:24 So he, yeah, he was a close family friend. And my mother never told my father that she knew. She did that very, very sort of upper middle class English response to a crisis, which was to pretend that it wasn’t there. She burnt the letters because she was terrified because it was still illegal to be gay then. She thought if anyone found out my father would lose his job, he might be sent to prison. So she destroyed the letters. She never told my father she knew, so they never had the conversation, which I find completely astonishing. And then the really sad thing is, because of her ignorance of such matters, she assumed this meant that my father was a paedophile. So she never, ever left us alone with him, ever. My first memories of actually being alone with my father was in my teens, by which time she had long since given up patrolling us. But it’s terribly sad, I think. Desperately sad. And so of course my coming out wasn’t really a coming out at all. My coming out was my fathers coming out.

Rosie: 00:06:36 Did you have any inkling at all?

Patrick: 00:06:38 None at all. On the one hand she thought she was telling me a sort of horror story, which she was, only it wasn’t the sort of horror story she thought she was telling me. But on the other hand, actually, what she was doing was handing me the the most wonderful coming out present. Because I think most LGBTIQ people, their biggest trauma as teenagers is the sense that they don’t belong in the family, because they don’t recognize themselves in either of their parents. They are something so deeply other. And I think this is why so many of us, especially as teenagers, are drawn to science fiction and horror, because it’s in the tropes of science fiction and horror that you find these other species, these humanoid species. It’s a huge, very handy metaphor for varied sexuality and for feeling different. But what my mother had done was basically suddenly to say, ‘look, your father is just like you,’ which was amazing. And she didn’t mean that as comfort to me at all. The really twisted Christian thing was she thought she was telling me, ‘darling, you may think you’re gay now, but don’t worry, so did your father once. And he met me and I’ve given him all these children and we’re still together. And I burnt all the evidence.’

Rosie: 00:07:58 So an incredibly double-edged sword.

Patrick: 00:08:00 It’s funny because I was only just beginning as a writer, back then. What she handed me was such a powder keg of material, but I didn’t touch it for years and years and years. I kind of left it quietly fermenting in a corner of my mind and got on with writing very different, quite dishonest fiction, really. I wrote about gay stuff, but it was all willfully playful and quite light. And not really honest emotionally, if I look at it now. And it was only in my forties that I started to go back and to look at my parents’ marriage and my childhood, and I first touched on it in my novel Rough Music, which is my first attempt to write about a gay boyhood, which is something people still are very uncomfortable writing about, cause they immediately associate being gay with sex.

Patrick: 00:09:00 But of course, as we were just saying, the whole question of realizing your LGBTIQ is so … it’s about so much more than just sex. It’s about the whole, your whole sense of identity and where you fit in your family. And so I started to do that and then quite by chance about, gosh, however many years ago it was now, about four or five years ago, I was approached by a television company saying, was I interested in writing an original drama for television that would in some way celebrate the anniversary – I think it was the 50th anniversary – of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in the UK. And I jumped at it and immediately realised, this is finally when I’m going to write about this story, and I won’t write about it straightforwardly, but I’ll use it as my starting-off point. But what I’ll do is to imagine what would have happened if my mother had confronted my father, and where their marriage would have gone. Because I know they wouldn’t have divorced.

Rosie: 00:10:01 Yeah.

Patrick: I know they would have raised us all in a very damaging way. It’s strange, I mean, the rather lovely thing, I think, that happened though in that interval between my coming out and my getting that commission, was my realisation at just what a burden my mother had carried. And the first thing I said that the BBC Drama Department, what they said they loved the idea I put forward and really wanted to commission it, the first thing I said was, ‘well, you have to realize this is going to be as much about heterosexual women as it is about gay men.’ Because I think that generation of women, women who got married in the early fifties through to probably through to the early sixties and beyond, in the UK, so many of them – one in five of those marriages – will have been a lie.

Rosie: Yeah.

Patrick: 00:10:54 One in five of those wives, and indeed some of the husbands as well, but to a lesser extent because women weren’t criminalised for being lesbian, you know, they will have realised that the man they married was not the man they thought he was. And they would have had to make a huge compromise. And I think it’s very interesting because for my parents’ generation marriage was always about compromise. They were far more clear-eyed and far less romantic than my generation was about true love and so on. I mean, true love was something you read about in books, but marriage was something you had to work at, and you had to bear with, and you didn’t give up on it. And, in my father’s point of view especially, it was your Christian duty to get married and to have children. So there was this huge burden of expectation, but at the same time there was also, I think, a very healthy expectation that it wouldn’t be perfect.

Patrick: 00:11:49 So I didn’t want to simply say, ‘there’s a horror story, and now things are much better.’ Because actually, yes, there was a horror story, but there were also men and women making the best job of it they could. And many of them were actually really good parents and many of them did end up having some kind of marriage that was loving. It just wasn’t sexual. And now things are not perfect by any means. And now, what’s quite ironic, is we’ve got men and women marrying each other – I mean men marrying men, and women marrying women – and they’re beginning to find they have exactly the same challenges that their parents had, about making marriage work. So things aren’t all perfect and as I really tried to show in Man In The Orange Shirt is homophobia is never going to go away. Like racism, it’s something you hope you can somehow outgrow as a culture, but I think it’s so, so inextricably linked to simply being in the minority – and the way children behave towards minorities among them – that I don’t think it’ll ever go away. And I think internalised homophobia will never go away. What we can change is the way we educate children, and the tools we give them to cope.

Rosie 00:13:09 Exactly. And have more and more conversations. Minorities always stay minorities, and there’s always going to be a targeting of them, but hopefully with the right language and developing language, and developing these young people to understand things. 

Patrick: 00:13:24 Yeah. It is improving, I think. Given the enormous rise, in the West at least, of young boys and girls who are saying, ‘I’m not straightforwardly male’, or ‘I’m not straightforwardly female,’ or ‘I’m not straightforwardly straight or gay,’ or ‘I’m something in between.’ I think that’s really healthy because that generation will undoubtedly raise their children a bit differently. It’ll take generations. You know, you can get the laws in place to protect your minorities, but it takes a long time to make the difference.

Rosie: 00:13:57 Yeah, that’s so true. 

Patrick: 00:14:15 Fiction is an incredibly useful tool, as is television – the fiction of screenwriting – because it’s one of the best tools, I think, for extending people’s empathy and making them, bringing them, to understand. What you need is the occasional LGBT+ character who’s just in a crime drama. They just happened to be with a boyfriend or whatever. That makes a big, big difference, I think. Because it normalises it. I said, when civil partnerships first came in here that it was going to be amazing to have the right to be boring, you know. Not to be fabulous. And I’ve been very moved, actually, over the years, by responses to my novels. Because one of the things my novels tend to be is not urban. By and large, they are about people living in rural communities, or that is outside the big, sexy cities. They’re not about a gay ghetto and the gay characters in them tend to live pretty normal, often quite boring, lives, although exciting things happen to them. And I’ve been very moved by the responses from readers who’ve said, you know, they’ve finally felt recognised. Because they felt huge pressure, when they realised they were gay, to somehow subscribe to this cult of fabulosity, which actually alienates a lot of us.

Rosie: 00:15:40 This is what I love about your novels. You know, there are so many characters in them that, you know, just happened to be gay or they’ll be, like, oh, it could be the case. And I think that’s so powerful. I think society for so long conveniently fetishised us I suppose, and made us a bit freakish, so that to continue being homophobic was sort of allowed. And perhaps that’s where it comes from: it’s quite dangerous to suddenly say an ‘other’ is actually very normal, and we should all just love each other.

Patrick: 00:16:11 Yeah. It comes from fear. It always comes from fear. And if you can ‘other’ the person you are afraid of, it makes it easier to deal with them, in your head at least. But of course it doesn’t actually solve anything. And I think people are beginning to realise that if you stop othering, if you open the door, the fear goes with it, you know. You welcome people in and the fear goes away and actually you discover they’re just as boring as you are, and you can get on with your lives. And I think the other thing about using fiction to change minds is it’s essentially a private experience. So watching a TV show with your family, as lots of gay teenagers will remember, can be really confrontational because if you’re all sitting together on the sofa and suddenly there’s a gay kiss and your brothers are going ‘urgh’, you feel you have to as well or whatever.

Patrick: 00:17:07 Whereas if you read about it in a book, nobody knows you’re reading about it. You don’t change colour because he just read a gay bit, you know? And I think, I know for a fact, I’ve got through to a lot of gay men and lesbians’ mothers through my writing. In fact, it’s quite funny how often I get gay readers coming up to me, or lesbian readers coming up to me at a book festival and saying, ‘I only discovered your work because my mother made me read it.’ Because I’m old now! I mean, I think by the time this interview goes out, I’ll be 60. So in gay terms that’s very old indeed. So I’ve been around long enough now that I’m sort of writing for a third generation of readers. It’s definitely the way you can reach people’s mothers through novels, because no one bothers to ask mothers what they’re reading.

Patrick: 00:17:57 It’s just another book you know. The way society patronises women and their reading is actually very useful because it means, you know, you can get to people. And of course now Kindles, and the ability to read novels on your phone, again, is really useful because it means no one on the train can see the cover of the book you’re reading. And so suddenly, apparently, there are loads of men reading romantic fiction who never would have never have dared to read it before. And I’m sure the same is true of bicurious people who are now able to read material, which they will be scared to see carry the book around. But if it’s just on that phone, no one need know.

Rosie: 00:18:36 Yeah. That’s it. That’s it. Well it’s marvellous to reach so many generations. Going back … Am I right that you were born on the isle of Wight? And you speak about being a camp child, I suppose. How did it come out? What was it like?

Patrick: 00:18:51 In many ways I had an idyllic childhood because my father was a prison governor and in those days that meant you lived inside the prison in a huge mansion house. They were always these really big houses that were too big for my mother to furnish. I mean, we had whole floors that were just empty. So for children that was just magical. You could play endlessly, and my mother was very, very good at play. She ensured not only that we always had one of these great big rooms as our nursery – it was our room, where all our toys and things were – but also there was always a dressing up box. Well, in fact it wasn’t a box, it was a great big old leather Gladstone bag stuffed with clothes. And there were lots of dresses. And, you know, we only had one sister and often when my brothers and their friends were getting dressed up as Cowboys and Indians there wasn’t a cowboy and Indian outfit left for me.

Patrick: 00:19:50 So I just put on a dress and that was fine. And nobody ever said to me, you know, ‘perhaps it’s not very manly to do that.’ I think I must’ve done it with great conviction. I’m quite a bossy adult and I suspect I was quite a bossy child. And I do know, vividly, I remember going to my nursery school – so I must have been about six, five or six – in a very shabby old pink silk bridesmaid’s dress of my mother’s, and wearing it to class all day. And at no point did anybody, bless them, none of my teachers said, ‘why are you wearing a dress?’ I think they probably thought it was terribly funny, but I remember wearing the dress all day long and then coming home in it, and I remember my mother saying, ‘you probably want to take that off now.’

Patrick: 00:20:38 And I said, ‘yes, actually, it’s getting rather uncomfortable.’ It stayed with me. And I had no desire to be a transvestite or anything, but there was room for that sort of exuberant expression, I think. And maybe my parents thought it was a phase and I’d grow out of it, I don’t know, but I think looking back, my sister certainly, who’s 10 years older than me, said it was, it was crystal clear. Because my favourite book was The Puffin Book of Princesses and when my mother gave me a little male rag doll for birthday one year and said, this is Harry, apparently I looked at him with great disdain and handed it back to her and said, no, it’s Harriet. You’ve got to make him a dress. And then they sent me to boarding school, age seven, which was a very rude wake up call, because English boarding schools in the 1970s were not kind places.

Patrick: 00:21:34 And although I was very lucky in that it was a Church of England choir school, and I was there to sing, and I had amazing, amazing experiences of making music, it was also brutally masculine and conformist, and you had to do masses of sport, and you certainly didn’t get to dance around in a dress. So I suppose like a lot of gay children, I had that brief idyll followed by 10 years of education, during which the gay stuff had to kind of go underground and find other ways of getting expressed. But again, I was very, very lucky because I went on to Winchester College at 13, which was sort of closely attached to the choir school I’d been at. And that had, not only an amazing music department, but a fantastic drama department. And I was really encouraged in both spheres.

Patrick: 00:22:27 So I did masses of performing. I got to be very camp on stage, to the point I acted so much, I wanted to be an actor. I was convinced that’s what I would do when I grew up, to my parents’ horror, I think. And most preciously of all, at the age of 14, I gathered around me four gay friends who were all my age. We went through school together as a pretty formidable little gang. Because one of us, well I was quite a notable young writer – I did masses of writing and I edited the school newspaper paper, another one of us was the high jump champion for the county – so yeah, we weren’t dropouts, we were just very gay. And again, what was amazing is, although yes, we got teased occasionally, none of the teachers took us to one side and said, ‘you can’t do that’.

Patrick: 00:23:25 The school astonishingly gave us the space to be ourselves. We would have been thrown out if any of us had been caught having sex, and everyone in the school was having sex – I didn’t because I was a day boy, I  missed out – but all my friends were having sex. But then all the straight boys were having sex as well at school, it’s what happens at boarding schools. But just for being ourselves and being gay, we weren’t punished, which was very, very precious to me so that when I got through to university, and started there at 18, I of course immediately went to the university Gay Soc at Oxford, I was incredibly impatient because there were all these men there who were just beginning to come out. And of course I’d been out for five years, at least in my head. I hadn’t formally come out to my family, but I had had all these discussions over and over again with these friends. So in a way I was blessed because I had a perfectly normal adolescence in that my gay adolescence and my physical one happened continuously. Whereas I think for an awful lot of LGBTQ people, they go through a kind of secret gayness or queerness in their adolescence. They finally blossom, but it’s not until their twenties they’re really being themselves. So I think I was pretty unbearable in my early twenties, which is probably why I didn’t have the great student love affair, because I think I was just far too impatient.

Rosie: 00:24:50 This is a thread that’s come through a few of these interviews for this podcast now is the difference coming out, or rather not having to come out, if you do have that kind of early set of colleagues, friends, sort of a group of people where you can all be LGBT comfortably, versus the people who sort of hide it. Who hide away.

Patrick: 00:25:12 Yeah. But it’s not a straightforward thing though, is it? Because coming out, I think, most importantly is the coming out to yourself, which if you’re lucky like me, you do that among your peers, you do it with friends. And then in a funny sort of way coming out to your family is the secondary thing. And then there’s the tertiary coming out, which you never stop doing, which is to taxi drivers, to hotel receptionists. You know, all those moments where you have to say, ‘no, no, we do want to double bed. That’s not a mistake in the booking.’ That doesn’t bother me. Because I do it with a smile and, I feel, in a way, that’s the most useful political act I can make. Every time you come out in the ordinary course of your life, your day, to somebody and you do it in a nice way, you are changing the way that person thinks, ever so slightly. I think if we were all doing that all the time, it does gradually make a difference. It normalises it for people. Because you have to remember here, they can’t tell always by looking at us. So that’s the big difference between homophobia and racism.

Rosie 00:26:19 Exactly. Yeah. I love that way of looking at it. I’m guilty of sometimes just avoiding it entirely and letting someone’s assumption run. But I think after this conversation, I’m going to try not to do that as much. Because you’re right: I think the more of us who say, ‘no, my wife. No, I’m married to a woman. It’s a double bed’.

Patrick 00:26:36 Yeah. I think it’s better for your self respect because I think every time you keep quiet, you swallow a little bit of shame. You may not actually recognize it as shame, but it’s shame. Otherwise, why did you keep quiet?

Rosie: 00:26:53 Did you ever have any times where you had to keep quiet?

Patrick: 00:26:56 Yeah. I’m guilty of it. I’m guilty of it. Less now, now I’m getting old myself. But certainly in my thirties and forties, I often kept quiet with older people because I didn’t want to upset them, or shock them, or something. And I now see that was a mistake because I’m now, now I’m getting older myself, I realise actually older people are often the least shockable people there are, because they’ve been around longer, they know more. So don’t spare them, you know, they love learning new things. So yeah, always tell them. But the time you don’t necessarily want to tell people is if you’re at the start of a long-haul flight, or the start of a long train journey, and you don’t know that you are actually going to like them, and you know that you’re going to be stuck with a risk of a long conversation. Now you might not want that person asking endless personal questions for the next five hours. I think that’s completely forgivable. 

Rosie: 00:27:51 Yeah. 

Patrick: 00:27:53 But you don’t have to lie. You could just say, ‘I’m sorry. I don’t think that’s any of your business’ or whatever. Or, if they make the assumption, you could kind of make a joke about it and say, ‘well, how do you know I’m not an alien?’

Rosie: 00:28:24 Let’s go back to your novels specifically. How important is it for you to write LGBTQ+ characters?

Patrick: 00:28:31 Oh, crucial. It would be science-fiction if I didn’t. They won’t always be in the centre of the book. I have occasionally written a narrative from a straight viewpoint, but there’ll always be at least one or two queer characters in the mix, because that’s like my signature and it’s my take on life. I can’t really imagine a life without gay people in it. So I can’t really come up with books that don’t have gay people in them. I’m quite strict, in a way, with my queer readers in that I oblige them to spend time with straight people too, because I think the empathy thing goes both ways. I think it’s really important for queer people to reassess their parents, and maybe forgive them. Because a lot of us grow up extra … I mean, everyone is angry with their parents as a teenager, but I do know a lot of queer people by the time they leave home, they’re really angry with the things that parents have failed to do.

Patrick: 00:29:34 And I think you can’t really be yourself and be happy as an adult until you’ve dealt with that. And I’ve never had psychotherapy, but I’ve written 17 novels now. So that’s been my therapy, and I know through that process I can see my gradual forgiveness of my parents and coming to understand them. It’s taken a while. But I look back on them with great love and understanding, and I can see their faults, but I can also see that they meant well. And I can see how incredibly challenging I probably was for them. But I think that’s hard. I think when you’re still bruised, if you’ve had a tough teenage period, and maybe you’ve been thrown out or you’ve run away from home, if not officially then in your head, it takes a while for you to get sufficient distance to understand and forgive.

Rosie: 00:30:31 I was going to ask you that today. You know, what makes you write? But I think a lot of what you’ve just said … 

Patrick 00:30:38 Um. It’s a compulsion, it’s absolutely a compulsion. 

Rosie: 00:30:42 Yeah. You know, I grew up in Cornwall, realised I was a lesbian quite early on, but took a while to come out. So your books were often quite a solace, and quite an escape, and a kind of, ‘ah, okay, at least I’m not going mad’.

Patrick: 00:30:56 Oh well, I’m very touched to hear that. Because, I mean, things have changed so much because of the internet, but I bet, you know, when you’re a child, you really feel you’re very isolated. I have all the letters any reader has ever sent me and some of the early ones I got in the eighties were so heartbreaking because they were literally from boys and girls saying, ‘I’m the only lesbian in the village and nobody knows, and I’m only 14 and how am I going to get through this?’ And I just used to send them reading lists. I used to send them reading lists, then because this is pre-Amazon, I would send them the details of Gay’s The Word in London, the gay book shop, and said, ‘look, they’re very discreet. They will send you these books in a plain cover.

Speaker 2 00:31:42 No one will know, and they will save your life.’ And it’s lovely, actually, I’ve had one or two letters back years later from those teenagers I wrote to when I was little more than a teenager myself. But I was out and proud and living in London. And they said ‘I got the books, and they did help.’ But of course now, kids have got the internet, which I think has changed everything. Because you may be the only gay in the village, but at least when you go up to your bedroom, you can talk to other gays online.

Rosie: 00:32:30 Let’s talk about Mothers Boy, your new novel. You’re writing about the poet, Charles Causley.

Patrick: 00:32:36 Yes. He’s arguably The Great Cornish Poet. There are other poets associated with Cornwell: WS Graham and John Betjeman, but Causley was born here, which is a big difference. And he fascinated me. A lot of my novels grow out of an unanswered question or a mystery. And the mystery surrounding Causley for me has always been that he wasn’t a poet when he went away to war, he was a musician – his passion was playing the piano and he played for the dance band and he’d done that since he was a teenager. He’d written a few radio plays, that was about all. And then he goes away to war and works in the Navy as a coder. And clearly does have adventures, all sorts of adventures, and I’d always have my suspicions about those, but the poems hint at them. But then, for me the real mystery is, then, he chooses to come back home to this tiny town, in-land, not a glamorous, not a romantic town at all.

Patrick: 00:33:37 It’s not even on the sea. To teach in the little primary school where he’d gone as a boy, to live in a tiny cottage with his mother until her dying day. So more than half his life was spent living with his mother. And when you talk about poets, you always think of them having these disreputable lives. They’re either wild alcoholics or wife breeters or suicides or whatever. Causley, his public image is suspiciously like a Saint and that immediately, yeah. I smelled a rat there. I’m sure there was more going here, but I kept an open mind. I thought, okay, if I discover that actually he had girlfriends who no one else knew about then so be it. And my word, that the archive is, in its way, a kind of encoded queer treasure trove. If you know where to look; if you know to read the signs.

Patrick: 00:34:34 So in his little tiny handwriting, and in these little teeny secret diaries he kept, through his late teens into his early twenties, he records every walk he goes on with his friend, Ginger, who was clearly gay. He records every film he goes to see, and my God, he went to very gay films. He doesn’t bother to go to the westerns, but he goes to things like, A Star is Born over and over again. I mean, he’s so obviously on our bus, as we say down here. And yet, of course, when he comes back from the war, like a lot of men and women who’d discovered their sexuality, thanks to the war and the travels and the freedom it brought, they then came back to England to the worst period ever of official homophobia. So the 1950s, the early fifties, brought on this terrible savage clamp down.

Patrick: 00:35:29 So many gay men were sent to prison in that period. So for me, there’s no mystery as to why Causley kept quiet initially. But I was also fascinated by his mother, what their relationship was. Because she’s an amazing woman, Laura. She was a laundress. She had almost no education and like a star child, she gets this one baby. Her very handsome husband died cruelly young: he caught TB in the trenches. So she raises this baby, this little boy, all on her own, never remarries, he’s her all in all, and she must have worked so hard. And she indulged him in brilliant ways. So, she got him a piano. They were living virtually in a slum, they were living in a tenement. And somehow she found the money to get him a piano. And I’ve, I’ve spoken to adults, you know old men who were children in Causley’s time.

Patrick: 00:36:25 They all remember sitting on the lane, outside the house, and listening to this little boy play the piano. So what I’ve done in the book is to use evidence, you know, things I found that were true and things that definitely happened. I don’t want to give away the story too much, but that Charles has an affair with a fellow officer when he gets to be an officer. And it fizzles out for whatever reason, but then it’s brutally brought to an end by a letter he receives from the officer saying that he is now married and that’s totally based on fact. I found a letter which Charles had kept until his dying day, which only makes sense if you think of it as being to do with the gay affair. If they were just two men who had gone to the pub together, you wouldn’t have kept that letter all that time.

Patrick: 00:37:14 And you wouldn’t write to such a man and say, ‘well, I’m married now old chap, so be careful what you write in the letters.’ I think his poems are full of little secret revelations. And what I hope will happen is, when anyone reads the book, when they get to the end, they immediately go and Google Charles Causley and read the other poems. What’s so nice is I have warned the Causley trust and I said, ‘look, I’m going to queer your icon. Do you mind?’ They were really sweet, they said, ‘no, thank God. It’s time somebody did it!’ Part of the trouble is the trust was set up by Charles’s lifelong friends and the friends of his of his old age, who were all of a certain age, all heterosexual, all very protective of what they saw to be his reputation. Now I think by claiming him for queer culture, I can greatly enrich his reputation. It makes him  10 times more interesting. It won’t put off the people who love his poems already, but I think it will bring others along to read it. So I’m really thrilled I’ve got the backing of the charity whose whole purpose is to keep his name alive.

Rosie 00:38:23 Thinking about the poems, but also the letter that’s in the book, you’re queering him. But I think, you know, I think he queered  himself perhaps.

Patrick 00:38:32 I think he did. The other thing I’ve taken straight from the diaries is that moment where he and Ginger, his young friend, Ginger is cruising, to all intents and purposes. Charles is pretending not to notice, but they go for a day out in  Plymouth and they find a huge gang of sailors sunbathing on the Hoe. And in Charles’ diary, when he describes this is, it’s for him, very unbuttoned. He says, ‘oh, that I could draw’, exclamation  mark. And I thought, well, I don’t need to change that. I will put it word for word in the novel, because that’s what he said. I don’t think a straight man would have written that, somehow.

Rosie: 00:39:12 Is it more of a challenge to write real life characters in this way than it is to write about fictional characters?

Patrick: 00:39:19 It’s a good question. Um, it is initially because initially I’m inhibited by the biographer’s instinct to get the facts right. And to honour their name and to be truthful. But then there comes a point where the novelist takes over and the story has to have lifeblood in it. It has to flow. It has to grab the reader. And at that point I just got swept along. And if I’m swept along, then I hope the reader will be.

Rosie: 00:40:05 In a Guardian piece, you wrote honestly about someone who had previously bullied  you and then apologised, kind of 40 years too late. If anything, what would you say to that little boy, to the former you, for comfort, or to encourage them, or to pick them up from that experience?

Patrick: 00:40:23 I’d probably give him some books to read, that would empower him. And I would tell them that, actually, time will pass very quickly. You’ll be 18 and gorgeous before you know it. It’s fine. You’ll be fine!

Rosie: 00:40:39 And finally, what gives you hope today?

Patrick: 00:40:42 What gives me hope? The young, give me hope. My God. They’re amazing. You’re all amazing. And I get very excited, as I said earlier, by seeing the refusal in the young to be categorised. And also the speed with which they are challenging all my baggy liberal preconceptions about, not just gender and sexuality, but race, all sorts of things. And I think, I really hope actually, this pandemic crisis, one of the things that will come out of it is a great surge of useful anger from the current batch of teenagers who, yeah, the ones who’ve been sort of shat on from a great height by their schools and their universities, and their parents and everybody, I think they are going to do great things.

Rosie: 00:41:33 Yeah. It’s exciting. I’m excited to see what happens. Wonderful. Thank you so much for joining us. 

Patrick: Well, thank you, Rosie, it’s been a real real treat to talk.

Rosie: Thank you for listening to OUTcast, a podcast with interviews and coming out stories from inspiring LGBTQ+ people. 

Don’t forget to go back and listen to other episodes if you’re new to the show. We have a fascinating interview with Tilly lawless, the Sydney-based queer sex worker and novelist, as well as the British transgender priest, Sarah Jones. And there are so many other incredible guests with illuminating and uplifting coming out stories in our first season, which is available online at, and wherever you usually get your podcasts. 

I’m your host, Rosie Pentreath. I hope you can join us again next week.

Published by OUTcast Podcast

Coming out stories from inspiring LGBTQ+ people today.

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