Welcome to the new series of Open House, the Sunday Interview Series. My first guest is author and poet Leslie Tate.
Tell us about your chosen genre of books that you write and why?
I’d like to think that my novels are literary – meaning cross-genre, character-driven and language-led, with their own distinctive style.
My trans memoir Heaven’s Rage is about the power of the imagination to reshape lives and my trilogy of novels is about modern love.
The first, ‘Purple’, is a coming-of-age story, set in 1969, when shy ingénue Matthew Lavender goes up to university and adopts a wild man mask to hide his naiveté. From then on the novel follows his progress through a number of relationships.
The second, ‘Blue’, tells the story of Richard and Vanessa Lavender, who join a 90s feminist collective sharing childcare, political activism and open relationships.
The third, ‘Violet’, is about a passionate late-life affair between James Lavender and Beth Jarvis.
So are my books Romance? Not really. There are no HEAs (happily ever afters), strong males, glamour or unexpected plot twists. Yes, ‘Violet’ has a dark prince, Beth’s ex, whose lurking presence inspires Beth’s Bluebeard’s-Castle-type story, ‘A Housekeeper’s Tale’; and there’s a teen-talk story, full of vampires and dysfunctional American families, written by Hannah, Beth’s step-daughter. But if ‘Violet’ and the other books do belong to a genre, perhaps it’s lyrical realism, mainly because they’re written in close third person, examining modern relationships in intimate detail. On the other hand, all the books contain sub-genre writing, including letters, interviews, speeches, texting between lovers, dialogues set out as plays, dream sequences and diaries.
In the modern market it’s important to badge books to ensure that readers ‘know what they’re getting’, so genre rules. But it treats all readers the same and can turn writing into ‘products’ inspired by computer games, films, TV and fashions in the book trade. Of course it’s largely speaking true that readers feel safe on familiar ground. But I believe that a book is an adventure; it takes you to places you haven’t been before and can’t be labelled. So the freedom of the novel is an opportunity to step outside the box and look at things differently. When I write I aim to avoid cliché and take the reader into those intimate and embarrassingly-true situations that show what we’re like when our defences are down. That involves aspects of confessional humour, satire, and stream of consciousness writing.
So my books are driven by the characters passing through extreme states, the vehicle is language in all its hybrid forms, and if my writing has a genre it’s Relationships.
Tell us about your blog and your main features. With a link to what you consider best sums you up as a blogger.
I post weekly creative interviews and guest blogs on my website showing how people put their imaginations to work, in many different ways. My guests are performers, writers, publishers, carers, musicians, comedians, entrepreneurs, healers and people with medical conditions and disabilities – anyone who has to use their expressive skills to get through life. I invite friends online (and from life) who combine diverse interests or have an unusual expertise, studying their available profiles to ask them questions that encourage them to go deep. I want to learn about them as people and how the act of doing something difficult has changed them, in themselves and in their view of the world. I also want to grasp the inflow and outflow of energy and imagination as well as the hard graft that went into what they create.
The blog is an extension of the live shows I put on about three times a year. They’re staged for charity and showcase original local talent that remains largely ‘unknown’ because of the media power of the corporate entertainment industry. I ask my musicians to avoid covers and encourage my artists and writers to present their most adventurous work, giving short ‘signposting’ talks to explain what they’re about. The audience enjoy both the acts and the personalities of the performers – which is similar to my blog.
A good example of a creative interview is: ‘The Romany Spirit And The Gift Of Illness’ https://leslietate.com/2017/05/3349/#more-3349
On the same blog I post up my own lyrical pieces, mainly about childhood and coming out as a trans person. I built on to them to produce ‘Heaven’s Rage’, my ‘imaginary autobiography’ covering family life in the Fifties, illness, alcoholism, bullying and the healing power of stories.
Recently I’ve begun to post pre-publication extracts from my novel ‘Violet’, with commentaries revealing how I worked on them. It’s both a taster and an inside view on the creative process. A good example of this kind blog is: ‘Extract One From Violet – Diving In’ https://leslietate.com/2017/12/5221/#more-5221
The blogs take time, not only to find interviewees and work out individualised questions but also to load to the site, proof and add links and pictures.
So why do I do it? Partly to bypass the gatekeepers and tastemakers who exclude me as much as my guests, and partly because the teacher in me wants people to grow wings.
Yes, as an author I’m curious about people, and my interviews offer me ways to sample their experiences. What they say can also act as a yardstick for my own creative work and trigger ideas. More selfishly, the blog is my platform where I set out my wares – but with plenty of giving back!
If you are an author and one of your books was selected to be made into a film; who would you like to play your main character and why?
In the film of my book ‘Heaven’s Rage’, directed by my ex-Hollywood friend, Mark Crane, I played my older self. Alongside me was Daniel Dunn, a thirteen year-old actor who portrayed me as a teenager. The film is a deeply poetic short with special effects, composed music and my voice over reading from the book. My role is largely in suits, switching to a dress at the end, while Daniel plays a fresh-faced version of my former self, or the child I might have been if I’d grown up in 2017 instead of the 1950s. Watching and participating in the process, I saw myself through another person’s eyes. Several times during the shoot I thought, ‘If only I’d been like that!’
You can read a full account of the filming at https://leslietate.com/2017/10/4569/#more-4569
Do you have a favourite quote? What does it means to you as an individual?
‘Living truthfully under imaginary circumstances’ – Sandford Meisner.
The quote describes a Zen-like listening approach in drama that seeks to connect but in ways that surprise. So, as I write, within the stylistic flow and detailed characterisation there are sudden shifts and unexpected reversals that drive the novel on.
I work hard at ‘Living truthfully under imaginary circumstances’. My aim is to:
- base the story on character and language
- dig beneath the surface
- include several types of writing
- put in a generic, big-picture element.
About Leslie Tate
On my website I post up weekly creative interviews and guest blogs showing how people use their imagination in life, in many different ways.
I studied Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia and have been shortlisted for the Bridport, Geoff Stevens and Wivenhoe Prizes. I’m the author of the trilogy of novels ‘Purple’, ‘Blue’ and ‘Violet’, as well as my trans memoir ‘Heaven’s Rage’, which has been turned into a film.
I run a comedy club, a poetry group and a mixed arts show in Berkhamsted, UK.
This is my personal story:
From an early age I wrote stories in my head. Lying awake in my bedroom, I imitated the voices of neighbours. My garden was an unexplored territory full of travellers’ tales and crazy adventures. At school I wrote wild, escapist, poetic short stories. When I was invited to read out a particularly heightened descriptive piece to the class, my beautiful words earned me threats and punches in the playground. Boys those days from the North of England needed to knuckle down and get a real job – writing was absurd and my fancy-pants words were girlie and stuck up. I read about Shelley being bullied at school and fixed my sights on being a Romantic poet. I remember reading Ode to the West Wind full volume into a tape recorder in the front room. My parents ignored my declamatory shouts, thinking I’d soon grow out of it.
At university in the 60s I was still composing in my head. I’d decided to wait till inspiration struck because then, I imagined, the writing would flow, composing itself in a fine frenzy like Handel’s Messiah. In the meantime I’d ‘warehouse’ experience, noting everything around me on a kind of endless microfiche running through my head. I believed that when I was older I’d play it back and my film would translate onto the page as a vivid, deeply-personal autobiography. I read Joyce, Lawrence, Blake and German Expressionist writers.
When I started teaching in a London comprehensive, reality dawned. I had no time or energy to write novels; the best I could do was to write a few lines of poetry on a Sunday. By then I’d chosen my time-capsule selection from English literature. But I didn’t have a voice of my own and the more I read the more I felt paralysed and overawed by the great modernist voices such as Virginia Woolf and Robert Lowell.
I spent twenty years experimenting with voice on paper. During that time I married, had children, became a Labour Party activist and moved to Further Education where I managed ESOL, Learning Difficulties and Disaffected Learners. By now I was taking weeks to find the right words and revising as I went, stripping back or starting again if the piece went wrong. I’d realised that plot emerges naturally, riskily, unexpectedly from style and vocabulary and that writing is a journey controlled by character and feel. Most of all I’d learned that inspiration doesn’t dictate books and that what’s on the page is the result of precise emotional fine-tuning. Far from being airy-fairy, writing is a sweat.
After two divorces and a successful struggle with alcohol addiction, my life turned around when I met and married Sue Hampton, prolific children’s writer. Sue and I call ourselves Authors in Love – and we use the L-word, several times daily! We give talks and workshops to schools, library and writers’ groups and perform at festivals, using music and pictures to enthuse our audience for different types of writing. We share creative ideas walking in the countryside, read and edit each other’s work and enjoy gardens, vegan food, unorthodox Christianity and dance at Sadler’s Wells.
I aim to write originally about modern living using the full range of the English language while staying in touch with my reader’s feelings.
Books by Leslie Tate (click the image for buy link on Amazon)
A review for Heaven’s Rage
Leslie Tate’s memoir is by turns an elegy for a lost childhood, a tribute to the power of literature and a demand for the right to identity in a world that turns too easily on those who differ from the conventional.
There is a raw candour to his struggles with alcohol and coming out as transgender, but there is no self-pity here, more a gesture of companionship amid life’s twisting fortunes. Just as it is the characters who bring a story to life, so he reminds us that our lives are enriched by the characterful and the curious.
Light-footed poems stud the prose like gemstones, and these shifts of gear reflect the truth that we host not an internal monologue but a dialogue of multi-faceted voices. Leslie Tate’s joyful embrace of the gamut of linguistic possibilities is the culmination of a quest for the right to write his own story, both figuratively and now on the page. – Jonathan Ruppin, Literary Director Orson and Co. Founder, PEN Book Club. English PEN Writers in Translation Committee. Judge for the Costa Novel Award, the Guardian First Book Award, the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Award and the Desmond Elliott Prize.
Read the other reviews and buy the book: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Heavens-Rage-Leslie-Tate-ebook/dp/B01N9EA5RP
On Pre-Order for March 14th 2018
Read the reviews and buy the books: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Leslie-Tate/e/B07BL5L23B
Signed copies of all the books can be found in Leslie Tate’s own bookshop including pre-order for Violet: https://leslietate.com/shop/violet/
Connect to Leslie Tate
Author page for interviews: https://www.facebook.com/leslietateauthor/
Author page for ‘Violet’ pre-publication material: https://www.facebook.com/Violetnovel/
Personal page : https://www.facebook.com/leslie.s.tate
My thanks to Leslie for getting the new Open House underway and we look forward to your feedback.
If you are interested in being interviewed on the Open House, here are the details. I am now booking Sundays into the middle of March: https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/2018/01/07/the-return-of-smorgasbord-open-house-interviews-for-all-writers-and-other-creative-artists/
Please join me again next week when my guest will be author Sharon Marchisello
Sharon Marchisello is the author of Going Home (2014, Sunbury Press), a murder mystery inspired by her own mother’s battle with Alzheimer’s disease. She also wrote “The Ghost on Timber Way,” part of a short story anthology featuring fellow Sisters in Crime members, and a personal finance e-book entitled Live Cheaply, Be Happy, Grow Wealthy.