The Guyliner: ‘I admit it, I’m writing a book’
I was worried such a lofty ambition as writing a novel might make me sound vain or deluded or thirsty – all things we pretend are big no-nos
Justin Myers: I wanted to write a book that dealt with the way we live in the 21st century in a very honest way, to acknowledge that we seek and encourage attention
When you tell people you’re a writer, the first thing they ask you is who you write for. This is pretty standard, I guess – if someone says they work in a supermarket, the natural question is which one.
Then, they ask you what you write about, which is always great, because, I can exclusively reveal, “Oh lots of things” is not an adequate answer – they’ll need more meat. But this is no big deal; at least they’re showing an interest in you and not looking down at their phone, posting a Facebook update to say how boring you are. Yet.
It’s the third question that’s always the killer, though, the one everyone asked, for years and years, until it was all I could do to stop myself running from the room with my hands over my ears, into any kind of distraction – passing truck, lethal tornado, it didn’t matter.
“Are you going to write a book? Everyone’s got one in them, apparently, haven’t they?”
There’s nothing wrong with the question per se; it’s my answer which would disappoint, because I would, every single time, say no, even if it was during one of the few times I’d made the odd nerve-wracking attempt at starting one. You should have seen their faces, puzzled and crushed, like writing a book – of any description, it never seemed to matter what – was the most natural thing in the world for a writer to do. I sometimes wondered if these people would clamber into taxis and good-naturedly ask the cabbie if he was planning to be a Formula 1 driver.
This was made all the more painful by the fact that I did want to write a book, and indeed I still do, but I couldn’t find the right words, the time, or the perfect story to tell. Plus, I was worried such a lofty ambition might make me sound vain, or deluded, or thirsty – all things we pretend are big no-nos on the internet.
Despite sitting at my computer and writing thousands of words a week, the ones I really needed, the perfect ones that would sit between the covers of my book, eluded me. No idea I’d had felt right, and I decided, rather than beat myself up over this and try to dredge up inspiration where was none, I would leave it to one side, and focus on what I was achieving rather than what I wasn’t. And I would carry on making my excuses, about having very little time, or it being an impossible industry to break into – both true to me at that time, to a certain extent – and contented myself, falsely, that it was outside forces keeping me off the shelves, and not my own lack of self-belief.
Sometimes, hands are better when they are forced. Deadlines can make you excel, demands can give you a boost and the sheer will of others for you to succeed can, in the end, be contagious. After working diligently away in and around editorial and journalism for over a decade, to find myself suddenly gaining recognition for my writing under a pseudonym – and an anonymous one at that – was very strange, and a strangeness I’ve never quite managed to shake, right up until six and a half years later, when I revealed my identity.
Writing as The Guyliner started as a distraction, something to pass the time while I sat alone in my bachelor hovel and also to keep my creative brain active after a full day of writing things for other people, just so the rent would get paid. While I have been really lucky to work with some brilliant people and be successful when writing as myself, it’s a rare treat for your little sideline to overtake everything else as your main source of not only income, but time. And it’s even rarer to win the recognition and approval of strangers for what you do and to be interested in you for doing it.
People who read my stuff don’t owe me anything, and really, in my refusal to tell them my name or show them my face, I wasn’t giving them a lot to buy into, but it’s thanks to their attention and continued support that I caught the eye of Dominic Wakeford, at Little, Brown, who asked if I’d ever considered writing a book. This time, there was nowhere to run and, at the age of 40, the realisation that I should really start saying yes to things was stronger than my urge to flee.
My first novel, The Last Romeo, is out spring 2018. Its gay protagonist will, in a highly fictionalised way, deal with issues that I’ve faced and may well be common to many – living a double life on the internet, sharing secrets with strangers on social media, dating, encountering fans, friends, trolls and haters. I wanted to write a book that dealt with the way we live in the 21st century in a very honest way, to acknowledge that we seek and encourage attention, but that it’s not always a negative thing, so long as we know what we’re doing. The main character, James, will find all this out the hard way. The only way.
You don’t need me to tell you that it’s hard to write a book, just as you don’t need me to tell you that it’s really easy and the words simply fly onto the page, as soon as I’ve twitched my nose and given my fingers a flourish. When I first decided to do the book, I skimmed over a few writers’ tips and thoughts on the “process” and while there was the odd useful hint, I found many either dull or daunting, at times wilfully so, but I think that’s the idea.
The way of doing it that works for you belongs to you; it is so personal that to show it to the outside world serves only to expose just how tailored to you your own brain is. So none of that #amwriting earnestness and talking you through my characters’ motivations – I’m letting them work it all out for themselves as I write them, and I’ll trust readers to do exactly the same. When you meet people for the first time, they don’t tell you all about themselves, or run through their character traits, handing you a fact file for your reference; they evolve before your eyes. You discover the truth about people through what they show you and, more importantly, what they don’t.
So, yes, come to me at parties and gatherings and shame me into admitting I’m writing a book, to stop pretending I’d never wanted to do it anyway. The words I needed were inside me all along, they just needed drawing out. Time to make it real.
I can’t wait. And now, I won’t.
The Last Romeo by Justin Myers aka The Guyliner, will bbe published by Little, Brown next year