Updated: Apr 9
Novelist Justin David leads us through a playlist of tracks from and inspired by his new creepy novella, KISSING THE LIZARD
Justin David’s newly-released novella is part creepy coming-of-age story, part black-comedy, set partly in buzzing 1990s London and partly in barren New Mexico wildlands. When Jamie meets Matthew in Soho, he’s drawn to his new-age charms. But when he follows his new friend across the planet to a remote earth-ship in Taos, bizarre incidents begin unfolding and Matthew’s real nature reveals itself. Jamie finds himself at the centre of a strange cult, as they seize the opportunity to recruit a new member. Pushed to his limits, lost in a shifting sagebrush landscape, can Jamie trust anyone to help him? And will he ever see home again? This evocatively set desert gothic expertly walks the line between macabre humour and terrifying tension.
Kissing the Lizard captures the sights and sounds of the 90s. It's a road trip inspired by a road trip across New Mexico in the States that I took in my early twenties. During that initial holiday and the period of writing that it prompted, music served as creative lubrication. Here is is a playlist of tracks which either featured within the text or simply helped me to get into the mood to write it, along with some extracts from the book.
1. Pet Shop Boys — Left to Own Devices
It was the summer of 1997 but the soundtrack to my life came from a whole decade before. I'm not sure if the Pet Shop Boys' sexuality was discussed in their early days but they certainly weren't in the closet. Moreover, they were visibly queer and that gave teenagers like me courage.
2. Chumbawumba — Tubthumping
However, this is what I actually remember being played on everyone's radio at the time.
"A clique of art students Jamie recognises from St. Martin’s cackle over cappuccinos near the window. Plates clatter. A radio crackles, losing and regaining its signal—issuing a broken chorus of Tubthumping by Chumbawumba. The coffee shop is full of French and Germans and Turks and Americans. Everyone else seems to be having a great time.
‘If you’d taken that job with the magazine you’d be on an all-expenses paid trip to India by now.’
Jamie throws the Time Out across the table. Billy, still within the cosy confines of his final year, hasn’t yet felt freedom slipping away.
‘Free holidays don’t pay the rent,’ Jamie says. ‘If I could afford to work for nothing, I’d have a huge portfolio and a contract at The Guardian—not living back with my parents in the arse end of nowhere.’"
3. The Spice Girls—Spice Up Your Life
"‘Get in here—pest!’ Phyllis says, wiping her glasses on her pinnie.
Jamie looks past her and into the living room. The TV is on and Uncle Freddie and Auntie Sandra are slouched on the sofa. ‘Hello everyone,’ Jamie says, walking in past Phyllis who is standing in the hallway. ‘I’m glad you two are here. I’ve just come to say I’m—’
‘You’ve come just in time,’ Sandra says, waving a small piece of pink paper at him and pointing to the telly. On the screen, Dale Winton is hosting the National Lottery programme; he’s protesting fey straightness and pretending to flirt with his guests, The Spice Girls. Jamie leans and kisses his Auntie on the cheek. Her hair has been freshly highlighted and she smells of perfume."
4. Philip Glass—String Quartet No. 3 Mishima
"Jamie watches with red-faced confusion—he might as well have caught him masturbating. Matthew stumbles giddily for a moment. Jamie scuttles back to the dining table and pretends to be arranging place settings.
When Matthew flounces back in. ‘Do the honours!’
Jamie wonders what he means?
‘The wine! Let’s pop.’ Matthew laughs.
‘I love the music,’ Jamie says.
Jamie smiles and marks a few notes in the air with his fingers.
‘She’s ever so uptight, isn’t she?’
5. Lisa Gerrard—The Unfolding
"Wispy threads of silver swirl across a cerulean sky streaked with rose and violet and bright, blinding tangerine. The setting sun reflects off the bonnet of Dale’s jeep like a laser, as they pull onto the ridge of Sandia Crest. A halo in front of them is dramatic enough to inspire an almost religious experience in Jamie. He clutches his copy of The Prophetic Insights, the one personal item he didn’t leave at Billy’s place after the eviction. A photograph of Billy, standing in for a bookmark, is sticking out of the pages. Jamie touches Billy’s youthful face with a fingertip. Did they need this much space?
‘This is only the beginning,’ Matthew says, his mood, perhaps, warming after his strange behaviour at the airport."
6. Catatonia—Mulder and Scully
"‘This is the home of Roswell. The infamous airbase where a UFO crash-landed in the 40s. The government allegedly quarantined beings from outer space here.’
‘Do you believe all the stories?’ Jamie asks.
‘If I were to believe all those stories, I really would go mad,’ Gegger says. ‘New Mexico does have its fair share of crackpots.’
Pale nods. ‘Weird tales are official currency in New Mexico.’"
I could have picked a hundred-and-one tracks for this playlist. So much went into the mix. For example, You Look So Fine by Garbage and Sale of the Century by Sleeper and Sonnet by The Verve, all didn't make the cut. They would have made the list far too Britpop and too Cool Britannia. I hope the tracks listed here give an insight into the book and that you'll love Kissing the Lizard so much you'll move on to its sequel, The Pharmacist.
JUSTIN DAVID is a child of Wolverhampton who has lived and worked in East London for most of his adult life. He graduated from the MA Creative and Life Writing at Goldsmiths, University of London and is a founder member of Leather Lane Writers. His writing has appeared in many print and online anthologies and his debut novella, The Pharmacist, was published by Salt as part of their Modern Dreams series. It was described in the Times Literary Supplement as ‘the perfect introduction to a singular voice in gay literature.’ Kissing the Lizard is a prequel to The Pharmacist.
He is also a well-known photographer. His images of artists, writers, performers and musicians have appeared on the pages of numerous newspapers and magazines including: The Times, The Guardian, Attitude, Beige, Classical Music Magazine, Gay Times, Out There, Pink Paper, QX and Time Out.