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Wright to Writer: Martin Sherman in conversation with Nathan Evans on his debut novella, One Last Song

Martin Sherman by Ulf Breistrand

‘I was inspired to write this story when I heard a documentary about LGBT+ elders having to go back in the closet when they entered the care system... I like to think things have moved on.’

Two older gentlemen meet in a care home; one esteemed elder has a few questions…

MS So, how did you know what life was like in a care home? And what do you think of any care homes you’ve witnessed?

NE When I started researching, I visited a few of them, including one just up the road from me in North Kensington, which was dedicated to dementia care. And it was there I met some of the characters who were inspiration for my supporting cast in the novella. That home was small, and rather lovely—largely because the manager really cared for those in her care. The home where my grandmother spent her last days seemed rather more austere. Although I do remember visiting her, around Easter, to find she had a Christmas card I’d sent her, still proudly displayed; I think it’s fabulous, she said. It featured a photo of me dressed as a fairy; I was in my late thirties.

MS Ha! How much homophobia do gay people have to put up with in care homes?

NE I was first inspired to write this story when I heard a documentary on the radio, many years ago now, about LGBT elders having to go back in the closet when they entered the care system: the opinions of other octogenarians with whom they’d be cohabiting may not have moved with the times; staff who would be caring for them may come from cultures that do not celebrate all the colours on the spectrum. I like to think things may have moved on; the Older & Out group I recently visited in Brighton didn’t seem to think they’d moved as much as they should have done.

MS Do you think there should be exclusively gay care homes?

NE I was surprised when they told me there wasn’t such a home in Brighton. Until we’re absolutely confident that prejudice has been eradicated from the system, I would certainly support homes for LGBTQ+ elders, and their allies.

MS One of the most disturbing things about being old is that it is unimaginable. It’s impossible to predict and impossible to explain. The old would often like to say to those younger, ‘wait, just wait until it happens to you; only then then will you be able to understand’. You have not waited. And you have understood. How has that happened?

NE Ha! I’ve no idea. But I’m flattered. I think. Maybe I just listened—to older friends, to Joan and Jim.

MS Are Joan and Jim based on people you know who are that age, or are they based on younger people you know assuming what they will be like when they reach that age, or are they figments of a penetrating imagination?

NE I would be lying if I said Joan wasn’t inspired by a number of fierce and fabulous queens I’ve had the honour of knowing. But Joan grew to become very much his own person. Jim, on the other hand, was constructed from within. Though both are, really, different versions of me; perhaps that’s true of all characters, and all writers. Perhaps we’re all narcissists, as well as fantasists.

MS What is your fantasy of how you would like your life to be when you are old?

NE Oh, it’ll be like a scene from an old Jarman movie: there will be boys in togas, and boys in leathers, and boys in nothing but the briefest underwear to fan me and feed me, and change my colostomy bag for me. In truth, I never think about it—perhaps because I fear it.

MS What is your greatest fear about aging?

NE I have a good brain and a good body, in that it’s able to do most things I’ve required of it. The thought of losing either of those, well… I’ve always been independent; I struggle with the idea of needing help. And who will there be to help me? As Joan puts it, ‘I neglected to deposit any progeny by way of insurance policy’. Like Joan, I don’t own a home, or have a pension. The way things are going, in thirty years time I can’t see there being much by way of the social provision that Joan, at least, benefits from. I guess I shall have to become, as Joan also puts it, ‘the oldest call girl in the book’.

MS Have you spoken to elderly people about sex? How did you have such acute insight into their feelings?

NE In my research, I did talk to older people about sex; I don’t think I got it right, at first. The story was a screenplay, originally; I was still in my thirties when I wrote it. I had a meeting with Simon Callow about playing Joan, and I remember him saying, ‘The sex scenes… You write them as a young man.’ I didn’t understand. When I came to write the novella I was approaching fifty; I understood then.

MS Did turning it into fiction give you more freedom or less?

NE More: because I already knew the story, I was free to explore the characters’ histories and psyches.

MS Did your feelings about the characters change as the form changed?

NE I would say my feelings for them only deepened.

MS I’m assuming Joan and Jim are about the same age as your parents—perhaps a bit older—have your feelings about your parents, or your relationships with them changed since writing the novel?

NE My understanding of my parents also deepens, the older I become. Not sure that’s anything to do with the writing. But I think it’s something I’ll be addressing when the writing of my next novel begins…

Nathan Evans lives and works in London. His short fiction has been anthologized by Muswell Press (Queer Life, Queer Love) and published in Queerlings magazine. His poetry has been published by Fourteen Poems, Broken Sleep, Dead Ink, Impossible Archetype, Manchester Metropolitan University and Royal Society of Literature. His collection Threads was long-listed for the Polari First Book Prize, his second collection CNUT is published by Inkandescent. He was long-listed for the 2020 Live Canon Poetry Competition and shortlisted for the Carlo Annoni Prize 2020. His work in theatre and film has been funded by Arts Council England, toured with the British Council, archived in the British Film Institute, broadcast on Channel 4 and presented at venues including Royal Festival Hall and Royal Vauxhall Tavern. 

Nathan Evans with his debut novella, One Last Song

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