Novelist Patrick Gale asks author Neil Bartlett some probing questions about his new work of fiction, and home furnishings:
There’s a deep humanity to Address Book, and a calm thoughtfulness. What prompted the writing of it?
All of my books start with an image that won't leave me alone. With this one, it was simply the image of a big, black front door. Slightly battered; rather forbidding; possibly locked. My notebooks started to fill with questions and possibilities; was this a door I knew ? Was it even one that I'd once lived behind myself? Those questions lead me to pondering on what doors can stand for in our lives. We shut secrets away behind them; we seek safety behind them; if we're lucky, we sometimes find behind them everything we need. The moment that really got me writing in earnest was when I realised that a series of seven interconnected front doors from different decades would allow me to explore not only the things that have changed—attitudes, freedom, prejudice, the shapes of relationships—but also maybe the things that don't change: personal courage; sexual hunger; the power (and price) of love. I guess the thoughtfulness comes in part from the simple fact that I'm 63. I've lived through six decades of extraordinary and often hard-won change; through grief, and rage – and through a 32-year-long relationship with my beloved partner, the author and archivist James Gardiner. Maybe I'm finally acquiring perspective!
From my position as a chronic nester, you’ve always come across as a true Bohemian. Are you secretly deeply domestic?
Well I'm rubbish at housework, if that's what you mean! But yes, I think of myself as a very domestic animal , in the sense that the rooms I live in are very important to me. Even when I was living in a frankly frightening council flat on the Isle of Dogs, which was where I wrote my first novel Ready To Catch Him Should He Fall, I might have been sleeping on a mattress on the floor and salvaging furniture out of skips - but I still made the place remarkable. The kitchen was wallpapered with porn, and there was a Victorian chandelier in the hallway. Latterly, James and I have made marvellous homes together. I'm writing this in a one-bedroomed tenement flat in Clerkenwell built in 1881 (it's actually the setting for two of the stories in the book). When we moved in, it was a near-slum (mould, mice, dodgy floors, the works) but now it fully expresses our life together. Beautiful colours. A wonderful bed. It's a real home.
Do you think there’s a significance to the reputation queer people have for interior decoration?
Hmnnn...well, much as I'd love to say that we just have better taste when it comes to cushions...obviously that's not true. What is true, I think, is that we are brilliant at pleasure – historically, queer culture really values pleasure. Also, we great at all the arts of transformation. I think the reason for that is because transformation is a deeply rooted and deeply necessary principle of queer life; we've always had to take the world as we find it, but then make it liveable.
With the exception of Ready to Catch Him your novels seem to stand outside any sense of an immediate gay scene, and to be steeped in a fascination with queer history. Do you look to the past for answers or for consolation?
Do you see your theatre work and fiction writing as parallel careers or do they bleed into one another?