There are very few writers that I read everything by, but Justin Myers is one.
I’ll confess I’m a bit of a fan boy; from Justin Myers' magazine columns to his own site The Guyliner, I’ll always click the link. His writing oscillates between bitingly acerbic to reach-out hugging, but always with a sense of genuine warmth and care about his subject matter. Also, it’s worth noting very few writers have the ability to deliver laser accurate condemnation of our social structures and a Joan Collins GIF in a short piece on The Guardian.
When the opportunity came to interview the West London-based author for the launch of his first novel The Last Romeo, I of course jumped at the chance. Now, I’ll admit that I find interviewing authors either delightfully interesting or as dull as dishwater. Thankfully Justin Myers doesn’t go in for hours of detailed description on his writing process or how character development must be an adept social commentary on the stratospheres of a broken society (yes both of those do happen, and that’s why you never saw the articles go live). He’s much more rounded.
As we sit outside of a bar local to him, enjoying a sunny day, he notes my setting out of my Dictaphones (I’ve always used two) and mentions that Madonna insists on three or she won’t do the interview; I knew we were in for a good interview.
We discuss his transition away from The Guyliner persona who longer term readers of his work may have first discovered him on, to using his own name: Justin Myers. “I was quite lazy with my anonymity. Bits and pieces were out there; I’m not supposed to be called that though. I’m only called The Guyliner as ‘Guyliner’ was taken on Twitter at the time”. His agent had discussed the use of the name with him and he decided the time was perfect to move away from it to a certain extent. “I wanted it [leaving anonymity] to be for something meaningful, and a book is about as good as it gets… Well, unless I get that number one single”.
“It would have been easy to pick a nom de plume but I thought it would be nice for my mum and dad to see my name on a book, and nice for me. If I was going to go public with my name I wanted it to be for something meaningful not just random”. It of course led to a moment that even the thought of makes his face light up in a huge smile – when Kellogg’s sent him a box of cereal with his name on it. He tongue-in-cheek says, “That's when I knew I was a big star; it’s free cornflakes”.
But how did the book come about, what was the road to the nation’s favourite breakfast arriving with his name on it? As a door closed another opened. “I was approached at the end of 2015 and was asked if I’d ever thought about writing a book. They originally wanted a dating tips and advice style thing. It was absolutely not what I wanted my first book to be about. I was fucked off at myself for agreeing to it but I was poor at the time”.
The pitch was offered round but there were no takers, and then a moment of fate struck, as the nation lurched itself into crisis and he found a way out. “On the day Brexit happened I said to them, I think we’ll just leave it”.
Then a few months later Dom Wakeford from Little, Brown and Company [publishers] reached out. The choice to ditch the previous project had become the right one. “He [Dom] said I’m looking for the next gay novel and it could be you. Sometimes gay novels can be a bit heavy, but with your style I think it could really work. After a few months of thinking what it could be about I had a night of insomnia and the book came to me. I wrote out a page of A4 and he loved it and I got a two-book deal”.
Now as this piece is about Justin and not a book review, I’m not going to delve into the first book too deeply; it’s available in all good book stores and yes, you should buy it as it’s the best book in this genre since Sucking Sherbet Lemons, but for context it’s about a young gay man making his way through the London scene on his campaign to find that special person we all long for. It of course captures all the tenderness, comedy and insight that Myers’ work is known for as well as being partially autobiographical.
“Everything you write has a part of you in it. Even if it’s fiction, it still has part of you in it”.
His own journey of coming to London plays a part in the narrative of the novel and his passion for the city's nightlife and its role in the book shines through when he talks about the clubs and bars. We talk about the recent struggles of The Royal Vauxhall Tavern and its fight to fend off developers, “If it’s good enough for Princess Diana, it’s good enough for me”, and of course how the city’s new Night Tsar is helping fix the issues: “I’m really pleased the job was given to someone from the LGBT community. They're the ones usually staying up the latest and longest, maybe too late for some of those I see on Vauxhall Green”, he beams as if reminiscing.
Once again, the connection between his own life and his novel shines through when he talks about how one of his favourite club nights made it into the plot. “I really like Duckie. It was the first club event I went to when I moved to London. I went there completely randomly. I ended up becoming friends with one of the DJs and there's a scene in the book set at the night but I’ve renamed Duckie as Sweetie”.
With the second book due out soon I think it’s safe to say Justin Myers is establishing himself as one of the great current authors. I can’t wait to read the next book, but for now I’m off to read the latest Impeccable Table Manners on The Guyliner. I wonder how this week’s date went?
You can find the novel on Amazon. It’s available in both paperback and e-book.
Read Ross Pollard's interview with Malan Breton here.
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