J. James has written a book named Denial, Deciet, Discovery about his straight marriage and hidden homosexuality, and self-published it in the UK. He spoke to QX about the book, and the self-publishing route.
Tell us a little about yourself for those who don’t already know you.
I am originally from the UK but am now living in South East Asia with my new husband and enjoying the much more favourable weather here. This is my debut novel and something that I had never planned on writing but it has now become my passionate hobby. I have been working in education for the past fifteen years since leaving university. I come from a Catholic family and was married to my high-school sweetheart for many years before finally admitting to myself my sexuality.
What inspired you to write ‘Denial, Deceit, Discovery’?
I have always wanted to be a writer, having spent so much time in education teaching children creative writing skills. It was something I intended to do when I retired but had thought it would be children’s literature. However, when applying for an annulment of my marriage, I was required to write a paragraph explaining the feelings for men I had and the confusion I faced. I found it incredibly difficult to keep it brief and it ended up being six pages long! The Catholic priest dealing with the case said it was one of the most moving pieces he had ever read. It was then I realised that there was something in my story that would not only interest others but also help them. Writing the story was also extremely cathartic for me and provided a lot of opportunity for personal growth and development.
What kind of readers do you think it will appeal to? Is it just aimed at the gay community?
When I started writing the book I intended for the audience to be young gay men struggling to accept their homosexuality or older gay men who could maybe relate to the challenges I had faced. I knew there was a massive audience of gay married men still in denial but I recognised reaching out to them was going to be challenging as they were probably unlikely to be seen to pick up this book. However, the feedback from my female friends and straight male friends soon made me realise that the book was appealing to a much wider audience. Because there are so many common themes such as growing up and puberty, friendships, failed relationships, sexual encounters etc – everyone connect with something in the book. This was reinforced when the book went on sale and the largest sales and reviews were coming from women. I think I over-estimated gay men’s interest in reading, especially a book of this type. The book has also been favourably received by the families or partners of gay men and has helped them to understand the complexity of their loved ones feelings. If I would have known that many mothers would have been reading the book I probably would have toned down the sexual encounters a little, haha!
Do you think there are still a lot of gay people living in hiding in the UK?
People always talk now about how times have changed and how no one now needs to be hiding their sexuality. But when you are the one struggling with these feelings, the world does not seem so different or accepting. Of course, it depends on your up-bringing and the family and friends that surround you. Some men are extremely lucky and they can be honest with themselves and others from a very young age. But I believe there is still an incredibly large number of men living in hiding and not just in the UK but also around the world. Sometimes then men don’t even realise they are hiding – they have been so socially conditioned into living a straight life that their sexuality is something that they have not overly questioned. I have encountered so many ‘curious’ married men that I know this continues to be a real situation. I also believe that every man’s situation is personal and different and no-one should be forced out of hiding. We can only encourage people to see that being honest will set you free and be ready to support them if and when needed.
It’s quite a long book, did it take a long time to write? Was it hard to fit everything in?
Writing the book was easy – especially considering it was my first novel. I think because it is based largely on my own life there was a natural time line and therefore I did not need to plan out the plot or think too much about the characters. I just needed to delve deep into my memory and recall. Of course, I have had to be quite creative in the way in which I have told the story to maintain a good pace and humour to the book. It was difficult to decide on what should be in the book and what was not necessary. Sometimes events that you consider important are of no interest to the readers. Originally the book was much longer and I decided there was a few too many sexual escapades so decided to remove some of these! Some people have commented that the last few chapters of the book were too quick and could have been expanded on. I agree with the readers on this and probably much of this could have gone into sequel. We live and learn!
Why did you decide to self-publish? Did you try and go through the straight publishing industry route first? Do you think they were put off by the content?
I didn’t really explore the traditional publishing route. Before the manuscript was complete I sent it to one or two traditional publishers and received a rejection but on reflection I had not even edited the manuscript or read the submission guidelines properly. I was just overly excited. But I realised quite quickly that the publishing industry is very competitive and in the current economic climate, publishers are backing the big name authors only. I am also a bit of a control freak and self-publishing appealed to me because the choices would all be mine and the amount of royalties was higher. I absolutely love marketing and promoting the book myself – it has become a wonderful hobby for me. However, I definitely under-estimated just how difficult it is to get exposure. Everyone seems to love the book but it is trying to get people aware of the book in the first place that is the challenge.
What’s it like being involved in the modern self-publishing industry?
It is actually really exciting and fulfilling. I feel like I am a part of something revolutionary. At first I wondered if it made me less of an author because no one had chosen my book to be published so to speak. But I actually now feel that it makes it more of an achievement because I have to work twice as hard. I think it is the future of publishing and so to have been involved in this is wonderful. I also think it is wonderful for readers. Why should publishing houses get to decide what material is available for others to read? Self-publishing now means that any kind of book can be made available to anyone. This is especially great for niche markets that would ordinarily not have been economically viable to back.
And finally, how is Jack Ellis/J. James now? Are you an active and happy member of the gay community?
I’m in a wonderful place now. I have a wonderful life with my husband and finally I am at peace with myself. My family and friends have accepted my new identity and if some didn’t I am better off without them now. I have acquired the most exciting new hobby and I am really excited about what the future is going to bring. Some of the feedback from readers has been incredible and when you know that something you have written has inspired or changed another person’s life maybe on the other side of the world – there is no feeling better than this. My hope for the future is to be able to support young men around the world who face similar struggles to the ones I went through. I would love to be an ambassador for the gay community providing education and support to others.
Denial, Deceit, Discovery is out now.