Share this:

In the often pink and fluffy world of romantic fiction, two paths diverge: the light, where love conquers all, and the shadows, where laughter meets the dark realities of life. Last year, as UK romance sales soared to £62.4m, it became clear that readers are buying into stories that echo the times in which we live. 

As Kate Bush said: Life is sad, and so is love. It’s no longer enough to prick your finger on a spinning wheel and be woken by a prince. Readers want stories that combine humour with darker themes – reflecting the uncertain times in which we live.

Dark romantic comedy combines wit with weightier themes and demands a delicate balance. Authors like Marian Keyes and David Nicholls have mastered the art of weaving stories that confront issues such as mental health and societal pressures without losing the inherent lightness of romance. Inspired by their success and driven by a desire to explore the nuanced experiences of the LGBTQ+ community, I set to writing Husbands – a love story that questions if there’s anything to laugh about in the darkest corners of Hollywood.

I ran my idea past Mr Fanning, various friends – and on one especially rainy afternoon, our ever-patient Labrador, Ernie. Could I build a story around a ‘gay Weinstein’ and still make it funny? And was there scope for romance? The obvious answer was, no, obviously not. Find something else. People like picnics and the seaside. Write about that. You’re not Marian Keyes. Know your place.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be up to no good. I read online accounts of younger men taking their first movie industry steps. They spoke of abusive relationships with older, more powerful gay men. There had to be a story in this. Most of the men used assumed names. One didn’t, and I got in touch, assuming I’d hear nothing back. Two days later, we spoke on the phone. He went on to connect me with four other men. Their stories were far from romantic, far from funny. But they had one thing in common – gallows humour. I had my way in.

As a gay man, I didn’t want to write a book that suggested every monied homosexual spent his spare time abusing others. Aaron Biedermeier – my monster – spends much of the book in a coma. Carlton Dupree, his morally ambiguous assistant, embodies the multifaceted nature of humanity—deceitful yet vulnerable, challenging readers to look beyond the surface. Before any editor got near Husbands, I went back to the men who told me their stories. I wanted to be sure they felt heard. Their feedback mattered more than any five-star review. They suggested changes. I shared a later draft with LGBTQ+ beta readers. I was only going to get one shot at telling this tale and needed to be sure of paying it forward, of doing justice to those who gave their time to help shine a light into Hollywood’s grimy underbelly.

Writing dark LGBTQ+ romantic comedy is like walking a tightrope, wearing an unflattering yellow mankini. Some will admire your cheek; others will shake their heads. And the thing is, I know the book isn’t going to sit well with every reader. Many will argue this isn’t the right medium to deal with such an air-sucking subject. I’d argue otherwise. 

With Husbands, I wanted to reflect on how I experience life as a gay man. There are shadows and light. The journey to getting this story out into the world taught me the importance of authenticity and the power of shared experiences. And if my attempt at LGBTQ+ dark romantic comedy can reach even more closed minds, I’d be doing my job. And making people laugh.

Mo Fanning has contributed to 100 Stories for Haiti and written for the Observer travel section. His first novel The Armchair Bride was nominated for Arts Council Book of the Year, and his work was turned into a short play for BBC America. The follow-up, Rebuilding Alexandra Small, which featured in bestseller charts, and Ghosted have established Mo Fanning as a leading voice in LGBTQ romantic comedy novels.

His latest novel Husbands: Love and Lies in La La Land (Spring Street Books, £12.99) is available from all good book retailers. Visit for more information.


What’s on this week