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One of the best known UK gay novels is just over 10 years old. It's Red by Manchester author Richard James. It's described as a literary thriller in the European tradition with a plot spanning both time and place. OutUK's Mike Gray has been re-reading Red and talking to its author.
This is not your run-of-the-mill gay novel. In fact it's not really a gay novel at all. It's more about the nature of evil and how it transcends different times and different cultures. In Red, our devil is not a satanic monster but a cultured and hedonistic gay man, who we later discover is called Eliot, who enjoys fine wines and the best hotels. Unfortunately when he's around, the boys he picks up disappear, people fall under tube trains, car crashes happen and people get murdered. He lives his life in an alcoholic haze of fine food and mayhem.
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It's vivid, cinematic stuff and written with great verve and more than a touch of ironic humour. If you've sampled the gay scenes in cities like Manchester, Barcelona, Prague, Berlin or even further afield you'll recognise our hero's haunts. In Part Two we discover how Eliot became immortal, by meeting a Faust like figure, also gay, called Gordon. It turns out they've both been having deadly fun since the days of the English Civil War. Red is written in a fast-moving episodic style and the rapid changes of time and place can get confusing and take some getting used to. Neverheless it is a strikingly original and lively gay read.

So what was it author Richard James intended...is Eliot and/or Gordon meant to be the Devil or are they just embodiments of Evil?

Richard: A bit of both really. Originally I sort of slightly deliberately made it unclear that it could be one and then changed my mind. In the first part you don't realise the main character is called Eliot until later on...and of course Gordon crops up in Part One and you get more of his story in Part Two. I was sort of interested in the idea of using the Faust myth if you like and kind of reworking it a bit. And then a vampire theme came in as well and I sort of merged the two together a bit, although slightly abusing the myth as well. It's all about immortality as a vice and really celebrating cities and history , food and drink. Richard James
OutUK: The book is full of descriptions of so many cities around the world? Are they from your own experience?
Richard: Yeah, mostly. I like the idea in the first part of celebrating cities as well. There's a lot about restaurants and architecture and the movies and views of cities seen as though it were like a film kind of thing. I liked the idea of this character's thoughts drifting backwards and forwards between different places. As his memories are jogged, he's apt to reveal a bit more detail about who this person might be.

OutUK: The leading characters love fine wines...presumably this reflects your own interests...
Richard: Yeah, I'm a bit of a wine writer amongst other things. I write about travel as well. I liked the idea of Red as the title. There's a kind of motif in it - the colour Red symbolising wine, blood, revolution. All the kind of associations you get with that as well. It's kind of how the reader wants to interpret it.

OutUK: This book is very different from what most people imagine as a gay novel.
Richard: The gayness of the characters was kind of an incidental bit of a backdrop really. It's really a backdrop to all the other ideas...writing about places and history to give it a broader appeal rather than just being pigeon-holed as a gay novel.

OutUK: The blurb on the back describes Red as a literary thriller in the European tradition. Is that a description you're pleased with?
Richard: Yeah, I suppose so. It sounds a bit pretentious but I guess I've studied quite a lot of 20th century literature. I studied French and German with different writers and ideas and what have you.

OutUK: Tell me more about you...
Richard: I'm a self-employed writer. I freelance for a lot of diverse publications and I do wine education - running courses and tastings.
OutUK: And are you writing another novel?
Richard: Maybe. I wrote some stuff last year which I'm going back to and possibly developing it into something longer, so I'm going to be working on that a bit and hopefully develop it into novel No.2.

Red is published by Gay Men's Press at 9.99. It can be ordered direct from Amazon.

 

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