Category Archives: James Dawson

This Book is Gay – James Dawson

So I thought I would end my mini Pride weekend with a book that I spent the whole of Pride reading as I was stuck in bed with the snuffles. Shockingly despite how forward thinking we are as people sex education in the UK, and as far as I am aware in the US, Canada and Australia, still fails to encompass information for LGBT people – and at a time when HIV is rising in the younger generations. And this is in progressive countries around the world where it is legal. I certainly wish I had been able to get my younger gay hands on this when I was going through some of my turbulent (to say the least) teens. Oh and if you think this book is just for LGBT people, think again this is a book for anyone and everyone whatever your sexuality or preferences.

Hot Key Books, paperback, 2014, non fiction, 272 pages, kindly sent to me by the publisher

Lesson One

  • Sometimes men fancy men.
  • Sometimes women fancy women.
  • Sometimes women fancy men and women.
  • Sometimes men fancy women and men.
  • Sometimes people don’t fancy anyone.
  • Sometimes a man might want to be a woman.
  • Sometimes a woman might want to be a man.

Got that? It really is that simple.

Of course whilst things should be that simple, taking into account that some men fancy women and some women fancy men obviously, they aren’t. This is where James Dawson starts This Book is Gay, because things aren’t that simple, which when you see it written in black and white like that makes it seem all the more idiotic, or ‘cray’ as James often mentions in the book. What follows is a guide to the world of the LGBT community from the very beginning and those first questions in their heads to what the possibilities can be in the future.

Now I am a 33 year old gay man and I thought this might be preaching to the converted but I learned so much from this book, which I binge read in just over twenty four hours, so I can only imagine how eye opening James frank yet funny book would be to someone at the early ponderings of what they may or may not be. First there is the history of LGBT rights, which again we didn’t learn at school, then there is the state of LGBT affairs all over the world. I still cannot believe that it is illegal in some countries let alone be treated with the death penalty.

Then there comes the science bit. Dawson looks at all the varying scientific discussions there have been from genetics to epignetics, from brain structure to evolution as to why people might be gay (making me feel so much cleverer) yet also highlighting that it doesn’t really matter and we should all just get on with it. He also looks at other things which are often just as complex to negotiate. Coming out, the gay scene, apps, dating, and sexy times Dawson looks at every possible angle of sexuality whatever yours might be. So much information and yet delivered in such a digestible and upfront way, marvellous. I came away understanding so much more, especially as Dawson intersects his text with the accounts of LGBT people of all ages from places all over the world.

Before you think that this is just some rainbow bright version of events, think again. Dawson also looks at all the darker and more difficult parts of LGBT life. From bullying in schools or parents and friends having issues with you when you come out, to homophobia in general and things like drug addiction, cheating spouses and other difficulties that can be faced. I have to give huge credit to Dawson here as he could have just said ‘these people are idiots’, instead he looks at reasons for their homophobia (internal, religion, uneducated, etc) tries to get you to see where its coming from and then how to deal with it. Even the more negative aspects of the books have a positive message or way of dealing with them.

The word ‘gay’ started life meaning joyful, carefree, bright and showy, from the French term ‘gaiety’, which is still used. However, by the seventeenth century, the word had evolved: a ‘gay woman’ was a prostitute, a ‘gay man’ was promiscuous, and a ‘gay house’ was a brothel. Nice.

Initially I did worry that when the book started that there might be one too many stereotypes and what if people didn’t feel they fit in with bears, twinks, otters, butch, femme etc. Or indeed what if they don’t identify themselves as L, G, B or T. But as one chapter is entitles ‘Stereotypes are poo’ and while Dawson discusses labels he is by no means saying you should identify with any particular one, he also says while being gay/lesbian/trans/pan/queer is an important part of you it shouldn’t be the only important part and define you. Bravo!

What is I found oddly uplifting and amazing is that This Book is Gay is only a year old and is already slightly out of date. This is not James’ fault of course, I am sure that he is thrilled by the fact that progress keeps on coming. Ireland has of course had the referendum vote on equal marriage which went through and the supreme court in the United States has ruled that that equal marriage is legal in every single state. Yet with countries like India going backwards, the all kinds of crazy stuff going on in Russia and the fact there is still no mention of LGBT in sex education (due to old legislation in 1988 and its ripple effects still lingering) in the UK we still have a long way to go for full equality.

Once upon a time, there was a very bad lady – let’s, for the sake of argument, call her Maggie. She decreed that teachers must not include ‘gay lifestyles’ in sex education lessons. This was called ‘Section 28’, and it explains why I, as a young man, had no idea what a gay man was OR what they did.

I am the same generation as Mr Dawson and I feel exactly the same, whilst my life wouldn’t have necessarily been less difficult growing up as a gay man if I’d had a copy of This Book is Gay I would certainly have felt less alone and at least a little more prepared for what might have been coming my way. With This Book is Gay James Dawson writes a guide to gay lifestyles from coming out, to dating, to sex, relationships and beyond in a style that makes you feel like you having a conversation with a caring friend.

I think This Book is Gay is an incredibly important book and one which needs to have several copies stocked in libraries and schools everywhere so it can be read by LGBT people, people questioning their sexuality or just people who want to know more or understand, whatever their ages. (As the book states our heterosexual allies are incredibly important too.) It’s rare that you can say a book could save lives, but this one could especially as education of safe sex for young gay men is so thin on the ground and HIV transmission is increasing. Mr Dawson, I applaud you and this book.

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Filed under Hot Key Books, James Dawson, Non Fiction, Review

Hollow Pike – James Dawson

I have always been a little wary of young adult fiction, well since I was a young adult, and reading it as a grown up. I admit I loved Harry Potter but I did start that series when it came out in my late teens and so of course I carried on with the series, how could I not. I have dabbled in ‘Twilight’ to mixed results (I like the films more) and just didn’t get ‘The Hunger Games’. Odd then that I thought James Dawson’s debut novel ‘Hollow Pike’ was a bit of a corker, yet I think it’s because it is everything I would have liked in a young adult novel when I was one (and my sister, who is fourteen, love it – more on that later) and never got. I will explain…

Indigo Books, paperback, 2012, young adult fiction, 320 pages, kindly sent by the publishers

Lis London (brilliant lead name for a YA character) leaves her home in Wales for the small Yorkshire town of Hollow Pike after the bullying that she has endured at school simply becomes too much and hopes for a new start. However new starts are always tricky, will you make any new friends, will you end up in the right crowd, could history repeat itself? Prior to moving Lis has been having nightmares of someone trying to kill her each night, before she arrives at Hollow Pike she believes that this could be due to stress yet why is it when she goes through the local woods (which have a history of witchcraft) everything looks so familiar? Throw in the murder of one of her fellow school mates and soon it looks like Lis is set to be the killer’s next target.

I will admit that on paper the idea of ‘Hollow Pike’ as a story does look slightly like your average supernatural teen thriller fare, yet there is so much more to it when you read it. First of all there is Lis, she literally (cliché alert) walks off the page. The story of how she was bullied at school and then tries so hard to fit in with the right, and then the delightfully wrong, crowd will without a doubt have you looking back at your own school days. I remember having a Laura Rigg (popular, beautiful but ultimately a complete bullying power controlling bitch) or three in my school, I also remember the slightly kooky, or some people might say odd, group which you kind of wanted to be a part of and where also rather scared by and so all these characters came vividly to life. I thought that fact that he made three of the lead characters gay and lesbian was also a very brave thing to do and something I don’t think is really written about for that age group, brilliantly its very much part of who the characters are yet it isn’t the only thing that defines them – like life.

Secondly there is the style and nature of the book. From the outside (cover and blurb) this book looks set to be a witch-fest, it is far more clever than that. I actually think at its heart ‘Hollow Pike’ is a crime novel, with hints of witchcraft thrown in for good measure, where the moral of the story is friendship. The book has the fast paced thrilling nature of a good crime though never at the expense of the writing or the atmosphere, which I really liked. Oh and I couldn’t guess who the killer or killers were and was second guessing all the way to the denouement.

Thirdly, as an adult reading this, I loved the sense of nostalgia it had. I am of the generation (as is James Dawson it would seem) that had the Spice Girls blasting on the radio, watched ‘The Craft’, ‘Mean Girls’ and ‘Scream’ at the cinema and devoured Point Horror novels all weekend (I didn’t even care that they regurgitated the same plot over and over). This combines all those things, except switches regurgitated ideas for originality, and creates a book and a world in young adult fiction that is familiar yet new. I was charmed by it.

I did have the odd wobble or two with ‘Hollow Pike’ I will admit. Occasionally bits of it felt overly familiar and I think I was expecting something with more witchcraft. But I am a thirty year old critiquing a book that isn’t for me, and I really enjoyed it overall, so I will leave you with the thoughts of my little sister Miriam (who joined me and Gavin on The Readers Book Club to discuss it – and do listen as she is brilliant on it) who said, to paraphrase, that…

‘Hollow Pike’ was actually all the more clever for what James Dawson does with the witchcraft elements and  that I shouldn’t expect the obvious – which told me frankly. She found it scary (I did a few times but didn’t want to admit it – oops), thrilling, realistic, original and different from other books in its field.. At fourteen she is the idea reader for this book and she LOVED it. I am not its target market and I thoroughly enjoyed it, so rave reviews from both of us really.

Who else had read ‘Hollow Pike’ and what did you think of it? What are your thoughts on adults reading young adult fiction? If you like them yourself then which would you recommend, apart from ‘Twilight’ and ‘The Hunger Games’?

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Filed under James Dawson, Orion Publishing, Review, Young Adult Fiction