Foyles Kindly Invited me to write a blog in conjunction with the book’s publication. The full article can read below or via the hyperlink here.
With a hugely clever, post-apocalyptic set up at the core of this debut YA novel, Darren Chartlon has built a thrilling story; part adventure, part zombie-survival, part teen gay romance. Wranglestone really has it all and is sure to delight readers with its characters and story, whilst also promoting the normalcy of gay relationships, without the usual trials and anguish of so many LGBT stories. Here you can read an introduction written exclusively for Foyles by Darren Charlton
Like an old box of toys, my debut novel, Wranglestone, contains all the paraphernalia of my life, really. Creating a world where an Escape Program offers sanctuary from a zombie apocalypse inside the National Parks of America, I got to play out all my loves. The American culture of my childhood from films like The Life and Times ofGrizzly Adams (1974) and Star Wars (1977); hiking and camping; beloved genres like the Western, Wilderness Adventure, Horror and Science Fiction, most notably the Sci-Fi as social allegory works of Ray Bradbury (Fahrenheit 451) and Richard Matheson (I Am Legend). Oh, and did I mention that Wranglestone also happens to feature a love story between two boys? I say ‘happens to’ because I happen to be gay and ‘happens to’ because the plot doesn’t remotely centre on this any more than The Hunger Games spends time analysing why Katniss and Peta are heterosexual. They just are. But I say ‘happens to’ because nobody is going to see gay characters move past issue-based narratives, (where the plot hinges on our otherness, sexual identity, coming out or being bullied) to experience other types of stories, unless we do that for ourselves. And this is still such new territory.
When I was growing up in the 1980’s, the only way I stood a chance of seeing myself (or future self) reflected in books and film, was in the troubled adult worlds of Joe Orton and Edmund White. What visibility there was on television here in the UK, represented the face of homosexuality the mainstream media and general public were comfortable with; the likes of Larry Grayson and John Inman in Are you Being Served. Comfortable because they were funny and camp. We can laugh with them. At them, maybe. They were asexual and as a result of this, unthreatening, because when we watched them we weren’t confronted by the big issue, what men do in bed together. And I still think this caveat remains true. I suspect this is partially why the media loved to hound Elton John and George Michael so much. They were exceptional in having sexuality.
In the mid 1980’s, however, if you wanted to get past such representation, you had to turn to the troubled adult worlds of playwright, Joe Orton. Troubled because Orton was murdered by his lover, Kenneth Halliwell, which panders to that one great myth, that gay people cannot and would not be happy. My drama teacher at school lent me a copy of Stephen Frears’ film of this relationship, Prick Up Your Ears (1987) on VHS video when I was 16. She was prohibited under Section 28 from talking to me about any issues I may be facing. This was her olive branch. Despite having crushes on boys at school, I was so unconscious of my sexuality back then, I didn’t connect with the film on a personal level or see then, what my teacher was trying to unlock for me. Looking back, this is just as well. I didn’t discover EM Forster’s Maurice (1913), until later. It wasn’t published until 1971, some fifty-eight years after it was written. But it was pioneering. Revolutionary. It gave two men a love story. Better still, a happy ending. Ah, Scudder. I didn’t discover what is probably my single biggest influence, Richard Amory’s poetic and pre- Stonewall ‘lusty gay frontier romance novel’, Song of the Loon (1966) until many, many years later still. But these are still adults in an adult world. What I needed as a teenager, well that simply didn’t exist back then.
So, for my debut I wanted to give LGBTQ+ teens not an issue based or coming out story, but their very own adventure and for other readers, a coming of age thriller and mystery that just happens to have a gay relationship at its heart. I can’t think of anything more political and transgressive than the act of just being here. But I had to be let in, allowed, and I have Little Tiger Group to thank for taking the risk on a genre novel for teens that follows a couple of gay boys who aren’t questioning their sexual identity or seeking approval about their love from the world in which they live. The creative industries still feel safer allowing diversity in if our characters are seeking permission to exist.
If Wranglestone should find a readership or strike a chord for any young person (or former young person) out there who feels different, then I’ve achieved my goal. All I want is for Peter and Cooper to play their part in this great change taking place in children’s literature right now on the journey towards casual inclusion. By doing so, I hope to show you that you have a place in this world, too.