This month we have king of the bears and all round good guy, Colin Dereham. Author of Nervous Kid, The Lookout and the brilliant, Hound, Colin lives in Australia.
I’m so pleased that he took the time to answer my questions.
What is happening in your world at the moment?
I’ve been plodding away at a new novel about a mostly-blind man in an open but abusive relationship, who meets another man also in an open relationship. What starts as a fuckbuddy arrangement between the two men inevitably becomes something a lot more significant as they support each other in developing the confidence to move on and start a new life together.
The book is taking an extremely long time due to my own issues with low vision blindness. I normally have about ten percent vision, but in the last six months there have been long periods where it’s been markedly worse. I haven’t got the skills or expertise to write using audio software so it’s been an increasingly arduous task.
Funnily enough, my own sessions with a guide dog mobility therapist have come right at the time I need to research guide dogs for my book’s main character. That’s been a bonus!
I’ve also begun recording the audiobook for my last novel ‘Nervous Kid.’ My boyfriend is actually a professional sound recordist and has a studio setup here in our house. Unfortunately, I only managed to get two chapters in the can before this latest decline in vision happened. I’m yet to work out how to get the print big enough for me to be able to read and narrate.
When did you get into writing?
I did my first degree in music and literature, though I was very focused for many years on developing a part-time career as an opera singer. This was my sideline job while I worked in nursing and community support roles. I never actually wrote anything other than a couple of erotic stories for indie gay magazines in the nineties.
Late in 2019 I stumbled across a website where people submitted amateur erotic short stories. I read every gay story on there and decided to write my own. What started out as a short story snowballed into my novel “Hound.’ I wrote and rewrote it for a year and a half. I also wrote a novella called ‘The Lookout.’
I sent summaries of both to an LGBT publisher who promptly told me they were not accepting erotic submissions. Then I sent the manuscripts to a queer erotic romance publisher who more or less wanted the books to be rewritten as MM romances. I wasn’t keen to do this; my mission was always to write erotic gay fiction with frank and realistic depictions of gay lifestyles, relationships and sex. So, I sent them instead to an erotica publisher where they were both accepted.
And so it all began… I have had four books published between December 2021 and November 2022. Still pales in comparison to most prolific romance authors!
What makes a Colin Dereham character?
I like to write about realistic Aussie gay men - though I have had one lead character and one major supporting character who were both expats from the USA (love a nice Southern boy!) One main character was also bisexual, though he eventually found himself primarily attracted to men.
The kitchen sink realism I tend to write means each book so far has revolved around men experiencing emotional difficulties: depression, bipolar disorder, suicidal ideation, grief and loss. These are issues that touch all our lives. But I also feel it’s important to show how people develop the strength and tenacity to overcome these hurdles, to reach a point where they can manage their trauma or mental illness and lead a happier life.
My books so far have explored aspects of gay bear culture. They’re part of a series called Bondi Bears (though it’s not really a series, just a set of standalone stories with some minor character crossovers.) So all my lead characters are bears, and by that I mean hefty, furry men with padded bodies and tummies. They may be broad and strong, but I don’t ever use the term ‘bear’ to describe a muscular, ripped man who just happens to have body hair (‘muscle bear’, ‘bull’ or ‘wolf’ might be more appropriate here!) My lead characters are happy with their chubby appearance and are well aware of the intrinsic role their cuddliness plays in their sex appeal.
I’ve written several of the boyfriend characters as slim, furry otters for a physical contrast between the couple, though my new novel will star two bonafide bears as the main love interests.
Lastly, my men love each other fiercely.They fuck with gusto and in great detail, and they believe in what they have together, despite the odds. For these reasons I am very fortunate to have a small niche of readers who are into more extreme MM, despite my books not falling into the MM romance genre.
Are you a plotter or pantser?
Plotting and me are strange bedfellows. I have always been influenced by true-to-life books. There was a movement in Australian literature in the seventies to nineties called grunge lit, where the focus is on everyday lives. There are very realistic emotional and relationship struggles and the book’s plots tend to follow the patterns of day-to-day existence.
When I started out writing, it was my goal to write in this style, and hybridise it with gay erotica. I wanted to show the lives of gay men without censoring or stylising the sex and love they enjoy together.
This meant writing with a much greater focus on plausibility and authenticity rather than heavily constructed plots. It was important for the reader to feel that they were there - peeking into the lives of characters who could easily be themselves or someone they might know.
So my ‘plots’ were crafted with all of these things in mind. A lovely reviewer referred to them as “a series of mini-arcs” rather than “typical plot arcs.” This to me is a perfect description, as it reflects the ups and downs of real lives and it’s what I strive to do.
Does this equal pantsing? I guess so? I will ruminate over a story for a long time, rehearsing dialogue in my head like I’m learning lines for a play. I’ll stockpile scenes in my memory till I worry I’m going to forget them, then I scribble down a ton of unruly notes. Often I don’t even need this safeguard, because as I write the story a lot of it unfolds organically. I do not follow romance beats. I know they work for countless writers, but my story goes where it goes. The questions I ask myself aren’t about whether my story follows conventions, guidelines or formulas. I ask myself things like, “would this happen in real life?” and “am I showing this with absolute honesty?”
I always edit as I go along. I know a lot of people say you shouldn’t do this, but each to their own. I never, ever forge ahead and write a whole draft, then go back and pick it to pieces from the beginning. I like to know that when I finish the final chapter, the manuscript will be in good shape for the main editing process.
Where do you draw inspiration from?
I’m inspired by real life events. To date, I’ve set stories in places I’ve lived or have been many times. I draw on events that have touched my own life in significant ways. I’ve always had this weird mental block when it comes to reading things like spec fic. I can’t picture made-up worlds and places and creatures. I find those genres and sub-genres very hard to follow, to the point where the reading experience tends to be swallowed by my own inability to understand.
Similarly, I avoid writing about places and cultures of which I have no first-hand knowledge. I guess that part of my imagination is stunted!
What is your writing space like?
Really, it’s restricted by whatever state my sight is in. I write where the light or visibility is best. I have a study area set up in my bedroom with a 45 inch monitor, but this is still not always easy to see. Most of the time I’m sitting out on the back verandah with an iPad jammed a few inches from my face, typing with one finger.
Do you have a certain time of the day when you write?
Being in Australia and networking with people mainly in the US and UK, I’m used to staying up well into the early hours. Plus, it’s always more peaceful at night. I’m one of those people who dreads morning appointments and avoids them wherever possible!
Who is your favourite character you have created?
Gary was the first main character I wrote. He’s the lead in ‘Hound’ and ‘Bear Affair’, and he has a supporting role in ‘Bourbon and Cigarettes’ and a smaller featured role in ‘The Lookout.’
He only really sprang to life when I started adding a lot of myself to him. Of course, a lot of him is fiction but I drew greatly on my own experiences.
You recently found your book in the window of The Bookshop in Darlinghurst. Tell me how that felt.
Ever since I started writing I wanted to have one of my novels in that store. It’s a Sydney queer icon, so realising my dream was an exciting event indeed. At the moment I’ve only been able to get my novel ‘Nervous Kid’ in there, because it was self-published. To get the book into The Bookshop, it had to be produced through Ingram Spark and they are very expensive. As a result, I don’t really get any royalties, but it was well and truly worth it to have my book reach a wider audience.
My other novels were put out by a U.S. publisher, so it was understandably out of the question to get them on the shelves too.
What do your friends and family think of you releasing books?
They’re very supportive. My brother and sister have bought my books. I warned them not to read them because of the sexually explicit content. However, they didn’t listen. My sister “skimmed” the sex scenes and said she “felt like washing [my] hands after each one.” My brother said he “only just made it through the first fuckfest.” My mother was very keen to read my books, but she has dementia so she needed to be swiftly redirected with a change of subject.
As far as friends go, a few gay mates have read at least one of the books. My boyfriend was reluctant, but after many months I finally browbeat him into reading ‘The Lookout’ and he then listened to the audiobook of ‘Hound’, so I guess they can’t have been that shocking!
What was your favourite book as a child?
Without a doubt, anything by Judy Blume. I remember sauntering up to the counter of the public library with a copy of her adult novel ‘Smart Women’ at the age of eleven. The stern matron there informed me that the book was “not for children” because it contained “a lot of bad language.” Impertinent as ever, I told her it was “for my mum.” I guess she had no answer to that, because I took it home with me.
Which authors are you enjoying at the moment?
I’m facing the sort of conundrum a lot of authors find themselves in. There’s so many books I want to read and I rarely have time. This year I’ve squeezed in a couple of great romances by Dianna Roman and Jesse H. Reign, and I’ve devoured a few Australian realism titles like ‘Praise’ by Andrew McGahan, ‘Marshmallow’ by Victoria Hannan, and the fantastic gay YA novel ‘Invisible Boys’ by Holden Sheppard. I’ve also been restricted to audiobooks lately due to my eyesight issues.
What is the best part of the day?
I am definitely not a morning person. The day gets better as it goes along!
Tell me an unusual fact about yourself.
in the nineties, I once sang ‘Like a Virgin’ at a gay club dressed in semi-drag. Lingerie, body hair, make-up like Robert Smith from The Cure - it was a real sight. The next week I was at the same club and this guy I knew said, “Hey, did you see that lesbian with the big voice singing Madonna here last week?”
Where can people find you?
All my links are at: https://linktr.ee/colindereham Stalk me, please!