Chris Jones, catches up with author Michael John, whose book Older, Younger aims to take a look at one of last taboos in the gay community – Older guys who date younger men.
Your new book deals with the subject of age, mixed with sex and soft drug use. How much of this is based on real life, and how much is fiction?
Most of Older, Younger is based on real life. The Alan Reid character is modelled on a retired teacher I knew in the Merseyside area, who smoked weed and had all these strapping younger guys coming around to his house and doing odd jobs for him. He was a charming guy and I tried to capture that in the character. Terry is based on a good-looking young guy from Leeds I met in Gran Canaria, and George is an amalgam of several older gay men I’ve known. The contents of the book are based on anecdotes that I’ve been told, or things that have happened to me, or that I’ve observed.
Why set it in a holiday resort?
It’s set in Playa Del Ingles because it’s a place that has an extremely mixed-age, inclusive gay scene, with bars and clubs where older gay men as well as younger ones can enjoy themselves. There are other places like that in the world, but Playa combines it all in a particularly vibrant way.
You use a mix of real time and flashback – why?
It seemed important to reflect where the characters were coming from more deeply than I could have done if I’d just described what happened in Gran Canaria. I want them to have depth, so the reader feels as if they know them. So much of people’s characters is moulded by formative experiences, so without reflecting those I felt things could have become two-dimensional.
Do you feel that this area of gay fiction, the age gap, is underrepresented?
The age gap between lovers is often explored, but usually from the point of view of the older person admiring the younger. What is not represented are those of us who find older people attractive. This is a shame because it contributes to a situation where older gays feel excluded, or over the hill – or no longer see themselves as sexually desirable. Most people have something sexy about them, and this kind of fiction can give readers a sense of the possibilities that might exist for them, if they dare to explore.
What do you feel can be done to bring more acceptance to age difference attraction?
That’s a tough question! There are always going to be people who look at a young person who’s in love with someone significantly older and say “they’re doing it for the money”, or some other such comment. But I suppose the main thing is to try to foster open-minded, inclusive attitudes in the gay scene. We are all getting older, we will all get old… we need to move away from the idea that to be attractive you’ve got to be a young Adonis type. Everyone’s got something that makes them attractive!
What influences you? Any other authors?
I’m influenced by all sorts of things: books include Dancer From The Dance by Andrew Holleran, Faggots by Larry Kramer, and City of Night by John Rechy… but I read a lot of straight fiction too, and watch a huge number of films. To be honest I think the most important thing for a writer is just to observe other people and watch what they do, listen to what they say… try to imagine what’s going on for them emotionally. These are the kind of things that will give you ideas.
Any plans for a possible follow-up?
Yes, I’m definitely going to write a sequel to Older, Younger. Since I’ve written it a lot of people have told me they want to know what happens to Alan, George and Terry after their holiday – and I have a lot of ideas about where things will go.
Any advice for would be writers out there?
Enjoy your writing, and keep working on it and trying to make it live. Try not to get too downhearted if you can’t get an agent or a publisher. Very few people land the kind of big book deals that you read about in the media, but it doesn’t necessarily mean than your work is inferior, or that you haven’t got something important to say.
I submitted Older, Younger to several agents and publishing houses, but the consensus seemed to be that it was too much of a niche subject, that wouldn’t generate the kind of revenues they wanted. But most people who read the book, even the ones who turned it down, seemed to respond positively to it – so when I heard about ebook publishing I thought: why not? It’s a story which I felt was worth getting out into the world.