“The story wasn’t about being gay or indeed about chemsex; it was about grief and loss.”
Paul Madden is a psychotherapist-turned-author, having just penned his debut novel, The G Club. The book discusses the journey of Jamie, a gay man living in London, who negotiates a plethora of challenges in his personal and professional life. Madden’s book is independently published on Amazon, yet has already received a flurry of positive reviews, from straight women in their sixties to members of a gay book club. OutNews Global spoke with Madden to find out more about why this timely book is a must-read for all.
The G Club is your debut novel, what motivated you to write it?
There were a variety of things that motivated me to write The G Club. I wanted a new challenge – I’d never written a book before and thought, why not? The other motivation was trying to do something to promote mental health, particularly men’s mental health. It’s been wonderful to see much more media coverage been given to this topic. I think the fact that Prince William, Prince Harry, and high profile celebrities like Will Young, highlighting these issues in such a personal way, help others see that it can affect anyone. As someone who works in this area, I wanted to add to this discussion.
What was the writing process like?
I enjoyed the writing process, which was a surprise. It started one Sunday night when I grabbed my MacBook and went to my bedroom for a couple of hours. Chapter one just sort flowed out of me, but they weren’t all that easy though. I would write a chapter and then I would leave it for a couple of days, even longer and while walking to work, or listening to some music, an idea for the next part of the story would come to me. I would write notes on my phone or in a notebook, in case I would forget. It was exhilarating. One of the stand out moments for me, was reading the book in its entirety for the second time. The first read through was with a red pen correcting things and editing. Nearing the end of the read-through, even though I wrote it and obviously knew the ending, it made me cry. I wasn’t expecting that.
As a psychotherapist who works in a sexual health clinic, how much of your own experiences did you draw upon when writing this book?
This March, I will have worked in the area of sexual and mental health for 15 years. It would’ve been much easier for me to use stories that I have been privileged to listen to from all the people that have come to see me in the various roles that I’ve had. So I made it more difficult for myself to ensure that the story that I ended up with was something that didn’t come from any specific person. In saying that, my experience as a psychotherapist, in sitting with people who are struggling with loss, chemsex issues, depression, anxiety does impact on how I view the world outside and people, and so I’ve tried to distil this into my book.
Your book touches upon a variety of themes, for instance, the main character goes through his own battles with chemsex. Do you think this book is a means of educating other gay and bisexual men about this issue, as well as breaking down stigma associated with those who take part in chemsex?
Chemsex plays a part in the book, but it’s a small part. I deliberately didn’t go into it in great detail because drug use was a means for Jamie to escape his pain and loss and I was more interested in that. I think I could’ve interchanged chemsex with another addiction. Men and indeed women can choose lots of different things to use to avoid emotional problems. I decided on chemsex for my character because there was, and still is, a lot of interest in the subject. I do think there are a lot of people who don’t understand how easy it is for some gay and bisexual men to go from having a job, a relationship, a good life to losing it all due to drugs. Many of my friends think that people in the chemsex scene are seasoned clubbers who do nothing else the entire week.
My experience and that of services across London is that a lot of these men struggling with addiction don’t fit the perceived stereotype of a person who uses drugs. So I suppose I wanted to show that this could happen to anyone. It’s important to say that sex and chemsex, in and of itself are not ‘bad things’, this doesn’t include the human cost of the selling and supplying of drugs and the law – a more complicated issue. There have been lots of stories in LGBTQ media about chemsex and ‘slut shaming’, and I wanted to somehow subtly display these issues in the book to show that people make choices and if these choices aren’t harming their health (sexual and/or mental) and not costing them their jobs or relationship with friends, family or partner then that’s fine. These things, sex and chemsex, like alcohol, gambling or internet usage, become problematic when they start to impact on the persons day to day life and health.
James Wharton’s second book Something for the Weekend discusses his own experiences of chemsex. Do you think fiction adds another element to the conversation about this topic?
I think whether it’s fiction or fact, having the narrative out there is what counts. It’s incredibly brave for James Wharton to write about his personal account. In my work, I can empathise with clients and patients and give them support and information, but there is something powerful about these clients reading or meeting a person who is going through or has gone through a similar situation. It can be comforting to feel like they aren’t the only one.
It’s very rare to find a central character in a book who is gay, although I’d argue that the majority of the themes in The G Club universal to everybody. How important is it to have LGBT characters leading the story of a book?
I’m so thrilled that you think the book has universal appeal, this was always my intention – to write a book that everyone could relate to, regardless of gender, orientation or age. Most of the people who read this book before it was published were straight women whose ages ranged from 20s to 60s, and they all got it. They understood that the story wasn’t about being gay or indeed about chemsex; it was about grief and loss. ‘Gay’ and ‘chemsex’ weren’t central themes; Jamie’s battle with his loss was. Just before publishing the book, I was fortunate to have a gay book club in London, the Hey Bitches Book Club, review it for me. One of the comments that has stuck with me was when someone said they were glad that this wasn’t another gay character dealing with coming out, it was done, fine…he was gay, he had a partner, big deal. They were pleased that in some way we’d moved on. It’s a bit like the TV shows we see now like Looking or Cucumber, that was what I was hoping for; a character, a man who just happened to be gay. This of course, doesn’t take away the importance of coming out stories, books or films. Having a main character who is LGBTQ in books, TV shows and movies is still vital because there is no underestimating the power this has on people who are struggling to be themselves but not only that, for the people around them to see that ultimately we are just…people.
What feedback have you received about The G Club so far?
The feedback I’ve received has been universally positive, which was such a relief. After the flurry of friends and family buying and reading it, I’ve had emails and messages from strangers who the book has touched on a deeply personal level, and that’s been incredibly humbling. While I hoped for good things to be said, I wasn’t expecting how much these characters that I created at home, on my laptop would resonate with readers. I’m so glad that people are enjoying it and demanding a follow-up. Many are saying they see a Richard Curtis movie or a TV series, which again is marvellous to hear.
Many people have either started writing a book, or have indeed finished, yet are too scared to show it, other people. What advice do you have for somebody who finds themselves in this position?
I was, and still am one of those people. It’s terrifying; sending your work to anyone, whether it’s a Literary Agent, journalist, a friend or stranger. When I finished the book, I set up an anonymous online feedback form, and asked a few close friends, and family members, who I knew would be blunt with me, to read and review the book. I specifically asked them to be as brutally honest as they could. I listen to the Radio 5 Simon Mayo and Mark Kermode’s film review podcast every week, and I respect their reviews on new releases. There are times when I go to see the films they have raved about, and I think ‘what were they talking about…this was terrible….or this was brilliant.’ There will always be someone who won’t get it, or worse. That’s just their opinion. So be brave, what’s the worst that could happen?