Redfern Jon Barrett is a writer and polyamory rights campaigner armed with a doctorate in literature. Author of novels The Giddy Death of the Gays & the Strange Demise of Straights and Forget Yourself (Lethe Press, 2016), his writing has featured in PinkNews, A cappella Zoo (and its tenth anniversary ‘best of’ edition), Strange Horizons, Heiresses of Russ: The Year’s Best Lesbian Speculative Fiction 2014, as well as Shaped by Time (National Museum of Denmark, 2012). He currently works with Guernica magazine and PEN America as a reader, dividing his time between Britain and Berlin, where he lives with his two partners and plays too many board games.
Redfern, who were the authors who influenced your writing? I noticed on your Goodreads profile page the names Margaret Atwood, Will Self & Jeanette Winterson. Do elaborate.
Honestly I have a huge number of influences, more than I could ever hope to count. All creative work is a collective cultural process, taking and adapting from one another from one generation to the next. I’ve been a nerdy bookworm ever since I was a child, and every single text I ever read is still in my consciousness somewhere. Margaret Atwood, Will Self, and Jeanette Winterson stand out for me as I love their particular writing styles, and they’re all authors who have grabbed me by the shoulders and refused to let me go.
What was your doctorate thesis all about?
My doctoral thesis (in literature and history) was on queer friendship in the 18th Century—I’ve always been fascinated by diverse and unusual forms of love, and the ways in which love has changed throughout different cultures. In Western Europe romantic love was generally reserved for same-sex friends who would often live together, and even share a bed together, whilst marriage was for binding houses and producing children. This situation began to change around 1700, when awareness of homosexuality spread, and this rising homophobia destroyed romantic friendship.
To be honest I think it’s important that we recognize that love does not always mean sex, and that platonic love can be as romantic, intense, and fulfilling as sexual relationships. This is a significant theme in my novel The Giddy Death of the Gays & the Strange Demise of Straights, where two heterosexual men fall in love with each other.
What came first? ….Redfern Jon Barrett the writer or Redfern Jon Barrett the polyamory rights campaigner?
Hah, I like this question! Redfern Jon Barrett the writer came first—I wasn’t polyamorous when I began writing (and I began writing as a way of keeping myself sane during my doctoral thesis!) I did campaign work on other issues before I began writing, though—on LGBT rights, on environmental issues, civil liberties, and in promoting local business over corporate chains. I’ve always been on some crusade or other, and there are a lot of issues which are important to me.
Polyamory (loving more than one person) was something my partner Darren and I opened up to gradually over the course of our relationship. Eventually we met our other partner Alex in Berlin, and the three of us have lived together ever since (as I mentioned earlier, I’m fascinated by unusual forms of love!). Darren and I have now been together for 10 years, and we’ve been with Alex for a year and a half. I began campaigning for polyamory rights to give families like ours the legal protections we need.
Tell me what you do as a polyamory rights campaigner?
To be honest polyamory rights is still a relatively new concept, and the movement is very much in its infancy. I do whatever I can—from creating petitions, to writing organisations, writing articles, attending conferences, helping organise conferences, giving speeches—it’s something I really, truly believe in, and It’s something which has a huge impact on our family. It’s been difficult at times, and there’s been a lot of hate toward us because of it, but we’ve also had amazing support, and our friends and family are extremely accepting. We’ve even been on holiday with Alex’s parents!
My readers and fellow bloggers would really love to get to know your body of work. So first up, give us a little glimmer about your book Forget Yourself?
Forget Yourself is the strangest thing I’ve ever written. It follows Blondee, who lives in an isolated land of people of a hundred people with no memories of the outside. Like children, they’re constantly trying to build their own identities, to work out what it means to be male or female, or to love. They’re also burdened by guilt, convinced that they’ve done something to deserve losing themselves, and are obsessed with doing everything ‘right’. They’re prisoners, trapped both within the walls of their land, and their own sense of what is normal. Blondee desperately wants to break free of both confines, and in doing so destroys the world.
Was it easy or smooth sailing to write Forget Yourself? It really feels like a very intriguing book…something that gets under one’s skin & is kind of unnerving to a certain extent. Do you come across similar remarks made about this work of fiction?
A few of the reviews have said similar! I tried to write the novel with both a childish playfulness and a sense of looming darkness, the two states weaving together to create a sense of unease. People seem to relate to Blondee, as someone who’s just seeking to find herself outside social confines, and this connection, coupled with the strange violent fragility of their world can get under the skin.
Are any of the characters in Forget Yourself based on true individuals? I’m especially trying to hint at Blondee?
Haha, Blondee is definitely someone I can relate to, though she’d have trouble existing in our reality! There are instincts I share with Blondee, but then they’re instincts many would share—at her core is the desire the change and influence the world around her, and that’s something I very much recognise in myself. Like her, I’ve always been a crusader.
In anything I write the characters are built from fragments of people I’ve known, and I’m lucky to have such a wide range of people from which to draw inspiration! The Giddy Death of the Gays & the Strange Demise of Straights was very much based around the pieces of people I met in Wales, whereas due to the nature of their world, the characters of Forget Yourself are a little more fantastical.
Now coming to The Giddy Death of the Gays & the Strange Demise of Straights, how much of your work as a polyamory rights campaigner influenced it or not? Do explain.
To tell the truth, The Giddy Death of the Gays & the Strange Demise of Straights is part of a campaign. All art is propaganda, and my fiction so far has definitely had the aim of introducing people to polyamory and other atypical relationships—in that sense it’s polyamory propaganda. I can write articles and petitions, I can give speeches, but it’s in telling stories that we form emotional connections with people, and it’s stories which people can really relate to. It’s stories which bring us closer together.
What message would you like to give my Indian bloggers or readers with regard to your book The Giddy Death of the Gays & the Strange Demise of Straights?
I know that there have been many struggles with alternate forms of love in India, and I also know that there’s a long history of intense love and friendship in Indian culture—something which ties India to Wales, where the novel is set. Wales can be extremely conservative and homophobic, and the struggle to find love and acceptance in the face of social hostility is one familiar to audiences everywhere.
In The Giddy Death of the Gays & the Strange Demise of Straights, how does your personal relationships help in making the book the fantastic read it is?
Honestly, there are a number of experiences from both myself and those around me which informed the novel—not only does polyamory play an important role, but also the very fact of falling in love with someone you’re not sexually involved with. In my early twenties I fell in love with a woman, which shook my identity as a gay man—and the love I felt for her was as strong as the love I felt for men. That was a pretty fundamental shift in how I see the world and how I see relationships, and it’s why I chose the PhD topic I did. I wanted to learn more about nonsexual romantic love. Generally I think the more love there is in the world, the better.
“I can’t stop talking about how great this book is! I am not a literary type, by no means, but the story was very engaging to me. The characters were very likeable and easy to relate to. Even though it took place in a small city in Wales, the cast was extremely diverse. All types of people with an open mind will find characters here to relate to. Monogamous or polyamorous. Straight, gay, lesbian, bi, trans and so on.” -said one of your Goodreads readers to the world at large, but being the wise & lettered man that you are, you must know that in certain countries such is not so. How do you then take a stand on what you believe in or maybe you would rather let it pass?
It breaks my heart that there are so many places where people aren’t free to live and love and express themselves in the manner authentic to them. Though it isn’t the same as growing up in a country which is deeply repressive in terms of sex or gender, I was an Evangelical Christian growing up, and the groups I was involved with were extremely hostile to those who were different. It took me a long, long time to become comfortable with who I am, and to be able to share my explorations through my writing. Even after I left those groups, I was filled with fear and guilt, with the idea that love—or at least, the love that I felt—was a sin. It’s a shame because there are many wonderful, accepting Christian groups, but that wasn’t the culture of which I was a part.
I’m lucky to have grown up somewhere where I at least wouldn’t be thrown into prison for who I am, but even in more liberal places there are pockets of repression. My ex-boyfriend was disinherited by his parents, who wanted to give him pills to change who he was: his relationship with his family was destroyed. In The Giddy Death of the Gays & the Strange Demise of Straights one character is put in hospital as a result of a homophobic attack—something which happened to friends of mine in south Wales. Even in Berlin, one of the most liberal cities on the planet, I occasionally experience abuse for showing affection to other men.
It can be hard to make a stand when facing hostility and danger, and honestly, it is important to stay safe whilst staying true to yourself. The wonderful thing about fiction is that it connects people across time and space—I hope that people reading my fiction and living in an environment which is hostile to them feel that connection, that they know there are others out there like them, who stand with them in solidarity.
What are the views of your partners in relation to your work & the decisions you have taken in your life? Do they stand by you through as they say ‘thick & thin’ or are you ‘rowing your own boat towards the shores of equality?’
They stand by me, and I’m extremely lucky for that as it isn’t always easy on them. Because of the campaign work our relationship is quite public, and there have been some awful messages and statements from people who fear what is different, who fear those who love differently to themselves. Both my partners are incredibly strong and beautiful people (and very different to each other!). I honestly wouldn’t be able to do what I do without them.
What comes immediately to mind when the following are stated:
- Board games
Warmth. I associate them with friends and family, and cosy evenings in.
- Margaret Atwood
Inspiration. She has a remarkable insight into relations between men and women.
- Science Fiction in the 21st century
Mixed. I’ve read some incredible speculative fiction which delves into issues we deal with today—as well as some, well, does not. For me the purpose of science fiction is to shed light on the world around us, to extrapolate from current trends and announce what might be. It’s the social aspects, the human relationships, which are most important.
- Polygamy practiced by certain communities in Asia which have led to a lot of social problems & issues
Problematic. I often get asked about polygamy, and often people confuse the term with polyamory. Whereas polygamy is based in a patriarchal system of one husband with multiple wives, polyamory means multiple love regardless of gender. I don’t feel I know enough about polygamy to make any kind of judgment, but for me it’s vital that women have an equal role to men. It’s a very different concept to polyamory.
- Lethe Press
Wonderful. They’ve been a very supportive publisher and I’ve always felt that they understand and believe in the issues presented in both Forget Yourself and The Giddy Death of the Gays & the Strange Demise of Straights. I’m very happy to be working with them!
Thank you Redfern for enlightening insaneowl.com and its followers about your work as a writer. Continue the good work and all the best for your future ventures. I do hope that we may be able to speak through the medium of my blog once again in the near future. Warm regards from Fiza Pathan.
Redfern Jon Barrett’s books are available in Kindle and Paperback version.
Twitter: @redfernjon / Facebook page / Goodreads Profile
The Giddy Death of the Gays & the Strange Demise of Straights:
Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Lethe Press
Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Lethe Press
Copyright 2016, Fiza Pathan