When English author Patrick Gale isn’t penning novels or travelling the world to attend writers’ festivals, he works on the cauliflower farm he shares with his husband in western Cornwall.
That’s right, he has a cauliflower farm which supplies UK supermarket giant Tesco. And yes, he was recently married to his partner of seven years, artist Aidan Hicks.
The pair tied the knot two days after Elton John and David Furnish did last December following the introduction of Britain’s new civil partnership laws.
Gale was recently in Australia to attend the Perth International Arts Festival and Adelaide Writers’ Week and to promote his 14th book, Friendly Fire.
The novel tells the tale of Sophie, an orphan trying to fit into the prestigious British boarding school she attends with her three best friends, two of whom are gay.
The story follows Sophie as she struggles to learn about the privileged world she’s found herself in and tries to discover her true identity.
Gale’s previous book Rough Music was heavily inspired by his own family’s history and a lot of Friendly Fire is based on his schooling.
The author, who knew he was gay from the age of seven or eight, feels he was incredibly lucky at boarding school.
We were a gang of five guys who were openly gay from about the age of 13. No teacher ever turned around and said, -˜You can’t do this.’ We weren’t actually breaking any rules just by being openly gay, he said.
I thought it was perfectly normal. I guess we were all closeted to our parents but that was the beauty of the school. In classes we’d just be camping around.
When I went on to university it was quite a shock, because most gay people I met were still at the stage of being closeted and confused. I spent most of my 20s waiting for people to catch up.
For Friendly Fire he took those five characters and turned them into the four who appear in the novel -“ and made two of them into girls.
I did that to distance me from the truth and also make the story closer to something the reader might identify with, he said.
I think it’s always a danger if you’re writing from your own memories for it to turn into a memoir rather than something more universal.
Gale’s readership tends to consist of straight women and gay men -“ all of his books contain meaty straight girl and gay boy characters.
But with Friendly Fire he’s gained a whole new fan base in the form of children and teenagers who can relate to the schoolyard tale.
After one reading at the Adelaide festival a 9-year-old boy approached Gale with his mother.
He was proudly clutching a copy of the book and his mother said he’d been taking notes during my talk -“ and my talk had been very camp and open about everything.
After he walked away with his mum I remembered all the scenes in the book set in public lavatories. There’s quite a bit of teenage cottaging which I think might rather confuse him, Gale recalled, chuckling.
His next book, which he’s nearly finished writing, is about a mother who is a very gifted and celebrated artist, but is also bipolar. It looks at the effect her mental illness has on her children as they grow up.
It’s about a very damaged family -“ a favourite territory for me, Gale said.
It has a big gay element as one of the sons is gay. But I’m giving this one a tough time for a change. I think I’m too kind on my gay characters.