MANY gay writers draw on their sexuality while writing, but when SJ Watson got his first big break he chose not to.

His debut novel is the New York Times best-selling psychological thriller Before I Go To Sleep, which steered clear of any queer content.

[showads ad=MREC]“I tried to stay away from writing anything that had too many LGBTI themes because I didn’t want to be pigeon-holed,” he told the Star Observer.

“I want to tackle those issues when I feel that I can do those sorts of things justice, and also when I have something to say.

“I didn’t want to make someone gay in a book for the sake of it.”

Watson has been writing since he was eight, and spent a lot of his teen years buried in gay fiction.

He recalls reading Paul Monette’s Becoming a Man and deciding to come out to his parents after turning the last page.

“I think I initially picked it off the shelf because it had an attractive man on the cover,” he joked.

“At the time I was trying to understand how I fit in and what my place in the world could be.”

Watson was a teenager during the mid-to-late 1980s when the AIDS crisis was at its peak, and he said this had an impact on the stories of the time.

“In the books I was reading, there were a lot of people dying and struggling to come out,” he said.

“In my writing I did have ambitions to write the definitive ‘gay novel’, but I realised what I was thinking of writing was my own coming out story, which wasn’t particularly interesting.”

Watson released Second Life earlier this year, a thriller about a woman living a double life, and will feature as part of the line-up for this year’s Melbourne Writers Festival.

He said he wanted to write something that would ask questions about sex, gender, and sexuality.

“I get asked a lot about my decision to write from a female point of view and I think that springs from my own thoughts about sex and sexuality,” he said.

“I don’t really see that as a particularly brave thing to do, as I don’t really see men and women as being that massively different.

“I don’t see gender as a being a binary, or being a fixed thing.”

The idea of fluid sexual and gender identities has inspired Watson’s recent work, and he believes he will continue to explore that in future novels.

A gay friend of his inspired the interest nearly a decade ago, after telling Watson that he wanted to sleep with one of his female friends.

After Watson told him he didn’t see a problem with that, his friend replied: “Oh well, I can’t, because I’m gay.”

“It’s those kinds of things that need to be questioned more and more,” Watson said.

“This idea that we have to make the choice of how we identify at the age of whenever and then we can never change that.

“If I didn’t move in the world I move in and have the friends that I have, perhaps I would have a more fixed idea about what a man is and what a woman is, and what a straight man is and what a gay man is.”

The Melbourne Writers Festival begins tomorrow (August 20) and runs until August 30. Details:

Grab a copy of Star Observer‘s September magazine, available nationwide from tomorrow, to read our interview with best-selling Australian queer fantasy author CS Pacat. To find out where you can collect your free copy, visit

The Star Observer is a media partner of Melbourne’s Writers Festival.



To celebrate the opening of Melbourne Writers Festival, the Star Observer has a few free tickets to giveaway:

– 5x double passes to the Queer Literary Salon on August 29, an event presented by Star Observer
– 5x double passes for a single standard session throughout the Melbourne Writers Festival

To win, all you have to do is sign up to our e-newsletter mailing list and then send an email to [email protected] with your full name and postal address (to mail tickets). Please indicate in the email which prize you would like to claim. Entrants can only claim one prize, and will be given on a first-in, first-served basis.

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