Please tell us a little bit about your current projects?
Thicker Than Bone is the story of Ali Barraclough being asked to donate bone marrow to his older brother. Ali’s a perpetually nice guy and a total soft touch, so ordinarily he wouldn’t even have to be asked to donate to a stranger, never mind a sibling.
Unfortunately, Ali’s brother, Tony, is a dyed-in-the-wool racist, and nearly killed Ali’s partner several years earlier for the supposed crime of being a Muslim. So Ali is torn between saving a family member, and the fear that if he does save Tony, Tony will just be back in the future to hurt Yazid again.
It was a hugely fun book to write, partly because Tony is an out-and-out villain which made a nice change, and partly because Yazid, Ali’s former Muslim partner, is a ball of fluff and fun. He’s still celebrating being alive, really, so he was a lot of fun to play with. It was a mash-up of the ethical question ‘would you save someone’s life if you could, no matter who it was?’ and a little scene I daydreamed one day of a Middle Eastern man attack-hugging his partner at the kitchen counter. Weird origins, I know!
What project are you working on next?
It’s all a bit up in the air at the moment. I have a YA and an adult BDSM under negotiation with Riptide, and a YA novel coming out on 20 December with JMS Books. Beyond those, I’m not sure. I have Twitter followers nagging for asexual romances, and there’s two adult series I need to get cracking on at some point. And then there’s two half-finished transgender YA novels that I need to finish as well. (Yes, the concept of one book at a time has completely escaped me!)
When was the moment that you knew you had to be a writer?
There wasn’t one. I’ve been making up stories since I was old enough to talk, and writing since I was taught how to physically put words on paper. (My handwriting hasn’t much improved since then.) Writing books was just a natural evolution of that habit.
Who gave you the one piece of writing advice that sticks with you to this day?
It doesn’t stick with me because it was any good, it was just the way she did it that was so memorable and hilarious.
I was eleven years old, last year of primary school, and I had this teacher, Mrs. Kennedy. She was one of those great teachers, larger than life and very challenging. She instinctively knew which kids responded to which approaches. Some of the class she was very nice to, and others — like me — who were entering the bolshy tweenage years or were particularly bold and bright, she’d be very challenging and tease us a lot. She was great.
She was more of a science and PE nerd, she was ex-Royal Air Force and all her four sons went into the military, but being a primary school teacher, she taught everything. And one English class, she was telling us about creative writing and how to get the reader’s attention.
“There’s certain words that will get attention,” she said. “For example — SUDDENLY!”
She bellowed it. The entire class jumped, and one kid fell out of his chair. It got attention all right. She laughed at us and carried on with the lesson. But for the next week, she would suddenly shout, “SUDDENLY!” in the middle of a dull bit of the class and scare us all. And it stuck, simply because of how she did it.
(Ironically, I hate using suddenly. It smacks of eleven-year-olds writing bad stories to me…)
What is this romance writer’s idea of the “ideal romantic evening”?
One for other people! I’m actually an aromantic asexual — I don’t experience romantic or sexual attraction. I have no desire for any romantic or sexual relationship of any kind, so a romantic evening is my idea of an awkward, painful waste of time.
How do you describe yourself? How would your family and friends describe you?
I’m a total jerk. I’m antisocial, aggressive, and bloody-minded. Family and friends don’t disagree much! When I make friends, they tend to be very close to me and similarly casually abusive — ‘you total bastard’ is a term of affection from my favourite colleague. When I left my old job, one of my team wrote that she’d miss my ‘positive outbursts’ in the office. Another just called me a traitorous git for leaving her. Like attracts like!
What are some of your favorite pastimes? Do you have any hobbies or collections?
Travelling. I love travelling to remote parts of the world and taking in the scenery. My next big trip after my gender transition is hopefully going to be a month away in New Zealand. As for collections, do tattoos count? I have a bit of a problem with them, definitely.
What has been your biggest adventure to date?
Looking down the wrong end of a soldier’s rifle in Venezuela on a trekking holiday in 2009. Thankfully I knew enough Spanish and Latin American politics to grasp why he was shouting, “Americanos!” at me and my group. Fastest scramble for passports ever. Thankfully, I also knew how to say, “We’re English.” The minute he saw our passports, the rifle went down, he beamed, and said, “Welcome to Venezuela!” in heavily accented English, happy as a clam, while we all quietly died from heart failure. That aside, it was an utterly brilliant trip!
If your fairy godmother waved her wand and whisked you away to the location of your choice, which place would you choose, and why?
The nearest mental health unit, because I’d obviously be having a psychotic break!
Any place we can find you in person or on the net this month or next?
Thicker Than Bone
Matthew J. Metzger
Length of Book: 85,000 words
Genre: gay romance, erotica, interracial. Warning for strong racist/homophobic language used by antagonist
Matthew J. Metzger is a British author currently living, working and writing near Bristol in the south-west of England. He is both asexual and transgender, and seeks out the loud characters, rough stories, and quirky personalities that explore the rich diversity of the QUILTBAG world. He writes both adult and young adult novels, covering topics from mental illness to ill-advised crushes, and particularly enjoys writing about universal issues from the QUILTBAG perspective. Matthew can be found on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Tsu, or at his website.
When not writing (which is rare), Matthew is usually found crunching numbers at his day job, working out to inappropriately chirpy pop songs, or being owned by his cat. It is important to note that the man does not, naturally, own the cat.
If you could save someone’s life, would you? Anyone’s?
Ali’s older brother has a swastika tattooed on his knuckles, a prison ID number for nearly beating a man to death for the crime of being Middle Eastern, and spent his teenage years ruthlessly persecuting Ali for being gay.
Blood may be thicker than water, but Ali has spent most of his life desperate to prove that he is nothing like Tony. A committed vegetarian, charity-supporter, and blood donor, Ali would do anything for anyone, and is frequently teased by his partner, Yazid, for being too soft-hearted. Ali may share parentage with Tony, but he is determined not to share anything else if he can help it.
So when Tony contracts leukaemia, and Ali is the only match for the urgently-needed bone marrow transplant, Ali is caught between two equally awful choices: to refuse, and condemn a man to death, or to donate.
And in donating, save the life of the man who nearly murdered Ali’s Iraq-born boyfriend?
Yazid gave up trying the moment that the clock on the wall ticked over to seven. Tracy cheered. “Get yerself on the other side of that bar!” she crowed, shoving Yazid hard in the back. “G’wan, yer ingrate, yer not one of my staff no more!”
Danielle, his pink-haired replacement, giggled and started pouring a Guinness before Yazid could even ask for it; he laughed and whipped off his work shirt to the delighted shrieks of a hen party just starting up in the corner.
“Put that away!” Tracy jeered, her strong accent turning it into ‘pertharraway.’ She tossed Yazid his backpack from the storage cupboard under the till, and he obediently offered the hen party a little self-indulgent flex or two before tugging a t-shirt over his head and ‘putting it away.’
“Knock it off, you lot, ‘e’s a gay-boy!” Tracy shouted, and the bride-to-be, one of their regulars, whistled even louder.
“Even better then, get it back out and give us a show!” she yelled back and Yazid laughed.
“Speaking of gay-boys,” Tracy said, “where’s yours?”
“Family thing,” Yazid said, grinning at Danielle when she plonked the liveliest Guinness he’d ever seen in front of him. “His mum’s birthday, I think. Maybe his sister’s. I dunno, I wasn’t listening.”
Tracy crowed with laughter; Lee, one of the kitchen skivvies, loped past and clapped Yazid so hard on the back he nearly hit the bar.
“Lucky you, getting to escape this place,” he said, and Tracy hit him with a packet of crisps. “Oi! Cow!”
“Pick yer knuckles off the floor and get movin’ with them bar snacks!” she retorted. Yazid snorted as Lee was scolded back into the kitchen, and downed a third of his Guinness in one gulp.
“Steady on, love,” one of the other barmaids said. “No plans later, then?”
“Nah,” Yazid said. “Starting the new job next week, but the other half couldn’t get much time so our little party’s at the weekend.”
She blew up into her fringe. “That’s disgusting.”
“Didn’t fink you was ‘omophobic or nuffink,” Danielle said in her thick London accent. She was a student working to pay her fees to the University of Leeds, and was routinely mocked for the way she spoke. She didn’t seem to mind.
“Nah, the bit that’s not right is that he gets a bloke like that, and I don’t,” the barmaid said.
“Like what?” Danielle asked.
“Like that,” came the significant reply, but before Yazid could work it out, a pair of arms slid around his shoulders and a kiss landed against his temple.
“Hey babe,” he beamed, twisting to offer a one-armed hug. Ali slide onto the stool next to his, a broad smile splitting his wind-flushed face. He looked stunning, and Yazid — emboldened by the fact he’d never have to step foot back in this place if he didn’t want to — leaned across to kiss him.
“I made some excuse to Mum,” Ali said. “Wanted to come and see you instead.”
“Damnit, I was going to get with Lee round the back later,” Yazid whined, and Tracy shrieked with laughter.
“Now that would be sick,” she said. “What can I get you, my love?”
The bar was empty but loud, the hen do and a couple of lads at the pool table making it seem busier than it actually was, and as the evening shift drifted in for their own patterns, Lee and Lizzy, one of the cleaners, clocked off and joined them for a toast to Yazid’s new job and ‘escaping the madhouse’ when Tracy was out of earshot. Yazid’s good mood was bolstered by a win on the fruit machines, and then the hen party staggered off to start their bar crawl proper, and their little party of four squashed into the abandoned booth.
“Gonna be almost feminine without you, mate,” Lee said, clacking their glasses together messily. “Won’t be no blokes left!”
“Yazid doesn’t count as a bloke,” Lizzy argued. “Gays don’t count!”
“More bloke than any of you tarts,” Lee snorted.
“Definitely all bloke,” Ali said. “When you’re not being a princess,” he added snidely, and Yazid laughed, dropping an arm around him faux-casually.
“Princess Yazida, that’s me,” he agreed, to Lee’s good-natured ribbing and Lizzy’s alarmingly high giggle. “Lizzy, he just means nobody to discuss the football with without having to compete for you girls.”
“Sorry Lee, you just ain’t my type,” Lizzy said, and waggled her fingers in front of her chest with a leery grin. “You just ain’t got the knockers!”
“Neither have you, you flat-chested tart!” Lee retorted, and Yazid laughed. He waved to Danielle for another pint, feeling at ease and relaxed, and quite prepared to get a bit wankered now Ali had shown up and would steer him vaguely homewards at closing time. Maybe with a detour to —
“What the hell are you doing here?!”
Ali’s angry voice jolted Yazid out of his happy buzz, then there was a fist in his t-shirt and he was jerked from his seat to the wall, the slightly sticky paintwork hitting him too hard in the back and his quarter-pint of Guinness crashing down his trousers to the floor.
“Shoulda known it was you,” Tony Barraclough snarled at disturbingly close range. His teeth were yellow, and he stank of cigarettes and weed.
“Oi!” Tracy bellowed from the bar.
“Get off me,” Yazid snarled, and shoved. Tony was either too stoned or too surprised, and staggered back a good couple of feet. “You’re barred, now get the hell out,” he snapped, the good mood thoroughly gone. He’d had quite enough of this. At least at the new job, he could shove the bigoted idiot’s hand in a deep fat fryer if he came knocking.
“Tony, get out of here!” Ali shouted.
“You skipped out for him?” Tony growled. His voice was hoarse and raspy.
“I have a life!” Ali shouted, throwing up his hands. “You should try one, now try it elsewhere!”
“Now,” Tracy snapped, stalking over from the bar, all five foot nothing of her. “Yer barred, now get out before I ‘ave the police in ‘ere.”
“You skipped out,” Tony snarled, ignoring Tracy entirely, “for this Muzzie piece of—!”
Lee started up violently from the table, his dark skin burning to black in instant anger. “You shut your—!”
The noise level started to rise, Lee and Tony both yelling over each other, and Tracy’s shriek demanding Danielle to get one of the bouncers in, or call the police. Yazid found himself straightening his own back, squaring up to Tony’s aggressive stance. Okay. Thug wanted a brawl, he’d get one. Yazid was sick and tired of this utter crap.
“Tony, piss off!” Ali shouted, riled up maybe the most by his brother’s appearance, and Tony’s lip curled.
“You skip out on your own sister for this bit of halal meat, s’at how it works, Ali?” he snapped right back, and Yazid opened his mouth without thinking.
“Nah,” he said, making an obscene gesture at his own crotch. “Halal drains the blood out, not pumps it up full. This meat’s all haraam, babe.”
Tony moved. His arm lashed out, something flashing in the dim light of the bar, and there was —
There was a blur of motion, and then pain and heat exploded across Yazid’s face. The room spun; he felt the wall against his cheek, then his arm, and then he was sitting on the floor and people were screaming. There was hot liquid running down his face, and the entire world was red and black, splashes and round dots vying for his attention. He felt himself sway, and put out a hand to catch the wall, only to miss and slump against it head-first. Pain. Pain-pain-pain. There was —
There was a loud bang, and the bouncer — N…Ni… — the bouncer was shouting, and then there were dark shapes and Yazid could feel his stomach rolling.
“Bucket!” someone yelled. “Trace, get me a bucket, he’s gonna hurl!”
There were hands on his arms and shoulders, and Yazid closed his eyes, feeling sick and shaky from the spinning. The heat was still coming, and his hair and clothes felt wet. He could smell Sol — and that was it, he opened his jaw and threw up painfully. The clang of metal and the stench of vomit said the bucket had been dutifully got, and the screaming was morphing into the shrill call of a siren.
“What—” he tried.
“Easy, mate.” Lee. “Easy. You’ll be all right.”
“It’s okay.” Softer, gentler — higher. More frightened. Yazid twitched with the need to stop that fear, and curled his fingers around a hand that found its way to his. Ali. “It’s okay, you’ll be okay, you’re okay, oh my God…”
Then the pieces slotted together — and Yazid realized, just as he recognized the heavy thunder of police boots on the weak boards to the main bar area, that he’d been bottled.
Then he blacked out.