We caught up with Justin Myers ahead of his brand new novel The Magnificent Sons, to ask him our burning questions for the Little Book Cafe.
Read his answers below
Give us your elevator pitch for The Magnificent Sons.
I always find the idea of elevator pitches terrifying – in fact I find elevators terrifying, I’ve been known to cling onto the sides. Okay, so assuming this is quite a long elevator ride, The Magnificent Sons is about Jake D’Arcy, who, at 29, has a decent job and lovely girlfriend, but has always felt like the shy and quiet outsider in his loud and boisterous family. When his very different teenage brother Trick comes out as gay, Jake’s long-buried questions about how own bisexuality resurface and he decides it’s time to do something about it. Jake takes centre-stage for the first time and nobody is quite ready for it – especially him. We follow Jake, Trick, and Jake’s girlfriend Amelia as they deal with the fallout. Oh, and it’s funny, too.
What inspired you to write this book?
Lots of things, really. I am fascinated by – yet quite tired of – the way generational divides dominate conversation. I wanted to write a story about two characters of differing generations going through the same thing – coming out – and how their age and status affects their experience. Something I also wanted to do was write a coming out story that looked at what it might be like to come out right now. I have read, and loved, a lot of coming out stories but in adult fiction most of them seem set in the past (YA is good at contemporary coming out tales, obviously). We often forget about the people who get left behind, and come out later in life – I came out at 25 – and it’s a totally different experience. Not only that, but the parents in the book treat each son’s coming-out very differently – Trick’s announcement is no surprise as he is what you might call very flamboyant and theatrical, but Jake’s comes out of the blue – parenting styles differ so much between children and I was keen to explore that. And as if that wasn’t enough to be getting on with, I always wanted to look at what happens to the people around you when you come out. In stories where gay men come out, if theres a girlfriend on the scene, she is often cast aside by act two and never heard of again, or simply accepts her fate and immediately becomes her ex’s ally. But what if she’s angry and upset? What if her world has been whipped away from beneath her feet? We stay with Amelia and track her evolution too; that was very important to me. But I must also stress again: the book is funny.
If your book was a film who would you cast as your leading characters?
I honestly haven’t thought about this that much. I’m still really only just thinking about who might be good in the TV version of my first book The Last Romeo – it’s currently in development. Jake, I’m not sure – Paul Mescal, from Normal People, would be good, but maybe he’s a bit on the young side. And, I guess, it would be a nice touch if Jake is played by a gay or a bi guy. Amelia, again, I don’t know. Pearl Mackie, who played Bill in Doctor Who, would be great. Trick, no idea. He is larger than life – I’d love to see who a casting director could come up with.
Where do you write? – do you have an aesthetic workspace, a cramped kitchen table, a cosy bed base?
I do go out and about to write sometimes. I have a couple of regular places, one near my house, one in central London, that I escape to if I need to have other people around me – and chuck back a few flat whites. I type so loudly though, that I make myself unpopular with everyone sitting near me. At home, I sit and work at a dining table that’s in my lounge. Well, it’s a lounge/kitchen, but the table is in the lounge. Wow, I am being very overly specific; I’ll be drawing you a floor plan next. Anyway, this sounds VERY middle-class literary novel but it’s true: the table was originally in my grandma’s house back in Yorkshire, so I have sat at it and eaten my breakfast since I was very small. It folds out bigger but I don’t have room for that so it’s quite small. My desk is untidy and cramped and covered with things that do not need to be there at all – nothing I need regular access to. At the moment, I can see a stack of four books, three bottles of fragrance – I spray it on for Zoom calls and I’m not ashamed – two spectacles’ cases (both empty), a mug with “Best Brother” emblazoned in it that is full of pens, a bottle of shower gel (no idea why), leads and cables, and a lamp. I desperately want to be a tidy person who floats around in a minimal paradise but I have learned to accept that I am generally a shambles. My new mantra is “don’t put it down, put it away” but… well. Shambles.
Tell us about your writing journey – have you always known you wanted to be a writer? When did you start writing?
I’ve always loved writing but growing up it never occurred to me it could be a career – it just wasn’t the kind of thing someone from my background did. I started writing very young. I was a voracious reader but would often write my own stories on the blank inside covers of my storybooks. I did it in all of them! I still have some somewhere. I enjoyed inventing characters – having a story read out to me wasn’t enough, I wanted to control the narrative. So my favourite Christmas present every year was a thick wedge of lined paper – one of those huge refill pads – and a new set of biros, or fountain pen as I got older and more precocious. I wanted to be a writer or journalist but didn’t know how to make it happen – I have never been very good at pushing myself forward, which is probably why I didn’t get a book deal until I was 40. My writing career started 20 years ago when I applied to be a columnist on a website for vaguely trendy people in their twenties, and snowballed from there. I worked in and around journalism for about 10 years, at a creative agency, then in TV, getting a byline or two here and there – but then in 2010 I started my own blog, anonymously, as The Guyliner and it really took off, to my amazement/horror. The epigraph in my first book The Last Romeo is a quote from The Dark Knight Rises, where a rather grisly character called Bane says, “Nobody cared who I was until I put on the mask” and while it fit the book perfectly, it’s totally true for me too. My career was going perfectly fine, I could pay the rent and had access to meetings that had catering, but there was something missing. Creativity, maybe. Fun. Anyway, once I went anonymous, people loved it. If I think about this too long I worry my face may have been what was holding me back all these year, so I try not to. All’s well that ends well, and I’ve changed moisturiser, just in case.
Do you have a favourite book? If so, what is it? If not, is there a genre or style you prefer?
I have a list of about ten, maybe? Books that I used to read over and over again – I was a great rereader, I think you discover something new every time. But the number 1 is Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier. I’m not big on genres; I definitely don’t have a type of book I seek out. I like all kinds of stories, whether it’s a super twisty plot or something where nothing much happens at all but you just want to share the same air as the characters for as long as possible. Rebecca has it all, really. The characters are as annoying as hell but brilliantly drawn, and the writing is wondrous and mesmerising, because of course it is. It’s suspenseful and frustrating, because the things you want to happen actually don’t, and everything you think you know is proven wrong in just the turn of the page. That’s what a good book should do, shouldn’t it? Lead you on a bit, then hit you with the unexpected, get you to see things another way. I’m never afraid to write characters who are a struggle to like because Rebecca is filled with them and still works. Heck, life is filled with difficult characters, but we muddle through. Villains walk among us and sometimes… we are the villain in somebody else’s story.
Here at the little book café we love pets! If you have a pet we’d love you to share a picture and a line about them.
I don’t have a pet yet. Watch this space. I want a dog – well, two dogs actually – and I already have preferred breeds in mind and, yes, names have already been picked out. Sadly I don’t have a garden so want to wait until I do. I always had dogs growing up – much like the family in The Magnificent Sons – and love being around them now. I’m not majorly into cats but friends have them and I don’t mind hanging out with them – how they feel about hanging out with me is another story, of course. So, here is a picture of me with my friends’ cat Harvey. Harvey was named so by my godsons after Harvey ‘Two Face’ Dent from Batman, because she has a stripe down her face. They have a black one too, called Bruce – Batman’s real name, of course – because all black cats kind of look like Batman, don’t they? I see Harvey and Bruce a lot, as they belong to my closest friends. In fact, The Magnificent Sons is dedicated to them, although I did forget to mention the cats in the dedication – maybe for the paperback, eh?
'Funny, beautifully observed and moving' Adam Kay
'Tales Of The City for a new generation . . . smart, touching, razor-sharp one-liners, a life-affirming read . . . I fell utterly in love with it' John Marrs
'Funny, kind, insightful book, about those who get left behind' Russell T Davies
Two brothers. Two different journeys. The same hope of a magnificent future.
At twenty-nine, Jake D'Arcy has finally got his life just right. Job with prospects: check. Steady girlfriend: check. Keeping his exhausting, boisterous family at bay: check. So why isn't he happier?
When his confident, much-adored younger brother Trick comes out as gay to a rapturous response, Jake realises he has questions about his own repressed bisexuality, and that he can't wait any longer to find his answers.
As Trick begins to struggle with navigating the murky waters of adult relationships, Jake must confront himself and those closest to him. He's beginning to believe his own life could be magnificent, if he can be brave enough to make it happen . . .
'Just wonderful. Warm, funny and believable, with characters you feel you know. And with, as ever, some enviably KILLER lines' Marina O'Loughlin
'MAGNIFICENT. It's all about the complicated issues of families and sexuality, the writing is pacy, smart and funny, and the storytelling is first-rate' Adam Kay, bestselling author of This is Going to Hurt
'With razor sharp observation, this coming of age story is full of heart' Sunday Mirror
'Raw and honest, more complex and real than most coming out stories' The i Paper
'Original, compelling, touching and funny' Francesca Hornak, author of Seven Days of Us
'A funny, keenly observed tale about relationships and identity' Red Magazine
'Brilliant. I fell in love with Jake and there was something special about reading the brothers' stories unfold while keeping one eye on my own magnificent sons playing in our garden' The Unmumsy Mum
'Really funny, really moving, really sweet, a really great read . . . I tore through it . . . Love it!' Lindsey Kelk
'The Magnificent Sons is a compelling story that explores the intricacies of family and sexuality, while being entertaining and amusing; pick yourself a sunny afternoon and devour it!' Is That You Darling
'Justin Myers (AKA The Guyliner) brings his signature wit and empathy to this portrait of a larger-than-life family at a crossroads. It sparkles with humour' Isabel Costello
More praise for Justin Myers:
'Extremely funny, with real heart, depth and resonance' Daisy Buchanan
'Insightful, heartfelt and witty' Laura Jane Williams
'So funny and sharp, yet tender and emotional too' Jill Mansell
'Brilliant, funny and incisive' Stylist