Welcome back Anne. Thanks so much for coming!
Appearances can be deceiving
In my rentboy story, Where You Hurt The Most, my secondary character, Dan, suffers from severe facial disfigurement due to a car accident which changes his life. I was keen to write a story where the characters, or one of them, wasn’t physically perfect as so many stories in the m/m romance genre seem to set such a large store by the outward appearance of the men they’re writing about. And, of course, as we all know, real life isn’t like that! Not only that, but I wanted to emphasise that people are always more valuable underneath, and what they look like is only a tiny part of the complexities of who they actually are.
It’s important to go beyond appearances, and this is what Adrian, the escort in my story, tries to do with Dan. Here’s an extract for you taken from their first meeting:
Dan’s next words, however, caught me unprepared.
“So, you’ll do anything with a client, will you?” he said.
I slowly laid down my coffee cup and gazed at him. “Look at me. Properly.”
“Because I don’t like talking to someone whose face I can’t see and because I want you to know I’m telling the truth. You can keep your hoodie on, if you like. If it’s easier for you.”
“Don’t bloody patronise me.” Dan shot to his feet, his coffee cup sliding to the floor and breaking into several pieces as he knocked into the table. “Sorry. Bloody sorry, but I’ve had enough of being patronised. So don’t you bloody start, okay?”
I jumped, heart beating fast, hands raised in appeasement. Nobody had ever reacted like this with me before. Whatever happened, Dan wasn’t going to be dull. “Point taken,” I said. “I’m sorry if it’s how I came across. It was crass and I didn’t mean it that way. Why don’t you sit down and I’ll fetch a cloth?”
He subsided, still muttering, and I cleared up the mess. It wasn’t so bad—he’d gulped down most of the coffee. About halfway through, he started to help, picking up the pieces and placing them on the dustpan I’d brought. His fingers brushed mine and I realised he was trembling.
“It’s okay,” I said, taking care not to look at him. “I’m not the enemy, believe me.”
It’s also an issue I find of particular personal interest as some years back for a very interesting – and indeed challenging – three weeks of my life, I suffered from an attack of Bell’s Palsy and it certainly changed the way I viewed faces and also changed the way people saw me during that time.
When the palsy began, I thought I was suffering from toothache as my face was very achy, but then when I woke up a couple of days in, the whole of the left side of my face was paralysed and my husband thought I must have had a stroke. All very worrying really. Once the diagnosis was made (by a very excited doctor who apparently had been waiting thirty years of his medical career to see a real-life Bell’s Palsy patient – nice to know I serve some kind of purpose …!), I was put on a regime of steroids and regular facial exercise, and after a while it gradually began to clear up.
The fascinating thing for me was the reactions I had from people I didn’t know who weren’t quite sure what was wrong with me, but who kept on staring to try to work it out. Heck, they only had to ask nicely and I would have told them! Though it was an eye-opener how many of them assumed I had mental as well as physical issues.
The situation was made rather more intense by the fact it was over the Christmas and New Year period so I had to do rather a lot of socializing – and had to cope with food or drink dribbling out of the left side of my mouth as I couldn’t feel anything there so didn’t know if it was or not. On one memorable occasion, I was in a pub having dinner with friends who were all very sweet and extremely helpful about my immobile face difficulties when the waitress walked over and asked them: does she want a special dish or a smaller spoon? To which my answer was: the dish is fine, but she would find a smaller spoon helpful, yes thank you.
I think the poor woman was quite taken aback that although my face wasn’t functioning, I did still have the ability to talk, and think too. Although I was lucky and my face eventually returned to normal, it certainly taught me a lesson about how quickly we all, myself included, judge people by the way they look on a purely instinctive level. Nowadays I try not to do that.
I also must recommend to you the work of the charity Changing Faces, as its pages are well worth a visit. If they can make a difference to how we all react to people with facial disfigurements, whether temporary or permanent, then we’ll be that one small step closer to the fairer society we all long for. Bring it on.
Giveaway competition details:
The giveaway competition: the prize is THREE ebooks from my backlist if these questions about Where You Hurt The Most are answered correctly:
1. What was Dan's hoped-for career before the accident?
2. Where does Adrian take Dan on their second meeting?
3. What month is it when Max visits Adrian for the last time?
Answers should be sent to albrookeATmeDOTcom (and NOT left on the post), and winners will be notified as soon as possible after 18 May, when the tour ends. Good luck!
Anne Brooke’s fiction has been shortlisted for the Harry Bowling Novel Award, the Royal Literary Fund Awards and the Asham Award for Women Writers. She has also twice been the winner of the national DSJT Charitable Trust Open Poetry Competition.
She is the author of six published novels, including her fantasy series, The Gathandrian Trilogy, published by Bluewood Publishing and featuring gay scribe Simon Hartstongue. More information on the trilogy is available at: www.gathandria.com and the first of these novels is The Gifting. In addition, her gay and literary short stories are regularly published by Riptide Publishing, Amber Allure Press and Untreed Reads.
Her most recent gay short story is Where You Hurt The Most, a tale of unexpected connections and possibilities, published by Riptide. All her gay fiction can be found at: www.gayreads.co.uk.
Anne has a secret passion for theatre and chocolate, preferably at the same time, and is currently working on a gay fantasy novella, The Taming of the Hawk. More information can be found at www.annebrooke.com and she regularly blogs at: http://annebrooke.blogspot.com.
Where You Hurt The Most blurb:
Adrian is more than happy as high-class escort for a number of regular clients. When his boss and dear friend asks him to entertain his nephew, Adrian readily agrees, but meeting Dan challenges him in ways he'd never imagined. Dan is scarred inside and out from an accident that destroyed a promising future. Despite Adrian's loveless lifestyle and Dan's withdrawal and anger, the two men forge a deep - if unnerving - connection. Soon they find themselves questioning the choices they've made and the futures they've mapped out for themselves.
Yet even bright young men like Adrian and Dan fear the unknown and take comfort in the familiar. Neither may be strong enough to step away from the life they know and toward the one they dare not hope for. But while it's true that love can't heal all wounds, it is the surest balm for where you hurt the most.
You can read an excerpt and purchase Where You Hurt The Most here.
Read my review here.
Read my review here.