Guest Post: Writing in a Different Gender by Sam Taylor-Pye

Writing Jones’ story was an exciting journey. He started out as a young man of around twenty, a side character in a story that centred on a woman of similar age in mid-19th century San Francisco. I sat down to ‘talk ‘to him one day and sensed something vulnerable, wanting, and even dangerous around him. When he began to talk in that simple yet profound way that he does, and tell me what his story was all about, I knew he was the real star of the show.

I chose to start the novel back when Jones was a kid. Lost in San Francisco without protection, he finds shelter with other street kids looking for safety. Soon, he finds that sex work will be his best chance for a livelihood. All the while, he’s looking for love and security, in a violent, unforgiving, and divided world.

From the onset, I knew writing in the opposite sex was considered tough. But I thought Jones’ same-sex attraction would make it somewhat easier for me. I believed I only had to look back at myself at fourteen to learn what made his heart leap, and what hopes and dreams for a relationship with a boy he might desire.

On the surface, it seemed it would be a breeze. I’d just imagine my younger self -falling for a man inappropriate for my age, which wasn’t hard, and there we go. But as a writer, I had to get deep inside Jones' head. Really nestle in there. And not surprisingly, he started acting like a teenage boy, rather than a girl in a boy’s body, which I suppose was how I was imagining him. Jones started railing against being ‘a girl in a boy’s body’ from page one. He completely refused to play ball.

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To understand more of what I thought I knew but didn’t, I began to research queer theory. In the end, I began to consider that people who identify as feminine, regardless of sexuality, are more vulnerable to abuse from those people who identify as masculine, particularly the toxic kind. This, for me, became a dilemma for Jones, who appears very feminine and is seen by others as being so, but is drawn to the ideal of a strong man, sexually and otherwise. In the story, I think he’s often badly treated in the same way women can be in submissive feminine/overtly dominant masculine relationships, which I didn’t really think would happen.

Then there was the whole problem of how to write about the subject matter - particularly Jones’ youth sex work, as well as his relationship with an adult who has issues with his own masculinity.

To help with the writing, I drew from several sources: historical research relating to youth male sex work from the late 19th century and early 20th century (the time authorities began making records). I researched contemporary sex workers (via blogs from male escorts, for example) and also explored the terrible legacy of child sex abuse in our culture.

For historical accuracy, amongst other research, I read newspaper articles written in California during the civil war and found political and social opinions divided. Some of what was written was shockingly racist and xenophobic. There was talk of separatism from the State amidst moral decline. I was influenced by some of this when writing dialogue for the novel’s villains and had to consider, all the time, how my main character would be affected. I also researched Native American people of the Bay area and the long time settlement history of people from Mexico and China.

In addition to this, I needed Jones’ voice to be authentic and give the illusion of historical place. Huckleberry Finn became the main resource for me to try and make Jones’ 19th-century voice sound as authentic as possible when reading it. I wanted to emulate this in the novel, without making Jones sound like Finn. But, like Finn, I had him talk about the violence, cruelty and passions in a gruff, matter of fact, sometimes darkly humorous way. I also looked at John Steinbeck and Cormac McCarthy for some of the writing style, dialogue particularly, and at the same time had a mind toward folklore and oral storytelling. In my head, Jones tells me the story, at other times I watch it play out and write it down.

About Goldsmith Jones

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Image: Sam Taylor Pye / Authoright PR
Fourteen-year-old Goldsmith Jones is left stranded in crime-ridden, gangland territory. He finds himself living at The Shades, a home to local street kids. While selling sexual favours down the Dead Man’s Alley to survive, Jones is charmed by a seaman he knows as Sweet Virginia. Moving further away from the relative security that The Shades and his best friend, Raccoon, offered him, Jones is drawn ever closer to the manipulative Sweet Virginia. When Raccoon falls gravely ill and is taken to convalesce on the rural Rancheria, Jones is left under the controlling powers of the unscrupulous navvy. Swindled and wrongly accused, he is unexpectedly rescued by the leader of the villainous Suarez Brothers, the charismatic Saul. Faced with a choice between becoming Saul’s ‘little brother’ and saving Sweet Virginia’s life, Goldsmith Jones must embark on a dangerous journey which will change his young life forever.

Goldsmith Jones is available to buy now.

About Sam Taylor-Pye

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Image: Sam Taylor-Pye / Authoright PR
Sam Taylor-Pye grew up on the border between Washington state and British Columbia, Canada and currently lives in Kent in the UK. She received her BA from the Open University and has an MA in Creative Writing. This is her first published novel.

What are your thoughts on gender within fiction? Let me know in the comments below!

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