Philip Larkin called Hull ‘the end of the line.’ That’s set to change as Hull will be the 2017 City of Culture. The writer in me found a creative home in this misty peninsula cut off from the mainland. My heart warms when I get off the train to see the bronze statue of the poet, set to rush for a train, coat flapping behind him.
My mentor and PhD supervisor, Martin Goodman MC’d the evening, which opened LGBT history month on Hull University campus. It was novel to sit looking out at the audience. Through the years of my PhD I have attended many a Larkin Centre event. Dr David Bagchi, my second supervisor and one of the historical experts on 4th Century theology essential for achieving plausibility in Rufius, was in the audience.
Ed Hurst, PhD student interviewed me. I was surprised to find out after the interview that it was his first Larkin Centre interview. His chatty, informal style instantly put me at my ease – although he wasted no time cutting to the chase and asking about writing ‘sex’ in Rufius. Click here for clip about writing sex in fiction:
It was the first time I had read from Rufius. Although I was comfortable talking about the process of writing and researching the novel, I was nervous about pulling off the character of Rufius – somehow a woman being a man who’s being a women seemed a tall order. I imagine some of the comedy was lost, but the audience laughed at the comic bits, which was encouraging.
The audience questions were interesting. Dr Philip Crispin (who had years before delivered his version of Rufius when the novel was in progress) asked about the role of women in the novel, and in the early church. There’s evidence to suggest women has roles of teachers and were influential in the early Gnostic Christian tradition, and although the novel is not didactic (I stripped out the narrative voice as much as possible), some women who belong to the ‘Ophite’ sect (the Snake People in the novel) have high status roles in the story. This certainly appears to be the case from the surviving literary evidence.
Fellow author, Dr Brian Lavery asked, “do you think Rufius will send Daily Mail reader heads spinning?” I joked, “I hope so!” I think the really dangerous element in the novel is Rufius, a rogue with highly questionable ethics by modern standards. The danger comes from putting him in the position of hero, or anti-hero. Rufius would be delighted I’m sure if he made Daily Mail readers’ heads spin. I can imagine what he’d call them, but let’s not lower the tone – you can read the book for that.
After the interview, Ed thanked me for writing the novel, and said that reading Rufius had given him light relief from some tough news he’d received that week, which gave the effort and long hours of writing extra meaning. Now the book lives and breathes and as Rufius finds his audience, I realise how Rufius might give back a little of the magic that I took from books as a child.
It was a first to sign copies too – I’m usually in the autograph queue. Rufius wishes you all happy reading, by Bacchus!
Writing Rufius has been a labour of love, and I am deeply grateful for the patience of Martin Goodman, my mentor and to Barbican Press for taking a punt on a novel partly inspired by a curious Latin insult.