A warm welcome to today’s Spotlight Author, A. Zukowski.
Thank you for joining us and sharing more about yourself.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I’ve lived in too many places to name, but I consider Manchester, UK, my home town. I grew up roaming the gay village, which was a red light district. They tried to clean it up, so it’s not that bad now. Later, I worked in London and studied screenwriting. After many more moves, I’ve come back to London where I’m based now.
What would people be most surprised to know about you?
Ah. If you meet me in person, you’ll think I’m totally, absolutely ordinary and boring. ^_^
How do you relax?
You know, that thing people do…
Do you have a favorite quote (either from your own books or one’s you’ve read)?
I’m with you in Rockland where we are great writers on the same dreadful typewriter ~ Allen Ginsberg, Howl
How long have you been writing and what made you fall in love with writing?
As a screenwriter, I found myself creating things that simply wouldn’t sell! Everyone kept telling me to write something else, write what I knew. When I did that, it never lived up to what they thought my life was about. Well, the only person who never judged me that way was my mentor, who’s a wonderful producer, and who used to work for the BBC. So, about three, four years ago, I started writing fiction, fully expecting none of it to see the light of day. I dabbled with blogging. But when I finished Jay and Sasha’s story, I really wanted to share it.
Did you always want to be a writer?
No. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my writing. I still don’t.
What are your ambitions for your writing career?
Do I have a writing career now? The reaction I’ve been receiving for my debut novel has been a surprise to me, and it’s encouraging. I’d like to carry on writing, and to find readers who get it. I have no particular ambition as a writer.
What’s your favorite part of writing?
The emotional journey. It’s a bit clichéd, isn’t it? But seriously, my stories are always about characters. The MCs end up living in my head for months on end. They love, they hate, they self-doubt and they make big fucking mistakes. I like that.
Why did you choose to write GLBTQ romance? Why not another genre?
Ha! I think one of the recent reviews states that my book’s not a romance. I tell stories, and I try not to fit them into genres. I’ve been told by publishers that they can’t consider my books because people die(!) or they don’t have sex scenes etc. I do give my characters love and a happy ending, though, because they’ve earned it.
Do you write any other genre?
I think that’s why LGBTQ romance is useful because you can combine it with other genres. After the London Stories series, I’ve also got several WIPs, which are part of a queer romance sci-fi series.
Describe a scene in your writing that has made you laugh or cry.
Hmmm. The child abuse in The Boy was hard to write, and I cried more than once. I didn’t want to detail it first, but my editor suggested that I really should, since it’s an important part of Sasha’s character. Of course, she was right. In fact, writing so many horrific scenes in his story was not easy. I was so depressed all the time, I can’t tell you. In case you are wondering, though, I enjoy the lighter scenes as well, and there is HEA. The MCs are both tremendous characters who can laugh about things, even when they struggle through life.
Give the readers a brief summary of your latest book.
Jay Palmer is two months away from his sixteenth birthday. He doesn’t realise how his life will be changed forever when a gang of thugs leaves a badly injured boy on his doorstep. He and his single mum Maggie nurse the stranger, who turns out to be sixteen-year-old Aleksander Zukowski, also known as Sasha. Sasha ran away from care two and half years ago. He sleeps rough, is addicted to drugs and sells himself on the streets of London to fund his habit. For the first time in his life, he has a reason to change.
Sasha confirms what Jay already knows about himself but it’s not easy for Jay to come out to his macho mates in a largely black neighbourhood. Sasha has an uphill struggle to stay clean when his past simply throws him back into the abyss.
It’s a YA gay romance about two teenagers finding love, courage and redemption on the mean streets of London.
What genre does it fall in?
A YA/NA gay romance
Share a few words about your latest book, other than the usual blurb.
At one point, I’d drifted through the Dutch cities—Utrecht, Rotterdam, Amsterdam—sleeping in shelters and hostels. Before some of these places opened for the night, we’d waited in the train stations and sometimes on the streets. It was foolhardy, but my eighteen-year-old self was fearless, and I live to tell the tale.
The Boy Who Fell to Earth comes from memories like this, and of my experiences of growing up. It’s also a dedication to some people I’ve lost. They’ve inspired me with their deep flaws, and their hope for love and acceptance.
Give us a little insight into your main characters. Who are they?
Jay’s a mixed race boy from East London. His mum’s a formidable mother figure, and they are poor, but strong people. He’s able to see through all the darkness to imagine the light. An absolutely stunning character to write. Sasha refers to Jay at one point, “I saw the little droplets of water on the fabric. They were as beautiful and pure as him.” That’s Jay.
Sasha’s basically a broken person, on the way to total self-destruction at various points of the novel. The question for me as a writer is what kind of journey he goes through, and how to get him there. How he learns that he can love another (Jay) and love himself. His story is absolutely heart-breaking. His personality is much closer to mine, so I seriously should have some counselling after finishing the novel.
Will we be seeing these characters again any time soon? Is this book part of a series?
It was not my intention to start a series, but I’ve already drafted the next book of the “London Stories series”. That’s Liam’s story. He’s Sasha’s drug addict friend who shares the squat with him. An Irish lad who ran away from home and ended up a panhandler in London. He’s going to find his own redemption in Liam for Hire. The third story in the series is a WIP at the moment, which is about Liam’s friend Chris who’s a trans/queer, bisexual man. The story will feature Chris and Alex, who’s an ex-boxer. Alex will come to terms with his sexuality, too.
Which actor would you like to see playing the lead character from your most recent book?
I have absolutely no clue! River Phoenix circa. Running on Empty as Sasha? Ah, in the recent French film Quand on a 17 ans, the main character is mixed race and he really has a great presence. Let me find the name: Corentin Fila. He’d be a perfect Jay.
Tell us a little bit about your writing style.
I don’t know if I have one! I want to touch my readers, make them feel the characters’ emotions. It was suggested to me by my mentor (see above) that I’d always have a goal when I wrote. How do I want the readers to feel at the end of the story?
What does your writing process look like?
Messy. I usually start with the characters and a setting, and let the story flow. Not being schooled in literature, I don’t consider plot till much later. I do however think as a script writer, and am aware of the dramatic arc. Then, I spend months over the editing.
When/where is your favorite time/place to write?
Night time. Too late – something like ten to two.
What genre/s do you enjoy reading in your free time?
As a reader, I don’t think about genres either, but these days I almost never read or watch anything that is heteronormative.
What was the last book you read? What did you like about it?
I am reading My Name is N by Robert Karjel, a Swedish writer. It’s a thriller and very layered, with intertwining stories happening in Indonesia, New York and an American detention centre in the Pacific. I’m enjoying it. The writing style is crisp, and the characters detailed and interesting. There was a news story when the translation came out in the USA, because some readers complained that they’d inadvertently picked it up, and hadn’t liked the fact that they were not warned about the central character’s bisexuality. Comments like that totally annoy me. The book’s working for me so far as a thriller.
Have you held any interesting jobs while you worked on your books?
Is it interesting that quite a while ago I worked with criminals (not in the sense that I robbed banks with them!)? They are great inspirations. Seriously, they, together with my own demons and all the crazies I’ve known, I have no shortage of characters I can write about for a very long time.
What hobbies do you have outside of writing?
I swim. I’m a geek who likes board games. Told you, absolutely bloody boring.
Thank you for stopping by and telling us more about yourself.
The Boy Who Fell to Earth
A gang leaves a badly injured teenager on Jay’s doorstep. Sasha is homeless, addicted to drugs and sells himself on the streets to fund his habit. Jay’s attraction to Sasha confirms his sexuality. Now he has to come out to his macho mates. Sasha needs to stay clean when his past threatens to throw him back into the abyss. Are the two boys strong enough to stay together against all odds? A YA story about hope, courage, and compassion on the mean streets of London.
“It has a force that keeps you on the edge of the seat and a grittiness that opens your eyes and makes you think.” ~ Sinfully Gay Romance Book Reviews
“I know this is one of those stories that will play on my mind long after I’ve stopped reading.” ~ Alpha Book Club
The first time Jay kisses a boy
We ended up sharing a joint again that afternoon. I carried on my one-sided conversation while he patiently listened to me, his newly cleaned hair shining in the sun. He had his back to the door frame, his eyes closed to catch the rays like he was on holidays enjoying himself, trying to get a tan. For the first time since we picked him off the front lawn, he was relaxed. I was absolutely mesmerised by the shape of his face, the lines of his nose, the vulnerability of that bruised body. I leaned forward and touched his lips with mine.
His eyes snapped open, but he didn’t seem shocked or upset.
Still. I moved away, awkwardly. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to,” I muttered.
He gazed at me, his eyes quietly assessing me. His facial expression was calm and receptive. “It’s okay.”
My eyes went wide. “Okay? Hmm.” I busied myself with a little loose thread on my top. I hadn’t even kissed a boy before and now I had done this to a stranger, someone who didn’t yet have a name. What the fuck was I doing?
He lit the joint and drew on it deeply. He breathed out, cocked his head, and looked at my face, as if he was trying to work me out. “Does your mum know you’re gay?”
I stared at him. I hadn’t considered coming out seriously. Hell, I hadn’t even come out to myself, so why would I have spoken to Ma about it? “Uh, no,” I answered.
He took another toke and passed the joint back to me. He didn’t comment further.
All my doubts evaporated. He’d acted like it was nothing special and, like he said, it was okay. Kissing a boy you found attractive was fine. I couldn’t believe I’d come out for the first time to a total stranger after kissing him.
About the Author
Zukowski is a London-based British writer who grew up in the gay village and red light district of Manchester. AZ was trained in screenwriting at the University of the Arts London; National Film & Television School and Script Factory, UK, followed by various misadventures as a film journalist, and writer and producer of short films.
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