Interview with Time’s Fool, Wilfred Earl

“No-one believes in ghosts,” said Steven, and leaned back against the booth, “that was my point.”

Described by the author, Time’s Fool is a novel about monstrosity, about desire and communication. It’s about the self we present to the world and the needs we whisper to ourselves in the darkness. It is about honesty and the fear of honesty. It is about the things we refuse – refuse to say, refuse to seek, refuse to believe – because sometimes, ignoring those things is all that keeps us sane.

GenderTerror had the fortunate ability to interview Wilfred Earl about their novel, their experience marketing the novel as an out trans person to a non-LGBTQ crowd, and about crowdfunding their novel.

GenderTerror: Tell us a bit about Time’s Fool.

Wilfred: Time’s Fool is a contemporary Gothic novel in the Victorian tradition – so it is about repressed desires, the need for change, and the terror that change brings with it – but it brings those concerns and fears in to our pragmatic and postmodern world.

It is also, essentially, a dark, gripping story about what happens when a bunch of students who break into a vampire’s house and – not knowing his secret – wind up starting a friendship with him. I’ve been calling it my love song to the gothic, a queer homage to Dracula – but really its a smart, sexy, and darkly comic book for everyone who ever has wanted something more, without quite knowing what that thing might be. It’s about why we love the night, and why we fear it.

GT: What were your experiences crowdfunding the novel, especially marketing something that may not appeal to non-LGBTQ people?

W: Crowdfunding was a very interesting experience, and I’m aware that might be taken as a reference to the curse – may you live in interesting times. It was at once very frustrating, and incredibly rewarding. People were so generous, and keen to read this book, and it felt awful constantly dogging people who you knew had a lot of stuff going on in their lives.

Talking of stuff going on in people’s lives – during the crowdfunding process I also transitioned, socially and made the first steps towards medical transition. I’d come out as non-binary about 6 months before signing to Unbound, and the two things happened very much simultaneously. I absolutely would recommend no-one try to replicate this.  Ever. It was a very foolish move. Just from a logistical perspective – it’s difficult if you’re simultaneously trying to persuade people to buy a book a written by Alys Earl, while getting them to call the person who’s written it Wilfred.

I also worried that being open and out about being transgender might ‘put off’ potential supporters. Time’s Fool is a horror story before it’s a queer story. It didn’t really occur to me when I was writing it that having only one out of the three leads being straight might be an issue for some readers. I don’t like this tendency to corral off any books with prominent LGBTQ characters, or queer relationships, as some whole separate genre of fiction, regardless of the content of the book. LGBTQ people are human – their stories are human stories, and their presence in genre shouldn’t be anything remarkable.

However, it was only when I started referring to it as a queer book, that I started getting a more favourable response from agents and publishers (and eventually the contract with Unbound.) At the same time, I didn’t feel comfortable promoting it as an actual queer book – rather than a book by a queer person – when it started funding. I got about 75% of my supporters through Twitter – which is also my personal account – and I worried sometimes that the volume of LGBTQ rights stuff, trans rights stuff, was alienating people who might otherwise buy the book.This went so far that – when we filmed the promotional video for the Unbound site, I made the deliberate decision to look more feminine that I was actually comfortable with in order to ‘reassure’ potential supporters.

But as the funding campaign went on – in light of world events, especially the discussions about reform to the Gender Recognition Act, and the rampant transphobia this has unleashed in the UK – I realised that I just couldn’t stay silent. That, actually, I didn’t want people who were homophobic, transphobic, biphobic, reading my work. That if their bigotry stopped it being funded, then so be it.

GT: You mentioned you started transitioning while trying to get the book published. Was the book something that helped you finally take that step for yourself?

W: No, it was more my lifelong inability to do just the one thing at once.

They both came about at the same time because they were two facets of the same set of decisions I was making. I’d known I wasn’t cis for a fair while, and I had come out, and sort of drifted to a more masculine presentation. I was also trying to get back in to selling Time’s Fool after what had been a rough few years on the personal front – but I was hesitating about, well, everything really. I didn’t want to commit, I didn’t have much confidence in myself, or my work, and I was just existing in this very modest, careful way.

And then David Bowie died – which might sound like a non sequitur, but was a huge thing for a lot of us – and someone posted on Twitter that pointed out that if David Bowie had been mortal all along, then the rest of us had no fucking excuse. It put a lot of stuff in to perspective for me, so, I made this resolution that I was going to live without apology, and “do every awesome thing” that came my way. One side of this was not asking what would make life bearable, but asking what would actually make it good – which is what lead me to transitioning – and I stopped passing up on chances that came my way. So, when Scott put out a call for pitches for new fiction, I just went for it.

GT: How long have you been planning this novel? Was it something that you’ve been trying to tackle for a while?

W: I had the idea when I was still at college, which was back in 2004, maybe 2005? But it was 2009 before I wrote the first draft, and it really turned in to what it is now between then and 2012. After that, it was just more polishing, and working out how to pitch it (and polishing the pitch, which was probably the hardest bit of the whole process). I’ve been working on a lot of other projects since then, and going different places with my work – coming back to it properly for the structural edit was a bit like rediscovering why I’d written it in the first place.

GT: Since you’ve written both short stories and now a novel, what one did you find more difficult?

W: The short stories were way more difficult! I really struggle with short fiction, and much prefer the pace of a novel – you can really get in to creating a world and a set of characters. It’s a hike, rather than a sprint, which means you can meander a bit, dawdle over the scenery and go unexpected places. Plus, editing is my favourite bit of writing, so I can always cut it down if it gets too long – whereas with a short story, I need to stay focused and on track, or it just never gets finished.

GT: What do you feel makes horror something that draws you as an LGBTQ person?

W: I suppose what drew me to gothic horror was that its sense of unease, that sense that beneath this seemingly perfect picture was something subtly wrong, was already intensely familiar to me. That there was a tension underlying everything, that there were things not being said, things I couldn’t say. There was a hidden, awful secret at the centre of my world which I seemed to spend my whole life warding off, which affected everything around me – but no-one ever spoke about it.

As I grew older, though, I found myself drawn to monsters – specifically to the kind of monsters who had explicitly rejected – or been rejected by – their societies: vampires, magic workers, psychics, the hungry ghosts on the edges of the real, or the tragic ones who just wanted to be heard. I found it very easy to have ‘sympathy for the devil’ as it were. The world had made me feel like a secret monster and, in fiction, monsters are powerful- even kinda sexy. I felt very much on their side.

GT: How does this all tie into Time’s Fool?

W: With Time’s Fool what I wanted to do was interrogate the idea of monstrosity, and our relationship to it. Vampirism is a pretty well established metaphor both for sexuality and – specifically – non-normative sexuality, and I was frustrated by the way people try to dodge around the morality of it in a way that doesn’t do justice either to the metaphor and the real world equivalent. In making vampires straightforwardly evil, you are dismissing the reason marginalised groups identify with them. But in making vampires ‘good’, are you making the point that my sexuality is not harmful and the prejudice is unfounded? Or are you saying that my identity is fine, so long as I don’t act on my “perverse urges”?

I feel, like a lot of LGBTQ people, that I identify with the monster because it is disruptive to a world that told me I didn’t exist. And I fear this tendency to make vampires ‘good’ is an attempt to contain those disruptive qualities  – that deviance, that danger, that threat to the status quo.

At the same time, though, I appreciate that vampirism isn’t the best metaphor for queerness. They are literally killers, parasites on humanity. There is a difference between trying to “smash the cis-tem” and living off human blood for 600 years. So, with Time’s Fool, I wanted to take that metaphor and stretch it until it broke. I wanted to write something about our relationship with our urges – emotional and physical, human and monstrous – about why and how we lie, to others and to ourselves, and the harm that causes.

 Time’s Fool can be found on Unbound. The novel is set to be published in August 2018. Wilfred’s series of short stories, Scars on Sound, can be found on Lulu.

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