Video Review of Grand Theft Octo

Last year, cake-loving author J. Cassidy took the time to make a smashing video review of my first novel Mervyn vs. Dennis. As you’ll hopefully already know, I’ve recently released my second novel Grand Theft Octo and J. Cassidy has done another fabulous video review. In discussing the story, she describes main character Jonathan Doe as “One of the most fascinating characters I’ve ever come across.” I guess you can’t say better than that! As those of you who’ve read the book will know, Jonathan Doe is certainly an enigmatic man (as his name would suggest), but it’s fantastic to hear someone have such a strong opinion toward him. Here’s the video:

J. Cassidy has just released her latest novel Sweet-Pea’s Thief, a fantastic and original story which is available at Amazon right now.

 

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Grand Theft Octo – Promo Gallery

Promo images of Grand Theft Octo

To promote the release of my latest novel Grand Theft Octo, I’ve been sharing promotional images on my Facebook and Twitter accounts. Here they all are, along with their quotes, in one handy place:

Jonathan Doe - Professional Octopus Teaser

“Octopus owners until now have been thinking, ‘My octopus is sluggish, sure, but they’re docile creatures.’ Bullshit, I’m saying, you’ve just got a boring octopus in need of a good teasing. Listen, don’t expect it to turn into the sea life of the party. It won’t somersault from the tank like a dolphin or do a flawless impression of Sir Michael Caine, but after I’m done you’ll own a livelier, friendlier and more interesting invertebrate. And you’ll notice the difference within twenty-four hours.” – Jonathan Doe, Professional Octopus Teaser

Herbert Malt from Grand Theft Octo

“Teasing an octopus is nothing so vulgar as a bullfight. It’s an act of precision, the threading of a needle. I began my training by convincing cats to climb down trees just by frowning at them.” – Herbert Malt, Apprentice Octopus Teaser

Holly Sarashina from Grand Theft Octo

“I’ve rather wear a mask than live in a hall of mirrors.” – Holly Sarashina, Lady of the Dead

Hank Butterfield from Grand Theft Octo

“Hank Butterfield is smiling right at me. Against my own wishes, my heart skips a beat. I’d always assumed I was immune to being star-struck but all I want to do is giggle like a teenage girl and throw my knickers at him. He bids his crowd farewell and strolls toward us while sniffing his martini. I’m so excited about him coming over that I feel weirdly violated.” – Jonathan Doe, Reluctant Hank Butterfield Fan

Harry Jenkins from Grand Theft Octo

“I try to remember the Harry I knew, the man who met insults with wounded smiles, so terrified of treading on toes that he ended up sidling through life. Who are we, truly, deep down? The child we outgrow or the shell we become?” – Jonathan Doe, Professional Plant Killer

Rupert Whistler from Grand Theft Octo

“That’s it. Down the steps, one at a time. Not too slowly, not too snappy. If you get too snappy, I might snap, and I can be a very scary gator.” – Rupert Whistler, Man of Leisure

Lewis Caputo from Grand Theft Octo

“The only way to never get whiplash is to never slow down.” – Lewis Caputo, Hotdog in the Centre

Gertrude Pot Plant from Grand Theft Octo

“Caring for plants is a delicate form of starvation. Of water, food and affection. You can’t give one species too much attention. It’s a process of balance. You shall be Libra, holding the scales.” – Harry Jenkins, Lord of the Plants

Green Man from Grand Theft Octo

“You know when you wait at the side of the road for the little green man to appear? Well today we are the green man. Nothing is going to stop us. Beep beep.” – Jonathan Doe, Professional Octopus Kidnapper

If those pictures and quotes have piqued your curiosity, Grand Theft Octo is available in ebook ($2.99) and paperback ($7.99) from Amazon right now. You can also read the first couple of chapters for free there too. Do you have a favourite image or quote from the gallery? Are you even more baffled about what the book’s actually about? Here’s a brief synopsis, to help you find your way:

When Jonathan Doe is fired from his office job for stealing too much stationery, he becomes an entrepreneur of businesses the world has never seen. After a disastrous start at freelance taxidermy, he moves onto professional octopus teasing. Will he fail again or make his fortune? Is he really a professional or just a con artist? Desperate to succeed, his plans become more outlandish, from stealing theme park mascots at gunpoint to fighting deranged restaurant tycoons. As the enemies he makes seek revenge, both his life and business are threatened, until his world spirals into mayhem and violence. Set in the fictional city of Vestibue, England, Grand Theft Octo is a wild and hilarious ride that strikes at the heart of aspirational culture.

Grand Theft Octo – What is Octopus Teasing?

Jonathan Doe - Professional Octopus Teaser

Meet Jonathan Doe

I’ve just released my latest novel, Grand Theft Octo. It’s available in paperback and ebook from Amazon worldwide. The narrator, Jonathan Doe, becomes the world’s most unusual businessman after being fired from his mundane office job for stealing too much stationery. First off, he tries his hand at professional plant-watering. This is soon followed by freelance taxidermy. Due to his irrational hatred of plants, and total lack of experience at taxidermy, neither go well. That’s when he has a brainwave: professional octopus teasing. Doe believes this unconventional (and some might say utterly insane) business idea will earn him a fortune from the affluent and gullible. To find out if he succeeds, you’ll have to read the book, but let’s hear from Doe himself about his business plan.

Professional Octopus Teaser

I’m opening gaps in markets that don’t even exist. When someone reads my advert, the gap opens up. They think: Perhaps my octopus needs to be teased. It floats in its tank forlornly, and maybe it needs pizzazz.

Clear the stage, enter Jonathan Doe.

People never stay happy for long. If someone’s dream is owning a pet octopus, they’ll feel like a king on the day they bring their own home. But soon they get peckish. They browse catalogues for nifty treats to buy their beloved invertebrate: a bigger tank, a fifty-kilo Tufa rock with artificial corals, a little waterproof tuxedo to wear for Sunday best.

Octopus teasing costs a premium. It’s deluxe, a luxury. No one else provides it, so I’ve already got the monopoly. I’m going at 360 different angles. It’s therapeutic for the octopus, a treat, a way to say sorry. I need to get word on the octopus circuit, work an interview into Regional Aquatic and come out with this sort of stuff: “It’s like a massage for your octopus, based on scientific research and new understanding of their anatomy.”

Everything’s on its mark. I’m going to make a fortune. According to my research, octopi are rather dull. Many only sneak out of their corners for meals while others get scared at the drop of a hat and fart out a payload of ink. Octopus owners until now have been thinking: My octopus is sluggish, sure, but they’re docile creatures. Bullshit, I’m saying, you’ve just got a boring octopus in need of a good teasing. Listen, don’t expect it to turn into the sea life of the party. It won’t somersault from the tank like a dolphin or do a flawless impression of Sir Michael Caine, but after I’m done you’ll own a livelier, friendlier and more interesting invertebrate. And you’ll notice the difference within twenty-four hours.

I’m not planning to scam anyone. If you look for a difference, you see a difference. It’s tabloid astrology. You see what you want and ignore the rest. “Wow!” people gasp after reading their star sign. “I do have money trouble!” Let’s get it straight, nobody’s a prophet. You’re not the only chump who’s short on cash and matters of the heart are always convoluted. So let Jonathan Doe read your sign. You’ve got a boring octopus and I’m here to jazz it up. “I’ve just had my octopus teased,” you explain, “and this morning it span like a top while changing colour.” All octopi do that, you fool. It’s nothing to do with me. Coincidence, people. There’s gold in them hills.

Michael Caine With Octopus

Is Octopus Teasing Right for You?

Clearly, Doe talks the talk. Whether octopus teasing is a worthwhile service or it’s simply his eloquence and verve that attracts customers is one of the main questions posed by the book. Doe is a showman as much as a salesman. He sells things to people they never knew they needed. Some are delighted by this, others furious. As you can see from the above extract, octopus teasing itself is a satire of aspirational culture. It mocks both the consumers who are so easily duped and the cynical advertisers who make us want their products. Throughout the story, the reader wonders whether Doe is really just in it for the money or if he’s a misunderstood artist hiding behind the posture of a conman.

If you enjoyed this edited extract of Grand Theft Octo and would like to see Jonathan Doe in action, I hope you’ll consider buying the book or reading the sample chapters which are available at Amazon.

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Writing Tips: The Author as God

The Author as God by Niels Saunders

Don’t mess with Zeus

As an author, you are god to your characters. No matter their religious beliefs, when your characters pray to their own gods, they are really praying to an empty sky. You, as god, decide which prayers to answer and which to ignore. Likewise, if your characters are atheists, you choose whether to fulfil or crush their irreligious hopes and dreams. As authors, we play god, and we have to choose what kind of god we’ll be. Will we be a vengeful and interventionist Old Testament style deity? Or will we be a caring and peaceful god who loves their characters like their own children? The choice you make will make a huge impact on the style, tone and content of your story, so it’s wise to consider what kind of god you’ll be before you start writing.

Playing God by the Rules

First off, you need ground rules. In my writing, as god, I have control over luck, the weather and coincidences. This means if a character goes to a casino, it’s entirely up to me whether they win or lose. Likewise, I decide if it’s sunny or rainy. This is where John Ruskin’s pathetic fallacy comes into play. We can use the weather to mirror a character’s emotions or we can use it ironically as a contrast. It’s something of a cliché to have a broken-hearted character walk through rainy streets but it doesn’t have to be so dramatic. A depressed character, for example, is more likely to notice the grey clouds in the sky than the warm and pleasant breeze on their face.

Don’t Reveal Yourself

As god, you have a responsibility not to reveal yourself. Imagine having a character who won the lottery ten weeks in a row. Both your character and your reader wouldn’t believe it. By fixing the odds irresponsibly, you’ve broken the reader’s suspension of disbelief and also likely driven your character insane. They might, understandably, start to believe they’ve been blessed by a higher power. This would cause them to act irrationally and doubt the very order of the universe itself. This could make a good starting off point for a story but you’d have to balance all that good luck with something else to satisfy the reader’s desire for order. If a character prays, they are actually praying to you. If you choose to answer back, you’ll have to accept the consequences.

Telling a Good Story

What does a good story typically need? Conflict. As god, it’s your job to engineer situations whereby characters will find themselves entrenched in conflict. This is where it starts getting tricky to be a benevolent god. If you grant all your characters’ wishes, your story will be over. Therefore, you have to take a step back and allow your characters to achieve them on their own. Unfortunately, happiness is rarely interesting for long. To tell a compelling story, we need our characters to struggle and suffer. For the greater good of your story, you have to be cruel to be kind. As always, though, it’s a balance. Be too cruel and the reader may become so depressed they can’t even finish your book.

The Power of Free Will

As a god, you have a lot of power, but you also have your limits. Never force your characters to do things they don’t want to. It’s tempting to do this if you have a great idea and want the character to fulfil it, but I can guarantee one thing: if you allow your characters to make their own decisions, they’ll do something more interesting than what you had planned. If you force your godly will upon your characters, there’s a good chance your characters will revolt and you’ll suffer from writer’s block. Throw as many obstacles in their path as you want but never influence their will. If you want to change their mind, try doing it obliquely through metaphors and coincidences. In this way, your characters’ interaction with their god (you) may well mirror your own interaction with God (if you’re a believer).

Do You Believe in Fate?

If you’ve sketched out your story in a plan, you may have plotted the deaths of certain characters. In my experience, these rarely change. This might contradict what I said above about free will but if you’ve decided a certain character is fated to die, it’s likely you’ve foreshadowed that death and made it such an integral part of the story that they simply have to die. This is one place where, as an author, you can make death mean more than it does in real life. Whereas death in our own world often seems random, pointless and cruel, in our stories, death is a narrative device to drive or resolve conflict. Have fun killing your characters but make sure it means something.

Authors Work in Mysterious Ways

As writers we are bound to the conventions of storytelling. Readers expect mysteries to be revealed and conflicts to be resolved. As the author, it’s up to you choose if you’re a fickle god or not. Will you punish the good guy and reward the bad? Will the wishes you grant be double-edged swords? A lot of it is guided by the kind of story we want to tell, whether moralistic or nihilistic. For the sake of a good story, I tend to put my characters through the wringer. On more than one occasion, I’ve had characters directly curse me, as their god, for the situations I’ve engineered. The weird thing is, I adore them all. My characters are like my kids. Even though I love them, I want them to have compelling stories, so I make bad things happen to them (which I wouldn’t wish upon my real life kids).

What Kind of God Are You?

Are you benevolent? Malevolent? An interventionist? Do you agree that characters should have their own free will? Let me know in the comments!

Update: Here’s a great  piece of flash fiction from mythicalmusingsblog that was inspired by this post!

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20 Questions ~ Chapter 3

Here’s 20 questions about me via the very talented Evie Gaughan’s blog.

Evie Gaughan

book_nerd1

Next up for the quick-fire round of 20 questions is newcomer Niels Saunders.  The most important thing you need to know about Niels? Do Not Challenge This Man To A Chili Eating Competition!  You will lose.  And if you want to find out why he’s holding a pineapple, you’ll have to read his book.  Take it away Niels!

Niels Saunders, Author of Mervyn vs. Dennis ‘God I love a good pineapple’

1. Hemingway famously said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” Where the hell do you find the motivation to stick at it?
Once I invent a character, they’re extremely pushy. They demand to have their story told and won’t let me rest. Writing is the only way I can get them to shut up. Stories are like secrets : they demand to be told. As storytellers, it’s our duty to tell them the best we…

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Overcoming Writer’s Block: Which Type Do You Have?

How to deal with writer's block

The first step in overcoming writer’s block is knowing what type you’re suffering from. That’s right: there are many kinds of writer’s block and they all need different remedies. The classic image of an author scowling at their typewriter with a blank sheet of paper is a common enough problem but writers are just as likely to get blocked in the middle of a story as they are at the beginning. So let’s go over all the different types and how to overcome them.

Starting a New Chapter

This one can be a real pain. It might be the very first scene in a book, a chapter from the middle or even the epilogue. You know what’s meant to happen but, for some maddening reason, you can’t start the chapter. So you try to write regardless but it feels awkward and trite. Then you start to wonder if you’ve got the whole story wrong. Self-doubt overwhelms you and you question why the hell you chose to write a novel in the first place. Don’t give in to despair, though. When you’re suffering from writer’s block at the start of the chapter, it’s not the story that’s the problem but the storytelling.

The chances are you’ve started the scene at the wrong point in time. Your location and choice of characters are probably already spot on, you’ve just picked the wrong moment to get the action going. My advice: arrive late. If you’re having trouble, try starting the chapter in the middle of the action. You can easily explain how you got there through exposition or even a mini flashback. In all the times I’ve had writer’s block at the start of a chapter, I’ve never once resolved it by starting the scene earlier.

I actually used this technique in Mervyn vs. Dennis. The narrative begins in the middle of an awkward job interview. I could’ve started much earlier, when Mervyn (our narrator) was eating his breakfast or printing out his CV. This would’ve been effective to build anticipation before the interview began and to also get a clearer first impression of Dennis. Instead, I followed my instincts. This is simply how the story wanted to be told. Although the reader is thrown in the deep end, it’s into a scene that anyone can relate to. We’ve all endured job interviews. They’re easy to imagine and the reader understands the power dynamic without any explanation.

One word of warning with this method. If you arrive too late in a scene, especially in the first chapter where none of your characters are established, you might end up resorting to an infodump to explain how you got there. Infodumps, by their nature, are more interesting later in a novel when the reader is already invested in a character and wants to learn more about their history. Just think about Snape’s massive infodump in the final Harry Potter. Rowling actually paused the climactic battle to have an infodump flashback and completely got away with it. They can work in the first chapter but they have to be entertaining. Faulkner’s great at infodumps simply because his characters’ histories are so fascinating that you want to know as much about them as possible.

William Faulkner, Master of the Infodump

William Cuthbert Faulkner – Master of the Infodump

Stuck in the Middle

I’ve suffered from this form of writer’s block too many times to count. It happens when you’re in the middle of a story or novel and suddenly the words dry up. Everything you write feels clichéd, futile and wrong. For me it tends to manifest as encroaching despair. I dread the thought of writing and, when I’m working on the scene in question, I’m overwhelmed with pointlessness. I used to misinterpret it as self-doubt but I eventually realised it was my mind’s indirect way of telling me I’d done something wrong in the story.

My most common mistake is forcing a character to do something they don’t want to. That makes them sound petulant. And in a way, they are. Characters have free will (to an extent) and they don’t take kindly to being ordered about. That’s exactly why everything you write feels pointless when you’re suffering from writer’s block. The characters are no longer authentic–they’re doing what you want, not what they want.

This is both a good and bad thing. If you’ve carefully planned your narrative and suddenly a character no longer wants to follow it, what the hell’s going to happen to the rest of the story? In my experience, however, they rarely wander far astray. And the greatest thing of all is this: if you let them choose their own direction, they always take you somewhere much more interesting than where you’d already planned. In a way, they’re helping you discover what your narrative is really meant to be. Often, your characters understand your own story better than you do.

Finding a Solution

So how do you figure out the problem? To be honest, it’s tricky. The first thing you have to do is pinpoint where the writing starts to feel wrong. You may have to backtrack 100, 1000 or even 10,000 words. Find the last place in your text that you’re completely happy with. The chances are that your mistake is somewhere around there. Once you’ve figured out the area, it’s time to work out what’s wrong. This is the hardest part of all. In the past I’ve spent entire weeks mulling over a certain scene that felt off. They’ve typically been solved by light bulb moments just before I fall asleep or while I’m taking a dump shower. The best thing to do is imagine the scene in your mind. Play it over and over and experiment. Try as many variations as you can. Think about what’s happening from your characters’ perspectives, even those that have no narrative viewpoint in your story. Imagine what they’re thinking and feeling and how they could react.

These problems often arise when characters are being reticent. In one scene from The Papyrus Empire, two characters are trying to get information off each other while pretending not to. They both know too much and are trying to drop hints without fully showing their hands. It was an utter nightmare to write and I got seriously blocked several times in a row. Because the characters were being so evasive and ironic, it was difficult to imagine what exactly they should say and do. In the end it just took time and experimentation. If you want to make things easy on yourself, you can always just have straightforward characters who always speak their mind.

Over-complicating

Because we know our characters so well, it’s easy to get caught up in the minutiae of their feelings and motivations. As such, you’ll sometimes find yourself utterly overwhelmed by the scale of the task in hand. This can paralyse you and lead to a writer’s block it’s hard to escape from. When I say complicated, I don’t mean the labyrinthine plot of a neo-noir mystery. The emotions of a married couple can be just as complex as a twisty-turny thriller. If you know your characters well enough, and you’re prepared to look deep into their hearts, you’ll know exactly what makes them tick, both consciously and unconsciously. All this is great for building believable and interesting characters, but bearing so much information in mind can be a burden for the writer.

How best to resolve it? In short: simplify. If you’re ever tangled up in knots, you don’t have to explain your way out with clunky exposition. There’s always a simple solution if you’re prepared to look. Don’t settle for deus ex machinas–your reader might not forgive you. The trick is to find the easy solution while also avoiding plotholes. In Mervyn vs. Dennis, I always knew I wanted Dennis to gatecrash Mervyn’s party. That alone would’ve been easy enough but I needed Dennis to arrive at a certain time. No matter how hard I thought, I couldn’t come up with a believable way that Dennis would arrive on cue. The more I tried to explain his lateness, the more it sounded like I was trying to dig myself out of a plothole.

But then I had a brainwave. I was thinking too much about Dennis. The answer, in fact, was in the secondary characters. Suffering from the fear, Mervyn’s brother Cecil invites Dennis’s ‘sister’ Glenda to cheer himself up. Being the busybody that he is, Dennis intercepts the message and arrives in her place. This way, everyone acts naturally. Additionally, we learn that Dennis sleeps in the same bed as Glenda, giving the reader an extra glimpse into his creepy private life. It’s natural to focus on your main characters but if you ever get caught up in over-complications, think about your secondary characters and how they might be able to help.

A Lack of Ideas

Thankfully, this is one form of writer’s block I’ve almost never struggled with. Right now, I’ve got at least five novels planned out that I could be working on. I’ve never suffered from a lack of ideas, just a lack of time. But if you’re sitting at your computer sighing at that blinking cursor, the best thing you can do is something else. Writers have their own way of looking at the world. We tend to notice things that other people don’t. So if you’ve run out of ideas, it’s time to go out and get noticing. You don’t have to go skydiving or visit a gallery. Even a trip to the supermarket is a potential goldmine of ideas. The most important thing is to look. Steal ideas from the world. You might even have some fun!

It’s easy to blame mobile phones. All in all, I think they’re rather useful, but they’ve also stopped us from having contemplative moments. These days, when people are waiting for the bus, they no longer stare into space. Instead, they whip out their mobile and check Facebook or Twitter for ten minutes. Although waiting for the bus is tedious and painful, those quiet moments when you’re alone with your thoughts are invaluable for solving writing problems. It’s why so many people have great ideas in the shower. It’s a form of meditation where your body acts out a routine, allowing your mind to wander, contemplate life’s disappointments and invent bestselling consumer products.

Instead of sitting down and trying to write a scene from scratch, a great way to come up with ideas is to make up synopses. It’s a challenge I set myself after I finished The Papyrus Empire: writing the synopses for five entirely new novels. They were super cheesy blurbs, full of portentous clichés and dramatic tropes, but one of them ended up becoming Mervyn vs. Dennis. A couple of the others aren’t so bad as well and might even blossom into real novels one day.

Other Writer’s Block Solutions

If you’re suffering from writer’s block and none of my suggestions have helped, it’s not time to abandon all hope just yet. When I’m faced with a baffling scene where nothing seems to work, I print out the section and rewrite it in pen onto a fresh sheet of paper. It’s amazing how often this works. Word processors are great because you can write so quickly–almost at the speed your mind is working at–but sometimes your mind works better when it takes its time. The slower and more deliberate technique of writing by hand allows you to consider each word carefully. Through writing by hand, you’re more connected to the words in a tactile way. Away from the constant distractions and reminders of a computer, all you’ve got is your pen and your mind. It’s you vs. the words, and it works better than you’d think.

Do you have someone to talk to? Even if they don’t understand the details of your story, often just by explaining the scene to someone else, you’ll see it from another angle and realise what the problem is. Thinking to yourself too long can become an echo chamber. All you hear are your own thoughts and anxieties repeated back. By explaining the situation to somebody else, however, you have to reword it in a way so they can get a handle on the plot and the scene. This summarising allows you to see its component parts and spot the weak link.

Other people might tell you to go and write something else. If that words for you, then great. For me, though, it’s impossible. Once I’ve started writing something, I can’t work on something else (unless it’s just editing). They might also tell you to go and take a break. There’s truth in this, of course, but you have to make sure you’ve taking the right kind of break. Try to immerse yourself in as much culture as possible. Highbrow or lowbrow, it doesn’t matter. Your mind will make connections no matter what its consuming. You’re just as likely to find your answer by watching a game show as you are at the opera.

Overcoming Writer’s Block

While some authors never get writer’s block at all, others suffer from it pathologically. In my opinion, the more you care about a story and the characters, the more likely you are to experience writer’s block. If you’re in the business of churning out cheesy thrillers full of plotholes and cardboard characters, writer’s block won’t even slow you down. If you’re suffering from writer’s block, quite simply it means you care. You want to write something exceptional that makes perfect sense, both in terms of emotion and the narrative. Good for you!

Do you have any tips for dealing with writer’s block? Has this blog helped you to overcome a problem? Let me know in the comments below.

George R R Martin Writer's Block

Good luck with The Winds of Winter, George. Take all the time you need!

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Read a Funny Scene from My Book for Free

Funny scene from Mervyn vs Dennis

Despairing about Brexit? Homework ate your dog? Liven up your morning with a funny scene from my novel Mervyn vs. Dennis:

When I was fourteen, I came out to my dad as a joke. I was testing his love, I suppose, to see his reaction, whether he’d hug me or throw me out. He did neither, in fact. Life is rarely dramatic. One evening after dinner, he was sitting in the kitchen with his biscuits and his paper. The Daily Mail and custard creams: middle-market bigotry and hydrogenated fats. I sat opposite him and pretended to fidget. Without looking up, he dunked a biscuit in his tea, engrossed by an article.

“Dad?”

Still reading, he reached out, offering the soggy custard cream.

“Dad, I’m gay.”

He finally looked up, biscuit still extended. “As in happy?”

I sighed. “As in gay. As in I don’t like girls. I always have been gay, I always will be gay. I hope you don’t mind.”

The biscuit fell in half and splatted on the table. “I knew it.”

“You what?”

“Is this why you’re so mad about Schwarzenegger? I thought you were into explosions, not muscles.” He leaned to whisper. “They do it up the bum, you know.”

My mum wandered in, wrapped in her nightie.

“Mervyn’s a bender,” he said.

She frowned. “Like Uri Geller?”

“Not spoons, you bint. He just told me he’s a fudge packer.”

“Oh.” She grabbed some kitchen roll and cleaned up the biscuit. “Is that why he’s so into baking?”

“That’s all you’ve got to say?”

“Well Freddie Mercury was a poofter, and you’ve got all his albums. That’s why I call you Mr Fahrenheit.” She put her hand on my shoulder. “Are you sure about this, Mervyn?” She leaned to whisper. “They do it up the bum, you know.”

“Enough with the bums.”

“Maybe it’s a phase. Have you found a boyfriend? Don’t date a Frenchman, whatever you do.”

“Well if you have,” Dad said, “don’t bring him here. There’ll be no bumming in my house.”

Mum went bright red. “No. Absolutely not.”

“Do you really call him Mr Fahrenheit?” I asked.

My younger brother Cecil strode in. “What’s going on?”

I put my head in my hands. “I’m gay.”

He burst out laughing. “You wish.”

Dad over-dunked a biscuit and it plopped into his tea. “For crying out loud.”

“He’s only saying that because he can’t get a girlfriend.” Ever precocious, my twelve year old brother had already dated half the girls in his class. “Go look at the jazz mags under his bed. There’s not a single todger in them.”

“He’s right,” Dad said. “They’re filthy.”

“I thought I threw those out,” Mum said.

I slammed my fist on the table. “What are you all doing looking under my bed?”

“Does this mean you’re not gay?” Mum said. “I was just warming to the idea.”

“I’m gay,” I said. “I like baking muffins and watching Terminator 2.”

“Nobody’s gay,” Dad said. “I’ve decided. There’s enough going round as it is.”

And that was the day I was forced to come out, by my own family, as a heterosexual.

(Mervyn vs. Dennis is available to buy on Amazon for only £1.99)