Ely Percy, an established Scottish writer, talks to The Queerness about their soon-to-be-published novel about lesbian life for their chosen protagonist in the early noughties. It has something for everyone; whether the protagonist excites or annoys you, you’ll definitely want to find out what happens.
OK, so nothing makes me smile more than trawling bing images for hot butch women to put on the featured image …drool… and having read the preview chapters of the book, I had a number of questions for the author to answer which I think will help illuminate the protagonist’s character.
Annette: When is it set ?
Ely: Vicky Romeo Plus Joolz is set in 2001. September 21st – 19th November to be exact. The novel covers an eight-and-a-half week period in the narrator’s life where she signs up to, rehearses and performs a production of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance Of Being Earnest as part of the Les Artistes all-women theatre company.
Annette: Who is the target demographic?
Ely: Anyone who’s Scottish, anyone who lives in Scotland, anyone who’s a member of the LGBTQ+ community, anyone who likes rom-coms, or parodies or Oscar Wilde, anyone who likes coming of age and / or search for identity themes.
Although I originally wrote this book for my friends, and for my younger self, you honestly don’t have to be an LGBTQ+ person to read it because I think it has a good balance of both universal and queer-centric themes.
Annette: Do you think demographic will be able to see themselves in this book?
Ely: Yes, absolutely! This book is an unapologetically Scottish, working class, queer reply to the rom-coms of the 1980s.
Annette: When did you start writing, and what inspired you to write this novel?
Ely: I started writing for cathartic reasons when I was fifteen. I was sad and angry, and I felt misunderstood by the world, so I sent poems and letters to my favourite teen magazine at the time – Big! They were the first magazine to publish me (in January 1994) and I felt validated. I continued to write voraciously, and many more of my poems made it into print alongside my memoir Cracked (JKP, 2002).
It wasn’t until the spring of 2002, a few months after my short film Outlaws was shown as part of the Glasgay! festival, that I had the idea for Vicky Romeo Plus Joolz.
I’d just completed a series of night classes in stand-up comedy and writing for stage and screen at Strathclyde University, and I’d been working on a lesbian tragedy play – I think I called it Julia and Juliet – but my heart wasn’t in it.
Instead, I decided to write a funny lesbian love story set in Scotland, something my friends and I might pick up if we saw it in a bookshop.
I wanted to write a novel that might help young people (16+), who were coming out or still figuring out their sexuality (because I didn’t have that). I wanted it to be from the point of view of a young, Scottish, butch narrator – because this was a viewpoint I’d never seen in literature before. I also wanted to write about the underlying prejudices, the in-fighting and the political divisions that were prominent within the LGBTQ+ community at that time.
Annette: Is the character fictional or based on someone you know?
Ely: Vicky Romeo’s physical appearance and her confident demeanour were inspired by a very visibly queer young person who I first spotted in Sadie Frost’s gay bar in West George Street, Glasgow. She was lean and androgynous with bleached blond hair and chiselled cheek bones – absolutely gorgeous.
Annette: Oh yes we know people like that …. swoon….. *slaps self*…
Ely: I saw her a few times after that, strutting about the city centre (in the rain) with her John Lennon shades and her leather jacket slung over her shoulder and balancing on the hook of one finger – I had never met anyone like her before and I was absolutely fascinated.
I never intended for Vicky’s character to be anything other than fictional. She has of course been influenced by some of my own personality traits, my own hopes and desires, and by a friend that I met back at the L.I.P.S (Lesbians In Peer Support) group which was hosted by the Glasgow Women’s Library back in the early noughties. She’s definitely not a real person though.
Annette: There’s a considerable amount of specific language used such as ‘broad’ to refer to ‘women’, which is very old fashioned. What was the thinking behind the use of language?
Ely: Vicky is an unreliable narrator and aspiring actor who models herself on various incarnations of Robert De Niro; she strongly identifies with the lower social class of male portrayed in many of Martin Scorsese’s Italian-American gangster films that De Niro has starred in, and she changes her speech and mannerisms in order to reflect this.
Annette: Do you think the setting is reflective of the current lesbian scene in that part of Scotland?
Ely: It’s difficult to say whether some of the more negative attitudes portrayed in the book – such as transphobia and biphobia – are still as prevalent because I’ve not lived in Scotland for the past four and a half years, and apart from the odd night out and last year’s Pride festival, I’ve not been on the scene for about a decade. I’d like to think those things have changed for the better though.
Certainly, I’ve noticed a wider spectrum of inclusion in organisations such as LGBT Youth and LGBT Health and Wellbeing, which is great.
Also, I went to one of the Glasgow Pride events in July wearing a pink, white and blue trans flag as a cape (I’m agender), and an elderly homeless gent shouted after me as I was crossing a road: ‘I stand with the trans’. It was a lovely surprise and it gave me hope.
Annette: On a more general note, do you think generally that the lesbian scene has moved on and more inclusive than is depicted in the book? Or are we all still entrenched in the butch / femme dichotomy with bisexual women on the outside?
Ely: I think that younger people are definitely paving the way for the lesbian scene to be more inclusive.
I read a brilliant book of collected essays on bisexuality called The Bi-ble last year by Monstrous Regiment, who are a relatively new Edinburgh-based publishing company. I believe they’ve completely sold out now but they’re in the process of compiling a second volume – New Testimonials – and I can’t wait to read this.
It does sadden me, however, when I see negative comments from other LGBTQ+ folk on social media about bi or trans women. I think there’s a lot of work still to be done, but we’re slowly getting there.
Annette: It’s a bit cheeky but the obvious question: does she get Joolz into bed finally?
Ely: Haha – no spoilers allowed! If I told you, my publisher would probably kill me. I’m afraid folk will have to wait to find that out when the book comes out on March 15th.
Definitely a book not to be missed, and if you want to pre-order it, it is released on March 15 – click here.
Take a look at Ely’s website at (www.elypercy.com)
Follow Annette on Twitter (@LGBTEXEC)