It’s such a pleasure today to be joining the blog tour for The Lion Tamer Who Lost by Louise Beech, published as an e-book by Orenda Books on 15th July, with the paperback due for publication on 20th September. Described as “a devastatingly beautiful love story with a dark and tragic heart”, this book was total perfection – beautiful, breath-taking, heartbreaking, and one of the very best books I’ve read this (or any other) year. You can catch up with my review again here.
Be careful what you wish for…
Long ago, Andrew made a childhood wish, and kept it in a silver box. When it finally comes true, he wishes he hadn’t…
Long ago, Ben made a promise and he had a dream: to travel to Africa to volunteer at a lion reserve. When he finally makes it, it isn’t for the reasons he imagined…
Ben and Andrew keep meeting in unexpected places, and the intense relationship that develops seems to be guided by fate. Or is it?
What if the very thing that draws them together is tainted by past secrets that threaten everything?
A dark, consuming drama that shifts from Zimbabwe to England, and then back into the past, The Lion Tamer Who Lost is also a devastatingly beautiful love story, with a tragic heart…
For my turn on the blog tour, I have a perfect post from Louise – I’ll hand over to her, so she can tell you more…
Readers of The Lion Tamer Who Lost will see that as well as my husband Joe, the book is dedicated to my dear friend Michael Mann. He was integral to a lot of the research when the book became what it was truly meant to be – a tragic love story about couple Ben and Andrew, and not the original heterosexual relationship it had at first been. I didn’t just go to Michael because he’s gay, but because he’s a fellow creative, a dancer, a beautiful writer, and a great artist. I knew we’d be able to thrash out the themes, the sex scenes (verbally of course!), and that he’d be very open about the gay community in Hull, which is thriving but small, about his own relationship, and about modern homophobia.
How did you feel when I asked if I could speak frankly to you about life as a gay man today? Did you have reservations?
When you first came to me with the idea of a new story, like all the other times, I wanted every detail and wanted to know what happened straight away. So when you said this one you wanted to make a same-sex love story and needed to have a frank chat about what that means, I knew I wanted to help more than anything because it’s rare to find a genuine story, filled with love, passion and heartbreak that isn’t over-dramatised by Hollywood or the media. I had such strong faith in you that you would tell this kind of story with an honest heart that it deserved, and I had to talk to you and help you as much as you needed.
We both got really excited as the plot twists came to me during our talks. What did it feel like to be part of that?
I remember us sitting together and just talking through it all for hours, though it seemed only minutes. So, when we came to that plot twist, though as dramatic as it is, it felt natural for the story. I remember looking at you and knowing it was right and that we had something special. So to be part of that moment and to be a part of something I know you hold so special to you with your writing, it felt amazing.
In the book, Ben struggles to come out. Though times are different now, I wonder, how hard was it for you to tell people? How old were you etc?
I had known from a young age that I was ‘different’ and growing up you realise that difference is that you just like boys instead of girls, and that doesn’t change you as a person and that you are the same person you have always been. So, when I came to terms with that everything seemed smooth-sailing for me to tell friends. I had just left secondary school and it was just before I started college, so I was sixteen. Though as you know from the short story I wrote, I was expecting some big Hollywood-style drama with my family, when in actual fact, though some tears were shed it was fine. If I could go back and tell my family when I told my friends, I totally would have done instead of waiting an extra five years, because part of me felt like I was holding back my true self in trying to fit in with my family, whereas in actual fact I wasn’t fitting in with my family because I wasn’t being my true self.
Michael wrote a beautiful story called The Elephant in the Room about coming out. It shortlisted for Lost Property: Hull’s LGBT+ Stories. You can listen to a recording here.
I asked you once if you would hold hands openly with your fiancé, say in Asda (an everyday example!) and you paused a while before answering. Is homophobia a real problem still – especially perhaps here up north rather than say somewhere like London?
It’s one thing we just don’t do, my fiancé and I. Part of it is the thought of the backlash you may get from strangers in the street, or the stares you may get. Even when my partner and I are walking through town and we see younger gay or lesbian teens holding hands in the street we’re shocked, not in a disgusted way. It does fill me with pride to see that younger generations are more accepting than it was fifty, twenty, even just ten years ago. Maybe it’s the generation we grew up in why we don’t hold hands in public. We are VERY loving with each other when we’re at home or even in a safe space with friends or such. During Pride we were out enjoying the festival and my partner just reached down and took my hand and I retracted slightly, and he said, ‘If we can’t do this here, where can we?’ So, I took his hand and didn’t let go of it all day.
Regarding homophobia, it is a real thing. You hear it on the news that some person has been beaten up or worse for just loving someone. Is there a north/south divide difference?
I don’t think there is, but it’s more on how the north and south differ in the way they deal with things. Northerners are blunt and to the point, it’s how my family have always been. You could say we’re ‘lucky’ in the case of where we live as a country. Britain can be called quite forward compared to some places, even across the pound you read some articles about the hate crimes that happen against the LGBT+ community, such as the Pulse 2016 attack in Orlando. Waking up to that news was truly scary and you realise that homophobia is real.
We both know that the theatre where we work together is full of gay men and women. It’s not a cliché or a stereotype – it’s the truth. I often wonder if it’s because over the years, and back when it was illegal to be homosexual, this was the one place gay people had a voice? Creativity is one arena in which they can be heard?
I think when you look back in history, the theatre and any of the arts, walk hand in hand with the LGBT+ community. Maybe that is why it is stereotypical to say all gays work in the theatre etc, but for me theatre was always that escape from a young age. I was feeling different, so being on stage meant I could pretend to be someone I wasn’t. I could be whoever I wanted to be. From this you develop some of the closest friends I think you ever meet and they become just like family. No one judges you, no one calls you out for being different because in theatre, everyone is a misfit, everyone has their story. May they be gay, lesbian, an introvert, or even someone who just wants to be on stage. It isn’t a normal environment to get up and pretend in front of hundreds of people each night. So maybe that is why the LGBT+ community have swarmed to the theatre for all these years, because I know for me, it was a second home. Somewhere I felt like I could be me without pretending.
Louise and Michael, thank you – a very special post for a very special book. Here are details of all the stops on the blog tour.
About the author
Louise Beech is an exceptional literary talent, whose debut novel How To Be Brave was a Guardian Readers’ Choice for 2015. Her next book, The Mountain in My Shoe was shortlisted for Not the Booker Prize. Maria in the Moon was compared to Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine, and widely reviewed. All three books have been number one on Kindle, Audible and Kobo in USA/UK/AU.
She regularly writes travel pieces for the Hull Daily Mail, where she was a columnist for ten years. Her short fiction has won the Glass Woman Prize, the Eric Hoffer Award for Prose, and the Aesthetica Creative Works competition, as well as shortlisting for the Bridport Prize twice and being published in a variety of UK magazines. Louise lives with her husband and children on the outskirts of Hull – the UK’s 2017 City of Culture – and loves her job as a Front of House Usher at Hull Truck Theatre, where her first play was performed in 2012.