Leslie Tate talks about he/r book Heaven’s Rage:
- Can you tell your readers something about why you chose this particular topic to write about?
There’s an urgency about writing from life, and as long as it’s well-judged, avoiding self-pity or therapeutic gushings, it can speak directly about intimate experiences and widen people’s idea of what it’s like to be human.
So I wrote my trans memoir Heaven’s Rage, inspired and encouraged by Bruce Springsteen’s refusal to play in states on the wrong side of the bathroom dispute and the rise of the trans movement. The fact that there were young trans people who were ‘out’ and accepted in schools also gave me strength.
I’d already written a trilogy of novels in third person where the subject didn’t come up – not surprisingly really, because fiction needs focus and a trans character would be a distraction. In that respect novels are edits driven by language and character, and different from life.
In life, my trans-self was a person I imagined, an inbetweener, a Janus-type character facing both ways. I had two spirits inside me; they’d begun in opposition but by the time I wrote Heaven’s Rage the gap had narrowed. In the process I’d come to believe that being trans comes from the dream-self.
For me, it’s a case of mind over matter, a refusal to be bound by the demands of gender – although it’s quite involuntary, and not, as some people suppose, a choice or a vanity.
So, although I’d cross-dressed for years with family and friends and had left behind my youthful sense of being outcast, writing a memoir was a big step. Suddenly I had to reinvent myself on the page, speaking from the inside about who I was and finding an approach that didn’t gloss over the problems or concentrate purely on appearances.
The answer I came up with was a book in seven sections, using many different styles.
So Heaven’s Rage contains reflective prose, true-life stories, quotes, articles, interviews, poems and a play script. I went down that route to avoid the story getting ploddy. It also gave me the opportunity to look at key events from different angles.
So instead of having to rush the reader on I could go inside my different stages and tell the full story – my family inheritance and my spiritual childhood, my love of music and gardens, and my struggles with alcoholism and finding my own voice as a writer. That way, my trans experiences weren’t marked out as ‘different’ or ‘strange’ but became part of an inquiry into what it’s like to be fully human.
In the words of the blurb: ‘Heaven’s Rage is an imaginative autobiography. Reporting on feelings people don’t usually own up to, Leslie Tate explores addiction, cross-dressing and the hidden sides of families. Writing lyrically, he brings together stories of bullying, childhood dreams, thwarted creativity and late-life illness, discovering at their core the transformative power of words to rewire the brain and reconnect with life.’
- How long do you think about a topic before deciding to write about it?
For me, the thinking time is all part of coming to terms with memory and how you feel about yourself. The therapeutic process, which takes years, has to reach a point of self-acceptance before the real writing begins. But it’s also about technique. What drives a good book is ‘the right words in the right order’ (to paraphrase Coleridge) so in a sense, style is story.
I made several attempts to write about being trans when I was younger but they were too subjective and self-indulgent – which is why I went for the bigger picture.
So my memoir is written in what you might call ‘universal first person’, taking in the wider social background and ideas current in the Fifties. Stepping back a little also helped me to see that my personal history was selective and had been shaped by my own emotional schemas. In a sense I’d always been rewriting my past, making choices about which incidents mattered most and changing how I viewed them through the power of language.
During the actual writing new material did pop up; but mostly it was a search for the exact phrase or expression, because how you articulate your past reshapes your life-script. And how you speak to yourself determines who you are.
- How has your book been received?
I was delighted that Jonathan Ruppin, a judge for the Costa, Geoffrey Faber, Desmond Elliott and Guardian First Book Awards, wrote the following review about Heaven’s Rage.
‘Leslie Tate’s memoir is by turns an elegy for a lost childhood, a tribute to the power of literature and a demand for the right to identity in a world that turns too easily on those who differ from the conventional.
There is a raw candour to his struggles with alcohol and coming out as transgender, but there is no self-pity here, more a gesture of companionship amid life’s twisting fortunes. Just as it is the characters who bring a story to life, so he reminds us that our lives are enriched by the characterful and the curious.
Light-footed poems stud the prose like gemstones, and these shifts of gear reflect the truth that we host not an internal monologue but a dialogue of multi-faceted voices. Leslie Tate’s joyful embrace of the gamut of linguistic possibilities is the culmination of a quest for the right to write his own story, both figuratively and now on the page.’
Bio and Links:
Leslie Tate studied Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia and has been shortlisted for the Bridport, Geoff Stevens and Wivenhoe Prizes.
Heaven’s Rage is available, signed, at https://leslietate.com/shop/heavens-rage/ or from the publisher, TSL Books, at http://tslbooks.uk/product/heavens-rage-2/ as well as at Foyles & Amazon.
You can read about/buy his first two novels Purple at https://leslietate.com/shop/purple/
and Blue at https://leslietate.com/shop/blue/
as well as at their publisher https://www.magicoxygen.co.uk/.
The third part of his trilogy Violet can be pre-ordered at https://leslietate.com/contact/
Leslie’s website https://leslietate.com/ carries weekly creative interviews and guest blogs showing how people use their imagination in life, in many different ways.