The Heart's Greater Silence
Mark isn’t sure he
believes in love, especially when he’s torn between two very different
men: his reliable boyfriend, Craig, and his illicit lover and priest,
Mark knows what he should do, but he can’t bring himself to give Richard up. The sex with Richard is unlike anything he’s ever known with Craig, and he hungers for it as much as—if not more than—the truer intimacy he finds in his boyfriend’s arms.
When Craig discovers his betrayal, Mark is forced to look at his life more closely, but the path to self-knowledge is never an easy one. Richard seeks the way back to God, but Mark finds no solace there. Can he ever discover the truth of his own soul, or is he too afraid of what he will—or won’t—find inside his heart?
Brooke, an amazing story teller, has done it again with her short story
The Heart's Greater Silence. Mark is the story's central character, and
the tale is told from his point of view in the first person narrative.
Mark's been in a relationship for over a year--a serious relationship,
and he loves his partner Craig. The problem is that he has been having
sex with another partner on the side.
Richard is a priest, and he's been meeting with Mark in the church where they've continued with their torrid affair. Richard is not someone that Mark loves, but he's someone Mark has grown to need. Mark has passion and desire for Richard, but he has security and romance with Craig.
Few authors are able to use a short story to convey such feeling and intensity. Anne Brooke has never shied away from unpopular topics, and I was glad to see her address a very clear reality, particularly in the gay community. In mm literature, infidelity is often a taboo, which sort of blows my mind. Gay men in general are far more open to the idea of non-monogamous relationships. So if we choose to read and write about gay men, why can't we make them real?
I also appreciate the fact that this story does not fit within the typical formula of mm romance. Sometimes a happy ending wouldn't really be happy at all.
It Gets Better for Us All: Bullying Revisited
Guest Blog by Anne Brooke
Since the It Gets Better project started its life in 2010, I’ve been an admirer of it though - much to my shame – I’ve only recently got round to signing up to the pledge, as this statement of support to all LGBT youth is one I can’t help but agree with.
I also think it’s equally valid for all youth, whatever their sexuality, and indeed for every person on the planet, however old or young they are. Because bullying, however subtle or obvious, is a real problem and one that everyone needs to be fully aware of. It’s also an issue very close to my own heart as I experienced bullying myself throughout my primary school years (that’s school for ages 5 to 11 years, for people unfamiliar with the UK education system …) and then later in the second year of my first ever job.
Let me say at the outset that this is a difficult article to write, as those times in my life were extremely challenging, to say the least, and I prefer not to revisit them often. But I’m a great believer in the fact that if we can as individuals get these issues out in the open on a reasoned basis, then the problems all move one small step towards being solved, or at least better managed, within society as a whole. I hope also it will be helpful to others who may have had similar experiences.
Primary school then: I grew up in a small village in the south-east of England as part of a farming community but, when it came to going to primary school, the local one was full up, so I had to be entered into the school at the next village along. Looking back, I suspect that might have been the start of the problems. Rural communities aren’t the most outward-looking of folk, and it must have been a surprise for the village school to have a pupil they’d never met before. No matter, but for whatever reason, the most influential girl in the school – I’ll call her Louise though it wasn’t her name – took against me when I arrived and kept that opinion all the way through the next six years. Her campaign was never particularly violent but it was bitchy, if I can use that word in relation to a child. She was very good at name-calling, pinching and throwing taunts at me whilst surrounded by her particular gang. Once they threw a blanket over me and shoved me against the school wall. Goodness knows why – bullying has never had either rhyme or reason to it. However, the child skulking in the corner of the playground that nobody paid any attention to – yip, that would be me – and whenever I see a similar scene today if I happen to pass by a school at playtime, my heart goes out to the child concerned – though I’m afraid I have absolutely no idea what on earth I, a stranger, can do about it. A lesson now for me to learn, I think.
Back then, it was also difficult as, to be honest, my family didn’t really know what to do about the situation so tended to ignore it – well, things were different in the late 60s and early 70s – so it felt like I wasn’t believed when I finally plucked up the courage to say something. After that, I kept quiet, which only deepened the overriding sense of shame I think all bullying sufferers possess. The one thing that kept me going was the schoolwork. I really enjoyed it, and that enjoyment paid off when I passed the 11 Plus exam and got into my local and very well thought-of Grammar School.
That made all the difference: I managed at last to ditch Louise and her gang, none of whom passed the exam and therefore went to a different school (ha! says she with her own special version of bitchiness …) and I had a chance to start again. Making friends at secondary school (for 11 to l6/18 year olds) was a revelation as it was actually the first time I’d managed to make any friends at all, so I have them and the “big school” to thank for my slow growth in confidence levels.
Fast forward to my first ever job: when I left University at the age of 21, I had no idea what to do, so after a year’s voluntary experience with my local church I started to work in insurance claims in London. The first year was fine – though of course terrifying – as I worked in Head Office, where the staff were all perfectly friendly. The trouble began in the second year when they transferred me to the regional office just down the road. Again, the teams were lovely, but both my immediate boss and the overall manager above her really disliked me. I remember it as a year of being called in to explain why I wasn’t working quickly enough one week, and then being called in the following week to explain why my work was substandard, and so this went on. Week after week, until I actually can’t remember feeling much about it at all. It was just something that happened.
During the year I was there, I took some insurance exams along with my colleagues, some of which I passed quite well, and one which I didn’t (I was always hopeless at Economics and have never understood it – probably why I married an accountant then!). When the overall manager gathered us together to congratulate the team on their success, he mentioned everyone by name to congratulate them, except me. When – miraculously – one of my colleagues, Paul (bless him!), spoke up to say that I’d passed most of the exams too, the big boss said nothing in reply but simply left the room.
I knew then it was time to leave. After I gave in my notice, neither my boss nor the manager spoke to me for my four weeks’ notice period, which made handing out the work somewhat tricky (they had to get Paul to do this). To make up for the lack of direct conversation however, they kept up a steady stream of nasty comments about me and my abilities, and how I was unlikely to get another job in insurance or any other field again. They also refused to allow anyone to contribute to a leaving collection. Which made it all the more wonderful when I left on my very last day that (a) Paul got up and hugged me as I was putting my coat on and said how very sorry he was to see me go; and (b) when I got to the front door, the secretaries in the office grabbed me when neither manager was looking, and gave me a present they’d collected for secretly. It was a set of two Wild Strawberry Wedgwood mugs – a pattern they knew I loved but which I could never have afforded.
I still have those mugs and I remember that moment whenever I look at them. After that, I’ve never been bullied again, though I can honestly say it took me about two years to regain my confidence. And that thanks to my wonderful husband and finding a job I was actually good at.
In the midst of all this, does the fact of being a writer help? Oh yes, writing does absolutely help you face and begin to come to terms with the bad things that happen, as well as of course celebrate the good ones. I’ve always loved creating stories in my head – and the plus side of spending my early childhood years without friends is that I’ve certainly had time to develop that side of my brain! There’s always a world elsewhere which I’m thinking of and planning for, and getting those stories down in paper or on the computer screen is both a challenging and joyful task.
I think also that sense of learned “aloneness” and separation from the surrounding society comes out in the characters I write too. Certainly, past main characters such as artist and prostitute Michael in A Dangerous Man, and Craig – another childhood trauma survivor, though his turns out to be far worse than mine! – in The Bones of Summer both lead lives heavily tinged with the memories of past victimisation. More recently, I’ve written an unpublished children’s story, The Origami Nun, in which 7-year-old Ruth discovers how to confront her own bullies with the help of those around her. And in The Heart’s Greater Silence also, it feels to me as if my main character, Mark, is carrying much childhood baggage with him as he attempts to make choices in his adult life, even though it’s not alluded to directly. Something for me to explore with him in the future perhaps …
So, in ending, I would nail my colours to the mast (as it were) and say to those who’ve experienced bullying themselves or who may be experiencing it now that there is help out there, and you need to say something and keep saying it until someone takes you seriously. Because the less bullying there is on the planet, the more human we all become.
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