Patrick Gale is a best-selling British novelist.  His first two novels, The Aerodynamics of Pork and Ease were published by Abacus on the same day in June 1986. 

The following year he moved to Camelford near the north coast of Cornwall and began a love affair with the county that has fed his work ever since. He now lives in the far west, on a farm near Land’s End with his husband, Aidan Hicks. Patrick is a great supporter of AKT, and we were thrilled when he agreed to be interviewed by Jayde, one of our young people, at the launch of his new BBC TV drama Man in an Orange Shirt at the BFI in London. 

Jayde: Do you think it’s important to have LGBT characters in your novels?

Patrick: If I didn’t have LGBT characters, my books wouldn’t strike me as realistic. Because I know we’re everywhere. I’m here. So every book i’ve ever written - and I’ve written quite a lot of them now - they’ve all got at least one, usually several, characters in there who are not straightforwardly heterosexual. I don’t always make the main character gay, because as a writer I enjoy the stimulus of imagining what it’s like to be straight. But there’s always a queer sensibility at work, and I will often surprise the straight reader by suddenly producing a ‘gayness’ somewhere they weren’t expecting it to be. But for me, it’s about realism. I know the numbers, it’s the way the world is. I’m painfully aware I haven’t yet written a trans character - not properly. I’ve written a character who people assume is trans, and actually she isn’t. But that’s not the same thing, so I’m aware there’s work I need to do. I cheat a bit by setting a lot of my books in the deep countryside where there aren’t many trans people. 

Jayde:  What was it like being brought up around prisons?

Patrick: Kind of strange. I should explain for your readers that I’m old, I’m 55. When I was a child, prison governors and their families lived in the prison. So you had a big house that was part of the prison compound. So we were inside Wandsworth Prison. My earliest memories are of living inside a prison. So we had the big prison wall, we had our own garden and our own house, but we saw prisoners all the time.  So when I was playing in the garden, I would meet prisoners who were working in the garden. I would talk through the bars to prisoners who were sewing mailbags. For me it was completely normal.  When you think about it, strange childhoods are perfectly normal to the child who is living the childhood. It’s only later that you make comparisons with other people and you realise ‘actually, that was pretty weird’.  So I didn’t know my childhood was strange until I started school and they asked us to do a picture of our house, and everyone else just did two windows, a door, and a roof. And I was doing all these windows, with all the bars on the windows, and then I realised it was different. But my mother had also grown up in prison, because my grandfather was a prison governor, so I think she understood the importance of making us accept the situation, but also of making us understand why the prisoners were there. So, we were never frightened of them. She made sure we knew that often they were unhappy people, that there were circumstances that were complicated that led to them being arrested and sent to prison. It wasn’t as straightforward as just being bad. She was very Christian, and I think she really felt that the presence of a family was part of their rehabilitation process, that it was good for the prisoners to see a happy family. No pressure there! And that it was important for us to understand that life was complicated, and sometimes difficult.

I’m painfully aware I haven’t yet written a trans character - not properly. I’ve written a character who people assume is trans, and actually she isn’t. 

Jayde: What books would you say were essential reads for LGBT young people?

Patrick: Gosh, there are so many good books. There are certain writers I would urge them to read, who I think are writers that widen your horizons. I think Patrick Ness is a wonderful role model. He writes fantastic science fiction, he’s openly gay and lives with his husband.

This Summer, Patrick made the move to television with Man in an Orange Shirt - a two part drama screening on BBC Two as part of a season of programmes marking the 50th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1967. It's now available on DVD.