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My First Time...with Justin Myers

Justin Myers grew up in Shipley, Yorkshire, and spent most of his formative years wondering what it would be like to be someone else, before ending up in London. After years working in journalism, he was lonely bored, and 'let’s face it, supremely vain' (his words!) He began his popular, anonymous dating blog The Guyliner in 2010 and spent five years as a dating and advice columnist in Gay Times before joining British GQ as a weekly columnist. He has written for the Guardian, International Business Times, The i, BuzzFeed, and the Irish Times.

He will be reading from his first novel, The Last Romeo, at The Riff Raff on Thursday June 14th...

Justin Myers, The Riff Raff

Here's the blurb for The Last Romeo...

'James is 34 and fed up. His six-year relationship with Adam has imploded, he hates his job making up celebrity gossip, and his best friend Bella has just announced she's moving to Russia.

Adrift and single in loved-up London, James needs to break out of his lonely, drunken comfort zone. Encouraged by Bella, he throws himself headlong into online dating, blogging each encounter anonymously as the mysterious Romeo.

After meeting a succession of hot/weird/gross men, James has fans and the validation he's always craved. But when his wild night with a closeted Olympian goes viral and sends his Twitter-fame through the roof, James realises maybe, in the search for happy-ever-after, some things are better left un-shared. Seriously, wherefore art thou Romeo ...'

Describe the exact moment you decided to write your book?

Well, mine was a bit of a weird one because while I’d always toyed with the idea of writing a book, I’d never had the confidence or, to be honest, the impetus to do it.

Where would I even start? I need pushing into things more often than not.

But then Dominic Wakeford from Little, Brown – who was a fan of my writing and had followed me for some years – got in touch and asked if I’d thought of writing a book and… well, it went on from there.

I guess the lightning bolt was when I had the idea – during a bout of insomnia two months after Dom’s email – and I was, like, OK, maybe this can work. And then I got the book deal and I had to write it. Deadlines are my heroes.

What’s the one thing you wish you’d known before starting to write your book?

That the first thing you write isn’t definitive. Yes, you kind of need to know where it’s going but it might change and that’s fine.

I would get so hung up on scenes being perfect first time – or close to it – as if the moment I wrote it down was how the story had to be for ever. In my writing day-job I work and deliver fast, so this was a new experience, to have actual time, and it freaked me out. I actually enjoyed the editing the most in the end – I do love poking about and fixing stuff.

What’s your go-to procrastination method?

Oh God, anything, I am a master. As I work from home, I’ll suddenly find it imperative the dishwasher be emptied that very moment, or a round of laundry needs to go on, or “Don’t I need to pay that bill now? I really should”.

Domesticity is my ‘Person from Porlock’, without a doubt. And that’s before we even start on social media. Whoa.

What was the biggest tantrum you had while writing it?

The only tantrums were with myself, really. Things got a bit fraught while I was working on the second set of notes.

I was very secretive about the manuscript and showed it to nobody other than my editor when I delivered the first draft, so the more people saw it, the more agonising it became. I was hilariously melodramatic for a moment, but after an hour or two talking to my editor I was back on track and the that edit was the very final version you see now on sale.

Best thing about writing your book?

Hmm. I don’t know. Scenes that really worked, I guess. Finishing one, rereading it and thinking, “Wow. I did that. And I think it might be good.”

Some of it was a validation, I guess. Seeing the proof for the first time made it very real and I couldn’t believe my eyes. I kept flicking through the pages, incredulous that it wasn’t just a document on a screen anymore. I kept saying, “Oh my god. This is actually going to come out.” I don’t think I’ll ever get over this, really. And the worst?

Doubting myself a bit. A lot. Worrying unnecessarily. I find it hard to be proud of my writing. One thing I didn’t enjoy – which is happening again with the second book so I guess it must be part of my process or whatever – is I would feel very overwhelmed when about to start a new chapter.

The elation at finishing a chapter was immediately replaced by the instant dread of starting a new one. I would almost be frightened to start it. What an idiot. Procrastination to the max.

And then I’d finally pluck up the courage to get going and within ten minutes I’d be typing away and having a ball, wondering what all the fuss had been about. Every sodding time. I drive myself mad.

Go-to writing snacks?

I tend not to pause to eat very much. I write in very energetic, productive, bursts and breaking the pattern could’ve been deadly and mean I didn’t sit down again. Lots of rice cakes probably, or Ryvita. Usually a Bounce energy ball with a cup of tea.

My favourite snacks are unashamedly dreary and basic – I thrive on being as unexciting as possible.

Who or what inspires you to write?

Things people say. I love dialogue, or internal monologue. I grew up in Yorkshire, in two families who each had a line in very caustic wit. Oh man, we were dry, so I love spotting a good barb out in the wild.

As for who, Sue Townsend was a genius and had a huge impact on me growing up – I read the Adrian Mole books way younger than I should’ve done – and Victoria Wood too. More currently, and in day to day life, situations I see play out inspire me. My friends and our intertwining histories. Things I wish I’d said out loud, maybe, along with things I wish I hadn’t.

The Last Romeo, The Riff Raff

The book that changed you?

This is a good question. I don’t feel like a book has ever changed me, but I guess what books have done is help me understand different facets of myself and maybe even reveal them.

Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City was an eye-opener when I read it at 16, a full eight years before I would come out as gay. I gradually began to see things could be another way, and the characters, although a million miles away from who and where I was at the time, seemed so relatable.

They had souls I understood. I didn’t want to be them, but I was desperate to know them.

Your pump up song?

The song I listened to most of all when I was writing the bulk of The Last Romeo was Spring Affair by Donna Summer.

It’s about nine minutes long and is an absolute disco banger, and I’d whack that on and shimmy (badly) in my lounge and then sit down and write.

Oh my God what a song; I’m going to put it on as soon as I’m done answering these.

If you could share a bottle of wine with one writer, who would it be?

Either Sue Townsend or Daphne du Maurier. I just want Daphne to confirm for me that she knew a Rebecca in real life.

I’ve read so many pieces, prequels and sequels trying to make the mysterious Rebecca a sympathetic character but surely the best thing about her is she didn’t give a damn about anyone and had very few redeeming features other than that she sounded terrific fun. I need Daphne to tell me I’m right.

One piece of advice you’d give first time writers hoping to get published?

Ignore all tips you’ll hear from writers unless they are actually useful, rather than whimsical.

I often see the writer’s tip that you should “write every day, anything, just write” and I think that’s nonsense. Don’t be afraid if you don’t feel inspired to write. Forcing yourself to write puts pressure on you and increases the chances you’ll write something terrible that you’ll then critique harshly and come to the conclusion you are useless.

Give yourself a day off and just let your story come; don’t drag it out of yourself. You will know when you’re ready because it will feel like it’s bursting out of you and you won’t be able to think of anything else. It’s wild. And then, after blasting Spring Affair to get you going, sit down and give it a shot.


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