“It might sound glib, but I wrote it
because I think Brighton is so special.”
Daren Kay tells Katrin Johannessen why
‘The Brightonians’ is the debut novel of former advertising copywriter, Daren Kay. It tells the story of a social group in Brighton uncovering a mystery of the past, sparked by an old letter found in a hymn book at the funeral of iconic former (fictional) mayor Grace Davidson. It spans multiple decades and different generations of mostly queer people.
It was important to Kay, that the novel included different generations, as there can sometimes be a disconnect within the queer community between age groups.
“As a younger gay man, I learned a lot from older queer people and I think it’d be great to foster that intergenerational communication again, which is why in the novel I wanted to make sure there was a full spread.”
“What I really felt was important is I think a lot of queer history has been erased, it’s been forgotten, it’s been purposefully left to one side and so I wanted to do my little bit to make queer history interesting to another generation.”
Not only is there a spread over generations, but the characters also come from different parts of the UK and have different accents, Polari is also represented.
“It was largely a reflection. There isn’t anyone that is based on anyone that I know, but I would say that the characters are a mixture of a couple of people and lots of the characters have bits of me. I think Brighton is a melting pot. It might not be the most multicultural place, but I do think it is a melting pot. One thing I will say about Brighton is you very rarely meet people in Brighton from Brighton.”
Although the social scene is shown as quite competitive and perhaps even cynical at points, there is a definite sense of community throughout the book. Kay himself has experienced how the LGBT community has come together during times of struggle, such has the HIV crisis and the introduction of Clause 28.
“I was in my early twenties when that happened. My experience in Birmingham and Sheffield was that there was a separatism until that happened. I think the HIV crisis and Clause 28 brought lesbians and gay men together for the first time in a big, big way.
“I know from historian Alf Le Flohic, who is quite known in Brighton for his knowledge of queer history, he lived in Brighton in the ‘80s and he said that the lesbian community was very supportive of gay men during the crisis. So, it’s been solid for a long, long time. Particularly with older people. I think age is a great leveller.
“I’ll be really blunt, I think sometimes the different communities within our community spend too much time arguing with each-other, when we have a common enemy, which is quite obvious out there.”
Kay replaced the security of his job in advertising and started freelancing and following his passion for writing, resulting in the ‘The Brightonians’.
“I wrote it for me. As a copy writer, I went into advertising because I loved writing and as you go further up the ladder you get more and more removed from the reason you went into the job in the first place. So, when I left that job, I rediscovered my love of writing through this book.
“The other thing I wrote it for was Brighton. It might sound glib, but I wrote it because I think Brighton is so special. I just find it such an incredible place and I wanted to capture what I love about Brighton. That amazing concentration of some quite unusual people.”
In the novel one of the characters at one point ‘plays the Brighton card’, when she uses her love of Brighton to score social points.
“I’ve invented that, but I do think it exists. I think I have played the ‘Brighton card’. I’ve gone even further and played the ‘Kemptown card.”
“I think the proximity of Brighton to London is one of the things, that has made it so unique. I lived in London for 25 years and I find Brighton even more sociable than London. I think the geography of it, because it is quite small or concentrated people are much happier to do things.” Kay said.
Brighton is more than setting in the book and through a fantastical seagull it gets a chance to speak for itself.
“Brighton is so much a part of the book, I needed a way for Brighton to speak, so Charles de Gull basically became the voice. I’ve referred to seagulls in interviews as nature’s CCTV, because they’re just always there. For people who write, they are just always watching us. It seemed like the most obvious vehicle for Brighton to have a voice. What I liked about the seagull is that in my head the seagull has been there for 200 years, so it’s almost like a fantastical seagull really.
“Brighton has always been a really significant town on the south coast, because of its proximity to France and London. But Brighton in most people’s heads didn’t really become a place of any interest until the 1750s, when Dr. Russell recommended our seawater as this great sort of cure for everything, and people started to come down. So, I wanted Charles de Gull to have existed since that time. So, he allows me to set the scene and say this is a town, which has always been a centre of liberal thinking and artists.”
The people in Brighton might like to complain about the seagulls, maybe especially when having their food stolen by a shifty one, but they still have a special status in town.
“It’s weird. The book cover was designed by my friend Sarah Arnett. In her work, she has lots of birds, but she’s never done a seagull. It’s a very divisive thing in Brighton. It depends on if you’re being shat on, I suppose.”
His next novel is already in progress and it’s called ‘The Brightonians Under Siege’ and is about the last year and Covid.
“One of the things I wanted to capture and celebrate was the social scene and parties and what I sometimes call ‘competitive partying’ that I see in Brighton and now to suddenly have that stopped I think it’s really fascinating.
I do think that when people read this book still on the ends of lockdown, they will feel nostalgic for those fancy-dress parties and for being able to meet up with people and having a gin and tonic.”
The Brightonians will be released on April 23rd.
Anyone who signs up to http://www.darenkay.com before 30.04.21 will be entered into a prize draw for the chance to win a porcelain mug featuring the cover design by Sarah Arnett
The book is available to order now at Waterstones, Book Depository & Foyles: