Welcome to Hell
JL Merrow (Jamie): When I was a fresh-faced, naive young student (at Cambridge University, so there’s no excuse, really) I answered a job advert for a summer placement at ICI in Middlesbrough. Two things attracted me: the pay was excellent, and they didn’t require an interview with my chronically shy self. The location didn’t really enter into it—Middlesbrough, that must be somewhere in the Midlands, right?
Er, wrong. Middlesbrough, for furriners and benighted Southerners like me, is only a hop, skip and a jump away from Newcastle Upon Tyne. It’s not quite as far north as you can get in England without stumbling into Scotland, but you get the picture! For a girl from the Isle of Wight (read, so far south you get your feet wet going there) who’d not only never been north of Watford Gap, she thought Watford Gap was actually in Watford (well, you would, wouldn’t you?) it was a bit of an eye-opener.
There’s a saying amongst us Brits: it’s grim up North. And by ‘eck and go to the foot of our stairs, it certainly was in 1980s Middlesbrough. While the South was basking in Thatcherite prosperity, Middlesbrough was… not. The windows of the local shops were permanently barred, presumably so they wouldn’t get pram-raided by the hordes of teenage mums. All us students wore our ICI donkey jackets with pride—anything that showed you had a job was a status symbol up there. And the student accommodation we stayed in—well, let’s just say if we’d been battery hens, the RSPCA might have got involved over the lack of living space! Apparently the place had used to be a convent—when they called those nuns’ rooms cells, they weren’t kidding.
Josephine Myles: Unlike Jamie, I’m a proper southern jessie and have never lived Up North. I have, however, lived in what must be the most depressing southern town there is: Crawley. Crawley is a “new town”, meaning it was initially built in the 1950s and supposedly planned to be beautiful and user-friendly. Uh, no.
To me, Crawley was a singularly ugly town. New estates with tiny shoebox houses and not enough garden space were everywhere, as were industrial estates, warehouses and giant hotels. Not that anyone would visit Crawley for its sights (what sights?), but because it’s next to Gatwick Airport. Yes, the people of Crawley are so proud of this, they want to rename the town “Gatwick City”. Suffice to say, any youngsters with any sense move to nearby Brighton the first chance they get.
But what I really wanted to talk about today was hellish houses. Jamie, you’ve written about a range of property types in Pressure Head, but it’s Graham’s council flat that probably most fits the definition of a hell hole. Have you ever lived anywhere that bad?
Jamie: Heh. From an Isle of Wight point of view, where you live is Up North! I’ve been very lucky where I’ve lived – when I was a student, I was able to live in college all three years, so I was spared the rented house. I’ve visited a few horrors, though. Like the one four male friends shared, NONE of whom ever did any cleaning. Or the one where washing up wasn’t done until mould threatened to become sentient and take over the place. Oh, and the one with the persistent slug problem, which could be deeply unpleasant if coming downstairs barefoot and barely awake in the mornings! Although the crime-scene outline of a body done in salt on the hall carpet was kind of fun.
But I’m dying to know: you’ve said the shared house in Bath where your guys live is based on one you actually lived in – so does a certain incident in the book (I’m carefully avoiding spoilers here *g*) have its basis in truth?
Jo: Ooh, I had kitchen slugs in my last house! Proof that it’s not just the students who live in mildewy hellholes.
Well, the house I set The Hot Floor in is based on the one I lived in, which did have bizarre bouncy floorboards and a pronounced list to the whole building–you put a marble on the floor, you knew which corner of the flat it would end up in. Also, it happened to be opposite a really dodgy pub and a crack house, and one morning I found a used syringe outside my front door. Nice.
However, that house wasn’t in as horrendous a state as the one in the novel. THAT particular flat was just down the road on Walcot Street where my friend lived, and came complete with a bastard landlord who wouldn’t fix her oven, dodgy electrics, and yes, that particular incident (which it would be spoilery to detail).
It’s definitely satisfying to be able to get something useful out all those years living in substandard accommodation, although I still don’t think I’m ever going to set a novel in Crawley. Mind you, who knows? My next one is set in High Wycombe, which is hardly the loveliest town in the country. Where are you going next?
Jamie: My next novel, the current WIP, is set in Cheltenham, and was inspired by meeting a gay poet at a slam one year at the Literature Festival. Cheltenham, by the way, is lovely – except for the parts of it that aren’t! And in fact one of my minor characters lives in a horrible shared flat in one of the worst areas there, poor love.
So readers: do you have any horror stories to share about living accommodation? Go on, make us squirm!
Comment to win! Jo and Jamie are both offering a choice of a book from their backlist to one lucky commenter on this post, and all commenters will also be entered into a draw for the grand prize (details here), to be announced on 8th October.
About the books:
Some secrets are better left hidden.
When Tom, a plumber with a talent for finding hidden things, is called in to help the police locate the body of a missing woman, he unexpectedly encounters a familiar face. Phil, Tom’s old school crush, now a private investigator working the same case.
Tom’s attraction to the big, blond investigator hasn’t changed—in fact, he’s even more desirable all grown up. But is Phil’s interest genuine, or does he only want to use Tom’s talent? Meanwhile, the evidence around the woman’s murder piles up…while the murderer’s trigger finger is getting increasingly twitchy.
Two plus one equals scorching hot fun.
Every time Josh overhears his sexy downstairs neighbors, Rai and Evan, having loud and obviously kinky sex, Josh is overwhelmed with lust…and a longing for a fraction of the love he’s never managed to find. On the night a naked Josh falls—quite literally—into the middle one of Rai and Evan’s marathon sex sessions, the force of their mutual attraction takes control. But just as Josh dares to hope, he senses a change. Leaving him to wonder if the winds of love are about to blow his way at last…or if history is about to repeat itself.
About the authors:
JL Merrow is that rare beast, an English person who refuses to drink tea. She read Natural Sciences at Cambridge, where she learned many things, chief amongst which was that she never wanted to see the inside of a lab ever again. Her one regret is that she never mastered the ability of punting one-handed whilst holding a glass of champagne.
She writes across genres, with a preference for contemporary gay romance and the paranormal, and is frequently accused of humour.
Find JL Merrow online at: www.jlmerrow.com
English through and through, Josephine Myles is addicted to tea and busy cultivating a reputation for eccentricity. She writes gay erotica and romance, but finds the erotica keeps cuddling up to the romance, and the romance keeps corrupting the erotica. Jo blames her rebellious muse but he never listens to her anyway, no matter how much she threatens him with a big stick. She’s beginning to suspect he enjoys it.
For more information about Jo’s published stories, regular blog posts and saucy free reads, visit JosephineMyles.com
Bath photo, copyright Josephine Myles.
Slug and Middlesbrough pictures courtesy of Stock.XCHNG free stock photo site.