Jen: Today we welcome Matthew Metzger back to Romancing the Book. Matthew, will you share a short bio with us?
Matthew: Matthew J. Metzger is an asexual, transgender author dragged up in the wet and windy British Isles. Matt writes both adult and young adult LGBT romance, with a particular focus on the gritty situations and people often left out of the typical romantic set-up. When not writing, Matt can be found crunching numbers at his day job, sleeping, or pretending that he owns his cat, rather than the other way around.
Jen: Tell us a little about your newest release and where the idea came from.
Matthew: The Italian Word for Kisses is a young adult novel about challenging homophobia. Luca and Tav have been together so long that even the other kids at school have grown bored of making fun — and in any case, Tav isn’t the kind of kid to take mockery lying down. So far, they’ve had a generally alright time of it.
Then the new kid at Luca’s swimming club finds out he’s sharing the changing rooms with a gay boy, and goes ballistic. Jack Collins has a severe case of homophobia and sets out to pretty much get rid of Luca by any means necessary.
Tav is all for knocking Jack’s teeth down his throat and reporting him, but Luca suspects that something’s happened to Jack to make him the way he is, and wants to help him. Unfortunately, Jack’s escalating aggression means Luca is running out of time to get through to him.
I don’t really remember where the idea came from, exactly. I wanted to write a young adult story with slightly rougher characters than I had before. I lived in the area of Sheffield that this was set in for several years (and ironically moved back there briefly while editing this book for release!) and I thought, “The kids I’ve written before aren’t the rough-and-tumble type lads that typically get brought up in Yorkshire terraces.” So I wrote them. The plot kind of evolved around those character types, because those people would likely experience homophobia, but also be likely to bring up their own fists and fight back in response.
Jen: What what age did you discover writing? Tell us your call story.
Matthew: I’ve been writing since I could hold a pen, and making up tall stories since I could talk. My mum remembered I would come home from nursery and tell her things that couldn’t possibly have happened, but she was stunned by the amount of detail I could spin out of the story. (Basically I was a right little liar as a kid!) Writing kind of evolved from that, simply as a way of recording the stories playing out in my head.
Jen: Are there any other writers, published or not, in your family?
Matthew: Not in the sense you would typically mean. Reading was highly encouraged in my immediate family, but we’re not creative types. We’re scientists and engineers predominantly, so my father especially was quite worried about my obsession with scribbling. He was thrilled when I did a thesis in applied spatial statistics, he was terrified I was going to end up writing for some tabloid somewhere!
Having said that, both my parents were academically published in their twenties and thirties. There’s a sweet family story that when my maternal grandfather died, he had a copy of my mother’s published microbiology article folded up in his wallet. My grandfather was an electrician and for all he was a good and popular man, he was downright dense. There was no way he understood even a fifth of the article, but he apparently used to get it out at the pub and at the factory and brag to his friends that his daughter wrote that and was ‘a proper scientist.’ So technically, yes, there are published writers, but not of books or fiction — I’m the first and so far only in that regard!
Jen: What kind of research did you do for this book?
Matthew: The biggest thing was the setting. I lived in the south-west of Sheffield, where this is set, for several years, so the area is very familiar to me, and I walked around it a lot when writing and editing the book. In my head, I know exactly which house both the main characters live in. I used artistic license for some things — the school doesn’t exist, and the ugly community centre is in fact an ugly church — but generally I placed the book directly into the real world I was living in at the time. It involved a lot of Google Maps and timing walks to get the characters moving around correctly!
Jen: Do you have a favorite character or one you most identify with?
Matthew: Probably Tav. He’s a gobshite, a mouthy bugger, and would easily have gone off the rails if things have been just a little different. He’s difficult and challenging for his poor beleaguered mother, but he’s not inherently a bad kid. His heart’s in the right place, and he loves unreservedly, but he’s guarded about it and he’s got no naivete about the wider world. I guess I identify with him the most out of the whole cast — he’s quite similar to the way I was at a similar age, very angry with a lot of the world around him but starting to grow up and find room for other feelings aside from hurt, anger and betrayal. Tav’s lucky get-out has been Luca, I think. Without finding Luca as early as he had, I reckon Tav would probably have been lost by seventeen.
Jen: What’s the most interesting comment you’ve received about your books?
Matthew: One friend on Facebook once remarked, ‘I think Matthew writes as he speaks.’ And she was dead on. My editors usually hate me because my work is so technically flawed — I insist on writing even the narrative in the way that people think and speak, and of course written and spoken English are enormously different creatures. But it creates a very odd author voice which I love, and the flow is very much the same way that people ramble on and speak in the real world. I think it allows for much more realistic dialogue and making characters come to life properly, so…I guess apologies to my editors, because it’s not liable to change much!
Jen: What’s next for you?
Matthew: I’m working on several books at once at the minute, including two transgender young adult novels that I’m hoping to get finished next year. One is about social transition from female to male at a very vulnerable stage in the character’s life; the other features the transgender character at a confident, post-transition stage and is the foil to the much more insecure cisgender main character with a host of completely different problems. The contrast between the two is a lot of fun and I’m hoping I can engineer it to publish them in short succession to showcase that diversity in the transgender experience.