Gary Thomas has been working on his autobiography and talks to DAO about developing the project since 2013 when he initially received Arts Council funding to write and direct the one-man play Hidden and to write the first 30,000 words of the book.
Hidden tells the story of Gary’s experience of discrimination and his struggle for self-determination. The play originally premiered at the DAISY festival in Leatherhead Theatre and was recently revived for the Wandsworth Fringe Festival in 2019 which has prompted Gary to work more closely on the memoir.
“The play informed the book writing. It was good to hear sections of the memoir performed, so I knew it worked. Now I’m having voice lessons and am working on reading chapters of the book, possibly for an audio version. This is more of a challenge than you might imagine. I was born with a flat nose and a cleft palate and couldn’t talk properly until I was 10 years old. But having had a first voice lesson I’m pleased that I can ‘change’ my voice and make it clearer with certain exercises.”
The first editor Gary met through a New Writing South event, where he found out about Arts Council funding writers. He’s also taken advice from writers/editors he met at London Screenwriters Festival and through Roadmap Writers, whose tutors work in the industry in LA, with whom he did a course in prose writing. Now he is in the final stretch in the process of getting his story out there.
He talks about finding a title for the book:
“I had a few titles for the book but have settled on ‘Finally Hearing My Own Voice’. Initially, I wondered if the title should be ‘FIXED?’ The word came up a lot during conversations with a development executive. It speaks to being ‘fixed’ through having plastic surgery from the age of 5, to actually mentally being well again. It’s interesting but could lead to different interpretations.”
“I googled people liking the sound of their voice, and the only search results I got was that most people really don’t like the sound of their own voice! That’s mad to me like I couldn’t talk properly till I was 10 and people who haven’t had anything physically wrong with them don’t like how they sound.”
“What I’m addressing in the memoir is ‘Now I have a voice. I can teach others to use their voice too.’ It’s not so much even about liking your own voice, although that helps, it’s about saying what you really want to say to people, being honest. I’ve done that with myself through writing the book, and I want to carry on doing that and using my voice to help others.”
Gary is attracted to trying the traditional publishing route with the potential support that it offers but hasn’t ruled out self-publishing or other ways of getting his story into the public realm.
“One thing about this project is that I forgot or didn’t anticipate how long people take to get back to you, so that’ll be an ongoing process. There’s so much that I want to do with the book and my story also, and each thing is a major project in itself.”
“I think, especially with the funding, I need to make a decision on what to do and then go for it, but I’ve also had some advice to say that things should be more organic. So for example, I wanted to film my own interview, my own ‘Netflix special’, as it were, on camera, but make it look really good so it has the potential to get an audience, even if it only stays on YouTube. But rather than pay for that myself, that should maybe happen more organically, like after a publishing deal.”
“Actually, aside from funding, there’s really nothing to stop me from doing it now. It’s just what will make people take notice? For me, it would be if a well-known author interviewed me, and got behind me. So yeah, I go back and forth in my mind about which way I should do things. But definitely getting a publishing deal would give me that extra edge.”
He is also intending to record an audio version separate from the book itself. He has been having voice lessons and has been practising reading chapters out loud with a voice coach and is intending to do live open mic events reading chapters from the book, before deciding on routes towards publication.
“I’ve filmed myself talking to camera about my life, and have put out a couple of posts on Instagram and Twitter. I have some more I need to edit as well. It’s funny cos I put a post on Instagram about having surgery and struggling with depression, and the post got a lot of likes but next thing I’m being slagged off by two friends because of talking about that stuff online.”
“I kind of revert back to ignoring them and thinking, there’s a whole book about my life, so get used to the sharing! That’s how I choose to tell my story. Part of it will be online, but it’s all to lead them to the book. So now I’m at the query letter stage and have seen a few opportunities to submit to publishers too, which is great. Above all, one thing I’ve got back from those who’ve read it is how well written it is.”
As part of the Wandsworth Fringe earlier this year Gary has been running memoir writing workshops giving participants the confidence to write their own memoirs.
“I designed a workshop that begins with people picking five moments of their lives they want to make sense of, then five more, writing about it in one page or less, and going from there. I did a lot with Surrey History Centre and they have numerous published and unpublished archive’s of gay history which I was keen to look at especially, as that’s some of the audience for my book.”
Digging through those archives has given Gary the impetus to finish the book and reiterated the value of his own story.
“One manuscript they have that was published is a memoir by a guy called Harry Daley. He was gay at a time when being gay was illegal, and became a police officer, and was just like ‘this is who I am’. It was published posthumously, but it still proves your life doesn’t have to be majorly traumatic or anything to get published. You just have to have a voice and a certain view on it and make it interesting.”