Author Spotlight! LESLIE TATE






I write about relationships.

When asked about my target audience, I usually quote Kurt Vonnegut: ‘Write to please just one person’. If asked about the bottom line/my unique selling point, I generally say I’m a writer, not an entrepreneur – and I back it up with what Lewis Hyde said in The Gift: ‘…it may be possible to destroy a work of art by converting it into a pure commodity’. When asked for my genre, I usually say ‘lyrical realism’.

Those last two words can trigger a voice in in my head saying ‘‘literary’, but I keep that quiet, even to myself. Literary is a phrase usually reserved for heavyweight writing that has earned its place in the canon – and as Jeanette Winterson says in her Essays on Ecstasy and Effrontery ‘all the arts suffer from canonization’. By that she means that once a work of art becomes part of the so-called great tradition we cease to read its true qualities. In her words: ‘familiarity… history, popularity and association all crowd in between the viewer and the picture and block it out’.  So I avoid the word literary because it sounds arrogant and might kill my books. Of course secretly I aspire to writing literature, but I balance that belief with ruthless criticism of my own work. It’s never good enough or finished, so any label I might give it is provisional.

But I do work hard at my ‘lyrical realism’, aiming to:

  1. base it on character and language
  2. dig beneath the surface
  3. include several types of writing/genre
  4. put in a generic, big-picture element.

Maybe I fail in the attempt, but I prefer taking risks to sales talk about ‘grabbing the reader’ and books as ‘products’, or the minimalist approach advocated by some academics. It means I’m constantly looking for ways to vary standard expressions, while trying to keep a line into the heart. Like music, writing needs contrast, so a good sentence mixes the direct with the complex, the immediate with the meaningful. In the words of poet Don Paterson: ‘For the reader to be blown away by the original phrase it must already be partly familiar to them.’

In terms of character and language, Purple, my coming-of-age novel, has two distinct narrative voices. It begins with a third person account, set in the Sixties, of Matthew Lavender’s youthful rebellion, and continues with his gran Mary’s first-person story of her family and marriage. Matthew’s section is written in close third person; it alternates between long and short sentences, mixing formal and informal language, and it dips in and out of his head. Mary’s section avoids long sentences, colons, semi-colons, dashes or ellipses and uses references and expressions from my N.E. England upbringing.

In Heaven’s Rage, my autobiography, I dig beneath the surface to tell the inside story of childhood, cross-dressing, alcoholism, illness and recovery, focusing on how these experiences have helped me to appreciate the hidden sides of life. And the use of different styles – including novelistic writing, psychological theories, dialogues and poetry – makes it possible to visit and revisit the key moments of my past, approaching each incident from more than one angle. The common thread running through the book is the power of the imagination.

In Blue, the novel that follows on from Purple, the genre is historical, told in the form of a satirical-romantic-adventure. The big-picture element is that it covers that time in life when couples struggle to ‘stay alive’ against the pressures of jobs and bringing up children. It’s also, like Purple, an investigation into modern love.

As Saul Bellow says, ‘Realism specializes in apparently unmediated experiences’. So when I write lyrically I have to take great care to stay grounded and keep the reader close by my side. I want to pack it all in, live and breathe the action and the feelings, while maintaining the flow.  So every word counts, no detail is arbitrary and I have to pick my way through the action with a sharp eye on emotional truth.

It’s all about stretching the language, filling the gaps and moving gracefully from one scene to the next. And the more effortlessly lyrical the writing seems, the more it has been worked and reworked. So the trick is to develop the full range of expression, to write with freedom while fixing it forever in an artificial form. And that’s the hardest rewrite of all.



Heaven’s Rage is an imaginative autobiography. Reporting on feelings people don’t usually own up to, Leslie Tate explores addiction, cross-dressing and the hidden sides of families. Writing lyrically, he brings together stories of bullying, childhood dreams, thwarted creativity and late-life illness, discovering at their core the transformative power of words to rewire the brain and reconnect with life. “A Robin Red breast in a Cage / Puts all Heaven in a Rage” – William Blake.’ You can buy Heaven’s Rage here. Or


Purple is a coming-of-age novel, a portrait of modern love and a family saga. Set in the North of England, it follows the story of shy ingénue Matthew Lavender living through the wildness of the 60s and his grandmother Mary, born into a traditional working-class family. Both are innocents who have to learn more about long-term love and commitment, earning their independence through a series of revealing and closely-observed relationships. Purple is the first part of the Lavender Blues trilogy. You can buy it here. or on Amazon


Blue tells the story of Richard and Vanessa Lavender, who join a 90s feminist collective sharing childcare, political activism and open relationships. Boosted by their ‘wider network’ they take secondary partners, throw parties and observe the dance of relationships amongst their friends. But finding a balance between power and restraint, and handling shared love, proves difficult… Blue is the second part of the Lavender Blues trilogy. You can buy it here.

or on Amazon.


On Leslie’s website you will find weekly interviews and guest blogs by writers/artists/musicians, as well as Leslie’s own writings.

You can contact him on Facebook at Leslie Stuart Tate (personal) and Leslie Tate (author page). His Twitter handle is @LSTateAuthor.



©January Gray and January Gray Reviews, 2016.
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