Why late night infomercials happily cost me far too much money… by S.J. Cooper
I literally stumbled across the m/m genre.
I mean literally.
You see, I have this weird habit of watching American infomercials when I can’t sleep at night, you know the ones where they try to sell you a convection oven for six easy payments of £99.99, or a set of stickers for your decoupage Christmas cards. One particular evening though, rather than commit to 36 easy payments I sat down with the laptop and set out to find me something cheap or free to read for an hour.
If I am being honest I was just clicking anywhere. Different genres such as New Adult, Paranormal, and Erotic all popped up, but somehow and I cannot for the life of me remember how, I ended up on a page full of wolf shifter books. I do remember not really thinking anything of it. I’d seen the Twilight stuff (I disliked both the films and the books) and thought it definitely wasn’t for me. Wolves? Humans? Men…? Nope… Whoa… What? Men? Together? Like together?? Hang on a minute sunshine…
Now, I love blokes, my other half is wonderfully male, my best mate is male, I get on better with blokes then I do girls, so what was the harm in downloading this one? None. However, I got half way and realised it was book 13 of god knows how many and I put it down. You see I’m a bit OCD about series books – I have to start right at the beginning otherwise I might miss something important. So off I went back to Amazon, found the first book and downloaded that. One week later I was revisiting number 13 and wondering when number 14 was out (I’m now on book 20).
One late night browsing session changed my reading habits forever. Since then I have read about SEALS, Marines, cowboys, cops, jocks and nerds, baseball players, rodeo, American footballer players, shifters, assassins, and vampires. I devoured a whole genre in one go.
Except, there was something missing. I’m British. Well, English to be precise. I live in an ex-coal mining town in the North West. We say ‘by eck’, eat chips and gravy, like heads on our pints and drink Vimto. You know – British stuff. The books I’d been reading were all set in America and yeah, I loved ‘em. Some of my favourite authors are American. I can reel off a list of authors whose work I adore and will read over and over again but for some reason I wanted to read a book where they drank tea in a morning and not black coffee.
This ‘quest’, as it were, involved another late night browsing session (I had the Insanity workout infomercial on the TV in the back ground as a token gesture) and eventually led me too Muscling Through by JL Merrow. It was my first book by a British author set in Britain and I read it in one sitting. The strong urge I had to fist pump the air and whoop loudly after was only curtailed by the fact that it was 3am. Why? Well in my eyes it was just so perfect.
The story opens with the following line; “I know it’s just fucking, Larry and me.” That is one the best opening sentences I have ever read to a book. Ever. And that’s saying something because Elmore Leonard is at the top of my favourite author list. It ticked all the boxes for all the boring BA Honours Creative Writing lessons I’d sat through. It blew me away and because of that single line a little part of me fell head over heels in love with Alan and Larry.
You see, Alan is someone I recognise. Hell, I reckon he is someone I used to see drinking every Friday night in town; he might even be someone who I threw out of a hotel I worked in once because he put a hole through a bedroom door with his foot. He spoke like I spoke, said the same things, and used incorrect grammar. He even lived somewhere I recognised (Cambridge) and had visited. The story was his and he completely owned it in every way.
To begin with the book is beautifully written. I read a lot of books and it’s almost unique in its narration. JL Merrow’s use of an ‘almost’ childlike voice for Alan (it’s his POV) allows the characterisation to jump off the page. Al’s simple use of words and colloquial language make his descriptions of Larry and their relationship – which begins after a drunken episode in a dark alley – emotional and heart-warming. Why does the straight-laced Art Professor Larry fall for the big and brawny Alan? It doesn’t matter… he just does and you know he does – not because he says it repeatedly, but because JL Merrow’s description of their day to day life is so simple and effective and believable. The book is funny and sexy (they are at it like rabbits) but even that isn’t over the top. In the end these two guys need each other, one balances the other out. There are no explosions, guns or shifters anywhere. It’s simply a love story between two extra-ordinary guys in an ordinary world where Sainsbury’s exists.
I love this book. Some may disagree, others not. Suddenly all those voices I had in my head just fit, it made me want to write again. And this is exactly what this book means to me. Maybe I’ve not done it justice with my review here, maybe I’m hopeless at reviews – who knows, but in the end I can only describe the wonderful impact it made when I first read it.
All I need to do now, though, is have another late night browsing session, find a book that uses the phrase ‘our kid’ and have someone in it who likes hot Vimto and I’ll be well chuffed.
Blurb: The bigger they come, the harder they fall… in love.
Cambridge art professor Larry Morton takes one, alcohol-glazed look at the huge, tattooed man looming in a dark alley, and assumes he’s done for. Moments later he finds himself disarmed—literally and figuratively. And, the next morning, he can’t rest until he offers an apology to the man who turned out to be more gentle than giant.
Larry’s intrigued to find there’s more to Al Fletcher than meets the eye; he possesses a natural artistic talent that shines through untutored technique. Unfortunately, no one else seems to see the sensitive soul beneath Al’s imposing, scarred, undeniably sexy exterior. Least of all Larry’s class-conscious family, who would like nothing better than to split up this mismatched pair.
Is it physical? Oh, yes, it’s deliciously physical, and so much more—which makes Larry’s next task so daunting. Not just convincing his colleagues, friends and family that their relationship is more than skin deep. It’s convincing Al.
People always ask how me and Larry met, and Larry tells this really complicated story how he thought he was going to be mugged or raped or something, and then I came along, and everyone always laughs, but it wasn’t like that, really. See, I’d just been to the pub with Daz and Phil and a couple of other lads. We was supposed to be cheering Phil up ’cause he’d broken up with his girlfriend, Leanne, who works on the checkout at Lidl, but some of them were pissing me off going on about poofs, so I left early. I got caught short on the way home, so I stopped to have a wazz in the street. I mean, I checked to make sure there wasn’t no one there before I got my cock out. I didn’t want to shock no one.
But it took a while, ’cause I’d had a few pints, so by the time I was almost finished, this bloke had turned into the street. I could hear his footsteps, so I looked up, ’cause I didn’t want no one sneaking up on me when I had my cock out, and there he was. I mean, it was Larry, but I didn’t know that then. I just saw this really pretty guy in a posh suit. He had browny-blond hair, like straw that’s been left out in the rain—I don’t mean it was messy or nothing, it was just that mix of colours, like it couldn’t make its mind up if it wanted to be yellow or brown. And his face was kind of delicate, and he was really little. Way shorter than me. Skinny too. I like them skinny. And he was looking at my cock. So I smiled at him, ’cause he was pretty, and then I zipped up and headed his way. Which was my way home, I mean. I wasn’t planning to make a pass or nothing, ’cause I could tell he was too posh for me.
“Shit,” he said, and he started backing up like he was scared or something. “Ah, sorry. I didn’t mean to—”
I wasn’t sure what he was on about, so I smiled again. He looked like he was about to piss himself, and I didn’t like it, you know? It’s not right, people being scared like that. “You look like you’re about to piss yourself,” I told him when I got close.
“Shit,” he said again, and he sort of leaned against the wall and closed his eyes like he wasn’t feeling well, so I stopped and leaned over him.
“You should let me take you home,” I said, ’cause I was worried he might not make it on his own. “Nice-looking bloke like you, stuff could happen. You meet all sorts on these streets. I saw a bloke getting the crap beat out of him last week just a couple of streets from here.”
“You want money?” he said, and he was shaking a bit. “I’ve got money.”
I didn’t say nothing for a bit, ’cause he was confusing me, and I don’t like making a prick of myself. See, you keep your mouth shut, most times people don’t realise you don’t know what they’re on about. So I just took his arm and set off down the alley, ’cause that was the way he’d been going. He came along with me all right, but he was still shaking. “You live near here?”
“No! Er, yes—please don’t hurt me!”
I didn’t say nothing for a bit, ’cause I didn’t understand why he thought I’d do that. I thought he must have had a lot to drink.
“Your mates shouldn’t of let you go home on your own,” I told him. See, he’s just a little thing; you’d need about three of him to make one of me. “You’re such a little thing.”
“Oh God,” he said, and his voice was all thin and shaky, like the rest of him. “Look, take my wallet, please?”
So I stopped while he got his wallet out, and he had his driving licence in there, so I read his name—Lawrence Morton—and his address. “Fifteen Bewdsley Close, Cambridge. That’s that posh bit near the river,” I said to prove I’d read it. I tried to give him his wallet back, but he had his eyes shut again, so I put it in my pocket. I think he needed to get to bed. “I’m going to get you home and in bed,” I told him.
He wasn’t walking too good, so I put my arm round his skinny little waist. I could have snapped him in half. “I could snap you in half,” I said, and I smiled so he’d know it was a joke, but he still had his eyes shut.
We went down the back ways ’cause it’s quicker and I wasn’t sure how long he was going to be able to stand up. I mean, I could have carried him easy, but I thought he might have thrown up on me, and I didn’t fancy that, no matter how pretty he was. He was all pale and shaky still. “This it?” I asked when we got to number fifteen. It was a nice place—one of those terraced houses, all tall and thin with no front garden and a skylight into the basement. Pretty windows.
“Yes—please, you’ve been really kind helping me home, but I’ll be fine now,” he said, but he looked funny when he said it, so I didn’t think I ought to leave him till he was safe inside. His hands were shaking, and the key skidded on the lock, so I took it from him and opened the door.
“You didn’t ought to drink so much,” I told him as I went in. I thought I’d better make sure he had a glass of water or something, or he’d be feeling like crap in the morning. He looked funny, like he was going to run away or something, which would have been a bit weird as there I was in his house and him still standing on the doorstep. I grabbed his arm and pulled him in after me, in case he was so drunk he’d forgotten this was where he lived. “You got a kitchen?”
“Yes—this way,” he said, like he’d just woken up, and he darted through a door. I was surprised he could move so quick, him being drunk and all, so I let go of his arm and just followed him into the kitchen.
He was standing by a knife block with this big knife in one hand and a phone in the other. I thought, he’s going to have trouble trying to dial one-handed. “I’m calling the police,” he said in this funny high voice.
I didn’t get why he wanted the police, but the knife in his hand was shaking all over the shop, so I went and took it off him before he could hurt himself. Then he sort of collapsed down on the floor and said, “Please don’t hurt me” again.
“Okay,” I said, and I took the knives over to the other side of the kitchen and got the biggest mug I could find and filled it with water. I held it out to him, but he had his eyes shut again and didn’t take it. “You should drink this. Then you won’t feel so bad in the morning.”
He looked up, and his brown eyes were all wild-looking. “No drugs!”
“Good,” I said, ’cause drugs and stuff are really bad for you. I put the mug down where he could reach it and sat cross-legged on the floor so I could keep an eye on him, ’cause he was freaking me out a bit. It wasn’t very comfortable. I got big thighs.
“Please go,” he said. “Just take my money—take anything—and go.”
I didn’t get why he wanted me to take something, but he seemed really worried about it. So I looked around, and he had a bowl of fruit on the side, so I grabbed an apple, ’cause I always get hungry after I’ve been drinking. “I’ll take this, okay?” Then I left him there, but I took the knives and I hid them in the hall cupboard, just in case.