T.J. Masters
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Writing

Well Read Wednesday: Morning

Morning has always been my favourite time of day and so the premise of this quirky little book drew me in and I am so glad that it did. Morning, written by author and food journalist Allan Jenkins is his “manifesto for morning”.

There is an energy in the earlier hours, an awareness I enjoy. In today’s world we tend to wake as late as we can, timed to when we have to work. But we don’t need to chase the day.’

In Morning, Allan Jenkins shows how getting up earlier even once a week or month can free us to be more imaginative, to maybe read, to walk, to write. He talks to other early risers such as Jamie Oliver and Samuel West, to poets and painters. We hear from a neuroscientist about sleep, a philosopher about dawn, a fisherman about light. Allan wakes early, he listens, he looks. He introduces us to a secret world.

This is a celebration of dawn and morning: the best time of day.

In essence the book is an intimate diary taking us through a year of the author’s mornings. This is also where the writing is at it’s best, especially when marvelling at the slowly waking natural world. Since many of these morning begin in pre-dawn darkness, he listens for sounds around him including naturally the increasing birdsong. the next sense to be engaged is that of sight as it records the first gentle diluting blackness and the coming of colour with the dawn’s early light. Movements are noticed and even the fragrances of morning. One of the things I loved was the recording of the very subtle changes which heralded each new season.

This is writing with all of the senses engaged and presented in short poetic bursts. It is a mindful journey through the quiet hours when day replaces night.

For many of those interviewed, including the author, the early start provides a golden period to do those things for which they have no time in their busy lives.

I love it when a book like this crosses paths with my own experience. Having thought of myself as something of an insomniac I have adjusted my bedtimes to encompass to shorter periods of sleep. The author briefly mentions this and it appears that throughout history, there have been numerous accounts of segmented sleep, from medical texts, to court records and diaries, and even in African and South American tribes, with a common reference to “first” and “second” sleep. There is strong evidence from studies carried out which suggest bi-phasic sleep is a natural process with a biological basis.

Reading this great little book has inspired me to to examine my relationship with sleep more closely and maybe to question the bedtime rules which we have all accepted as the norm.

Proud to be a Dreamspinner.

Over the past weeks and months, I’ve been a mostly passive observer while my publisher Dreamspinner Press has been going through a challenging time. As an unabashed advocate of the company I’ve been dismayed at the way in which so many people have taken to social media in order to elevate these challenges into a full-blown drama. We all know how much our wonderful community loves a good drama!

Wherever I see discord, I like to step back and look at the facts. Armed with what is known rather than what is surmised, or even fabricated, I try to be a voice of reason and to mediate on the subject. Looking at the strength of feelings being expressed in this matter, I have no doubt that my view will not be popular but I am always open to reasoned, fact-based debate.

Dreamspinner has been the flagship publisher in our genre for some years now. DSP has given so many authors, including myself, a great start in their writing careers. For the most successful, it has provided significant incomes too. From the very start I have been really impressed by the way the company has grown and developed. Dreamspinner has been a beacon of excellence and a source of income to authors, editors and cover artists alike.

The world of publishing has seen many challenges and if Dreamspinner is to survive in the current business climate, it must continue to adapt and evolve new processes and seek out new markets.

I am shocked at the way the community has appeared to turn on Dreamspinner like a pack of hyenas willing it’s demised so that they can feed. I have heard and read gossip, conjecture and complete untruths about what is going on. Most of this is from people who are not directly connected with the company. I have witnessed untruths being told and immediately verified by others who have no pertinent knowledge at all but are simply wanting to be seen as up to date with the cool gang!

Let me make my feelings clear: Firstly, I believe that Dreamspinner may have become a victim of its own considerable success. Secondly, I believe that if any company is capable of riding the current challenges, Dreamspinner is. Third and finally I honestly believe that if Dreamspinner fails, then it will mark the end of our genre as we know it.

If we do not give DSP the time, trust and support which it needs right now, we will all be losers in the end. Contrary to popular belief, DSP is still accepting manuscripts, still producing books and yes, it is still paying its authors including interest paid on all delayed payments. What puzzles me most about the negative chatter is that very little of it comes from current DSP authors. I’ve read way too many posts which include the phrase “I have friends who are authors” causing me to wonder why such people are qualified to comment at all.

Every current DSP author receives a detailed weekly update from the company. Progress is detailed and challenges made transparent every Tuesday without fail. At the end of each update, authors are invited to question the senior staff about any issues and their direct emails are given. The update ends with a note to say that none of the information is copyright and that PDF copies are available to share. It puzzles me that there is still talk of poor communication when actually the opposite is true.

If you’ve not deserted me yet, then here is my voice of reason for what it’s worth. Dreamspinner Press is clearly working really hard to rise above its current challenges. If you have a specific question or an issue, then the first port of call should be the company and not social media. In a very competitive commercial climate, any serious company must keep some of its processes under wraps for fear of attack or advantage given to other companies. We should not be demanding information which company may not be able to give. The unfair negativity and idle chatter doing the rounds at the moment is likely to become self-fulfilling. If the company were to fail now, I have no doubt that the blame could be laid at the feet of the ‘neggies’.

WE need Dreamspinner Press because it is the only company presently capable of guiding us into the future of the genre, whether we are directly connected to it or not. On the other hand, Dreamspinner needs us too to let’s show some faith and let those who have nothing good to say, just say nothing.

#ProudtobeaDreamspinner

T.J. Masters.

Well Read Wednesday: King Perry

If I am to make these posts a regular thing then they will cover a wide spectrum of books both fiction and non-fiction. Today’s selection is King Perry by Edmond Manning and comes from the m/m fiction genre in which I write. The book was recommended to me by dear friends which is always a worry, but in this case they proved that they know my reading tastes very well.

So what is the story about?

In a trendy San Francisco art gallery, out-of-towner Vin Vanbly witnesses an act of compassion that compels him to make investment banker Perry Mangin a mysterious offer: in exchange for a weekend of complete submission, Vin will restore Perry’s “kingship” and transform him into the man he was always meant to be. Despite intense reservations, Perry agrees, setting in motion a chain of events that will test the limits of his body, seduce his senses, and fray his every nerve, (perhaps occasionally breaking the law) while Vin guides him toward his destiny as ‘the one true king.’ Even as Perry rediscovers old grief and new joys within himself, Vin and his shadowy motivations remain enigmas: who is this off-beat stranger guiding them from danger to hilarity to danger? To emerge triumphant, Perry must overcome the greatest challenge alone: embracing his devastating past. But can he succeed by Sunday’s sunrise deadline? How can he possibly evolve from an ordinary investment banker into King Perry?

This book has taken me by surprise. I must admit that I may not have picked it up myself and indeed I struggled with the opening chapters.The tale was just too improbable and the characters too disparate. Vin appears to us as some well-intentioned madman. Perry on the other hand is a typical San Francisco investment banker living in his own safe bubble of boring existence. Vin is determined to burst that bubble but Perry has no idea what he has agreed to for the weekend. Did he in fact agree to it at all?

The whole endeavour is risky, some of it even illegal, but the execution of the plan is quite magical and beautifully written. The author is a fine wordsmith who can generate strong emotions with a simple, well crafted sentence. One moment I would laugh out loud and the next I was fighting back the tears. The duck was a brilliant comedy device but at the other extreme, the scene with a cello was one of the most moving and romantic I’ve ever read.

Vin himself seems uncertain about his own ability to break down Perry’s defences and at times we wonder if he is in fact going to break Perry the man instead. Of course the potential rewards for freeing the man from himself appear to be worth the risk. There is also lots of very hot sex along the way!

This story has so much to teach us about ourselves. The best fun is to be had outside our own safe comfortable bubble. The experience may be risky, but then love itself is risky and cannot thrive enclosed in a bubble. It takes great courage and also a real measure of vulnerability to accept unconditional love. Thith ‘kingship’ comes a new self-awareness and a powerful sense of achievement. It also brings with it a responsibility to share the rebirth with others.

King Perry was the first in a series of books called ‘The Lost and Founds’ and I look forward to reading them all in time.

 

Well Read Wednesday: The Binding

Welcome to the second of my new Well Read Wednesday series of personal book reviews. This week I have chosen another novel which I have thoroughly enjoyed reading.

The Binding

by Bridget Collins

I will admit that it was the beautiful cover of this book which initially grabbed my attention. When I saw the author’s name I recognised the writer of some great stories for Young Adults and so I read the blurb and was hooked. There were two reasons for this. Firstly it sounded like an unusual tale with a great premise. Secondly this is the author’s first foray into writing for an adult readership.

Young Emmett Farmer is working in the fields when a letter arrives summoning him to start an apprenticeship with a Bookbinder not far away. The elderly and mysterious Seredith is a woman who, like her profession, arouses fear, superstition and prejudice, but neither Emmett, nor his parents can afford to refuse her summons.

Emmett leaves home, and Seredith begins to teach him the craft of hand-making beautiful volumes but along the way he learns that all the books contain real memories taken from real people to be sealed forever in the pages of the precious books. If you want to forget something, a binder can help you. If there are memories that need erasing the binder can assist. Your past can be stored away safely in a book and you will never again remember your secret, however terrible it might be.

These volumes are stored away in a vault beneath Seredith’s workshop. Row upon row of memories meticulously kept and recorded. One day however, Emmett discovers that one of the books has his name on it. What should he do?

Of course with this mysterious craft comes great responsibility an there are some unscrupulous practitioners who do not live by Serediths moral code. Books are sold and traded purely as a form of salacious entertainment.

To see this simply as a book about books is to do it a grave injustice. At its heart is a love story between two idealistic young men. There is tension, humour, pathos, horror and romance between its covers. If I have any reservations about the storyline it is that the early hints of mystery and magic are forgotten once the fires of romance have been ignited. Latent talents or special powers are suggested for Emmett but then discarded.

For all that, the story delivers strong themes and deep, emotional characterisations. As a writer well versed in teenage angst, the author can be forgiven for writing a lead couple who are both angsty and full on. Abusive fathers, exploitative employers, soul searching about soul stealing, it’s all here in a beautiful immersive story.

I loved it and heartily recommend it as a great read.

 

Well Read Wednesday: The Warlow Experiment

This is the first of a new series of blog posts in the form of Book reviews. Always a passionate and avid reader I tend to have strong opinions about the many and varied books I read but so far have written very few book reviews. Well read Wednesday will give me the chance to tell you about what I like to read but also give me some much needed experience of writing reviews.

The Warlow Experiment

by Alix Nathan

Having just finished this extraordinary book I believe it will appeal to all who love a great story, well crafted with strong characters, firmly bedded in it’s social and historical setting.

Herbert Powyss lives on a small estate in the Welsh Marches, with enough time and income to pursue a gentleman’s fashionable cultivation of exotic plants and trees. But he longs to make his mark in the field of science – something consequential enough to present to the Royal Society in London.

He hits on a radical experiment in isolation: for seven years a subject will inhabit three rooms in the cellar of the manor house, fitted out with books, paintings and even a chamber organ. Meals will arrive thrice daily via a dumbwaiter. The solitude will be totally unrelieved by any social contact; the subject will keep a diary of his daily thoughts and actions. The pay? Fifty pounds per annum, for life.

Only one man is desperate enough to apply for the job: John Warlow, a semi-literate labourer with a wife and six children to provide for. The experiment, a classic Enlightenment exercise gone more than a little mad, will have unforeseen consequences for all included. In this seductive tale of self-delusion and obsession, Alix Nathan has created an utterly transporting historical novel which is both elegant and unforgettably sinister.

I found the characters to be strong and utterly believable. The author has brilliantly captured the nature of the opposing dynamics of the major characters. The social strictures of the master and servant, the male subjugation of the female characters, the complete absence of empathy and the selfish reach for aggrandisement are all laid out for us.

The novel successfully blends fine historical detail with keen psychological observations, especially mental fragility, misogyny, compassion and  failed altruism. While set in the age of European enlightenment, with the French Revolution and Tom Paine’s The Rights of Man featuring in the background, the story also speaks to us in the present.

If you need your stories with a happy ever after ending then this may not be for you, but you are missing out! In fact the ending is as dramatic as anything else in this tale and since it was difficult to put down, the ending came all too soon.

 

 

Community? What Community?

I first encountered the m/m community of readers, writers, publishers etc. a little over four years ago. I was enthralled by the fact that everyone was so warm and welcoming. Writers who, on the face of it were competitors, appeared to be the best of buddies and generally supportive of each other. It was a bit of a culture shock to discover that the majority of the community were women, both readers and writers. I welcomed the inclusivity of it all and I am happy to say that I have made some wonderful friends in the group.

Recent events have tarnished that point of view. We have endured dramas coming along one after another: catfishing, women writers, male writers, book piracy, LGBTQI rights, trolling and back-stabbing. At present the community sucks. I sometimes wonder how we have the hypocrisy to call ourselves a community at all.

We are supposed to be a community of writers and readers brought together by creativity and craft. I love the fact that social media has closed the distance, allowing our readers to interact with us, but expectations need to be managed. Writers need to write and we all have our own styles, our own values and beliefs and they should not be held to ransom or publicly trashed by readers who have a different set of beliefs or expectations. In my experience it is not uncommon to read a book that does not grab me in the way that others might. I do however, appreciate that there will be other readers out there who may love it. I simply close the book, chalk it up to experience and seek another author who may be writing what I want to read.

Even in our little community there are as many different styles of writer as there are readers picking up their books. We don’t have to love each other’s work but the least we can do is respect it and appreciate our shared endeavour. Surely the idea of a community is that a group of disparate individuals can come together in mutual respect and support for each other regardless of individual styles or circumstances? When you are aspiring or struggling, you need the group. When you are successful, the group needs you.

The biggest issues appear to be those outside the realms of the craft. The world in general has been brainwashed to accept dumbed down politics which includes bigotry, intolerance, bullying and the cult of personality. Our small world reflects that and I fear that the actions of a minority will tear apart all that is good about our community.

Wow, I hear you say. Tim is turning into the classic grumpy old man. Well yes, I may be, but somebody needs to stick their head above the parapet. I do not rant without reason and I am driven by two principles. Firstly I believe in the famous words of Edmund Burke:

‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing’

I cannot stand by and do nothing while our community destroys itself. Secondly, and to support that stance, I turn to the words of the poet Dylan Thomas:

Do not go gentle into that good night. Old age should burn and rave at close of day. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.’

So forgive me while I rage!

The m/m genre is being hijacked by sexual politics. In our rush to highlight and to defend the rights of each sub-group, we are losing sight of the real goal of equality. There can be no place for homophobia, transphobia, sexism, racism, ageism or any of the other prejudices which we see every day, even in our own community! In a misguided attempt at defending their own particular in-group, I fear that some of us end up expressing the kinds of prejudiced views we are surely trying to stamp out.

 As a gay man I have spent the last 45 years struggling against homophobia, misunderstanding, bullying and even physical attacks, but always with the same goal in mind: equal rights. Not equal rights as a gay man, but equal rights as a human being. There is a fundamental difference here. I am not a man who identifies as gay. That suggests some choice in the matter. I am a gay man who identifies as human. I just want to be equal.

It is my belief that in our struggle to be identified under one letter of the alphabet or another, we actually compartmentalise ourselves and fragment our power. Of course that causes a problem for our allies. It’s quite clear that bigotry is alive and kicking in our community just as it is in the world at large. If you wish to be part of a community then you must respect the whole community.  An ally of one part of the group must be an ally of all. The goal for all must be equality for all. Equal human rights. We cannot pick and choose which flavours we like from the sweetie jar, or which are our favourite letters of the alphabet. By definition, the politics of equality must be about global equality.

And by the way, respect for the rights of others needs to start with respect for ourselves. Anyone who posts licentious images of men’s sexual organs or of men having sex together is no ally of gay men! We may write about such things in the context of a story but the posting of graphic images is insulting to the imagination of our readers and offensive to a great many gay men. You would not tolerate such sexualising of women so when did it become okay to do it to us? The same goes for anyone who delivers salacious accounts of their own sexual activities. Where is your self respect? It used to be said that those who boasted of their sexual encounters probably weren’t getting any, while those who were getting it didn’t have the time to talk about it.

Our community has a unique opportunity to be a beacon of excellence for equality and creativity. Of course we should discuss the politics but that needs to be done in a climate of mutual respect and understanding. There is always a place for debate and discourse in civilised society when empathy and understanding replace aggression and offensive language. Maybe we need a mission statement or a manifesto and if anyone has any ideas along those lines I would love to hear from you. In the meantime, lets play nicely. Lets be open to tolerance and inclusion. It’s time to grow up kids! Let’s show the world how it’s done.

Teaser Tuesday: NaNoWriMo Day one.

ursa-major2Yes I have decided to set myself the challenge of writing a novel during the month of November. The story is called Ursa Major which for those whose first language isn’t Latin, means Great Bear. Many of you will know this as the name of a stellar constellation so it will be no surprise to know that the Bear in the story is a Professor of Astronomy and Space Science.

There are five Tuesdays in this November so you can expect teasers from the novel on each of those days. Here are the opening paragraphs written this morning.

PART ONE: Good Morning Rosetta.

There’s something quite unique about the experience of driving late at night through the countryside. This is especially true when the journey takes you along quiet country lanes on cold winter nights. Sitting in the warm comfortable interior, the car somehow protects you from the elements and yet it connects you to them. This man-made bubble of metal and glass with all it’s glowing internal lights, reaches out to it’s surroundings with bright white beams. They progressively reveal your route as you speed along it.

English country lanes are certainly not uniform. Night driving like this can have you traversing open countryside one minute, then the next you are racing through a tunnel of branches where the trees are attempting to reach over the road and shake hands with each other. Just occasionally the brightest of the stars can be spotted through the wooden lattice but even on a crystal clear night like this, the envelope of light around the car obscures most of the myriad jewels twinkling above.

I’d left the sprawling city of Manchester madrid_060508_mxalx_078behind almost an hour ago and was hurrying south to my destination on the Cheshire plain. I closer I got, the more I felt the stresses of the day falling away. Anticipation and excitement grew as I neared my goal and I thought about the significance of what was to unfold over the next twenty four hours. Meeting with the funding board was one of the less pleasurable duties expected of a head of department and this evening had been hard work. Even the most modern of universities could take on an air of pomposity and stuffiness when you were dealing with the upper levels of academic management.

I smiled to myself at the irony of the evening. The last few hours had been spent justifying and defending the funding of my department. The next few hours would hopefully be spent successfully using the resources of that same department to make a major contribution to the exploration of space. One of the last great frontier explorations to challenge the human race.

Bear Among the Books – Reviews

Bear Among The Books was published one week ago today. Since then I’ve been bowled over by the reviews it’s received from some great readers/reviewers who all seem to ‘get’ my writing, and as an author that means more than I can say. Here is a selection of the reviews from Amazon and elsewhere. (If you want to read the negative reviews, feel free to check out Goodreads!)

BearAmongTheBooksFS

5* An Ode to Words and Books.

By Marleen – Published on Amazon.com

I should probably start this review by mentioning that I am a librarian. For that reason all the details about working in and the running of a library entertained me as much as the romance did. On several occasions I found myself thinking ‘oh yes, that’s how we do it too’ and that invariably brought a smile to my face. Something else that made me grin was the fact that I would probably describe myself as a cross between Daisy and Ben; while I love welcoming new members to the library and love seeing them peruse the shelves, I find it very hard not to frown when they disturb the order on those shelves.

But, this review is supposed to be about the book and not about my day job, and Bear Among the Books touched my heart in many ways. It contains a wonderful romance, it’s a declaration of love towards libraries and, maybe more than anything else it’s an ode to words, books, stories, writing, and reading.

“I had always felt sorry for people who didn’t read and never experienced the joy of getting lost in a well-written story.” – Ben

My heart ached for Jason. To love books so much and not be able to read. Scratch that, just to not be able to read is a nightmare scenario to me. A nightmare that Jason is consciously living, as his words about being/working in a library so beautifully reflect.

“It’s like being inside the biggest, richest treasure chest in the world. It’s like a bank vault for people’s dreams and experiences.”

Of course Jason’s illiteracy wasn’t the only thing about him to break my heart. His back-story is horrendous and brought tears to my eyes on more than one occasion. He’s such a gentle, kind and big-hearted soul despite everything he has endured and his insecurities are as understandable as they are heart breaking.

Ben was the sort of person I could fall for myself in a heartbeat. Kind, generous, patient, and always putting others first, he is exactly what Jason needs even if everybody else realises that long before Ben is willing to entertain the idea.

Jason’s grandmother was a breath of fresh air and I loved her attitude. The age difference between Ben and Jason is large —28 years to be precise. And while Ben does initially have some understandable concerns about it, I love that it wasn’t turned into a huge belly-ache or an issue for any of the other characters in the story.

“The heart has no wrinkles.” – Alice / Nan

In fact, this is not an angsty read at all. Despite Jason’s past and Ben’s reservations about a relationship, this is mostly a sweet tale about healing and books, about people coming together to do the right thing, and about embracing new opportunities and love when they come your way.

Bear Among the Books is a charming and touching feel good story. Yes, there are one or two moments that will tug at your heartstrings and bring tears to your eyes, but overall, this tale will leave you with a huge smile on your face and a love for the written word that is even stronger than it was before you started reading it.

 

5* Phetra Novak for GGR Reviews

Bear Among the Books is the new piece of writing by T.J. Masters and to say it’s a brilliant success is an understatement. T.J. Masters has this serene way of writing his story that you find yourself calmed, sort of lulled into the story like a quite participant in the lives of the characters. This is something at least I find masterful, not only because you get this in depth feel for the people in the story, because T.J. Masters takes the time to let you get to know the evolving characters both main and supporting. In this book there’s quite a few characters to keep track of but it’s never difficult to follow along and learn who one of them are.

Ben, one of the two main characters, is strong, confident but not arrogant small town librarian and a man with passion for books and the written word, which I think we all can relate to in one way or another, his simplicity as a character if I may say so should be boring but it isn’t he is everything but and I been pondering that for a bit and I realized it’s because T.J. Masters allows us to be inside his head and take part of what is going on there in a way that sometime other authors rush through, also this is where the supporting characters come in to allow Ben’s character really show, his protective, caring and god honest desire and need to help others become apparent.

Secondly, we have Jason, a tormented young man, merely 19, but who has “the heart of an angel” he’s young, he’s been through hell, but thanks to his nan and eventually Ben (among other people) he find his place in this world. Jason, is fascinating, and intriguing, a young innocent man in many ways because of the situation he’s in but yet very experienced and self-sufficient for the very same situation and life experiences. It is hard not to love him from the moment you meet. He’s smart and caring, and nothing is more important to than his nan because of the fact that she’s the only person in his world, as the book starts, that loves him for the person he is.

As for the supporting characters, I absolutely LOVE Jake (I feel a story there Tim) and Jason’s grandmother, Alice, what a treat! T.J. Masters did spot on with that woman. Also, one of my absolute favorite books by T.J. Masters (besides this one) is Taking the Gardener and Eric and

Tom from that book are also mentioned and visit in this one which is more than nice. While Taking the Gardener is a lifestyle book (BDSM) this is not, they fit right in and that doesn’t surprise me at all. Because Taking the Gardener, even though there are plenty of people who didn’t understand the true meaning of that book, is just like Bear Among the Books a story about finding yourself, about finding your place in life and when you have daring to take that step out from the shadow and live life, your life, to the fullest! Well done, T.J. Masters! Well done!

5* It was amazing

Serena Yates for Rainbow Book Reviews

The book description had me at Ben being a librarian and a passionate book lover, but then there was the riddle of Jason visiting the library almost every day without ever checking out a book – and I was hooked. This is a fantastic story about two amazing men who have a lot to deal with beyond the fact that they are gay. As it turns out, this is not a problem for any of the people in Ben’s life. But the age difference they face is almost thirty years, and Jason has had a traumatic childhood resulting in more issues to overcome than most young men his age. This could have been a book full of angst and drama, but instead Ben and Jason’s story turned out to be a slow-paced, gentle romance that focuses on the growth and changes that happen as they get to know each other.

For all that Ben works well with people, it takes him quite a while to figure out why Jason comes in, takes a huge variety of books off the shelf, leafs through each one, then returns them where he found them without ever checking one out. It’s probably because he never suspects the reason, based on Jason’s behavior, and because he is a little distracted by how good Jason looks. When Ben figures it out, he decides to help Jason learn to read and because Ben used to be a teacher, he has the tools to do it. The process he used – starting with picture books and graphic novels so Jason can focus on the story – was fascinating, and I was with both of them every step of the way.

Jason, even though his point of view is not included as Ben is the sole narrator, came to life for me based on his questions, reactions, and behavior once he has someone who believes in him and supports him. Yes, his grandmother already does that for him since she has taken him into her home, but that is different because she is family and her support is mainly emotional. Something Jason is in dire need of after his stepfather’s cruel abuse and his mother’s cruelty! Ben can help Jason gain self-confidence, give him the reading skills Jason so desperately wants, and become a true partner.

You might think that two men, as far apart as they are in age and experience, will never fit. This story shows that’s not necessarily true. On the other hand, both are lonely with Ben having lost his partner a few years ago and Jason having never had a boyfriend before. Then there is their love of stories and books that unites them as Jason learns to read. But in the end it boils down to the fact that they are attracted to each other, enjoy doing things like cooking meals together, and are simply good for each other. Despite everything they have to overcome and deal with, they are great as a team and as a couple – a pretty sound basis for a long-term relationship if you ask me.

If you like slow-burn romances that become sizzling hot once the partners get going, if an unusual May/December relationship with a few added issues is your thing, and if you’re looking for a gentle love story with a lot of heart, then you will probably love this novel as much as I do. It’s a very special tale filled with warmth and an “everyday feel” that had me entranced without the need for much action or huge plot twists.

Bear Among the Books – Available 2nd September!

My latest novel, Bear Among the Books, will be published by Dreamspinner Press on Friday 2nd September! Here’s the blurb as well as an excerpt. You’ll find a pre-order link at the bottom of this post.

BearAmongTheBooksFS

Forty-eight-year-old Ben Thompson is a librarian, a passionate book lover, and a man who embodies the definition of a bear. He’s also lonely after the loss of his long-term partner. Young ex-gymnast Jason Barnes piques his interest, but Ben quickly realizes there’s more to Jason than his good looks. While Jason visits the library almost every day, he never checks out a book.

With gentle persistence, Ben befriends Jason and learns the nineteen-year-old’s tragic secrets. After years of abuse at his father’s hands, Jason was kicked out of his family home for being gay. And despite his apparent love of books, Jason never learned to read. Ben offers to teach him, and the two men bond over their lessons. Ben can’t deny his attraction to Jason, but he wonders if Jason is too young and too handsome to return his interest. With the help of the close-knit library team and Jason’s growing self-confidence, they move beyond the books and into the bedroom, where their own story is just beginning.

 

Why do so many teenagers leave school unable to read?

In the early planning stages of this novel I decided that one of my main characters was going to be an illiterate teenager who had been failed by the adults throughout his troubled young life. When I first mentioned this to people I got a very bemused response from most. After all, why would Jason spend all his time hanging around in a library if he couldn’t read?

For most of my working life I was a primary school teacher with a passionate belief in the effective teaching of reading. I believe that only reading can open up the widest possible range of opportunities for success in learning. I feel that it is a failure of my profession that so many young people manage to leave school lacking the most basic literacy skills and ill equipped to make their way in the modern world.

There are many reasons why children might fail to learn how to read. Unfortunately our education system assumes that our young people will have learned to read before they get to secondary (high) school. Once there, they face a subject curriculum which has no time for the teaching of reading. In the book, Jason is a bright guy who has had a difficult home and school life. This is a young man who is intelligent enough to understand what he is missing and he aches for the knowledge which he sees as hidden in books and lost to him. Like many illiterate adults Jason feels great shame at his predicament and he has developed a whole range of clever coping mechanisms to survive in a world full of words.

It should be a matter of shame to all of us that that recent studies have ranked English teenagers as among the least literate in the developed world (OECD 2015). One more recent study by Sheffield University has found that as many as 17% of UK teenagers are leaving school as functionally illiterate. More specifically they say that one fifth of teens between the ages of 16 and 19 have a reading age of 11 or below!

This may sound depressing but in real life as in the novel, there are people like librarian Ben who are willing and able to make a difference. We just need many more of them.

 

EXCERPT:

Daisy joined me behind the front desk. “I’ll take over here. You’d better go and get on with something important, but keep your eye on him, that’s all.”

Clearly I was not responding as I was supposed to, and I was now being dismissed. “Thanks, Daisy. Actually I feel like doing something a bit more mundane, so I’ll take the returns trolley and stack some books.”

Indeed this might appear like a mundane task, but it gave me an excuse to tour the stacks and check that all was well. Any time spent among the books was also a welcome distraction from admin jobs. I also liked to greet our regulars when I saw them around the place, and I knew a good many of them by name.

As I rounded the stack into the second bay of the fiction section, there was our young hoodlum Jason, sitting cross-legged on the floor, with an open book in his lap. He didn’t appear to be reading, unless he was a speed reader. He was methodically turning the pages over, one after another. Jason looked up and almost seemed on the verge of tears.

“Hello.” I wasn’t sure how to interact with him yet. “It’s Jason, isn’t it?” I tried not to sound too familiar.

“Yes, that’s right.” He closed the book and started to get up.

“I didn’t mean to disturb you. No need to move on my account.”

“That’s okay. This book is boring anyway.” Jason was now standing there looking down at the cover of the book, as if unsure what he was doing.

“What kind of thing do you like to read?”

Jason looked up, and once again his fresh face and beautiful bright eyes stilled me. He seemed to be thinking about how to respond.

“I just like good stories, but I like reading information too, like science or nature.”

“Well that gives you plenty to choose from, then.”

Again he glanced at the book in his hands. “I guess so.”

Jason turned to the shelves, and as he moved to replace the book, I saw there was one on the shelf resting over on its spine, apparently marking its position. As if to confirm this, Jason slid his book in beside the marker book, and then he lifted it back into its correct position.

“If you ever need any help or want suggestions for things to read, just ask. I’m always happy to help.”

“Okay, thanks.” Jason flashed his amazing smile and looked at his watch. “I need to get going. See you later.” Jason looked at me as if he was trying to remember something.

“It’s Ben.” I saw him smile at his own memory lapse. “Don’t forget to collect your library card from Daisy at the front desk.”

“Thanks Ben. Bye for now.”

I watched as our handsome hoodlum strode across the room to leave, and with a sigh of great satisfaction, I went back to replacing books on shelves.

Pre-order from Dreamspinner Press.

New Release: Diary Dates

 

DiaryDatesFSThis Saturday saw the release of my latest story Diary Dates by Dreamspinner Press as part of their Christmas in July promotion. The story centres upon postgraduate student Andrew Chin who arrives in London not only to study, but to explore life away from his traditional family in Singapore. His adventure begins at the airport, where he finds the diary of a wealthy British businessman and endeavors to return it.

James Howard is twice Andrew’s age, and he’s not used to selfless youngsters. Despite a rocky first meeting, the two develop an unlikely friendship as James introduces Andrew to the city. James is looking forward to the festivities leading up to Christmas in London and maybe a celebration with Andrew. But will a nasty bout of the flu ruin their romantic holiday?

Not if Andrew has anything to say about it.

Excerpt

Andrew remembered the diary. Eager to get it back to its owner, he called the number he’d found in the book, but it went to voice mail.

A well-spoken masculine voice confirmed that it was the phone of James Howard. Suddenly feeling self-conscious, Andrew hung up while he decided what he was going to say. In the end he left a simple message telling Mr. Howard that he had found his diary at the airport and wanted to return it as soon as possible.

Jenny suggested they go out, so they left everything and ventured out into the busy London streets. After walking around, taking in the sights, they grabbed a sandwich for lunch from a coffee shop. Just as they were trying to decide where to try next, Andrew’s phone rang and he recognized the number on the screen as the same one that he had dialed earlier. Feeling a little nervous, Andrew answered. “Hello?”

“Hello, yes. You left a message earlier about my diary.” The man sounded business-like.

“Oh, yes, I think you left it at the airport. How can I bring it to you?”

“Thank you for calling me. My whole life is in that book. I will pay you a finder’s fee, of course. Can you bring it to me at my office?”

“I’m sorry, what is a finder’s fee?” Andrew had never heard the term before.

“I will pay you a reward for bringing the diary to me.” The man sounded a little impatient.

“Ah, no, Mr. Howard, I do not want any reward. Just to give your book back to you.” Such a thing had never occurred to Andrew, and it was certainly not what he intended. “I have only come to London today, but if you can tell me where to come so I will bring the diary to you.”

“My office is near Euston Station. Can you come there?”

Andrew remembered the name from the journey earlier. “Yes, I think that is not far. When can I come there?” He hoped that the man would not say now, because Andrew needed to go back to the flat to collect the diary first.

“I’ve got meetings this afternoon. Can you come at five o’clock?”

“Yes, sure.”

“I’ll text you the address. When you come to reception tell them who you are. They’ll be expecting you.”

“Okay, Mr. Howard. I’ll go there at five o’clock.”

For a moment Andrew thought the man was going to hang up without saying anything more, but then he suddenly asked, “Can you tell me your name?”

“Oh, sorry, sir. My name is Andrew, Andrew Chin.”

“Chinese name?”

“Yes sir, I arrived from Singapore today.”

“Okay, Andrew, I must go. Thanks for contacting me.”

“No problem, Mr. Howard.”

The man at the other end had already hung up. Andrew, in his usual kind way, assumed that the man’s abrupt manner on the phone was just because he was a busy, important person.

Andrew told Jenny what was going on, but she said she couldn’t go with him because she was having a tryout for a waitressing job later. A text from Mr. Howard provided Andrew the address of his office. After looking it up, he decided that he could make his way there on his own.

They wandered the streets for another couple of hours and then went back to the flat so that Jenny could get ready for work. While he was waiting, Andrew looked up James Howard’s company on the Internet. It was a world leader in technical ceramics and Mr. Howard was the company’s CEO.

Jenny had warned him that he would arrive at his destination far too early if he left just after four, but he was nervous about being late. So it was that just half an hour later he arrived at the address and found himself in front of a modern office building.

He still had another twenty minutes to wait for the appointed time. Not wanting to be seen yet, he carried on walking until he reached the end of the road, where a low wall marked the boundary of another building set back a little from the road. Sitting himself down on the wall, Andrew took off his rucksack and removed Mr. Howard’s diary in its protective plastic bag.

Beyond the initial search for the owner’s details, Andrew had left the book unopened. Once he had realized that the book was a diary, it became a private thing. Now, however, the thought that the diary was about to pass out of his hands again nudged Andrew to take a look at it. If nothing else, he wanted to see whether the diary would give him any clues about the man he was about to meet.

The thick band holding the book closed was essential, since it held so many loose bits of paper and business cards between its pages. Removing this carefully, Andrew ran his slender fingers over the spine and cover. The black surface felt almost like fine leather, although it was too thin to be real. All the entries in the diary were neatly written, probably with an ink pen. This idea seemed a bit old-fashioned, but at the same time quite stylish. The multiple appointments on almost every page showed that this James Howard was indeed a busy man.

One of the most telling things was the odd pages, which were full of doodles. These were either geometric patterns or tiny drawings, but all quite neat. Maybe some of those meetings were not so interesting.

Another curious observation was that there was little difference between some of the weekend pages and those for the weekdays. Did this man never take a day off?

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https://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/books/diary-dates-by-tj-masters-7305-b

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