William Hussey's The Outrage, set in a future England that has become a fascist state, is published this month. As a gay man and a visiting author, Hussey has spoken to hundreds of LGBTQ+ students worldwide. Hearing their stories of modern intolerance, prejudice and the tragic consequences this can lead to inspired him to write his first LGBTQ+ book, Hideous Beauty. Fusing real LGBTQ+ stories with classic genre writing, Will is a dazzling new voice in UKYA.
The Outrage (Usborne Books)
A deeply disturbing and powerful read, William Hussey's The Outrage imagines a dark near-future where people's rights and particularly the rights of LGBTQ+ have been extinguished and kissing the wrong person can have terrible consequences. We asked William Hussey to tell us more about The Outrage:
1. What got you started in writing for young people?
It all began with a challenge. I started out as an author of horror stories for adults. Incidentally, this proved to be a really a good training ground for writing many of my later books for Young Adults, including THE OUTRAGE, as most of them are thrillers, and the transferable skill between horror and thrillers is to maintain a firm grip on the pace of your story. When to speed it up so that you leave the reader breathless; when to slow it down so that the tension becomes almost unbearable.
Anyway, I was doing a book event at my local Waterstones and one of the booksellers there, Debbie Scarrow, was a specialist in children's fiction. We got chatting about the demands that are placed on an author by different genres. She quite rightly said that writing for teens is MUCH harder than writing for adults. They are just more discerning readers! So Debbie challenged me to write a YA book - this became the WITCHFINDER trilogy - and I've never looked back!
2. Can you tell us a little about your latest LGBTQ+ novel, The Outrage?
The Outrage is set in a near-future England that has become a fascist state. Many rights we take for granted have been obliterated, including all LGBTQ+ freedoms. Being gay has been made illegal again and is punishable by state-sponsored conversion - or 'Repurification Camps' - where queer people are 'cured', or else 'disappeared'.
Our hero, Gabe Sawyer, has been born into this hideous reality. When he falls in love with the new boy at school, Eric Dufresne, both of their lives are put at risk. You see, Eric is the son of a chief inspector of Degenerate Investigations - the police force that hunts down gay people. But there is one ray of light in all this darkness. Together, Gabe and Eric discover a box of banned LGBTQ films from our time that shows the boys the kind of life they could lead in a freer society.
Gabe, Eric and their friends live for these films and the lessons they teach... until one night their secret is exposed and their lives are changed forever.
3. Why did you want to write this book, and why did you feel that now was the right time to write it - what was the catalyst?
The impulse to write this story came from a few different sources. I started to see more and more news stories in which old debates about LGBTQ+ people's status and rights were being opened up again. Rights we had fought for years to obtain - to marry, to adopt, equality in society and the workplace - were under renewed attack. Both in the UK and around the world in 'liberal' democracies, it seemed that our very right to exist was being questioned. It made me realise more acutely than ever that the rights we have as queer people are very new. And like all young things, they are vulnerable and must be watched over and protected.
I started to envisage a Britain where we had taken our eye off the ball and in this regard and the situation had very quickly deteriorated into the reality of the Protectorate. And so I wrote The Outrage as a warning and as a way to perhaps inform younger readers about the history and fragility of our rights.
4. The Outrage is set in a 'Protectorate' in a near-future UK. Why did you base it in the UK, and how did you decide what this world would be like?
The UK is where I grew up and so I felt that it was only appropriate to set the story within a cultural framework that I understood. As we know all too well, it is currently illegal to be gay in many countries around the world. But those aren't my stories to tell. It would be arrogant and disrespectful of me to even attempt to do so. In any case, the narrative I wanted to explore was about a society in which rights had been won and then lost again. The Outrage is about how complacency can lead to the complete annihilation of liberties, almost overnight.
As far as creating the Protectorate, I decided early on that nothing would be pure invention. Every insult and injustice and torment visited upon the queer characters in the book would have its roots in things that are currently happening or have happened in real life. I did a huge amount of research into the subject and, although it was harrowing, I felt it was important that the narrative had this ring of truth. That is what makes the book so frightening, I think. All the fictional horrors are underscored by the fact that history is a wheel - what has happened can easily happen again.
5. You refer back to Section 28. Was that something you were affected by, growing up? Why do you feel today's young people should know about it?
I was very severely affected by this vile law. I grew up directly under the shadow Section 28 (of the Local Government Act 1988). This forbade, among other things, ‘the teaching… of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship.’ In effect, this meant that books about LGBTQ+ people were banned in British schools and teachers could be prosecuted for even discussing the acceptability of gay lives. This also meant that we received no sexual health and relationship education, right at a time when the AIDS epidemic was still at its height. You can imagine how many lives might have been saved had this not been the case.
It should be borne in mind that Section 28 was only repealed in England and Wales in 2003 (2000 in Scotland). I thought that, by referencing this very recent history, it might bring it home to young readers again how recently acquired our rights are.
6. You also bring trans people and their struggle into the story. Why was it important their struggle was also represented?
Because there is no LGBTQ+ community without that crucial letter 'T'. Trans people have been at the forefront of our fight for equality right from the very beginning (this is directly referenced in a scene in The Outrage) and yet their massive contribution to our liberties is often brushed aside and forgotten.
Also, over the past couple of years, some very powerful and privileged voices - not least in the publishing world - have actively endangered trans lives with ignorant and hateful rhetoric. I was writing The Outrage while much of this was happening and, with the help of my brilliant sensitivity reader Jay Hulme, I wanted to counter some of it by making a trans character the absolute hero of the book. And she is. Gabe completely acknowledges this truth in the final chapters. In fact, those scenes were the most moving for me to write because I wanted to show that trans people have always been - and will always be - at the very heart of our struggle.
7. At the heart of the novel is the relationship between Gabriel and Eric, and what they teach each other. Why did you decide to explore their relationship through two different timelines, then and now?
It was a technique I had used previously in HIDEOUS BEAUTY and I think it works particularly well in these emotional thrillers. You want a pacey narrative that is always pushing forward for the thriller portions, but that momentum would be impeded by a love story that was happening contemporaneously. It would slow the action down too much. The device of interweaving the love story in flashback chapters not only gives depth and resonance to the relationships, it also acts as a kind of cliffhanger for the present-day portions. So the two threads serve each other.
8. Have you based any of the characters on people you know?
I have, but I'll never tell! Especially not the nasty ones!
9. A library and a secret stash of DVDs provide the impetus of the action for Gabriel and Eric's freshly formed rebel group - why did you decide the DVDs would be found in a library?
As Gabe reflects in the book, the Protectorate came for the libraries first. Fascist dictatorships always do. If you can destroy places of learning then people often stop thinking for themselves. And so placing the films in the library seemed symbolically important. Books and movies are absolutely central to Gabe as a character and to the plot and theme of the story - representation within different media is what gives our heroes in The Outrage their sense of belonging, of worth, and of power.
10. And why did you choose those films? Are they personal favourites, or films that left a mark on you?
If you don't mind, I'm not going to directly answer that question because I want readers to discover these movies for themselves and form their own views, unbiased by my experience of them. All I will say is, if you haven't watched some of the films mentioned in THE OUTRAGE - you are in for a treat!
11. How confident are you that the future you describe in The Outrage won't materialise?
I am not confident at all. In fact, I think something like the Protectorate is even more likely now than when I first started writing the book 2 years ago. That statement isn't intended to frighten anyone reading this, but, like the book, it is intended to act as a warning. This future isn't inevitable, but it is VERY possible. And so we must be vigilant, guard against it, and raise our voices in protest when we see it beginning to materialise.
12. Where did you write The Outrage, and how long has it taken to complete? What are you working on currently?
The first couple of drafts were either written at home or in hotel rooms. I'm a visiting author at schools so I'm often living out of a suitcase. The final edits were completed in my office at home on an old PC that is NOT connected to the internet. It's amazing how much work you can get done without the distraction of social media!
My current project is tiptop secret but it will be another LGBTQ love story - only fused with a very different genre...
13. What are your favourite escapes from writing?
I wonder if any writer really escapes writing. We're always looking out for stories and characters, even when we're not sat in front of our computer screens. But I love going to the cinema, the theatre and travelling. All things I hope we can do again in the not too distant (hopefully Protectorate-free!) future.