Is this a guest post? I’m still not sure how guest posting works despite my very (okay not really) extensive search on Google. I could ramble all day about my great quest to understand how guest posts works, or I could get on with today’s blog post- Unspoken by R.A. Padmos.
When Stefan meets Adri, it is love at first sight. It does, however, take some time before he recognizes his own feelings. He’s a married man—a family man—with a strong sense of responsibility. In Dutch society of 1935, sex between men over the age of twenty-one might be legal, but acceptance is still a long way off.
As a working-class man without a steady job, he doesn’t have the means to ignore society’s rules and create his own little paradise in which both he and his lover can be together, without his family having to suffer poverty and shame. Despite all this, the lovers find a way to carve out moments of intimacy and happiness.
Then the Germans march into Holland and nothing will ever be the same again. The occupation, which will last five long years, offers both danger and chances, but choices have to be made—choices of the head and choices of the heart.
They walked through the over familiar paths of the neighborhood park, not knowing where else to go and not wanting to say goodbye, though slowly the jobless with empty hours on their hands, the old men chased out of the house by their ever-busy wives and the mothers with prams and toddlers were already going home. Suddenly they were alone in a quiet corner. Under a tall tree they stopped, and before Stefan realized what was happening, Adri kissed him right on the mouth.
With an aggressive gesture born of fear, Stefan pushed him away. “Idiot.”
“I want you and you want me,” Adri pleaded.
“Tell me something I don’t already know.”
“I go mad from not being able to hold you or kiss you. Why do you refuse me?” Adri stretched out his hand and gently caressed Stefan’s arm.
Stefan didn’t simply allow it to happen, he was actually the one getting a step closer, curling his hand around his lover’s neck to angle him in and kiss him.
“We can’t do this. It’s too dangerous.”
They kissed again.
“We have to stop before we get all turned on.”
Once more, they kissed.
“Please make it stop.” Adri’s hands were touching all over. “Please…” He pressed Stefan’s body closer against his own. “Please, love, make it stop.”
“Then tell me how.” Stefan held his friend in his arms, trying in vain to shield him from the pain that was already becoming a fixed element of their love.
Interview with R.A. Padmos:
Q: For a start, could you tell a bit about yourself?
I’m afraid there’s nothing too exciting to tell about me. I’m a woman, I write and I studied social history. I’m also in a relationship with another woman since October 1981, and we got legally married in 2001. My wife and I have two grown sons, who are both students.
Q: What inspired you to write Unspoken?
I guess I couldn’t not write it. WW2 and gay history? Now we’re talking, my dear.
Q: Was it hard to do research on the subject of being homosexual in Holland right before and during WW2?
I’m a social historian with an almost lifelong interest in WW2 and gay history, so I already had a working knowledge to make the story believable. There’s always the matter of interpretation and choice of what to highlight, of course. Of course, I also have the luck that I speak Dutch, so all publications concerning these themes I can read without any trouble.
That’s how I learned that the history of homosexual men during the German occupation is quite a complex one. Unspoken is a reflection of that complexity.
Q: Apart from your love of history, what personal connection with the characters and/or settings made you write Unspoken?
It’s part of gay history. I’m a Dutch lesbian. The main characters are male, but there’s still enough connection. And how many people realize that so far historians haven’t found a single Dutch man send to a concentration camp purely for his homosexuality? (It goes without saying that a number of Jewish and political victims/survivors were also gay or lesbian)
Please don’t interpret this as trivializing the discrimination of gay people and the fear they lived in. Life really was hard enough as it was without me telling historical untruths.
Q: What made you decide to write Unspoken from Stefan’s POV rather than Adri’s?
I found it an interesting challenge. I’m one of a tiny minority of lesbians of my generation who never dated a man. So writing about a man who was married when he discovered that he actually preferred men, was great fun. Be it sometimes an uneasy great fun. I’m very monogamous and cheating on a partner is something I can’t even imagine doing.
Q: Who/what inspired Adri? He is a complicated character even though he doesn’t seem so at first glance.
I wanted to write a more modern homosexual man, a gay man so to say, as a counterpoint to Stefan, who is married and can’t imagine himself being attracted to men until he’s madly in love with another man. Adri on the other hand knows what he is, and he tries to live according to his nature. Eighty years ago that took a lot of courage and imagination. Especially from someone who could easily pass as straight (or “normal” as was the term used then) and who had no money.
Q: Did Marije ever find out about Stefan and Adri’s relationship? Would it matter if she did?
Good question. There are some subtle hints in the story that might be interpreted as that she kind of knows. Seeing the poverty and the fact that there are four children, open knowledge wouldn’t change the outcome. It would make for some interesting conversations, but that would make the story too modern. Simply not talking about certain things was the norm for most.
Q: Were there any alternate endings you considered?
Actually no. But Unspoken has a sister book, The Bookshop, that tells the story of bookseller Jakoba Huyzen. Stefan and Adri are mentioned several times, both before 1935 and after 1945. So, if you want to know more, and have no problem with the main pairing being a male/female couple…
Q: What is the best part of writing in your experience? What the worst?
Let’s start with the worst. That must be the moment I feel the story are getting nowhere, the main character is as flat as a Dutch pancake and I still have to write it because I promised the publisher to do it. (not that they force me into anything, but a promise counts for something and I really want to give it my honest best)
The best? When it all works and comes alive. The feelings only last a short time, to make place for a slight feeling of panic that I won’t make it, but from experience, I know I at least make a reasonable chance I end up with a complete story.
Q: Can we expect new books from you in the future?
I just heard from one of my publishers that a short story with a lesbian couple as the main characters has been accepted. So in a number of months, I can tell that I’ve published m/m, m/m/m, m/f/m, m/f and f/f stories.
I’m close to finishing a historical gay novella, that takes place at the very end of WW2. And there are always projects that get interrupted but somehow always get started again and one day they I can send them to the publisher.