Epicure Café, Berkhamsted greeted me with the fragrance of coffee and creativity – a perfect place to meet author, Leslie Tate. While waiting for Leslie, I explored the art gallery. Haunting photographs of dream sequences were hanging in battered frames. In one retro print, there was a grey haired man, wearing a black suit and pencil thin black tie; but he looked uncomfortable. The solitary man sat in a dilapidated room.
I was studying the haunting photograph, of the solitary man, when Leslie arrived. He wore a long, colourful blouse that fluttered and floated as he walked. I admired his red, embroidered ballet pumps, and he complimented me on my lilac handbag. I’m not sure if he liked my black woollen flare coat. Leslie was laughing, animated and full of fun. I recognised him as the man wearing the suit, in the dreamlike photographs, but Leslie looked much happier, as if he had shed the burden of a chrysalis.
Leslie: Lovely to meet you, Jessie. I hope you like the photographs.
Jessie: Wow! The photographs are mesmerising. I was lost in the haunting disequilibrium.
Leslie: The photographs are stills taken from a film trailer. My novel, Heaven’s Rage, has been made into a 15 minute film. Look here (he pointed to an eighties style TV screens). You can tap the various icons to get information and to view the trailer.
Jessie: I would love to see the trailer of the film, but tell me about the novel. I want to know about your words: the words behind the images.
Leslie: ‘Heaven’s Rage’ is an imaginative autobiography. Reporting on feelings people don’t usually own up to, it explores addiction, cross-dressing and the hidden sides of families, discovering at their core the transformative power of words to rewire the brain and reconnect with life.
Jessie: Intriguing! Tell me about the book that had the power to inspire a film made by an ex-Hollywood Director.
Leslie retrieved a copy of Heaven’s Rage from his handbag. The front cover is a distinctive portrait of Leslie. The dominant colours of the painting signify a rage but imply a glorious defiance. And I adored the black scarf! Leslie opened Heaven’s Rage.
Leslie: It began with a dream where I found myself alone in the woods. I’d been captured by a gang on the way to school and tied to a tree in what people called the wasteland.
Leslie tapped the icon of himself, as a child, to play the film trailer for the film based on his book.
Jessie: The extract explains the reason for the dream sequences in the trailer. Tell me, how has your groundbreaking book been received by the reviewers?
Leslie: ‘Leslie Tate’s memoir is by turns an elegy for a lost childhood, a tribute to the power of literature and a demand for the right to identity in a world that turns too easily on those who differ from the conventional’ – Jonathan Ruppin, Judge for the Costa Novel Award, the Guardian First Book Award, the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Award and the Desmond Elliott Prize.
‘I found the beautiful descriptions of Leslie’s journey of discovery and transition from a young boy, terrified of his thoughts, differences and uniqueness, into a man who is happily married and comfortable in his own skin to be very emotionally satisfying.
The style of this book reminds me of the ocean, continuously moving and shifting, changing colour and physical presence continuously. There are conversations, poems, extracts from other novels, reflections and memories which all merge and blend into a well penned story of a fascinating life.’ -Robbie Cheadle as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team.
Jessie: How did you feel when you had finished writing your book?
Leslie: I knew that publishing the book would take my cross-dressing with friends and family into the public arena. I didn’t know that it would, little by little, lead me into going everywhere cross-dressed. So my feelings combined relief, excitement and release with a quiet sense of trepidation.
Jessie: Who would you like to read your book and why? This could be another author, someone famous, a friend or a member of your family.
Leslie: Myself at the age of 15 when I believed I was the only person in the world with my ‘weird compulsion’. I felt there was something so wrong with me that I’d never have a successful relationship. Heaven’s Rage would have made me see that being trans is a gift rather than a curse.
Jessie: Why should I keep your book in my handbag?
Leslie: Because it’s good to read about people who may appear to be different to you – and to share our common humanity.
Jessie: What is the last sentence written in your writer’s notebook?
Leslie: Everything I’ve written stops for this.
Jessie: What is the biggest challenge for an author?
Leslie: It’s hard to continue writing authentically and originally in a genre-driven market, and being isolated can compound the problem. I’m lucky that I’m married to another writer, Sue Hampton, and we support each other.
Jessie: What is the best advice that you have received as a writer?
Leslie: ‘Love words, agonize over sentences. And pay attention to the world.’ — Susan Sontag
More about Leslie Tate
Leslie Tate studied Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia and has been shortlisted for the Bridport, Geoff Stevens and Wivenhoe Prizes. He’s the author of the trilogy of novels ‘Purple’, ‘Blue’ and ‘Violet’, as well as his trans memoir ‘Heaven’s Rage’, which has been turned into a film. On his website https://leslietate.com/ he posts up weekly creative interviews and guest blogs showing how people use their imagination in life, in many different ways.
It has been a pleasure to communicate with Leslie. His love of words is clear in all his communications, and this bodes well for his novel, ‘Heaven’s Rage’. During our communications, I sent these words to Leslie.
‘I will go on adventures, changing, opening my mind and my eyes, refusing to be stamped and stereotyped. The thing is to free one’s self: to let it find dimension, not to be impeded.’ Virginia Woolf.
Heaven’s Rage has been made into a 15 minute film by ex-Hollywood Director Mark Crane. The film is being shown at a film festival in Stuttgart, Germany and is up for several awards.