First Time For Everything by Henry Fry is an exciting queer coming-of-age debut book. Debutiful invited the writer to answer the recurring A Life of Books questionnaire so readers can get to know him better.
Is there a book or series that, when you think back, helped define your childhood?
I was so dyslexic as a child that I could barely read. I couldn’t even speak until I was three. So my mum would rent story tapes from the library and I would listen to them every night as I was falling asleep. I listened to all the classics, lots of YA adventure stories, everything. But I think the first series I actually read and enjoyed were the His Dark Materials books by Phillip Pullman at the age of about seventeen – quite late considering I am now an author!
Would you want any children in your life (yours or relatives’) to read those too? Or what’s your philosophy on what children read?
I would. I think fostering a love of stories and reading in whatever form, whatever content, is an incredible gift to give a child, and lasts their entire lifetime.
Moving to your school years: what book did you read in high school and hated (or skipped reading at all) that you learned you loved later in life?
All my English teachers were wonderful, and while most of the class hated deconstructing Shakespeare and Oscar Wilde, I absolutely loved it. It was thrilling to suddenly understand what was otherwise an opaque text. Talking it through in the classroom gave me the enjoyment – I never would have read them alone. I think I enjoyed everything we read in class, despite never reading anything outside of it.
What about the opposite way? One you loved in your teens, but realized you didn’t love it so much later on?
The one type of book I did read as a child and in my teens were factual books about ancient history. They were mostly pictures, which I’d faithfully reproduce with coloured pencils. I’m not sure they’d have the same draw now!
Are there any books that you read while writing your debut that helped shape the direction you took your own book?
I was inspired mostly by comedy TV shows like Broad City, pop culture, Internet culture, etc. But the biggest literary inspirations were Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin and Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. I picked up Tales from a charity shop, having no idea what it was about. Reading it, I was blown away that here was a queer story that was light and fun and didn’t fall into the tropes I’d grown up with around HIV, trauma, gay-bashing and ostracization. It was refreshing to read something silly and authentically queer! Eleanor Oliphant is such a readable novel, but also has incredible emotional complexity. It gave me great inspiration for how we the reader know the narrator is unreliable, even if they don’t. This was perfect fodder for Danny, my naïve narrator, who misreads every situation and constantly does everything wrong.
What is a book you’ve read that you thought, Damn, I wish that was mine?
Whoa, so many! Most recently Memorial by Bryan Washington. I still think about it every day. His prose is so economic it requires the reader to make a mental leap to fully grasp what’s being said, which makes it all the more powerful. It’s an incredible, insightful addition to queer narratives that really goes into the depths of the human soul while also making you laugh with loads of dry wit. What an amazing brain this man must have – I’m jealous!
What have you been reading / do you plan to read during your debut book tour?
I’m currently reading To Paradise by Hanya Yanagihara (who wrote A Little Life), then plan on reading the second Heartstopper graphic novel – they are just about the cutest thing you’ll ever see.
And, finally, I have to ask… I’m sorry. What’s next? But wait! Only use three words.
A second novel!