Our Explorer Jordan Clayden-Lewis is publishing his book, When Things Happen Together, this October – a queer romance meets classic Aussie road trip! We chatted to Jordan about the book and the importance of queer representation in travel and adventure fiction.
AF: Can you give us a sneaky suggestion how much of this story is based on your own life? Is one of the characters based on a special someone you met on your own travels?
JCL: This is a complex question, and one that can’t be answered so simply. As a fiction author, I do tend to draw on my own experiences and life as inspiration for my work.
However, I would never reveal what’s reality and what’s an extension of the art. I think it’s better to not define what’s true so as to not take away from the reader’s experience.
What I can say, though, is that this story and its characters are works of fiction.
What inspired you to write fiction, instead of a memoir?
Ever since I was young, I’ve always had an overactive imagination, as well as a passion for reading fiction and losing myself in the worlds that authors create. Then I started forming my own ideas and began writing them. I have much more fun writing fiction. It follows a structure that works for me.
What epic Aussie locations should readers keep an eye out for in the book?
There are lots! Thomas and Bruce visit loads of iconic Aussie locations in the book. Aside from their adventures through the Scenic Rim and Sunshine Coast hinterland, they also road trip through the Northern Territory and South Australia. Keep an eye out for the popular NT spot Bitter Springs as well as Kings Canyon and Uluru.
Couples road tripping Australia are a dime a dozen, what makes Thomas and Bruce’s story special?
As a reader, I’ve seen queer fiction grow exponentially over the recent years. However, as someone who loves to explore, hike and camp, I never saw that represented in a book character, let alone in a queer protagonist.
So I decided to create my own character and write the story that I wanted to read, and I’m hoping that readers can find the same sense of belonging that I do in Thomas.
In saying that, I believe Thomas and Bruce’s story is perhaps a first of its kind – one that may be underrepresented but has the ability to resonate with readers who have those same interests. Readers who love to travel and have a sense of adventure, but also those who’ve struggled with a mental diversity at some point in their lives.
What makes their story extra special is the mysterious numbers, which are essentially an elemental force in itself that appear to them throughout the book. Numerology is something that interests me, so exploring that in a fictional, magical realism sense while writing was really fascinating.
Where do you consider to be the most romantic place in Australia?
Well according to Thomas and Bruce, their most romantic place would be Buderim on the Sunshine Coast. They love the cosy small-town vibe there, as well as the nearby Serenity Falls. They think the Glass House Mountains are pretty magical to look at too.
Has writing a novel always been a dream of yours?
Yeah! Ever since I was young. After school, I went on to study Creative Writing at university, and self-published a short fiction novel after I graduated in 2019, which was a sci-fi horror novel.
My writing style has changed a lot since then, though, and I think after signing to my first book publisher, When Things Happen Together (WTHT) has become the beginning of this new writing style.
Which authors and novels are you inspired by?
Ah, so many! There are so many great authors and books out there, but to narrow down the list, I’d have to mention Chris Gill, author of the queer Australian coming-of-age novel, The Nowhere. I remember reading this book back in 2019, around the same time I began writing WTHT, and it was one of the first queer books I’d ever read. It really inspired me to keep writing and believe in the story I was writing.
As for a romance novel that inspired my book, Casey McQuiston’s Red, White & Royal Blue absolutely had an influence. T.J Klune is also an author I admire. His latest fantasy books, The House in the Cerulean Sea and Under the Whispering Door are two of my favourites.
Who’s your favourite or most inspiring LGBTQIA+ celebrity or personality?
I’d have to say RuPaul! He’s done so much for the LGBTQIA+ community through Drag Race, reminding us all how important it is to prioritise feeling comfortable in our own skin. His famous quote is so simple yet so very true: ‘If you can’t love yourself, then how the hell are you gonna love somebody else?’.
Writing an entire novel is an epic achievement! Do you have any more story ideas up your sleeve?
Thank you, I’m very excited for it to be set free into the world. And I do, yes! I’ve written the next book after WTHT. All I can reveal right now is that it’s another gay romance novel, also set in Australia.
When can Aussie readers get their paws on a copy of When Things Happen Together?
When Things Happen Together is set for a worldwide release on October 11, 2022. Right now, the book is available for pre-order on Amazon and other retailers. Pre-orders help more readers and booksellers find my book and add to its overall success so I can keep writing!
When Things Happen Together Excerpt
Jordan’s been kind enough to share an excerpt from the When Things Happen Together to give a little taster of what to expect from this exciting new novel, where romance and adventure intertwine!
Two travellers on the ultimate Australian road trip. Two numbers that will change their lives forever.
Thomas is in need of a change. Being an aspiring artist from London, he hopes a working holiday in sunny Australia will be the muse he’s been waiting for. But it isn’t Australia’s vast landscapes that are his source of inspiration…
After a string of unromantic dates, Thomas meets Bruce, a handsome Irish traveller with alluring almond eyes. The more time the pair spend together, however, the more they start seeing the numbers 1122 everywhere.
Are the numbers just a coincidence, or is something greater at play? Is Bruce really who he says he is, or is there more to him than he’s letting on?
A story about seizing the moment, finding a sense of home, and embracing love when it comes knocking.
It was 11:22am when we stopped at the petrol station to fill up. Our surroundings dried even more, the dirt color changing from a cream beige to a dark orange red. In the book Cheyanne gifted me, I read about some of the hiking trails in the Central Australian desert, imagining myself at all the lookouts, Bruce by my side, accomplishment plastered over both of our sweaty faces.
Upon looking up, the Stuart Highway appeared endless. It was just one long straight strip of road, surrounded by vast arid plains on either side. But there was also a certain beauty to the empty-seeming land we were seeing.
‘I can’t believe we’re actually here,’ I said after a prolonged and peaceful silence of staring out the window.
Bruce rubbed my leg, his other hand on the wheel. ‘It’s crazy, isn’t it?’ He then chuckled. ‘I’m also keen to get to some sort of a town, though, especially when it gets dark. Deserted barren places like this, they’re pretty, but they’re also the reason why I’m terrible with scary movies.’
I tickled the back of his neck. ‘I’d protect you.’
Bruce gave me a cheeky side glance. ‘Thomas, my hero,’ he said, his mouth quirking into a smirk.
We took turns driving for the day, stopping every couple of hours to switch. The desert seemed to inspire Bruce when he was planted in the passenger seat. Perhaps because he had a document open on his laptop to dive into a planet of words with. He typed away while I focused on the road, envisioning what my next art piece could entail. The images that came to mind were of Bruce and I wandering down the middle of the Stuart Highway, walking in the direction of a UFO in the distance, which hovered at level with our foreheads.
‘If you could describe me in three words, what would they be?’ Bruce asked, rather randomly.
The UFO quickly disappeared from my mind. I chuckled. ‘Um, interruptive for one. Can’t you see I’m thinking about aliens over here?’
Bruce narrowed his eyes on me for a moment and then laughed. ‘I mean, if we were going to be abducted by aliens, this would be the place.’
How on Earth could I really describe you in just three words, Bruce?
‘Three words,’ I began. ‘Hmm.’ I had to think about this one. ‘Um, creative. You know, your writing and stuff is pretty wicked. Handsome, because well, look at you. And, uh, magical, because I think you’re some sort of wizard and you’re not telling me. P.s. please don’t judge me for my lack of knowledge for big words.’
Bruce beamed, raising his eyebrows. ‘You know I’m a wizard.’
‘Okay, your turn for the three words,’ I then said, eagerly.
Bruce looked at his laptop. ‘Actually, I already have mine written down.’
I hit him lightly on the leg. ‘Well, that’s cheating now, isn’t it? If I would’ve gotten time to think, I probably would’ve been able to at least come up with some better words.’
‘Oh, c’mon, I thought your words were cute.’
‘Fine. I’ll take that. Now, what are yours?’
He began to read from a notebook next to his laptop. ‘Okay, number one: zany.’
‘What now?’ I chimed in.
‘Zany,’ he repeated. ‘It basically means that you’re an amusing weirdo.’
‘Zany,’ I said, nodding my head. ‘I love it.’
‘And number two,’ Bruce went on. ‘Talented, because well, your art is class and you deserve all the praise for it.’
I didn’t even need to look in a mirror to know that my cheeks were glowing pink.
‘And three, empathetic, because you just get me, and I get you.’
A smile formed on my face. To me, his words held undenying power. So much so that I could feel the moisture in my eyes multiply.
‘Who are you?’ was all that left my mouth.
We held each other’s gaze for a short moment. I could’ve kept it for a lot longer, but I had to watch the road, even though there weren’t going to be any bends or turns for quite some time. I asked Bruce what had inspired the three words game, to which he said that he’d been writing and got bored, so he thought it would be fun.
We spent the next few hours loudly singing along to a noughties playlist Bruce had downloaded to his phone while we were in Mataranka. It certainly made the time pass with ease.
The sun set elegantly that evening, the moon rising by the time we reached the small town of Tennant Creek.
‘I’m so hungry I can barely function,’ Bruce mentioned, frantically studying every shop that seemed open as we drove through town.
I yawned, slowing down the car so I could peek out the window myself. ‘Me too. I could honestly do anything at this stage.’
‘Pizza?’ Bruce called out as soon as he spotted the sign.
Pizza it was. However, it was nowhere near as good as the last vegetarian takeaway pizza we’d eaten, on the night we first met. What was better, though, was the sleeping arrangement.
You can preorder a copy of When Things Happen Together now!
Feature photo by @elishadonkin