By Mike Parker
Published by: William Heinemann 2019
It was only as I rushed through the pages of On The Red Hill did I realise how the vast majority of queer stories I have seen, read, heard recently have taken place in urban landscapes. It isn’t surprising as metropolises can be a safer landscape for the queer community to exist in and gather their chosen family. With this in mind, it was highly refreshing to read Mike Parker’s new novel, a lesser told gay narrative, set in and amongst the valleys and rivers of rural Wales; I had a previously unfelt hunger to read this story, and found it hard to put down.
On The Red Hill orbits a house called Rhiw Goch (the Red Hill). Both a geographical orbiting: the rivers, the wildlife, the valley and the surroundings, and a historical orbiting of the house’s inhabitants spanning some 40 years, starting from when it was first bought by couple Reg and George in 1972, who transformed it into a B&B, to now. Parker and his partner Preds met and became friends with Reg and George and were eventually left the house in their will, along with their collection of letters, diaries, photographs and books. Peppered with extracts from Reg and George’s diaries, you quickly build an image of their characters, their foibles and their lives. Similarly, Parker paints a vivid image of life in the house nowadays, combined with black and white photos thought the book, I found myself longing for an invite to one of their summer parties.
Set across four seasons, guided by the four elements and the stories of the four men, we flit between history and modern day in a lyrical telling of life at Rhiw Goch; which at it’s heart is about finding your queer family; as so many of us have done in our own lives.
It’s a quiet, unpretentious tale of the men’s experiences of being gay in a small village, as well as bringing in anecdotes of Reg and Georges’ experiences of growing up gay during wartime. In the current climate I always seek comfort in the stories of acceptance, and how even in the 1930s Reg and George more often than not found they could live peacefully in their communities, with little bother from their neighbours.
This is a beautifully woven tale, pulling in the seasons, the elements, the landscape and the past; the finer details cast Rhiw Goch in to the imagination with great clarity. It may feel similar to tales or stories you’ve heard before, but it’s so well told, I anticipate you may find yourself daydreaming of the Welsh landscape long after you’ve put the book down.
© Amie Taylor