MF 2015

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Text: World Copyright
Martin Foreman

Copyright of pictures acknowledged where possible


Privacy is a relatively new concept. For much of human history, we lived so close to each other that everyone knew everyone else's lives. It is only relatively recently that those of us who live in large anonymous cities and in our own separate rooms and homes have been able to maintain a wall to separate our private and public lives. Now that wall is crumbling as the internet hoovers up and spews out everything about us, from our place of residence to our shopping habits, from our credit ratings to our current whereabouts, from our sex lives to our emotional ups and downs.

I don't think my private life is important, and I'm not very interested in the private lives of the rich, famous or talented. I don't know where Ralph Fiennes was born or how many wives he has had and I don't need that information to appreciate his talents as an actor. The fact that Eric Blair / George Orwell died of tuberculosis is incidental to the overwhelming power of Animal Farm and 1984. And you don't need to know whether I had a happy childhood to decide whether my work as a writer has an impact on your life.

I would therefore prefer to tell you nothing about my background but I am aware that to say nothing suggests I have something to hide or I am being pretentious and mysterious. So here is some basic information to satisfy the curious...

I was born in Scotland in the 1950s and lived in Edinburgh until graduating from university with a second-rate degree in linguistics. I then taught English as a second language for several years, in Greece, London and Brazil. During this period I wrote many articles and short stories, mostly for gay magazines in the UK and US. Among them was a story published in January 1979 in the New York-based Christopher Street about a gay man with an unknown, fatal disease without a cure - two years before AIDS first came to public notice.

In the mid-1980s I wrote regular reviews for the New York Native and was literary editor of the reincarnated UK Gay News. In 1986 I began a 20-year period specialising in the social causes and consequences of HIV/AIDS in the Developing World, work that took me all over the world. [I have to thank Jon Tinker, founder of the Panos Institute, and the late Renee Sabatier for giving me the opportunity to enter this interesting and challenging field.]

Most of my written work during this time was on this topic, but I also published two novels, Weekend and The Butterfly's Wing, and two collections of short stories, A Sense of Loss and First and Fiftieth, during this time. The Butterfly's Wing owes a great deal to the travel opportunities that Panos and other development organisations offered me. While living in Los Angeles, I wrote and, with my partner at the time, produced The Benefactor, a full-length play based on one of my short stories.

In 2003 I moved to Thailand, and a few years later I realised that while my empathy for those affected by AIDS remained undiminished, my intellectual enthusiasm for the subject had died. In 2006 I made the mistake of opening a tour company in Bangkok. It was not my first commercial adventure - I had spent two years in the early 1990s running an unprofitable condom retail and wholesale business in London - and when the business closed I moved back to the UK with my Thai partner. For several years I made a modest income from Arbery Books, an online business specialising in old and rare, lesbian, gay, transgender and other titles. That website is now devoted to sales of my published playscripts and fiction.

The mid-2000s also saw my interest in writing fiction come to an end. While I was becoming increasingly skilful as a writer, broadening my style and range of characters and situations and deepening my insights into the lives of those I wrote about, my sales continued to fall as I failed to break into the mainstream. Agents and publishers saw no commercial value in my work. People are unhappy in many of my stories, they despair, they observe death or they themselves die. A friend once complained that he had been so depressed by reading A Sense of Loss on the London underground that he went home in tears instead of happily to the party he had been invited to. Agents and publishers are not encouraged by such reactions; real life is ok in fiction, but there should be an upbeat resolution at the end - a resolution I frequently failed to provide.

In 2005 my attention turned to religion and the harm it does to the world; I launched the website and spent much time there commenting on the follies of belief. Although that website remains unfinished it is highly popular and I have the medium-term goal of completing it and publishing its contents as a printed and e-book.

Since 2012 my writing has focused on the theatre. In addition to spending a couple of years as an actor in fringe theatre (for the record, see my acting profile), I wrote six short one-(wo)man plays and directed three of them in London and Edinburgh, achieving critical but not financial success. These are all now in print at Arbery Publications and achieve small but regular sales. In 2016 I directed J B Priestley's The Rose and Crown at the Edinburgh Fringe, to nearly full houses and fulsome reviews. In 2017 I have rewritten and am directing Ben Jonson's Volpone for the Fringe; the playscript will be published to coincide with the opening on 7 August. For details of my acting and directing career, see Arbery Productions.

Updated June 2017

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