Hi, author Lee Welch here – thanks for hosting me all the way from New Zealand!
I know lots of readers – I’m one of them! – enjoy romances with a strong sense of place. The love story is what captivates us, but if the book also takes us to eat dim sum in San Fransisco’s China Town, or to explore the twisting lanes of Venice, or to drink champagne in an apartment by the Seine – then we can fall for the place as well as the characters. We can feel the magic of that particular location, and visit any time we like by simply opening the book.
Mended with Gold is set in Wellington, New Zealand, which is the city I call home. Wellington is like San Francisco’s shabby-chic little sister; it has a flourishing arts scene, loads of bohemian energy, and it’s very hilly – you’ll soon get strong legs from walking up our vertiginous slopes. Wellington is also the windiest city in the world. We get muscular northerlies, and ice-cold southerlies whipping up straight from the Antarctic. Wellington is beautiful, rugged, and wild; it’s not a place for the faint-hearted, but it is a good place to fall in love, as Alex discovers in the book.
Alex is forty-five, Canadian by birth, but he’s lived and worked as a photographer in New York and London. He’s been a citizen of the world – until an explosion while he was on an assignment in Laos left him with post-traumatic stress disorder. Now, he’s a bit sick of the world and its horrors and injustices. He comes to remote Kahawai Bay on Wellington’s wind-swept west coast in search of a simpler, quieter way of life. What he doesn’t expect to find is a love that transforms his life.
Wellington people tend to be independent-minded, creative, kind, down-to-earth and quirky. New Zealanders generally don’t like to brag about their achievements or talents. Alex meets Joe, a young New Zealander who takes all these qualities and doubles them. And then some. And Alex discovers it’s impossible not to fall in love with Joe – even if he’s not sure if his feelings are returned.
In Mended with Gold you’ll eat kina (sea urchin) on the shore with Alex. You could learn a little Te Reo M?ori (the M?ori language), and you could have a shy and handsome artist tell you his secrets beneath a stand of manuka trees. And then, you can take him to bed, and prove to him that you love him, body and soul, no matter what.
(Before I go, here’s an author confession: Kahawai Bay, where Alex buys his house, is fictitious. But all the other places in the book – Makara Beach, Wellington’s wild south coast, Porirua East – are real, and there are lots of places like Kahawai Bay in New Zealand – remote beaches, completely unspoiled, with just a scattering of small, old houses patiently watching the waves.)
Title: Mended with Gold
Author: Lee Walsh
Publisher: MLR Press
Release Date: November 21, 2017
Genre(s): Gay Romance
Page Count: 94
A photographer with post-traumatic stress disorder falls for a comics artist on a wild New Zealand beach, but can he find true love when he feels so wounded by life?
Everything changed when the bomb exploded. Forty-five-year old, Alex Cox worked as an international photographer until a deadly explosion left him with post-traumatic stress disorder. Emotionally wounded, and desperate for a sense of safety, he’s run all the way to wild and remote Kahawai Bay, New Zealand.
Under the worst possible circumstances, Alex meets Joe, a shy young comics artist. Joe lets Alex into his playful, gentle world of comics, and soon Alex is falling for him, hard. Alex longs for more. Joe is reticent. But is it shyness? Or does Joe not want a much older lover with ‘issues’? Or is something else keeping them apart?
This is a tender and uplifting story about creativity, adversity, true love, and comics.
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One night, a southerly storm brought winds howling straight up from Antarctica. Alex met Joe on the beach the next day and suggested a trip to the south coast. Since Alex had arrived in Wellington he’d been waiting for a big southerly so he could photograph the huge seas people kept telling him about. Waves ten metres high thundered across Cook Strait, if the locals were telling the truth. Today, conditions were interesting; the rain had blown over, the swell was up, the sun came out fitfully through low cloud, and Alex had nowhere else to be. Joe offered to drive.
It wasn’t far to the south coast, mainly down quiet, semi-rural or suburban roads. Joe drove in total silence. No radio, no chat, giving his full attention to the sparse traffic. Alex didn’t mind. It was enough to be with Joe. When they reached the south coast, Alex understood how sheltered they’d been at Makara, and driving through the suburbs. Now the wind buffeted the car so hard it wobbled. The waves were cobalt monsters, maned with white, flinging themselves at the land. Seaweed and driftwood littered the road.
Joe parked where the road petered out into stony beach. The sea roared and seethed to the left, bare hills towered above them to the right. Walking along the narrow track above the beach felt like skirting an abyss. The ground trembled with the fury of the sea.
Over the thunder of the breakers, Joe said, into Alex’s ear, “Don’t get too close, okay? There are freak waves sometimes.” He gazed into Alex’s eyes, part smiling, part serious, making Alex’s heart skip and race. “Wouldn’t want your nice camera to get wet.”
Despite the wind, and the cold, and the spatters of icy spray, the photography gods were smiling. Or perhaps it was Joe’s presence that made Alex feel especially alert. It was only after a couple of hours in the zone that Alex realised Joe had not once asked if he was nearly finished. Nor had Joe hung around looking patient, or trying to seem interested. In fact, Joe wasn’t even watching him anymore. Joe had found a rock to shelter behind, and was leaning on it, drawing.
“Had enough?” Alex said. His fingers were numb.
On the way back to the car, Joe kept rubbing his left shoulder. He saw Alex noticing.
“The cold makes it ache,” Joe explained. “Should’ve gone when you said.”
“Did you break it?”
“Yeah. Car crash.”
“Sorry to hear it.”
“No, it’s okay. It was ages ago. Two years now.”
They carried on for another fifty metres, feet crunching on the stones of the path.
Joe said, “Don’t ever drink and drive, okay?”
“I don’t. I don’t drink these days anyway. Is that what happened?”
“Yeah. Not me. The guy who hit me. He was four times the limit. Speeding too.”
“Ah, shit. I’m sorry, Joe.”
Alex remembered Joe sitting on his front step with the fish hook in his foot, talking calmly about things that didn’t matter. If he’d been in an accident, perhaps someone had talked like that to him. Was that where he’d got the idea? If so, it was even sweeter than Alex had first thought.
Joe gave an awkward, one-shouldered shrug. “No, it’s all right. I was lucky. Not to die, I mean.”
“I guess that makes two of us.”
Alex thought the conversation was over, but back at the car, in the moment of quiet as they closed the doors on the wind, Joe said, “Are you angry about what happened to you?”
Alex glanced at him in surprise. Not because of the question, but at the sudden realisation that no one else, barring the therapist, had ever asked him that. Joe was staring ahead, out of the windshield, at the waves.
“Yeah. I try not to be, but, yeah. You know why I don’t drink? Because I started drinking too much. And then, the last two times, I ended up shouting at someone. That’s not who I want to be.”
Joe nodded, rubbing his shoulder.
“Were you angry about the crash?” Alex asked.
“Yes. At first. I kind of hated the guy who hit me. It felt like a brush with evil. Not deliberate evil, just stupid, thoughtless, arrogant evil. You know what I mean? But after a while it felt pointless to go on being angry.” He paused. “Of course, it’s easier for me. I haven’t got, you know, what you’ve got.”
“Post-traumatic stress disorder.”
“Yeah, that.” Joe shot him a shy look. “I’m sorry about what happened to you.”
Alex wasn’t sure whether to smile or burst into tears. “Yeah, well. Thanks. Me too.”
He managed to glance at Joe. Joe gave him the tiniest of smiles. Alex hoped Joe wasn’t going to start giving him platitudes or trying to cheer him up. Today had been the best day in a long line of good days. He still didn’t think he’d be able to bear it if Joe began talking about silver linings.
Joe started the car. “Life’s hard sometimes, isn’t it?”
You make it easier, Alex wanted to say, but he felt too raw and the words too risky.
Lee Welch wrote her first book aged seven (a pastiche of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe) and first had an idea for an m/m romance aged twelve. She loves books and comics, and when she’s not writing, she’ll probably be reading. Her favourite authors include Ursula Le Guin, Graham Greene, Linda Medley, Dylan Horrocks and KJ Charles. By day, Lee works as an editor and business communications adviser, mainly persuading people not to say ‘utilise’ when they mean ‘use’. Her job has led her to work in areas as diverse as mental health, nursing, accident prevention and the criminal justice sector.
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