We've always admired black Britain—Idris Elba's accent, the fantastic range of Shirley Bassey, the soulful Brand New Heavies, Isaac Julien's movies ... or anything Rio Ferdinand-related. So we're excited to discover a black, gay novel that takes place in Britain.
When Worlds Collide is the first novel of Bahamian-born Shawn Forbes, and already we're impressed. The main reason? It's multi-dimensional. The storyline is layered and personalities are complex, hailing from a variety of international backgrounds and circumstances. There are three main characters—Stephen Taylor is somewhat the lead, a young Bahamian who moves to England to attend university. He struggles with his sexuality, confronting several obstacles, a nervous breakdown, and, for some time, tries his hand at marriage. An interesting development, not the usual course in gay novels, but it reflects the reality of many men from the islands whose culture often pushes them into marriage and denial.
Stephen was more confused now than before. He was, after all, in a sham marriage. He had never been in love with his wife. Although he loved her a lot, he had married her only to reconcile with his mother. He realized that he lived in a society where such behavior between men—particularly black men—was not tolerated. He would never be able to fall in love and lead a productive life, enjoyed life with a male partner. Certainly not in a small country like the Bahamas.
Unfortunately, that's the reality of many gays and lesbians in the Caribbean. But like any other story, there's hope and redemption. In this case. Stephen has the help of two friends who are also processing their own issues. Tanya Collings is a beautiful young Canadian woman who escapes her abusive parents by fleeing to Manchester, England. That's where she meets Stephen .. and their other friend Suresh Patel. He's a Briton of Indian heritage movies—think My Beautiful Laundrette or Bend It Like Beckham—but, unlike Stephen, is perfectly comfortable being gay. You could say that Suresh is the glue that binds the delicate balance of their collective friendship; unfortunately, he becomes HIV positive and must fight for his life. The three characters meet in Manchester and their worlds collide, so to speak.
The novel should have have strong crossover appeal ... male, female, gay, bisexual, black, white, American, Briton, islanders. Besides being set in Manchester, the story takes place in the Bahamas and the States, so most of us should be able to identify. "I thought, why not try to break new ground," the author says. "I thought, why not try and write a story that showed not only the black experience or the white experience but the human experience?" That's a strong point; one of the reasons that we enjoy another author's debut novel—Fred Smith's Down For Whatever—is because he also weaves a cultural mosaic. But enuff talk, there's a free sample chapter available at ShawnForbes.com, so check it out and tell us what you think.
When Worlds Collide is not the product of the typical avenue chosen by many authors, such as teaching, journalism, or a background in the arts or entertainment. Shawn Forbes has a fascinating personal story—the thirtysomething novelist is a successful lawyer and banker. He studied at the University of Manchester, and later returned to Nassau to embark on successful career as a litigator, trust officer and banker. Watch it boys: This one's good with words and money. Sounds like a keeper.