Tomasz Jedrowski’s debut novel, Swimming in the Dark, just out in paperback, has been chosen by Collected Works as the March read for New Writing South’s new online LGBTQ+ Hear Us Out Book Group. Register to join the Hear Us Out Book Group HERE.
This interview first featured on Foyles Bookshop website. It is reproduced, in a slightly edited version, by kind permission.
Please tell us a little bit about your book, and the response you’ve had to it it so far
Swimming in the Dark is the story of Ludwik, a sensitive young man who falls in love for the first time and is forced to choose between his desires and his integrity. The setting is 1980’s Communist Poland. The response has been overwhelming – I hadn’t thought a story in such a specific setting could interest readers around the world. The Polish launch was especially moving: I was worried there’d be lots of opposition, given the country’s homophobia, but I was met with more love and support than I could have ever imagined.
What was your motivation in writing it, and did you learn anything new about yourself in the process of writing, with this being your first book?
In many ways writing this book was an inevitability, and I can’t imagine who I’d be without it. It also gave me the excuse I’d needed to face my family’s history. Who were my ancestors, and what does that make me? What life could I have had as a queer boy if my parents hadn’t left their home country? The writing process helped me to accept the complexities of my sexual and national identity, and to find a way out of the dilemmas one confronts in one’s twenties.
Do you commemorate Pride each year? Is it a thoughtful appreciation of the advancing rights of the LGBTQ+ community and those that fought before us, or a full blown party celebration?
I think it’s both! Although it depends on where you go – the atmosphere during a Warsaw pride will not be the same as in Amsterdam or New York. In some places there is so much more to be done that in others, but the truth everywhere remains: discrimination is a reality. This is why coming together and celebrating our victories is so important. It’s also a way of honouring our queer foremothers and forefathers.
Can you tell us a little bit about your first, or your most memorable experience at Pride?
I believe it was in London in 2008. My friends and I marched at the very end of the parade, waving flags representing our home nations. I remember dancing, whistles, drums, and above all an exhilaration I’d never felt before. I also got very drunk and fell asleep in Trafalgar square.
Please can you share two LGBTQ+ authors or books that inspired you, and what is it that makes them so special?
James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room because it’s the first LGBTQ+ book I ever read, and it made me wake up to the beauty and importance of queer literature. Also One of Them, Michael Cashman’s autobiography, which I only just finished reading this week. It manages to be both empowering and vulnerable, funny and devastating, and, maybe most importantly, it makes you believe in love.
Follow Tomasz on Instagram @tomasz.jedrowski