Out of Focus by A.L. Lester

Enemies to lovers, a broken wrist, hurt-comfort and pining. A short contemporary gay romance set in a little Welsh theatre.

Hello everyone! Thank you so much to the Archaeolibrary for letting me pitch up and ramble about my upcoming release!

I’m here to tell you a bit about Out of Focus, my new contemporary novella that was released on 26th March. It’s a stand-alone story set in a little theatre in a small fictional town on the Welsh coast and is a new departure for me.

Up until now, my stories have tended to be historical and/or paranormal. Even my series of contemporary short stories are myth retellings. So Out of Focus is a complete side-swerve for me! It’s not got any paranormal overtones or any historical connections. Instead I drew upon my own and Mr AL’s experiences of the theatre and conference technical industry. Mr AL was a lighting designer by profession for thirty years—although he’s retired now and we are both full-time carers for our complex-needs child. For a while there though, I worked with him, plugging things in and crawling underneath stages and hauling around cables.

There’s a lot of my own professional experiences in Alex’s background—I virtually began a grammar war with my editor over whether Alex should be on a ladder or the ladders when he had his accident. And Luke’s out-of-office trip to go and look at access platforms and pop home via a pub lunch is straight out of the Production Manager Playbook! Lots of the background colour is taken from my real-life experiences.

However, Alex himself isn’t based on anyone I know in real life (I know everyone always says this to avoid upsetting people and/or libel action, but honestly, it’s true!). Sometimes characters spring fully formed from the pen onto the page and sometimes they grow as I write—Alex was a growing sort of person. These days I do character sketches before I begin writing; but sometimes characters morph and change as the story goes on, almost without me doing anything consciously. I began with the bare bones of Alex—that he was a flirty person who’s cheerful façade hid deep insecurities both professionally and in his personal life. And as the story progressed, he became clearer and clearer in my mind—and I hope in the readers.

@Archaeolibrary, @CogentHippo, #EnemiesToLovers, #British, #Novella

#MM, #Romance,

Alex has never quite believed he's good enough. Not as a person and not as a lighting technician. He hates that however hard he tries he can’t get his boss, Luke, to like him. In the two years he’s been in the job it’s become a Thing with him and he’s got a huge crush on the man. He needs to move on for his own sanity and his career and he’s just about to accept a job at a bigger theatre when one of the volunteers he’s bedded and dumped pushes him off a ladder.

Luke likes Alex a lot and has done since the day he walked through the door of Theatre Fawr two years ago. He doesn’t date his staff though, or do casual—and Alex is the epitome of casual. So Luke keeps his distance despite Alex’s constant flirting.

Will Alex’s injury give Alex and Luke the push they need to open up to each other? Or will Luke’s inadvertent discovery that Alex has a secret job offer push them further apart?

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Job: Lighting technician at a small seaside theatre in Wales.

Age: Late twenties.

Drives: Old Mazda truck.

Lives: Small rented cottage in the hills above the town.

Wants: New job at a bigger theatre to advance professionally.

Hobbies: Volunteers at a donkey sanctuary for retired seaside donkeys. Reads historical biographies. Runs.

Alex believes he's not good enough. Not as a person and not as a lighting designer. This manifests as a constant need to prove himself. And he's also secretly afraid that he's unloveable.

He's a flirt, needing people to like him. Alex is a bit of a chancer where his love-life his concerned. He gets through life by charming people, not in a creepy way, but just because he likes everyone and is interested in them. So people like him back. He’s in his late twenties, he’s good at his job despite his fears, he’s focused on his career; and so he takes people as he finds them, makes no promises and expects other people to behave in the same way. Generally this works!

He's fiercely competitive with his work, because he's never sure of its quality. He wants a career jump. He fears his skills aren’t good enough, that he’s banal and work-a-day, only fit for kid's shows and singing frogs.

Here’s some more about Out of Focus and an excerpt for you at the end—from Luke’s point of view. He’s the subject of Alex’s crush and also, unfortunately, his boss. He’s about ten years older than Alex.

Luke was furious. Bloody furious. His theatre. His crew. Alex.

He’d got back after a leisurely look round a potential new supplier of scissor-lifts and harnesses followed by a pub lunch with the business owner to find the theatre in uproar. Alex had tipped over on the zargees…which was bloody ironic given it was the approaching new height restrictions about using ladders to rig that had sent Luke on his errand.

He’d gone straight to the hospital and found Alex about to check himself out against the doctor’s advice. Bloody Alex, as well.

Alex had been a thorn in his side since he’d started in post two years ago. It was a tiny theatre and the chief technician was responsible for anything with a plug on it as well as showing the film programme and doing the lighting and sound for shows. They’d done a panel interview and Luke, a couple of members of the board and Lacey the theatre manager had seen half a dozen people. Alex had come out head and shoulders above the rest.

He’d walked in on his first proper day on the job and looked at Luke from underneath his ridiculously long eyelashes and smiled and said something perfectly professional that Luke hadn’t heard, because he was gone. Gone, gone, gone. His heart had given a big thump, he’d flushed from his chest to his hairline and he’d taken an actual physical step back because otherwise he’d have done something stupid.

Everyone on the circuit knew about Alex Tilsom by reputation. Not his professional reputation, although that was solid. His unprofessional reputation, as Luke privately thought of it.

It was a small industry.

Luke had seen whole companies explode because people fell into bed with each other and the detonation when they fell out of bed again meant they couldn’t work together. He’d been at TheatrFach for a long time now and although there were no actual rules against it, his personal tenet was to keep his professional relationships professional.

So he let Alex’s good natured flirting roll over him, he didn’t respond like he wanted to and he never, ever commented or ribbed him like the others did about his latest conquest. It was worse because strictly speaking he was Alex’s boss. He tried very hard not to be the older creep who letched on his staff.

Newsflash. In this case he did not always succeed.

It made him feel uncomfortable and itchy inside his own skin. Alex was a funny guy. He worked hard, he was good at his job. He charmed passing crew and volunteers into bed and out again with no drama before or after. He’d be gone in two or three years…he was the sort of person who saw TheatrFach as a stepping stone to something bigger and more challenging.

All Luke had to do was hold on to that thought and not smile back.

He’d thoroughly fucked that up in the last twenty-four hours, hadn’t he? It was his job to go and see what was going on at the hospital. And he supposed he could argue it was his job to stay with Alex overnight if no-one else could, if the stupid arse wouldn't stay in hospital like he should have.

It wasn’t his job to mostly fail to sleep in the armchair in the corner of the man’s bedroom and creepily watch over him all night. Or was it? Was that on the right side of the line? Fuck it, who knew any more.

4 out of 5 (very good)

OUT OF FOCUS is a short story about two men working behind the scenes in a Welsh theatre. They are opposites in the fact that one is charming and one seems almost dour. There are reasons for it, of course, but they don't come to light immediately.

I loved how we met other characters too, getting a hint into their lives, not just the main characters. Alex and Luke take centre stage though in this low-angst slow-burn-but-not-quite romance. The attraction has been there for a couple of years without either of them acting on it, but once Alex is injured, all bets are off.

As with all of this author's works, I found the small details absolutely brilliant, and really help to make the story one that intrigues and compels you to keep turning the pages.

Although I'm not a huge fan of short stories, this one went down a treat, with all the information I could need, including a perfect epilogue to keep me happy. Absolutely recommended by me.

** same worded review will appear elsewhere **

* A copy of this book was provided to me with no requirements for a review. I voluntarily read this book, and the comments here are my honest opinion. *


Archaeolibrarian - I Dig Good Books!

Writer of queer, paranormal, historical, romantic suspense, mostly. Lives in the South West of England with Mr AL, two children, a terrifying cat, some hens and the duckettes. Likes gardening but doesn't really have time or energy. Not musical. Doesn't much like telly. Non-binary. Chronically disabled. Has tedious fits.

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