Describing himself as a ‘queer Gibraltarian exiled in London’, Jonathan Pizarro is a published short-story writer who analyses in matter-of-fact, yet poetic, style the themes of love and longing, marrying elegant eroticism and glowing patriotism in brief portraits of young immigrant life, balancing cultural shock, racism, livelihood, love and lust.
He raises poignant sensual issues without overloading them with sensationalism, scandal, bitterness or condescension. His short stories are published in several journals, such as EmergeLiteraryJournal.com, FruitJournal.co.uk, UntitledWriting.co.uk and Popshotpopshot.com.
The use of the second person in the narrative is a fresh change from traditional techniques of third or first person, since it can preserve some of the impartiality of the former, while adding some of the personal involvement of the latter, still saving part of the objectivity of the observer. Close enough to show empathy but yet emotionally detached enough to be able to paint the bigger picture and view the motivations of all characters, not just the narrator.
Telling the story of day-to-day life trying to make ends meet throws open a window on the underworld of the metropolis’ cold unforgiveness, love as a business transaction, prejudice and stereotypes. In “Chorizo”, for example, the patriotic theme is predominant, as the Gibraltarian protagonist is profiled as Spanish by his looks and lilt, and becomes the Mediterranean object of desire of an English tycoon as much as a Spanish waiter, while his wandering thoughts are anchored to his own memories of the Rock.
In “You are not James”, a similar theme runs through, with the protagonist, patching through his bills as a cleaner and a barista who endears his patrons as ‘mate’, and dyes his curls blonde in a bid to fit in the English ideal, while reminiscing about his homeland in a tactile manner, sparked by the scent of jasmine.
“My stories are about longing more than they’re about romance,” Jonathan says. “It may take the form of longing for someone, but I’ve also written about the longing for a homeland, or for freedom, or for a sense of belonging somewhere. When I first started writing, I thought maybe this wouldn’t resonate, but I’ve realised that everyone longs for something, or has done so at some point in their lives.”
Writing homosexual romance isn’t any more or less challenging that any other type of romance, in his view, but he acknowledges that there still is stigma about it, despite his readership’s feedback being ‘overwhelmingly positive’.
He is unapologetic about his inspiration and his project of knocking down literary barriers and prejudicial taboos: “If you have a problem with what I write, I am happy not to have you as a reader anyway. I am not looking for acceptance: I am here to tell any story I feel has been overlooked. Sometimes they have LGBT+ themes, sometimes a Gibraltarian slant, and often they overlap.”
Jonathan studied Creative Writing and started writing sci-fi and horror fiction, as he didn’t want to address anything personal in his writing. “I realised I wasn’t being honest with myself, so I took a chance and wrote about Gibraltar with a gay theme, which was closer to my personal experience. And introduced bilingualism in my work with Spanish and Yanito. That’s when people started paying attention, and I got published. Jokingly, I was described as ‘Queer Mediterranean Sad Boy’.”
And now, he is expanding his horizons from short story to an ambitious project for a novel that will touch upon many themes of a recent past Gibraltarians still have vivid in their memories despite perhaps wishing they could sweep it under the carpet: 1995 Gibraltar and the summer riots, bouncing back in time towards Spanish Civil War and border closure, in the choral memory of the older characters in the story.
The main plot is set to follow the secret relationship between two teenage boys, next-door neighbours somewhere in the Upper Town, and how this affects their families. “In the background there are real-life historical moments happening, culminating in the riots that summer. It’s also a multi-generational story about some of the trauma we have gone through as a people, that we may not always want to talk about. Like with my short fiction, I am very pleased to be able to bring the Gibraltarian experience to a wider audience.”
The novel is set to be titled Sons of Lot: “It comes from the Bible and the Quran, where the story of Lot is at the basis of the negativity and prejudice surrounding homosexuality. Normally, the reference is to ‘People of Lot’, but I changed it to ‘Sons’ because I wanted to highlight the inheritance of shame, secrets and trauma that can happen within families.”
Jonathan also writes a non-fiction series titled Exiliado, talking about his experiences, and touching upon the Gibraltarian national and cultural identity. They can be read at jspzro.medium.com.
He belongs to a community of writers called Out on The Page and he attends workshops and online meetings, doing well despite Covid restrictions, and he’s run his own workshops, with more hopefully coming this year.
Jonathan sees the literary scene in Gibraltar as ‘on the cusp of something very exciting’. “There are some amazing writers who have been working hard to form a community and get things done. I hope that gets picked up a lot more next year, supporting and shining a light on Gibraltarian writers and our own stories. It’s very sad we don’t have a proper bookshop in Gibraltar.”