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Smalley's writing is rich, nimble and warm…even the most casual reader will find something to love.
Reviewed by Matt Bright
In its specifics, That Boy Of Yours Wants Looking At is about author Simon Smalley's youth in 60s and 70s Nottingham, unavoidably 'different' to his peers -
That Boy Of Yours Wants Looking At places its main focus on Simon's relationship with his father: ex-
This is not to say the book is in any way rose-
Anyone who loved Simon Doonan's Beautiful People will find a lot to love in That Boy Of Yours Wants Looking At, but Smalley's writing is rich, nimble and warm in a way that also reminded me of the novels of Tony Warren with their raft of queer characters coming of age amongst the working-
Queer readers will absolutely feel that kinship with Simon, but even the most casual reader will find something to love in The Boy of Yours Wants Looking At — and if there's one thing we'll all be able to agree on it is that the world would be a better place if every father was like Simon's.
The writing is remarkably powerful, the detail incredible and the imagery rich and often unexpected.
Reviewed by Nigel Heritage
What a book! It has so much. It takes you, with astonishing detail, on a tumultuous ride through a childhood at times glitteringly delightful, at times tortuously difficult. Sometimes the story seems overwhelming and fantastical; surely it cannot have been like that. However, as Thomas Hardy said; ‘Though a good deal is too strange to be believed, nothing is too strange to have happened.’ And a lot happened to Simon as he grew up in Nottingham in the 1960s and 70s; this engrossing book makes you want to keep reading to find out what on earth happened next.
This memoir has a rich array of characters, including his five siblings, but the stars are Simon and his understanding, loving parents, especially magnificent Dad. They loved and encouraged their ‘different’ son to be himself; it is a shame that his school and some in the local environment were not so understanding.
The tough times Simon endured are written about as intimately and directly as his sequin-
The writing is remarkably powerful; the detail incredible and the imagery rich and often unexpected. Simon reminds you how it feels to be a child, describing so many, often simple, situations such as your first school dinner, so vividly that his writing forces your own long-
Music, performers and pop culture weave themselves throughout the story; they are so huge and important a passion in Simon’s life bringing inspiration, guidance and support. In one disturbing passage even these usually reliable friends turn dark and demonic causing havoc until Simon regains control.
Through many harsh setbacks and personal insecurities, Simon shows time and again, that as well as having loving parental support, he is an unapologetic survivor. The final chapters bring real hope with Simon on the brink of a new dawn. This book tells an exceptional tale and do you know what; it really wants looking at! so get your copy now.
Smalley manages to tell these pieces of his childhood with a never dimming light, verve, and spark that seeps into even the darkest moments of his life.
Reviewed by ‘Nathan Burgoine
There’s a made-
So often, stories from queer people begin with the incredibly common experience of utter isolation from our own families, ostracism and hate and violence from those outside of our home, alongside the relentless beat of “I’ll make it if I just get away from here,” and while I do not in the slightest wish to diminish those lived realities—including my own—there was something so brilliant, healing, and restorative about reading Smalley’s parents and how they handled having a child who was, it cannot be understated, seemingly born fabulous. His mother dotes on the boy Simon’s sense of whimsy, imagination, and delight, and his father—a retired RAF man—takes up those reins without fail upon Simon’s mother’s passing. A moment recounted in the book, where young Simon asks his father to help him make his eyelids appear like the tail feathers of a peacock and his father rises to the challenge immediately, had me pausing to swallow past a throat full of the “agnostalgic” hope and joy and healing.
On that basis alone, I could hand this to anyone interested in queer biography, but Smalley’s journey isn’t just his sequinned youth at home. The outside world is decidedly itself in 1970’s England, and Smalley’s armor of Punk, Protest, and Unapologetic Queerness sees plenty of use—and isn't always up to the immediate challenge. His school life is a misery with little reprieve from those who should have looked out for him, the disdain and hate of others lands hits to his physical and mental health—there is a doctor I should like to punch someday—yet somehow Smalley manages to tell these pieces of his childhood with a never dimming light, verve, and spark that seeps into even the darkest moments of his life.
I often talk about how the vast majority of queer people grow up without a sense of inheritance; it’s not like most of us have queer parents telling their queer children about their queer grandparents, and how much pressure it exerts in two ways. First, queer people themselves to make sure their stories and histories are out there for new generations, and second, those new generations need to actively seek out and find those stories. I am so glad That Boy of Yours Wants Looking At exists, and I truly hope it is found by generations to come.
A remarkable book of pain, struggle, acceptance and overcoming relentless adversity.
Reviewed by Kim Mian
‘That Boy of Yours Wants Looking At’ completely absorbing. I lurched from each and every emotion, following the highs and despicable lows inflicted on the author Simon Smalley. Growing up in the same era, Simon’s intricate descriptions of the 60’s and 70’s transported me to those times; I laughed out loud on his obvious dislike of the radio programme ‘Sing Something Simple’ as I to this day share that feeling!
What this beautifully written memoir left me with above everything else however, was that despite her death at such a young age, Simon’s beloved mam was his guide and strength throughout his adversity, coupled with the unyielding love and devotion of his wonderful Dad. This was the triumph of the story which permeated throughout every page of this amazing book.
A remarkable book of pain, struggle, acceptance and overcoming relentless adversity.
Smalley’s excellent writing and ability to keep his readers’ attention…witty, wise, and totally affirming.
Reviewed by Jerry L. Wheeler
What do you do with a well-
Growing up in Nottingham in the late Sixties/early Seventies was a rough go economically for Smalley’s parents and his five siblings, but his father, Sid, had a decent job as an industrial photographer who did weddings and the like on the side. Smalley’s recollections are quite detailed, almost as if he’d been taking notes on his childhood, but Smalley explains this by way of a short introduction to the book where he states he has hyperthymesia, or an ability to recount his experiences with exhaustive detail. And there’s no question that it’s served him well here. He seems to have no difficulty recalling entire conversations verbatim.
As a boy, Smalley made no attempt to hide or disguise his rejection of traditionally masculine toys such as footballs or soccer paraphernalia or cowboy outfits. Smalley’s preferred Christmas and birthday presents were toy sewing and washing machines, velvet, jewelly baubles, and similar items that would have gotten me and most of the queer men I know thrown out of the house. Smalley’s parents, however, willingly indulged him despite, one assumes from the title, the opinions of others. His siblings may have been confused by him, but they were ultimately supportive.
After his mother, Betty, died, I held my breath, convinced that his father would put a halt to such nonsense and attempt to turn him away from velvet and lace, but I was wrong. He encouraged the boy’s love of androgynous glam rockers like Marc Bolan, David Bowie, and the like. No whim went unsatisfied when it came to haircuts, clothes, or music. Needless to say, coming from a father whose sole advice regarding life and sexuality was: “Never hit a woman in the breasts or the crotch,” I was stunned.
So, what’s wrong with a childhood without relentlessly toxic masculinity? Absolutely nothing. But it’s so far removed from my own experience and that of so many men of my generation, it’s jaw-
The point, however, is a minor one, mostly overridden by Smalley’s excellent writing and ability to keep his readers’ attention. Perhaps it’s even a case of jealousy on my part. Again, you might feel differently. Either way, you’ll find much to like in That Boy of Yours Wants Looking At. It’s witty, wise, and totally affirming. Let his parents serve as an example rather than an exception.
There is much to wonder at in this gripping story and much to learn.
Reviewed by Amorel
“Choose your parents wisely,” said Bertrand Russell. Few people can have chosen more wisely than Simon. As a child he experiences more trauma and tribulation than any young person should have to bear, yet he deals with it – now if not then – with sparkling good humour, a deft way with words, and a noticeable absence of rancour.
I was shocked to read of the callousness with which he was treated in many different situations by adults in positions of responsibility who showed a complete lack of empathy and turned a blind eye to horrific bullying and cruelty, but the horror is offset by the empathy and love of his truly remarkable parents. How, one wonders, did his father – presumably with no background in these matters -
And the biggest question of all: how would Simon’s life have unfolded if he had been born 50 years later, when “diversity” and “inclusion” are the buzzwords of the day? There is much to wonder at in this gripping story and much to learn. Chapeau, Simon.
Reviewed by Hattie & Ian Copus
The beginning of the memoir delights us as we hear about Simon's idyllic first eight years. His spontaneous joy, his innate happiness and his exuberance shine through, only to be shattered. Fortunately, he still had the support of his dad who never let him down, and a chance encounter with Marc Bolan was crucial to Simon's survival. Music became his balm and his refuge from the many storms that swirled around him.
On every level we identify with Simon's heartbreak, yet we are comforted like he was by these wonderful, caring parents, who were so progressive in the 60's. Having grown up in similar times and circumstances, we were constantly transported back to our own childhood and teenage years. Therefore, this memoir resonated so meaningfully and forcefully for us.
When we confront the despicable bullies, the physical pain of his disabilities, and the emotional torment, Simon holds us in his grip. Despite the seemingly overwhelming odds, we are reminded of his innate strength and determination. As he faced each challenge, we were continually reminded of the words in Maya Angelou's famous poem, “And still I rise!”
Nevertheless, this memoir would not have been a true reflection had there not been so many laugh-
The tension rises in the later episodes until we ultimately witness the almost 20-
We maintain that this memoir should be on required reading lists far and wide, to assist professionals, young people and the world in general, to accept our differences. For young people are still being bullied, in one form or another, and their suffering is still ignored.
Brutally honest memoir which moves and inspires.
Reviewed by Kevin Cooper
This memoir has to be one of my best reads in the last few years. It is a tough tale of a boy striving to express his individuality throughout his teenage years, always supported at home by his loving father, sisters and, perhaps more grudgingly, his brother.
The bulk of the book focuses on Simon Smalley's schooldays, and the honesty and pain becomes so real that one can almost be there, observing as an unseen member of the class his struggle to be accepted by almost anyone bar his two girlfriends Ju and Jacqui. Simon also provides vivid descriptions of his many visits and stays in the hospital during his teenage years.
Simon has an amazing memory and the detail with which he recalls his early life is incredible. His exquisite use of the simile make this a thoroughly rewarding read, despite the heartache and suffering he endures throughout the early years of his life. Simon is already working on the next instalment, and I for one can't wait.
A story of determination and strength of human spirit.
Reviewed by David Holtom
A remarkable book of pain, struggle, acceptance and overcoming relentless adversity. Trying to understand, and failing to grasp that people can be so cruel, abusive and relentlessly unkind to another fellow human is emotionally draining at times. Supported and encouraged by his extraordinary father, it’s a story of determination and the strength of the human spirit. Everyone should read this book, in fact it should be included in the National Curriculum.
The eloquent exuberance of the writing never slackens.
Reviewed by Pete Jay
This beautifully written, enthralling story about the formative years of an extraordinary person evokes the entire spectrum of emotions. Undoubtedly the support from Simon Smalley's parents was unique and unconventional for the latter half of the twentieth century. The fact that his father, who is described as "an ex-
The complex psychological and physical hardships and misfortunes endured by the author are never related in a self-
To summarise this book it would be simple to use the words 'emotional rollercoaster' but that is the most apt description of the ride that you will find yourself unable to leave until the very end. The eloquent exuberance of the writing never slackens, and the author's admirable candour firmly places you as if you are viewing the events through his eyes, or looking over his shoulder.
Will bring tears to the eyes.
Reviewed by Joy Rushton
I have just stepped off the emotional roller coaster contained within the pages of this book. I felt comfort, warmth and gentleness that led to despair, pain and anger. When I closed the cover, courage and hope leapt out as a tentative path towards the future dawned.
Simon Smalley captures the grim realities of life in Nottingham during his formative years but the pages are illuminated by three shining stars, Simon and his parents. His parents were people of extraordinary empathy, whose non-
This is a kaleidoscope of a young boy’s traumatic life, honestly and bravely shared with the reader. Sprinkled with sequins, inspired by Marc Bolan, ignited by Punk Rock. Simon Smalley you are a gem.
Many thanks for allowing me the privilege of reviewing this book.
An inspirational memoir with a powerful message that transcends any generation or time period.
Reviewed by Laura Uttley
By the end of this memoir, you'll be hard pressed not to wonder what came next for Simon Smalley -
At times – particularly for those of a younger audience -
Whilst the retelling of Simon's start in life covers many trials and tribulations, one of the most moving and heart warming aspects is found in the form of Simon's dad. It's hard not to feel a deep respect for a man who not only continued to raise his family the best way he knew how, after the death of his wife, but who also managed to do it with grace, understanding and unconditional love, at a time when this would have been virtually unheard of. The complete acceptance of Simon for who he was, without a shred of judgement, speaks to the calibre of Simon's dad and serves as a reminder that the right support, encouragement and love, goes a long way to establishing courage and hope in the face of adversity.
Despite the traumatic events told within this book, from the childhood loss of a parent to personal battles with body image and self esteem, the humorous style of this author's writing comes to the fore. In essence this provides the reader with a unique account of a journey that whilst heavily emotive, is nicely balanced by the humour, glitz and glamour of Simon's adolescent years.
This is an inspirational memoir with a powerful message that transcends any generation or time period.
Your heart will swell with joy.
Reviewed by Thom Seddon.
"That Boy of Yours Wants Looking At" was a challenging read. Not because of the way it's written; Simon's ability to describe his memories goes beyond lyrical into the voluptuous, the way that certain scenes in his life don't just unfold on the page, but bloom.
No, the reason I use the word 'challenging' was because I wasn't able to reach between the lines and pull this fabulously unique, and fragile boy out from the situations he was thrown into, to protect him from the tormentors and the tragedies life gave him. But your heart will swell with joy at each arrival of the shining star that is Simon's father.
If you want an example of unconditional love, and never-
I agree; this boy wants looking at; so you can see for yourselves just how special, and loved he is, and discover how much he'll overcome.
Captivating and emotive without seeking sympathy.
Reviewed by Anita Johnson
I liked this book because it was captivating and emotive without seeking sympathy. The detailed recollections transported me to the events described as if I was experiencing them personally.
The people I most admired were Simon’s parents because they unhesitatingly encouraged their young son’s creativity and interests. The significance of this parental love and support is clearly demonstrated throughout the book.
The front cover speaks for itself with respect to the diverse audience this memoir will appeal to. It is very well written and glittered with humour.
This is a story of courage, loss, resilience, family and sexuality.
Reviewed by Paul Johnstone
This is a very moving account of a childhood filled with love, tragedy and trauma. I don't want to divulge too much in the way of specific detail as that may be a spoiler for those who wisely choose to dedicate some of their precious reading time to this first book by Simon Smalley.
Suffice to say young Simon had to deal with a lot of very tough stuff from a very early age. This is a story of courage, loss, resilience, family and sexuality with a smidgeon of glam-
Simon has written very openly and honestly about his early life and it is reassuring to know that Simon is very much a survivor who has overcome the challenges that he faced as a young boy. Simon shares his experiences with a great deal of warmth and humour and I am very much looking forward to reading part two of his memoir when it is ready for publication.
Reviewed by Bea & Kevin Sawka
What a fabulous book…the amount of detail and recollection is amazing. It’s the kind of book you can’t put down because you want to see what Simon is up to next and how the people around him respond and react.
His mum and dad were obviously very supportive of him, which is great but also a bit surprising given the time period of his upbringing. The only thing I can think of how he could improve is why did it take so long to finally commit to writing this one-
Can’t wait until the next book comes out…hopefully sooner than later.
I have never been so overwhelmed by a book before.
Reviewed by Carol McC
I have never been so overwhelmed by a book before. Simon Smalley’s writing has an incredible way of taking you along an amazing journey, transported to a world that he makes you feel a part of. For a writer to be able to make you feel physically in his world is rare, trapped in the late 60's early 70's, feeling all his emotions.
It is a book that makes you at times, laugh out loud but at the same time, cringe at how cruel and depressing life was. His father a true hero, showing so much kindness, love and understanding at a time, when so few understood or accepted a boy who just happened to be born different to other boys.
Inspirational! So many fantastic memories of growing up in the 60’s & 70’s
Reviewed by Dean McKay
What a fantastic read Simon. I’m not normally a book reader but I read the whole book in 3 days. Having known Simon since my teens I knew I was in for a good read when I heard about the book release.
So many ups and downs in your life Simon but thankfully your Dad was there for you throughout to give you so much love and assurance and make you the man you are today. He was a wonderful man. Your book made me laugh out loud and also shed a tear. Reading your memoirs brought so many fantastic memories back of growing up in the 60’s & 70’s and especially the 80’s with all the fashion and music.
You’ve done yourself proud, and I can’t wait to read your next book.
Written from the heart
Reviewed by Karen O’Reilly
This book touched my heart the era brought back so many memories of my own childhood good and bad times. It is written from the heart and you can tell.
Sometimes a tough read. I was literally in tears, Simon shares the reality of school days in the 70’s and they weren’t a good place to be for anyone who didn’t fit the so called Norm.
My one criticism of the book is I have been left wanting book two. I do hope Simon has started it.
You really need to read this book.
Reviewed by Verified Amazon Reader
What an amazing book!...it's one of those once you start you cant put down thinking "Oh what happens next"....So well written a real rollercoaster of events, it made me laugh out loud and cry the things Simon had gone through as a child, having a loving family who supported him through the bad days. I wont go into what happened as I don't want to spoil the story but you really need to read this book. I loved it and cant wait to read the next part of his story....
This would make an incredible film.
Reviewed by D.J. Bennett
A great memoir -
High moments and horrible lows.
Reviewed by Karen Steven
I loved reading this book. Simon describes in incredible detail his journey through childhood to being a young man with high moments and horrible lows. The beautiful relationship of father and son shines throughout the book.
An unforgettable read.
Reviewed by Margery
Excellent and riveting book that is hard to put down. Every emotion imaginable is involved in this amazing story. It would have taken the author a lot of guts to put pen to paper with his memory of systems that failed him time and time again. His father shines like a beacon throughout the book. Simon rose from the ashes like the Phoenix. Well done an unforgettable read. Can’t wait for the next sequel.
Sad, loving, truthful, honest, courageous.
Reviewed by Anastasia Holtom
Just finished the book and I loved it!
It's beautifully written, I pretty much read it in 3-
A boy with kaleidoscope eyes.
Reviewed by Pierre Champion
Simon has a wonderful way of writing and telling his story. His words are rich, colourful and poetic. His emotions are deep and you can’t but only share them and be moved!
Indefatigable spirit and creativity.
Reviewed by Martin Barden.
In this first volume of his memoir, Simon Smalley takes us back to his childhood in the East Midlands of the 1960s and ‘70s. 100 miles north of London, Nottingham was not swinging like King’s Road Chelsea, comprising tight-
Simon is, of course, the star of his story, but his parents play a huge role in his development and nurturing. His stylish, loving and doughty mother cherished and never questioned her boy’s unusual self-
A central motif to Simon’s childhood was his love of Marc Bolan and his chartbusting band T.Rex. Bolan weaved magical tales of wizards and cars and other-
Much darker times were never far away, particularly at school where Simon was brutalised by other boys while teachers mocked and discouraged him. A careers adviser may as well have told him to go swim in the Trent wearing concrete boots. To the rescue came an art teacher who embraced Simon’s creativity and gave him an outlet for his head full of ideas.
But the bullies didn’t win, the teachers could not keep him down. By the end of the book, a late-
A truly inspiring book!
Reviewed by Bluesbluesdancer
This book is so amazing! Not only is it a fascinating story of the young life of a gay lad growing-
If you are an Anglophile, or just someone who loves stories that make you feel good about life, then this is for you!
Bang a gong for this 20th century boy.
Reviewed by David Thorpe
“Growing up” is difficult for everyone, even for those of us who conform to what is supposed to “be normal”, so to be a little different, even when you’re not really sure you are different, must lead to many “what’s happening to me?” moments. All this confusion for Simon, following on from losing his Mum at a very young age, could have led him down dark paths, but with the constant support of his -
It’s been one of those books that, while reading in bed, I think -
Beautiful, sad, happy, warm and glam!
Reviewed by Marc Regan
I do not read as often as I should and when I do pick up a book I want to enjoy the experience like a good movie. Simon and I have never met in person yet we have known each other on a level of friendship for almost 20 years during which he has shared some personal struggles and his battle with sobriety. When one particular event happened to him I was caught off guard as it seemed out of character to the person I shared on line posts with but what did I really know about Simon Smalley.
Having read his book I now can see what shaped him good and bad. I laughed at the bitter sweet comedic nostalgia, smiled warmly at memories he evoked in my mind from my own 70s English childhood and I cried for him and with him. Finally I personally got so angry with some of his tormentors both young and grown mature adults, that I hope they read this book and hang their heads in shame. I am not gay, I could not possibly understand what that means or feels like but I have a better understanding from reading this book.
I am in awe of Simon's parents, in particular his ever loving Father, what a fabulous man and I am humbled at how good a father he was.
The world has changed in many ways not always what we want to see but acceptance and tolerance have certainly improved if still not perfect Simon’s story reflects those changes.
Finally I felt his liberation and I was grateful he shared this in his own words, and for our enduring friendship.
As Simon likes to sign off with me from one old tart to another.
Darling!!! I loved it and look forward to your next installment
Memoir of a gay young man, definitely worth a read, but overall filled with tragedy.
Reviewed by Daisy Teragram
I loved the parts of the little boy Simon, when he was so happy and carefree, and totally his own person. Later on, his story gets much more grim and tragic. I really felt for the main character! I wish his life had been more uplifting throughout, and while the ending is positive, we don’t really get to see him come into his own.
The author has his own style, which works. His story is gripping and I think he tells it well. The story takes him from quite a young boy (a toddler?) to about 19, I think. It’s not just about him finding himself and other gays (we don’t really get to see him do that), but also about how he deals with family and also some various medical issues.
As a middle class American, I was especially struck by his poverty and circumstances. I don’t think he really felt impoverished, but it was striking compared to my own childhood. I think we are close in age, growing up at roughly the same time. He really had excellent support from his parents, and some from other family members, but he suffered immense bullying.
I received a review copy and am reviewing that version.
A series of almost Dickensian episodes.
Reviewed by David Swatling
Set in working class Nottingham, England during the 60s and 70s, Simon Smalley's coming-
As a young boy, Simon displays early signs of a flamboyant and creative personality. But a family tragedy turns his world upside down at the tender age of eight. As he grapples with grief, he is forced to deal with a barrage of bullying classmates and teachers, nurses and neighbors, in a series of almost Dickensian episodes.
A supportive art teacher notes Simon's "unusual eye for detail." The same can also be said of his writing style, which sometimes goes too far -
Reviewed by Anne Begg
Incredible sensitive, heart warming, wonderfully well written. I loved this story and was bitterly disappointed when I realised I’d reached the last page. Bring on the sequel!.
Thought provoking and emotional.
Reviewed by Howardy
What an unbelievably addictive book. This book transports you into Simon’s early life. The words convey perfectly every emotion he must have felt in his formative years. Thought provoking, humbling and at times utterly shocking. An essential read for everyone and anyone. A truly fantastic piece of writing and I can’t wait for the next instalment.
Reviewed by Karl Fox
Phenomenal writing an in depth eye opening account full of warmth an smiles.
A thought provoking read.
Reviewed by Rodney Willard
Disclaimer: I am Simon's cousin, although I have had no contact with him since 1968.
This book had extra interest with me as I know some of the characters, including my dear Aunty Betty and Uncle Sid.
The content is harrowing in parts and inspiring in others. That Simon has survived and blossomed into an author is a credit to him. This is a slice of social history which shows that, in acceptance of difference we have moved on for the better, but in respect of the curse of bullying we have regressed, driven by pervasive social media.
Well worth reading and contemplating.
Compelling read for past and future generations.
Reviewed by Deborah Demaree
Simon writes with a recollection of childhood memories so rich in detail that I felt I was right there with him, watching his life unfold from a small child to early adulthood. Simon is a survivor and hero through poverty, illness, and tormenting bullies. He navigates this world with resilience, acceptance from his loving father and music but at times his journey is unbearably hard.
I was so compelled and thankful to see behind the curtain of Simons young life. I saw and connected to parts of my own childhood that brought me to tears and closure at the mere fact I was not alone growing up in the 60s in an unaccepting world to those of us they thought were "different." Like him, the music of Marc Bolan/ T. REX made the journey bearable at first and the battle cry as each battle was won.
I look forward to reading the sequel with bated breath.
Upon publication of my book, the sole outlet was Amazon. Within four months of publication, 27 of 28 reviews showed five stars.
I’m aware that the name Amazon is an anathema to independent booksellers, but nevertheless I’m proud of this statistic.
However, a fabulous achievement for me is being stocked by Nottingham’s own indie, Five Leaves Bookshop.