Q & A with Redfern Jon Barrett
It gives me great pleasure to welcome to the blog a dear friend and my personal favourite Welsh Queer activist, Dr. Redfern Jon Barrett, whose new sci-fi novel Proud Pink Sky has been one of my favourite new releases in 2023. It tells the story of an alternative Berlin as a Queer megacity. But as we soon see, even in a unified paradise, cracks start to form. Welcome to the blog Redfern!
We've all had that Christopher Isherwood fantasy, but what first drew you to pick up your life and move to Berlin? Did you know it was somewhere you'd end up?
It's funny, but I never planned on living in Berlin – while at school in England I even chose to study French, because "When am I ever going to use German?" But while studying in South Wales for my Ph.D. I had a German roommate, and that opened me up to the possibility that I could actually move to mainland Europe. In those pre-Brexit days, it was still easy, so in 2010 my partner and I piled our stuff into a van and drove all the way from Swansea to Berlin in 28 hours. Once here we stayed with a Radical Faerie friend until we found a place of our own. It was an exhausting journey, but a worthwhile one – and it really saddens me that it's just not possible for young British people to do that anymore.
This megacity of Berlin built by and for queers is such a fantastic image. What were some of your aesthetic influences in shaping that?
Oh, so many! I love architecture, public transit, and city planning, and this allowed my fantasies to run wild. Each of the city's gay districts has its own architectural influence similar to an existing part of the world: the "daddy" district Maytree looks like a fantastical mid-century Manhattan; Twinkstadt takes its influence from Tokyo; while the lesbian district of Flora is like a taller version of Paris. As for transport, I had a lot of fun envisaging a three-dimension transit network. Proud Pink Sky was a perfect opportunity for European cyberpunk. You're a passionate activist and advocate, but I know you primarily through your novels. What draws you to fiction rather than nonfiction writing?
The short answer is that I just enjoy writing fiction. But there's more to it than that. I love reading nonfiction, only it's something very straightforward and linear: the writer has a message they want to convey, and they do so. Now, I'm an opinionated person with strong beliefs, but what I love about writing fiction that you're not doling out a single answer to the reader – you're presenting a whole multitude of possibilities, a lot of which you never intended, and letting the reader draw their own conclusions. You're presenting your worldview in a softer way, one which, I believe, engages with the reader on a deeper level. You work together to find the message.
Proud Pink Sky deals with the thorny idea of allies turning on each other or throwing each other under the bus, especially when isolated. Do you think that's inevitable or if not, how do we avoid that?
I think it's inevitable in that it happens not only among LGBTQ+ communities but among every group of people on Earth – the potential for scapegoating smaller and more vulnerable groups seems to be part of human nature. But that doesn't mean it's inevitably something we have to do. Solidarity, kindness, and empathy are also a part of human nature, and those are the drives we should encourage, both on an interpersonal level and through our culture. Showing support for struggles other than your own makes it more normal, and more commonplace, and encourages other people to do the same.
What's one thing every visitor to Berlin must do, and one thing they must not do?
Don't be a cliché! A lot of people come here for a party, and while that's fine in itself Berlin has so much more to offer. The history of the 20th century played itself out across this city, with the imperial monarchy collapsing into a wild and experimental republic, which in turn collapsed into the darkness of National Socialism – and then split into both communism and federal democracy. There are still bullet holes in the walls if you look closely, and Berlin bears the scars of ideological conflict, both in its buildings and its people. There are so many stories here, and you don't want to miss out on them.
Proud Pink Sky is OUT NOW from Bywater Books.