Handsome men are slightly sunburnt


This is both a statement of fact, and the title of a book of short stories by Wexford writer Frank Ronan which was published in the 1990s.

I remember the book well – the cover featured a man in sunglasses, floating on a lilo in a swimming pool (The image above – I had written this piece before finding the cover).  I remember picking it up, downstairs in the Irish section of Eason’s bookshop  in Limerick. I plucked it from the shelf in a studiedly casual manner – making sure that no-one saw me. The semi-clad man on the cover would instantly give me away as one of the gays. Or so thought my deliriously paranoid mind.

Quickly scanning the back cover and my fears were confirmed – this indeed was a book about queers. How awful. I really wanted to read it but I couldn’t. Because if I did then then I was revealing myself as a fellow queer. How did I know the writer was a queer? I have no idea. Probably through some primitive form of osmosis. I could spot a gay reference in a newspaper from one hundred paces. The fact that I had found this book on a bottom shelf of Limerick’s largest bookshop was no coincidence. There had probably been a review of one of his books in the (now defunct) Sunday Press.

The shop assistant in Easons would eye me up suspiciously and report me to the newspaper. And the next thing you know the headline of the Limerick Leader would shriek ‘The Gay Shame of Limerick! His poor mother DISTRAUGHT!’

I’ve always had a fairly vivid imagination.

Well I never bought that book. Or any of the other six novels he wrote between 1989 and 2002.

Last Saturday I was in Chapters bookshop on Parnell Street in Dublin for a browse. I was not going to buy a book. Despite the fact that my book collection was annihilated when I came back from Amsterdam, I have rapidly built up a ‘to read’ pile, which is becoming unwieldy and needs to be tackled. New books are not a current requirement.

I was wandering around upstairs in the second hand section of the shop. I was in the Irish section, browsing.

There – in the ‘R’ section – was  a solitary Frank Ronan book – his first – ‘The men who loved Evelyn Cotton’. It cost €3.99.

I hearkened back to my late teenaged years. The fear. The nerves. The fact that Eason’s sold books about queers?

I could spare four euros. I bought the book without thinking of potential scandal.  I am currently reading en route to work in the morning.

It is the story of a proto-1960’s feminist, as told through the biased eyes of a man who loved her. It’s rather entertaining.

The writer seems to have disappeared from the face of the earth. Having written seven books between 1989 and 2002, it has now been almost fifteen years since ‘Home’ was published.

I found his dusty website which looks like it hasn’t been updated since then.

I sent him an email.

Just to congratulate him on being such a terrifying but welcome presence, to a scaredy-cat teenager, downstairs in Easons in 1996.


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