Queerness often entails subversion. As the holidays approach, sleigh bells don’t ring, but slay bells do. Author Lex Croucher understands the humor in subversion. Croucher’s latest book may be the perfect stocking stuffer for readers who share a similar queer sensibility.
Croucher’s latest book and first young adult (YA) novel, Gwen and Art Are Not in Love, riffs on familiar archetypes: there’s a do-good princess, a pleasure-seeking lord, and the heteronormative expectation that these two, promised to one another since birth, shall wed. But each has a secret: Princess Gwen catches future lord Art kissing a boy, and Art finds steamy details about the kingdom’s only female knight in Gwen’s diary. Gwen and Art may hate each other, but can they team up and become reluctant allies?
As U.S. states contend with book bans — and, per Croucher, the U.K. wrestles with its own forms of queerphobia — YA novels celebrating LGBTQ+ characters are essential.
“It would have changed my life to read stories with a wide range of complex queer characters as a teenager,” Croucher tells INTO. That doesn’t mean their latest book, hitting shelves November 28, needs to be a clarion call for social justice; instead, Croucher celebrates many facets of the queer experience in a story about teenagers discovering their identities. It’s a comedic romp that pokes fun at heterosexual norms and chronicles the undeniable flush of first love.
INTO caught up with Croucher to talk about the book’s evolution, favorite queer icons, and awakening to dreamy Greek vacation Insta posts.
Gwen and Art is full of fun and feisty romantic webs. How did these characters come to you?
I actually wrote a little note on my phone during lockdown when I was reading a lot of YA and watching tons of rom-coms to pass the time. It said, “A gay medieval duke and a gay medieval princess who hate each other and have been betrothed since they were children strike up an agreement to cover for each other and end up becoming friends. Lots of jousting, knights tale vibes.”
From there, it became obvious to me quite quickly who these characters would be. I wanted them to fit somewhat into the archetypes of straight-laced princess, gadabout lord, dutiful prince, and chivalrous knight but have more depth and a lot more messiness around the edges.
What inspired you to create queer YA stories? Were their inspirations in your youth, or did you feel that genre was missing?
The genre basically didn’t exist for me as a teenager. Returning to YA as an adult in my twenties, discovering everything I’d missed out on and all the stories being told now, was a total revelation. I can’t imagine how much it would have changed my life to read stories with a wide range of complex queer characters as a teenager! I’m forever in awe of the LGBTQ+ authors who came before me and broke through despite how hard it was to convince publishers that queer stories were worth telling.
Discover captivating LGBTQ+ YA books filled with self-discovery, romance, and inspiring tales that will tug at your heartstrings.
Book bans targeting LGBTQ+ titles are on the rise in the U.S. Has that shaped your drive, perspective, or writing in any way?
I’m based in the U.K., and while things are a little different on this side of the pond, we’re definitely starting to see the same kind of thinking over here, too. There’s an especially big problem with transphobia in the U.K., in that for a lot of supposedly left-leaning people, it’s somehow considered an acceptable form of bigotry. I’ll never stop writing queer stories, and if anything, all of the above just makes me more determined. LGTBQ+ people deserve to see themselves in stories for all age groups and genres.
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What are you most excited about when the book debuts?
Hearing from readers! I stay away from review sites, but when readers love a book enough to get in touch with you and tell you, it’s the greatest feeling in the world. To be honest, it’s always weird when a book of mine comes out on the other side of the world because you can’t visit it in bookshops, sign stock, or meet readers in person — all of the things I usually do. I’ll probably be sitting in my flat in London eating some celebratory cake. I’m excited about that cake.
What’s your go-to movie, song, or book when you need a pick-me-up?
My go-to movie is Pride & Prejudice (2005), although saying so puts me at risk of backlash by the BBC miniseries truthers. I cry from start to finish when I put that film on because I’m so happy to be watching it. A friend once tried to ask me a question during the opening credits and turned to see me weeping just from the opening notes of the score.
Song … any of the perkier songs by MUNA, who are, of course, the greatest band in the world.
My go-to book is a harder one because I try to limit my re-reads so I can keep reading the mountains of new stuff coming out, but right now, it’s Nona the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir, the third book in the Locked Tomb series. It’s not exactly cheerful, but it is deeply funny, and it’s about all the ways in which you can love people. It breaks my heart in new ways every time I read it, but it also sort of restores all my hope in humanity. A light read!
What’s the last app you use before bed, and what’s the first app you use when you wake up?
What’s something that, if people knew, they would revoke your queer card?
I only watched But I’m A Cheerleader for the first time in 2023.
If we gave you a budget to produce a biopic about your favorite queer icon, who would it be, and what would be the Oscar-winning scene?
Mary Wollstonecraft isn’t usually known as a queer icon first and foremost, but she had very intense “romantic friendships” with women and had the most ridiculously interesting life. I’m always baffled that nobody has given her the biopic treatment. The most depressing bits of her history would be considered the Oscar-worthy scenes rather than writing A Vindication of the Right of Woman or her (perhaps ill-advised!) jaunt to France during the revolution.
What queer celeb helped you along the way with your coming out process?
Kristen Stewart, God bless.
Gwen & Art Are Not in Love hits bookshelves on November 28.
Featured photo: Lex Croucher. Photo courtesy of Hanna Croucher. Illustration by Matthew Wexler.
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