Obituary: David Rees

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The Independent Online
David Bartlett Rees, writer: born London 8 May 1936; died London 22 May 1993.

'I THINK Aids has certainly changed me as a writer,' David Rees told me. 'I think it is instrumental in stopping me writing. I feel my life as a gay man is virtually finished, and I've nothing left to write about and it's Aids as much as anything that has done that, though Aids itself has been interesting to write about from time to time . . .'

But the writing didn't stop. Not For Your Hands: an autobiography appeared in 1992 (although it had been written at least two years earlier) as did Packing It In, travel articles arranged to form a year-long journal. Rees's final book Words & Music, essays on writers and composers who are gay, will be published this autumn. Writing was such a compulsion, Rees didn't cease until a year ago.

David Rees's literary career falls into three distinctive 'periods': books for children and young adults (Storm Surge, 1975, to Holly, Mud and Whisky, 1981): novels for adults about homosexuality (The Milkman's On His Way, 1982, to The Colour of His Hair, 1989) and essays on, primarily, aspects of gay life (Letters to Dorothy, 1990, to Words & Music, 1993).

However, social issues in general, and homosexuality, in particular, were covertly evident from the first book: Storm Surge, in which young male attraction to young male is a sub-text. Rees uses the symbolic name Aaron for a sexually potent youth, setting up a prototype who was to appear in at least two more books: In the Tent, 1979, and The Estuary, 1983. It was clear in which direction his writing would go.

The stages of Rees's writing career corresponded with his own personal development. Rees didn't fully come to terms with his homosexuality until relatively late in life (after marriage and fatherhood). 'I came out when I was 37 and had my first novel accepted for publication that year. The two things are inextricably bound up together, there's no doubt about it.'

Rees was a a lecturer in English at St Luke's College, Exeter (1968-78), and Exeter University (1978-84). He took early retirement in 1984, to concentrate on writing.

Rees's The Milkman's On His Way (1982) has sold in excess of 25,000 copies. It is probably the most successful British gay novel to have appeared from a small, specialist press, helped perhaps by the controversy surrounding it during the passage of Clause into Section 28. He was most proud of his Carnegie-Medal-winning The Exeter Blitz (1978) and The Green Bough of Liberty (1980), winner of the Children's Rights Workshop Other Award. It seems likely that it will be the books for children and young adults which endure beyond the more explicit gay fiction.

Erudite and companionable, David Rees could also be pernickety and downright cantankerous. He wasn't always the easiest of friends, particularly as illness took its toll. But he was never dull.

(Photograph omitted)