INTERVIEW: Ely Percy on lesbian rom-coms, challenging prejudice and dealing with rejection (Part One)

The Scot Lit Blog recently caught up with the ever so lovely Ely Percy, author of the belter lesbian rom-com Vicky Romeo + Joolz and everyone’s favourite slice of Scottish school days nostalgia, Duck Feet. We spoke about the long road to publication for both of their novels, challenging prejudice and writing in Scots, among other things. 

It’s another long one so go grab tea and a biscuit and settle in. This is part one, where we discuss all things Vicky Romeo, and you’ll find part two where we talk Duck Feet, if you click this link.

Vicky Romeo + Joolz is a rom-com about Vicky Romeo, a butch Scots-Italian lesbian that thinks she lives in a gangster film, and Joolz, the femme fatale that captures her attention. There’s a whole cast of characters in the novel that surround the leads and it’s a world that you can’t help but be drawn into and fall deeply in love with. 

‘Where are the books about us?’

Ely started writing Vicky Romeo + Joolz in Spring 2002, initially it was going to be a tragic play, basically Julia and Juliet (the lesbian Romeo and Juliet) but, says Ely, ‘I just wasn’t feeling it, it wasn’t working for me, I didn’t believe in it. I just like writing funny stuff. So, I completely binned it and started on the novel.’ 

The influence for the novel came from a few places but, they said, ‘I just wasn’t finding books about young, queer Scottish people who were working class. You’d maybe get one of those elements [present in a book] but I’m looking around at all my pals who are at least two of those things and thinking, “Where are the books about us?”’

Ely says the only book they found that came close was Delilah’s by John Maley, a short story collection set in a gay bar in the late 90s, but jokes they were ‘glad they didn’t read it before the first couple of drafts of Vicky Romeo were done.’ Explaining more about the start of the writing process they said, ‘I didn’t really even know how to structure a novel, I just started writing about this character that was a butch lesbian that wanted to be an actor.’

In the beginning, Vicky Romeo + Joolz was a short story collection. Begun when Ely started creative writing at Glasgow Uni, they had the stories ‘of about 30 different viewpoints (!)’ put together by the Christmas of first year. But Ely initially didn’t get the reception they hoped for from course tutor Liz Lochhead. 

‘She was like, “What the hell is this?”,’ Ely says, ‘She goes, “This is not the book we talked out, you came in and talked about how you wanted to write about this working class butch lesbian, this butch about town womaniser, who had this dream to be an actor, a third generation lesbian…” She says, ‘This is not it. It just doesn’t work. Maybe you’re not a novelist.”’ With that feedback, Ely says, ‘So, I went home and cried. But then I started again and decided to try for one viewpoint…I ended up with two: Vicky and Joolz.’ 

After writing the first 30 pages, Ely took it back to Liz, ‘And she was like, “This! This is what we’re talking about!’ The book was then redrafted but ultimately Ely decided to drop the Joolz viewpoint and make the book solely from Vicky’s POV. ‘I eventually said to Liz, “Oh you were right!” And she says, “I know I was right!”

The next stage was getting an agent. Again with the help of Liz Lochhead, Ely found representation from Giles Gordon when the novel was still just on its second draft, who was fully on the same page as them about the book. ‘I said I don’t want this to be in Borders or Waterstones in the gay and lesbian section. There’s nothing wrong with that but I wanted it to be a book that anybody could read, I wanted it to also be accessible to people who weren’t working class Scottish lesbians. Giles said, “No, we’re not going gaystream, we’re going all the way.” Sadly, Giles passed away soon after taking on Ely and the book.

‘What part of girl-meets-girl-butch-femme-queer-coming-of-age-rom-com did you not get?’’

Eventually, Ely begun to search for representation once again but, ‘It was a solid year of no. No, no, no, no, no, no, no. I’d redrafted it again and nobody wanted it, nobody was interested. I’m sending it out to people and getting the feedback that it’s too gay, it’s too niche, no-one’s going to want to read it…but it’s really funny though. I was wanting them to just tell me it was shite or something. Someone even said I should make one of the lead characters a man and I was like…which one? What part of girl-meets-girl-butch-femme-queer-coming-of-age-rom-com did you not get in the pitch?’

Years later, around 2018, Ely received interest from Knight Errant Press, which had just published F. M, or Other: Quarrels with the Gender Binary. The publisher asked to see the full manuscript of another book in the works, a crime novel with a trans main character, but it wasn’t anywhere near ready. Instead, Ely sent a couple of chapters of this work-in-progress and all of Vicky Romeo. ‘Nathaniel [the publishing director] got back to me and was like, “Oh my God, it’s so gay. I love it.”’ 

Knight Errant took on the book and crowdfunding for publication began but there was still some drama to come before it hit the press, ‘There was very little editing done to it,’ Ely says, ‘Because it had already been through so many drafts and had so much work done to it. But I did change the ending a couple of weeks before the crowdfunder!’ Then, due to a hold up at the printer, Ely was only handed a copy of the finished book an hour before the launch at AyeWrite, but, ‘Technically, the first print run was only 100 copies because we had to split it to get it done faster. So, technically, I did sell out on the night of the launch.’

‘It was ignorance, but now there’s no excuse’

One of the things I, as a reader, appreciate the most about Ely’s work, is how much they don’t hold back or sugarcoat. Their characters are always very human with all the good and bad that comes with that. In Vicky Romeo, Ely saw prejudices and problematic behaviours in the community and turned a mirror on it within the novel. They said, ‘I came out as gay in 2001 and there was so much biphobia at the time.’ 

In attending the L.I.P.S group – a real thing but which also featured heavily in the novel – they did actually have the bisexual awareness workshop that is depicted in the book. ‘There were lots of people you would meet [back then] and get on really well with them, they’d be lovely, then they’d come out with something like “Oh god, here comes my ex, the tourist, she’s not a real one of us,” and all that. And I’m thinking that was not okay back in 2001, and it’s not okay now. I would meet quite a few young women who would say they were lesbians but then later go, “Actually I’m bi but don’t tell anyone because folk don’t like it.” And I’m thinking, I don’t get this, I don’t get what the fucking problem is here.

‘That’s why I wrote about it, because it was absolutely rampant. I think back then I did tolerate it more, or tolerate people who were biphobic. But now I don’t think I could. There’s so much more awareness now.

‘It was just ignorance [back then] but now there’s no excuse, there’s so much information right there.’ 

Follow Ely on Twitter and Instagram and visit their own website (which they’ve been putting a lot of work into recently and looks smashin’ btw!). Highly recommend watching their videos on Instagram of various readings from their work too, it’s an absolute treat. 

Follow the link to Part Two.

Part One: Scottish LGBTQIA+ reads – novels and collections to add to your TBR lists

It’s Pride Month so we’re celebrating here at ScotLitDaily! And it’s been a minute since our last Book List so here’s another collection of books to add to your TBR stacks.

Trumpet by Jackie Kay

The death of legendary jazz trumpeter Joss Moody exposes an extraordinary secret. Unbeknown to all but his wife Millie, Joss was a woman living as a man. The discovery is most devastating for their adopted son, Colman, whose bewildered fury brings the press to the doorstep and sends his grieving mother to the sanctuary of a remote Scottish village.

Winner of the Guardian Fiction Prize, Trumpet by Jackie Kay is a starkly beautiful modern classic about the lengths to which people will go for love. It is a moving story of a shared life founded on an intricate lie, of loving deception and lasting devotion, and of the intimate workings of the human heart.

Now regarded as a classic and for good reason. I first read Trumpet when I was at uni and I’m well overdue a re-read.


Vicky Romeo Plus Joolz by Ely Percy

A plucky, on-the-nose, heart-mending comedy about a bunch of queer folks trying to find their way and going about life where not a single queer person dies. 

The novel’s focal point is a gay bar, a world that most folk aren’t exposed to – but this is Vicky Romeo’s ordinary world. Ely captures a perfect snapshot of this locum, of what it was like to be Scottish, working-class, queer and figuring shit out in that period of queer history.

The debut novel of the amazing Ely Percy. If you were a big fan of their recent Duck Feet definitely check this one out next.


Goblin by Ever Dundas

Goblin is an oddball and an outcast. But she’s also a dreamer, a bewitching raconteur, a tomboy adventurer whose spirit can never be crushed. Running feral in World War II London, Goblin witnesses the carnage of the Blitz and sees things that can never be unseen…but can be suppressed. She finds comfort in her beloved animal companions and lives on her wits with friends real and imagined, exploring her own fantastical world of Lizard Kings and Martians and joining the circus.

In 2011, London is burning once again, and an elderly Goblin reluctantly returns to the city. Amidst the chaos of the riots, she must dig up the events of her childhood in search of a harrowing truth. But where lies truth after a lifetime of finding solace in an extraordinary imagination, where the distinction between illusion and reality has possibly been lost forever?


Venus as a Boy by Luke Sutherland

Drinking late one night in an East End club, a writer is approached by Pascal, the friend of a man named Désirée who claims he knows the writer from growing up in Orkney – and that he’s dying and wants him to write his story. The writer ignores him.

But a month later, a package arrives containing, among discs, sunglasses and other trinkets, a photograph of the writer aged eight. So he listens to the discs and emerges amazed and shaken. He then transcribes this heartbreaking story which traces Désirée’s life as a bullied youth in South Ronaldsay to the streets of Soho where he reduces his grateful clients to tears with his astonishing gift of sex…


Ever Fallen in Love by Zoe Strachan

Richard fell for Luke at university. Luke was handsome, dissolute, dangerous; together they did things that Richard has spent the last decade trying to forget. Now his career is on the brink of success, but his younger sister Stephie’s life is in pieces. Her invasion of Richard’s remote west coast sanctuary forces Richard to confront the tragedy and betrayal of his past, and face up to his own role in what happened back then.

In this compelling, visceral tale of how not to fit in, Zoë Strachan takes us on a journey through hedonistic student days to the lives we didn t expect to end up living, and the hopes and fears that never quite leave us.


The Gloaming by Kirsty Logan

Mara’s island is one of stories and magic, but every story ends in the same way. She will finish her days on the cliff, turned to stone and gazing out at the horizon like all the islanders before her.

Mara’s parents – a boxer and a ballerina – chose this enchanted place as a refuge from the turbulence of their previous lives; they wanted to bring up their children somewhere special and safe. But the island and the sea don’t care what people want, and when they claim a price from her family, Mara’s world unravels. It takes the arrival of Pearl, mysterious and irresistible, to light a spark in Mara again, and allow her to consider a different story for herself.


Happiness is Wasted on Me by Kirkland Ciconne

Cumbernauld was built to be the town of the future…that is, if the future looked like a really rubbish episode of Doctor Who. It’s also home to Walter Wedgeworth, a child stuck in a uniquely dysfunctional family controlled by the tyrannical Fishtank, whose CB Radio aerial is a metal middle finger to all the neighbours on Craigieburn Road.

When 11-year-old Walter discovers the corpse of a baby inside a cardboard box, he resolves to ignore it, pretend it didn’t happen. He knows the price of being a grass. But the child’s fate haunts Walter, bringing him into conflict with the world around him. Walter’s journey will lead him from childhood to adulthood; school, college, bereavement, Britpop, his first job, Blackpool, the Spice Girls, feuds with his neighbour, and finally…face-to-face with a child killer. Taking place in the 90s, Happiness Is Wasted On Me is a genre-blending tale that spans a decade in the life of Walter. It’s a coming of age tale, a family drama, a mystery, and a biting dark comedy. Ultimately, it’s the story of how even the strangest people can find their way in the world.

Do we mention this book a lot? Aye. Is it warranted? Also aye. For some gorgeous asexual rep look no further than this absolute gem of a book.


Amphibian by Christina Neuwirth

It’s summer in Edinburgh. Rose Ellis arrives at MoneyTownCashGrowth one morning to find that the entire fourth floor has been flooded with water, in a desperate attempt to improve productivity.

As the water steadily rises, her working situation becomes more and more absurd…


Girl Meets Boy by Ali Smith

Girl meets boy. It’s a story as old as time. But what happens when an old story meets a brand new set of circumstances?

Ali Smith’s remix of Ovid’s most joyful metamorphosis is a story about the kind of fluidity that can’t be bottled and sold. It is about girls and boys, girls and girls, love and transformation, a story of puns and doubles, reversals and revelations. Funny and fresh, poetic and political, here is a tale of change for the modern world.


Wain by Rachel Plummer

Wain is a collection of LGBT themed poetry for teens based on retellings of Scottish myths. The collection contains stories about kelpies, selkies, and the Loch Ness Monster, alongside perhaps lesser-known mythical people and creatures, such as wulvers, Ghillie Dhu, and the Cat Sìth. These poems immerse readers in an enriching, diverse and enchanting vision of contemporary life.

The poems in this collection are fun, surprising, and full of a magical mix of myth and contemporary LGBT themes- it is a perfect read for teens who are learning more about themselves, other people, and the world around them. Wain is fully illustrated, and aimed at teenagers.


Tonguit by Harry Josephine Giles

This expansive collection by one of Scotland’s outstanding performers is a moving exploration of identity, and how it is warped and changed by our languages, nationalities, and the often inhuman machinations of the State.

Tonguit stands as a collage of the early 21st century; of growing intolerance, the rise of ATOS, the bedroom tax, growing protest movements, the homogenisation of politics, and beneath it all humanity, trying to love and laugh and live.


Look out for a follow up post on non-fiction reads next week.

Have you read any of these books? Or have any of them on your TBR? Talk to us in the comments or follow us on Instagram for a blether.

You can find most of these books in our own Bookshop at bookshop.org – if you choose to buy from our shop we will receive a small commission which will be equally split between a donation to the Scottish Book Trust at the end of the year and keeping this blog running.