Filthy beast’ recalls unusual childhood
An unhappy childhood split between Bermuda and the United States has produced a “hilarifying” memoir launched today by American publishing giant Simon&Schuster.
Kirkland Hamill coined the word for the dark and twisted comedy he discovered in writing about growing up gay 40 years ago on the island and in America in his book Filthy Beasts.
Wendy, his late mother, Bermudian-born and an alcoholic, dominates stories of his dysfunctional childhood.
Mr Hamill, 52, told The Royal Gazette this summer: “I don’t feel like I’m Bermudian. I wasn’t born there. I moved there when I was 8.”
Despite this, his February 2018 article for the gay interest magazine The Advocate after Bermuda axed same-sex marriage, still got headlined: “I was Born in Bermuda. I Won’t be Going Back.”
Mr Hamill started the memoir long before he met his husband, Dave — who is part of why he weighed in 2½ years ago on the island’s controversy over gay marriage.
He said: “I’ve been alone most of my life. In the absence of someone to bounce stuff off, writing was my outlet.”
Staff at the Bermuda Bookstore on Queen Street compared Mr Hamill’s work to the dark humour of American comedian, author, and radio contributor David Sedaris, who draws much of his inspiration from his life and family.
Mr Hamill said he felt the same after he read Sedaris’s work.
He added: “I remember being unable to sleep that night because of all the stories I wanted to tell. I had this compulsion to start writing.”
Mr Hamill said he realised his life had been “crazy, outside the realm of anything heard of”.
It overshadowed his memories of Bermuda, from the unrest and riots of 1977 into the early 1980s, when he left for boarding school in the US at 16.
Mr Hamill said: “The contrast of physical beauty and the darkness there has painted it a little bit for me — the darkness of eight years of my life.”
He added: “It’s why I think I like rainy days better than sunny ones.”
The book’s title came from their mother’s term of endearment for Mr Hamill, his younger brother, Monty, and older brother, Robin.
She died aged 61 in the King Edward VII Memorial Hospital in 2005, her health ruined by alcohol.
The author’s mother was buried at Holy Trinity Church in Hamilton Parish.
Mr Hamill also wrote about coming to grips with his troubled life at Al-Anon meetings, for families and friends of alcoholics, held in a building next to KEMH.
All of the book’s harrowing stories were approved for publication by his brothers.
Mr Hamill said there had been no fear about a revelation of the brothers’ embarrassment and trauma.
He added: “With my family, that dark sense of humour has been a part of our ethos as far as I remember. Especially my father’s side.
“Nothing was sacred. Everything could be exposed. There was very little mercy for having hurt feelings.”
The Covid-19 pandemic intervened as the Simon&Schuster imprint, Avid Reader Press, pushed ahead with its scheduled publication.
Mr Hamill said he and his husband had been “relatively speaking, doing really well” over the crisis.
He added: “We’re lucky — we have a place in Baltimore and on the Cape. It’s isolated and I’m an introvert by nature.”
Mr Hamill admitted he was worried that being unable to go out on the road and promote his memoir would hurt sales.
But he added that lockdown meant that “people are hopefully reading more books”.
Mr Hamill and his husband visited Bermuda last year, despite the headline in The Advocate.
He admitted he was disappointed by the island’s rejection of same-sex marriage, but not surprised.
Mr Hamill said: “Being tense all the time and feeling unsafe was a big part of growing up there. I knew I was different.”
The childhood memoir is full of what would be called toxic masculinity nowadays.
Mr Hamill said: “There’s a shadow — but it’s not overwhelming. I’d like to come back. Maybe one day.
“It will be just me being able to experience it for what it is — to me, at that moment.”
• Filthy Beasts by Kirkland Hamill will be available this month in hardcover for $27 at the Bermuda Bookstore, which is accepting pre-orders
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