Nigel Featherstone never sat down to write the World War II version of Brokeback Mountain.
When the Goulburn-based writer took up a residency at the Australian Defence Force Academy in 2013, he knew he wanted to explore different aspects of masculinity under military pressure, investigate the concepts of courage and bravery and how we define those, look beyond the sanitised version of war that is often presented.
"I remember my first day in the library, one of the best military libraries in the world, the first line in my notebook literally said, 'I have no idea what I'm doing'," says Featherstone.
"I just started to pull books off the bookshelves, anything about tanks, guns, the politics of World War 2, military strategy ... I wasn't interested in any of that stuff, I felt like such a fraud."
But he stumbled upon two books, Deserter, by New York Times reporter Charles Glass, which tracks a group of servicemen who go AWOL, and Bad Characters, by Canberra's eminent military historian Peter Stanley.
"Peter was the chief historian at the Australian War Memorial for 27 years is now at ADFA; this book won the Prime Minister's Prize in History in 2010, it was just fantastic," he says.
"He looks at servicemen in World War I whose files were marked 'character bad', whether it was for theft, desertion, drunk and disorderly, bad behaviour, not taking direction ... some indigenous people were stamped 'character bad' because their skin colour was different.
"And in this book there was one paragraph about a young Scottish-born guy from Melbourne, Thomas Chilton. He volunteers for the army in 1915, gets sent to Gallipoli, survives, gets sent to Belgium and on Christmas Day he gets caught having sex with a Belgian man.
"He's court-martialled on Valentine's Day, found guilty of a serious misdemeanor - I think we can imagine what that is. The punishment was to turn up to a particular weir and go home and serve what would have been decades in a military prison."
As it happens, though, there is not record of this man ever getting on any ship, or doing anything else thereafter.
"No one knows what happened to him. Did he volunteer for another army - apparently that was quite common - did he just disappear, did he spend his life with the Belgian man, what happened to him?" Featherstone says.
"His file is marked 'no further action', and at the end of this paragraph Peter Stanley says, 'The Australian Defence Force is clearly happy to forget their gay soldiers, we should not'.
"I read that line and went, I'm done, I've got everything I need."
Bodies of Men tells the story of William and James, childhood friends who are reunited in the trenches of Egypt. It is a tender, liberating love story, but, as Featherstone originally intended, a provoking one about our definitions of masculinity, bravery and courage.
"As a gay guy, I don't find stories which are only about being gay terribly interesting," he says.
"I think people such as Christos Tsiolkas tell more interesting stories because they're about politics and culture and power and gender dynamics, they're just not about one thing. Just because two women fall in love, two men fall in love, that's not particularly interesting.
"I'm more interested in bravery than I am in people being gay, I think being gay is a brave act, desertion is a brave act, finding love in strange places is a brave act, living our own life is a brave act.
"Bodies of Men is more about bravery and courage and what does that mean in really broad terms. It's not just a gay love story."
Featherstone thinks it's crucial that we tell multiple stories about war, "and not just the one story about the young white man who goes from the bush, ends up at Gallipoli, does great stuff, comes home again.
"What about indigenous stories, the frontier stories, what about gay and lesbian stories? More stories need to be told about post traumatic stress disorder.
"How does telling this very narrow version of history affect men and women if you don't fit that version?"
We're sitting outside at Poppy's Cafe at the Australian War Memorial, and on the day before Anzac Day, the place is already teeming with people ahead of the one day where we come together as a nation to hear stories of bravery and courage.
Featherstone longs for a day where everyone's story can be told.
"A million Australian men served in World War II. That some of those were gay or had gay experiences, it's highly likely, but where are those stories?
"We just don't tell them."
Bodies of Men, by Nigel Featherstone. Hachette. $32.99.
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