In “Not for your hands”, David wrote:
In The Milkman’s On His Way I tried to deal very directly with a teenager’s growing awareness that he’s homosexual, his gradual acceptance of this, and the life, warts and all, that it leads him to. Ewan emerges from the closet much more happily than Tim in “In the Tent”: he’s unencumbered by the restraints of religion. I wanted it to be a novel for young adults, so it went to Margaret Dobson. She was enthusiastic; we signed a contract and she gave me an advance — then she reluctantly changed her mind as other people in the firm protested. ‘You simply can’t,’ they told her. There were significant differences between the version that she saw and the book as Gay Men’s Press finally published it; it contained no explicit sex. When GMP took it (after refusing it initially on the grounds that they had no means of distributing it), I realised its audience would be adult gay men, not teenagers, so I described Ewan and Leslie wanking together, and wrote the now infamous page on which Ewan is fucked by Paul. It is this page rather than anything else in the book that has provoked so much hostility, years after it was published, from our legislators on the lunatic right — Dame Jill, David Wilshire, Baroness Cox, Peter Bruinvels, Dame Elaine et al—and which sent a government minion to Gay’s the Word to buy a copy.
The publicity in 1987 and 1988 about The Milkman was very unpleasant, even though that publicity vastly increased its selling power. I don’t like the blatant lies in the newspapers, or the same lies repeated, unchallenged, on radio and television — that it is, for example, the story of a fourteen-year-old boy who is seduced by his teacher, that five-year-olds in the classrooms of Haringey are forced to read it, and so on. Nor did I much relish the Minister for the Arts saying I had done a great deal to undermine the standards of family life. It’s as if I had written a pornographic book, whereas my intentions, and I’m sure the effect of them, were moral: I had in mind a muddled, anxious teenage reader trying to come to terms with the fact that he’s gay, and I hoped my book would help him towards a happier life than my own.
But in 1982 when The Milkman came out the moral climate was obviously very different. The reviewers praised it; a better novel on this particular subject, they said, was not to be found. No one objected. Sales were immediately good, and have consistently remained high: an average of two thousand copies a year, but more than that during the Clause 28 controversy. Total sales so far are about twenty-five thousand. I’m puzzled: who on earth is buying it, and why? Though gay men read it, it isn’t a novel for adults, and teenagers don’t spend their money on it. It certainly isn’t a children’s book, and I have little sympathy for those few libraries who put it in their children’s section – as if they deliberately wanted to encourage the wrath of the fascists. Many sales, I think, have been to libraries for their adult section. I was delighted with the chief librarian I met who, having heard of the fuss, decided to read it: there were only two copies in his local authority area, so he immediately ordered twelve more…