Thursday, 10 March 2016

A Gothic world, a gangland lesbian, the Filth Peddler, a Georgian feminist and 'that piece of shit'

It was strange to be in such a minority last night (venturing out on my own without the usual "gang"), as I was among only a handful of other men (the only other I recognised was Chris Chalmers) in the Weston Pavilion atop the Royal Festival Hall - by far the majority of the packed house were female (including stalwarts Val, Jayne, Anny and chums, and Anya Nyx and several others of the "literati"). It was, of course, Polari's own evening to honour female voices as part of the Women of the World festival. Mr Paul Burston, opening proceedings at "London's peerless gay literary salon", said: "mine will be the only male voice you'll hear from the stage tonight!"

And so it was as our first reader, the (very young) radio and music journalist and self-professed sci fi and fantasy nerd Sophie Sparham took to the stage. Her début published novel is Snow in Hell, and is blurb reads thus:
There's something wrong with our world and this time it's no fault of human beings. After years of war, peace has fallen over the earth, due to a mysterious voice claiming to be humanity's god. However, despite this apparent revelation, not everything is as straightforward as it seems. Prepare to enter a Gothic world as scientists Margot Grant and Jade Wilde are confronted with hooded deceivers, obnoxious vampires and necromancers.
It's a very bizarre concept - the "heroes" of the story being killers-for-hire in a dystopian world of monstrous creatures, and all... As was the piece she read from her new work-in-progress, all about the sinister personification of "Time itself" and his solicitation of the pair's services to rid him of a troublesome sibling...

Bringing things right down to earth with an almighty crash, VA (Veronica) Fearon could not be more different. On her last appearance at Polari in May 2014 she introduced us to the tough-as-nails "street gangs negotiator" Dani, her "band of soldiers" and her temptress girlfriend Susanna. Now - speaking in first person all of the parts - 'VA' brought to life the various other characters in her book The Girl with the Treasure Chest, each having their own opinions on the tempestuous and risky relationship between the two women: Dani's childhood Jewish neighbour, her henchman Sonny and the sulky sister of Susannah. Beautifully portrayed, all of them - I and the rest of the audience loved it!

Ms Jacquie Lawrence, up next, has had a long career as a television producer, writer, director and commissioning editor; among her notable successes were Channel 4's Oscar nominated documentary The Celluloid Closet and Rikki Beadle-Blair's drama series Metrosexuality. She has the proud accolade of being called "The Filth Peddler Of Channel 4" by the Daily Mail! Of her new novel, she said:
Different for Girls originated as an idea for a television drama series about a group of women whose lives and loves were different. It was a project that I put on hold, whilst looking after my two pre-school age daughters. When my youngest started nursery, I took the original concept of these six single women, whose love lives were entangled, and thought about how they would be living their lives seven years later. During this seven-year hiatus, changes in family law, fertility treatment and gay marriage has given an even different context to these different girls so I created relationships for them and, in some cases, families."
In fact - as she confided to us - the proposed TV series hit an insurmountable obstacle when, before it could enter production, a rather more successful series The L-Word arrived on the scene. So "the lesbians in the desk drawer" lay forgotten until Jacquie got around to producing the book. Here's the prologue to Different for Girls, read by lesbian songstress Heather Peace:

Fabulous stuff - and thus, part one of our evening came to a close. Time for ablutions and a top-up.

When former Blue Peter presenter Miss Janet Ellis [mother of the rather more internationally-famous Sophie Ellis-Bextor] - who opened the second half - was last at Polari in 2014, hers was an early draft of a novel. Now she is extremely proud indeed that The Butcher's Hook is finally published, and has received some favourable reviews. With very good reason! From the passage she read - an extremely sad one about the bereavement of a young girl in 18th century England, on the death of her baby brother to a fever - Miss Ellis' writing is excellent, and the story is intriguing. Apparently, the girl (Anne Jacob) learns to fight her grief, her loveless and ultra-traditional parents, society's norms and all that goes with them, in order to strike out for a life of her own - but for the rest of the story, I guess we'll have to buy the book:

Our headliner Miss Mari Hannah - winner of the Polari First Book Prize in 2013 - is an accomplished writer, specialising in gritty crime dramas; her series of stories featuring the extraordinary Kate Daniels is soon to hit our TV screens courtesy of Stephen Fry and Gina Carter's Sprout production house. But it was from her newest tale The Silent Room, which features instead a male protagonist, that she read a passage. Its blurb reads:
A security van sets off for Durham prison, a disgraced Special Branch officer in the back. It never arrives. On route it is hijacked by armed men, the prisoner sprung. Suspended from duty on suspicion of aiding and abetting the audacious escape of his former boss, Detective Sergeant Matthew Ryan is locked out of the investigation. With a manhunt underway, Ryan is warned to stay away. Keen to preserve his career and prove his innocence, he backs off. But when the official investigation falls apart, under surveillance and with his life in danger, he goes dark, enlisting others in his quest to discover the truth.
And here is part of the extract that Miss Hannah read, featuring the prison van hijack:
Realising they were trapped, Storey began to weep.

Irwin urged him to get a grip. They were going to be fine. He’d get them out of there. Somehow. The words had hardly left his lips when the gun was raised. Both security guards ducked as the windscreen shattered, a large gaping hole appearing at its centre where the shot had pierced the glass. No longer could either guard see their attackers, but they could hear the shooter’s instructions to climb down and open up the back, his voice muffled through a balaclava.

‘Do it!’ Storey yelled. ‘It’s not worth losing your life for peanuts – or that piece of shit in the back.’

Irwin told him to shut it. ‘Do I look stupid to you?’

Fenwick bawled. ‘They’ll kill us all.’

‘That’s helpful, pal,’ Irwin yelled back. ‘Got any bright ideas? Because, if you do, now’s the time to spit em out.’

The Special Branch officer’s opinion was valid – and probably correct – but then he wasn’t the one with the gun pointing at his head. His reply was lost in the general mayhem as the passenger door was yanked open. Whimpering in fear, crying for the mother he couldn’t stand the sight of, Storey was pulled from the vehicle, the butt end of a gun rammed into his stomach. He dropped to the ground like a stone. With the gun now in his back, he was told to lie face down.

Seconds later, Irwin joined him, thrown with such force, two of his fingers snapped as he hit the deck. Out the corner of his eye, he saw keys dangling from the Clio’s ignition. For a split second – no more – he wondered if he could make the car without getting shot in the back. He decided against. He couldn’t leave Storey to the mercy of these two. Besides, this was no time to play the hero.

Sucking in a breath, Irwin tried to lower his heart rate.

His chest felt like it might explode. If he were a gambler – which he wasn’t – he’d have taken bets that the men in the masks weren’t going to kill him. Why bother dragging him out of the van otherwise? Why not shoot him dead in his seat? Still, he decided not to test his theory...

...For a moment, nothing happened. Then Irwin heard the familiar squeak of the van’s back door as it was pulled open. With sound but no sight of what was going on, he counted the seconds, his nerve gone completely. No longer sure it wouldn’t end there on that wet and deserted stretch of road, he shut his eyes, wondered if he’d hear the shot that killed him.

Idling engines purred...

Rain hit the tarmac...

Storey vomited.

Flinching as a pair of heavy-duty boots arrived by his side, Irwin exhaled as they moved away again, his stomach heaving in relief. A door slammed, then another and another. Expensive. The Audi. As it took off at speed, he lifted his head. His prisoner was gone.
Utterly engrossing.

And so, with rousing applause for the assembled readers, that was it for another brilliant evening.


Next month (11th April) Polari "returns to its roots" in Soho for a one-off special event at the ever-so-swanky Light Lounge, featuring Diana Souhami, Alexis Gregory, Keith Jarrett and VG Lee.

Should be fun!

Oh, how we love Polari.


  1. And how we love you Jon and your perfect take on Polari! It's probably my laptop but the photographs weren't opening. See you in Soho! VX

    1. Thanks, dearie - it was fab, and I can't wait for the "Soho return"... Jx

      PS the photos look fine to me - possibly your connection?

  2. I must book for the April event x

    1. Last I heard, it may be sold out - but fingers crossed! Jx

  3. Great write-up, as always, Jon! Thank you.

    1. Thanks, dear. Again, you were missed... Jx

  4. Brilliant write-up of a really lovely evening. Thank you Jon. You are a marvel.

    1. Bless. Thank you, Anny! See you at the next one? Jx

  5. Replies
    1. You are more than welcome, my dear - hope to see you at next week's Soho outing (providing I can get around on my "big boot")... Jx


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