Friday 12 February 2010

Funny, dirty, deeply romantic

"Funny, dirty, deeply romantic, 'Man's World' is a wonderfully evocative novel." - Jake Arnott

The great and the good of the gay literati turned out in force for the launch of Rupert Smith's novel Man's World in the Blue Room at the Royal Festival Hall last night. Among the illustrious audience were Maureen Duffy, Jake Arnott, Mark Simpson, Suzi Feay, Dom Agius, Clayton Littlewood, Kenneth Hill and Paul Burston (and that's just the ones I knew!). And what a fascinating evening it was too (as if we could expect anything less from Rupert)!

Man's World, it appears, is a real labour of love. Having always harboured a desire to write a book on gay history, Rupert spent oodles of his own money and time on this tome, collecting old copies of early post-war men's "physique" magazines such as Health & Strength and of course Man's World (which gave the book its title), interviewing photographers and models from those mags, researching the archives of the Hall Carpenter Archive and drawing on his own and colleagues' personal experiences.

In the end, he admits, a factual anthology was inevitably out of his grasp (and resources), and a fictional tale just about gay lives in the 1950s appeared to be too dry. Thus he decided to weave a story that brings together the experiences of gay men in London from two very different times, over a 50 year period. Bridging as he does the gap (so to speak) between the generations, Rupert said he felt in a good position to knit the contrasting types of experience together in one thread. The story contrasts the contemporary designer lifestyle of Robert, seeking fulfilment in gay clubs, with that of Michael and his secretive gay life in the era of National Service and continued persecution of (still illegal) homosexuality.

In conversation with The Times Arts Editor Tim Teeman, Rupert explained the rationale behind the book, then read some pithy and superb passages from it, before giving us a history lesson in the evolution of men's pictorial (and increasingly erotic) magazines through the decades. These obviously form a mainstay of the thread of the story - particularly that of Michael.

Wrapping up with a very interesting and erudite question-and-answer session (why isn't Alan Turing held in such high esteem as Nelson Mandela in history teaching in our schools?), and a heartfelt thanks to the contributors (one of whom, an eighty-year-old veteran of the pre-legalisation era, was in the audience), out to the bookstall we all trooped to get our copies signed. I can't wait to read it!

A wonderful evening, and here's a fitting piece of music from Natacha Atlas...

It's a Man's World, indeed.

Buy your copy from Foyle's

Hall Carpenter Archives

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