Friday, 15 July 2011

Clairvoyancy, Firefighter Trout, the Queen of Spain's daughter and "Eat Me" shorts

I went along to witness a birth last night. In the quaint surroundings of the mock-Tudor Wheatsheaf pub just off trendy Charlotte Street in Fitzrovia, a fabulous coterie of literary gay men and women gathered to welcome the new anthology of short stories Men and Women (edited by Paul Burston) into the world!

After much re-organisation of the furniture and the lighting (to accommodate the film being made of the proceedings), our host Bobby Nayyar - the powerhouse behind independent publishing house Glasshouse Books - opened proceedings by introducing our first reader from the compilation, the lovely Alex Hopkins (Polari regular, freelance writer, journalist and blogger). He performed (in every sense of the word - the voices and mannerisms of his characters were reminiscent of Kenneth Williams in Round The Horne) rather than read from his tale The Anniversary. It has nothing to do with the infamous Bette Davis film but, as this extract illustrates, it is certainly every bit as camp:
Ben eased his way through the crowd with a confident swagger as Frank stood and bellowed through the nameless faces in his finest Norma Desmond intonation, "You there! Why are you so late?"

As Ben approached Frank looked him up and down scathingly, registering his red eyes and sickly pallor. "Hello Velma,"Ben said shyly, using the nickname he had affectionately given Frank years before.

"I have been waiting here, amongst this rancidity, for almost half an hour, dear", Frank spat, "Clearly you were out on the shame last night - again."
And so we are treated to the fabulous badinage between these two old queens, and beautifully written and absorbing it is too - rather reminiscent of home life here at Dolores Delargo Towers! I loved it, and will immediately be investigating Alex's Dissident Musings blog.

Onward and upward, and our next reader was the diminutive actor and writer Angela Clerkin, whose tale of a very seductive Brighton clairvoyant and her Fuck It List was hilarious and fascinating - and elicited whoops of joy from the the audience as her heroine gets to achieve some remarkable adventures. On investigating Ms Clerkin's work, I am rather upset that I missed her appearance with Stella Duffy as Bette Davis and Joan Crawford in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane at the Drill Hall last December...

Completing the triumverate of readers in the first round was the fantabulosa Karen McLeod - she of the notorious balaclava-clad entrance at Polari Stalkers' Night way back in January 2009 - who gave us another of her customary hilarious and slightly twisted tales, Never Can Say Goodbye. This small passage gives us a flavour:
I met Lorna the night my long term girlfriend Suzie had stopped taking her lithium and set fire to the garden shed. Lorna had arrived in her uniform and helmet, jumping out of the fire engine with her unusual face.She introduced herself quickly as Firefighter Trout. At first, she struck me as unattractive with her tiny eyes and big face. The helmet hid all her hair and the chin strap was squeezing her double chin. But within moments she'd unrolled then controlled the jet of water coming out the hose and stamped out the last of the fire into the dandelions with her sooty boots. Her strange face became replaced with fuzzy heroism.
Brilliantly written, and brilliantly delivered!

After the break the lovely William Parker, who entertained us at the last Polari, once more read from Fern Cottage, his engaging tale of an elderly aristocratic gay curmudgeon reflecting on his past life while hating every moment of being confined to a nursing home, summed rather brilliantly up in this extract:
And then, just as I was trying to get a bit of a nap, the old bugger from across the corridor started up. Same thing every damn afternoon I've been here. Top of his voice. "I want to go home. Tell my mother to send her car round for me! I must have my mother's care! Let her know I'm here..."

Two hours of it with his door wide open until I'd really had enough.

"Excuse me!" I shouted. "Could I ask how old you are?"

Exasperated reply after a pause."I'm ninety-two. Ninety-two!"

"In that case, might I be permitted to ask how old you think your bloody mother might be now?" That shut him up for a bit.
I read the whole story today, and I must admit it brought a tear to my eye. Bloody good stuff.

Mr Parker was followed swiftly by "The Queen of Literary Lesbians", Miss Stella Duffy, who admitted that her story Partridge in a Pear Tree was on its second outing for this anthology, having previously been used in a "Twelve Days of Xmas" themed collection (hence the title). Nonetheless, it was excellent to hear the skilfully woven thread of this fantastical tale involving airlines, poetry and the Queen of Spain's daughter... As ever, Miss Duffy at once intrigues and entertains - I always enjoy her writing and she didn't disappoint!

The readings concluded (appropriately), with our fave Mr Paul Burston. As is customary, Mr B usually tries to dress according to the theme, and as his story Enjoy Carioca is all about Brazil he took to the stage draped in the Brazilian flag and headgear. Appropriate, indeed, as he is married to a "Carioca" (a person from Rio de Janeiro) and as he said, "enjoys Carioca every night". The story, too, is slightly smutty and very enticing:
...there was no denying that the boy wore them well. On lesser mortals, the trunks would have looked like false advertising. On him, the words "Enjoy Carioca" couldn't have been more apt. He was like an exotic fruit waiting to be tasted. His trunks were a provocation. Or possibly an invitation. They might just as well have said "Eat Me".
And the tale of two rampant gay men on their honeymoon continues in that vein...

This was a great evening, and an excellent launch for what promises to be a book full of surprises. I am tucking into it already, and look forward to reading the whole thing.

Men and Women is available on Amazon


  1. Fab blog dear...sorry I missed it. J-Jx

  2. It was fab - you would have loved it! Jx

  3. If I'd gone home, eaten and shaved I would have gone to this … it sounds like a great night.

    I was however at Rufus Wainwright's Coffee Book signing at Foyles straight from work.

    Jake Shears is doing a Coffee Book signing at Foyles on Monday from 6 − 7.30pm.

    If I'm not too wasted from Lovebox on Sunday followed by work on Monday and I still have £20 left I may go along.


  4. Ooh, the lovely Jake... I'll think about it. Jx

  5. if you pre-order the book online before hand it's £20, £25 if you just turn up.

  6. Thank you so much for your lovely comments, Jon. I am very touched. It was a very special evening and it was wonderful to see you there. Long live Delores Delargo Towers! Alex xxx

  7. You are more than welcome, my dear! I loved your story (and it was the first one I read when I got my copy of Men and Women home. See you soon! Jx


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