Wednesday, 7 October 2015

A Lesbian Pam Ayres, Bang-Bang, sex in the corridor, a prize, a perfect black dress and a parental nightmare


On a dismal wet Monday, I was the only one of our "gang" to venture out to the latest instalment of "London's peerless gay literary salon" Polari - it may have been dreary outside, but in the confines of the Level 5 Function Room at the Royal Festival Hall, there's always a warm welcome!

And so it was, as our top-hatted hostess-with-the-mostest Paul Burston opened proceedings - with a very welcome return for poet, entertainer and Polari regular Anny Knight. We love Anny - once described, I recall, as "the Lesbian world's answer to Pam Ayres"; no bad thing, given that lady's enduring popularity and success.

Her poetry is always wryly humorous, and never fails to lift the spirits - a perfect opener, methinks:

Next up was successful crime writer (and "adviser on terrorism and extremism to certain departments and think tanks") Charlie Flowers - author of a series of books featuring protagonists Riz Sabir, a former Jihadi now working for the Ministry of Defence, and his wife Bang-Bang. [Yes, "Bang-Bang". Okay...] The extract he read for us was from his newest in the series Murder Most Rural, where these suave urbanites gatecrash a yokels' pub in deepest, darkest Mummersetshire [or somewhere] on some bizarre mission to recruit local anglers to trawl a river for a lost "drone" [are you following this?], and it turns out they are not only spies and former Jihadis, but also a card-sharp and an expert pool player. Of course. They win the games, win over the locals, don't get beaten up, and [I suppose] everything works out fine in the end...

You can read extracts from the book on Amazon. I didn't buy a copy.

Sunny Singh's Hotel Arcadia was described by The Independent as "not only a page-turning thriller. It is far more than that." The piece she read featured the steamy encounter between closeted gay Abhi (one of the story's narrators) and a German tourist Dieter, in the sinister environs of the eponymous hotel during a terrorist incursion. I reckon that would have been a bit of a passion-killer, myself, but...

Here's the book trailer:

Anyway, with part one done and dusted, having replaced the pint of beer that one of the Polari punters had silently kicked over under my chair halfway through - just when I was in need of a drink - and having topped-up my nicotine levels, it was time to return to the packed house for the second half. Thankfully, it was worth the wait...

...there was a very special announcement to make, for a start! Paul introduced one of the panel judges, literary critic Suzi Feay to announce the winner of the Polari First Book Prize 2015. With many of the short-listers (including LaJohn Joseph) in attendance, it was a shame that the winner had to send her publishing agent to accept the prize.

Congratulations this year go to Kirsty Logan, for her début The Rental Heart - which the panel recommended thus: "[Kisrty] writes from a variety of queer perspectives, showing us a range of outsider’s viewpoints. Her characters are compelling, alienated, and trying to find a place themselves in a world with which they are at odds. For a first book 'The Rental Heart and Other Fairy Tales' is remarkably assured. Each tale feels like a work of art in miniature, a controlled experiment in transformative storytelling."

Drinks all round!


The last time that Juliet Jacques - trans writer, cultural critic and journalist - appeared at Polari, she was very angry. Thankfully, this time around, she promised that out of ten chapters in her Trans - a Memoir, she would "read an up-beat bit". And the piece she chose was fab - as the young Juliet goes charity-shopping with her close friend, finds the "perfect little black dress" and ventures out on the trans-friendly scene in Brighton for the very first time: worried about whether she'll "pass", why she's the youngest person there, and how to deal with the "tranny-chasers", the drag queens and the boys hanging round on street corners on her way to the taxi rank...

This was fabulous stuff - and Ms Jacques really charmed the audience; her reading ended with rousing applause.

And so it was the turn of our headliner Tom Rob Smith - wearing possibly the ghastliest Pringle tank-top I have ever seen, but I forgive him; he's very cute - author of the internationally acclaimed novel Child 44. Before getting down to literature, he began by expressing how proud he was that his drama television miniseries London Spy, starring Ben Whishaw, with Jim Broadbent, Adrian Lester, Mark Gatiss and Charlotte Rampling (what a bizarre combination), is being broadcast by the BBC later this month. One to look out for!

However, it was to his semi-autobiographical book The Farm that he turned for his reading. A dark tale, its gay narrator Daniel finds himself caught in a nightmarish situation as his mother - who, he has been told by his father, is suffering from a psychiatric disorder - turns up in London with what she says is chilling evidence that his father is involved in a conspiracy back in the family's native Sweden to cover up the circumstances of the disappearance (and possible murder) of a local girl... As a review in the Guardian put it: Who would you believe in a crisis, your mother or your father?

Brief, but thrilling and intriguing, indeed...

Thus, another eclectic and varied evening of literary entertainment drew to a close, with the customary "curtain call".


Jackie Collins's natural successor Rebecca Chance aka Lauren Henderson, et moi...

Our next outing for Polari - wouldya believe, celebrating its eighth birthday? (I've been there for seven of them) - is on 28th November 2015 and is part of the Being A Man Festival, featuring Bernardine Evaristo ('Mr Loverman'), Keith Jarrett, Neil Spring and trans man Len Lukowski. Award-winning author Diana Souhami completes the line-up.

Polari website


  1. Sounds fab love and always a sublime write up. I shall definitely make the next one.

    John X

  2. Thank you Jon for such a lovely write up of the evening - I had a brilliant time! I love Polari and I love your blogs!

    1. You are more than welcome, my sweet! See you at the next one... Jx

  3. I was hoping to make the Oct Polari as it looks likely I won't be around for the Nov. and Dec. ones, however the dreaded lurgy attacked.
    As ever your blogs are the next best thing to actually being there. x

    1. You were missed, dear - the only familiar regulars (apart from Paul, Anny and Rebecca) were Anya Nix, Jane Rogers and Chris Chalmers... Jx

    2. Really sorry you missed it Tony. Hope you are feeling better soon.

    3. thanks Anny - was sorry to miss you x

  4. It was quieter than usual but Jon's done a lovely job of conveying all the thrills and spills! Hope to see lots of regulars in December (will be away in November...)

    Smooches to all and thanks to Jon! xx

  5. To answer Mr Smith's question, I would believe my mother.

    1. "Listen to your mother.
      It's a scary world out there.
      Mother knows best.
      One way or another.
      Something will go wrong, I swear."



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