In the run-up to Pride, as part of the Pride Festival there are a number of arty Big Gay Events going on - including national treasure Clare Balding OBE in conversation with Martina Navratilova, a live radio play recording (that I hope will be broadcast soon!) on the History of Polari (the lingo), the launch of the British Museum's A Lttle Gay History guide at Gay's The Word bookshop, (the "other") Polari ("London's peerless gay literary salon"), and much, much more...
Yesterday (Friday 21st June), I went to one of them - a very special literary event hosted by the lovely people of the Gay & Lesbian Humanist Association (GALHA), titled Shenanigans! Gay Men Mess With Genre. A compilation of writing by some excellent gay authors, the book began with an invitation from editor (and author of the fantastic "Brenda and Effie" series of comic mystery stories) Paul Magrs:
How do you feel about writing a short story for me? I’m about to edit a story anthology for Obverse Books and I’m going to invite a select number of gay men to write stories based in a genre – any genre they like – and maybe more than one at a time.
I love the idea of writers working in different genres and using the rules for each one… but I do have this theory that when gay men write detectives, space opera, paranormal romance or whatever… there’s a bit of subversion and bending of the rules going on. I’m after mash-ups and literary crossovers… a bit of Camp Cosy Crime and some satirical thrillers; sexy confessional tales and some time travel; magical realism and outrageous mythic fantasy.
What do you think…?
Love, Paul x”
Among the respondees to Paul's lovely invitation were the four who read for us in the quaint surroundings of the Conway Hall. First to the podium was the multiple book prize-winning author, lecturer and DJ Jonathan Kemp. His story The Tain of the Mirror (in the "horror" genre) told the chilling tale of a sadistic self-obsessed gay man, and the suffering his adoring boyfriend had to go through - until one day, the obsession with his own reflection proves his grisly comeuppance... You could hear a pin drop across the room. Stunning.
Mr Kemp was followed swiftly by the rather lovely Joseph Lidster (writer on Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures, who we saw at the LGBT History Month Every Good Thing event at the Petrie Museum). His tale Soul Man was a sort-of-ghost-story, revolving around spooky goings-on in a stifling small town in rural England with a series of unexplained murders, and a surprising twist at the end when our narrator finally discovers the truth. This was a particularly absorbing story, read as a "duet" with our host Ricky - I was mightily impressed, and will be seeking out more of Mr Lidster's work, no doubt.
Superstar-biographer, showman and impresario (and another multi-award-winning author) Rupert Smith provided, inevitably, the most entertaining reading. Rather than take just one genre to mess with, Rupert decided to tackle four differing styles - Jackie Collins-style glossy melodrama, gay porn, horror and (overblown) literary fiction - in one story! Hilariously using a scarf as a prop to illustrate the changes in temperament as The Reason, his tale of the pretty rich boy, the mysterious stranger (with the big cock), the horrific murder and the pensive reflections after the event, he was (as always) incredibly entertaining - everyone loved it!
I felt a bit sorry for our fourth and final reader having to follow that tour-de-force performance, but as-yet-unpublished author Nick Campbell proved more than up to the challenge. His story The Corrective Tender took a more sci-fi/fantasy turn - involving a very mysterious organisation offering regeneration and rebirth, different parallel worlds and twists of fate, an offer gleefully taken up by a confused gay lad in order to undo parts of his life and his relationship that he regretted. Or were we all being bamboozled? It was an excellent end to an excellent set of readings.
The panel took a few questions, addressing the shameful state of gay publishing at the moment in Britain, and the contrary nature of writing as a gay man, feeling generally pigeon-holed (or even rejected) whatever genre one chooses.
I left, satisfied but intrigued. It was such a shame there were no copies of the Shenanigans book on sale, as I'm certain the rest of the stories will be as good - must order a copy!
Shenanigans! Gay Men Mess With Genre is published by Obverse Books