Dusty Springfield would have been 80 a few weeks back, so to celebrate one of Britain’s finest singers, here she is at her funky, groovy best. THIS is how I like to remember her…
Dusty Springfield would have been 80 a few weeks back, so to celebrate one of Britain’s finest singers, here she is at her funky, groovy best. THIS is how I like to remember her…
Where has the year gone?
Time has flown and its now Easter Saturday and I haven’t posted anything since January! How did that happen? To be honest the start of the year found me struggling to find books to grab my attention. I frittered and fidgetted but couldn’t find anything, work was becoming difficult and my attention turned to a little side project I’ve got…but then a break in Anglesey brought with it some wonderful reading and so here I am catching up…
Tracey Thorn‘s ‘Another Planet‘ was always going to be a must read for me. I’ve loved Tracey’s music from the very early days of Everything But the Girl and her writing seems very much an extension of her music. This book looks at her teenage years in a small suburban town, the pains of growing up and the fear and sorrow of growing away from everything you once knew. Thoughtful, profound and funny, it is a book which is both specific to time and place and yet universal. It also made me revisit songs I thought I knew inside out, only to discover the malleability of Tracey’s lyrics: ‘The Spice of Life’ from EBTG’s ‘Eden’ was a song I always though of as being an ode to a female ex. It turns out it was about Tracey’s relationship with her mother….
Barbara Comyns’ ‘The Vet’s Daughter‘ is a masterpiece about a neglected girl who develops the ability to levitate…but special gifts don’t always lead to a happy ending. I was so pleased to get this first edition copy which is just beautiful.
The book which really got me back into the reading routine was Hallie Rubenhold‘s ‘The Five’, an account of the lives of the five victims of Jack the Ripper, taking to task the common perception that these women were prostitutes, the reality of their lives mere footnotes (if at all) in the ‘Jack the Ripper’ story. These are desperate stories of women cast down through misfortune to a place where they lived in rank hostels or on the streets, striving to find some sort of life. These are stories which resonate today: the opening of the book recalls the mass encampments of the homeless in Trafalgar Square in the 19th century and no one who lives in any of Britain’s cities can deny that we are seeing the shameful (shameful to our politicians, that is) return of such desperation today. The irony of the book, however, is that Rubenhold finds so little about the life of the one woman who was working as prostitute. Ironic, as Ruvenhold’s last book, ‘Covent Garden Ladies’ was all about London’s 19th century prostitutes. A great, much needed book.
I’ve written a lot about the work of Edouard Louis, here and here. His latest book is a short, sharp polemic ‘Who Killed by Father‘. The title is not a question it is an accusation. This tiny book is about a son returning to his dying father, a father who made the boy’s life hell with his casual but vicious homophobia. It is about coming to terms, understanding and healing wounds. It is also about naming exactly who is responsible for the pitiful state this once proud father finds himself in. Louis proudly and squarely names to politicians determined to make life hell for those such as his father, to kill those such as his father:
‘Macron, Hollande, Valls, El Khomri, Hirsch, Sarkozy, Bertrand, Chirac. The history of your suffering bears these names. Your life story is the history of one person after another beating you down. The history of your body is the history of these names, one after another, destroying you. The history of your body stands as an accusation against political history…
…Maybe those who read or listen to these words won’t recognise the names I have just mentioned. Maybe they’ll already have forgotten them, or will never have heard of them, but that is precisely why I want to mention them here, because there are murderers who are never named for their murders. There are murderers who avoid disgrace thanks to their anonymity or to oblivion. I am afraid, because I know the world acts under cover of darkness and night. I refuse to let them be forgotten. I want them to be known now and forever, everywhere, in Laos, in Siberia, and in China, in Congo, in America, beyond every ocean, deep within every continent, across every border.’
This book is essential reading.
A few recent purchases now: ‘The Confessions of Frannie Langton‘ by Sara Collins promises to be a gothic page turner set amongst the world of American Slavery, while Michelle Paver, whose ‘Dark Matter‘ I LOVED, also has a gothic piece out, this time set on the Fens at the turn of the century. I’ve started ‘Wakenhyrst’ already and it dragged me in like quicksand…Meanwhile short story collection which has grabbed my attention is Nicole Flattery‘s ‘Show them a Good Time’. The fact that it was first published by ‘Stinging Fly’ in Ireland is what did it for me: two of their alumni are Colin Barrett and Claire Louise Bennett whose work is WONDERFUL.
So, on to a couple of ‘big hitters’:
‘Spring’ by Ali Smith continues her seasons quartet with a story flecked with cold and outrage while allowing the roots of optimism to swell and breathe. A young woman, whose humanity is being eaten away by the work she carries out in a containment centre for asylum seekers, finds everything she thought she knew questioned by a lone child who is able to circumvent all known rules and regulations. Together they meet a television producer who wants to end his life. There is so much here: so much about the here and now and the anger which permeates our society, the confusion of right and wrong, the fear of where we are headed. Not an ‘easy’ book and not a book you could love, but it is so much a book we all need to read and think about.
‘Lanny’ by Max Porter is a book I LOVED. Lanny is a small, strange boy who sees the world in his own special way. But when he goes missing, the effect on those around him is to unearth deep rooted feelings, thoughts and perceptions. While Porter has commented on the slight similarity between his novel and Jon McGregor’s ‘Reservoir 13’, this is a far tighter piece, focussing on the relationships between a child and the adults surrounding him, with Lanny one of the most delightful creations I’ve come across in a while.
Tana French‘s ‘The Wych Elm‘ came garlanded in great praise and while I did enjoy it I was let down by the fact that I guessed one of the protagonists very early on. (My method of judgement of crime and mysteries is that if I can guess the outcome then it can’t be that good!).
Bob Stanley is from my favourite pop group, Saint Etienne, and his short book covers certain songs from their catalogue. One for believers, I suspect.
A book for my summer holiday is definitely this beautiful edition of ‘Summer Cooking’ by Elizabeth David. Very much of her time (the 1950s/ 1960s), David is cited as a great influence on many great chefs. My problem with her recipes is that they are very imprecise, giving very few weights or measurements.. However, her writing is a delight and just the thought of what these pages could conjure up makes it perfect beach reading.
Diana Souhami‘s ‘The Trials of Radclyffe Hall’ is a masterpiece about the author of the lesbian classic ‘The Well of Loneliness’ and her many fights for justice. This lovely hardback edition flew off the shelf in a charity shop…while the gorgeous book of photographs, ‘Paradise Street’, is a record of children playing out in the streets in the last half of the twentieth century, something which seems so rare nowadays.
…and finally, if you are watching ‘Pose’ on BBC2 – the drama set around the New York drag ‘balls’ of the 1980s – then as a companion piece I can’t recommend highly enough ‘The House of Impossible Beauties’ by Joseph Cassara. And if you aren’t watching ‘Pose’ then you really need to: you can view the whole series on the BBC I-player!
It is cold and dark and wet and Britain seems hell bent on self destruction so I’m going to try to cheer myself up my thinking about some of the literary treats we have in the months ahead.
Lanny by Max Porter
‘There’s a village sixty miles outside London. It’s no different from many other villages in England: one pub, one church, red-brick cottages, council cottages and a few bigger houses dotted about. Voices rise up, as they might do anywhere, speaking of loving and needing and working and dying and walking the dogs.
This village belongs to the people who live in it and to the people who lived in it hundreds of years ago. It belongs to England’s mysterious past and its confounding present. But it also belongs to Dead Papa Toothwort, a figure schoolchildren used to draw green and leafy, choked by tendrils growing out of his mouth.
Dead Papa Toothwort is awake. He is listening to this twenty-first-century village, to his English symphony. He is listening, intently, for a mischievous, enchanting boy whose parents have recently made the village their home. Lanny.’
I loved Porter’s first book, ‘Grief is a Thing with Feathers’, a sweet, poetic meditation on death, whereas this sounds like a book for today, for a country which has lost a clear sighted view of its past and so can no longer understands what a sensible, peaceful future might look like.
Another Planet by Tracey Thorn
The music of Tracey Thorn (The Marine Girls, Everything But The Girl, solo) has been with me all my adult life and in recent years her writing has enchanted me too. ‘Another Planet’ is a look at what it was like growing up in suburbia in the 1970s which, like the 1980s, – to those of us who grew up then – really was another planet. Tracey was also responsible for one of the best albums of last year – ‘Record’
I’m also been lucky enough to get tickets to see Tracey in conversation with Jeanette Winterson, which to me is like a superheroes ‘team up’ comic. And speaking of Jeanette Winterson…
Frankisstein promises a reboot of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, ‘launching us into a hold-on-to-your hat modern-day horror story about very modern-day neuroses and issues, including identity, technology, gender and sexuality. Starting in 1915, Mary Shelley writes a story about AI. Zoom forward to post-Brexit Britain and we enter a world of a transgender doctor struggling with his feelings for a celebrated professor leading the AI debate. Elsewhere new generation sex dolls are being mass produced and a cryogenics facility is holding a mass of dead bodies waiting to come back to life.’ Winterson’s novels are always a treat and this one looks more starling bonkers than most.
Who Killed My Father by Edouard Louis
I have written previously about my admiration for Louis’ philosophically French novels about growing up gay in small-town France and the politics of gay rape and this latest promises to be in the same vein, looking at the death of his father and how a society which turned its back on a whole class of people might be to blame. Unlikely to be a light and frothy read, so for that I’m looking forward to…
Flaming Sussex by Ian Sansom
Flaming Sussex is fifth in the ‘County Guides’ series in which Professor Morley, his spirited daughter Miriam and assistant Sefton stumble across dark happenings in the heart of England.
At about four o’clock on 5th November 1937, Miss Lizzie Walter, a teacher at the King’s Road Primary School in Lewes, said goodbye to her young pupils. The children clattered out into the dark streets, preparing for that night’s revelries – and Miss Lizzie Walter was never seen alive again.
Hitler, Mussolini and Pope Paul V are on fire. Fireworks explode and flaming tar barrels are being dragged through the streets. Bonfire Night in Lewes is the closest England comes to Mardis Gras. In their fifth adventure, Morley, Miriam and Sefton find themselves caught up in the celebrations and the chaos.
On the morning after the night before, Sefton goes for a swim in Pells Pool, the oldest freshwater lido in England – in the very centre of Lewes – where he discovers a woman’s body. She has drowned. Is it a misadventure or could it be … murder?
Light, frothy, fun and exciting, a new County Guide is light as breath of fresh air.
Spring by Ali Smith
For me, the third volume in Ali Smith’s seasons quartet has to be another highlight. Nothing much has been revealed about it yet, but if it lives up to the first two volumes then I shall be a very happy boy.
Wakenhyrst by Michelle Paver
I love a ghost story and ‘Dark Matter’ by Michelle Paver ranks alongside the best. Wakenhyrst promises another slant on the supernatural…
Something has been let loose…”
In Edwardian Suffolk, a manor house stands alone in a lost corner of the Fens: a glinting wilderness of water whose whispering reeds guard ancient secrets. Maud is a lonely child growing up without a mother, ruled by her repressive father.
When he finds a painted medieval devil in a graveyard, unhallowed forces are awakened.
Maud’s battle has begun. She must survive a world haunted by witchcraft, the age-old legends of her beloved fen – and the even more nightmarish demons of her father’s past.
Grand Union by Zadie Smith
As a teenager I loved the music of The Smiths and I still do: except now my life is also enriched by the work of more Smiths, Ali and Zadie. Zadie’s ‘On Beauty’ and ‘NW’ filled by heart with joy while ‘Swing Time contained one of the most uplifting sentences in fiction:
‘She was right above me, on her balcony, in a dressing gown and slippers, her hands in the air, turning, turning, her children around her, everybody dancing.’
Grand Union promises 20 stories, 10 old, 10 brand new and I can’t wait.
Black Car Burning by Helen Mort
I’ve not come across Mort before but this, her first novel promises to be something special, especially as it is set in Sheffield, one of my favourite cities.
Alexa is a young police community support officer whose world feels unstable. Her father is estranged and her girlfriend is increasingly distant. Their polyamorous relationship – which for years felt so natural – is starting to seem strained. As she patrols Sheffield she senses the rising tensions in its disparate communities and doubts her ability to keep the peace, to help, to change anything.
Caron is pushing Alexa away and pushing herself ever harder. A climber, she fixates on a brutal route known as Black Car Burning and throws herself into a cycle of repetition and risk. Leigh, who works at a local gear shop, watches Caron climb and feels complicit.
Meanwhile, an ex-police officer compulsively revisits the April day in 1989 that changed his life forever. Trapped in his memories of the disaster, he tracks the Hillsborough inquests, questioning everything.’
I am sure there are going to be other treats too, not least ‘The Porpoise’ by Mark Haddon, whose short stories we such a treat last year. But, of course, the book I REALLY want to see this year is the wonderful Shena Mackay‘s long promised memoir. I’ve got my fingers crossed but I really don’t think it would be wise to hold my breath…
First up on this fine new year is ‘The Ambassador Magazine’, published by the Victoria and Albert museum to celebrate a magazine which was used to sell British fashion and textiles abroad. I’d never heard of such a thing before, but it does make for fascinating reading as well as providing some glorious pages and pictures from what appears to have been a beautiful publication. I picked this up in the Waterstone’s sale for a measly £8!
My next book was a wonderful Christmas gift: ‘Shopping Towns Europe, 1945 – 1975’, edited by Janina Gosseye and Tom Avermaete. I love the modernist designs of shopping centres at this time: probably because I grew up and spend my formative years in just such a place: and a loved it! Unfortunately not everyone shares my enthusiasm and many of these creations are being vandalised by dullard town councils or left to rot. I think that, although I grew up in the 1970s, these modern towns with clean lines and open spaces spoke to me about an optimism for the future: a future which would be clean and bright.
But this was not to be and we now seem to be seeing the future as a dark and dangerous place, plunging us back to the past for reassurance. I saw this almost absurdly clearly this Christmas when I went home my parents: a pub on a 1960s estate was named ‘The Telstar’ – after that beacon of modern communications. It’s now been renamed ‘The Red Lion’. Of course, I’m completely aware of the possible irony in my words: surely aren’t I simply harkening back to a time long past and wishing today could be more like that? Well, yes and no: I know that we can’t move backwards but what I would like us to regain is a positivism about ourselves and our future. For this we need clear, honest leaders with an unbroken moral compass, a dedication to serve the people and a transparent vision in which we can all play our part for the betterment of the whole of society. We need to invest in education and value education as important in itself – not as a factory for computer fodder or, in the case of further education, as a short route to riches – and make arts education as valued as the sciences.
‘Culture in the developed world is now largely defined by all-pervasive media and slavishly monitored personal electronic devices. The exhilarating expansion of instant global communication has liberated a host of individual voices but paradoxically threatened to overwhelm individuality itself.
How to survive in this age of vertigo? We must relearn how to see. Amid so much jittery visual clutter, it is crucial to find focus, the basis of stability, identity, and life direction. Children above all deserve rescue from the torrential stream of flickering images, which addict them to seductive distractions and make social reality, with its duties and ethical concerns, seem dull and futile. The only way to teach focus is to present the eye with opportunities for steady perception – best supplied by the contemplation of art. Looking at art requires stillness and receptivity, which realign our senses and produce a magical tranquillity.’ Camille Paglia, ‘Glittering Images: a Journey Through Art from Egypt to StarWars.’
And yes, I know this is all very idealistic, but does that really have to be a bad thing?
And finally, do you know what ‘Xenofeminism’ is? I honestly have never heard of it, so when I spotted this spritely little volume – ‘The Xenofeminist Manifesto’ – in Waterstones I had to buy it. Beautifully designed, it has been produced by ‘Laboria Cuboniks‘, ‘a xenofeminist collective spread across five countries’ who ‘seeks to dismantle gender, destroy ‘the family’, and do away with nature as a guarantor of inegalitarian political positions.’ Intriguing?
On 3 January it was announced that Julia Grant has died after a short illness.
Julia had been the subject of a ground breaking 1979 documentary series ‘A Change of Sex’ in which she pursued her need for gender reassignment surgery. Updates on her story were broadcast in later years and she produced two autobiographies.
‘It’s impossible to overstate the significance of A Change of Sex within any history of trans awareness in Britain. Jan Morris’s ‘Conundrum’ came before (1974) and April Ashley’s biography after (1982) but both of these texts bore a degree of exoticism – surgery in far-off Casablanca seemed beyond the reach of ordinary mortals – whereas Julia was immediately relatable.’ (Dr. Stuart Lorimer in ‘Trans Britain)
‘George and Julia’ (New English Library, 1980) was the book tie-in to the BBC Series…As with the TV series, the book became an essential ‘how-to’ manual for transsexual people to plan and achieve their transition without being constrained by the NHS route.’ (Christine Burns in ‘Trans Britain)
By any standards this was a ground breaking body of work showing the bitter truth facing trans people and a courageous step for one person to take.
However, Julia Grant was no ordinary person.
I don’t claim to be a personal friend of Julia or to have known her for any great length of time. At the turn of the millennium circumstances brought me into her orbit and I want to write about that Julia Grant.
In 1999 what would eventually become known as Manchester Pride was actually named ‘Mardi Gras’ and, unlike London Pride – established in the early 1970s by the Gay Liberation Front to enable gays and lesbians to become visible and protest against their mistreatment by a hostile society – Manchester Mardi Gras had been set up in the early 1990s with the primary aim of raising funds to help those with HIV/ AIDS. What started as a glorified picnic and jumble sale had, by 1999, become a big event with Manchester City Council as the prime movers. Unfortunately, despite being the largest event to date, the 1999 event resulted in absolutely nothing being raised for charity. The disgust at this resulted in a small ground coming together to organise an alternative for 2000, an event which would return to the fund raising ethic of earlier years. The lynchpin around which myself and others gathered was Julia Grant.
When I was growing up I had had been fascinated by Julia’s story and her TV programmes (something I shared with comedy team ‘The League of Gentlemen’ who would base a sketch around one of the horrifying interviews Julia had to undergo with the psychiatrist Dr John Randell) and so when I met Julia I was in awe. She was a formidable woman: opinionated, loud, unafraid of a fight and sometimes downright nasty, but also shockingly funny and a wonderful raconteur. Rarely would a meeting go by without Julia recounting tales of shop-lifting Beverley Sisters albums, diving off London Bridges into the Thames on the Queen’s Silver Jubilee (‘Georgie, you’re in all the papers!’ I raised my head slightly off the pillow. ‘All the papers’ happened to be ‘The Sun’. It said ‘Jubilee Day went down with a splash for female impressionist G. Gold, who raised £2,750 for the Jubilee appeal fund’…I was on page three of the Sun I was a Sun girl! Julia recounted in her second book, ‘Just Julia’. For reference, Page 3 of The Sun specialised in topless photos of women) or taking part in Gay Liberation Front assaults on Mary Whitehouse’s ‘Festival of Light’ at the Royal Albert Hall. I can picture her in the back room of the Hollywood, a pint of Cola in one hand, the other reaching into a box of Maltesers and screetching with laughter as she recounted scabrous tales of closeted star’s peccadillos in some seedy pub or club. Just how true these tales where I can’t be certain, but as a natural entertainer Julia certainly understood how to grip her audience.
Julia wasn’t afraid of hard work: while all hectic organisation of the first Gayfest was going on she was still running her own little empire of the Hollywood and Manhattan showbars, and no task was too small: I remember going into the Hollywood late one afternoon to find her finishing off painting the walls, roller in hand and headscarf round her head. She was fearless too: on a number of occasions she would pop the cash takings into her hand bag and stroll down Canal Street to the bank without a care in the world.
From ‘Just Julia‘ I would later learn the extraordinary life Julia had led up to this point: sexual abuse at a young age, leaving home and dallying in the sex trade, petty crime and cabaret, not to mention coming to terms with her sexuality and gender. But thinking back on that history and the Julia I met it seems that the one theme of Julia’s life was a search for love and acceptance. It seems that everything Julia did was to place herself at the centre of wherever she happened to be…but that brought with it danger and vulnerability which was taken advantage of, placing Julia in an impossible position of craving love but fearing vulnerability: perhaps developing into a destructive force which ruined the many relationships (sexual or otherwise) she created. You only have to look at the trail of affairs and business ventures which saw her suddenly up sticks and vanish as possible evidence of this. Of course these rapid escapes also fuelled the many rumours about Julia’s affairs which live on to this day.
Julia was also someone who couldn’t help herself: she was intelligent woman but just couldn’t stop her mouth running away with itself.
Ultimately, Julia was a conundrum. While she was willing to break new ground and talk about her trans status to the nation she was actually quite a conservative person: she didn’t drink, loved the Beverley Sisters and hated the new gay ‘cabaret’ (such as the Divine David) who, to her, were simply students on drugs. She also held some very old fashioned views and opinions which caused a number of disagreements (On one occasion some of Julia’s actions were perceived as having racist undertones and during the ‘debate’ which clarified the situation we saw the other side of Julia: a person who was affected by what others thought of her, despite the bluster). She was also quite censorious about the sexual activities of some within the LGBT community.
When I look back I am amazed at what we – a disparate group of people with no previous experience of such an event – achieved: not least around £125,000 raised for charity. Of course, having Julia on board was both a blessing and a hinderance: Without Julia’s own money, resources and her force of character it would have been more difficult to get things moving. But, her bloody mindedness and reputation meant that the project was met with suspicion from many parties, both inside and outside the village.
I notice that in the articles about Julia’s death comments from Manchester City Council come from the Lib Dem group. I am pleased that the Labour group haven’t the brass necked hypocrisy to pay tribute to Julia because it was at our group’s first meeting with the Manchester City Council that I witnessed the shocking, bullying tactics that these – our elected representatives – felt able to carry out. The reasons? Maybe the council felt embarrassed at the failures of the previous year? Or, more likely, in Julia they saw someone developing into a grass roots leader within the Gay Village, a leader who wouldn’t cow-tow to their demands, too much of a loose cannon. Since that day I have held those individuals (and they are still lingering around the Town Hall cash-cow) beneath my contempt…and yet Julia took it all in her stride. Of course, the Town Hall meddling didn’t stop there.
Within the village her reputation was mixed, to say the least: a perfect example of this relates to the production of one of the poster, below. As a group we had no funds with which to do anything, let alone set up a three day festival (sounds like the plot of a Cliff Richard film, doesn’t it?), so to raise some money and publicity, we asked all the outlets in the village to ‘invest’ £50 each. In return they would be listed on a publicity poster (see below) for the event (and them!) with the surplus going towards set up costs. To negotiate these payments we tried to keep Julia in the background, with other committee members visiting bars to explain the idea and get the payments…and yet Julia’s shadow loomed over us all and it was an uphill task, to say the least – despite the fact that a venue would recoup this amount within minutes of the event starting! (Although, it was interesting that the smaller bars were to first and most enthusiastic supporters of the event – most conflict and mistrust came from the bigger bars, mainly those in close proximity to Julia’s ‘Hollywood Showbar’ complex: probably due to the various arguments in which Julia would or had become embroiled)
When people come together in this way there is often a clash of personalities and with someone like Julia, probably inevitable. As the stress began to build, Town Hall interference and that of other political parties began to make itself felt, cracks began to show within the Gayfest steering group and factions developed. And so, despite the huge success of the event, the original group split with myself and others walking away. Gayfest would continue for another year until Julia left Manchester amid rumour and gossip about financial impropriety, her reputation tarnished even further.
Since then Julia made some fleeting returns to Manchester and in 2012 appeared on the Channel 4 show ‘Four in a Bed’, in which Bed and Breakfast owners compete to be the best. This edition was in Spain and had Julie inviting guests to her hotel, ‘The Queens’, in Benidorm. (Never one to deny some personal hyperbole, when she first talked about her trans status, she discussed herself as being the first trans person in Britain: she may be an important figure in British Trans history, but certainly isn’t that.) Julia’s departure from the Queens would be as rapid and mysterious as that of her departure from the Hollywood Showbar and Manchester.
I spoke earlier about what I saw as Julia’s search for love and affection and I think that through her ground breaking television shows she found a way of satisfying her craving. Yes, it would give her the attention she needed but it also enabled her to show that she did, underneath it all, care for others… and regardless of how she went about things and that she could be a tricksy, nasty piece of work, I honestly believe that she did want to do the right thing. In one of her returns to Manchester she was still trying her best to support others, this time proposing a ‘community centre’ in the village, the provide ‘a drop-in support centre for those in need of help, as well as a ‘gay tourist information centre’: Two of the replies to an online article about this clearly sum up the contradictory feelings Julia created:
‘There’s already a massive community centre in the village. It’s called the LGF (Lesbian and Gay Foundation) and does more work than Julia Grant ever managed before she fled to Benidorm leaving hundreds of thousands of pounds of debt. Mancunian Matters’ hagiographication of Julia Grant is pretty sickening to those of us who remember the damage she wrought on our village a decade ago. Stop misrepresenting our village – she doesn’t speak for us.
Things have gone downhill year in the gay village on year ever since Julia Grant left Manchester, for a long time she was the only person brave enough to speak up and challenge the “gay-stapo” that became hell-bent on monopolising and exploiting the gay community. The likes of the LGF have only succeeded by stamping all over others, existing not for a greater-good but to keep their friends very close. The extension of Manchester Pride and Gaydio are symbiotic parasites that feed off the inequality LGBT people face and all in the name of chasing public sector contracts and having a cartel over collection tins. I was pleased to hear Julia has recently returned to sort these barrons out! Go get em Julia.
Julia Grant was many things to many people. She never claimed to be a spokesperson for anyone but herself. She provided inspiration to some and frustration to others. She could give a vicious tongue lashing and a shoulder to cry on. And, despite all the rumours and gossip no one can take away that Julia Grant was a force of nature and through her bravery and determination to put her truth onto our television screens made a difference to everyone in the LGBT community. Julia was truly her own special creation.
Here is a link to a very interesting interview with Julia, conducted by people at the G7UK website during the ‘Sparkle’ weekend in Manchester in 2011. The entry about the video includes a very interesting footnote to the rumours about financial impropriety following Gayfest 2.
‘Coronation Street‘ has always been one of my obsessions. It was created by Tony Warren and first broadcast in 1960. Like anything of a certain age, Coronation Street has waxed and waned over the years, with some periods better than others. In my opinion the 1960s and 1970s were never bettered, from the gritty first episodes to frankly bonkers offerings of the 1970s (go-go night at the Rovers Return anyone?) they had everything.
In 1976/1977, Mayflower publications began to publish novelisations of the very first episodes by H V Kershaw Kershaw had been the first script editor of the programme, wrote episodes as early as episode 16, and continued to produce scripts into the 1980s. He also acted as producer of the programme for many years.
I never understand why the series didn’t continue: Coronation Street’s rival ITV soaps, ‘Crossroads’ and ‘Emmerdale Farm’ had far fewer viewers yet their novelisations went through many, many volumes. (Although the Crossroads books do sometimes divert from the series in alarming, and yet strangely thrilling ways: none more so than when the plane carrying the staff of the motel crashes into a strange, lost and unknown valley in the lake district). Maybe Kershaw got bored? Who knows?
Whatever the reason, these books provide the venom and spite which characterised the early days and have covers which provide an epic quality to a series which was primarily filmed on a tiny set with half size houses to make it seem bigger (and half sized cast members too). But, as the covers show (unfortunately no artist is credited), it was a programme filled with huge personalities from which the great stories resulted – as opposed to many of today’s soap operas who graft storylines onto a character to provide some of the most grotesque distortions. I LOVED ‘Brookside’ (another show with a shockingly short run of tie-in novels) but could never, ever forgive it for ‘revealing’ that Barry Grant’s father wasn’t, as we had been led to believe, Bobby Grant, but family friend Matty who we were expected to believe ‘Saint’ Sheila Grant had had an affair with. This was a massive betrayal of both the character and, I believe, a cynical betrayal of long standing fans.
If you are a fan of The Street I would urge you to track down these great books (and the DVD selections from the 1960s and 1970s are terrific too.)
As a slight aside, in 1981 H V Kershaw wrote about his time on ‘Coronation Street’ in ‘The Street Where I live’, a book which has on the rear (the rear!) of its jacket one of the greatest photographs ever taken to tie-in with a TV programme (taken by John C Madden):
‘Strange, sinister, funny and profound, ‘Convenience Store Woman’ by Sayaka Murata is a compendium of the rules of society and how these might be navigated by someone who, rather than rebelling against those norms, simply doesn’t understand them – a ‘natural outsider’, if you will.’
Camille Paglia is one of the world’s most formidable – and readable – academics and a new collection of essays is always something to celebrate. ‘Provocations’ spans two decades of public life and pulls together many previously uncollected pieces. You probably won’t agree with everything Paglia has to say but you won’t be able to deny her learning, wit and astonishing breadth of subject matter. Every home should make a place for a Paglia collection.
A young man is befriended by a stranger on a dark Paris street, late at night. He takes the stranger home and, after they have sex, is beaten and violently raped. ‘History of Violence’ isn’t a book to gladden the heart, but neither does it make for a depressing read: in fact it is a very French novel: a philosophical search for meaning, in this case the meaning and causes of violence – looking at homophobia, racism and class but not without wit. This is truly a book which lingers and sows a field of quivering questions. We could question the use of the term ‘novel’ to describe ‘History of Violence’ but how much is fact (Louis has spoken of the attack, so we know it happened) and how much is fiction?
‘With Ghost Wall, Sarah Moss has produced a tiny masterpiece, a novel which – like all great horror stories – mines the human condition to excavate that which we would rather remained buried.’
Full of the joy and euphoria of finding yourself, The House of Impossible Beauties by Joseph Cassara is the story of The House of Xtravaganza, a home for the waifs and strays 1980s New York, a place where boys and can girls and girls and be boys and anything in between. It is the home of glitz, glamour, love and protection from a hostile world – a world of sex work, drugs and violence which Angel, Juanito, Venus and others must learn to navigate if they want to survive. The House of Impossible Beauties is a book in which the joy of youth can only ever be tempered with the inevitable grind of history, a history of a lost world and a lost generation.
So ‘Vera’ is a curious book: formal yet playful, funny even… and yet all the while presenting a vision of domestic games and anguish which suggests the author may have studied the (recently) published Freud. Elizabeth Von Arnim was the cousin of Katherine Mansfield, whose writing I have loved – however, Von Arnim is her own self, a writer of individual style and interesting voice. I look forward to tracking down her other works.’
‘Life falls apart. We try to get a grip and hold it together. And then we realise we don’t want to hold it together.’ The Cost of Living is the second volume in Deborah Levy‘s ‘living autobiography’ , in which she talks about the creation of a life following the breakup of her marriage: a life of writing and navigating the world from a different angle, finding the building blocks to create something defiantly new.
‘‘Travelling in a Strange Land’ by David Park is a novel of a place and time where the compass no longer works; it is about coming to terms with the past and facing a hazy future. It is a frozen fist in a woollen mitten. It is terrific.’
‘Middle England’ by Jonathan Coe does more than most to sum up the hideous situation Britain finds itself in. The awful conundrum of Brexit: its effect on the British people (on either side of the debate) and the brutal lens it has provided to highlight our dire and self-serving politicians – is all here. But Coe goes further, outlining a terrible anger which has permeated our society, an anger which boiled over on the riots of 2011 and which has come to play a part in all our lives from terse words at the bus stop to casual violence on the street. This makes ‘Middle England’ sound deadly depressing. However, Coe’s light touch and deft characterisation raises questions and ideas and suggests new, positive ways forward, which as we enter a new year are desperately needed.
‘Normal People’ by Sally Rooney has been praised to the hilt this year and deservedly so. A simple story of two young people meeting at school and forging some sort of relationship over the next decade, and proving that ‘normal people’ really don’t exist. Rooney is a puppet master with character and dialogue, skilfully weaving the couple through the minefield of their lives while providing word perfect lines which graft the reader into the story and refuses to let them go.
‘Trans Britain’, edited by Christine Burns, is a fine book, providing a much needed perspective on the long journey made by British Trans people. However, given the importance of Trans rights and theories in today’s world it must be the first draft of a longer, more detailed and more incisive history of trans people, activism and theories in Britain: If we as a society are to understand where we are, we need to understand exactly where we came from.’
‘Ironopolis‘ by Glen James Brown is set in Middlesbrough – the ‘Ironopolis’ of the title – a town in a North East ravaged by the decline of heavy industry. I loved hearing these voices, voices very much neglected by literature, the voice of the working class of the North East. It’s not perfect but it there is lot to admire, particularly in how these communities function through a masonry of family, friendship, rivalry and shared experience, often inadvertently creating their own myths and legends.
‘There is nothing showy about ‘All Among the Barley’ by Melissa Harrison. It is beautifully written and carefully balances Edie’s coming of age with a warning that those who come with seductive words may not be all they seem…In many, many ways this is a book for now.’
‘With the ‘Outline’ Trilogy, Rachel Cusk has produced something quite extraordinary, something which I am finding very difficult to sum up and discuss. I doubt myself: have I understood them? Did I admire rather than enjoy them? Have I missed something? Perhaps Cusk has created a new form of novel which I am grasping to understand? But beyond my struggle, I would heartily recommend these strange, addictive, puzzling novels – they will stimulate and tantalise but I couldn’t, hand on heart, guarantee that you will actually enjoy them.’