Category Archives: Bookish Agenda

Out There!

Reading our preview copy of out there on the Glasgow to Edinburgh commuter train!

Reading our preview copy of out there on the Glasgow to Edinburgh commuter train!

Out There brings together work from over 25 writers – some professional and some very good not-professionals, united in a shared sense of both queer-ness and Scottish-ness. The unique interactions between these two identities are central to  each work included in this anthology.

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The Paying Guests

Growing up Tipping the Velvet on the TV was some of our first glances into lesbian life. Sarah Waters tells us about her new novel ‘The Paying Guests’, which takes us on a journey with two very ordinary women in 1920’s South London lodgings, ultimately ending in tragedy.

Out tomorrow! I hope you are as excited as we are….

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Are you a rubbish lesbian?

I am the definition of a rubbish lesbian.

When I say this what I really mean is an invisible lesbian, entirely undetectable to the rest of my fellow queers. I somehow donned this annoying invisibility cloak around the age of 18 when I got rid of my skate trainers, baggy jeans and hoodies and opted for some high heels and lipstick.

My newfound confidence in dressing as I wanted to dress had the inconvenient by-product of making me vanish into the wallpaper in queer spaces. I’ve been told that a club “didn’t do hen parties” when heading out with a group of fellow femme gays, I’ve been asked if I was lost on nights out, I even had a stand-up row with a nurse who insisted that even though I’d only slept with women there was a chance I might still be pregnant (back to Anatomy 101 for her!).

Annoying to say the least! So when I saw this title pop up in a sidebar on a particular website (see those ads are good for something!) I immediately wondered where it had been all my life…

rubbish lesbian

This is what a happy Sunday looks like!

This book is a compilation of Sarah Westwood’s ‘Rubbish Lesbian’ columns in Diva magazine with some exclusive new material (all together now: ooooo!). As someone who hasn’t read Diva in a while, it was all new material to me and I was intrigued!

 

Now to be honest, I was expecting a slightly more… well… finished article! The book was literally a collection of her columns –  which don’t get me wrong, was exactly what it said on the tin! It was just that I had expected that the columns might have been reworked into slightly longer prose or perhaps even into a series of short-but-longer-than-columns articles…I expected slightly smoother transitions from story to story, but instead they felt as if they had been lifted directly from the pages of Diva and transplanted directly into this book, meaning that for me it was a rather jolty read. The columns are so short (on average two pages give or take) which gives a rather superficial introductory feel to all her writing not really getting to the heart of the issue, or resolving anything.

 

I think that this is particularly disappointing because the topics Westwood covers are interesting, familiar even. They feel like a conversation that I could have had with any of my friends, but with nothing much added by the fact I had to part with some of my hard-earned-cash for the privilege. From the lesbocism (a process of desexualising your lesbian life for the benefit of family, or particularly delicate friends) to negotiating the relationship with your girlfriend’s parents. From answering questions from idiots like “who’s the man”; to the embarrassment of first entering a sex shop (although I think her suggestion of ‘smash and grab’ has a one in a million probability of you leaving with something you actually want and instead you will inevitably leave with a penis extender or something equally unhelpful – either embrace the awkwardness, or shop online!).

For a fun, light laugh or a quick read when you’re not up for thinking, or feeling too much it’s great! But if you’re looking for something that might develop or challenge your thinking then this is not for you! Thank you Sarah Westwood for a quick distraction on a long plane ride!

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Perfect place for payday!

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Discovery new books in the amazing ‘Gay’s the Word’, on the hottest day of the year so far. Lots of love for London! Follow @gaystheword

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Do you wanna hear a queer love story?

Small child reading book

Tiny Me!

Doing a degree in Philosophy completely ruined my love of reading. As a child I devoured books, reading 2, 3, 4 at a time. The library was my happy place. And then aged 19 I trundled off to University, where my degree required me to read incessantly and in time I totally lost my passion. But as time passed I’ve decided to give it another go, and this is where this story starts for me.

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The Rain Before it Falls by Jonathan Coe

Jonathan Coe is a wonderful writer and he’s a wonderful human being. His books offer many reasons to love his writing style, with well crafted characters satirising Britain, politics and revealing countless truths about who we are. However, they do more than that. Jonathan Coe normalises homosexuality with characters that just happen to be gay. It is this that makes him a wonderful person. His lesbians are not evil plot devices, stereotypes in dungarees, or going through identity crisis coming-of-age phases.

The main protagonist’s sexuality is casually mentioned with a comment about her ‘longtime companion’ within the first 10 pages and it is not a point of contention for any of the characters in the present day. We discover later that this character Rosamond has of course experienced lesbophobia like all of us but it has not prevented her from living a full and happy life with her long-term partner Ruth and before that with an ex-girlfriend Rebecca.

Rosamond’s life is movingly revealed as she describes a series of 20 photographs via a tape recording to be left after her death to a blind relative, the missing Imogen. The knowledge that the intended recipient of the tapes is blind allows Coe to focus on the description of these photographs that span from the 1940s to the present day. The novel is incredibly tactile and audible – there is a sense that you can feel the photographs in this old woman’s hands and hear the whirring of the old cassette recorder. The use of the cassette tapes and at one point a record player adds to this construction of a living room that you can see and feel – one in which the occupant has relied on the same appliances that have survived the last few decades and will remain reliable until the end of her life. There is a real skill in Coe’s writing that he can create several layers of memory and storytelling while focusing on predominantly only one woman’s life.

The novel begins with Rosamond’s niece, Gill, learning of Rosamond’s death and the novel is interspersed with scenes from the life of Gill’s immediate family. There is the sense of space in which Rosamond is telling her life story as she describes these photographs and within that there are the additional spaces created by those descriptions and the memories they reveal. This creates an incredibly rich narrative setting which is surprising considering much of the novel takes place in an old woman’s home while she talks to a cassette recorder. The sense of sound is very important to this novel and at one point Rosamund plays a piece of music that is vey important to her. Coe has also released a ‘Kindle Single’ story called Pentatonic that also focuses on music to tell a different story from the perspective of the character David, Gill’s husband who plays a very small part in this novel, which further adds to the richness of this story. I would be interested to hear The Rain Before it Falls in audiobook format to see if adds another dimension to the sensory qualities the novel has.

Rosamond’s narrative is one of growing up, falling in love, moving in, moving out, finding a stable career she loved, falling in love again and living happily ever after in an idyllic rural community in England. It’s the kind of heteronormative finding true love story that could be found anywhere. It would be so easy for this character to be heterosexual. Yet Coe has her growing up gay in the 1940s, falling in love with a woman, hiding their love from landlords and parents, not having children or familial acceptance from their whole family and gradually finding that society slowly becomes more accepting around them. Rosamond’s life is not painted as a sob-story, a cautionary tale or an unrealistic glorified tale of homosexuality. Instead it is an incredibly honest portrayal of being a lesbian with all of the joy and the despair that comes with it. There is the incredible rush of feeling sexual attraction to a woman for the first time and the heartbreak of taking care of the daughter of a cousin when her mother leaves for two years only for that familial bond to be suddenly broken and no further opportunities for children to offer themselves.

The Rain Before it Falls is a beautiful story of a life lived and one that just happened to be lived by a lesbian. For showing his readers that lesbians are just like everyone else I would like to thank Jonathan Coe.

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