Paul Burston visited Stevenage Library
9 Feb 2010
By Shirley Everall
On Tuesday 9 February, Paul Burston visited Stevenage Library as part of Hertfordshire’s programme of events for LGBT History Month. Paul’s work as a journalist and author of novels and non-fiction comments on all aspects of contemporary gay life.
The event started with a brief demonstration of the Herts Memories website and the links to the life-class drawings of another gay author – a young Quentin Crisp – that will be featured in a forthcoming LGBT event at St Albans Library. Paul told us how he remembers watching “The Naked Civil Servant” as a child and feeling slightly intimidated by the image portrayed by Crisp in the film, but acknowledged that it is important to celebrate our history and to recognise the historical influence of key figures such as Crisp.
Paul is a regular speaker at events across the UK and he is obviously keen to celebrate our past and to help shape our future through his work.
He then read from his latest bestselling novel, “The Gay Divorcee” and explained his inspiration for the plot – meeting an older gay man who had been married to a woman many years before and never divorced: a divorce that now needed to happen for him to be able to marry his new boyfriend!
Our modern obsession with celebrity and Paul’s research for a television programme in Hollywood inspired his earlier novel “Star People”, a story that also explores the contradictions between public and private personae that will be familiar to most gay people. He is currently working on a novel inspired by a gay soldier serving in Iraq. Paul also told us about his work as a journalist for the Gay and Lesbian section of Time Out London magazine.
The audience was invited to ask questions and Paul spoke openly about his own personal history and how this has shaped his adult life and work. He told us about his childhood in South Wales and subsequent move to London; his work as a gay activist in the 80s and more recently online; how he values family relationships and his own recent civil partnership to his Brazilian husband; the effects of religion and the law on our lives; the accessibility to support and friendship that the internet now offers previously isolated young people; and the ongoing social problems that LGBT people still face, such as bullying in schools and an increased incidence in attacks on gay adults.
Paul also told us about the monthly events that he hosts at his literary salon “Polari” in London. He is clearly passionate about promoting new gay writing, and reminded us that there is no longer any gay publishing house in Britain dedicated to this. The word “polari” is also an integral part of LGBT history as it was a secret language used by gay people before decriminalisation in the 1950s. At these events, polari is brought back to life within contemporary culture and performed in a more light-hearted way.
This was an enjoyable and informative evening for all and I hope that we get to see Paul again at future LGBT events in libraries.