Monthly Archives: May 2016

Poseidon blows his conch shell for Polari on Sea – Hastings

Sea shanties, sailor boys and undiscovered horizons set a racy tone for the Sirens of Polari on Sea.


Newspaper Hastings Polari on Sea




Arts Council funding means Polari is back in Hastings for another cracking Spring season of LGBT words and voices. The line up was very grand with Stella Duffy headlining and Juno Dawson and Fergus Evans … and the rogue of my novel, Rufius Biblus Catamitus.


Thanks to charismatic cultural commentator and Polari Ringmaster, Paul Burston, Rufius and the slaves were all fuss getting the sedan chair ready to shoot down the coast and give a reading. But what to read? Rufius was dead set on the sex chapters, but I was not certain that was such a good idea …

Me_Polari on Sea

I was first up, which was a relief as my voice, which I’d lost since Halloween (receiving the costume prize at Halloween Polari as Medusa I’d couldn’t even muster a croak). So, what did we read? As it was a Polari crowd, I gave in to Rufius’ nagging and read from chapters 28 & 29. They are the only explicit sex chapters in the novel and I was uncertain whether or not to include them as it is not a pornographic book. After much deliberation, I decided to keep them as they demonstrate the ancient Roman sexual paradigm, which is very different to ours. Seeing the sex from Rufius’ perspective and then from his rent boy’s point of view (Rufius is written in 1st person, present tense from the view point of three characters) serves to whip off the glasses of our own cultural ideas about sexual norms and takes the reader into the minds and bodies of the characters.

It was my goal that Rufius didn’t simply satisfy the standard stereotype for a cinaedus (an effeminate buggeree), but that the novel showed the messiness and idiosyncrasies of sexuality – as Rufius says: “One’s sexuality is as individual as a fingerprint.” Academics assume all cinaedi fancied manly men, which is logical, but as in real life human sexual preferences are not defined according to strict categories, Rufius likes adolescents on the cusp of manhood, those youths who will become hairy men, manly men like Aeson.

It’s not the easiest thing to read an effeminate man, so I asked the audience to imagine me first as a fat, Roman in a toga with full make up and pencilled on eyebrows, and secondly as a gorgeous ephebe. I told them when to switch.

Fergus Evans

Next up was Fergus Evans, whose poetry takes the listener deep into the slow motion reality of the layers of awareness that constitute a single moment. Moments in cars having hand jobs in the rain, watching a river and the constant chatter of the brain as one peers out of oneself at the world. His description of the river, the intricate details observed in a moment of sexual intensity evoked the richness of ordinary things and pulled the audience in with him. By the time the break came round, we were lulled into a deep stillness.

The lovely Mike Puxley and Wendy Quelch had come along – and we drank wine served by the gorgeous Lorna Lloyd and chatted about Fergus’ powerful reading.

Juno Dawson

After the break ‘Queen of Teen’ Juno Dawson set the tone swiftly by commenting that her piece would be in keeping with the ‘hand job’ theme of the evening! Juno writes award-winning teen fiction. The audience was invited to step back in time to first fumbled sessions and self-conscious teen angst as her characters mused over their sexual and gender identities. Juno was wearing a greyhound print dress – two Italian greyhounds face to face. If anyone wondered, it’s from H&M and they also do tee-shirts (I had to ask as I have to have one – Blue & Moon will love it).

Juno, Wendy and I chatted about teen fiction and how it’s changing, the increasingly diverse ways young people can define themselves. Rufius, as you can imagine, is delighted at the increasingly tolerance, and confidence that can offer to young people in the throws of defining their sexual and gender identities. The teenagers in Rufius lived on the cusp of an age in which Christian extremism narrowed and condemned diversity of expression, so it seemed fitting we shared the stage. Juno’s books are a hugely important part of modern Britain’s blossoming of freedom of expression – as well as being extremely entertaining.

Stella 2

Stella Duffy – what a star! I was honoured to be on the same line-up.

Stella read from her novel-in-progress, London Lies Beneathset in the 19th century about a South London family, whose men are sailors. Stella, herself native of Camberwell, tells us a story within a story as grandfather recounts to his young grand daughter his memories of the night he was caught in a storm on board ship, of how he was set with the fever and to avoid infecting the crew, they put him on a small boat for the night pulled behind the ship. The ship’s doctor came to help him, but he was past the aid of medicine. He doesn’t tell his granddaughter of how the doctor gave him the only other remedy he could: how he passed on his body heat and they made love in the night. He refrained from telling her, as all sailors do, of the discovery of the closeness that arises between men at sea for months, away from wives and families – with only the bodies of men for company and comfort.

Rufius is also a huge fan of Stella Duffy’s Theodora, so we had to give her a copy of Rufius. Stella said she’d wondered when she was researching Theodora who would deal with the material about the fall of the Serapeum. Rufius and I hope Rufius will give her a good ride – and perhaps some of the enjoyment I received from reading her novel about Empress Theodora, upwardly mobile yuppy of the 5th century, an actress and reputed prostitute who rose to fame and married Emperor Justinian.

Paul & VGLee

Paul & Stella








Me & Anney K

Thanks to Paul Burston, the fabulous VG Lee and to poet, Anny Knight for the photos (especially the infamous Printworks’ spiral staircase shots)

Buy copy of Rufius on Amazon

Historical Fiction Workshop – Hove Library

Screen Shot 2016-03-18 at 22.34.49Brighton and Hove libraries have many literary groups and do a lot to support writers. I’ve been to a number of workshops myself over the years and so was honoured to be invited by the lovely Roger Bluff to deliver a workshop on historical fiction writing to the Hatchery Writers. See Ann Perrin’s blog for more information about the group.


If I achieved one thing in this workshop, it was that the group left with the confidence that they could write historical fiction.

Rufius is my third novel, although my first published. It nearly didn’t get written due to the challenge of history. It was my belief back in 2003 that historical novelists of the classical period were historians, or with knowledge of that magnitude and schoolgirl Latin and Carry On Cleo were not enough. Of course research was required – and in my case, research was extensive (I did a PhD). However, what I learnt about historical fiction writing was this:

  1. It is the novelists’ decision about their departure from the history
  2. The most important thing is the ‘story’
  3. To draw the reader in is nothing particular to historical fiction, but the usual use of the senses: smell, sound, touch, sight, taste

All historical fiction is anachronistic as it is displaced in time and often in language. However, authentic historical detail is necessary whether a writer is aiming at ‘the appearance of authenticity’, like Alan Massie and Steven Saylor, or whether one is writing anachronistic historical fiction like Evaristo’s brilliant novel, The Emperor’s Babeor Christoph Ransmayr’s The Last World. But the way in which authentic details are incorporated does not mean that anachronism should be avoided. On the contrary, Evaristo and Ransmayr’s books draw the reader into the world of the novel just as effectively as those writers who aspire to an appearance of authenticity, or plausibility. In Ransmayr’s novel for example, the death of the Emperor is ‘announced by megaphone to the silent empire.’ Within the world of this novel, the mixing of modern technology and ancient history works. As long as the author is consistent with their approach, anachronism can add to the atmosphere and the story.

My thesis dealt with the choices novelists make when deciding where to position what I have called the ‘Pivot of Authenticity’ in fiction: the relationship of the author with history. If you would like to read more about my theory of composition in historical novel writing, please email:
Rufius will email you the relevant extract of my thesis (it’s accessible and jargon is explained).

The best way to learn is to write. After talking about my inspiration for writing Rufius (sparked by an ancient manuscript in the British Library), and different approaches to writing historical fiction taken by authors, I suggested a writing exercise.

As we were in Hove, we used old photos of the Palace Pier in the 1900s (before the fire) to give us a springboard into story. I asked the group to not worry about the history of the period, but to describe from the perspective of the character, or narrator of their story, the sights, sounds, tastes, feelings, and smells experienced.

Screen Shot 2016-03-18 at 22.32.15

Screen Shot 2016-03-18 at 22.36.31After 20 minutes of scribbling, we shared our work. I was very impressed with the standard. We had a broad range of stories from philandering husbands hot under the collar in old-fashioned coats, to childhood memories of bathing huts – and one remarkable piece by Matthew merged Sci-Fi with historical fiction as his character was chucked out on the Palace pier through a worm-hole. Brilliant pieces, all of which deserved to be worked on more fully. It was no surprise that some of the writers were published or had won early acclaim for their work already.

Afterwards the lovely Hatchery writers took me to a Hove café to continue our conversation about historical fiction. I was very happy that they got so much out of it and have invited me back to teach again.

A productive & fun morning – a special thank you to Hatchery Writers secretary, Roger Bluff

Buy copy of Rufius on Amazon