What’s your writing background? When did you begin writing and what inspired you?
I’ve always written stories – mostly for my own amusement, though not everyone was amused. At junior school I was encouraged to read out my stories during morning assembly. Then I’d get beaten up in the playground. But they didn’t beat it out of me.
I studied English and Drama at university, but I never imagined that I would find employment as a writer. I fell into journalism quite by accident – I was a gay activist first and a gay journalist second.
From the mid 90s onwards I published a number of non-fiction books, including a gay travelogue called ‘Queens’ Country’. My editor at the time suggested that I write a novel next. My first novel, ‘Shameless’, was published by LittleBrown in 2001. Since then I’ve published a further three novels and edited two short story collections.
How often do you write? And how do you manage to fit in writing among other commitments?
I try to write every day, but it’s not always possible. I work part time at Time Out, and also freelance for other publications like The Guardian. Plus I run my literary salon, Polari, monthly at the Southbank Centre. All these things take time. I have a couple of days a week set aside for writing, but I try to do at least an hour a day whenever possible.
In which genre do you most enjoy writing?
My books are usually described as comedies, although they’re quite dark in parts. Characters have died in my books! Will Self described ‘Shameless’ as ‘the sharp truth about gay London, cleverly coated with sweet and sour wisecracks’. It was a great honour to be taken seriously by a writer as serious as Will.
My latest novel, ‘The Gay Divorcee’, is a comedy of manners about gay marriage, though half the story concerns the lead character’s ex-wife, Hazel. I don’t write books populated entirely by gay people. That’s not the way I live, and it’s not the way I write. ‘The Gay Divorcee’ is currently under option, which is pretty exciting. We’ll see what happens.
What draws you to write in that genre?
I think I’ve always been drawn to comedy because I was bullied as a child, so I learned to make people laugh as a defence mechanism. As a writer, I also believe that if you can amuse people in some way, you can also make them think. Humour is a way of winning people over. I take a similar approach to journalism. But there’s always a serious point to my books too. My novels have dealt with homophobia, sexism, murder, AIDS, addiction and all sorts of family relationships. It’s all about the presentation.
Can you tell me about your current project(s)?
Polari is going from strength to strength. We’re selling out every month at the Southbank Centre. When it first started five years ago, it was just me and a few friends in the upstairs room of a pub. And to top it all, we’ve just been shortlisted in the Out In The City/G3 Awards for ‘Event of the Year’. The voting form is here http://www.outg3awards.co.uk/out-in-the-city-voting-form.html.
Last year I set up The Polari First Book Prize, which is for a first book exploring the LGBT experience. I think there is still a need to encourage and support new talent, which is something I’ve always tried to do at Polari. The prize is really an extension of that.
I’m also busy working on my fifth novel. It’s darker than anything I’ve written before. It’s certainly not a comedy. I’d probably describe it as a psychological thriller. It’s also less overtly gay than anything I’ve published so far, though there is a gay character and a gay sub-plot. But the main character is a heterosexual woman. I’ve always felt a strong affinity with women. Judging by the reviews on Amazon, half of my readers are female.
What are your writing plans for the future?
I try not to think beyond the project I’m currently working on, though I do have a vague idea for another novel. Again, it’s pretty dark. I seem to be drawn to darker stories at the moment, which is odd considering that I’m far happier now than I’ve ever been.
Where can people find out more about you?
At my website – www.paulburston.com