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Literary Locations #62: Waterstones, 1-5 Bridlesmith Gate

John Baird
Fri 12 Jun, 2020

Part Three (of 3) – Nottingham’s LGBT Writers & Writing

Situated on the historic Bridlesmith Gate is Nottingham’s Waterstones, the largest bookshop in the East Midlands, a grand Victorian building that covers four floors and a large events room. Since hosting Nottinghamshire’s Rainbow Heritage Exhibition in 2009, Waterstones has been a strong supporter of LGBT writers and writing. Waterstones has hosted book launches, author talks and discussions, and they host the annual Bold Strokes Festival. In celebration of Nottingham Gay Pride, Waterstones presented an evening of films and discussion in association with the National Coalition Building Institute and Nottinghamshire Police LGBT Network, with a focus on LGBT representation in children's and YA fiction and fantasy.

Thom Seddon ran series of workshops at Waterstones last year in the lead up to Notts Pride. The sessions were open to all members of the community and allies, with a focus on exercises which built self-esteem and confidence in writing, while exploring LGBTQ heritage, history and stories. Seddon is a writer who works mostly in fiction, script and poetry, and he’s the Development and Operations Manager at Nottingham Writers’ Studio.

Seddon is one of the young stars of Nottingham’s contemporary LGBTQ+ writing community. In Part Three of our mini-series (published during Pride season), we look back at the past fifteen years which has seen an unprecedented number of LGBTQ+ events and opportunities, boosted by the internet and Nottingham’s thriving spoken word scene.

We begin in 2005. With Section 28 now history, Nottinghamshire Libraries bought over 100 LGBT themed books; including novels, biographies, non-fiction, and self-help on issues such as LGBT parenting. The year also saw the resurrection of ‘QB’ (Queer Bulletin) magazine which is still being produced bimonthly with a thousand free copies of every new edition sent out (pre-Covid-19) to the libraries, Broadway, Nottingham Playhouse and Five Leaves bookshop, with a similar number read via email. ‘QB’ was produced by the Gay AIDS Initiative project (GAi - now Healthy Gay Nottingham) and Nottingham Lesbian and Gay Switchboard. The newsletter is now financed by a number of sources from the Nottingham Switchboard to Notts Police.

It was in 2007 that the Sapphist Writers group was set up. Founded by Sam Hope, Sapphist Writers was ostensibly for bisexual women and lesbians (including bi and lesbian trans women) but was open to all women (and non-binary) writers. Hope tells us “We met once a month at Nottingham Women’s Centre and were an informal group focused on creativity and support rather than critique, our ethos being inclusivity and encouragement rather than formality.”

Sapphist Writers ran for seven years providing lots of support and inspiration to writers, for which they won a Rainbow Heritage Award presented by the Sheriff of Nottingham.

Many former members have had their work published, including Sam Hope who is the author of ‘Person-Centred Counselling for Trans and Gender Diverse People: a practical guide’ (2019). Hope is a counsellor and trainer. They have a blog.

Other published Sapphist writers include:

Nicki Hastie, who has said that she’s happy to be known as a lesbian writer because it’s a statement of who she is and she’s never found it to be limiting. Hastie’s poetry and other writing has appeared in various anthologies and magazines; publications that include reflections on her involvement in activism around lesbian and LGBT identities, as well as women’s health and mental health awareness. More.

Rebecca S. Buck, writer of the historical fiction novels ‘Truths’ (2010), set in Nottingham; ‘Ghosts of Winter’ (2011), shortlisted for a Lambda Literary Award, and ‘The Locket and the Flintlock’ (2012), set in fictional versions of the historic Shire Hall and County Gaol (now part of the National Justice Museum).

Giselle Leeb, whose short stories have appeared in over thirty publications including ‘Best British Short Stories’ (2017). Leeb has been placed or shortlisted for the Ambit, Bridport and Mslexia prizes and she won a Word Factory Apprentice Award for 2019/2020.

And Victoria Villasenor, writer of six novels – fantasy/light science-fiction - under the name Brey Willows. Fluffy, sarcastic writing that might make you laugh and give you a few things to ponder. She has also written erotica as Victoria Oldham and has been an editor for many years.

Having exhibited samples of their writing at a number of LGBT History Month events, Sapphist Writers published an anthology in 2012 entitled ‘The Big Tree’. It’s a collection of poetry, short stories and flash fiction from ten of their members, based around the theme of ‘relationships’ in its widest sense.

Sapphist Writers and Rainbow Writers collaborated for Nottingham’s 2014 Festival of Words giving an hour of performance poetry showcasing the best of Nottingham’s LGBT writing. The compere was Russell Christie, former travel writer for ‘Gay Times’ and ‘The Pink Paper’. Christie has a long history in LGBT civil rights and political activism. His novel, ‘The Queer Diary of Mordred Vienna’ (2015) is based loosely on his five years in the US in the early 1990s.

In 2013 Nottingham’s Five Leaves Bookshop opened and since then it has supported Nottingham’s LGBTQ+ community. Five Leaves is a friendly safe space that stocks a large selection of relevant literature including the magazines ‘DIVA’, ‘Curve’, ‘Gay Times’ and ‘Gay & Lesbian Quarterly’. In 2019 Five Leaves won a Nottinghamshire Rainbow Heritage Award, having been named National Independent bookshop of the year in 2018. Five Leaves regularly holds LGBT events, hosting many poets, fiction and non-fiction writers, and it’s the only place in Nottingham that regularly puts on public events with trans speakers/readers.

Five Leaves has also published a handful of LGBT books over the years, including ‘Unorthodox: LGBT+ Identity and Faith’ (2019) edited by Sean Richardson, an academic, curator and writer based in Nottingham whose research tackles the lasting resonances of queer history in contemporary society through literature and heritage. ‘Unorthodox’ tells the stories of LGBT+ people of faith throughout the country, asking: in modern Britain, what does it mean to be queer and religious?

Several LGBT support groups held meetings at The Health Shop on Broad Street. One of these is Outburst, a group for young people aged 11-19 who identify themselves as LGBT or are questioning their sexuality. In 2014 they performed at Nottingham’s Festival of Words. Many of their stories were heart-breaking, showing how words can entertain and thrill but how they also have the power to hurt people. The group’s powerful memoirs are collected in the anthology ‘Speaking OUT’ (2014).

Nicci Robinson introduced this Outburst group’s festival event and, along with Victoria Villasenor, she edited and published the group’s anthology through Global Words. They have published much LGBTQ fiction including three collections of devastating and inspirational memoirs from local people: older, younger and trans. Robinson has an MA in Youth and Community Studies. She writes short stories and novels under the pen name Robyn Nyx.

There are more true stories in the Global Words anthology ‘In Different Shoes: Stories from the Trans Community’ (2016). Young people from our transgender community - or who are investigating their gender identity - show that although the road can be difficult, there are people there to listen, to help, to support, and to love, no matter where your journey may lead. Many of the contributing writers were from the Nottingham youth group Trans4me.

Global Wordsmiths’ Villasenor and Robinson produced a series of creative writing workshops as part of ‘Desire, Love, Identity’, an LGBTQ Memoir project with the National Justice Museum, run in conjunction with the British Museum's LGBTQ Heritage Trail project. This collaboration resulted in ‘Desire, Love, Identity’ (2019) a new anthology of personal stories from members of Nottingham’s LGBTQ community in response to the artefacts and histories on display at the Justice Museum. The book celebrates the change-bringing power of story-telling but doesn’t shy away from reminding us of the chilling history of queer persecution, nor its agonising presence in large parts of our 21st century world. Its writers include Tony Challis, Gregory Woods, David Edgley, Nicki Hastie, Rebecca S Buck and Thom Seddon.

Another contributor to ‘Desire, Love, Identity’ is Kevin Jackson. A queer activist, Jackson writes poetry that “dares us to care”. He is passionate about creative expression that pushes understanding and grows community. His new poetry collection is ‘Loves Burn’ (2020), locally published by Big White Shed and launched at City Arts just before lockdown. Jackson has performed his work widely. His publishers include Burning House Press, HCE Magazine, Porridge Magazine and RFD Journal.

Jackson tells us: “Queer writers are a rich strand of Nottingham's spoken word scene, diverse truth-telling activists, then and now. My aim has shifted and I would say so has that of other queer writers: from giving voice to exceptionalism, making meaning (entertainment?) out of otherness, to a full-on project of social justice. I love Nottingham's spoken word scene for being a social/creative/collaborative laboratory. Regular events like Crosswords, Speech Therapy, DIY Poets are courageous champions of social inclusion.”

Nottingham has seen a rise in the number of LGBT writing and creative events in the past year. The poet Hayley Green organised the Write Pride Festivals in 2018 and 2019. Green, who now lives in Scarborough, had been a spectator of Nottingham Pride and wanted to involve more venues across the city, celebrating the wider breadth of talent within the community. The inaugural Write Pride Festival, which took place in the lead up to Nottingham Pride 2018, led to ‘Writing Proud’ being formed, a series of workshops and events run by Green that explored and celebrated the work of LGBTQIA writers from the writing disciplines of prose, film, song writing, poetry and theatre.

Earlier this year the University of Nottingham Libraries held a free workshop on Writing Diversely which was presented by twice Carnegie-nominated YA author and University of Nottingham alumna Lauren James whose ‘The Last Beginning’ (2016) was named as one of the best LGBT-inclusive works for young adults by the Independent.

Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature’s Big City Reads campaign featured ‘Heartstopper’ (2019) by Alice Oseman as one of its four books. A boy meets boy tale ‘Heartstopper’ is a graphic novel for children about life, love, and everything that happens in between.

Nottingham has its own writers of LGBT literature including Anne Goodwin whose novel ‘Sugar and Snails’ (2015) is set in 2004, the year of the Gender Recognition Act. The story’s narrator is Diana, a 44-year-old woman. The novel flashbacks to Diana’s childhood in the 1960s and ‘70s including her transition at the age of 15 when she radically altered the trajectory of her life. ‘Sugar and Snails’ takes the reader on a poignant journey to a triumphant mid-life coming-of-age that challenges preconceptions about bridging the gap between who we are and who we feel we ought to be, drawing attention to changing/improved attitudes to gender diversity and to issues around informed consent in adolescence.

Kristina Adams's novel 'Behind the Spotlight' (2019), set in Nottingham, tells the story of Cameron, whose ex-boyfriend is now one-quarter of the world’s biggest boy band.

Hongwei Bao’s non-fiction book ‘Queer Comrades’ (2018) is the first to look at gay identity and queer activism in China from a cultural studies perspective. Dr Hongwei Bao is Assistant Professor in Media Studies at the University of Nottingham. This work stems from the term and identity tongzhi, which means “comrade” and in more recent decades has been a popular term to refer to gay people and sexual minorities more broadly.

Out of Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature’s City Read project, supported by Five Leaves Bookshop, Bromley House Library and Nottingham Writers’ Studio, came ‘These Seven’ (2015) a collection of stories from Nottingham writers, one of which - ‘Here We Are Again’ by Megan Taylor - features a lesbian character.

And next year, the Hucknall-born transgender rights activist and Vogue columnist Paris Lees has a book out. ‘What It Feels Like for a Girl’ (2021), part memoir, part fiction, is a story about growing up poor in noughties Hucknall. The novel’s 13-year-old protagonist is called Byron.

Many local LGBTQ+ writers, past and present, have been named during this Pride season mini-series of literary locations. To end the series, here are a few more of our finest:

Matt Miller is a former Nottingham Poetry Society Slam Champion and the winner of the 2019 Nottingham heat of Slamovision, an international poetry slam between all 27 UNESCO Cities of Literature. The Sneinton based poet and theatre maker has written for Live Theatre, Alphabetti Theatre, New Writing North and BBC Radio 3, often on the themes of place, identity and belonging. As a lead artist for The Mighty Creatives’ ‘Emerge’ project, Miller worked in two schools in Mansfield to set up a youth-arts festival at Rufford Abbey, and he was running a poetry night in Mansfield called ‘Holding Court’ before lockdown struck. He also worked with Neal Pike on ‘Five Years’ and has toured with his own show ‘Fitting’ which casts a spotlight on attitudes around dress and assumptions, advancing our ability to talk about place, identity and inclusion.

Rich Goodson completed his Doctorate in Writing in 2012 under the supervision of Gregory Woods. A year later he founded Word Jam (now 'World Jam'), a collective of poets and musicians whose first language isn't English. Goodson teaches English to 16-19-year olds from refugee or migrant backgrounds and he wrote a 'toolkit' for writers and teachers who want to lead Creative Writing workshops with refugees. This was sent to all the UNESCO Cities of Literature in the world. His poetry has appeared in the ‘Penguin Poetry of Sex’ (2014) and ‘A Queer Anthology of Rage’ (2018). His debut poetry pamphlet ‘Mr Universe’ was published in 2017. A little-known fact, Goodson’s dad was born on the same street as Alan Sillitoe.

Lise Gold is an author of lesbian romance. Her eleven novels include the Lesfic Bard Award-winning ‘French Summer’ (2018), ‘Living’ (2019), which spent a month at number one in the lesbian fiction/romance charts on Amazon, and her latest 'The Scent of Rome' (2020). Gold moved to Nottingham with her wife in 2011 and finds it a very open-minded city where anyone would feel welcome.

Joe Andrews’ poetry has featured in various anthologies and literary magazines including Bad Betty’s ‘Alter Egos’ (2019), ‘Homology Lit’ and ‘Anomaly’, the international journal of literature and the arts. A former events coordinator for the University of Nottingham's Poetry and Spoken Word Society, their poetry explores the relationship between gender and family.

Dan Webber is a spoken word artist who is no stranger to Nottingham having performed at Nottingham Poetry Festival, Nottingham Pride and Writing Proud, and for the past three years he has been programming for Nottingham Comedy Festival. Webber’s first collection ‘Genre Fluid’ (2019) is a study into labels in the arts, in everyday life and in the LGBTQ+ community. It’s the culmination of three years of writing, touring and performing at various events and festivals across the country.

Joshua Judson is the founder of ‘Poetry Is Dead Good’, a monthly poetry night in Nottingham. He is an alumnus of Mouthy Poets based at Nottingham Playhouse and his poetry has been published in ‘The North’, ‘Brittle Star’ and ‘Magma’ among other journals, and he has worked with partners such as Tower Bridge and the Barbican. He directed the Bilborough Poetry Collective program at Bilborough College.

Pippa Hennessy is one of three featured poets in ‘Take Three’ (2019) published by Soundswrite Press. Her poems ‘The Observer Effect’ and ‘The Uncertainty Principle’ are about the experience of watching her daughter change from a little boy to a grown-up young lady, and coming to terms with her daughter’s trans-ness. The poems are part of a collection inspired by quantum theory. Hennessy is an appropriate writer to end this miniseries with as she wrote the successful bid for Nottingham to become a UNESCO City of Literature.

Read Nottingham's LGBT Writers & Writing - Part One

Read Part Two

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