The Polari First Book Prize 2012
The prize for LGBT writers is vital, argues its founder
Next Monday, the winner of The Polari First Book Prize 2012 will be announced at the Southbank Centre. Now in its second year, the prize is for a first book which explores the LGBT experience. This year, for the first time, the winner will receive a cheque for £1,000, courtesy of media partner Square Peg Media.
As chair of the judges, I'm not at liberty to say which of the shortisted books (see below) will win. But I can say why I think this prize matters. All too often, our stories still aren't told. Books by and about LGBT people tend to be seen as 'too niche' for the mainstream market. More often than not, writers have to find other ways of making their voices heard. Last year's prizewinner, James Maker, self-published his dazzling gay memoir 'Autofellatio' as an ebook before finding a traditional publisher.
The vast majority of literary prizes are still dominated by heterosexual men. Just as the award formerly known as the Orange Prize is needed to redress the balance and celebrate books written by women, so there is a need for a prize which celebrates books by LGBT writers.
Monday is also Polari's fifth birthday. Polari was partly born out of frustration. As an author myself, I know how difficult it is to promote LGBT work. Big names like Sarah Waters and Patrick Gale will always find a platform. But what of all the other LGBT authors out there?
When I hosted the first Polari literary event in the upstairs room of a bar in Soho in November 2007, I didn't think we'd last the night, let alone five years. The fact that we're now at the Southbank Centre, playing to capacity crowds every month, isn't something I would have predicted.
Clearly, there is an audience out there for LGBT-themed work. And whoever wins this year's prize, I hope it helps them reach an even wider readership.
John McCullough - 'The Frost Fairs' (Salt)
Poems dealing with love in many forms, including modern transatlantic relationships and hidden gay lives from the past.
North Morgan - 'Exit Through the Wound' (Limehouse Books)
Darkly comic debut novel from gay Greek author living in London.
Terry Ronald - 'Becoming Nancy' (Transworld)
Semi-autobiographical novel about coming out and falling in love in 1970s London.
Vicky Ryder - 'Ey Up and Away!' (Wandering Star)
A series of vignettes charting the life of a young lesbian growing up in Nuneaton.
Max Wallis - 'Modern Love' (Flap)
Poetry collection tracing the course of a year-long tumultuous gay love affair - from first lust to final break-up.
The Polari First Book Prize is on Mon Nov 26 at Level Five Function Room, RFH