The Polari First Book Prize

Polari First Book Prize Polari First Book Prize - Rob Greig
Posted: Mon Nov 7 2011

The Polari First Book Prize celebrates new perspectives on the queer experience.

The winner of the inaugural Polari First Book Prize will be announced on November 21, when the gay literary salon takes over the Southbank Centre. The prize is for a debut book of poetry or prose, fiction or non-fiction which explores the queer experience, and the competition is open to authors based in the UK.

I started Polari four years ago, partly in response to the shortage of opportunities for LGBT authors to promote their work, and partly to encourage new talent. We've had established authors like Neil Bartlett and Maureen Duffy, along with up-and-coming and unpublished writers. The creation of a first book prize seemed like the next logical step.

Here, the five shortlisted authors talk us through their work.

Clare Campbell - 'Love, Hope and High Heels', Tollington Press
'“Love, Hope and High Heels” is a collection of intimate poems written over 20 years. I didn't intend to get them published. They were written on scraps of paper and the back of napkins as my travels took me from Toxteth to San Francisco via broken hearts, gorgeous friendships, delicious love affairs and a thousand tiny stories. I shared the poems at conferences and with communities I worked with and people started asking where they could get hold of my book. Someone said “Love, Hope and High Heels” was like stumbling over someone's juicy personal diary and peeking inside. I'm really happy to be shortlisted for the Polari First Book Prize - it has meant my little soulful book has flown its way towards new audiences.'

DJ Connell - 'Julian Corkle is a Filthy Liar', Blue Door
'I grew up in a large family in New Zealand. To get any sort of attention you had to be very funny. You also had to tell a good story. My siblings were brutal critics but they did teach me the importance of humour. It's a powerful storytelling tool and when used well, it can convince hostile audiences of the most controversial issues.

'“Julian Corkle is a Filthy Liar” is a comic novel with a serious subtext. Julian is something of a laughable fool but the challenges he faces as a young gay man are real. He's a liar who must find the courage to confront the biggest lie of all and come to terms with his sexuality.What I hope I've achieved is a funny book that offers readers a glimpse of what it's like to be different. Being shortlisted for this prize is an honour and a surprise.'

Timothy Graves - 'Homo Jihad', Paradise Press
'I started writing “Homo Jihad” shortly after the 7/7 London bombings. In some ways it was my own personal response to that terrorist atrocity. I became interested in writing a novel where gay love, and the concept of an inner jihad of the heart and soul, overcomes the jihad of holy war. Writing the novel wasn't easy. It deals with a lot of difficult issues: homophobia, religious extremism, and the hedonistic excesses of parts of the London gay scene. But these issues were close to home, topical and important for me to write about.'

Jonathan Kemp - 'London Triptych', Myriad Editions
'“London Triptych” weaves together the lives of three gay men in three different eras: Oscar Wilde's decadent 1890s, the repressed 1950s and the liberated hedonism of the 1990s. As the three stories unfold, a hidden, secret side of London life reveals itself. I wrote “London Triptych” as a love letter to this city in the form of a book of shadows which described lives unseen and loves unspoken, in words that could sniff out the heart and reveal with brutality and tenderness what lies within.'

James Maker - 'Autofellatio', BIGFib
'“Autofellatio” is my memoir. In writing it, I came to realise that my life has been a series of satirical vignettes in which I am the protagonist, usually in azure-blue Capri pants. I gave it that title because, in my opinion, all autobiography is a form of, if not the act of, autofellatio. Also, I wanted to write a memoir of candour and transparency, which is the very least a memoirist owes to the reader.

It was self-published as an ebook, did moderately well, and was then optioned by an independent publisher for release as a paperback. I would urge all unsigned authors to “do it yourself”. Go out there, get gigs and promote your work! It's not without its difficulties, but being proactive rather than reactive is liberating for the writer.'

Which book would you like to see win? Discuss the shortlist with us below.

The Polari First Book Prize event is at the Southbank Centre on Mon, Nov 21.