The 2019 Polari Prizes

This year the Polari Prize has a new sibling. As well as the First Novel Prize, there is also a new book award for best book from this LGBTQ book award. This is fantastic because now there’s double the amount of books to read!

Below is the complete list of all books on the longlists, a short summary, and a link to where you can buy them. Don’t forget, you can get all these from Gay’s The Word (you don’t need to be in London, they’ll post them out too!). The shortlist is announced on July 26th, with the winners announced in October.

The Polari First Book Prize 2019 longlist is: 

The House on Half Moon Street – Alex Reeve

Everyone has a secret… Only some lead to murder. Introducing Leo Stanhope: a Victorian transgender coroner’s assistant who must uncover a killer without risking his own future.

When the body of a young woman is wheeled into the hospital where Leo Stanhope works, his life is thrown into chaos. Maria, the woman he loves, has been murdered and it is not long before the finger of suspicion is turned on him, threatening to expose his lifelong secret.

For Leo Stanhope was born Charlotte, the daughter of a respectable reverend. Knowing he was meant to be a man – despite the evidence of his body – and unable to cope with living a lie any longer, he fled his family home at just fifteen and has been living as Leo ever since: his secret known to only a few trusted people. 

Desperate to find Maria’s killer and thrown into gaol, he stands to lose not just his freedom, but ultimately his life.

XX – Angela Chadwick

When Rosie and Jules discover a ground-breaking clinical trial that enables two women to have a female baby, they jump at the chance to make history.

Fear-mongering politicians and right-wing movements are quick to latch on to the controversies surrounding Ovum-to-Ovum (o-o) technology and stoke the fears of the public. What will happen to the numbers of little boys born? Is there a sinister conspiracy to eradicate men at play?

In this toxic political climate, Jules and Rosie try to hide their baby from scrutiny. But when the news of Rosie’s pregnancy is leaked to the media, their relationship is put under a microscope and they’re forced to question the loyalty of those closest to them, and battle against a tirade of hate that threatens to split them apart…


The Unexpected Love Objects of Dunya Noor – Rana Haddad

Aspiring photographer Dunya Noor discovers early on that her curious spirit, rebellious nature, and very curly hair are a recipe for disaster in 1980s Syria. And at the tender age of thirteen, she is exiled to live with her grandparents in England.

Many years later in London, she meets Hilal, the son of a humble tailor from Aleppo and no match for Dunya, daughter of a famous heart surgeon. But, dreamy, restless Dunya falls in love with Hilal and they decide to return to Syria together, embarking on a journey that will change them both forever.

Rana Haddad’s vivid and satirical debut novel captures the essence of life under the Assad dictatorship, in all its rigid absurdity, with humor and an unexpected playfulness.

Soho – Richard Scott

In this intimate and vital debut, Richard Scott creates an uncompromising portrait of love and shame against the backdrop of London’s Soho.

Examining how trauma becomes a part of the language we use, Scott takes us back to our roots: childhood incidents, the violence our scars betray, forgotten forebears and histories. The hungers of sexual encounters are underscored by the risks that threaten when we give ourselves to or accept another. But the poems celebrate joy and tenderness, too, as in a sequence re-imagining the love poetry of Verlaine.

The collection crescendos to the title-poem, where a night stroll under the city street lamps becomes a search for “true lineage”, a reclamation of stolen ancestors, hope for healing, and, above all, the finding of our truest selves.

Attend – West Camel

When Sam falls in love with South London thug Derek, and Anne’s best friend Kathleen takes her own life, they discover they are linked not just by a world of drugs and revenge; they also share the friendship of the uncanny and enigmatic Deborah.

Seamstress, sailor, story-teller and self-proclaimed centenarian immortal, Deborah slowly reveals to Anne and Sam her improbable, fantastical life, the mysterious world that lies beneath their feet and, ultimately, the solution to their crises.

With echoes of Armistead Maupin and a hint of magic realism, Attend is a beautifully written, darkly funny, mesmerisingly emotive and deliciously told debut novel, rich in finely wrought characters that you will never forget.

Disbanded Kingdom – Polis Loizou

Twenty-two-year-old Oscar is a lost cause. He roams central London, looking for love and distraction. But this isn’t quite Bright Lights, Big City: Oscar is gay but feels disconnected from London’s gay scene. He is naive and rootless, an emotionally stunted young man who lives in upscale Kensington with his foster mother, novelist Charlotte Fontaine.

But all of this changes when he meets Tim, Charlotte’s thirtysomething literary agent with whom Oscar becomes hopelessly infatuated. While he struggles to understand Tim’s politics and his rejection of religion, Oscar’s developing friendship with Tim affects a profound change in the young man, making him want to understand the world and his place in it.

Not Just A Tomboy – Caspar J Baldwin

This is the story of one trans man’s exploration of gender identity, set against changing cultural attitudes from the 90s to the present day.

Caspar Baldwin grew up in a time when being trans was not widely accepted by society, and though progress has been made since then, trans men are still underrepresented and misunderstood. Grappling with the messy realities of gender expectations while giving a stark and moving account of his own experiences, Baldwin grants a nuanced understanding of what it’s like to be a trans boy or man.

With its unflinching portrayal of the vulnerability, confusion, dysphoria, empowerment, peace and joy that are all part of the transition process, this provides an invaluable support for trans men and is a memoir that breaks the mould.


Next Lesson – Chris Woodley 

In 1988, 14-year-old Michael comes out as gay. Later he returns as a teacher. In the background: the notorious Section 28 of Thatcher’s Local Government Act, which prohibited schools from “promoting homosexuality.” The narrative of the play spans from 1988 to 2003.

 

 


Queer Sex – Juno Roche

In this frank, funny and poignant book, transgender activist Juno Roche discusses sex, desire and dating with leading figures from the trans and non-binary community.

Calling out prejudices and inspiring readers to explore their own concepts of intimacy and sexuality, the first-hand accounts celebrate the wonder and potential of trans bodies and push at the boundaries of how society views gender, sexuality and relationships. Empowering and necessary, this collection shows all trans people deserve to feel brave, beautiful and sexy.

 

Out of the Woods – Luke Turner

After the disintegration of the most significant relationship of his life, the demons Luke Turner has been battling since childhood are quick to return – depression and guilt surrounding his identity as a bisexual man, experiences of sexual abuse, and the religious upbringing that was the cause of so much confusion.

It is among the trees of London’s Epping Forest where he seeks refuge. But once a place of comfort, it now seems full of unexpected, elusive threats that trigger twisted reactions. No stranger to compulsion, Luke finds himself drawn again and again to the woods, eager to uncover the strange secrets that may be buried there as he investigates an old family rumour of illicit behaviour. Away from a society that still struggles to cope with the complexities of masculinity and sexuality, Luke begins to accept the duality that has provoked so much unrest in his life – and reconcile the expectations of others with his own way of being. 

Visceral – RJ Arkhipov

An anthology of personal essays and poems exploring the topic of blood from a number of different perspectives.

 

 

 

Yes You Are Trans Enough – Mia Violet 

This is the deeply personal and witty account of growing up as the kid who never fitted in.

Transgender blogger Mia Violet reflects on her life and how at 26 she came to finally realise she was ‘trans enough’ to be transgender, after years of knowing she was different but without the language to understand why. From bullying, heartache and a botched coming out attempt, through to counselling, Gender Identity Clinics and acceptance, Mia confronts the ins and outs of transitioning, using her charged personal narrative to explore the most pressing questions in the transgender debate and confront what the media has gotten wrong.

An essential read for anyone who has had to fight to be themselves.

 

The Polari Prize 2019 longlist is:

Drapetomania  – John R Gordon

When house-servant Abednego is sold away south, his broken-hearted field-hand lover Cyrus snaps and flees the estate on which he has lived his entire life. Leaving everything he knows behind him, and evading patrollers and dogs to head north and find freedom, in the midst of a dismal swamp Cyrus receives the revelation that Abednego is his true North Star, and, impossible though it seems, he determines to find and rescue his lost lover from slavery.

 

 

 

The Other Woman  – Sophia Blackwell

In her third collection, acclaimed performance poet Sophia Blackwell explores connections, relationships and journeys, and celebrates their importance in a divided world. From Brighton, Paris and the Edinburgh Fringe to Amsterdam, Australia and outer space, The Other Woman maps women’s journeys through time and geography, exploring identities, bloodlines, buried pasts and alternative futures, ending up somewhere new and different – the country of marriage.

 

 


Take Nothing With You – Patrick Gale

1970s Weston-Super-Mare and ten-year-old oddball Eustace, an only child, has life transformed by his mother’s quixotic decision to sign him up for cello lessons. Music-making brings release for a boy who is discovering he is an emotional volcano. He laps up lessons from his young teacher, not noticing how her brand of glamour is casting a damaging spell over his frustrated and controlling mother.

When he is enrolled in holiday courses in the Scottish borders, lessons in love, rejection and humility are added to daily practice.

Drawing in part on his own boyhood, Patrick Gale’s new novel explores a collision between childish hero worship and extremely messy adult love lives.

The Lion Tamer Who Lost  – Louise Beech

Long ago, Andrew made a childhood wish, and kept it in a silver box. When it finally comes true, he wishes he hadn’t…

Long ago, Ben made a promise and he had a dream: to travel to Africa to volunteer at a lion reserve. When he finally makes it, it isn’t for the reasons he imagined…

Ben and Andrew keep meeting in unexpected places, and the intense relationship that develops seems to be guided by fate. Or is it? What if the very thing that draws them together is tainted by past secrets that threaten everything?

A dark, consuming drama that shifts from Zimbabwe to England, and then back into the past, The Lion Tamer Who Lost is also a devastatingly beautiful love story, with a tragic heart…


A Simple Scale  – David Llewellyn

A young Russian, Pavel Grekov, arrives in New York in the October of 2001, and accuses ageing TV composer Sol Conrad of plagiarising a work by his grandfather, Sergey. Conrad’s young PA Natalie is determined to defend her boss, but as she digs deeper she discovers worlds she barely knew about – the labour camps of Siberia, the “Red Scare” of 1950s Hollywood, government oppression, and the plight of gay men in the USA and USSR of the mid-20th Century.

Natalie, Sol and Sergey’s stories range across decades and continents, and A Simple Scale moves through narratives of love, death, deceit, the secret police, atom bombs, Classical music and the last days of Hollywood’s “Golden Age”. In a dramatic conclusion, the past and present catches up with them, as the secrecies and betrayals of Sol and Sergey’s lives inform events in 2001, when history is just about to repeat itself.


Making Oscar Wilde  – Michéle Mendelssohn

Witty, inspiring, and charismatic, Oscar Wilde is one of the Greats of English literature. Today, his plays and stories are beloved around the world. But it was not always so. His afterlife has given him the legitimacy that life denied him. 

Making Oscar Wilde reveals the untold story of young Oscar’s career in Victorian England and post-Civil War America. Set on two continents, it tracks a larger-than-life hero on an unforgettable adventure to make his name and gain international acclaim. ‘Success is a science,’ Wilde believed, ‘if you have the conditions, you get the result.’ 

 


Louis & Louise  – Julie Cohen

Louis and Louise are the same person born in two different lives. They are separated only by the sex announced by the doctor and a final ‘e’.

They have the same best friends, the same red hair, the same dream of being a writer, the same excellent whistle. They both suffer one catastrophic night, with life-changing consequences.

Thirteen years later, they are both coming home.

A tender, insightful and timely novel about the things that bring us together – and those which separate us, from the author of Richard & Judy recommended book Together

Playtime  – Andrew McMillan

In these intimate, sometimes painfully frank poems, Andrew McMillan takes us back to childhood and early adolescence to explore the different ways we grow into our sexual selves and our adult identities. Examining our teenage rites of passage: those dilemmas and traumas that shape us – eating disorders, circumcision, masturbation, loss of virginity – the poet examines how we use bodies, both our own and other people’s, to chart our progress towards selfhood.

McMillan’s award-winning debut collection, physical, was praised for a poetry that was tight and powerful, raw and tender, and playtime expands that narrative frame and widens the gaze.

 


Prodigal  – Charles Lambert

Meet the hapless Jeremy: a man in his late 50s, he scrapes together a living in Paris by writing soft-core pornography under the saucy guise of `Nathalie Cray’.

When his all-but-estranged sister tells him their father is on his deathbed, Jeremy reluctantly travels back to his parental home in the depths of the English countryside. Confronted with a life that he had always been eager to escape, his return marks the start of an emotionally fraught journey into the family’s chequered past. The journey takes him back to the unexpected death of his mother in a provincial Greek hospital years earlier and, further back, to the moment at which the Eldritch family fell apart. It’s a journey composed of revelations, of secrets disclosed and not disclosed, and of something that might, or might not, be reconciliation…

An atypical coming-of-age tale, Prodigal deftly reconsiders everything we think we know about the nature of trust, death, and what we do to each other in the name of love.

The Bumblebee Flies Anyway  – Kate Bradbury

Finding herself in a new home in Brighton, Kate Bradbury sets about transforming her decked, barren backyard into a beautiful wildlife garden. She documents the unbuttoning of the earth and the rebirth of the garden, the rewilding of a tiny urban space. But while she’s doing this Kate’s neighbours continue to pave and deck their gardens locking them away, the wildlife she tries to save is further threatened, and she feels she’s fighting an uphill battle. Is there any point in gardening for wildlife when everyone else is drowning the land in poison and cement?

Sadly, events take Kate away from her garden, and she finds herself back home in Birmingham where she grew up, travelling the roads she used to race down on her bike in the eighties, thinking of the gardens and wildlife she loved, witnessing more land lost beneath paving stones. If the dead could return, what would they say about the land we have taken, the ancient routes we have carved up, the wildlife we have lost?


Ghost Wall  – Sarah Moss

It is high summer in rural Northumberland. Seventeen-year-old Silvie and her parents have joined an encampment run by an archaeology professor with an interest in the region’s dark history of ritual sacrifice. As Silvie finds a glimpse of new freedoms with the professor’s students, her relationship with her overbearing father begins to deteriorate, until the haunting rites of the past begin to bleed into the present.

 

The AQI  – David Tait

In The AQI, David Tait examines the world in 4 sections. 
The first looks at city life: the people within the city; the way people interact within cities; cultural differences; and the surreal-ness he has experienced whilst being a foreigner in China. These poems are seeking to make a connection, or seek an explanation of cultural differences and their complexities.
The second section is all about the environment and air pollution. The Air Quality Index, or the AQI, is the measurement of particulate matter in the atmosphere. The AQI examines the effect that this has on day-to-day life, particularly during the winter.
The third section relates to human rights, particularly LGBT rights, and the impact of a changing world.
The final section tries to find some calm, and to integrate some sense of the pastoral (the world David Tait is from) into the city.

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