Paul Burston: ‘Why did I create the Polari Salon? Out of frustration!’

The Polari Literary Salon hits Hull this month, celebrating established and emerging LGBT writers with an evening of readings and performance on November 21 at Früit.

What began in an upstairs room in a pub in Soho now holds monthly events, at its new home at Southbank Centre in London. We talk with Polari Salon founder and author Paul Burston about all things writing, ahead of the leading LGBT writers’ event in the city.

Explain how and – more importantly – why did Polari Salon come into being?

It was borne out of frustration! Nine years ago I published my third novel Lovers & Losers. And despite getting great reviews, I had no invitations to read anywhere – no book festivals, no libraries, nothing. So I decided to start my own literary event.

Why have a literary event dedicated to LGBT writing?

As LGBT writers, we tend to be overlooked by the mainstream. Things are better now than they were nine years ago, but there’s still a lot of tokenism, and very little in the way of true diversity. For as long as that remains the case, we need dedicated LGBT events.

What constitutes LGBT writing? Is it the content, the target audience or the author?

It can be any or all of the above. Polari features a wide range of writers – many of them LGBT and some not. If the work speaks to our audience, that’s good enough for me. It’s a very inclusive event. Everyone is equally welcome.

What is the Polari First Book Prize, and why did you create it?

The prize was created specifically to support new writers. We see so many writers at the salon, many of them just starting out, and getting a book with LGBT themes and characters published can still be an uphill struggle. The prize is a celebration of those writers and those books. Books are submitted by the publisher or, in the case of self published work, by the author. The long list, short list and winner are then decided by our judging panel.

What have been your most memorable moments from the Polari Salon UK tour? 

Polari Up North at Huddersfield Literature Festival is always a highlight of the year for me. Kicking off our first Polari tour in 2014 with Neil Bartlett in Brighton was very memorable, and absolutely packed. So far on this tour we’ve had fantastic performances from Ursula Martinez, Garth Greenwell, VG Lee and Gerry Potter, to name but a few. And I’m hugely excited about working with Val McDermid in Edinburgh – she never disappoints.

What can people expect from The Polari Literary Salon Hits Hull later this month?

I always tell people to put aside their expectations of a literary event, which can often be rather dry and even a bit dull. Think of it as a cabaret, in which the performers happen to be writers. One of the performers on the bill in Hull is Chris Green, who is best known for his comic creations Tina C and Ida Barr. That’s a pretty good indication of the kind of event it is.