Review: Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl, by Andrea Lawlor

“a bookstore was really no different from a bar”

PTTFOAMG is an incredible feat of literature. Merging experimental contemporary fiction, queer theory, humour and erotica, Lawlor has created one of the most original books I have ever read, that feels like a landmark in LGBTQ+ literature.

In a trip down queer history, Lawlor places the reader in an America on the cusp of understanding and acceptance and into the mind of a character that refuses to conform to anything but their own desires. We enter a world of wigs, hippies, drag queens and lesbians where femme and butch are as interchangeable as salt and pepper, and just as debated.  In the midst of this, the story’s main focus Paul/Polly reveals an unapologetic identity that is remarkable in the fact that it refuses to explain itself, no one is being given a footnote in this novel as to what is ‘supposed to’ be happening. At times this style can be jarring and incredibly foreign and as someone who identifies as cis, the gender bending in this work made my brain hurt every now and then, but I would argue this is one of the strengths of this novel. It forces you into a perspective where we don’t have to be men or women, straight or gay. Everything about it feels deliberate and purposeful. In fact, the exploration of gender and sexuality in this novel is fascinating, it made me want to take it to class and I would be unsurprised if this book ended up on reading lists in the near future.

“I cannot believe I am made to be associated with her by shared accident of homosexual birth”

Bizarre and hilarious this book straddles frivolity and profanity while still managing to ask complicated questions about belonging. Strangely it feels like a combination of ‘just kids’ and ‘tipping the velvet’, as if it is letting you into a history you were never aware of, lifting the veil. As an exploration of non-binary, it is incredible, as a gloriously gay piece of fiction its delightful and to publishing in general this book is a sign of how far we’ve come, while its strangeness reminds me how far we have to go. A must read for those interested in identity, this book will answer the questions you were nervous to ask while making you gasp at its audacity. We should all be a little more Paul/Polly. 

“like a shark, Paul had to keep on moving. He slept only when necessary. He had business with the world, codes to crack, so many questions. Tonight, for example, Paul needed to know what fucking was like for girls”

Review by Maddy Belton

You can buy Paul Takes The Form of a Mortal Girl here.

Review: A Love Story for Bewildered Girls by Emma Morgan

Image courtesy of Penguin Books.

Emma Morgan’s A Love Story for Bewildered Girls follows the lives of three women in their late-twenties and early thirties: Violet, Annie and Grace. Set in present-day Leeds, the women’s various platonic, familial and romantic relationships unfold and overlap throughout the novel. The book offers a glimpse into each of the protagonists lives during a particular moment in time and allows us to see how each woman is shaped by the events and individuals they encounter.

Violet, Annie and Grace each have a relationship that is their central focus and while this drives the narrative forward, the novel as a whole is primarily character-led. The snappy chapters with headings such as ‘this is Grace and the goodbye’ and ‘this is when Annie goes ballistic’ work as vignettes that both foreground each women’s distinct perspective and help to add further texture to each character.

The way in which the characters’ lives intersect or have missed connections is reminiscent of Armstead Maplin’s Tales of the City series. Beyond the three protagonists, a series of distinctive and engaging female characters are peppered throughout the novel, offering titbits of other lives that orbit around the central figures, which is a joy. This subsequently left me wishing I could know even more about Grace’s four sisters or her lover Sam.

Morgan does an excellent job of ensuring that the lesbian and bisexual sexualities of her characters are acknowledged but do not become a sensationalised central focus. From the outset Grace is an out-lesbian and who goes on to navigate a complex relationship with Sam that parallels Annie’s ongoing challenges with new boyfriend Lawrence. In contrast Violet’s sexuality becomes more fluid throughout the novel and this is sensitively depicted in a way that avoids the trope of newly discovered same-sex desire resulting in a personal identity crisis.

A Love Story for Bewildered Girls is a thoughtful yet light and comic read; a series of snapshots which capture a set of memorable characters who are on the precipice of change. 

Review by S. J. Mullan
You can buy A Love Story for Bewildered Girls here

An Interview With: Chris Gill

Author Chris Gill

It’s here! Today marks the launch of the blog, just in time for Pride month, and we mark this momentous occasion with an interview with Chris Gill, whose new novel The Nowhere is out today.

When the idea for first struck, my main objective was to make finding LGBTQ+ books as effortless as possible. Of course, many book retailers offer an LGBT section, but it’s often difficult to then get granular with the genre.

Lesbian love stories sit next to transgender biographies, with gay outback mysteries thrown in between (okay, maybe I made that last one up). But with, everything is broken down by gender, sexuality – and most importantly – genre too, ultimately making your search for that next queer read a breeze.

That brings me on to my second objective for the website: to build a resource for queer people wanting to find books that represent them, their identity, and their experiences. This is why I have invited Chris Gill, author of the much-anticipated novel The Nowhere, to chat. In short, The Nowhere is a coming-of-age Australian mystery with a gay protagonist (wait – isn’t that a gay outback mystery?)…

Mark: Hi Chris, tell me what inspired you to write The Nowhere.

Chris: Hey Mark. Well, I knew I wanted to write a standalone coming-of-age novel set somewhere remote where the protagonist is trying to come to terms with himself. Having moved to Australia by way of London over five years ago, I’d travelled around some smaller, outback towns that had inspired me – but decided to push it even further and set it somewhere way out in the middle of nowhere that I hadn’t even been.

Although I spent most of my formative years growing up in England (aside from six years in New Zealand as a child), I could relate to the feeling of isolation felt by Seb – the book’s protagonist – having grown up in a small country town. I had to go through the coming-out process in a small town in 2000s, which came with enough of its own challenges, so I can only imagine how it must have been having to do the same thing on an outback farm in the 1990s. I could feel the torment and anguish as I wrote the book.

Mark: So it’s fair to say your own journey of acceptance when it comes to your sexuality played a big part in the writing of The Nowhere?

Chris: Absolutely. I mean, it would’ve been hard for it not to have in some shape or form. Don’t get me wrong; Seb’s story is very different to mine. I was lucky to have a loving, supportive and accepting family and network of friends around me. Most of the torment came from inside my own head.

Whereas Seb’s relationship with his father is testing at the best of times, and with his only company for the majority of the book being Jake – the captivating neighbour he grows feelings for – he doesn’t really have an ally. Any queer person knows the importance of allies when they’re coming up (and ultimately, coming out).

The Nowhere

Mark: You mention the torment you faced around your sexuality being in your head. Tell us more about that.

Chris: Well, I think most LGBTQ+ people will have had that light bulb moment – especially in the era I grew up (things have undoubtedly come a long way, although not for everyone everywhere). That moment when all the repressing going on in your head can’t do its job anymore and you’re like – ok, yes. That’s who I am.

I remember that moment so clearly, laying in my teenage bedroom in the dark. “I’m gay” I said aloud, although it would be a couple more years until I could really say it without hiding behind a veil of bisexuality or simply the need not to be labelled. There were many years of self-loathing and shame that growing up in a straight world had conditioned me to feel. It’s like a lifetime of unravelling and un-learning, in many ways.

Mark: You’re obviously in a much better place now with your sexuality?

Chris: 100%! Never did I imagine a day where I’d be able to get married or have kids. I got married to my partner of over nine years earlier this year! So that was a real moment of imagining putting my arm around my 17-year-old self and saying “it’s going to be ok. You’re going to be all right!”

That’s not to say there’s not a long way to go with the fight, though. And I’m very much aware that not everyone has the same freedom as I. As we speak there is a teenage boy or girl worrying about being disowned if their parents find out their sexuality. There are religions and parts of the world where being your authentic self is enough to be imprisoned, or even killed.

We’ve come so far, but there’s still a long, long way to go.

Mark: Seb seems to share this same self-loathing you described feeling as a teenager, and reading him refer to himself in his own thoughts as ‘fag’ or ‘queer’ (in a derogatory way) is quite confronting.

Chris: For sure. It was confronting writing it, and at times I wondered if it was too much including it in the book, but I had to be true to the times. And that word, ‘queer’, is such an interesting one, right? How it’s been reclaimed. I love how it’s meaning is broader than just being gay, too. Like, you can be gay and feel like a misfit in that community. I think queerness lends itself to outsiders inside a world of outsiders.

Mark: We wish you the greatest success with The Nowhere and all your future ventures. Anything in the pipeline?

Author Chris Gill

Chris: Right now my attention is fully on getting The Nowhere under as many noses as possible. I poured so much of myself into this project, so I don’t take for granted any one person who might take the time to check it out. Beyond that, much more writing. I’ve got some ideas kicking around for my next book, so I need to carve some time out to sit down and get that going. Wish me luck!

The Nowhere is out now via PRNTD Publishing. Order yours here.