Celebrating Benjamin Britten

noyes fluddSo, it’s still LGBT History month, and it’s also Benjamin Britten’s centenary so what better way to celebrate the magnificence of BB’s unapologetic gayness and talent than to sing in Noye’s Fludd?

A. has had an ambition to sing some Britten for many the long year so we were thrilled when we heard that our regular singing venue, Blackheath Halls were doing Noye’s Fludd Directed by James Hurley.

There isn’t a vast amount of singing for the adult chorus to do (although there is plenty of ark building!), as the majority of the choral work and six of the principals are taken by children. Apart from the three hymns (Lord Jesus Think on Me, For Those in Peril on the Sea and the Tallis canon) we have only a few Kirie’s and hallelujahs and a short piece as the animals disembark as the flood recedes. However our brief moment is thrilling: all the children and sopranos are singing hallelujahs, and us tenors sing the bottom line of the principals’ verse, which cuts through all the pretty stuff gloriously.

Our orchestra sound superb, with  each section in turn – trumpets, recorders, strings, piano/organ, hand bells and in particular percussion getting an opportunity to shine, which they do. I’m getting a huge amount of pleasure from just listening to them nail the rhythms and comedy moments, and the moving discords of the flood: Mrs Noye’s delivery of the slap round the chops to her husband, the dove crooning encouragingly, the tea-cup first drips of rain. Nick Jenkins has every reason to be proud of them, and I think Mr Britten would be pleased with them too.  The fact that some of the orchestra are smaller than their instruments makes no difference, they aren’t good-for-their-age, these are talented musicians and performers: I look forward to being able to say ‘I worked with her/him when …’ when they are famous.

The design (by Rachel Szmukler) is huge fun with the animal masks for the children a delight of recycled plastic bottles and spoons. A special mention for the  giraffes, who act their ears and horns off, disapproving of Mrs Noye, anxious of the waves, consoling Mr Noye and fascinated by the other animals. the fact that their ears flap with such dignity is a massive assistance.

Atmospheric lighting from Ben Pickersgill makes our flood refugees; shelter effectively dreary and murky, and the children have produced some really stylish pictures for our wall of ‘missing’ family and pets, and images of animals floods and arks. The piles of dead TVs, sleeping bags and suitcases create a suitably chaotic impression, and teething problems with the overly ambitious building of the seating for the audience are now resolved.

We are privileged to be working with Matthew Rose and Clarissa Meek (Mr & Mrs Noye) who aren’t a bit worried about getting physical as they climb about arks and giant water tanks.

A special mention for Mrs Noye’s ‘gossips’, who wield their umbrellas with wit and panache and sing beautifully, and Lawrence Wallington as Voice of God, by turns sinister and kindly, directing his angelic property men to bring up the flood of sleeping bags, or deliver the dove back to Noye’s waiting hands.

Sorry to get you all enthusiastic, because unfortunately the shows are all sold out!


LGBT History Month

February is LGBT History Month, and I’ve had it drawn to my attention how few new UK Lesbian voices are getting published, which sent me off to peruse my shelves. Now, I think of myself as having a fairly comprehensive collection, but actually there isn’t a vast swathe of stuff there, and most of it I’ve had a while. So here’s an unscientific survey  of what’s on the shelf – inclusion doesn’t mean that the author is a Lesbian (sadly) but that they have written about lesbians with conviction, or in some honourable cases so badly as to make me weep with laughter. Having had a sift through I realise I’ve got rid of a lot of the books I bought in the 80’s, when I was devouring books at a rate of 3 a day. Some of them gave me hiccups, these are the ones that survived the cull.

Oldies but goldies (Mostly from the 20’s or earlier)

Radcliffe Hall: The Well of Loneliness, a book that probably caused more women to think they couldn’t possibly be lesbians than any other. (UK)

Rosamund Lehmann: Dusty Answer – I don’t think Lehmann can have been a lesbian herself, but she gave a lot of people a good laugh with this book. oh dear, oh dear. (UK)

Colette: The Claudine books, esp Claudine & Annie (France)

Miles Franklin: My Beautiful Career (Australia)

Nella Larsen: Passing – I read this without realising it was about a Lesbian affair. Only when I read the preface (never read the preface before the book!) did I cotton on. Very discreet! (USA)

Mary Renault: The Friendly Young Ladies. There’s an argument for Mary Renault’s entire oeuvre being designated as Lesbian books, all her male gay characters are like lesbians in disguise. (UK)

Josephine Tey: Miss Pym Disposes mystery with Lesbian sub plot. Very sad.(UK)

60’s 70’s 80’s

Rita Mae Brown: Ruby Fruit Jungle another classic of its time, but really annoying. (USA)

Rosemary Manning: The Chinese Garden (UK)

Jane Rule: Lots of books. (USA)

Penelope Lively: Nothing Missing but the Samovar – a short story collection included here for one story, one of the best, most matter of fact depictions of elderly lesbians I’ve ever read.

Anna Livia: Relatively Norma (UK)

Maureen Duffy: The Microcosm (unreadable) and That’s How It Was (Brilliant) (UK)

Caroline Natzler Water Wings. (UK)

Nicky Edwards: Stealing Time (UK)

Mary Dorcey: Noises from the Woodshed (UK)

Isabel Miller: Patience & Sarah (A book I didn’t realise was funny the first time I read it, so starved of Lesbian texts was I) (USA)

Patricia Duncker: James Miranda Barry  A magnificent book(UK)

Ellen Galford: Moll Cutpurse, Fires of Bride, The Dyke & the Dybuk (UK)

Katherine V Forrest: lots of detective fiction (USA)

Nicola Griffith: Ammonite, Stay, several others (USA)

Stevie Davies: Impassioned Clay (and others but this one especially) (UK)

Elizabeth A Lynn: The Northern Girl (and others but this one especially) (USA)

More recent:

Emma Donoghue: Hood, Stir Fry, Kissing the Witch (UK)

Helen Humphreys: Leaving Earth (US)

Ursula Le Guin: The Sea Road (Included for a single story, but Ursula’s been playing games with gender for ever, everyone should read The Left Hand of Darkness it turns your brain inside out.) (USA)

Marion Foster: The Monarchs are Flying (US)

Tracey Chevalier: Falling Angels, Remarkable Creatures (UK)

VG Lee: Diary of a Provincial Lesbian, As You Step Outside (UK)

Manda Scott: Hens Teeth, The Boudicca series (UK)

Sarah Waters: of course. (UK)


U A Fanthorpe (UK)

Jackie Kay (UK)

Kate Foley (UK)

Carol Ann Duffy (UK)

Marilyn Hacker (USA)

Adrienne Rich (USA)

And loads of anthologies of both fiction and poetry, which probably deserve a good root through and a post of their own.

I realise now that learning to drive slowed up my consumption of books considerably, as did the job-from-hell. I go on about how I didn’t write for eleven years, but actually I didn’t read much then either. What kind of a life is that? Shocking. Something to consider: If you don’t have time to read, how are you feeding your brain?

Happy LGBT History Month! Go read a good, lesbian, book – quickly.

Writing from a Lesbian Perspective

Its LGBT History Month. Whether you know this may depend on whether you or any of your friends is Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgender. It certainly doesn’t get the kind of coverage Black History month gets. With my Arachne Press hat on, I’m doing a reading tonight at Ealing and on Monday at Deptford, with others, and will be reading one of the first stories I ever wrote – Leaving, which is about leaving a job, not a lover, in case you are wondering. I wrote it around 1986 so it’s practically an historical document itself.

There has been some concern voiced by the Judges of the Polari prize about the dearth of new UK Lesbian writers. I do wonder – is it that lesbians are no longer identifying themselves? No longer writing about Lesbian experience? And do we have to write about lesbian experience to bring that experience to bear? I don’t think so – I remember a long conversation with Rosemary Manning  (a dear friend and a magnificent Lesbian) about how one of her (straight, male) characters were written as  if he were a lesbian, not from the perspective of sexuality, but from the perspective of outsider-ness.

An aside, will being able to get married – if it gets all the way through the legislative process – intrinsically change that outsider status? Time will tell, and frankly there are still places it’s illegal and/ or dangerous to be a Lesbian, so unless we all sit smugly feeling we’re all right where we are, – I bet Weimar Republic Lesbians thought that, briefly – it’s kind of hard to shake.

I use this perspective when I rewrite myths. I’ve never been a fan of Freud’s use of myth to explain his own neuroses but he did keep the (Greek) myths in the forefront of the western mind.

If we lose the assumption that love between the hero and heroine is automatic, inevitable, ordained, there is room to take a look at what other motivation there is for their (re)actions.

So for example, if Helen does not love her husband (a dynastic match, so why should she?), and if she doesn’t love Paris (and how could she?) we can remember that Homeric women are parcelled out like a loaf of bread (or an apple) between hungry feasters, and ask:

What did she think, who, if anyone, did she love? What might it be like to be the catalyst of a ten-year war and the destruction of a dynasty?  And why didn’t Priam chuck her off the walls of Troy at first sight of the black ships?

Once you remove the most basic presumption of sexuality and stop being snared and beguiled by the obvious story of girl meets boy etc, etc, you are free to turn your head away from the glitzy main text and explore the why behind many other ‘obvious’ becauses and champion the minor character, the underdog, or perhaps the slave in the corner: seeing, thinking, feeling, but unseen.