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Tuesday, 6 September 2016

The Polari Tour is about to begin

This week marks the start of the Arts Council Funded Polari National Tour. I'm really excited that not only am I going to perform alongside all the brilliant authors at the events taking place in the evenings, but shall be running the writing workshops in the afternoons. I've been facilitating my own brand of motivational workshops at The Bookseller Crow bookshop where I'm writer-in-residence for the last three years, so I think I'm fairly well versed in the ups and downs of them, but you never can know what life is going to throw at you. I have my usual concerns about what writing exercises shall I introduce, will people bring their work printed out ready to read and what the quality will be like - but aside from this, will anyone turn up? This is where you, my loyal blog readers, can help.

If you have interest in any of the workshops that will run in the places listed below, or know people who would please get in contact with the venue to book a ticket or find out how to. The workshops will start with an exercise or two and then the writers get to read out the work they've brought along. I'll be giving feedback and pointers on what can be tweaked or thought about to take the work forward. The best writer earns a place at the evening gig to read aloud their work alongside published LGBT authors and will also get a big gust of applause and encouragement from me and Paul B.

I'm leading the writing workshops at each location listed below with Paul Burston, the founder of Polari. Recently named as one of the world's top LGBT events by ArtInfo, Polari offers the very best in new, established and up-and-coming LGBT literary talent so it's a brilliant thing to get involved with. It was described the The New York Times as 'London's most theatrical talent' but Sarah Waters describes it best as, 'always fun, always thought-provoking - a guaranteed good night out.' And what can top that?!

So here are the dates:

8 September Cardiff, Chapter Arts Centre
22 September Bishop Stortford Library: (contact library for workshop)
28 September Hastings, The Printworks
14 October Brighton, The Marlborough Theatre:
21 October Nottingham Writer's
4 November, Assembly Roxy, Edinburgh
11 November, Write Idea Festival Ideas Store, Tower Hamlets (free workshop)
15 November, Hove Library, (free workshop)
18 November, Grand Theatre, Blackpool
19 November, MAC Birmingham:
21 November, Fruit Space Hull
23 November, Newcastle City Library (free workshop)

Please tell your mates and tell them to tell their writing mates or anyone who has the burning desire to put pen to paper and get their voice and ideas out there.
Oh and also Barbara Brownskirt will be performing at some if not all the Polari evening events.
See you there or somewhere close by soon!

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Failure...can it be funny?

Tonight I'm on Resonance Radio talking about failure. It's the night of the totting up of all the votes for the EU referendum and I'm going to try to have a bit of a laugh about things that haven't gone right. After all, even when we do everything right, according to our own minds, sometimes they don't go right at all. 
I have three stories: Julie Andrews features in one of them, Ancient Eygptian funerary practices in another and a woman dressing up as her mother to pass a driving test makes three.

Tune into 8pm- 9pm GMT tonight if you fancy a bit of cheering up. Goodness knows we could do with a laugh.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

When you get to understand what's to be understood

VICE Magazine contacted me about Barbara Brownskirt after The Londonist profiled her on a piece about Penge on April Fools Day.
I think the following profile just about sums up where I'm at concerning my writing and performing.
The interviewer, a nice writer from Forest Hill Francisco Garcia, initially asked to meet Barbara Brownskirt for a coffee. I went on to explain that she is an alter ego/stage character and certainly would not meet anyone for 'a coffee'. So the profile was put together via email.
Here is the article, though you can visit in online here:

Meet Barbara Brownskirt, the Worst Poet in South London

At first glance, Penge is just like any other slab of suburban south London. There's the usual array of chicken and charity shops on the high street, while rows of solid Victorian houses coexist next to equally solid 1960s tower blocks. It is archetypal commuterland, a place that exists mostly to be passed through.
Barbara at the 197 bus stop, Penge.
Yet one thing sets Penge apart from other nowhere towns in Zone 4. Venture down Croydon Road, the main road running through Penge, and you've got a reasonably good chance of finding Penge's poet laureate, Barbara Brownskirt, in residence at the 197 bus stop. Indefatigable, prolific and utterly unpublishable, Barbara is the comedic alter-ego of writer Karen McLeod and, according to McLeod, a "manifestation of bitterness, anger, lesbian cliché, railing against her lot through poetry. She might be rubbish but she doesn't know it."

Barbara and packed lunch:
a still life
Having published her acclaimed debut novel In Search of the Missing Eyelash in 2008, McLeod – who has a background in performance art and a lifetime connection to Penge – began to develop the character as both a homage to suburban sadness and a slightly mocking antidote to the pretensions of literary performance.
By the time Brownskirt was fully formed, McLeod had started to feel uncomfortable with some of her other work. "I'd written an act where I was to appear as an escaped patient from the Maudsley Hospital, deluded enough to believe she was Virginia Woolf," she says. "She wrote odd poetry and barked 'Woolf' a lot. I realised I wasn't comfortable portraying someone with mental health problems for comedic purposes, so I started thinking about what kind of character could evoke both pathos in an audience and yet be comedic."

So McLeod set her eye to observing the lonely, wandering souls in the street, stumbling "in their out-of-time cagoules and sensible shoes" and thinking, 'Who are you? Who do you go home to at night? What does your day consist of?'
McLeod also drew on colourful elements of her own youth to construct the personality of her new performative alter-ego. She'd performed in her twenties as a "Victor/Victoria", a woman impersonating a man impersonating a woman. This fascination with appearance and the multi-layered consequences of dressing up led McLeod to create Barbara.
Karen as a drag queen called Tom

"I decided in a queer world of performance, where drag and elements of it are used all the time, I would do their opposite. Go drab rather than drag, lonely rather than fabulous," she explains.
Barbara's hair is hidden under the hood of cagoule – hair being, as McLeod outlines, a major feminine signifier: "Take away a woman's hair and make-up and you are immediately stripped of any obvious gender." She found an A-line brown skirt in the charity shop, bought some small lace up canvas shoes and flesh coloured pop socks and got started writing the worst poetry she could.
Barbara Cheesed and Pineappled at
a recent showing at LADA 

Barbara was to be a tribute to everyone McLeod had seen in years studying performance art at college and attending scores of spoken word poetry nights: all the dreadful pieces, stop-motion films and chronically self-indulgent poets ("The worst poets always seemed to be the ones who would always have ten more poems to read"). She became fascinated by the way audiences get stuck, unable to leave when someone truly awful is on stage – the writers who have their 15 minutes and plan to relentlessly milk every second.
That feeling of being a captive in the relationship between performer and audience was a significant element in developing Barbara's persona, with her 21 volumes of unpublished poetry and absolutely unshakeable belief in her own brilliance. I wonder if there isn't a worry that it must have pissed off a few of the more over-earnest elements of the amateur performance crew, who might think it's a bit of a dig?
"I'm not so sure if anyone who's seen her has taken offence in that way," says McLeod. "I think she is understood as a fringe performer where art, politics, poetry and theatre coincide. I've mostly performed alongside other cabaret/literary performers who are really established and so not of the same ilk as the kind of performer who Barbara is sending up."
She admits, though, that some writers hate the idea of Barbara Brownskirt, though they haven't watched her perform, "as they think she is ridiculing poetry, when really she is a send up of a certain type of over-confident, narcissistic performer who thinks the world needs their poetry above all else".
You get the impression that's not a delusion that would last long in Penge. It's a chunk of suburban sprawl that's difficult to explain to outsiders, an unclassifiable smush of London and village. "I honestly love Penge. I grew up here in the 70s and moved back after living abroad in the late-90s," says McLeod. "My family are just around the corner and I can walk down the street and say hello to people who have lived here for years. I like the fact it's working class and a bit rough in the centre, but up the hill is the arty world of Crystal Palace. It's still vibrant, gobby and not too homogenised, yet."
Barbara has recently played shows at the Royal Albert Hall and is booked for Latitude Festival 2016. Does it ever feel at times that Barbara has slightly overtaken McLeod's own life?
"She's been more in-demand that me," she says. "I think as an alter-ego she's somehow saved me from feeling unheard. Maybe that's where she came from, a place of ultimate frustration that I wasn't producing the art I wanted. But I'll always have one eye on proving that Karen McLeod is the lead writer of this dual existence. In the end, we'll see who's the most popular."

Follow Karen on Twitter @kazzymcleod and Barbara @BBrownskirt

Thursday, 7 April 2016

In Search of the Missing Eyelash - a Lesbian London book

A woman came in the bookshop yesterday and said she belongs to a London Book group.
Interesting, I said.
Then she held up 'In Search of the Missing Eyelash', which is set in South London, 
Vintage cover
and she said, We're doing this one next.

Jonathan Cape cover
I've heard it's quite good, I said.

And the fact I didn't say I had written it made me smile, because after all they just need to read the book and not read me.
It has taken me a while to work this out.

You can buy a signed copy here from The Bookseller Crow:

The German cover has an
Inspector Clueso feel about it.

Monday, 15 February 2016

Just half a spoon of Decaf

'Just a half spoon of decaf Nescafe for both of us each dear, otherwise it is too strong, you know?' Mum said last year in their lounge at number 47.
Chalky coffee
This is after we'd come back from buying an electric chair for dad. The tipping and reclining sort. We came back to him slumped to one side in his ill-fitting armchair and I was primed to tell dad a big lie about how we had only been to the Chemist to see about what he'd asked for and they said he wasn't allowed to take any more medication on top of what he does. This was a lie, so we didn't have to anger him about the meeting for the electric chair.
I summed up the imaginary trip to the chemist with a little detail about the assistants,
'They are such nice people in there,' I say, 'so helpful.'
He accepts this as truth.
I think I am good at lying, I think I've been practising it recently. The white sort, the sort that placates. I used to think truth was all.

Recliner and tipper
In the mobility shop I had enjoyed riding in the chairs because of the buttons and the way they cup you safe.
'If he doesn't want it,' I thought, 'I'll have it.'
'This is not something to panic over,' I thought. I enjoy reclining, but then I have the choice. I know how to make the buttons do what they should and not what they shouldn't.
We don't mention the chair to him before I leave. But once I'm in the street, I can't stop thinking about it, how he won't want it and we've ordered it to arrive in two weeks. Nearly a thousand pounds.

Two weeks later he is back in hospital and he gets diagnosed with advanced lung cancer.
And we have been asked about resuscitation.
He says no. We all say no.

I write him a card with all the things I want to say
and carry it in my bag
We move his old armchair into the conservatory in preparation for the new chair. We move the sofa into the already overcrowded conservatory dining room to make way for the hospital bed. I count twelve seats. Why does my mother have so many seats?
A hospital bed arrives. Dad goes into hospital.
On Monday morning I can't stop crying. I know I have to talk to dad about things at his bedside, say the things I want to say. Mum thought I could talk about my new novel.
I want to ask him to haunt me because I like the idea of it never being over. I like the idea that there will be proof of whether ghosts exist if we make a pact. Then I remember, he never was that kind of dad. He didn't know how to play with me when I got older.
I want to tell him my novel is going to have his name at the front and it will be called 'The Short Tall Summer'.
I want to say I forgive him and he can forgive me and I know he did his best and I thank him for teaching me to swim and seeing me through art college and sorry I was such a needy girl, but it was only because I wanted more of him than he could possibly ever give.
I want to say goodbye in a good clear way and that we will look after mum and that the life was good he gave us, although it was sometimes not, but it mostly was. I want him to hear it all so he can relax.

Two days later and I am alone with him in the hospital room. The air conditioning is too cool, Mum and her sister slept the night in their coats. They have gone home to warm up and get rest. It feels like there could be much time ahead spent like this. There is a sense that we are camping out and it's a little bit exciting although it shouldn't be.
The Macmillan nurse tells me how the body works after I ask her to explain the biology of Dad. She says the fingertips lose their warmth and colour as the body stops.

Back at the flat a parrot clings onto the wall outside the window and stares at my girlfriend while she paints the window ledge. Its beady glare reminds her of dad. She told me if I had rung now at that point and say he's gone then she will know the parrot is my dad, though she does not believe in this sort of thing. Pantheism. The spirits of people in animals and birds.

It's all in the glare of the eyes
It is a Wednesday. We are all at the hospital and my mother confesses she has always disliked Wednesdays for no real reason she can remember. They are just when bad things happen.

After he died I whispered in his ear that I loved him. I can't get over the love that was in the room. How when all personality is stripped away that this was what was left. Mum stroked his arm and he took two last breaths, revived by her touch then gone.
I do not want to be haunted.
In the reclined position

Outside my kitchen window I watch the parrots go crazy.
Can I publish this? Without the beady eye of dad ever glaring at me again, without the fear of him being cross with me for talking about personal stuff and wanting to convey my feelings out loud?
I can, because he was there but is not here now.

Last night we tried to sell the chair on Ebay - no bids.
It remains in the back room of their house.
We'll try Gumtree and Facebook.
Any offers contact me.