Monday, 29 December 2008


Some weeks before Christmas, well past the watershed, RAI2, one of the Italian state TV channels, showed Brokeback Mountain. Well, actually, it didn't. It showed a version of Brokeback Mountain shorn of its moments of intimacy. Brokeback Mountain without intimacy is another film entirely, and this was pointed out to the head of RAI2, who claimed it was all a terrible mistake - the bowdlerised copy had been prepared for another section of the RAI (presumably under total Vatican control) - and would be remedied forthwith. I've been told by a RAI director that it's damn nigh impossible that a film be broadcast without its having been seen by someone, but why should I doubt the word of a regime whore respected professional. If that's what he says, that must be the way it was.

We're still waiting to see the film as Ang Lee, and Annie Proulx, intended it, but who knows what the new year may bring. In the meantime, I discovered yesterday, from an article in the Observer, that Cuban state television has shown Brokeback Mountain without cuts. Cuba Libre.



A very interesting review of The Scent of Cinnamon, by literary blogger and novelist, the Gay Recluse (aka Matthew Gallaway), compares me with Keith Banner, a favourite of mine as regular readers of this blog will know, but someone whose work has always seemed to me to be working in a very different area from mine. What we have in common, for Matthew, is this:

Like Banner, Lambert likes to narrate from a dizzying array of perspectives — i.e., male/female, gay/straight (though he carefully avoids such terminology, thankfully) — and also like Banner, Lambert’s characters are not ones you’d like to consider friends...

The review goes on to say that:
we cannot read any of these stories without a sinking feeling that something bad is about to happen, leaving us with the question of whether the damage will be psychological, physical or some combination. 
Sounds good...


I'd like to welcome a new online literary journal, entitled 21. Produced by Edge Hill University, it describes itself as :

"a peer-reviewed, online critical journal exploring contemporary and innovative fiction. We are interested in cutting edge fiction from the late twentieth and early twenty-first century, whether in the short story, the novel or hybrid forms; in print or hypertext. This includes all literature written in English or published as translation."

The first issue contains articles about, among others, JG Ballard, Annie Proulx and AM Homes, a valuable essay by Elizabeth Baines on Anne Enright and the 'misery memoir', and an interview with me about Little Monsters (out in paperback on 6 February), along with an extract from one of the longer stories in The Scent of Cinnamon

What Lawrence might have called a pansy

You can find the first poem of mine to be published  in the last few years - by anyone other than me, that is - on Fiona Robyn's endlessly delightful site, a handful of stones. Thank you, Fiona, for rescuing me from such solipsism.

Sunday, 28 December 2008

C'est si bon

One of the great television moments of my childhood was watching Eartha Kitt being carried onto the stage of the London Palladium, slinkily curled up on a leopardskin-clad chaise longue borne on the shoulders of muscular men in loincloths, to sing Old Fashioned Millionaire. She taught me all I needed to know - I couldn't have been more than eight or nine - about glamour, possibly too much. I also remember the thrill that the song's audacious rhyming (Cadillac/in the back - but you need the whole couplet to get the full joy) gave me. Eartha Kitt was always there for me, in a way that Harold Pinter, this Christmas's other illustrious death, never was. When she came back, powerfully, in the 80s with Where is my Man, I was waiting for her. We all were. More rhymes, more sexiness, this time laced with anguish, which made me love her all the more. Pinter's politics won him the Nobel Prize; Kitt was sent into what the US saw as exile (Europe!) for over twenty years for haranguing Lady Bird Johnson about the Vietnam war. This isn't to diminish Pinter's voice and what he did with it, though his poetry, which no one seems to have mentioned, was utterly awful
, but the risk Kitt ran was of a different order.

Wednesday, 24 December 2008


Ratzinger's festive message was unusually spirited this year. It's good to know that old age and too many tennis lessons with the lovely Georg haven't robbed the old trooper of his sense of humour. In a costume that Widow Twanky would have murdered for - and one can only imagine the sumptuousness of the under-garments - Eggs tried out a new routine to the joy of the usual fanbase of lick-spittles and Italian politicians worshipping catholics. Well, not exactly new, more a reworking of old material, but hey! a girl can't go on dancing all the time. The new wheeze is that the world's ecology is damaged less by deforestation than it is by pussy-bumping and its male equivalent. (I'd use Madame Arcati's more colourful terms for this but my mother's only feet away from me as I write.) According to the mad old slapper, gay sex is the equivalent of wiping out whole tracts of the Amazon. What he hasn't provided us with, alas, is a conversion table. For example, just how much damage does one act of consensual anal sex do in carbon footprint terms? Come on, Ratzy, we need to know. I mean, if it can be proven that a quick blow job is no more destructive than, say, uprooting a small fruit-bearing bush, at least we know where we stand. We can make a reasoned decision. Maybe we can offset the carbon cost of a weekend on Ibiza, or Lesbos, by planting a hedge of privet and growing some rhubarb. You must have people who know these things, Ratzy. You seem to be surrounded by experts on just about everything, from medicine for the terminally ill, indeed totally vegetative, to the price of bloody fish.

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Today Scott Pack's top 10, tomorrow the world

After reviewing Little Monsters earlier this year and hosting my Something Rich and Strange virtual book tour a few weeks ago, Scott Pack has included The Scent of Cinnamon on his list of top ten books in 2008. You're a gentleman, Scott, and, of course, a discerning and gifted reader. Thanks!

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Seventeen years

Earlier this year I wrote a brief post about a man called Giuliano Ferrara. Ferrara really isn't that interesting, except as an over-exposed example of chronic brown-nosing that would take some beating even in Italy, and I wouldn't bring him up again if I didn't have good reason, believe me. But I mentioned the grotesque buffoon at the time because of his typically vulgar reaction to a court decision to allow Beppino Englaro to finally cease the forced nutrition and hydration of his daughter, Eluana, after seventeen years in a state of vegetative coma. That was 15 July.

Five months later, Eluana Englaro continues to have food and water pumped into her, against the wishes of her family and against the expressed wishes of Eluana herself, when she was in a position to express wishes. During these five months, Beppino Englaro has been forced to negotiate an obstacle course of such deliberate, appalling cruelty, masterminded by the Vatican and with the all-too-willing connivance of its representatives in the Italian government, on both sides of the political divide, if such a distinction makes sense any longer in a country in which the most basic democratic rules are flouted daily. A campaign designed to prolong the agony of a man whose only interest is his daughter, supported by some of the worst Italy and the catholic church has to offer, from Ratzinger to Binetti to Ferrara and their merry gang of fundamentalist hypocrites. The final straw came yesterday, after the Supreme Court had, once again, given the go-ahead for treatment to be stopped. Minister of Welfare, Maurizio Sacconi*, ex-socialist and with the moral apparatus of a sea-urchin, announced that government funding would be withdrawn from any clinic that dared put the court ruling into practice. This was greeted by some cardinal whose name I can't be bothered to look for as "a reasonable and sensible decision", immediately making him a candidate for slow rotting in his own hell. 

The latest news is that, after having sought legal advice, a clinic in Udine is prepared to, finally, satisfy the wishes of Eluana and her father, with a team of anonymous volunteers taking medical responsibility. 

*Sacconi's wife, in the meantime, is president of Farmindustria, the association that protects the interest of the pharmaceutical industry.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

This is all we need

I worried about this some time ago. It looks as though I was right to be worried. 

Sorry, you need to click on the graph to see it properly - I can't make it shrink to fit...

French Lesson

Christmas spirit: an antidote

Popbitch has made me laugh and given me a fair number of things to talk - and blog - about over the past few years. They now have a book out, with some of the choicest material to have graced their emails and various other enticements, which I won't go into here. The BBC won't promote it, apparently because the word bitch might offend, so I thought I'd step into the breach and do my bit. I realise my audience is slightly smaller than that of breakfast-time radio (and whose fault is that!?), but I am free and I don't send round nosy vans to see what you're up to. Well, rarely.

You can buy the book here.

Last blast before Christmas

John Self has done my Something Rich and Strange virtual book tour proud on his Asylum blog, where I rub shoulders with some of my favourite writers, such as James Kelman and, barely a spit away, Penelope Fitzgerald. It's thrilling to see his critical eye turn its gaze my way. You can read his review of The Scent of Cinnamon, along with the interview, here. Among other things, he compares me - favourably - with Roald Dahl's adult fiction and suggests that maybe you can have too much of a good thing...

This is my sixth Cyclone interview in six weeks and it's to the credit of my interviewers and their fabulous questions that I continue to find myself with things to say, things I didn't even know I knew until I was asked. This time I talk about the first story I ever wrote, and reflect, among other things, on why I'm still a child and why the idea of 'community' - as in gay or ex-pat - gets my goat...

Something Rich and Strange will be taking a short break to allow me to enjoy Christmas in a mindless, unexamined way, after which it kicks off once more, on 6 January with a visit to dovegreyreaderscribbles. See you there! (Don't worry, I'll still be around in the meantime, whining and so on. I'll also be posting a review of a rather extraordinary book I'm nearing the end of at the moment. Only 250 pages to go...)

Saturday, 13 December 2008

Friday, 12 December 2008

Everything I Have is Blue

I've just finished reading the anthology Everything I Have is Blue (helpfully subtitled: Short Fiction by Working-class Men about More-or-less Gay Life). It's edited by Wendell Ricketts, who also contributes a gripping short story of his own and a final, finely written and thought-provoking essay. With the exception of Wendell himself and one of my favourite writers, Keith Banner, most of these writers are new to me, although I have come across CAConrad on various networking sites and enjoyed what I've seen of his work. This doesn't mean they haven't published; most of them have rich and varied writing careers, described at the back of the book. It's more likely to mean that the kind of writing they're involved in is marginalised. Marginalised initially as gay writing and, subsequently, in class terms as writing that appears to fail to tell us what we want to know: that we're young, beautiful, rich and infinitely desirable. I've been thinking a lot recently about the non-consolatory function that gay writing might perform, mostly in the context of my virtual tour for my own short stories, and so it's exciting to see how this immensely varied group of writers work with their material to talk about lives that are demonstrably less than perfect, by which I mean recognisable as human.

My favourite pieces in the collection are probably those that work at the interface of gay-straight lives, such as the opening story by C. Bard Cole or Marcel Devons' tale about Scotty taking his boyfriend home to meet his parents. More than any other, I loved My Special Friend by Christopher Lord, and not only because the reading of it coincided with a dispute about Christmas trees chez moi. I found the final story in the collection, a long piece by James Barr, interesting as a story and even more interesting in a socio-historical sense; for me, at least, it illuminated the background to Brokeback Mountain, which must be the most famous story ever written about working-class gay men, while offering a sort of alternative to that story's historical hopelessness. It's the nearest story in the book to what I've termed consolatory, but even here the hero's forced, through one of those timely accidents fiction depends on, to think about, and come to terms with, his sexual and emotional needs.

What's refreshing about the book as a whole, though, is that it offers not only scenes of deprivation and desperation, but also possibilities of happiness that aren't shallow, self-defeating or unattainable, and it does this with warmth, intelligence and skill. I'm least happy with the stories in which a sort of poetic take on lives of hardship and squalor seems to glamourise rather than portray those lives, a stance that comes across, to me anyway, as inverted consolation. I'd also say that the sub-culture depicted in, for example, Skins, powerfully evoked though it is, isn't working-class at all, but sub-proletariat and as ghetto-ized in its way as the flashier world of 'beach reading'. But what the book does, to its enormous credit, is foreground these issues, and it does so by bringing together some fine and exciting writing. You can click on the link above to order the book, read more work by other great writers and contribute to Wendell's ongoing project. You won't regret it.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Nel mezzo del cammin

Five down, five to go. The latest leg of my Something Rich and Strange tour is posted today on Vanessa Gebbie's News. I've been a fan of Vanessa's work for as long as I've been blogging (and here's the proof), well before we found ourselves rubbing shoulders in the Salt stables. So it was, as they say, both a privilege and a pleasure to answer her questions on two of the longer stories in the collection. They're both set on Mediterranean islands, so pack your sunglasses.

Next week, it's the turn of John Self at Asylum, followed by a well-earned three-week break before dovegreyreader scribbles. So while I prepare myself for their questions, you will have all the time you need to do some Christmas shopping. Vanessa has made some very wise suggestions about possible gifts...

Saturday, 6 December 2008

Lamed vovnik

This comes from a very moving article by David Horovitz, in memory of his daughter, Sarah. 
In Jewish lore there is a legend of the lamed vovniks, the thirty-six just men on whom the existence of the world depends (Sarah would have had something to say about the gender prejudice of that). According to the legend, God had become so disgusted with his creation that he was determined to destroy it. But an angel came to plead with Him and to ask for a reprieve if she could find thirty-six just men in the world. In every generation, so the legend goes, there are always thirty-six just men – the lamed vovniks on whom its continued survival depends. The lamed vovniks are not conscious of who they are. They perform their acts of compassion and love out of the purity of their hearts. And the rest of us owe the world to them.
You can find the article here.

Lovely things

And talking of Christmas shopping, if you're in Rome next weekend and would like to buy something rather special, come along to Vicolo dell'Atleta 5 (Trastevere) after 5 pm, and take a look at what's on offer. I'll see you there!


Well, it's good to be reminded once again who really runs Italy. When it emerged that the Treasury was planning to reduce the amount of funding provided by the Italian state to catholic schools, it took no more than a few hours for a papal hissy fit to change their minds. According to Ratzy, the church's right to our money is 'inalienable'. Well, I'd have preferred the word 'indefensible', but there you go. You don't argue with the boss.
(Seen here, preparing a primal gift for Christmas.)


Thank you, Jesus' General, for this.

Thursday, 4 December 2008


  • What do you think caused your heterosexuality?
  • When and how did you decide you were a heterosexual?
  • Is it possible that your heterosexuality is just a phase you may grow out of?
  • Is it possible that your heterosexuality stems from a neurotic fear of others of the same sex?
  • Do your parents know that you are straight? Do your friends and/or roommate(s) know? How did they react?
  • Why do you insist on flaunting your heterosexuality? Can't you just be who you are and keep it quiet?
  • Why do heterosexuals feel compelled to seduce others into their lifestyles?
  • A disproportionate majority of child molesters are heterosexual. So you consider it safe to expose children to heterosexual teachers?
  • With all the societal support marriage receives, the divorce rate is spiraling. Why are there so few stable relationships among heterosexuals?
  • Statistics show that lesbians have the lowest incidence of sexually transmitted diseases. Is it really safe for a woman to maintain a heterosexual lifestyle and run the risk of disease and pregnancy?
  • Considering the menace of overpopulation, how could the human race survive if everyone were heterosexual?
  • Would you want your child to be heterosexual, knowing the problems that s/he would face?
If you'd like to know more about this questionnaire, click here. From Joe.My.God. 

Remember: no Salt, no flavour

Dithering about what to buy people for Christmas? I know times are hard, but, let's face it, what are friends and family worth? Something between a fiver and £14.99, with a 33% discount? I guessed as much.

So all you need to do is click here and buy your loved ones, and their loved ones, one or - why not? - two or three of the fabulous books produced by Salt. I'm assuming you've got a copy of The Scent of Cinnamon. What do you mean, you haven't! Shame! Order one this minute! You'll be doing yourself a favour. More to the point, you'll be helping one of the bravest, most adventurous presses around at the moment, in the UK or anywhere else, to continue to produce books that don't just look good, very good, but actually do you good. (I have a medical certificate to prove this.)

I won't make any recommendations, but these are just some of the Salt books I've read - and loved - this year, in no particular order:

Simon Barraclough: Los Alamos Mon Amour (shortlisted for the Forward Prize)
Katy Evans-Bush: Me and the Dead
John Wilkinson: Down to Earth
Isobel Dixon: A Fold in the Map
Douglas Oliver: Arrondissements
David Gaffney: Aromabingo
Tania Hershman: The White Road

And just to show that I've put my money where my mouth is, I've ordered and can't wait to receive:

Jay Merill: Astral Bodies (I read with Jay earlier this year and she was wonderful!)
Matthew Licht: The Moose Show (I'm intrigued, and slightly turned on, by his podcast)
Andrew Duncan: Origins of the Underground (I'm in the introduction to this, by the way, and Andrew didn't even tell me! This is your chance to explain yourself, Andrew...)

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Casting away

I've been having a discussion with Giuseppe today. He's finally read The Scent of Cinnamon because a translator friend, Isabella Zani, has rendered it - superbly - into Italian. After over 22 years together (tié Ratzy!), this is the first time he's really read anything of mine and, to my relief, he loves it. In fact, he loves it so much he wants to see it filmed. In fact, he wants to see it filmed so much he's already decided on the director and the actors for the two main roles. 

His choices? Ang Lee (director), Tilda Swinton (Miriam), Daniel Day Lewis (Joseph). Needless to say, these three jobbing labourers in the world of cinema are twiddling their thumbs in shabby bedrooms and waiting for my call. But I'm not sure they're the ones I want. Giuseppe says I should ask you. So that's what I'm doing. If you've read the story and think you have a better idea, let us know.  

Iran, Jamaica, Vatican, Sudan....

Surprise news from the Holy See. Someone called (Father) Federico Lombardi claims that the Vatican's refusal to endorse a proposal for the UN that homosexuality be decriminalised, signed by all EU states, presumably including Poland (!), does not mean that it approves of the death penalty for homosexuals. Phew. Its position on waterboarding hasn't yet been announced. 

While we're waiting, read Wendell Ricketts' comment on the whole sordid business here.


An interesting experience yesterday. I came across a reader's review of Little Monsters on the Waterstones site. It starts like this:
I wasn't sure I would like this book. A tale of a young girl setting up home with her uncle sounded terribly seedy.
Hmm. Seedy. It goes on to say:
The story is narrated, in reflective mode, by Carol Foxe, the young girl in question, whose dad has murdered her mum so is put into the 'care' of her selfish and hard-hearted aunt Margot and attentive Polish uncle (Joey) Jozef who live over the pub they run. HIs friendliness towards her as a child - come to the basement, come for a walk, I have something to show you, don't tell your aunt - all smack of grooming. The intention may have been to give an air of innocent caring and concern towards the young girl but it struck me as highly inappropriate.
I'm all in favour of complex texts offering - even requiring - multiple readings, but I wonder if anyone else has seen Jozef's behaviour as 'inappropriate'. And I wonder, in this context, what 'inappropriate' means. It's revealing, I think, that the reviewer distinguishes between what she perceives, quite rightly, as the author's intention, to 'give [Jozef] an air of innocent caring and concern', although innocent doesn't seem to me to be a particularly useful (or appropriate) word here, and what she, on the other hand, reads as a series of acts intended to set Carol up as sexual prey. What's even more interesting is that she doesn't notice how much more like 'grooming' Carol's behaviour towards Kakuna is, although here too it would be reductive to see their relationship merely in these terms. Perhaps this kind of behaviour is more appropriate between a woman and a girl. But if novels are concerned with - and judged by their adherence to - what's appropriate, where does that leave fiction? Reading this review made me feel that what I'd written could have been reshelved as a misery memoir if I'd only had the sense to grasp what Jozef was really up to. 

Cyclone tour: stage four

My Something Rich and Strange virtual book tour, to celebrate the publication of The Scent of Cinnamon and Other Stories, goes from strength to strength. This week's event is hosted by Jim at Jockohomo Datapanik and it's a corker. I talk about the gay aspects of the collection, something that hasn't really been touched on before. If you want to know what turned me on as a teenager, and what turns me on now as a reader, this is the place to go. Plus you'll get the chance to explore Jim's many other interests, which include, in his own words: Painting, making art, music, writing, design, bodybuilding, wrestling, new media, photography, sports, architecture, computers, technology, museums, food, travel, languages, lacrosse, mountain biking, film, Warhol, pop culture, op art, biceps, books and blogs +

He also has a dog called Sam.

Nest week, I'll be dropping in on Vanessa Gebbie here. Don't miss it.