A book launch celebrating all things queer

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Michael Lee Richardson and Ryan Vance. (Photo Credit: Sebastian Faugstad)

“I tuck myself under the spathe
as if it were my mother’s pleated skirt.
Corpse-flower. Corpse-stiff and sweet,
the rotted grunt of its scent
enfolding me like a red womb,
holding me tight, safe against the spadix”

Poet Rachel Plummer reads one of her poems in front of eager listeners, Titan Arum. She is one of the contributing writers who have come to St Andrews Brewing Company in Edinburgh for the book launch of We Were Always Here. The world outside the windows is dark and frightening but in here, in this room warmed up by candlelight, diversity is fully accepted and there is no fear.

It is crowded. Glasses filled with beer and wine rest on the wooden tables that match the walls in the bar. On one of the tables there are stacks with the pink anthology, in which the words across the pages are written by people who identify themselves as queer. Other than Rachel Plummer, the contributors Andrés Ordorica, Jay G Ying and Christina Neuwirth are also here tonight.

“I’m going to finish with a poem about the Loch Ness Monster,” Rachel says, as she stands closer to the microphone. She explains that she thinks the monster is non-binary. On the top of her head, a leopard hat can be seen as part of the evening’s animal print theme. She lets go of the microphone and leaves the stage, but the hat stays on for the rest of the night.

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Poet Rachel Plummer. (Photo credit: Linnéa Lind)

“When I was in primary school, I had a fantastic teacher. I really loved poetry and he gave me a poem to read and to memorise. I just loved him so much that I started to write my own versions and my own poems. I haven’t stopped since,” she says while adjusting the leopard on her head.

Rachel has received a commission from LGBT Youth Scotland to write children’s poems based on traditional Scottish folk stories. She says that her sexual orientation often comes through in her poetry.

“I have two children. When I used to tell stories to my daughter I would swap the genders as I read them. Then I thought that maybe other people would be interested in these versions of these stories. That’s how I got into writing children’s poetry.”

When Rachel was young, she did not have many friends and would read many books.
“I felt really different to everybody else and that’s partly because of the queerness and the difference. I read a lot to escape from that. The whole thing made me feel kind of monstrous and I thought that maybe I was the only one in the world who felt like that,” she reveals, “I would really like to put my poetry in the hands of children who feel like that and show them that they are allowed to exist.”

The editors of the anthology, Ryan Vance and Michael Lee Richardson, share their excitement and often laugh with the listeners. Together, they run Queer Words Project Scotland for emerging queer writers. The anthology We Were Always Here is the result of queer literary pieces that were chosen among many submissions.

“A part of the project is to widen the margins a bit and creating a space for people that don’t always get an opportunity and a space,” says Michael Lee Richardson.

The book cover may be delightful and cheery in its pink shade, but the content deals with serious issues such as homophobia and sexual abuse.

“There is a lot of work in the book that reflects on how difficult it is to just get by sometimes. If you read it from cover to cover, there are a few shifts in tone. The pieces go from sweet heart-warming narratives about people finding their place in the world, to shocking moments of thinking that this is horrific, and it’s really refreshing to see queer people allowed to be monsters. We can’t be the best at everything and good all the time, we’re human,” says Ryan Vince.

Today is the first day of the LGBT History Month, which occurs in February each year in Scotland. Read more about it here.

“Radical” LGBT+ play is thrusting into Edinburgh’s Lyceum this week

Love Song to Lavender Menace is a “radical, time-travelling, disco dancing, LGBT+ love story” that brings the legend of Edinburgh’s first queer bookshop to life.

Edinburgh playwright James Ley, founder of Village Pub Theatre, decided the story of The Lavender Menace is one that needed to be told.

From strange beginnings in the cloakroom of a nightclub, Lavender Menace became a full-blown queer bookshop, and now its story is on stage in Edinburgh from the 12th until the 21st of October.

The Lavender Menace opened as a bookshop on Forth Street in 1982, trading in gay, lesbian and feminist books and quickly became a hub of LGBT culture. Founder Bob Orr teamed up with business partner Sigrid Nielson to open Lavender Menace, which served the community for over a decade. In the age of Thatcher, the store brought people together and fought for acceptance with words.

Staged at The Lyceum theatre, the play stars Matthew McVarish and Pierce Reid as shop assistants on the eve of the shop’s fifth birthday, as they look back on the difference it has made.

The space was one of the first alternatives to the typical pub and club gay scene. Mr Ley spoke to many former customers, who said it took them a few attempts to step over the threshold. Deciding to finally go in was a big step for many people three decades ago. According to one Twitter user, the shop had a sign that warned heterosexuals of a “50p surcharge.”

 

The Lyceum Theatre is the first venue the show will appear at on its UK tour.

A successful Kickstarter campaign raised over £4000 to nudge the play into a full tour, and it begins its UK tour here in Edinburgh. This isn’t shocking though, with people from all over Scotland flocking to the quirky outlet throughout the 80s.

The show is selling out fast, but you can still grab tickets for the showings from Friday the 13th until the 21st here.

Check out Twitter’s response:

Book Week Scotland 2016

Scotland’s annual November Book Week Scotland is back in town this week until the 27th of November. It is a week not only for book lovers but people of all ages who want share their passion for literature.

According to the Daily Record, even the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has joined the week’s endeavours and dared students at St Conval’s Primary in Glasgow to write reviews of books they have read, inside the books themselves, for future readers to pick up.

She went on to explain the importance of building and expanding the “reading culture” across schools.

“Book Week Scotland’s dares are a great way to excite children about reading and […] encouraging children to develop a love of reading from an early age through fun activities,” stated Sturgeon.

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This is a week event hosted by the Edinburgh UNESCO World City of Literature Trust, a registered charity that that goes by the name “The Trust”, a team of enthusiasts with a “story-fuelled passion” for books.

The Trust’s CEO, Mark Lambert, explained; “Book Week Scotland is the perfect time for teachers and parents alike to get their children enthused about the First Minister’s Reading Challenge.”

The Trust have organised for Scottish talents, poets, illustrators, authors, storytellers, to engage with book-aficionados from all walks of life across the city in libraries, community venues and schools, to talk about the inspirations in their work.

Creative Scotland’s Arts and Engagement Director, Leonie Bell, also expressed her excitement about the fifth year of Book Week and how it is “a real celebration of Scotland’s incredible literary culture, from new writers to old favourites.  With an outreach programme ensuring that everyone across Scotland is able to enjoy the magic of reading and a plethora of book-related events, talks and dares to embark on, Scottish Book Trust is taking us on a reading adventure like no other.”

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Book Week Scotland challenges you to get involved and be dared. So how can you take part? Click here to be assigned a ‘random dare’ and perhaps read a new genre you’ve never explored before. Share your dare with the hashtag #BookWeekScot and get your family and friends to join in too.

To learn more about Book Week Scotland go to www.bookweekscotland.com. Follow them on Twitter @Bookweekscot and on their Book Week Scotland Facebook page.

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