A Great Gay Read Interview: Clayton Littlewood

It’s a Great Gay Reads first (of many coming) as I interview some of the people behind the books and the business. First up breaking us in is Clayton Littlewood who’s diary-like blog Dirty White Boy has been published and chronicals the lives and loves of the people on the gayest street in London Compton Street!

Introduce yourself to the readers, tell us more about yourself…
My name is Clayton, I am a 46 year old gay man whose tried, at various stage in his life to do something creative and, invariably, failed. I was in an awful band called Spongefinger. We never got signed. I hosted a pirate radio show posing as a female West Country aromatherapist by the name of Doctor Bunty. No one tuned in. I wrote comedy scripts which inspired one agent to say ‘This is the most disgusting piece of filth we’ve ever read. Don’t ever contact us again.’ My latest incarnations have been running the shop Dirty White Boy in Soho with my partner Jorge (we closed last year), writing the Soho Stories column for The London Paper (they sacked me) and being a regular contributor to BBC Radio (until I was escorted from the building for saying words relating to male genitalia). I now have a book out called Dirty White Boy: Tales of Soho which has only taken me 46 years to write. An impressive CV don’t you think? Anyone wanna hire me?
How long have you been writing for?
Since I was a kid, mainly in diary form, and usually when something big has happened in my life; the start of a relationship, a holiday, a friend’s illness, that kind of thing. It’s always been my way of making sense of things. And because I’d always written quite personal stuff, consequently I never showed it to anyone. So when we opened the shop and I joined Myspace and started blogging, it was really just an extension of what I’d always done. I remember thinking that living in Soho was going to be a big event in my life and I wanted to document it. So I started to use Myspace as a kind of ‘online diary’ and the readers just built up. Having the blog turned into a book was a complete accident, a nice accident, but an accident nonetheless. Although after years of failing at various projects it was nice to finally discover something I could do that people seemed to like.
What made you want to write? Who made you want to write?
I can only write if I have something burning inside that I need to get out. It’s that ‘release’ thing. So I don’t think I’m ever going to be a prolific writer. Plus I’m not in it for the money. I can’t write to order. I’ve tried and it just doesn’t work for me. The writing just ends up flat with no rhythm. Writing for The London Paper, little Soho stories, that was quite stressful. I’d send them something and they’d say, ‘Too much dialogue!’ and then I’d send them something else and they’d say ‘Too much sex!’ And when I’d send them something they liked and they’d change the wording round and rob it of all its style. I found it quite demoralising. So, to answer your question, the only person who makes me want to write is me.
What were your favourite reads growing up?
The books of C.S. Lewis. I remember reading the The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe over and over again as a kid. I suppose, looking back, it was the thought of finding a magical world full of strange creatures once you’d jumped through the wardrobe. Which, thinking about it, is probably what I was waiting for when I jumped out of the closet and made my way to London.
Where there any books that really helped you growing up gay?
None. Not one. I grew up in a very provincial seaside town. There was one lesbian in the whole town. She mended boats. And then there were a gaggle of old predatory theatrical queens and that was it. To make matters worse there was only one gay bar, and it was only gay on one side of the bar, and then only one Sunday a month. And it was a real battle to get in there each month without getting beaten up – which shows the drive to express your sexuality I suppose. I remember one night I was in there and I saw a guy in a tight tee-shirt and camouflage trousers. I was mesmerised. And that’s when I realised there was another gay world out there somewhere, if only I could escape this prison. But anyway, to get back to your question about books, there wasn’t any. So I ended up creating the fantasy worlds in my head – locked up in my bedroom. Although, thinking about it, I do remember going to the library and reading psychology books for any reference to homosexuality, and then hiding them inside books on World War 2.
How do you feel about the state of gay fiction today?
I have to be honest and say I rarely read fiction so I couldn’t tell you. I suppose I should but there’s very little that moves me. I prefer biographies, diaries, history books. What I can tell you is that it seems that very little gay fiction gets reviewed by the straight press. It’s put into a box, marginalised and stocked on the fourth floor of a book shop next to Gender Studies. Unless of course you’re able to cross that huge divide, like Alan Hollinghurst or Sarah Waters. Then, and I don’t quite know why, but you’re no longer viewed as a ‘gay author’ you’re just an ‘author.’ Thankfully.
Do you feel that as a gay writer you are obligated to include gay characters in your work or to give something back to gay readers?
Not at all. I just write about the world I know. It just happens to be a world inhabited by old queens, trannies, hookers and dandies. If other people can relate to that world, gay or straight, that’s great. But I’m just writing to please myself. I know when I’ve written a good line and I know when I’ve written a shit line. A good line makes me feel content and a bad one makes me feel like I’ve lost whatever it was that I had. So I’m always striving to reach that feeling of contentedness.
What new gay authors do you think we should be looking out for in the future?
Me! (joke). Again, I’m the worst person to ask. I’m such a bad ‘gay’. A Soho magazine reviewed my book recently and said it was reminiscent of Isherwood’s Goodbye to Berlin, which was very flattering, so I’ve been reading a lot of his stuff lately – but he’s been dead for 20 years.
What are your thoughts on the ‘gay fiction’ section of book stores, shouldn’t it be all inclusive or is it a good device for people to be able to find gay fiction?
I’m split on that one. I was really pleased to see my book in places like Foyles and Waterstones under the New Non-Fiction section. When I saw it there I thought ‘Thank God!’ Stories are stories. They should be universal. And anyone should be able to relate to them. I soooo didn’t want to be shoved in a box. Having said that, I suppose new authors have to start somewhere and with thousands of books published every month, you have to get noticed somehow. Hopefully though, once you get noticed in the gay section, you can make the jump to a wider audience without having your balls chopped off.
What is your Great Gay Read of all time and why?
The Naked Civil Servant has always been a great example on how to makes lines fly with short, clear, concise sentences, full of wit, wisdom and heartbreaking honesty. Everything I strive for.
You can buy Dirty White Boy by Clayton Littlewood here.

~ by greatgayreads on March 12, 2009.

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