The Coast Is Queer, Brighton & Hove’s
Juno Dawson

The Coast Is Queer returns

Now in its third year, The Coast is Queer is gathering writers, poets, performers, academics, activists and readers for a weekend of celebrating queer lives and literature. “There’s a really high-quality range of writing out there,” says New Writing South CEO, Lesley Wood. “People will see their own lived experiences reflected in these books. It doesn’t all happen to be in that shelf and a half of the LGBT section at Waterstones. We’re trying to connect the writers and bring new audiences to the work.” With a new home at Brighton’s Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts, it’ll showcase some of the nation’s boldest, brightest and best LGBTQ+ literary talent on Fri 7 – Sun 9 Oct with accessible live events and workshops.

The Coast Is Queer, Brighton & Hove’s ground-breaking LGBTQ+ writing festival, comes to Brighton’s Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts on Fri 7 – Sun 9 Oct 2022
Sarah Winman – by Patricia Niven

A collaboration between New Writing South and Marlborough Productions, the festival has become an exuberant part of the UK’s literary landscape. Now returning to in-person events after the pandemic forced them to take proceedings online, it builds on a reputation for providing powerful, transformative interviews, discussions, readings and films. Wood says their first year almost happened by accident. “There was a new funder who popped up, who was the LGBT Consortium, I just saw it as an opportunity to pull together a small festival. When we started to put the word out, it was surprising just how much support we had from writers who wanted to be part of it.” It’s grown into a significant literary event. Over 2,000 people have enjoyed and been inspired by a range of moving and exhilarating events with over 80 participating writers since 2019. The list of past speakers includes luminaries like Alan Hollinghurst, Dean Atta, Val McDermid, Golnoosh Nour, Douglas Stuart, Niven Govinden, Patrick Gale and Valerie Mason-John contributing to the range of diverse and fascinating voices. The festival has also highlighted inspiring new works from Kate Davies, CN Lester and Sharan Dhaliwal.

“LGBT writers write about the width, breadth and depth of life’s experiences, not everybody is writing about being ‘LBGT writers.’ Having said that, we do have Sarah Winman, whose book Still Life was a big seller recently. It has that rarest of things, an older lesbian character. Worse than that… she’s sexually active. Whoever thought that was going to happen? But it’s not focussed around that. We’re just showcasing the fact that it’s a broad church.”

The Coast Is Queer, Brighton & Hove’s ground-breaking LGBTQ+ writing festival, comes to Brighton’s Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts on Fri 7 – Sun 9 Oct 2022
Michael Cashman

Joining Winman on The Coast Is Queer’s line-up are Huw Lemmey and Ben Miller, authors of Bad Gays: A Homosexual History, which is published by Verso 2022 and based on their hugely popular podcast series. New for this year is Pushcart Prize-winning author, Julia Armfield, whose novel Our Wives Under The Sea was published to anonymous critical acclaim, and in-demand novelist, screenwriter and journalist Juno Dawson (pictured at top) returns with another edition of her Lovely Trans Literary Salon. A consistent part of the festival, this year it meets Travis Alabanza – who was recently recognised as “one the world’s brightest young stars” in Forbes 30under30 list – whose new title None of the Above was published last month.

Another highlight of this year is activist, actor and politician Michael Cashman CBE, who was one half of the first gay kiss in a British soap. “He’s written a memoir which is really interesting. It’s very important to me that people know about what’s come before.” A founder member of Stonewall and Member of the House of Lords, his extraordinary life of campaigning and trailblazing is described with brutal honesty in his 2020 memoir, One of Them. Also receiving a warm welcome is Tice Cin, author of the thriller Keeping The House, a canny, intriguing take on the North London heroin trade, and Shola von Reinhold, who discusses their breakout debut, LOTE, a decadent queer interrogation of the removal and obscurement of Black historical figures. Adding to the packed program is Jon Ransom whose distinctive prose has won wide praise in his debut novel The Whale Tattoo and Elizabeth Chakrabarty, whose first novel, Lessons in Love and Other Crimes, was inspired by the author’s own experiences of hate crime.

The Coast Is Queer, Brighton & Hove’s ground-breaking LGBTQ+ writing festival, comes to Brighton’s Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts on Fri 7 – Sun 9 Oct 2022
Leone Ross – by Hayley Benoit

Wood says curating the festival takes a significant amount of research and reading. She liaises with independent publishers, and David Sheppeard from Marlborough Productions is very involved with the performance side of things. “We’re trying to be as broad as we possibly can. The biggest problem is fitting everyone in, because there are a lot of very good LGBTQ writers out there.” In its short life, the festival has done a sterling job of presenting both high-profile and emerging writers who resonate with audiences. The last festival saw them book the much-celebrated Douglas Stewart – four days before he won the Booker Prize.

I raise the question of if there’s still a vital need for specialist LGTBQ sections in libraries and bookshops, when so many writers are being absorbed by the mainstream. Wood says, broadly, it’s positive that they still exist. “It’s good for people to find their niche interest relatively easily. Being able to look at a bookshelf and the variety that’s there, you’re likely to be able to find what you need. There are many, many books in the world, so anything which helps you find your interest is a good thing. It’s also good for LGBT writers to have their work reach that audience.” There’s so much competition for writers in getting their work seen and heard. The mechanisms for promoting books are far from simple, particularly if these are being distributed by smaller publishers. Unless you’ve got lots of money to have your book sat on one of the tables by a bookshop’s door, then there’s a lot of luck involved.

The pandemic has seen the retail sector look at itself in new ways, and bookshops are no different. Many independent outlets are realising the value of building a community around themselves. “We’re blessed with independent bookshops in Brighton. We’ve seen three open in the last two years. They’re doing a fantastic job.” This year The Coast Is Queer collaborates with The Feminist Bookshop, and during its first year City Books were involved. Both stores are brilliant examples of how the industry can support local writers and develop audiences with events like workshops and talks.

The core aim of The Coast Is Queer is to develop community amongst creatives using a range of methods. The festival’s new venue, the Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts, is going to be a perfect home for what they’re trying to achieve. “We’ll be having things going on in three or four areas, pretty much all weekend. The staff there are fantastic, they’re so helpful and fun.” Following the online edition of this flagship UK festival of LGBTQ+ writing last year, Wood is not averse to producing hybrid events in the future, opening the festival up to viewers from all over the world.

The Coast Is Queer, Brighton & Hove’s ground-breaking LGBTQ+ writing festival, comes to Brighton’s Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts on Fri 7 – Sun 9 Oct 2022
Elizabeth Chakrabarty – by Jason Keith sml

Interaction with audiences demonstrates that writers are just people. “Especially if young people are interested in writing,” says Wood. “They can see it’s not some unattainable and unreal thing. By the nature of their industry, writers spend a lot of time on their own. She offers a comparison, learned from her time working in the music industry. “You can write a song and if doesn’t work, it’s only three minutes worth. If you write a book and nobody like it, that’s a year and half.” So, establishing a connection with your readers, and a wider community with publishers and book-sellers, is increasingly important for writers.

This shift in attitudes towards audiences and festivals like The Coast Is Queer is slowly bringing about a democratisation of the publishing industry. Things are changing, but many of the gatekeepers are still the usual suspects. There are endless stories about people of colour being told there’s already a book by ‘a black person’. Or that they’re ‘not black enough’, and not telling the story that people expect. “It’s the same with LGBT writers. If you end up with an industry controlled by heterosexual, middle-class, white, young, and in publishing, quite often women, then you’re going to get a certain perspective. I’m not suggesting those people have evil intent. It’s just what you know is what you know.”

It’s why small publishers and these festivals, and organisations like New Writing South or Marlborough Productions, who support and encourage new, emerging and established creatives from diverse communities, are vitally important. They’re nimble and innovative enough to platform new experiences and encourage fresh approaches to work. By enabling participation in overlooked segments of the industry, they can help us all better understand the world around us and embrace new ways of thinking.

The Coast Is Queer comes to Brighton’s Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts on Fri 7 – Sun 9 Oct 2022

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