Polari_PrizeThe shortlist for the 2017 Polari First Book Prize, announced at the Polari Literary Salon at London’s Southbank Centre on 31 July, brings together an eclectic and provocative range of fiction and non-fiction from Cardiff to Kuwait and beyond that throws light on the LGBT experience from surprising angles.

Now in its seventh year, the judging panel for the 2017 prize comprises author, journalist, Polari Literary Salon host and chair Paul Burston, author and former Southbank Head of Literature & Spoken Word Rachel Holmes, literary critic Suzi Feay, author and comedian VG Lee and playwright, actor and producer Alexis Gregory. Their six selections from a 12-strong longlist cover the challenges of a two-mum pregnancy, lesbian gangster revenge on the streets of Manchester, coming out under the yoke of the Arab Spring, a guide to gay happiness, a wild coming-of-age tale in South Wales, and a varied and inventive collection of stories with international settings.


The shortlist

by Saleem Haddad
(Europa Editions)

In a Middle-Eastern capital caught in the revolutionary wave of the Arab Spring, a young man disillusioned with both East and West struggles to find a place for himself in a society ruled by hypocrisy and contradictions. Rasa works as an interpreter for Western journalists by day and divides his nights between the Guapa, an underground nightclub where the city’s clandestine LGBT community congregates, and his secret lover Taymour. Every night Taymour sneaks into the house Rasa shares with his overbearing grandmother, the woman who raised him. When she finds them in bed together on the eve of Taymour’s wedding day, all hell breaks loose.

Saleem Haddad was born in Kuwait City in 1983 to a Lebanese-Palestinian father and an Iraqi-German mother, and was educated in Jordan, Canada, and the United Kingdom. He has worked as an aid worker with Médecins Sans Frontières and other organisations in Yemen, Syria, Libya, Lebanon and Iraq. His writing has appeared in Slate, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and The Daily Beast, among other publications. He lives in London.
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“An explosive debut… as compelling as it is insightful.”


Vegetarian_Tigers_of_ParadiseVegetarian Tigers of Paradise
by Crystal Jeans

A diet of Hammer horror and cake mix has hardened Crissy’s mum’s heart and arteries and even Jehovah can’t bring her into line. She’s never going to be like other mums. One misstep and Crissy is ordered to pack her bags: she’s off to live with Freddy Krueger on the other side of the woods… Vegetarian Tigers of Paradise is a heart-warming, scabrous insight into growing up wild in the 1990s when your family didn’t quite fit in.

Crystal Jeans was born and brought up in Cardiff and lived in Bristol before doing a Creative Writing BA then an MPhil at the University of Glamorgan. She works in a care home, which inspired the poetry collection Just Like That (Mulfran Press, 2011) about dementia. She has been shortlisted for the Bridport Prize, had poetry published by Seren Press, and short stories published by New Welsh Review.
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Fresh, witty, caustic and clever.


We_Go_AroundWe Go Around in the Night and Are Consumed by Fire
by Jules Grant
(Myriad Editions)

Voiced by Donna and her streetwise god-daughter Aurora, this thrillingly original crime novel unfolds at breakneck speed. Lesbian gangster and street poet Donna runs the all-female Bronte Close Gang. Carla, single parent and part-time MC, is her closest friend and trusted second-in-command. Together they carve out an empire in the toughest streets of Manchester. Unlike the city’s other gangs, run by men caught up in violent turf warfare, the women keep their heads down, doing business their way: partying on Canal Street, selling drugs in perfume atomisers in club toilets, and working as cleaners to account for their illegal income. But when Carla is gunned down, everything changes.

Jules Grant is from Manchester. She has an MA in Creative Writing from Birkbeck College, University of London. She worked as a barrister for over twenty years.
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“Brutal, tender and funny.”
Paul McVeigh


Jerusalem_Ablaze_290Jerusalem Ablaze
by Orlando Ortega-Medina
(Cloud Lodge Books)

In Jerusalem’s Old City a young priest and a dominatrix converse in the dying light; on Oregon’s windswept coast a fragile woman discovers a body washed up on the beach after a storm; and in Postwar Japan a young protégé watches his master’s corpse burn, with bitter thoughts blazing in his mind. Jerusalem Ablaze collects thirteen eclectic works of dark fiction, taking the reader from Los Angeles to the eastern townships of Quebec, and from Tokyo to Jerusalem.

Ortega-Medina’s characters are flawed, broken individuals, trying their best to make sense of their lives as they struggle with sexuality, death, obsession, and religion. Bleak, violent, and with dark humour, this major debut explores the imperfections of life and the unpredictability of death.

Orlando Ortega-Medina was born in California and is of Judeo-Spanish descent via Cuba. He studied English Literature at UCLA and has a Juris Doctor law degree from Southwestern University School of Law. Now a British national, he lives in London and practices US immigration law.
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Read ‘The Shovelist’ from Jerusalem Ablaze

“Deliciously dark and dangerous.”
Andrew Crofts


ExpectingExpecting: The Inner Life of Pregnancy
by Chitra Ramaswamy

Having selected a friend of a friend as a donor father, Chitra Ramaswamy had been trying to conceive for 18 months. When she fell pregnant, she and her partner Claire looked in vain for a book that went above and beyond a manual describing what was happening inside her body. Expecting takes the reader on a physical, emotional, philosophical and artistic odyssey. A memoir exploring the full term of Chitra’s pregnancy and the birth of their son, it is a book of intimate, strange, wild and lyrical essays that pay tribute to this most extraordinary and ordinary of experiences.

Chitra Ramaswamy is a journalist who started out at the Big Issue before moving to The Scotsman, where she became one of the newspaper’s leading columnists, book reviewers, interviewers and feature writers. Now a freelancer, Chitra writes regularly for a number of publications, including the Guardian, and often chairs events at festivals and regularly reviews on radio.
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“Immediately, poignantly, gripping… magnificent.”
Zoe Williams, Guardian


Straight Jacket
by Matthew Todd

Straight Jacket is a revolutionary clarion call for gay men, the wider LGBT community, their friends and families. Part memoir, part groundbreaking polemic, it looks beneath the shiny facade of contemporary gay culture and asks if gay people are as happy as they could be – and if not, why not? Meticulously researched, courageous and life-affirming, Straight Jacket offers practical advice for every generation on how to overcome a range of testing issues, transform their experience and get the lives they really want.

Matthew Todd is an author, playwright, stand-up comedian and journalist. Editor of Attitude from 2008 to 2016, he is a regular commentator and speaker on TV and radio and at conferences and events, including the Terrence Higgins Trust HIV Prevention CHAPS conference. He lives in London.
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Winner, Boyz Best LGBT Book 2017


About the prize

The Polari First Book Prize was launched in 2011 and previous winners include Paul McVeigh, Kirsty Logan, Diriye Osman, James Maker and Mari Hannah.

In the midst of a nationwide 10th year anniversary Polari Literary Salon tour, the 2017 winner will be announced at the London Literature Festival at the Southbank Centre on Friday 13 October.

The tour showcases over 80 writers from across the UK. Confirmed names include Val McDermid, Neil Bartlett, Jonathan Harvey, Stella Duffy, Jake Arnott, Paul Flynn, James Maker, Karen McLeod, Matthew Todd, Rosie Garland and Kirsty Logan.



Mark Reynolds is a freelance editor and writer and a founding editor of Bookanista.