Between the Covers: what's really going on in the world of books


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John Browne’s book The Glass Closet strives, according to its blurb, “to give courage and inspire the LGBT community that despite the risks involved, self-disclosure is best for employees and for the businesses that support them”. A laudable aim. To be fair, Lord Browne does not pretend that he has always been this confident in it.

“I wish I had been brave enough to come out earlier in my tenure as CEO of BP,” he says. “I regret it to this day. I know that if I had done so I would have made more of an impact for other gay men and women.” He’s not kidding. In 2006, when The Independent on Sunday was compiling its annual Pink List – a celebration of Britain’s most influential lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people – a courtesy call was made to BP to make sure its CEO was willing to be mentioned. On the other end of the line, there was a sharp intake of breath, and a pause. “I don’t know what you are suggesting, but it is not in the least appropriate that his name is associated with that article,” said an unnamed spokesman. If we knew who it was, we’d send them a copy of Browne’s book.

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Now it has won or been nominated for a plethora of awards (what is the collective noun for literary awards? A ream? A canape?), Eimear McBride can laugh about early rejections of her novel, A Girl is a Half-formed Thing. Publishers “said my writing was very bold, and brave, but they didn’t know how to sell it,” she said. “It didn’t fit into any niche.” One suggested she sell it as memoir. “They didn’t seem concerned that this hadn’t happened to me. The attitude was, ‘Oh well, some of it’s true’.” 

After the moderate success (outside major cities) of Ukip in the recent elections, it’s good to see that literary London is fighting back. First came news that Paul Burston’s Polari literary salon (“one of the best LGBT events in the world”) has received Arts Council funding and is embarking on a national tour. Then the London Review Bookshop announced an event hosted by four publishers of translated fiction. With crime writers from Poland, Italy, and Bosnia, the free but ticketed event on 11 June is called “More Bloody Foreigners”. We wonder how the people of Russell Square feel about them moving in next door?