Without any kind of plan I found myself, a few years ago, working in independent publishing. It was simply a case of being around to the point where it was easier to ask me to do some stuff in exchange for a few quid, I think. It is, of course, a book lover’s dream to actually play a small part in their creation. It’s connected me to a lovely bunch of novelists, short story writers, biographers, poets and performance poets.
I’d been chatting to writers on stage for a while before that, at Hull’s literature festival Humber Mouth, and then the BBC’s Contains Strong Language. Some of us are crazy enough to enjoy having a conversation with authors in front of people.
This week, I got the chance to chat to David Hodge, whose autobiography The Boy Who Sat By the Window: The Story of the Queen of Soho was published by Ad Lib in early September, in front of a small and friendly gathering down at Wrecking Ball.
David’s excellent book is one of contradictions. It’s funny and moving. Gossipy and intimate. Sarcastic and thoughtful. It documents wild hedonism and loneliness. It’s a romp, at times, at others it’s a very sad story.
David was the highest earning drag act in the UK for some time, the Very Miss Dusty O the premiere drag personality of London’s clubland. He earned a load of money and reinvested it in wardrobes rammed with Vivienne Westwood (a legitimate spend that became of interest to HMRC). His boyhood pin-up Boy George (who provides a foreword) became a mate and he hung out with a roll call of celebrities that included Kylie, Naomi Campbell and Pete Burns, had a disappointing dinner with Madonna, appeared, along with his West Midlands accent, in Gimme Gimme Gimme and was the party around which Soho revolved. Dusty O (originally christened Dusty St. Moritz after David’s favourite smoke) took David around the world. He also spent 8 years working at London Lighthouse at the height of HIV & AIDS. The contrast between day and night couldn’t be wilder.
You never know who you’re going to encounter when you turn up at a venue ahead of an author event. There’s a reason writers write, and often that’s because they are otherwise inarticulate. I was a little worried that David’s sarcasm would collide head on with my own. Shouldn’t have worried. I was met with a big smiling face and a warm handshake. He was, is, a lovely man. Brilliantly chatty from the off, it was like bumping into an old pal. “Nothing’s off limits,” he said to me five minutes before kick-off, agreeing that we should just have a conversation and allow whatever happened to happen. He was brilliantly entertaining, whether reading from the book or sharing his many anecdotes.
The Boy Who Sat By the Window is a fabulous and at times eye-opening read. You may never pull on a pair of Marigold gloves again, which is probably no great loss. What you will gain is a great insight into a life lived to the full. David, now working as a visual artist, has plenty of adventures ahead of him.
I’d encourage you to head into an independent bookshop to buy The Boy Who Sat By the Window but you can also order it online via my virtual bookshop at bookshop.org at the link below.