Drill Hall, London's premier venue for gay, lesbian and queer performing arts, to see Patrick Gale perform his short story 'Wig'. After some consideration I wore my new post-triathlon skinny jeans and a mushroom-pink crumpled shirt: perfect, with the delightful Mrs Botogol on my arm, I reckoned I could pass for bi. Mrs B told me to grow up and behave myself.
I first read one of Patrick Gale's novels in about 1991 when I noticed Amistead Maupin's enthusiastic endorsement on the cover and I have been an avid fan ever since. I find his novels engrossing to point of total immersion. Breaking every hour or so from Rough Music, or Friendly Fire for a glass of cold rosé (both books read in straight-sittings in shady corners of villa-gardens in the heat of continental summers) I felt like I was coming up for air after two lengths underwater. His books are witty, clever, touching and troubling.
Mind you, I read five of them before I realised that they they were gay fiction. Until I started reading the Guardian I had innocently imagined they were simply novels which happened to have gay people in them. I realise now I underestimated the power of the genre, the category, the pigeon-hole. See: if his novels aren't gay-fiction, how would they be marketed?
Anyway, gay fiction or not, there's no doubt that he Drill Hall is a gay venue. Reader, it has a different atmosphere from the Ambassadors' Theatre in Richmond, the normal dramatic haunt of Mrs B and myself, of a Friday evening. But not really because the audience is gayer, that made no difference - it reminded me of countless other theatres, up and down the land.. but because it was younger. What a great thing it is to live in a city, so many places, so many events.
Wig is a tightly constructed modern fairytale: an impressionable shopper purchases a strange, magical item from a mysterious, itinerant seller with a lugubrious manner and simian fingers, who can see into her heart. She buys not a handful of magic beans, nor a battered lamp, nor a picture, and nor a wand of holly containing the tail-feather of a phoenix with a pedigree, but a wig. A blonde wig made from human hair, a wig with a power to transform, not just the appearance (though that it does of course, rendering the lucky Wanda immediately unrecognisable to her friend) but more importantly it transforms the heart.
The story is about becoming, it's about identity and the extent to which we are defined and shaped by the opinions of our partners, and it's about loneliness and it's about power. It has a snappy ending as well.
Described as a 'performance' rather than a reading, it featured an eerie soundtrack and transitions of scene and mood were signalled by Gale, dressed in white shirt and positively rustic jeans, changing position on the stage: he stood, he sat, he faced us, he faced away.
I mock, but it was surprisingly effective.
After the performance I bought a book, as is traditional, and joined the queue to have it signed. It's strange to meet in the flesh a novelist whose novels you know very well, especially one with a set of books as autobiographical as Gale's, such that you can't help but feeling you know the person, as well as the books. It's an illusion of course. It's akin to encountering a cyber-friend, previously known only on the net. You know who they are, but you don't know what they are like.
I remarked that I enjoyed his novels. They all say that. I remarked that Friendly Fire is my favourite. They don't all say that (Rough Music is his best book, and Friendly Fire didn't sell so well) 'It was the cover' he blurted, 'the cover wasn't right'. I sympathised - I never liked that picture either.
The bar was hot, it was crowded, and the tables were too close together. It was also fun. We stayed for another glass of wine.
In one of Gale's stories his protagonist is asked if her tales are autobiographical 'Lord, no', she replies, 'I don't think you can put real happenings into fiction. Not without toning them down'.
It's the same with a blog.