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Following titles from Maz Hedgehog, Kenya Sterling and James Hodgson, Caleb Everett’s new book THE MOSTON DIARIES is the fourth in this exciting series. We met up with the author to find out about his life and words, and the true meaning of camp literature.
With special thanks to Caleb, and to Adam Lowe for his wonderful supportive endeavours for the writers of Manchester.
In the extremely unlikely event that Kenneth Williams and Violet Carson bore a child, their offspring might have been blessed with the combination of camp wit, turn-of-phrase and a knack for character analysis (or character assassination) that the writer Caleb Everett is blessed with.
His memoir The Moston Diaries (hopefully the first of many) looks back over the author’s recent adventures as penniless North Manchester playboy and Canal Street veteran with joyful honesty and a brutal eye for detail.
“Camp is a lifelong pose that treats the act of boarding a bus like it’s the QE2.”
A wise old queen once said, “It’s being so camp as keeps us going!” and the time-honoured gay lingua franca of camp – as both delivery and manner, as armour and weapon – is exemplified beautifully in Everett’s hilarious book.
If camp is “to treat a serious thing frivolously, and a frivolous thing seriously” you will find both in abundance in these tall tales of laughter, debauchery and survival. Or as Everett himself writes, “Camp is a lifelong pose that treats the act of boarding a bus like it’s the QE2.”
There are also moments of real tenderness that punctuate the narratives, including friendship, lost love, bereavement, disappointment, thwarted dreams, and family, both blood and chosen.
Hello Caleb. There’s a certain droll and delightfully self-deprecating cadence in your words, but also a sense of the fabulous, which brings to mind diverse writers like Alan Bennett, the Kenny Williams diaries, Truman Capote, Gore Vidal and Victoria Wood. Do you have influences?
All the odd sods on that list have impacted, in one way or another, but it’s also the gut-wrenching moments of surviving which influence me. Of course the happiness of life influences – laughing with friends, holding an almost mythical lover, hearing two queens argue about Jane McDonald on a coach to Blackpool – but the struggles of living are just as important. Certainly grief.
There’s a huge ‘stigma’ around proudly talking about influences which aren’t about feeling pant-shittingly wonderful. The awfulness of life is a huge part of life and should be a huge part of Art. Indeed it is an enormous part of the very best Art.
Nobody can listen to Bowie’s Berlin Trilogy and believe it came from a time of happiness. He owned his hardships with those records. There’s no pity-me quality to them.
“I seem to have a preference for dead artists, as they rarely disappoint on Twitter.”
I was also always fascinated by those individuals whose lack of bodily contact crafted their tongues into cacti. Where sexual repressions created wit; individuals such as Dorothy Parker, Clifton Webb and Kenneth Williams.
Then, there’s blues music. That’s never left me and informs a great deal of my scribbles. There’s a performative but private quality to it that excites the writer of me. I don’t think anything written about loss has bettered the song ‘Death Letter’ by Son House.
Which writers do you love?
I seem to have a preference for dead artists, as they rarely disappoint on Twitter. I like a lot of Ivy Compton-Burnett, Dennis Cooper (though not dead) is deliciously deadly, and most of The Beat writers… though the list really is as long as a Coldplay album feels.
My love for Jean Genet and Oscar Wilde know no bounds. I read Wilde as a child, Genet as a teenager and then my mind exploded into a blaze of mental debauchery. However it was mental debauchery only – my life was still a living Anita Brookner novel with the cardigans to prove it.
I also enjoy the writers of Chat Magazine. Every line drips with Armageddon drama, a total disregard for detail and a teacup British humour… The writers are straight out of the mind of a HP Lovecraft. The headlines alone are just too, too funny. I think my favourite was, “Scalped! Over an episode of Emmerdale!”
Are the glory days of camp behind us?
Dragging our kitten heels through Covid-1984, it really feels as if the glory of days are behind us.
Camp no longer exists as an Art form but it’s still a force of nature and has found other ways to exist. It always will. When we talk about camp, we’re talking about an old secret club, filled with its own language and eyebrow-arched nuances. They’re now in the public domain, which is seen by some as a terrible thing, by others as a good thing. For me it’s simply a thing. I’m not an antiques dealer angry that young queens in the Hebrides don’t know the ins-and-outs of Polari.
But yes, the glory days of camp are in the past. Camp can now pass as that dreary Met Gala event a few years ago, where Harry Styles in nail varnish meant camp. It wasn’t, it was gleaned glamour. Had Su Pollard turned up in ruffles that would have been camp. Still, we can’t lament the past… we end up in a revolving door of dusty memories constantly screeching “What would Judy do?!”
What do we lose when we lose a camp sensibility?
Our best survival strategy.
Civilisation is obviously coming to an end and we’re simply human detritus blowing in the wind. We can all feel the shepherd’s crook reaching, from stage left, to grab us by the neck and drag us off to join the dodo. Camp will, at least, have us singing Shirley Bassey until it ends.
Your family are such a warm, loving and hilarious presence in this book, whereas most gay memoirs consign family to the suburban dustbin in Chapter 2. Can you say more?
Writers treat family life like a Trojan Horse. They sharpen their quills until they’ve got greying temples, then the score settling with the dead begins. I always labour under the illusion that I won’t live very long so I write what I want now. Hopefully at some point there will be a larger memoir, away from diaries, that will cover life in autopsy detail, for those interested.
There’s a great deal more to be written about my Grandparents and Great Aunt. They were remarkable people and there are tales to be screeched. I miss them dearly, but they’re still with me. As the director Pasolini said, “It’s not that the dead stop talking, it’s that we stop listening.”
I’m closer to my parents these days than I ever have been. My dad is an actor, specialising in being a pantomime dame, and my mum works in care. If it’s true that you turn into your parents I’ll either end up with an atrocious taste in frocks … or I’ll turn into my mum.
Your writing insists on the importance of giving the gay world a working-class voice. Do you feel like homosexuality has been somewhat gentrified?
Definitely. ‘Working class’ has become a very dirty term but some of us still have to hunt out the reduced-price yellow labels in Tesco.
There are people who think glamour borne from a working-class background is deeply unsettling. The working class manner isn’t tentative. Loudly mention having beans-on-toast for tea in a gay cocktail bar and watch the clientele wilt like wet socks.
Your friendship with iconic poet and playwright Gerry Potter looms large in this volume and in many ways your writing can be read as a love letter to gay friendship, is that right?
I’d not thought of The Moston Diaries like that but yes, I think you’re right. As a teenager my social life existed in the Sahara, so friendships have become very important to me. We have all placed too much emphasis on coupling and nesting. If it happens it happens, but an argumentative shopping-spree around IKEA isn’t for all of us.
“Boredom is my worst fear in life.”
As for Gerry and I, in particular, we’re often considered ‘The Two-Headed Hairdryer’ because we’ve spent enough time simply thinking about the world beyond our nostrils. That isn’t to say we feel as if we are billeted at the Algonquin Round Table throwing up bon mots; in fact we can often be found in a grotty gay bar with poppers stapled to our nostrils, eyes facing different sides of the continent, howling over our (printable) nicknames of ‘Aldi Tanner’ and ‘Una Stubbles’.
The times we share are never boring. Boredom is my worst fear in life. Fundamentally Gerry and I have the most special of friendships, and his work also happens to be very, very good because, unlike so many poets, he doesn’t write as if he were already dead.
Who should we recommend your book to?
To those who were anti-social and totally distant before lockdown.
You can order a copy of Caleb Everett’s The Moston Diaries here…