Feeling Bold

A day out at the Bold Strokes Books LGBT Literature Festival.

The Bold Strokes Books festival has always seemed intriguing. I’d seen reports about it in BCN past but when I remembered it, it was always either far off or turned out to be three weeks ago.

Back in the 1990s there was the York Lesbian Arts Festival, which was largely a lesbian literature festival, and the frequently biphobic insularity of 1990s lesbian spaces put me off going – but the world has moved on since then and BSB promises a weekend of LGBT lit instead. Gotta be a better bet. Which left one question: I’m a reader, sure, but am I enough of a reader to enjoy this? Only one way to find out, by giving it a whirl.

It’s held in a function room at a branch of Waterstones, and the way in is set just past their LGBT book display. There’re a lot of queer books on show: not being local I don’t know if this is the bookshop putting on a bit more of a display because of what is going on, but there is a pleasing mishmash of stuff and lots of trans representation as well as a smattering of bi books.

Into the festival and I’m surprised at the size of things – this is the tenth year and by lunchtime there are about forty people there. From the size of space they have booked (no pun intended) it seems that is about normal for the event, which like an inverse Tardis had always seemed bigger from the outside.

There are a few tables packed with books and a few authors are on hand to sign things; the programme itself offers a series of themed panels.

I’m in that somewhat awkward situation of having never read anything by any of the speakers. And it is fascinating hearing about lesbian lit subculture. But…

Maybe I was just unlucky in my choice of panels but whenever it felt like we were about to tip over into the rest of the alphabet soup the panels stepped back. A question from another attendee about bi representation within a genre got passed to a couple of panellists but entertainingly the one panellist who had previously publicly identified as bisexual in interviews – Both Ways author Ileandra Young – was passed over in favour of her fellow speakers.

One of the things I’ve seen a lot of bis talk about is going to “LGBT” things where it turns out the acronym would be better spelled “GGGG” – cos everything is about gay men except the use of the term LGBT. Bold Strokes festival offered a different experience: the “LLLL” spelling.

Life got in the way and I didn’t make it to the second day. Perhaps it was different; if you were there, do tell.


BCN issue 156 cover

This first appeared in BCN magazine issue 156, July/August 2019.