LESBIAN SHORTS HELEN SANDLER Diva Book of Short Stories (Millivres £8.95)

Helen Sandler, the editor of The Diva Book of Lesbian Short Stories is pleased. Her collection of 28 stories is the first British fiction ever to win the prestigious Lamda Literary award, America’s biggest lesbian and gay book award. ‘We only knew we had won by checking the Lamda website,’ Sandler giggles.

You can see why the Diva anthology won. It’s a great collection of substantial stories, many of which will inspire you to go on and read more of the individual writer’s work. How easy was the process of choosing the stories, especially with over 300 submissions? ‘It was hard in terms of conscience,’ she says. ‘Lots of the stories had potential, but I didn’t like them enough or think they were good enough for inclusion in the anthology. It is subjective, it’s one person’s choice. I put in the stories that I thought worked, that made me laugh, that I warmed to, that disturbed me, and that were above all, well written.’

Particular highlights of the book are topped by Ali Smith’s masterpiece The Theme is Power about a lesbian and her dad, which merges the past and present and exquisitely captures the minutiae that make up a full life. Irish Emma Donoghue’s caustic study of the relationship between two women and their cat Cleopatra is particularly strong. Sandler herself has written a great short story which became the basis of her second novel The Touch Typist.

Sandler has had an amazing life. She began composing poetry aged 12 at an adult writers’ class in Manchester. She has also written gay male porn under the pseudonym of Jim Hardacre. ‘I just went into a zone in my brain of a dirty gay man obsessed with sex,’ she says. ‘It was very freeing but also had an effect on the rest of my output.’

The Sunday Times felt Sandler’s erotic novel Big Deal was one of the most obscene novels ever published and should be banned from WH Smith. ‘When I first came out I was careful of what I wrote and who saw it,’ she says. ‘I’d worry that men would appropriate it. Now women believe they should reclaim the sexual side of their lives and write about whatever topic they want to. Even stuff that was taboo under stricter feminist guidelines.’

Sandler is at the beginning of the selection process for her second lesbian anthology Groundswell which will be out next autumn. If it’s anything like the first collection, it will be well worth the wait.

Sandler is breaking the taboos of lesbian fiction

I Perfect companions to the short stories are Hen, the lesbian short films which are touring as part of London’s Lesbian and Gay Film Festival (GFT, Glasgow, Tues 16 July; Filmhouse, Edinburgh Fri 19 & Sat 20 Jul). It’s a wacky programme of five films that range from five to twenty-two minutes long.

By far and away the most substantial is the NY indie No, Not Now. Imagine the scenario. You are sitting in a cafe, minding your own business when this beautiful stranger approaches you. They know lots of intimate details about your life, and more amazing, they prophesise a life together with you in the future. Daring and original, it slightly artsy, No, Not Now feels authentic.

So too does Stuck, the seven-minute study of two elderly women whose life partnership falls apart when they run over a girl. To my taste, the other three short

films are either too obscure or don’t have enough ideas.

(John Binnie)



Princes Square, Glasgow, Sun 7 July

'Frank Sinatra is the finest interpreter of the American song.' says Stephen Duffy. His tribute concert Songs for Sin/ingin' Ja//ers runs the whole gamut of Sinatra's styles. though he promises that the songs WI“ be ‘dressed up in very different musical ciothes'.

'Don't come expecting ‘My Way' or 'Strangers in the Night‘.‘ he says. ‘It'll be the classier end of the repertoire'

Duffy is supported by the 18-piece Jo/ Tenqu Big Band, who provided the backing for l-ord Kiernan's comedy vocal album Swmg when you're i/lingin'. Originally from Sighthill. but raised in Erskine. Dufty discovered his love of music at Park Millllf, school, where he taught himself the piano and tuba. His teacher wanted him to train as a classical singer. but it was on hearing lilla l it/gei‘ald that he decided he wanted to he a ia// singer.

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He trained to be an actor while keeping up his singing and is the marketing manager for BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. ‘I'm responsible for leaflets and burns on seats.‘ he says. 'I also get the opportunity to make announcements before the concerts. I walk into a huge recording studio. full of microphones and musicians. and I realise this is what Sinatra did every day.‘

Duffy has proved a big hit at two Glasgay festivals. First he explored the songs of gay composer Cole Porter. and then he compiled a set of music associated with Jazz stars such as Billie Holiday. Carmen McCrae and Miles Davis. Many of the Sinatra standards that Duffy will sing. such as the saloon elegies ‘In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning' or ‘One More for my Baby' are full of heady romance and situations of unrequited love. No doubt the music will strike a resonance for the gay listener. as it (lid when first penned 50 years ago. (John Binnie)

His way is not to do ‘My Way’




Selected release

Kissing Jessica Stein smacks of cashing in on a lesbian audience. but certainly not catering for them. You can‘t help admire the ingenuity of the two actor-writers. Jennifer Westfeldt and Heather Jurgensen. who are best friends in real life. They began doing this piece as an off-off- Broadway sketch. made it into a play. then a screen play and insisted that they themselves perform in the movie version. It's a showcase for the talents of the two women, who are very likeable performers. But why do Westfeldt and Jurgensen repeatedly. publicly insist that they have never kissed women in real life? And that they are both currently going out with long-term boyfriends?

Part time lesbians

Is it because the movie is never real? There's no joy of discovering that you're suddenly attracted to the same sex. There's certainly no lust. Lesbianism. according to Kissing Jessica Stein. doesn‘t involve genitalia. only hand- holding. kissing and snuggling up in bed. And there‘s certainly none of the pain at needing to make a public statement about yOur love.

And of course. as is typical of such movies where characters only dabble in lesbianism. how do you think it ends? Of course: our temporary dyke becomes straight again. Get real.

(John Binnie)