Lives of Literary Lesbians in the WSJ

I was very pleased to discover that the Wall Street Journal’s Five Best: Lives of Literary Lesbians leads with my book The Trials of Radclyffe Hall.

No Modernism Without Lesbians launch video

Publication day

Hardly a propitious time for publication but confined to home and with all else cancelled I was very pleased to see finished copies. And the finished book does look lovely: photos integrated into the text, and the green cover, white boards and purple endpapers the colours of the suffragettes. I like the purple ribbon, to keep the page. The expertise and thoughtfulness of a lot of people goes into making a book.

Countdown to Publication #8

No Modernism Without Lesbians is the definite title of my next book. 2 April 2020 is the publication date, Head of Zeus the publisher. The jacket has been approved and passed and I must learn to love it as much as others say they do. There was lots of interest in the book at the Frankfurt Book Fair, so Georgina, my agent, says. Photographs are being researched – there is an allocation of 40 – and the manuscript is with the copy editor who I hope will not have a comma fetish. I share Gertrude Stein’s disdain for commas question marks and exclamation marks. I suppose house style will put me in my place.

For days I have struggled with references citations and justifications and all the end-of-book parings and detritus. I know everything comes from somewhere and there’s no such place as nowhere, but…. it’s like looking under the bed and in all the cupboards. I’m insufficiently methodical, have a rubbish memory and have never enjoyed this accounting business.

This will be my fourteenth book. I used to think I’d like to write six. Now I’d like to write just one more. Maybe two.

Countdown to Publication #7

I’m to meet the editor before I leave for Lesbos. She has read the book again and has lots of ideas to discuss ‘organisational, presentation things…. making sure we keep track of all the wonderful people who come in and out of the book, and making sure it’s cohesive in narrative and theme….We should talk about the title too. The central message of it is right, but it might not convey just what an enjoyable read the book is… I don’t anticipate much editing as the writing is so clear, as well as funny and beautiful.’

I so welcome this attention and nurture – this discernment, thoughtfulness, encouragement and care. It sort of makes me glow inside. It almost – almost – makes me feel I might have done something well. I’d half like to leave the book here – the illusion of a pearl in an oyster shell, without prising it out, without the razzmatazz of publication – too many books, the spotlight glare, being found wanting, being found out…. Hey ho and O well. Writing is what I do and without that who am I.

International Eressos Women’s Festival

If you’re heading for Greece and the 2019 International Eressos Women’s Festival on Lesbos from 7 – 21 September watch out for these events:

Lesbian Biography Discussion Panel

Sunday 15 September, 18:30 Skala Eressos Town Hall

Diana Souhami · Jill Gardiner · Alison Child

Lesbian Biography Discussion Panel

Women in Media panel Q&A

Tuesday 17 September, 18:00 The Budda Bar, overlooking the Aegean Sea.

Valerie Milano, editor Hollywood Times · Rachel Potter, documentary film maker · Clare Hand, freelance journalist · Tzeli Hadjidimitrou, writer, film maker, photographer · Diana Souhami

International Eressos Women’s Festival

Johnson and Dyson

Boris Johnson and QE II

What gets me about this photo, more than the cringing obsequy of an untrustworthy self-serving man, is the offence of a Dyson hot + cool fan heater in the hearth. What’s it doing there? Surely our queen did not choose it. It costs £549. Cosi-glo electric coals would be more in keeping with her decor.

I had a Dyson vacuum cleaner. It played up and I chucked it. Never thought much of it. I now have a Henry for a fraction of the price. I am entirely satisfied with my Henry which I recommend to the queen. You switch it on and you switch it off. You wind in the cord with a handle. The dust bag never seems to need changing. It sucks up like no cleaner has ever sucked up before.

A Henry

I don’t trust Dyson any more than Johnson. Another self-aggrandising Brexiteer over-feathering his nest. He has moved his business to Singapore and bought a £44 million penthouse there for him and Lady Deirdre.

James Dyson’s Singapore apartment

Mind you imagine the punishment of sitting lined up on those sofas staring at the plate glass while someone tinkles ‘Home Home On the Range’ on the Steinway.

Where the Deer and the Antelope Play
Where Seldom is Heard
A Discouraging Word
And the Skies Are Not Cloudy All Day

You’d need those blankets to put over your head. And a Henry for diversion.

Meanwhile we are stuck here in Little England, our European passports threatened, witness to all we know to be wrong. The thesis of my latest book is ‘Throw Over Your Man’. Read it please if it ever reaches the shelves. It’s truly past time for women to guide us in a different direction.

Countdown to Publication #6

And now an email from the editor:

I’m reading and making too many notes as I want to do a good delivery report to get everyone fired up and wanting to read it. I’m enjoying it even a little too much I think, so lingering overlong in some sections. It’s so so beautifully written…

Another gush of short-lived elation for me. The old saw has it that pride comes before a fall.

Countdown to Publication #5

Not a word from editor or publisher. It’s been two weeks now. This is more dispiriting than a hangover. Not even ‘I can’t open the attachment’, or ‘Don’t worry I printed it out and it’s in the shredder’. Nothing. Not a peep.

Oh well, I tell myself, there are too many books and editors are busy people. there may well be a good reason why I haven’t heard. Life is far more important than art.

Meanwhile each day I turn out a cupboard. Yesterday it was shoes. Never again will I wear an uncomfortable shoe. What vanity made me buy those heels. Today it will be kitchen shelves: herbs and spices. The paprika has turned beige and the cumin is best before 2014.

Countdown to Publication #4

We drank champagne in Café Monico in Leicester Square. One glass of champagne’s fine, but it’s a wicked drink for a hangover – something about carbon dioxide in the bubbles leading to rapid absorption of alcohol into the blood stream. Or so I read in the Daily Mail.

Countdown to Publication #3

9.57 a.m Another e from agent. ‘Soooo LOVE the book. Wish I had been there. What a time! What cool girls. Can’t wait to discuss at lunch. Another wonderful book. With love and admiration.’

Two hours of elation.

Wanted to boast but boasting never goes down well. Not many people love you enough to want to hear puffery stuff. I boasted a bit. Not unduly, but a bit. I WhatsApped the writers with whom day after day for what feels like forever I have sat in the book stacks of the London Library in St James’s Square. It’s a wonderful library. For us all it’s better than working from home – home is a place for distraction and procrastination – deadheading the geraniums and grooming the cat. We are a supportive group. Not friends exactly but rather like a team. Anyway I sent a WhatsApp text:

11.15 a.m. ‘And now I’ve had such a wonderful email from G. that I dare almost to feel for a moment pleased. Hope I can buy you all a drink.’

Countdown to Publication #2

11.34 a.m. Email from agent: ‘I begun it last night. I am gonna love this.’ She suggested lunch dates. We agreed a date 3 weeks away. ‘You just write so well’ she e’d. Now what writer doesn’t want to hear that…

Ten minutes of elation.

Countdown to Publication #1

11.55 a.m. Sent manuscript as Word email attachment to agent and editor. About a year overdue. ( ‘My agent’, ‘my editor’, ‘my publisher’ smacks of entitlement: my solicitor, valet, gardener, cleaner, cook and wife. All mine.) Kept message brief: ‘I hope this converts OK to a Word attachment. I use Pages’. Held back on explanation or apology. Don’t show weakness or vulnerability.

12.03. Agent e’d receipt : ‘Wonderful!’

12.17. Editor e’d receipt: ‘Wonderful’. I pondered absence of exclamation mark. Did that mean it wasn’t a wonderful thing to receive. Possibly. Did it mean it was unwanted. That was an extrapolation too far.

12.30. Opened Sent attachment. Just to check what I’d pinged into the ether. Oh dear. Not what I thought I’d sent. A hotch potch of typefaces, line breaks and hyphenation, sprawling headings, blank pages. A mess of a manuscript. Technology can be vicious.

12.33.Redelivered attachment with equally laconic unapologetic email: ‘I notice formatting doesn’t kick in with the shift from a Pages to a Word document. I’m sending you the Pages version hoping you can read from that.’ Not a cool start, I thought. Not cool at all. I’d be better off with a typewriter or a pencil, I’m not of this age.

12.39. Agent emailed ‘OK!’

Nothing from publisher

Another Book

2 april 2020 is the projected publication date for my new book. Head of Zeus is the publisher. Modernism Would Not Have Happened Without Lesbians is the working title. I don’t know what the final title will be. I’ve suggested: Not the Paris of Our Fathers: Four Lesbians and Modernism. The publisher seems to favour No Modernism Without Lesbians. I wonder about  Lesbians Galore in 4 volumes, this being the first. ‘Don’t worry about the title’ the editor said over lunch on Friday 3 May. ‘We’ll sort that later.’ But it’s not sorted yet.

Cavell Nurses’ Trust

My biography of Edith Cavell led to my being invited to be patron of heritage for the Cavell Nurses’ Trust. This charity helps nurses who hit on hard times because of illness or impoverished retirement. One of Edith Cavell’s ambitions was for such provision for nurses.

Read more about the Cavell Nurses’ Trust

Past Events

Polari Salon at the Bradford Festival of Literature

The Hideout, Sunbridge Wells, Millergate, BD1 1SD

Sunday, 3 July 2022 · 6:00 pm to 7:15 pm

I’ll be at the next Polari Salon, along with Jill Nalder, Paul Burston and Adam Lowe.

Polari Literary Salon

Journeys to the Grave: Radclyffe Hall

BBC Radio 3

Monday, 13 June 2022 · 10:45 to 11:00 a.m.

I will be presenting this programme, about a visit to Radclyffe Hall’s tomb in Highgate Cemetery on Radio 3. I also have a minor role in Gateways Grind with Sandi Toksvig which will be out on BBC 4 and iPlayer on 21 June.

[ Read More ]

Warwick Words History Festival

Lord Leycester Hospital, 60 High Street, Warwick CV34 4BH

Sunday, 11 October 2020 · 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.

Warwick Words History Festival 2020

Polari Salon with Paul Burston

Southbank Centre

Friday, 31 July 2020 · 7:15 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Diana Souhami returns to Paul Burston’s LBGTQ+ literary salon to talk about No Modernism Without Lesbians.

No Modernism Without Lesbians

Five Leaves Bookshop, 14A Long Row, Nottingham NG1 2DH

Wednesday, 10 June 2020 · 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

More information at the Five Leaves Bookshop website

Modernism Probably Wouldn’t Have Happened Without Lesbians in Paris

The British Library, 96 Euston Road, London NW1 2DB

Friday, 1 May 2020 · 7:15 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Diana Souhami in conversation with Afshan D’Souza Lodhi about No Modernism Without Lesbians.

More information and booking at the British Library website

No Modernism Without Lesbians

Second Shelf Bookshop, 14 Smith’s Court, Soho, London W1D 7DW

Thursday, 9 April 2020 · 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Email: for further information

Talk Radio: Badass Woman’s Hour

Saturday, 4 April 2020 · 7 p.m to 7.45 p.m.

A live interview with Diana Souhami about her new book, No Modernism Without Lesbians.

No Modernism Without Lesbians

The Feminist Bookshop, 48 Upper North Street, Brighton BN1 3FH

Friday, 3 April 2020 · 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Email: for further information

No Modernism Without Lesbians launch event

Gay’s The Word Bookshop, 66 Marchmont Street, London WC1N 1AB

Thursday, 2 April 2020 · 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Email: for further information

Ladies of the Left Bank

Wiltons Music Hall, Graces Alley, London E1 8JB

Wednesday, 5 July 2017 · 7:30 p.m.

Paris between the wars was a hotbed of radical female experience, with Gertrude Stein, HD, Djuna Barnes and Mina Loy regrafting identity through the language of feminism and sexual politics. Lisa Dwan, Prudence Chamberlain, Peggy Reynolds and Diana Souhami will celebrate the great poetry of this cohort, the role of their sexuality in shaping Modernism, and their radical feminist perspectives.

Modernism Wouldn’t Have Happened Without Lesbians

The MAC, Belfast

Saturday, 25 March 2017 · 12:30 p.m.

Another scheduled talk by me: part of ‘Imagine! The Belfast Festival of Ideas and Politics’ taking place 20-26 March 2017 in Belfast.

The Artist Gluck “no prefix suffix or quotes” and Other Notable Lesbians

Redmonds Lecture Theatre, John Moores University, Liverpool L3 5UG

Friday, 3 March 2017 · 6 p.m.

I will give this talk. It’s the 3rd Allan Horsfall Lecture, sponsored by the Campaign for Homosexual Equality in honour of its founder. The event is free but booking is essential.

Tales of Hidden Heroes: Lesbians and Modernism

University Centre, Shrewsbury

Friday, 17 February 2017 · 6.15 p.m.

I will give this talk at the Shrewsbury LGBT History Festival

Gluck, Radclyffe Hall, Violet Trefusis and other Notable Lesbians

Exeter Phoenix, Exeter

Sunday, 12 February 2017 · 4.30 p.m.

I will give this keynote lecture at the Exeter LGBT History Festival.

Forbidden Lives

Unity Theatre, Liverpool

Thursday, 3 November 2016

Join author Diana Souhami (The Trials of Radclyffe Hall, Mrs Keppel and Her Daughter), Nigerian activist and asylum seeker Aderonke Apata, The Rt Hon. The Baroness Barker and intersex lesbian activist Valentino Vecchietti as they discuss forbidden lesbian and bi women’s lives from the past to the present with DIVA editor Jane Czyzselska.

International Nurses Day

Salford Health Centre

Thursday, 12 May 2016

The naming event featured talks by Diana Souhami, who wrote a biography of Edith Cavell, and Dr Claire Chatterton of the Open University, who is chair of the Royal College of Nursing’s History of Nursing Society.

Polari Soho Special

The Light Lounge, 1 Newport Place, London, WC2H 7JR

Monday, 11 April 2016 · 6 p.m.

London’s award-winning LGBT literary salon goes back to its Soho roots with this special event for London Book Fair. Hosted by Paul Burston with readings from author Diana Souhami, playwright and actor Alexis Gregory, poet and spoken word performer Keith Jarrett and author and comedian VG Lee. Cocktails and chat from 6 p.m. Readings from 7 p.m., with a bookstall kindly provided by Gay’s The Word.