Gay's The Word bookshop in Bloomsbury was full to bursting in
anticipation of V G Lee reading an excerpt from her new book Always
You, Edina. A quick panic arose in me as I struggled to find a seat
amongst the keen literary fans and the recognisable hush had
descended before I sat down. Someone called 'Clare' seemed to be
sitting in my seat of choice near-ish the front (but not *too*
near). The 'Clare' in question was actually none other than Clare
Summerskill, lesbian comedienne, who I then secretly ogled for the
next half an hour or so.
V G Lee or 'Val' as she was referred to by Uli, our host for the
night and events manager at Gay's The Word, needed little
introduction before reading an excerpt from her new book Always
You, Edina. Described by Sarah Waters as 'A real treat of a novel',
the book circles around Bonnie, a pre-teen living in 1960s Britain
in a working class family where money is tight and the
relationships are constantly evolving and complex.
Val told us that the novel was partly autobiographical and is set
in Small Heath in Birmingham where she spent the first five years
of her life. You could see that Valerie's kind and warm nature and
in particular her humour seeped through into the excerpt she was
reading as the astute and rambunctious Bonnie trawls through jumble
sales and white elephants to feed her new obsession with 'finding
woolens'. Dressed in black velvet and a golden threaded scarf
Valerie revealed that the title character in the book, Edina, is
Bonnie's aunt and Bonnie spends much of her time with Edina or
'Ed's' daughter Susan whilst also idolising Joanna Bayliss, the
most popular girl in her school.
Val explained to the audience that how on her 60th birthday she
decided to become a stand-up comedienne and to perform 60 gigs. 60
soon turned into 90 and she received much acclaim on the circuit
even becoming a runner up in the Hackney Empire's New Act of the
Year competition 2010 and appearing twice at Edinburgh, although
did admit that particularly macho, male audiences tend to hate her.
Her natural humour was obvious to everyone present as she charmed
us all with her beautiful and visual writing and her quietly
confident responses to an audience Q+A.
When asked how contemporary young people could relate to Bonnie
and her story she responded that Bonnie could really be born in any
age and like all of us is just seeking approval, searching for role
models and has needs and wants which are universal to many.
Always You, Edina is out now and available from divadirect.co.uk