Thursday 13 February 2014

Into the rainbow

Walking along Marchmont Street in Bloomsbury one rainy Saturday morning I spotted a bookshop I'd not heard of before.

Ordinarily in such a situation I would rush through the door and excitedly survey my find. On this day I'm ashamed to admit I dithered.

I stood outside the bookshop and thought: "Will it have anything for me?"

Fortunately, this thought lasted no longer than a minute, I stepped through the door of Gay's The Word.

The first thing I noticed upon entering the shop was a wall of fiction, colourful and inviting and sprinkled with names and titles I recognised and/or owned. What better reward for stepping into the unknown than the reassurance of a little familiarity?

Ashamed of my previous ignorant dithering, I decided the sensible thing would be to ask about the books on display. The friendly bookseller explained this was the gay fiction, elsewhere were sections for lesbian and transgender readers, with non-fiction all together.

As we stood and chatted - comparing favourite reads and me making the most of the opportunity for recommendations - I learnt just how broad the genre of gay fiction is.

Scanning the shelves there were many books that - whether from ignorance, naivety or a focus elsewhere - I'd missed the interpretation of a scene or relationship. Then there were those included simply because the author's other works were stocked, not forgetting the many excellent gay authors to be read - there was no shortage of variety.

Wandering around the rest of the bookshop there was all manner of gay subject matter in a wide and varied non-fiction section. Ranging from politics and history to how to come out to your parents, there were a lot of topics covered for the serious reader.
Looking for something more easily accessible I naturally gravitated towards the fiction, discovering the lesbian shelves to be just as varied and fascinating as the men's.

In fact, so appealing were all the books, and so excellent the recommendations, that I again found myself breaking my one book rule and buying two: Patrick Gale's A perfectly good man, and Fannie Flagg's Fried green tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe - who hasn't watched and loved the film?

As the UK's first (and, sadly, last) lesbian and gay bookshop, Gay's The Word's website explains: "We are proudly independent and very much see ourselves as the friendly and non-judgemental safe space of the gay scene. We are a straight-friendly, gay-family business."

Which was very much confirmed during my visit. I lost track of how long I happily chatted with the bookseller, who was obviously very good at both the book and human side of his job, and I thoroughly enjoyed my time in the bookshop.

Given this warm and typically bookshop-ish welcome, and considering the controversy surrounding Russia's anti-gay laws and the attention the Sochi Winter Olympics are getting for the wrong reasons - and how strongly I feel about this - I'm ashamed to admit to my earlier moment of doubt. But it's only right that I'm honest, because as vocal as I can be about equal rights I'm guessing I'm not the only one who would pause on that doorstep.

Hopefully this post will help others who may also dither to remember that specialist doesn't mean exclusivity: here is a bookshop, with a window full of fiction and a friendly bookseller by the till - what could be more welcoming?

Gay's The Word
66 Marchmont Street,
Tel: 0207 2787654


  1. A Perfectly Good Man is wonderful, and if you enjoy it you' should add Notes From an Exhibition to you suggested reading list. I read the Fannie Flagg many years ago and am now thinking I need to put it on my To Be Reread list!

    Bookshop Band have done songs for both of Patrick's books but unfortunately. don't seem tot have them on YouTube. The only one on his books is for Rough Music

    1. I LOVE The Bookshop Band - I must get along to one of their bookshop gigs soon.

      I've been meaning to read a Patrick Gale for a while but wasn't sure where to start, so to have one I didn't recognise recommended was definitely a bonus. I like to shy away from the obvious choices.

    2. Should also have said - did you see Skoobs, the second hand bookshop just down the road in the Brunswick Centre? A real Aladdin's cave. But be warned, you can't get in and out quickly!

    3. It was recommended to me while I was in the area but I ran out of time because of how much fun I had in this bookshop, so I'll have to save Skoob for another time.

  2. love Rough Music - such a great book

  3. I really admire your honesty; about your dithering before entering this lovely shop; and also your listing of the possible reasons for the hesitation; if only every non lgbt person was open to that self-examination and self-education, it would be a better world:)I love bookshops too:)

    1. Thank you, your comment means a lot to me. When I first set out to write this blog I promised myself I'd always be honest, and if that means admitting my own failings along the way then so be it. I just hope that by doing so I can encourage others to open their minds to this and other bookshops.


Thank you for your comment. I've unfortunately recently been targeted by spammers, so I've had to put a limited amount of moderation on comments for the time being. If you're a human, your comment will be uploaded soon.

Best wishes,