Strange if not Stranger than Fiction
The first time I saw Clayton Littlewood was at a reading from his book, Dirty White Boy, in December 2008. He was preceded by pint-sized singer Celine, who thundered out an a cappella version of ‘The Lady of Soho’, and joined by infamous Sohoite Sebastian Horsely, who mounted the stage and turned to the audience to declare, ‘I know you all want to fuck me but you’ll just have to wait until after the show.’ It was an anarchic, stentorian, and hyperactive introduction to a writer whose subject is just that.
The book Dirty White Boy began as a MySpace blog when Clayton and his partner Jorge were running a shop of the same name. Its subject is London’s Soho, in which the shop was situated, under a brothel no less and on the corner of the gay mecca Old Compton Street. Clayton would sit and watch the chaotic world of Soho go by, take notes in a little black book, and then write his blog.
“If anyone’s in the book it’s an homage to that person, to someone who has interested me,” he said when I asked him about whom he chose to write about. “We had the Groucho Club opposite, with Lily Allen and Peaches Geldolf falling out of there every night, but I wasn’t really interested in those type of people, because you can pick up Heat magazine for that. I was interested in the characters, the local Soho-ites. I followed their lives. They would come into the shop, and into the blog, then make another appearance, and so accidentally they became characters just because I was interested in them.”
It is because of Clayton’s genuine interest in the people he writes about that Dirty White Boy is such an engaging read. It pulls you in, wraps you up in its world, and as a result you become invested in it. He refers to his subjects as characters throughout our conversation, and in a way they have become so as part of this alchemical process through cyberspace to the printed word. His subject is not himself, not the performers who frequent the Soho bars and clubs, but the “people for whom Soho is their home.” It is no surprise that he has been called “the queer descendant of Samuel Pepys”.
I met Clayton in a cafe on Old Compton Street, a block away from where Dirty White Boy stood before it was claimed by the credit crunch in July. Clayton orders the coffee, already host to the Soho of which he writes, and as we sit down one of the characters, Pam the Fag Lady, shuffles up to him.
Pam the Fag Lady is one of the regulars in Dirty White Boy. In one chapter she makes her definitive appearance, “a squashed-up gargoyle face pressed against the glass, inches from my face, the big oval glasses magnifying the eyes.”
I smile back and, as if that is her cue, she stops blinking, pulls back, and holds up one finger, mouthing the word “money”. As we’ve only just opened, I give her a shrug and her face drops, briefly – then lights up again as she stretches out her arms and mouths the word “cuddles”.