The word is out: Val McDermid selects Britain’s 10 most outstanding LGBTQ writers

The bestselling crime writer has nominated her favourite queer and trans authors and poets as part of a showcase celebrating the best in British writing

My first novel was published in 1987. It was the first British crime novel with a lesbian detective. The only route to publication was via an independent feminist publisher. Back then, there were a few radical bookshops that stocked titles like mine. But getting mainstream shops to stock it was an uphill struggle. Finding representations of queer lives took dedication and stubborn persistence.

Gradually, that has changed. Now our words are part of the mainstream of British literary life. LGBTQ writers are not only published by mainstream publishers and stocked by libraries, bookshops and supermarkets; they win major prizes. For so long conspicuous by our absence, we are now conspicuous by our presence.

I wrote a lesbian heroine because I’d grown up in a time and place where there were no templates for the life I wanted to live. The queer struggle for self-definition has been pursued in no small part so that the next generation has a springboard for imagining how to live. Every literary movement requires pioneers to kick open the door a crack. Others spot the opening and push the door wider. Then, at last, there’s room for everyone to walk through and write the lives they want to write.

So I was delighted to be asked by the National Centre for Writing and the British Council to choose 10 writers to showcase the quality and breadth of LGBTQ writing in Britain today. The authors are Colette BryceJuno DawsonRosie GarlandKeith JarrettJuliet JacquesKirsty LoganAndrew McMillanFiona MozleyMary Paulson-Ellis and Luke Turner. From novels to memoirs, short stories to film scripts, poetry to plays, their work covers a broad spectrum of form, style and content. There is, genuinely, something here for everyone.

Because these writers are writing for everyone. These are not words for a niche readership. These are not writings for a ghetto. These are the works of writers who have something to say that can be – and should be – heard by as many people as possible. Although their words will have particular resonance for some readers over others, isn’t that what good writing always does?

LGBTQ writers have forced their way out of the dark corners where we were pushed by a society that didn’t want to be reminded of our existence. Thanks to writers such as Ali Smith, Alan Hollinghurst, Russell T Davies, Carol Ann Duffy and many more, LGBTQ writers are everywhere. And deservedly praised everywhere, too. Recommended by reviewers, librarians, teachers, booksellers, reviewers and friends.

Some might say the battle is won, the war is over. But a quick scan of news headlines and social media on any given day gives the lie to that. LGBTQ people are still bullied at school and in the workplace. We are still the targets of hate crime. In many places around the world, our very identity criminalises us.

Auden was wrong when he claimed “poetry makes nothing happen”. Words do change the world, reader by reader. They open our eyes, they provoke thought, they make us uncomfortable in our entrenched positions. The work of these 10 writers will do all of those things. But most of all, they will awaken in us fresh delight in the wonder of words.

 The International Literature Showcase, run by the British Council and National Centre for Writing, sees six guest curators focus on different aspects of writing from the UK. Val McDermid’s event will be live streamed at 3pm on Saturday. In October, Jackie Kay will reveal her selection of writers of colour.

 Val McDermid’s latest book, How the Dead Speak, is published on 22 August in the UK and 3 December in the US.

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