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  • Writer's picturePaul Burston

We Can Be Heroes - early reviews

Updated: Dec 14, 2022

My forthcoming memoir went out into the world last week, via Netgalley. Physical proof copies will be sent for advance reviews soon.

This is always a tense time for an author. This is when you get The Fear. Your book is suddenly being read by people who weren't part of the editorial process. What if they hate it? It's hard enough when it's a novel – but at least with fiction you can tell yourself it isn't personal.

In the case of a memoir, it is unavoidably personal – and in the case of a memoir as honest and revealing as this one, it feels even more exposing. So I'm relieved and delighted that the early reviews have been wonderful. Who knows what lies ahead? So for now I'm going to savour the moment.

Erin Kelly, author -

‘Burston’s generation of gay men and lesbians are the giants upon whose shoulders today’s queer youth stand, and this book sets out his achievements and struggles in unflinching, compassionate, angry and often blacky comic detail. I felt the stickiness of club floors under my feet and the breath of police officers on the back of my neck as I read. An urgent, unmissable read.’

Louise Beech / Louise Swanson, author -

‘I began slowly with this, wanting to savour, and then I dropped everything I was doing because I couldn’t let it go. I was utterly invested. Paul’s story is one of trauma, danger, excess and pain, but also one of compassion, strength, fight and bravery. This is a hell of a life lived, but one worthwhile. The changes Paul has made, not only in his own life but beyond, are tremendous. I defy anyone not be moved by this powerful memoir.’ 

John Marrs, author - 

‘I laughed, almost cried and wanted to give the younger Paul the tightest hug... A brutally honest, unflinching memoir and eye witness account of the most important time in our gay British history, from someone who not only lived and survived it, but who helped to shape it. Indispensable.’

Sophia Blackwell, author & poet -

‘I know and love Paul Burston, and now I get to know and love his book too! Driven by the need to get out of his small Welsh town and, later, driven by a sense of mortality brought on by the ravages of HIV/Aids in the community, Burston had achieved a great deal by the age of thirty. Described as the ‘enfant terrible’ of gay UK journalism, he was also regularly off his face on an impressive amount of chemicals. Some constants kept him afloat - the love of his mother, cousin Elaine, sister Jac and ‘Auntie’ Alma - and his love of David Bowie, which kept him going for years (and still does).


London’s favourite salonniere comes of age towards the end of the book, having therapy for his substance use and traumatic past. Towards the end, as he mellows out very slightly, you also get a sense, though he doesn’t blow his own trumpet (oo-er) of Burston’s generosity, of which I have been a beneficiary as part of his Polari crew since about 2010. 

He was going through a tough time then too but you’d never know it; his commitment to his literary salon and dogged pursuit of a literary career, even when struggling with losing agents and publishers and in one case, being too chemically altered to write a book for months, is inspiring, even if you wish it had been a bit easier for this sweet smalltown boy. A moving, gossipy, spicy read with pacing that recalls Burston’s thrillers and society comedies, but with a huge, loving, angry heart all of its own.’

Bob Hughes, book blogger -

‘At turns deeply moving, at turns hilarious, this is a poignant memoir of the man I know better for creating the Polari Prize and Salon, but whose life has had far more twists and turns than I had known. We learn of Paul’s childhood and reckoning with who he was, and on to his adult years - where he is caught between many interconnected and competing worlds: the thrills and pitfalls of the gay scene; the passion and frustrations of activism; the terror and spectre of HIV/AIDS; and the fast-paced life of working in journalism.

Indeed, the fast pace and observational eye of a journalist appear throughout the book, with a razor-sharp focus on details of a period of time that was so pivotal for queer lives.

Paul's role in both living and shaping these periods is fascinating- from the small disagreements between activists to the huge campaigns which came at the expense of so many.

Above all else, there is a beautiful candour to this book- Paul does not shy away from showing the pains that came with the joys.’

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