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Tales of Soho: Clayton Littlewood - blogger turned writer

29 March 2012

"The shop we took over had a rich history. Run by the mafia, it had housed peep shows and drinking dens. Francis Bacon used to drink coffee there. When I think of Soho I think of my three creative muses who were all based here: Marc Almond, Quentin Crisp and Sebastian Horsley."

Notorious for its sex clubs and risqué entertainment, Soho has attracted creative types for centuries. Blogger Clayton Littlewood turned his experiences running a shop on iconic Old Compton Street into the book Dirty White Boy: Tales of Soho. A West End play followed and this May Littlewood publishes a sequel Goodbye to Soho. Alex Hopkins caught up with him to explore that unique Soho vibe.

London Calling: Your book Dirty White Boy: Tales of Soho came out in 2006 and was described as a modern day version of Samuel Pepys’ diaries. How did it come about?
Clayton Littlewood:  I have always written diaries at difficult times in my life. In 2006 my partner and I opened our clothes shop Dirty White Boy on Old Compton Street, but It soon became clear that we weren’t going to be there for very long so I wanted to remember it. I started writing a diary about all the fascinating people who came into the shop. At the same time I joined MySpace and gathered readers and was then given a column in The London Paper. The blog was then turned into a book by Cleiss Press.

LC: Soho means so many things to different people. What is it about the area that fascinates you?
CL:  Soho is cemented in two periods in my life. The first is when I left Weston- super-Mare as a gay 19 year old. I was obsessed with Marc Almond and Soft Cell and Soho was the first place I went when I arrived in London. My formative years were spent hanging out in St Anne’s Court with rent-boys, Goths and spotty teenagers.
Thirty years later I was back there. The shop we took over had a rich history. Run by the mafia, it had housed peep shows and drinking dens. Francis Bacon used to drink coffee there. When I think of Soho I think of my three creative muses who were all based here: Marc Almond, Quentin Crisp and Sebastian Horsley.

LC: What is it about Soho that attracts people?
CL: It’s the clash of culture. Artists flocked here for the danger and sex and because you can be who you want to be and no one cares. Old Compton Street is a place where every nationality and sexuality can mix freely.

LC: Your sequel to Dirty White Boy, Goodbye to Soho talks about some of the changes you have witnessed in the area. What do you think is happening to Soho right now?
CL: More commercial businesses are moving in and the area is becoming increasingly gentrified. Places like The Colony Club and the brothels on Peter Street have gone and so has the dandy Sebastian Horsley, who was such an integral part of the Soho character. Goodbye to Soho was not only my nod to Christopher Isherwood’s Goodbye to Berlin, but my goodbye to the Soho I know and love. Yet there are so many aspects to this square mile and it’s always in flux.
 
LC: Your book beautifully depicts the eclectic range of characters Soho has. What sort of people did you write about?
CL: Sitting in that shop window I didn’t have to rack my brains for crazy characters; it was a writer’s dream. We had Sue, the typical tart with a heart in the brothel upstairs, the inimitable Sebastian Horsley, Angie the wild tranny who lives just down the road in Covent Garden and Pam, the hardest working woman in Soho, who begs from morning to night. I just couldn’t write them down quickly enough. Few fictional characters can match these people. As soon as I get off the tube and step into Soho I suddenly feel more creative. There’s an indefinable magic to the area and I feel that anything could happen to me at any moment.


Clayton Littlewood’s novel Goodbye to Soho is published by DWB Press in May.
Copyright Alex Hopkins, March 2012.
Images credit: Dom Agius
 

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