Narvel Annable 
GAY CAMPAIGNER /AUTHOR

 

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Reviews of Scruffy Chicken



“A rare pleasure I never thought I’d see: a gay thriller set in Derbyshire.”

Matthew Parris of The Times




“An excellent book by Narvel Annable! This novel is superb in that it describes the somewhat ‘hidden’ Gay history of the 1960s. I believe we should not forget what, for many of us, our forefathers experienced. Scruffy Chicken documents both the attitudes of the times and the experience of living in a society which derided and negated the lives of Gay men. Annable has created a masterpiece documenting much of our non recorded Gay history.

“It is his second Gay semi-autobiographical novel, and captures life in the mid 1960s, not only here in the UK but also in the USA, a definite first for this type of novel.

“Set in both Detroit and Derbyshire it chronicles the very ‘misspent’ youth of a Gay young man as he stumbles towards adulthood. The journey, which is essentially what it is, features some rather strange people in extremely bizarre situations. Annable manages to interweave an ingenious mystery as part of the plot, the disappearance of ‘Becksitch Betty’ a rather nasty drag Queen cum washed up stage act. Not surprisingly, most of the bizarre characters come under some form of suspicion!

“To describe the book as ‘a novel’ is somewhat disingenuous, it brilliantly documents the homophobia, fear and clear hatred faced by Gay men in the early to mid sixties and cleverly manages to transport the reader to those less tolerant times.

“The journey of Simeon Hogg – the book’s central character, and Annable’s alter ego – begins in Detroit in 1963, and beautifully describes Simeon’s observations – of both Gay life here and ‘stateside’.

“The encounters with the 60s Gay underworld will be enlightening for anyone under forty yet very real to those for whom Queer life was so different to today. The Derbyshire, Detroit and Nottinghamshire ‘scenes’ are vividly portrayed together with the local dialect and it hard to imagine that some of the bizarre characters in the story ever really existed – thankfully, they did!

“Scruffy Chicken depicts a time when homosexuality was illegal and as such this alone makes for a darker story. If you are looking for titillation this is not the book for you, although the life experiences, sexual and other are well documented.

“I can truly say this is one of the best books I have ever read and a must for all Gay men, whatever age.

“Scruffy Chicken is a real tour de force of a read!”

Paul Hunt, Chief Features Writer - Shout! - Yorkshire’s Gay Paper, March 2007



“In a quaint old library deep in middle England, a coming of age story is unfolding, casting light in some dark corners of the gay world. The tale being told is sad, sometimes cruel and oftentimes laughing-out loud funny. Local author Narvel Annable, a retired schoolteacher, is creatively portraying characters from his most recent novel, Scruffy Chicken, which is inspired by his own story.

“The big picture is about a wide-eyed teenager guided on an erotic adventure tour of Turkish baths and active toilets by a series of unlikely hosts, discovering along the way how discriminatory attitudes have driven some gays to despair and isolation.

“Annable also chronicles discriminatory traits within the gay community itself, including gay on gay abuse in which elderly and unattractive gays are targeted. It is a study of contrasts, old verses young, pristine countryside beauty versus smelly toilet-side fixations and beautiful bodies versus stooped, toothless, lopsided forms.

“Tonight the audience in Derby Central Library is mesmerised by Annable’s acting ability. By turns he is an adventurous chicken, ugly troll, vicious queen and arrogant, upper-class pretender. But the most interesting characters are the tormented, unattractive gays Annable encounters during his travels.

“The talk concludes with enthusiastic applause and a very civilised serving of wine amidst introductions and handshakes.”

Brad Teeter was writing about his evening at the Derby Central Library on February 21st 2007. It was printed on May 9th 2007 in Vancouver’s Lesbian and Gay Biweekly EXTRA! West  www.xtra.ca  British Columbia, Canada.

You can read Brad’s review – Ugly Old Trolls – ‘Gay life through the eyes of a scruffy chicken’ - in full, by clicking onto NEWS in this website.



BBC LOCAL RADIO



Scruffy Chicken, a controversial effort quickly sparked a lot of interest. Between February and April 2006, Narvel Annable was interviewed on BBC Local Radio five times:

He was heard on BBC Radio Derby on February 14th talking to Sally Pepper.



BBC Radio Manchester [GMR] invited the author to discuss his latest work, twice, during March. In 'Gay Talk', Nigel Soni said -
"Scruffy Chicken was a great read. I know it's the old cliché but ... really, I just couldn't put it down!" In the following edition of 'Gay Talk', Narvel was in conversation with it's producer,
Ashley Byrne.



On April 3rd, he was the guest of Rony Robinson of BBC Radio Sheffield. Several phone calls from interested listeners extended the interview up to one hour.



On April 24th, Julie Mayer of BBC Radio Leicester asked serious questions about the darker side of Scruffy Chicken. She focused on Narvel's life and his encounters with homophobia.



On June 22nd, Narvel was a special guest on Nottingham Pride Radio. Author / interviewer Angie Hulme said -
"Scruffy Chicken is really good: a very enjoyable read."




PRESS



"What a read! Anguish, enlightenment, amusement, intrigue - all wrapped up in the lush landscapes of our county. I was swept along chapter to chapter, each telling its own fragment of the plot, but merging so beautifully with the next. There were no sharp cut-off points or changes of direction. This I think was the 'unputdownable' quality of the book for me. The cover is a triumph. I just loved the shaft of light shining down on Simeon, a magical touch, a guiding light."
Sheila Cullen, Derby Evening Telegraph, Friday, February 3rd, 2006

 



"An epic autobiographical mystery spread over five decades, starting in 1960s Detroit (where the Derbyshire-based author lived in the Sixties) but continuing on more familiar territory.
"Whatever happened to the vanished old queen Becksitch Betty? Sympathetic hero Simeon Hogg seeks the answers in this tenderly-told tale, full of vivid East Midlands characters and magnificent scenery which offers an insight in what it was like to be gay in a largely suspicious, disapproving society."
Jeremy Lewis, Features Editor, Nottingham Evening Post, February 11th, 2006

 



"Worth a read for the broad minded"
"I enjoyed Scruffy Chicken. I loved its sense of place. I loved seeing the Derbyshire vernacular in print and I loved its juxtaposition of the familiar and the bizarre and I liked it because it made me feel uncomfortable ...
"And a strange world it is, as this autobiographical novel takes us into a literary landscape full of gay sex and populated by strange, twisted and sometimes promiscuous characters ...
"The novel comes alive emotionally when Simeon reflects on the landscape of Derbyshire ...
"It is the placement of bizarre characters such as Jasper the Belper Goblin, Toby Jug and Becksitch Betty, in this familiar landscape which give the novel its dramatic tension. At times the author does not make the most of this dramatic potential... But being able to take the reader along the line of tension between the strange and the familiar, and crossing and re-crossing into and out of the strange for maximum effect is not just the sign of a great writer, it is the hallmark of great literature.
"The story is superimposed over a murder mystery which gives the novel a nice kick at the end. The prose becomes more purposeful and confident as the novel progresses.
"So if you are broadminded, step into the world of a Scruffy Chicken - it's well worth a read."
Tom Cooper, Belper News, January 25th 2006



"Freak Show"
"Scruffy Chicken is out now - and it's lovely! ... an endearing mixture of Derbyshire travelogue and a murder mystery, set in the countryside that Annable himself knows only too well - as with his previous novel.
"The journey of Simeon Hogg - the book's central character, and Annable's alter ego - begins in Detroit in 1963, and in some ways, this was one of the best bits of the book - the contrasts between Derbyshire and the USA in the early 60s are beautifully highlighted by Hogg's observations - and I felt slightly disappointed when he returned to Derbyshire.
"But the story picks up pace well, and although there's plenty of time to observe the freaks and grotesques that populate the queer underworld of Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire in the 60s, Annable never loses sight of the plot.
"Anyone under the age of 40 might find it hard to believe that a weird collection of grotesques Annable paints could ever have existed: but this was a time when homosexuality was still technically illegal and all manner of bizarre creatures flourished out of sight of the law and straight society: if for no other reason, Scruffy Chicken deserves reading because of the light it shines into this often-forgotten darkness.
"If you've read and enjoyed Lost Lad, you'll love this; if you read it and didn't enjoy it, then give Scruffy Chicken a go: Lost Lad was good - but Scruffy Chicken is better!"
Mark Michalowski, SHOUT! April 2006

 



"A gay murder mystery based in pre-1967 Derbyshire, which includes chapters set in the Derby Turkish Baths, Nottingham's Flying Horse Inn and references to Canning Circus and Markeaton Park 'cottages' is obviously not from the pen of Ruth Rendell or Ian Rankin.
"The 'scruffy chicken' of the title is 19 year old Simeon Hogg, from Belper. Simeon's experiences are largely based on the real life of local author Narvel Annable who writes about characters (some fictional - some real) and attitudes from the 1960s.
"The book is enjoyable in its own right, but for people of a certain age or with an interest in local gay history, it's fascinating to read about the rivalry between the Nottingham and Derby crowds, about the niceties of gay social etiquette in the 1960s and about a parade of what the author describes as Derbyshire 'freaks'."
David Edgley, QB Nottinghamshire's Queer Bulletin, August 2006

 



"A fascinating tale of secrets set in the 1960s"
"Today Blackpool fully embraces its gay residents and visitors. But, in less enlightened days, such openness would have been unthinkable. Homosexuals kept their lifestyles a secret, not least for fear of imprisonment. Scruffy Chicken, an autobiographical whodunit partially set in Blackpool, features a character called Becksitch Betty. He was based on a real-life Derbyshire female impersonator, Herbert Siddons, who, according to the author, was 'obsessed with Blackpool', often performing in the resort as Gracie Fields, Carmen Miranda, Old Mother Riley and as Norman Evans in his famous 'Over the Garden Wall' sketch.
"The story begins in Detroit on the day before the assassination of president Kennedy in November 1963 and concludes just days after the appalling London bombings of last July 2005. The author, Narvel Annable, assumes the mantle of teenage narrator Simeon Hogg and discovers a secret subterranean world, warped by the vicious, homophobic cruelty and bigotry of the mid 1960s.
"I thoroughly enjoyed this book."
Craig Fleming, The Gazette, Blackpool, February 28th, 2006

 

 


"Former MP's Praise for Thriller"
"A rite of passage, from Derbyshire to Detroit and confused adolescence to mature self-awareness, is the theme of controversial author Narvel Annable's new novel Scruffy Chicken.
"Set among bike rides in the Peak District and Greyhound bus trips across America, the book is semi-autobiographical and traces Mr Annable's coming of age as a gay man in the 1960s, when homosexuality was considered a dark and dangerous secret.
"In fact, the author found that was still the case until recently - only last year one Women's Institute cancelled a talk he was to have given them when members discovered he was gay!
"Mr Annable describes the book as peoples by characters which could have been penned by the Brothers Grimm, but leavened with humour against a background of an era long gone.
"'These people dealt with the prejudices of mid-Twentieth Century Britain and coped with homophobic intolerance in their different ways,' he said.
"Cruelty and bigotry shaped these individuals into their interesting forms which, in turn, influenced a teenager on a bicycle who coming to terms with a fundamental new self-awareness.'
"Scruffy Chicken received praise from fellow gay writer Matthew Parris, former MP for West Derbyshire, who said - 'A rare pleasure I never thought I'd see: a gay thriller set in Derbyshire.'"
John Phillips, Buxton Advertiser, February 2nd, 2006

 



"Tale waited to be Told"
"Peppered with local characters all inspired by real people, Scruffy Chicken is a tale waited to be told. Narvel Annable feels that attitudes towards homosexuality have changed enough for his story to be told. This is reflected in the rise of gay literature in the mainstream, such as Booker Prize winner The Line of Beauty. Narvel makes it clear that when he writes, his aim is simply to tell a good story, with plenty of colour and, at the same time, make important points about the gay community."
Emma Shaw, Derby Evening Telegraph, January 20th, 2006

 

 


"Popular Drag Artiste Remembered"
"One of Matlock's most colourful characters has been immortalised in the latest book by Belper author Narvel Annable. Narvel's sometimes explicit book Scruffy Chicken details the secret life of Derbyshire's homosexual community in the 1960's, based on his own experiences of the same period.
"Older Matlock residents may remember Herbert Siddons, whose drag act entertained audiences at Matlock Lido and the Picture Palace from the 1930's up to the early 1960's with impressions of Carmen Miranda, Old Mother Riley and Gracie Fields.
"Narvel says his character of Becksitch Betty owes a lot to the character of Herbert Siddons, one of several odd effeminate men described in this whodunit who introduced the author to the gay world in 1965. Even Herbert's appearance was odd, remembers Narvel. He was 'exceedingly ugly' and had a strange mobile 'writhing' mouth, possibly resulting from a broken jaw."
Charlotte White, Matlock Mercury, March 16th, 2006

 



"Gay Life Insight"
"A former Burton student has returned to town to launch his new book and 'break down barriers' for the area's gay community. Narvel Annable who attended Burton College in 1961 has recently released his sixth novel entitled Scruffy Chicken - A Mystery set in Derbyshire 1965. Last Saturday he signed copies at Ottakars in Cooper's Square speaking to fans about his experiences growing up in Derbyshire and Burton. The book has been described by The Times critic Matthew Parris as 'a rare pleasure I never thought I'd see: a gay thriller set in Derbyshire.'"
Gareth Butterfield, Burton Mail, February 24th, 2006

 



"Mischievous Postcards from Bridlington"
"Bridlington, Flamborough and Bempton all appear in a new gay mystery book set in the 1960s. After three years of work, author Narvel Annable has published Scruffy Chicken, a fictional story with fictional characters but based on real people and his own experiences.
"Narvel, of Belper in Derbyshire, said the aim of the book is 'to educate, break down barriers and combat homophobia' and describes himself as 'a loss-making-one-man-show attempting to make life a little better for local gay people'.
"The book is mainly set in Derbyshire 1965 but it features a chapter called Mischievous Post Cards from Bridlington, which mentions the Yorkshire Belle, the Old Town, the harbour and the chalk cliffs.
"A principal player in Scruffy Chicken is Mr Annable's long time friend Paul Sharpley, the well known Goole organist and the inspiration of his character Aubrey Pod also known as Mr Toad in the gay community.
"'For years Paul had been looking forward to reading Scruffy Chicken,' said Narvel, 'but died on January 1st, the very day it was published! Over these 40 years we shared a great affection for Bridlington. At some point, alone, I'll return to Bridlington. I'll go on the Yorkshire Belle. It won't be the same. It'll be a tearful trip.'
"The book has already won praise from The Times critic Matthew Parris."


John Edwards, Bridlington Free Press, April 27th 2006

 



"Coming Out in Derbyshire and Detroit"
"Controversial is not a word that sits easily with Narvel Annable, in fact, he shifts a little uncomfortably in his seat as I ask him if he looks for trouble.
"But when you are writing overtly gay fiction in a small Derbyshire town you have to accept that some people are going to be upset and Narvel is pragmatic enough to realise that controversy sells books.
"'I dread it,' he says, 'but if it helps to sell books I am not going to be hypocritical about it, and, it does help, and it does sell books.'
"Rather than stirring up trouble, however, he sees his role as educating and informing.
"'People have to see that gay men are not a threat,' he says, as we talk in his tidy suburban bungalow with views across the back garden to the Chevin. 'It's also very important that I do make this point in the book, that gay men should be responsible.'
"Narvel's most recent brush with controversy came in September last year when an invitation to speak to the Belper WI was withdrawn when they realised the subject matter of his books. This gave us one of our most striking News front pages of the year
No Gay Sex Please, We're the Belper WI
But times are changing. 'There is no way we would have been having this conversation five years ago,' Narvel explains. There is however still work to be done and his new book Scruffy Chicken, published this month, 'is going to push the boundaries a bit more,' he says.
"The autobiographical novel is largely set in the Ripley / Heanor / Belper / Derby area during 1965, with 19-year-old Simeon Hogg returning to his aunt's house in Horsley Woodhouse after a two-year sojourn in the United States.
"Back in Derbyshire Simeon, the scruffy chicken of the title, encounters a bizarre array of characters as he finds his way into the local gay scene. All the characters and events are real, albeit with a little dramatic licence in timescales and the characters inevitably drawn through the eyes of the writer.
"'It is exactly as I describe it,' he says, 'but the characters are caricatures in the way that I see them.'
"And these characters - raving queens, promiscuous homosexuals and men driven to cruelty and bitchiness through fear and homophobia - are colourful in the extremes. 'When I came back to England the experience was incredibly different,' Narvel says, 'It was like the movie changed from black and white into colour.'
"To the uninitiated, the events are also a bit of an eye-opener. This is after all a detailed account of the 60s gay scene in the area, and some readers are going to find it difficult to come to terms with. The cottaging, the pick-ups, the rent boys, the Turkish Baths - Scruffy Chicken enters a world which few outside the gay community are ever exposed to.
"'You could have gone to those places and you would have seen nothing,' Narvel says. 'It's a parallel world which you don't see unless you know how to look.'"
Tom Cooper, Ripley and Heanor News, January 26th 2006

 



"Scruffy Chicken is fascinating - the characters are vivid, the prose fluent."
Samuel West, Artistic Director, Sheffield Theatres - Crucible, Studio, Lyceum

 



"Scruffy Chicken is about the gay scene in the East Midlands in the 1960s.
It is that rare achievement, an autobiographical whodunit."
Joan Stephens, Leicester Mercury May 30th 2006

 


"Scruffy Chicken is beginning to win critical acclaim."
Will Noble, Bournemouth Daily Echo July 21st 2006

 



"Anyone who likes reading fiction set locally will enjoy reading Scruffy Chicken."
Martin Dawes, Sheffield Star April 18th 2006

 



"I couldn't put it down!"
Nigel Soni, BBC Radio Manchester
[GMR] 'Gay Talk', March 19th, 2006

 



"Scruffy Chicken is fascinating - the characters are vivid, the prose fluent. "
Samuel West, Artistic Director, Sheffield Theatres - Crucible, Studio, Lyceum

 



Scruffy Chicken - A Mystery set in Derbyshire 1965 ISBN 0 9530419 4 8


Scruffy Chicken is available from bookshops or directly from the author by sending a cheque for £8.00 [this includes P&P] to:
Narvel Annable, 44 Dovedale Crescent, Belper, Derbyshire DE56 1HJ
Phone 01773 82 44 83 - narvel@narvelannable.co.uk

 

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