Reviews of Scruffy Chicken
rare pleasure I never thought I’d see: a gay thriller set
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
“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!
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
“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.”
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
He was heard on BBC Radio Derby on
February 14th talking to Sally Pepper.
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,
On April 3rd, he was the guest of
Rony Robinson of
Radio Sheffield. Several phone calls from interested
listeners extended the interview up to one hour.
On April 24th,
Julie Mayer of BBC Radio
serious questions about the darker side of Scruffy
Chicken. She focused on Narvel's life and his encounters
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."
"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."
Derby Evening Telegraph, Friday, February
"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.
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
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 ...
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
Tom Cooper, Belper News, January 25th 2006
"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.
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
"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."
Fleming, The Gazette, Blackpool, February 28th, 2006
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.
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
"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.
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.'
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
John Phillips, Buxton
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.
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
"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
"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
Gareth Butterfield, Burton
"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.
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
"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.
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.
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
"Rather than stirring up trouble, however, he
sees his role as educating and informing.
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
"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.
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.
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
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."
April 18th 2006
"I couldn't put it down!"
Soni, BBC Radio Manchester [GMR] 'Gay Talk', March 19th,
"Scruffy Chicken is fascinating - the
characters are vivid, the prose fluent. "
Samuel West, Artistic Director, Sheffield Theatres - Crucible, Studio,
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
Phone 01773 82 44 83 -