Paul Burston and Michael Handrick with Andrew McMillan

  • DATE

    3 July 2023

  • TIME

    6:30 pm to 8:00 pm

  • AGES

    All ages welcome




    Blackwell's Bookshop Manchester
    University Green, 146 Oxford Rd, Manchester, M13 9GP

We’re delighted to be welcoming Paul Burston and Michael Handrick to the shop to discuss their new books WE CAN BE HEROES and DIFFERENCE IS BORN ON THE LIPS – two stunning memoirs about coming out which also explore themes of class, mental health and survival. Paul and Michael will be in conversation with Andrew McMillan.

About the books:

We Can Be Heroes – Paul Burston

Activist. Journalist. Survivor. One man’s journey from prejudice to Pride.

Paul Burston wasn’t always the iconic voice of LGBTQ+ London that he is today. Paul came out in the mid-1980s, when ‘gay’ still felt like a dirty word, especially in the small Welsh town where he grew up. He moved to London hoping for a happier life, only to watch in horror as his new-found community was decimated by AIDS. But even in the depths of his grief, Paul vowed never to stop fighting back on behalf of his young friends whose lives were cut tragically short.

It’s a promise he’s kept to this day. As an activist he stormed the House of Commons during the debate over the age of consent. As a journalist he spoke up for the rights of the community at a time of tabloid homophobia and legal inequality. As a novelist he founded the groundbreaking Polari Prize.

But his lifestyle hid a dark secret, and Paul’s demons―shame, trauma, grief―stalked him on every corner. In an attempt to silence them, he began to self-medicate.

From almost drowning at eighteen to a near-fatal overdose at thirty-eight, this is Paul’s story of what happened in the twenty years between, and how he carved out a life that his teenage self could scarcely have imagined. Emotional but often witty, We Can Be Heroes is an illuminating memoir of the eighties, nineties and noughties from a gay man who only just survived them.

Difference is Born on the Lips – Michael Handrick

In this shockingly raw but beautifully written book, Michael Handrick unpicks the toxic narratives and myths built up by society of what it means to be a man, gay and working class. Moving through time and memory, from a rural council estate surrounded by snowdrop-filled forests, to searching for his sense of self across London, Italy, America and beyond, he explores how his struggles with mental health and abuse were compounded by stigmas around class, masculinity and sexuality.

At this point in history, despite having more equal rights and media representation than ever before, the gay community is suffering a mental health epidemic. In a 2018 survey, Stonewall found that half of respondents had experienced depression, while other research shows 49 per cent of gay men have suffered from domestic abuse and 26 per cent have experienced rape, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner. As he embarks on a journey to understand the root causes of the toxicity in our society, Handrick finds that the beginnings of the abuse, trauma and mental health crises faced by gay men, and the silence that surrounds them, remain unresolved.

Difference is born on the lips, but it is society that shapes those words and actions. The mental health issues gay men live with, the abuse they go through, the stigma, prejudice and discrimination they face do not exist in a vacuum. They are created and catalysed in our societies. Difference is Born on the Lipsis a call to come together and create a new conversation, and confront the systemic inequalities that the queer community should never have had to live with.

About the authors:

Paul Burston is curator and host of award-winning LGBTQ+ literary salon Polari and founder of the Polari Prize book awards for LGBTQ+ writers, based at the British Library. In 2016, he featured in the British Council’s Global List of ‘33 visionary people promoting freedom, equality and LGBT rights around the world’. A Rainbow List National Treasure and former AIDS activist with ACT UP London, he is one of the subjects of Alexis Gregory’s critically acclaimed verbatim play Riot Act.

Paul’s writing has appeared in the Guardian, the Sunday Times and many other publications. He has also written and presented documentaries for Channel 4 and is a regular contributor to TV and radio. Paul Burston is the author of six novels and five non-fiction books and the editor of two short-story collections.

Michael Handrick’s work has been shortlisted for Penguin Random House’s Write Now 2020 and Kit de Waal’s anthology, Common People, and longlisted for the London Writers Awards, 2019. In 2013, aged 23, he was invited to present his academic thesis on gender and sexuality at an international literary conference at Magdalen College, Oxford. He has had features and articles on culture, mental health, gender and sexuality published by magazines such as Attitude and PYLOT, and his fiction pieces have been published in anthologies such as Litro, and shortlisted and longlisted for various competitions including the Creative Future Literary Awards (2018, 2020).

Doors: 6.30, starts: 6.45

Tickets are £3.00 or free when pre-ordering a copy of either book. WE CAN BE HEROES and DIFFERENCE IS BORN ON THE LIPS will also be available to purchase on the night and both authors will be signing copies after the talk. If you would like a signed copy but cannot make the event, please contact us on 0161 274 3331 or and we can arrange this for you.