Paul Burston’s latest book, Lovers and Losers follows his recent successes with Star People (2006) and Shameless (2001) and is just as compelling a read.
Paul, who has written for a range of publications from, City Limits, The Sunday Times, The Times, The Guardian, Time Out to The Independent, believes his third book is more biographical than the rest.
“This is a period which appeals to me personally and I just felt like now was the time to bring it up again,” he told me when we met up in central London.
The story is centres on two protagonists.
Tony is gay man hooked on the 1980s pop sensation The New Romantics, and Katy, Tony’s friend; a friendly admirable person who connects with Tony through the spirit of music.
“The back story of Tony is largely mine,” explains Burston.
“Growing up in a really bleak South Wales town, listening to stuff like David Bowie, feeling very odd and not fitting in and finding a way through pop music to get out of reality -that’s me, that’s me totally!”
He admits: “There are a lot of qualities in Tony I don’t like in myself; there have been a lot of incidences when I’ve behaved very selfishly.
“Katy represents the stylish friend, but she also represents women – the divas that gay men love to listen to – she’s quite a symbolic character in many ways.”
Paul concedes that Katy was based on a young woman he once knew called Caroline Bryant, although Katy’s character is not exclusively modelled on her.
The connection between a gay male and a straight female is one of many attachments that Paul explains very well.
“My last work was quite masculine, there was only one woman character in and she wasn’t very feminine and I wanted to focus more on women this time and pay tribute to those women.”
The discourse is witty throughout, yet never compromises its serious agendas by degenerating into farce.
As the title suggests, the story follows different people’s lives looking at those who have loved and lost and those who still love and take a chance on love.
As such, it deals with the existential dilemmas of what Sartre called ‘radical freedom.’
Lovers and Losers is also the title of the main hit for the pop band we follow – A Boy and His Diva.
The characters meet in Prestatyn Sands, North Wales.
Katy goes to a Catholic school whereas, Paul, who has already established his sexuality from an early age, is slightly older than Katy and eventually goes to St Mary’s University in London to study.
There, he lives his life influenced by the New Romantics. Katy later joins him.
As the story develops, Tony and Katy look to become pop stars. Tony lusts for stardom whereas Katy is a little more apathetic, but the two combine and make a new pop group – A Boy and His Diva.
He concedes that his inspiration for the band name came from a 1980s production company with the same moniker.
Paul reminisces about when he first heard it: “I had never heard such a great name.”
Having created a band, aided by their new manager, Les, whom he had previously met in an exclusive nightclub, Tony begins to rework some of his poetry into the band’s music.
Les suggests Katy changes her name to Katrina. Paul hints that this was suggestive of the 1980s era.
“(Pop stars) are often people who live in grey, suburban, miserable, sad parts of the country and pop music is way of reinventing themselves so they will often change their name – David Jones became David Bowie.”
A Boy and his Diva are a success, but during a busy schedule in Europe an incident causes the group to split.
Twenty years later, Tony attempts to reconcile his relationship with Katrina in his lust for stardom.
This plot device is reminiscent of the many stars who have had No.1 hits but never been able to hold down a permanent place in the media eye.
Meanwhile Katrina watches her seriously ill friend’s final moments of life before her friends mother, who has not seen her son in years, turns up to see him dying of AIDS.
Paul says this was the hardest part of the book to write:
“The mother was based on a real person who I met on the day this man had died.
“She hadn’t seen him for years; myself and his friends were all there grieving at his hospital bed and this women came in and took over … I just thought, ‘what must be going on in her head?’”
However, Paul insists this is not an AIDS memoir.
The book looks at many live 1980s issues such as homosexuality, HIV, relationships, drugs and movements like the New Romantics and punk.
Paul is already preparing his next book under the working title of The Gay Divorcee.
The plot centres on a man who is due to get married but who he has a son his fiancée is unaware of.
Paul adds: “But I don’t know where it is going to go, I don’t have a ‘situation.’”
Lovers and Losers is not a book for those who are easily offended – there are some extreme sexual references.
In one part of the book, Tony gives his drug dealer fellatio.
Paul, looking back on that scene, says: “That was me being a bit cruel really again I didn’t know how that scene was going to happen.
“It was based on a drug dealer who lived in Covent Garden and who was very famous for keeping Polaroids on various customers before getting them to perform fellatio on him so that’s where the idea of that came from.
“I needed something to scupper Tony’s chances (of getting back with Katrina) other than Katrina saying ‘no’ … I like a bit of speculation and a bit of ambiguity.”
Lovers and Losers, published by Sphere, will available from April 5th, priced £6.99.