Times change for a Soho Boy

by Kelvin Smith

In Funny Girl by Nick Hornby,“Bill didn’t know what you were supposed to do with books you’d written yourself. He didn’t know any publishers. He didn’t know any literary agents”.

Surprisingly, his novel Diary of a Soho Boy (about homosexuality when homosexuality was still illegal in Britain), is published by Braun and Braun and is a great success, “or as much of a success as it was possible to be when half the bookshops in London wouldn’t stock it and most of the newspapers wouldn’t review it”. It’s a one-shot wonder. Bill cannot make a long-term career as a novelist.

“It wasn’t the pursuit of art that impoverished Bill; he just didn’t work hard enough, and when he did write, he wrote the wrong things. Diary of a Soho Boy has done well, but he’d taken too long to write his second book, and his second book, when it finally appeared, was almost identical to its predecessor.”

Bill’s main job is as a writer of situation comedies, and eventually he goes back to this, but the sexuality of his characters has changed, as have the times he lives in.

“Diary of a Soho Boy was old hat now. It was still in print, but only students of gay history wanted to read it these days. Twenty-first-century homosexuals in Britain had their own literature, different lives, new problems. Fear of imprisonment wasn’t one of them. It had gone the way of polio and rickets.”

Nick Hornby, Funny Girl, 2014