Friday, November 5, 2010

Armistead Maupin on his continuing Tales of the City series and returning to the Homotopia Festival

Nov 5 2010 by Catherine Jones, Liverpool Echo

WHEN he was 14, Armistead Maupin went looking for Scarlett O’Hara’s house Tara in Atlanta. “I knew it was a fictional creation but I wanted to know where it MIGHT have been,” he says.

Gentleman that he is, the 64-year-old has let me into this little secret to make me feel less of an idiot for telling him I once went looking for Barbary Lane – the fictional San Francisco setting for his hugely successful Tales of the City books.

“Well there is a street that inspired it,” he says. “Sometimes news crews ask me to go over there and talk, and we invariably find people there with little guidebooks, looking for it.

“If I were to run into you I’d be very happy because I think it’s the supreme compliment!”

No need to cross eight time zones to meet the man himself though, as the creator of Anna Madrigal, Michael ‘Mouse’ Tolliver and Mary Ann Singleton is heading for Liverpool and this month’s Homotopia festival.

He previously appeared at Homotopia – the city’s festival of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender arts and culture – in 2007, reading from his book Michael Tolliver Lives at St George’s Hall.

This time the setting is slightly different; Armistead will read sections from his latest ‘Tales’ novel Mary Ann in Autumn while the already sell-out audience enjoy high tea at the London Carriage Works.

“If it involves cake I’m all over it!” he exclaims, laughing when I tell him he’ll be sitting in splendour on a raised dais. “As long as I don’t have to hold a cup of tea while I do it – I’m not that co-ordinated.”

Mary Ann in Autumn, out next week, revisits one of his core Tales of the City characters 20 years after she left her husband and child in San Francisco to pursue her dream of a TV career in the Big Apple.

Now a couple of calamities have driven her back to the West Coast and she finds temporary refuge in a cottage at the end of Michael Tolliver’s garden.

Armistead first started writing his Tales of the City as a newspaper serialisation in the 1970s before they were turned into a series of best-sellers.

But at first it wasn’t all plain sailing, and he admits he owes a lot to British publishers and public who caught the ‘Tales’ bug early on, thrusting him into the mainstream literature market.

“I owe a very great deal to my homeland. I think I can call it my homeland – my grandparents were British,” he tells me from the home in San Francisco he shares with husband Christopher Turner.

“My grandfather, who it turns out was not married to my grandmother, would be 150 if he were living today.

“When my tour goes through Bath I’m going to meet a gentleman who’s 93 and is also his grandson. We share a grandfather neither of us ever met.”

It’s a colourful tale that, as it unfolds, would make a fantastic basis for a story – or an episode of Who Do You Think You Are?

His grandmother, who was the inspiration for his character Anna Madrigal, was an English suffragist, actress – and palm reader.

“When I was 14 she said: what do you plan to do with your life dear?” he recalls.

“I said ‘I’m going to be a lawyer like my daddy’, and she closed my palm and patted it, and looked the other way.”

Armistead Maupin appears at Homotopia on November 24. For full details on the festival programme, visit

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