Writing difficult life stories – Karen McLeod and Tom Lee

4th July 2024 @ 7:30 pm – 9:15 pm
The Bookseller Crow
50 Westow St
London SE19 3AF
Jonathan Main

Please note: this event is now sold out. Please contact us to be put on the waiting list.

Join Karen McLeod and Tom Lee when we celebrate their memoirs, Lifting Off and The Bullet. Novelists Karen and Tom will be in conversation about their writing process and how they built narratives from the most difficult periods of their lives.


Told with the wit and verve that characterised her debut novel, Lifting Off is Karen’s portrait of flying as cabin crew and offers a fascinating insight into the profound impact of long-haul life.

Having come out as a lesbian she is forced to go back in as colleagues advise her that it is not ok to be gay. Brimming with vertiginous loops and extreme globe-trotting, against a backdrop of exotic locations, hotel bars and nightclubs, Karen slowly unravels as the inability to truly be herself reverberates. This is the story of how Karen finally came into land. How she learned to look after herself and discovered her real self.

‘Witty, irreverent, deeply felt, and exquisitely written, Lifting Off lifts the lid on one of the strongest performers and authors in queer UK, and in doing so lifts us all. I can’t recommend this extraordinary memoir enough. Stunning.’ – Joelle Taylor

Karen McLeod is a writer, performance artist and creative writing teacher. You might well know her as writer in residence at Bookseller Crow on the Hill, or when she performs comedy as Barbara Brownskirt, a Judi Dench mega-fan and poet-in-residence at the 197 bus stop on the Croydon Road in south-east London. Or you might just know her as Karen.


The Bullet is a powerful and deeply personal exploration of mental health, and an indelible account of the legacy of familial illness and living with a fracturing mind.

Like many people, Tom Lee remembers the presence – somewhere out of sight, on the outskirts of town – of the local psychiatric hospital. It was a place that inspired jokes, rumours and dread, a place where the strange and deranged were kept away. But among those people were, at different times, Tom’s own parents.

Afterwards, those times were not much spoken about and before long the hospital closed, as part of the nationwide shutting down of psychiatric institutions. For many years, Tom believed that he had dodged the bullet of the mental illness that had marked the lives of his parents. But then, quite out of the blue, he has a crisis of his own and finds himself returning to the past for clues. The Bullet is an attempt to piece together and understand what happened to his parents and what happened to him. It is also a story about how we have tried and spectacularly failed to care for people suffering with mental illness, and about the terrifying fragility and unknowability of the human mind.

Tom Lee is a senior lecturer in Creative Writing at Goldsmiths University. He is the author of a novel, The Alarming Palsy of James Orr (Granta, 2017), and a collection of short stories, Greenfly (Harvill Secker, 2008).