This week it’s all been about The Essex Girls (formerly known as Beyond the Beehive). I’ve been editing the book for its new publishers, adding a couple of extra scenes, re-reading it all, reminding myself about Linda and Sandra’s exploits in 1965.
In the process I was working on the chapter Good Morning Little Schoolgirl. In the Sixties, at my school we had to wear a uniform. The colour was navy blue. The rules were very strict. A beret (that I always folded in half and clipped as far back on my head as possible) had to be worn at all times on the way to and from school, as did a navy blue raincoat or duffle coat. If the weather was warm we would go home in a navy blue blazer with the school’s crest on the breast pocket, or simply the navy jumper, navy skirt and pale blue shirt and tie that we had worn all day at school. There was a summer dress of a strange shape and flowery material, but no-one who was cool wore that. And it all cost money. My mum knitted my V necked sweater which was seen as rather risque. As the mini-skirt became popular rules were made that skirts could be worn no more than three inches above the knee.
Backcombed, beehive hairdos were frowned on, so neat mod hair worked well, and my class mate Corinne and I tried to perfect the Cathy McGowan Cleopatra hairstyle. Corinne was more successful than me.
I would walk home from school along the Main Road till I reached the parade of shops at the bottom of Patching Hall Lane, where I would meet my best friend Chris whose school, the Blessed John Payne, as it then was, was just up the road. In the picture she is holding a guitar which she did not own or play. And then we would walk home together, planning what we would wear when we went out in the evening to the Orpheus coffee bar.
And here is the song that inspired the chapter.
I’ve been working on The Girl in the Green Mac, the next 60s Chelmsford book. The year is 1966, the Orpheus has changed its name to the R&B and the new owners are putting a stop to the four-hour cup of coffee. Another boutique opens near the Shire Hall, run by a man with an unreal Italian name, and mini-skirts creep into the High Street. And the World Cup promises success for England and particularly for Chelmsford because of local boy Geoff Hurst.
When I’m writing it doesn’t really matter where I am, but what is important is to be able to listen to a song or a piece of music that captures the mood of what I’m writing about. This week I’ve been working on a chapter about the boutique owner, Gene Battini, who likes the cool music of Mel Torme. So I’ve been listening to ‘Comin’ Home’ which came out in 1962 but sounds good, even today.
Galleywood Heritage Centre – formerly the Galleywood Race Course – was the venue for a great heritage day on Saturday 3 June. Lots of different groups guided visitors to ways of finding out about local history or their own family history, in a room that had once been the base of the Grandstand. It was a really hot sunny day, with much coming and going and sharing information and drinking tea and eating rather delicious cakes. In a separate room, decorated with a host of interesting pictures of Chelmsford in the Sixties, and with the Kinks and Roy Orbison and the Stones crooning in the background, I was talking about My Generation.
What was very nice for me was hearing the experiences of those in the audience. In the first session there were no (ex)rockers, but in the second session there was a mix of (ex) mods and rockers – I had to be careful what I said. The discussion ranged far and wide from the pop groups that went to Southend to the £10 Poms who went to Australia, from Martin Ford (fashion emporium) where I bought my pin-striped fan pleated skirt, to the trendy straight shift dresses that made it easy to run up a new outfit for yourself. We talked about National Service and pubs and cafes. And I read a chapter from the new book (working title The Girl in the Green Mac) which went down well. So it was a great day all round.
One session ran from 11.30 to 12.30 and the second ran from 1.30 to 2.30. In between, with scarcely enough time for me to eat a cheese sandwich, Andy Stephens, a local reporter, asked me a few questions. And here are the answers.
Next Saturday (3 June) will be a great day. In the Galleywood Heritage Centre there will be a whole host of exhibitors showing different aspects of Chelmsford’s History, recent history and further back. I can’t really believe people consider the Sixties history – we are all still so young! but there will be The Essex Society for Family History, the Chelmer Canal Trust, the Essex Police Museum, the Western Front Association, and lots of others too. It’s free and there’s a cafe.
At 11.30 and at 1.30 I’ll be talking about my books ‘Beyond the Beehive’ (set in 1965 Chelmsford and coming out in a lovely new edition in the New Year) and reading from my new book set in 1966 – working title ‘The Girl in the Green Mac.’ Come and join in. What were you doing on 30th July 1966 when the World Cup match was being played? What was your favourite record? Were you a Stones supporter or a Beatles fan? Do you still have your Sacks and Brendlor Suede coat?
The Heritage Centre is off Margaretting Road, Galleywood Common, Chelmsford CM2 8TR It would be great to see you there.
And to get you into the mood here’s another chance to see the BBC documentary, first broadcast last year, about East Anglia in 1966. See you on Saturday!
So here is the news.
Beyond the Beehive has been purchased by the publisher Bonnier Zaffre. Beyond the Beehive is a story of female friendship and the search for love and adventure in Essex in the 1960s, a time of political and social change. The book will reappear in a fabulous new edition with a big Z on its spine, in a bookshop near you in the New Year. It will be swiftly followed by a second 60s novel, in the summer.
I signed the contract last week, and I also went to Wimpole Street (think Elizabeth Barrett, Wilkie Collins, Paul McCartney – apparently he and John Lennon wrote ‘I Wanna Hold your Hand’ there) for a meeting with Bonnier Zaffre in their swish offices where lots of young people sat in front of computers in rooms buzzing with energy.
I’m so pleased for the characters in Beehive, it is a book which is close to my heart,. So to all you out there who have bought the book, borrowed it from the library, talked about it in your book group, come to talks. Thank you. You put it out there, in the air, and Bonnier Zaffre picked it up and run
I also love the way things have turned out because I rather like the letter Z. It is so Other. I can never believe l actually have a Z in my own name. In my heart I’m surprised I’m not really called something like Penny. But Z has followed me throughout my life. When l was at Birmingham University there was a satirical ‘magazine’ pinned on to a wall in the Student Union building and l had a column on it under a pen-name. And that name was Zoë Meldrum. Zoë. So let’s hear it for the letter Z.
So tomorrow 18 March is Essex Authors Day, part of the Essex Book Festival, and I shall be at the Chelmsford Library in Market Street (opposite the multi-storey car park) from 10am, chatting to people, talking about the 60s and reading from my books.
The exciting news is that Beyond the Beehive is going to be republished in a whole new format in the new year, closely followed by a sequel. I say closely – I have to write it first.
More news as it happens.
In the meantime, rest assured, there will be mods, Motown, minis, a sprinkling of parkas, suede and leather, frothy coffee, and Horlicks. Yes, I shall be talking about my generation…
Unexpected and best Christmas present – a record player! And not only is it a record player but it’s portable. Imagine – I could take it with me when I have to stay in hotels or go on holiday. Unlike some people, I still have quite a lot of vinyl and it’s very nice to sit in the kitchen and put on some old favourites. I’m only sorry I’m not still practising as a barrister – along with the brief and the papers, and notebooks, I could have taken my neat little green case into court.
A couple of bars of ‘I fought the law,’ or even ‘Jailhouse Rock’ could have melted the heart of many a judge. I notice (only now, because he was not in my time) that there is a song by Jackson Browne called ‘Lawyers in Love‘ but that might have been a bit distracting. But this is the thing, you could get to a tricky point in cross examination, where all seems to be going badly – a not infrequent event – and you could say, ‘Officer, I put it to you that my client is not that bad. Why, listen to this!’ and slip ‘I shot the sheriff’ on to the turntable. After a couple of lines you could go back to cross examination. ‘Officer, don’t you understand, he did not shoot the deputy.’ Verdict – not guilty! In my dreams. *
Another surprising and lovely gift was an album by Yo Yo Ma, Sing Me Home, from friend Susan in Yorkshire. One of the most intriguing tracks, because I have a history with this song, is St James Infirmary Blues, featuring Rhiannon Giddens, Michael Ward-Bergeman & Reylon Yount.
Those of you who watched the BBC documentary Living in ’66 – Pop, pirates and postmen will remember (possibly) that during the section where I walked round Chelmsford I read an extract from my diary describing a day in March 1966 where friend Christine and I went in to Dace’s music shop to buy Lee Dorsey and Lou Christie’s latest singles, but bumped into a couple of pals who were listening to something else and so Christine walked out of the shop with a copy of St James Infirmary by the Graham Bond Organisation. Very different, but great!
* For more songs that have to do with lawyers look at this website, Abnormal Use
It’s nearly Christmas. The snow isn’t snowing, the wind isn’t particularly blowing (not down here in the South, anyway), though at this time of the year there’s always a bit of a storm. But what better way to weather the storm than by listening to the Phil Spector Christmas Album and singing along at full volume as you queue to get out of the car park at the supermarket.
My particular favourite is Santa Claus is Coming to Town by the Crystals – the actual song starts at about 30 seconds in. Great stuff.
2016 – what a year it’s been. I’ve written a sort of on-line round robin here about my year, but today, in this post I wanted to say thank you to all of you who’ve read this blog and been with me on the path to bring Beyond the Beehive into the warm light of day.
I’ve been writing the book for a very (very) long time, but it began to really take shape in March when I was contacted by Patrick McGrady of Wavelength Films to take part in the programme ‘Living in ’66.’ You can watch it here.
That programme and the email I received from Pete Searles of Mark Shelley and the Deans – who later agreed to play at the Chelmsford launch – spurred me on to finalise the book and get it out there.
And since it came out – the reaction has been fantastic. People have bought the book, come to the events, laughed at the jokes, talked about their own experiences, and asked for more. I really loved writing this book and it’s been great for me to see it on the shelves of Chelmsford Foyles. So thank you to everyone.
Have a Cool Yule and here’s the whole Christmas album.
I was interviewed by Radio Gorgeous last week. We had arranged to meet in the Society Club, a small cosy coffee shop and rare bookshop in Ingestre Place, but they were clearing up from a photo shoot, so we adjourned to the John Snow pub. It’s a dark wood, Victorian saloon bar, on two levels, filled with the low hum of conversation. We talked about Beyond the Beehive, life and the universe. The interview will be broadcast in January.
After I left the pub, I wandered along Broadwick Street in the direction of Carnaby Street. I passed a row of shops. One of them had a mod target outside. I stopped and looked in the window.
There were Fred Perrys and suits, a particularly delectable mauve suit on a tailor’s dummy, but there were also books – books aboout the Who and books I have myself including Sawdust Caesars by Tony Beesley.
It was Sherry’s. I went inside and met Perry who works there. I told him I’d written a book about mod girls. ‘If it’s mod we should have it,’ he said. ‘Speak to Bubbles,’ he said. Bubbles is the owner.
So on Tuesday I went into the shop with a few copies of Beyond the Beehive. Bubbles was there and was very friendly. ‘Yes,’ she said. ‘We’ll display them.’
Which all means that if you’re in Carnaby Street, buying new shoes or just looking at the lights, but despairing of knowing what to buy the mod in your life for Christmas – you can nip along the street to Sherry’s, buy a copy or two of the book and order yourself a sharp suit at the same time. A Christmas outfit!
Last Friday evening it was all go. First the interview at Broadcasting House with Georgey Spanswick (listen here my interview starts at 1 hour 10 minutes in). She was so friendly and chatty I could have stayed talking all night – but had to dash from Oxford Circus to Shaftesbury Avenue to ensure everything was ready for the launch in the heart of Soho (Bakerloo line, one stop to Piccadilly Circus and then, if desired a one stop bus ride to the Curzon cinema and then a 20 yard walk to St Anne’s Church in Dean Street) (I know people like geographical details).
And it was ready! Team Beehive were working like … well, worker bees, and the room and the garden looked lovely (and that was without the bowls of crisps, popcorn and Twiglets). Billie was there, looking even lovelier than she does on the cover of the book, Leila was poised ready to pour the drinks, sister Tess was arranging lighting and chairs, Gill took up her position behind the book stall, Caroline was lugging boxes around and ensuring everything was where it should be and then Christine (aka Sandra) and Barry arrived and got down and technical. People trickled in and then a tidal wave of guests arrived and the hall was buzzing.
You can read the pieces from Beyond the Beehive which I read on Friday night here.
I’ve also written about the evening here.
It was a great night!