Dream Baby

A good weekend. The sun has been shining, so having breakfast in the kitchen reading the paper is already a joy. But there was a very interesting article in the colour supplement this week, by Grace Dent, the new Guardian restaurant critic. She was writing about processed food, the comfort and the deliciousness of food that comes out of a packet. She’s a bit younger than me, but it still reminded me of the treats made by Vesta or Birds Eye, that would appear at tea-time for a special occasion. You can read the article here.

And then, this weekend the writing for the next book (working title The Girl in the Green Mac) has been going well. I’m just writing a scene where our heroine is sitting on the garden wall, gazing at the flowers, when along comes bad boy/hero Cliff . He watches her sitting there and he wants to say something sweet and soft so as not to interrupt her reverie. I wanted to use the words of a song that would be short hand for what he was feeling, that they would both understand. Dream Lover by Bobby Darin has the wrong vibe – he knows where she is. What a Day for a Daydream by the Lovin’ Spoonful is just too late – 1966. And then I remembered Dream Baby by Roy Orbison. She can make his dreams come true. Yes, it’s a rocking number. But hey, Carol likes to dance, so why not use it?

In this version, much of rock royalty appears.

 

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The Saturday Girls

I am really pleased to be able to show you the new cover for The Saturday Girls. The book is about being a mod girl in Essex in the 60s and comes out on 23 August 2018. It’s great to have a new title and a new cover that I think really does do justice to the book! You can reserve a copy here. 

In those days, life began on Saturdays. On Saturday mornings I worked in the local milk bar – it was vital if I was going to pay for my ticket to the Corn Exchange in the evening. I was a mod in a suede coat and danced to the live music of Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames, the Animals and many more groups who played at the Corn Exchange every Saturday night. I was a Saturday girl in every sense of the word.

What a good time it was. So, I wrote a novel about it. I put in the music and the milk shakes and the magic of those days.

The first record that appears in the book is the one that could almost be called the mod anthem. Green Onions by Booker T and the MGs. Close your eyes and remember where you heard it first, a dance hall, a cellar cafe, a juke box in a coffee bar, a sound-proof booth in a record shop. Remember the excitement of hearing a song that no-one older than 25 liked.

While you’re waiting for the book to come out, stay in the groove by listening to that great organ sound, and maybe practise one or two mod dances, The Block or the mod Jive.

 

Essex Rock Groups

 

Yesterday I went to Braintree – a town in North Essex that I have never knowingly visited before. I went by train, passing through Witham, Cressing and White Notley. The train stops at Braintree and goes no further.

It is a small market town (population 45,000), set on the River Brain. In fact, my mum was a social work assistant here (one of the famous Braintree Five – my mum is on the far left).

I went to hear old friend John Power give a talk about Essex Rock Groups.The talk took place in the Braintree Museum, which was originally a junior school, built in the middle of the 19th Century.

John and I go back many years – we met first in Chelmsford and then later at Colchester Tec College where I was doing my A-levels (see my earlier post about the student newspaper, Outlook). John was doing art and went on to do a degree in Art and Psychology. He paints, but he also writes about Chelmsford and Essex history.

And yesterday he was talking about Essex Rock Bands.  The Graham Bond Organisation, the Fairies, the Small Faces (Ilford), the Kursaal Fliers, Dr Feelgood (Canvey Island), Blur (Colchester), Prodigy (Braintree’s own), to name just a few. What is interesting is how the members move from one group to another – Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker were members of the Graham Bond Organisation. Ronnie Lane, Ronnie Wood, Rod Stewart all had a part to play in the Small Faces.

The talk ranged wide – from Suzi Quatro who lives in Chatham Green, through Ian Dury from Upminster, through to Eddie and the Hot Roads from Canvey Island and beyond. A good afternoon.

I wrote last year about the Saturday that my best friend Christine bought the record St James Infirmary, after listening to it in a booth in Daces, Chelmsford’s music shop. It’s still a great song.

You can read John’s book about the Essex bands here on the website Chelmsford Rocks. In the meantime, listen to Back in the Night by Dr Feelgood, who came from Canvey Island. Dr Feelgood, the first Thames Delta Blues Band.

A date for your diary

Essex Book Festival

Saturday 17 March 2018 Essex Authors Day

12.00 noon – 12.45pm  Writing from my experience

‘How can authors draw on personal experience? In the sixties Elizabeth was a Chelmsford mod and used that background as well as research to create her books.’

Chelmsford Library, Market Road, Chelmsford CM1 1QH       Free    BOOK NOW

And then, come and chat. 1 -2pm Meet the Authors

o o O o o

 

Angel Cake

 

The Essex Girls are on the way! For people new to the blog, The Essex Girls is my novel about two working class girls in the Sixties – mods, Motown and milkshakes. The book comes out in 2 months. A few final touches and we’ll be ready to go. One of those final touches is putting a recipe in the back of the book, based on a dish from the novel.  At first I couldn’t think what that might be – most of the time Sandra and Linda eat beans on toast, egg and chips, and Ready Brek. For special occasions, it might be ham salad.

But then I remembered the cake! There is a birthday cake (not in Linda’s house, it should be said), and it’s an Angel Cake. So – not only will readers get a cracking good book (as we say in the literary world) but a recipe too! For Angel Cake.

I have to admit that when I wrote about the cake, how soft, creamy, even moist it was, I hadn’t knowingly eaten Angel cake. Of course, this is why it’s called fiction. Writers make things up. But they must do research.

For me, writing about the Sixties, research is usually looking at my old diaries. However, while in a popular supermarket yesterday, buying frozen, microwaveable chips for my Aunty Rita (89) I was walking past the cake section and saw a packet of Angel Cake Slices, Tesco’s own brand. In the pursuit of knowledge and experience – who knows what questions I might be asked when the book comes out – I quickly snatched a packet from the shelf, paid and took them back to Rita’s flat. We had a cup of tea and a piece of Angel cake. Delicious, soft, moist and a little cream. The perfect cake to go in the back of the book! I left the slices with Rita to enjoy in her own time.

This morning, needing to double check my facts, I bought a packet of Mr Kipling Angel Slices. I have to say, they are not as delicious and unctuous as the Tesco brand.

Clearly, there must be a way forward for readers. Here is my 5-step plan.

  1. Pre-order The Essex Girls here.
  2. As soon as you receive it on or about 19 April, read it and thoroughly immerse yourself in the glorious decade that was the 60s.
  3. Find the recipe at the back of the book.
  4. Make the cake.
  5. Eat the cake.
  6. (optional) Think about angels.
  7. (even more optional) Wonder why you can’t take your eyes off that male dancer with the floppy hair.

 

Top 3 pictures – Christine Wilkinson

 

Sixties History

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!

The letter Z

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.

                   

All or Nothing

I never was a great fan of the Small Faces – I think I thought they were too…. small.  But also that they tried too hard to be mod or something. But 50 years on I can see things through a Vaseline smeared lens, and I know all the words to the songs so when old school pals suggest a trip to see All or Nothing, the new Small Faces musical, I say yes quickly and find I’m looking forward to it.

We meet for dinner before the show – apart from a recent sighting across a crowded room a few months ago I haven’t seen Gayle and Amanda for almost 50 years.  Chris I haven’t seen for as long. We have had Facebook discussions as to what we should wear and we all agree we will wear something mod. They all look fantastic and I am the party-pooper who has failed to even wear a suede coat or chisel-toed slingbacks (I blame travel and accommodation problems). It is discouraging for the others, and indeed for me, because we are expecting a moment during the show when the cry will go up ‘Is there a girl group in the house that could come and sing a few numbers with us?’ We know that even though our seats are in the balcony this will not stop us and we shall become the Goldie and the Gingerbreads of Chelmsford and possibly be offered a contract before the night is out.  I only hope that my jeans won’t hold us back.

The show is just starting its regional run, in the Chelmsford Civic Centre.  As we go in we remember various shows we have seen here – mostly with The School. I am also wondering if this is where I performed with the Chelmsford Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society’s production of The Crucible. For some reason it is all a dim memory. Amanda and I eschew the notion of a bag of Maltesers and have ice cream.

In the first half charting the early days of the group there is a lot of R&B (as it then was). Each time they pick up their guitars and tune a string or two there is that exciting feeling that comes with being at a dance with live music – Chelmsford YMCA, the Corn Exchange, a Youth Club on one of the estates. The Steve Marriott character sings well. Every now and again he hits a note with exactly the same sound as Steve Marriott and it’s like being back there, in the Sixties, in the Orpheus, Snows, listening to the juke box. I remember the snatched minutes,in my bedroom, listening to blues on the Mike Raven show on the pirate radio station Radio 390, hearing Muddy Waters, BB King, Howlin’ Wolf, thrilled by the music and entranced by the names, Peetie Wheatstraw, Sleepy John Estes.  Now to hear Boom Boom played very loud on stage is exciting.

In the interval we have a drink, idly glance at the memorabilia on sale and watch the unusual spectacle of hundreds of men queuing for the loos. They’re all here, most of them of a certain age. The discussion centres on our memories.  Is what it is happening on stage what it was really like?  The jury is out.  We all agree that the scooter in the foyer, adorned with a trillion lamps, is not anything any of us remembers.  The scooter boys we knew never had an extra lamp. We take photos.

          

The second half covers the move through the Sixties, via Mary Quant and op-art. We all agree we love the black and white dresses, coincidentally made by Love Her Madly, someone I follow on Twitter.  Straight and simple, we are all taken back to the happy days.

And then on through to hippies.  Hippie-dom was not my personal favourite era (not enough ironing) but others among us really like it.  At the end, our moment comes, there are repeats of the songs and people in the audience are pulled up on the stage and there is dancing.  We look at each other.  This is our moment.  Maybe.  I’m still drinking my interval wine, we’ve all got bags, and then there’s our coats. No, not today.  We probably need to rehearse a bit  too.

Gradually the show comes to a halt and happy punters leave the building. It has been a great evening.

 

Book talk

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…

Pink Floyd

Pink Floyd Exhibition - their mortal remains poster

I cannot put my hand on my heart and say I was ever a Pink Floyd fan, although it’s fair to say, I do have an album of theirs, and I’m not sure how I got it.

But I was invited to attend a press briefing about the forthcoming exhibition at the V&A  Pink Floyd Exhibition – their mortal remains.  I’d been to the V&A exhibition You Say You Want A Revolution (last few days, catch it now) – which covered the years 1966-70, and I enjoyed it, although as those who read this blog regularly will know, for me the Real sixties was 1963-66 (at least that’s what my diaries tell me).

The presentation room/cinema in the Mayfair hotel was packed.  As I looked up at the rows of seats I counted at least 10 cameras on tripods waiting to film the event.  The big event was obviously going to be the moment that Roger Waters (Bass guitarist) and Nick Mason (drummer) came on. I was mainly interested in their early years, what made them do the things they did.

pink-floyd-mid-60s

The curator of the exhibition Victoria Broakes explained the chronology of the exhibition, David Sennheiser the grandson of the inventor of the ‘legendary Sennheiser MD 409’ microphone they used and whose sound systems they continue to use, and two old pals and colleagues from Cambridge, where they’d gone to local schools, and who came with them up to London where they were art and architecture students.  They talked about how the band had started, the Bedford van they had used to move their equipment around, the risks they took, the wild ideas they had and how they encouraged others to have wild and inventive ideas for sets, and stunts.  How their star rose and rose.  And then punk came along.  I wasn’t a particular fan of punk, but they did occasionally tell a good joke.

Johnny Rotten I hate Pink Floyd tee shirt

Then the guests of honour walked onto the stage.

Pink Floyd Waters and Mason

They talked about their past.  Roger Waters said he had wanted to be political in his music, he had wanted to put a message out to the world.  They told some good stories, Storm Ferguson, the man who ‘wouldn’t take yes for an answer.’  They spoke about the heady days of psychedelia.  When the MC Matt Everit asked which of the two had the better memory Roger Waters said, ‘How would we know?’

Pink Floyd Obvserver collageRoger Waters described the difficulties for young musicians these days, and the negative effect the internet has had, how singles are given away, and it’s hard for artists to make money. ‘The record industry didn’t make the deals.’

Roger Waters and Nick Mason - Q&A

My heart warned towards them in the Q&A session, when a Mexican journalist asked, given that they had made an album The Wall, if Trump’s wall is ever built, would they go to Mexico and sing on the Wall.  Roger Waters wasn’t sure.  He talked about walls, and said when the Palestinian-Israeli question is resolved and the wall in Palestine is taken down, then maybe there would be a concert as an ‘act of celebration.’ Something to work towards.

As the session ended and Roger Waters and Nick Mason left the stage, a series of photos of the band, rehearsing in the 60s, were flashed up onto the screen.  As people left the auditorium, quickly dismantling cameras, rushing to the next shot, Roger Waters turned and watched the images.  The past is another country.

Roger Waters          Pink Floyd early days