Bob Dylan Dream

It was the lunch break of a one-day Guardian Masterclass (one of the cheaper ones).  On an upper floor of the glass and metal Kings Place building, the new home of the Guardian, I wandered past tables with my plate of lasagne looking for an empty seat.   Most tables were taken but I found a place with only one occupant, and sat down opposite a cool looking dude, who had nearly finished his meal.  We fell into a discussion of our books, mine A Sense of Occasion and Beyond the Beehive, his Bob Dylan Dream – and discovered a clutch of similarities.  We were each writing about our adolescence in the 60s.  We’d both grown up on council estates and had listened endlessly to music.  Not only that but he was writing about Bob Dylan and I had been to see Bob Dylan at the Albert Hall in 1966!  I have to say that I went with the school and at that point I wasn’t entirely sure who Bob Dylan was, although I knew he was important and big and there was a spare seat on the coach.  Roy was a serious Bob fan, an aficionado.  He lived Bob Dylan.  And he knew how it all fitted together, the music, the culture, the radio stations, in that wonderful, tumultuous, explosive period for youth in the mid-60s.

Bob Dylan Dream is now out.  It is the story of growing up in the 60s, as a fan of Bob Dylan.  But not just Bob Dylan, he knows about all the music of that time.   In this fragment Roy talks about listening to Dionne Warwick.

Whatever their individual qualities, Sandie and Cilla were always in the shadow of Dionne, who was extraordinary from the beginning, and she was very young at the beginning. Even now a radio can deliver you an early hit while you are thinking of maybe pouring a cup of tea, or dropping a plate into a washing up bowl, and catch you up completely.

‘Don’t Make Me Over makes itself known and you are thrilled, uplifted, surprised by the open emotion, the simple clarity, the swift uprush into yearning and power when she sings the words that on the page seem unassuming:

Accept me for what I am,
Accept me for the things that I do

but in the air, in her upper register, they soar and shimmer with pain. They also link the subject not only with a romantic dilemma but a racial one. It’s fantastic grown-up songwriting and arranging, and was part of the Sixties like the Beatles, The Stones and Bob Dylan.

All of it was coming at us every day, all of those groups, bands, singers on a treadmill to put out records. And we were there to hear them as they happened. This is one of the main factors in the teenage identification of a music as its own. It doesn’t come from a time before you were around. It didn’t exist in the background for you to suddenly notice. It comes into existence and into your life while you’re paying attention, and it makes a difference, and you feel it belongs to you because it says something about you. 1965 and the Byrds making Bob Dylan into rock, or was it pop; and Bob Dylan making his break from old people’s expectation with Like A Rolling Stone, plus his follow up and most poppy rock record yet, and ever, with Positively 4th St: the sound of his voice where youth and age intertwine like strips around a barber’s pole; the touch and go coherence of the ensemble, with the instruments almost not fitting together while the tune stays endlessly beguiling; then the final put down with its blend of street language and fairy tale, lives and shoes swapped, a familiar unexamined phrase becoming an image from a film.

All of this greatness on the radio and in the air and in your dreams, no, not your dreams, the atmosphere in your everyday waking thoughts, the place where thoughts are the land where daydreams exist. Yet the biggest selling records of the year were by the most definitely non-teenage Ken Dodd and the Seekers. How could that be so and yet all still seemed perfect in a perfect world? Could 1966 keep up these exalted standards?

This is a book for anyone who remembers the 60s, who loves Bob Dylan, or who simply wants to know what it really felt like.  You can buy Bob Dylan Dream here.



60s Music at the Fair

Indie Author Fair

At last week’s Indie Author Fair at Foyle’s in London the room rocked with over 50 authors and their books. Readers, agents, organisers, artists and poets cruised around the room, wine glasses in hands, surveying, perusing and purchasing great reading.


In one corner of the room I lured people to my table with the offer of a 60s music quiz. People stood in the middle of the room, humming 60s tunes to each other, remembering the titles, guessing at the artists.  Christine Wilkinson, fabulous photographer and designer of the book cover and I answered questions as best we could, without giving too much away.
For those of you who couldn’t make it, here’s the quiz. Unfortunately no fabulous prizes remain (gorgeous fridge magnets (see below).  I know! you’re sorry you didn’t come now), but you’ll be left with a comforting sense of pride that you know all the answers.  Or not.    If in doubt, ask your mum.  Solutions later.

EW bookcovers (5)


1. Who sang …?
 a. Baby Love
i. The Ronettes
ii. The Crystals
iii. The Supremes
iv. The Chiffons

b. Oh Pretty Woman
i. Marvin Gaye
ii. Roy Orbison
iii. Del Shannon
iv. Marty Wilde

c. Shout
i. Brenda Lee
ii. Lulu
iii. Dusty Springfield
iv. Helen Shapiro

2. Van Morrison was a member of which group?
1. Dave Clark 5
2. Them
3. Spencer Davis Band
4. The Searchers

3. How many members were there in
1. The Dave Clark 5?
2. The Big 3?
3. The Beatles?

4. Who was the lead singer of the Animals?

5. Here’s the first line – what’s the song?
1. People try to put us down
2. Oh yeah, I’ll tell you something, I think you’ll understand
3. If you see me walking down the street and I start to cry

6. Which was the first record released by the Beatles
1. Please Please Me
2. Love Me Do
3. Can’t Buy Me Love

7. Charlie Watts was a member of which group?

8. In which city were Tamla Motown records first recorded?

9. On which TV Station did Top of the Pops start?

10. Which night did Ready Steady Go appear on TV?


a sense of occasion

The essential book about the 60s

An Awfully Big Occasion

What a swell party it was.

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Time – 17 April 2015, 4pm-7.30pm

Place – Foyle’s, Charing Cross Road

Meet the author!  Buy books.  Meet other authors.  Buy more books.

Yes – Foyles on London’s Charing Cross Road, is playing host to The Indie Author Fair on Friday 17th April 2015, 4-7.30pm.  The fair is organised by Triskele Books and sponsored by XPO North.  It’s free to the public.  And I shall be there!  With A Sense of Occasion.

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And what an occasion.  There will a drinks reception, there will be goodie bags.  It’s going to be great!  I shall be signing books, selling books and answering questions about the 60s, Chelmsford and Betty Crocker cakes (possibly).  I have a feeling that Motown music blasting through the room may not be welcomed by all authors, so I am trying to devise a situation where I provide the CD player and multi sets of ear phones so browsers can listen to Green Onions,  Hi Heel Sneakers, Little Red Rooster (the list -and the beat – goes on) while deciding how many copies to buy. Of course, in my hands this may not be desirable, even if technologically possible.  It will be a blast.

Just keep the date in your diary.  Friday 17 April 2015.  Be there or be square.

More details and press release here

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Beyond the Beehive

Get ready.  It’s coming.

The characters you enjoyed, the music you loved, the period you know from A Sense of Occasion are all about to reappear.  And this time it’s a novel.

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Beyond the Beehive takes us back to Chelmsford, 60s boom town, and follows Linda and Sandra as they dance  to the Animals at the Corn Exchange on Saturday night and order coffee in the Orpheus while they listen to Hi-Heel Sneakers by Tommy Tucker on the juke box.

juke box

Linda and Sandra are looking for a future away from the estate.  Sandra dreams that hers will be with Danny, a petty criminal.  She and Linda visit the local magistrates’ court, Wormwood Scrubs prison, the Wethersfield USAF airbase, and Littlewoods cafeteria in Oxford Street.       And then there’s Sylvie the Bohemian who lives down the road, who has been to Paris and is now the mother of an illegitimate son.  She needs help too, to find the baby’s father.  Beyond the Beehive captures the essence of the Sixties – Motown, milk bars, CND and the Vietnam war.

And the final preparations for the book are underway!

You may remember that Christine Wilkinson designed the cover of A Sense of Occasion.  It was an onerous task – one which began in the cafe of a bookshop – the proximity to literature was an artistic necessity – followed by a Betty Crocker cake-making session with black and white photography to get us into the 60s mood.  It must be underlined that the three eggs required in a Betty Crocker mix were a luxury on their own before the exorbitant price of the mix.  My dear old mum knew that a Viota cake mix provided all you could need in a cake.

So this is the way the artistic process works.

Chris took many photos,

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we baked a cake, we ate the cake, we listened to the Chiffons (there’s a cookery allusion in there), I dug out some old snaps – and Lo!  a cover emerged.

Christine and I met recently in the tearoom of another well-known bookstore.

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As we sat at the window, overlooking  Jermyn Street with its parade of fancy dressers, our order of a pot of English Breakfast tea for two and a slice of lemon drizzle cake in front of us, once more the ambiance of quiet study and powerful prose made for a productive session.    We talked colours – those mod colours, navy, maroon, bottle green.  We discussed the style.  We discussed the font.  We have a framework.

And next Saturday we shall mooch into Soho with our fabulous model and start the search for the perfect cover.  With necessary breaks for frothy coffee and possibly Horlicks.

No never Horlicks.

More news as it happens.

Moving to London

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The action now takes a step to London.  What did we in Chelmsford know of London in the 60s?  We knew Oxford Street – it was in the C&A store there that I bought my suede coat.  At last I was a real mod.  I was so proud of it – it was brown, it was soft, I could swap buttons with Christine and her brown leather.  I didn’t realise till later that it was  wrong, the sleeves were too wide and it had an A-line shape, akin to what was then called a duster coat.  It wasn’t a straight, narrow tube.  But it was suede, real suede.  And it came from London.

What else we knew about London (apart from Trafalgar Square where we fed the pigeons when we were small and gathered at the end of Ban the Bomb marches when we were teenagers) was that there were clubs.  Christine, my best friend, and I didn’t know them personally.  On Saturday evenings in Chelmsford, when the groups had finished playing at the Corn Exchange, the mod boys would mooch up to the railway station to jump on a train, or hop down to the A12 to hitch a ride to the Smoke, to go Up West, to the Flamingo or the Marquee, where they would often see the same group that had just been grooving it up in Chelmsford.

corn exchange

And now the two worlds will collide – in the best possible way – at the London launch of A Sense of Occasion.

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 London launch 2

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Read all about it at


A Night at the Saracens

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People tell stories about the Saracen’s Head.  Ghost stories, why else is it called the Ghost Bar?  Stories of famous visitors – the Who sat there once, apparently, drinking beer, looking like any ordinary mod in Chelmsford to hear a good group at the Corn Exchange.  War work was carried out at the back of the building.  And last week – the Chelmsford launch of A Sense of Occasion.  As has already been reported, Chelmsford was aquiver with excitement.  And why not?

A Sense - Invite Chelmsford

The music was good – who could argue with Chris Montez, the Crystals, Bob and Earl and of course, Smokey Robinson?  The atmosphere was great – candles, pictures of Jim Morrison, Amy Winehouse, Madonna, comfy chairs, white tablecloths, Twiglets.   The awaiting welcome glasses of Prosecco had strawberries in. 

A Sense of Occasion - prosecco awaits

It was a great evening, filled with people from far and near but who all had some connection with Chelmsford – including Christine, my oldest friend, who lived across the road.

There was a prize draw with fabulous prizes – mugs and pens with the book cover on them (plus a bottle of bubbles for the youngest guest (5) who came with her mum and dad).  It has to be said that there was a poor showing in the best mod outfit category (in fact I should have won – I had arrived in a parka and had a mod-ish dress from Sainsbury’s – my couturier of choice)

A Sense of Occasion - parka (1)

but I had a pen left so gave it to the sisters to share (you can do that with pens).

One of the best moments for me was the response when I said ‘Let’s hear it for the Woodhall Estate’ and the room was filled with a loud cheer from all the people who had lived on our estate.   A very good evening.  And I sold a load of books.

Thanks to all at the Saracen’s Head, particularly Sharnelle and Jordan, to Gill, Chris and Caroline – and again Christine.

Next stop London.


A Sense of Occasion – the Chelmsford launch

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There has been an early entrant to tomorrow night’s Best Mod Outfit competition.  Because Steve is, as we say in the legal world, beyond the seas (Australia), he is being allowed to enter, although he won’t be with us physically.

One or two people have expressed concern about their own costume for the evening.  Those who follow me on Facebook will know that I have already had to share an article on how to match your socks to your outfit.  I hope this will be of use, because let’s face it, it’s the little things that matter.

I have also been asked exactly what I mean when I suggest that a ‘Cleopatra’ hairdo might be required.   I am not suggesting an upstyle, decorated with asps and a gold locket, of course.  I am thinking more of those days when Cleo was mooching round Caesar’s country house, humming a tune, relaxed, her locks swinging shiny and free, dreaming of a time, a couple of thousand year’s hence, when Cathy McGowan would copy her look every Friday on Ready Steady Go.  As Cleopatra herself might have said – the weekend really does start here.

A Sense of Occasion

Planning the Chelmsford launch of my book, A Sense of Occasion – the Chelmsford Stories Final cover_1622x2500px

Lights, music, sparkling wine. The Saracen’s Head will be fizzing.  There will be a prize for the best mod outfit, which of course I shan’t be able to win, but I have to set an example.  I am in major conversation with Frank, my hairdresser, about the appropriate hair-style.  We didn’t have curls or waves in those days, it was all (an attempt at) the smooth Cleopatra bob as worn by Cathy McGowan on Ready Steady Go.  It will be a good evening.  Loads of old friends and family (including Auntie Rita hopefully). The book is something I’m very proud of, and I’m really looking forward to being in Chelmsford listening to the music that ushered us into the Corn Exchange on Saturday nights.

Can’t resist including Going to a Go-Go again.  Fantastic.



The In-Crowd

When I was fifteen I got a Saturday job in Wainwrights, the Milk Bar, on the corner of London Road and Tindal Street.  All the girls wore a white overall with a red and black check pinafore apron and when Steve started, he wore a white jacket, like Mr Wainwright.  We served milk and milkshakes, tea and coffee and Horlicks, and egg sandwiches.  There was no juke box, and it wasn’t hip, but it was popular.

There was a group of people, of whom my sister, tragically for me, was one, who came in every Saturday.  Val, the other Saturday girl, and I called them the In-Crowd.  The boys were at the Grammar School and the girls were at the High School.   They always had the same thing, Foxy had espresso – you had to go to the other end of the counter for espresso, and Steve had tea.  Johnny had lemon squash and my sister and Marilyn and the others had the ordinary coffee.  They would get their drinks and take them upstairs and sit for hours, taking up two tables, talking about horse-racing and records.  They weren’t mods, and despite my sister’s best attempts, they weren’t really beatniks.  The boys always wore nice jumpers, plain, no pattern, round neck, navy blue usually, sometimes maroon, and good jeans.  The girls wore mohair coats, or in the summer shift dresses in blue or pink.

They weren’t mods, but they really were a sort of In-Crowd.  And because they were two and three years older than me, it was a crowd I couldn’t join, even if I’d wanted to.  Later, when Foxy worked in London and so did I we became really good friends.  What a difference fifteen years makes.

A Sense of Occasion – the Chelmsford Stories

Betty Crocker

Betty Crocker cakes were known to be the queen of cakes, they were moist, they were rich, they were covered in ‘frosting’, and we rarely had them in our house.   But yesterday, as part of the preparation for publication of A Sense of Occasion – my book of Short Stories about being a mod girl in the Sixties, to be published on 1 May 2014 – Chris Wilkinson, the art director, and I decided to make a Betty Crocker cake to see if the end result would make a good cover.  After all, in those days, a Betty Crocker cake was an occasion in itself.

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We decided that the Red Velvet Cake would be the best from the Betty Crocker range – red from the paprika and carmine, velvet presumably from the cake.  Three eggs, 4½ tablespoons of oil, some water and the mix, what could be easier?  Well, the hand whisk broke, but it was old.  The main difficulty was the lack of two same sized cake tins for the two layers.  That was resolved when the cake came out of the oven, by cutting off an outer circle from one layer but my cake cutting skills are not what they were – if I ever had any, so there was uneven-ness.  No problem – all faults could be covered by frosting (bought in a separate tub.  Betty Crocker is still expensive).    And yet, somehow, there wasn’t enough frosting in the world to cover the tragedy on the cake rack.

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You would think, at the end of it all, that you could sit down with a nice cup of tea and savour a slice of delicious, soft, moist cake.  But it didn’t taste like that.   It was just too sweet.  It was a cake-mix cake.

So will a version of this cake become the cover?  We’ll decide soon.  Any views gratefully received.

But all I could think about as we prepared the cake was the TV advert which made people rush out in droves to buy Betty Crocker.  ‘It’s so nice to have a cake around the house, a Betty Crocker cake around the house.’