The Girls from Greenway

The Girls from Greenway, the next book about mods in Chelmsford has just gone to the typesetters and it will be out on 19 September 2019! The book features all those iconic aspects of Sixties life – scooters,

the Orpheus, Wainwright’s Milk Bar, the Golden Fleece, the Bus Station,

 

plus a few more – Carnival Queens,

The Saracen’s Head,  the County Hotel, and Bonds Department Store.

All accompanied by the great sounds of Motown, Stax and Mark Shelley and the Deans.

There’s also a slight peppering of fashion and a few magazines, like Honey and Vogue.  And a new men’s boutique in town. Everything to look forward to! And here’s a synopsis

1960s Chelmsford

Angie Smith lives on the Greenway estate in Chelmsford, with her elder sister Doreen, their struggling mother and their drunk, violent father. Bored of her job, and of her dull, ordinary boyfriend Roger, Angie dreams of bigger and better things.

But then she meets boutique-owner Gene Battini, older, handsome, charming – and married. She is completely swept off her feet. Little does she know that Doreen too is falling for Gene, and that their affair will have disastrous consequences.

As things at home go from bad to worse, Angie and Doreen must struggle to fight for what they want.

Can the girls from Greenway ever achieve their dreams?

o o O o o

And in other news, The Saturday Girls is out on 1 May in large print!

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What to do

It’s been a long time since my last post. I’ve been working on the next book – The Girls from Greenway. It’s out in September! It’s another novel about the Sixties – life in Swinging Chelmsford, mods, Motown, frothy coffee and Ben Sherman shirts. The editing process has been long, but it’s almost over. And now I have two weeks before the next stage begins.

So I decided to go mad and have a weekend in Paris. But then news began circulating about industrial action by French customs workers, talk of 5 hour queues at the Gare du Nord for trains back to London, and I began to wonder if I should risk it. So I found myself walking along the road humming What to Do by Buddy Holly. And I found I remembered all the words.

I loved Buddy Holly’s songs when I was at school, and would walk home in the afternoons, singing whatever song suited my mood. ‘That’ll Be the Day,’ ‘Oh Boy,’ ‘Raining in my Heart’ and ‘Rave On’ were all on my singing playlist. If there was homework that just wasn’t going to get done, if there was a good group due to appear at the Corn Exchange next Saturday, if the weather wasn’t too hot, I would swing my bag, hold on to my beret and sing out loud. I probably looked quite stupid in my navy-blue school uniform and my sensible lace-up shoes, but I was happy.

In the end I didn’t go to Paris – the advice from Eurostar was not to go unless my journey was absolutely necessary, and by the time I took the decision, there was talk of 6 and 7 hour queues. Well, ‘Maybe Baby’ I’ll go soon.

 

Listen here!

The best thing is going to happen. From 1 January 2019 it will be possible to listen to The Saturday Girls through your very own headphones. The Saturday Girls is now available as an audio book. It’s unabridged so it’s 11 hours long. But think of it – a long car journey, an overnight flight, taking down the Christmas decorations, all those tasks that you dread – all will be so much easier and, let’s face it, more enjoyable, if you can step back into the Sixties, the music, the milkshakes, the money (all in pounds, shillings and pence) with a dash of danger, dancing and delicious Angel cake. Or if you’re just sitting at home, by the fire, maybe sewing on a button, or changing a flat tyre, think of the pleasure of a listening to a good story as you work.

Order it from the library or – hey, splash out on your own copy!

It is of course, still available in paperback.

 

Hi-Heel Sneakers

COMING UP!

Thursday 13 December 10.45am – Hi-Heel Sneakers – Morals, Motown and Milkshakes in the early 60s

As part of the Crouch End U3A series of monthly meetings I’ll be talking about the music, coffee bars, and fashion of the Sixties, and how young working-class people made their way in a rapidly changing and uncertain world. It’s the Christmas meeting so there will be mince pies and tea and coffee. There will be one or two cracker jokes from the 60s and a load of really good pictures. I’m doing a power point and I’ll do some readings from The Saturday Girls and A Sense of Occasion, and maybe even the new book! working title currently The Greenway Girls.

Union Church and Community Hall, Weston Park, N8 9TA  –  doors open 10am

o o O o o

How to be a mod girl

Things are happening fast! The Saturday Girls is selling fantastically well – thank you to everyone who’s bought it – and the audio version is out in January 2019. My interview with Robert Elms was great! You can listen to it here. My piece starts about 40 minutes in, after a track by the Small Faces.

And other things are happening. Some websites have asked me to write for them, about The Saturday Girls and my writing habits, and the first piece to appear has been published in Female First, an online magazine that covers all kinds of things – music, fashion, food and books. My article gives my top tips on how to be a mod girl, so that anyone can do it. Unfortunately Ready Steady Go! – unmissable viewing on Friday nights – is no longer airing on TV, but the magic of social media allows everyone to watch old episodes on YouTube.

So get yourself a dose of RSG!, grab your best friend and stroll round your local town centre. You’re half way there! Find all the tips here.

And as ever, there’s just one song you need to get you into the mod mood, and that’s Green Onions by Booker T and the MGs. Imagine yourself, on a Saturday night, walking into the Corn Exchange  with that best friend of yours, in all your mod finery, looking forward to seeing Georgie Fame or the Who or Wilson Pickett, as well as all the other cool mods from town. That’s it. You’re there.

Hi-Heel Sneakers

I’m on the Robert Elms show on BBC Radio London today at 10.30 am (94.9FM) to talk about The Saturday Girls, mods, Motown and milkshakes. The big question is – when you’re going on the radio, does it matter what you wear? In bed, before I got up, I played Hi Heel Sneakers – one of the best records to put on the juke box in the Orpheus, the mods’ coffee bar in Chelmsford, a song that conjures up the excitement, the breathlessness, the cool of being a mod. I was looking for sartorial tips.

On the basis of Tommy Tucker’s advice I should wear a red dress, a wig hat and the hi-heel sneakers. It is of course a look, but perhaps it had to be 1964, in a cellar bar with very low lighting for it to work.

Is it important to wear the right clothes for any given situation, even if no-one can see you? I think so – I once represented a client in a case where the judge needed to check something as she was drafting the order, and she rang me up at home. I was in my pyjamas! It was not an easy conversation, calling someone ‘Judge’ when you’re glancing down at your slippers. Clothes are vital.

So what shall I wear today (did I mention I’m on the Robert Elms show this morning? 10.30am)? Sometimes I wish my mum hadn’t thrown away my suede (when I was 35 and hadn’t lived at home for over 15 years). A suede coat covered a multitude of sins – the not-quite-Fred Perry, the slightly wrong colour twin-set or simply the wrong blouse.

Yes, the book is out and people are saying good things about it. People have taken snaps of it on the shelves at Sainsbury’s, as far apart as Winchmore Hill and Chelmsford (well, they have to sell it in Chelmsford). My sister was on holiday and two of her friends were reading it! Of course, they may have felt they had to, but it was a nice gesture. My sister herself read it and said it was like being back in our living room in the Sixties (it is, of course, a novel Tess!).

But back to the far more pressing issue of clothes for this morning’s broadcast. I shall wear something dark but cool, straight but well cut, the sort of thing we dreamed of in those days, but never quite knew how to put into words. Or afford.

Let Tommy Tucker say it for me.

The Saturday Girls – countdown

In four weeks time The Saturday Girls will be on the shelves.

I really enjoyed writing the book, much as I really enjoyed those days. How iconic they were, and still are. Everyone has a story to tell about the early Sixties. Yesterday I was in a local coffee shop talking to someone who is at least ten years younger than me. We talked about a whole range of things – starting with her excellent choice, in this hot heavy weather, of iced coffee. Somehow, as it always does, the conversation turned to the early Sixties – mods and rockers and Italian style and the French New Wave and scooters and suede coats. And she had memories of those days. I mentioned the Milk Bar – in Chelmsford that was Wainwrights, on the corner of London Road and Tindal Street. And she, who had grown up in the Midlands, suddenly remembered their local Milk Bar, and its reputation for being a wild and crazy place that your mum wouldn’t want you to go to. I said the word ‘scooters’ and she had a story about riding on the back of a Vespa, and holding on tight.

That’s the book really. What I’ve tried to do is take you back there – so you too can remember those days of Motown and Minis and Cathy McGowan and her Cleopatra hair style. Even if you weren’t there, as you follow the paths of Linda and Sandra, dancing to Georgie Fame at the Corn Exchange and drinking frothy coffee in the Orpheus, and as you meet Sylvie, the most exotic person on the Estate, who has actually been to Paris – you’ll remember.

And it’s so close now. Things are heating up! My editor tells me I shall soon have a copy of the book to hold in my hands. And then it will climb onto the shelves of the shops.  And then you’ll be able to read it. As the Temptations said, ‘Like a snowball rolling down the side of a snow covered hill, it’s growing.’

You can of course pre-order your copy here!

The Four Tops

Yesterday I was having lunch with Val Wilmer and the conversation turned to the Four Tops. Val had photographed them at a concert they were doing. We recalled their greatest hits, and the fabulous voice of lead singer, Levi Stubbs.

Today I’m tidying up a chapter in The Girl in the Green Mac that takes place in the Orpheus, the cellar coffee bar in the centre of Chelmsford where all the mods gathered. There was a great jukebox in the Orpheus that had all the cool hits, the obscure records you wouldn’t hear on Top of the Pops. Another of its great features was that it was attached to the wall next to a mirror by the stairs, a very handy spot for checking out who was coming in, what they were wearing and who they were with. Then it was the most natural thing in the world to turn and ask if anyone had two threepences for a sixpence, or change for a shilling, to put in the slot, or to just chat about the group that was coming to play at the Corn Exchange on Saturday. You could even pose a question about the Vespa or Lambretta’s progress since the last flat tyre or flat battery. Any subject is interesting if it has a good soundtrack.

In the chapter, Carol (the girl in the green mac) is at the counter, waiting to order two coffees for herself and her friend Angie, who is sitting in their favourite seat, a dark booth at the back of the room.  As she stands there, waiting for a group of young out-of-town mods to make up their minds between Coke and lemon or a glass of milk, with a hiss and a crackle, the Four Tops come on the juke-box. The song fills her with yearning and longing for someone to feel that intensely about her. I thought I’d get in the groove while I was writing and I clicked on this track on YouTube, ‘Without the One You Love (Life’s Not Worthwhile). It came out in 1964, after their big hit, ‘Baby, I Need Your Loving’, and was another example of the rich velvety voice of Levi Stubbs. It wasn’t such a big hit, perhaps because the title was too long, or, it has been suggested, because it was over-produced. Who knows? Perhaps because the first line was almost a repetition of the title of the earlier hit and people were worried they were buying the same thing again. But if you keep on listening it becomes a great song in its own right. And to my 15 year old ears it was perfect.

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.

 

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