Radio Gorgeous

Wedding outfit

This is a brief post to alert you to the interview I did with Radio Gorgeous which is now up on their website as a podcast. *

Just before Christmas, on a wintery afternoon, Jo Pembroke and I sat in the John Snow pub in Soho, near Carnaby Street and talked – and talked. In the background you can hear the end of the lunchtime rush. Of course we discussed Chelmsford, mods and rockers, the Corn Exchange and music – and the interview opens, like the book, with the haunting organ chords of Green Onions. But the conversation ranged far and wide. Jo steered the conversation to Heybridge Basin in Essex where my dad grew up, Leytonstone in London where my mum was born, Woodford where the World War ll bomb fell on their house, then their meeting in the boom town of Chelmsford, where I was born and grew up.  Then on to Birmingham, Leicester and Tours, before landing back in London.  It’s all here

The picture that accompanies the interview is me in our back garden on the Woodhall Estate.  On the left of the picture is our shed.  People who have read Beyond the Beehive will know the importance of a shed in the life of a young person who wants to keep a secret. Behind me stretch the other houses on our block and far in the distance, on the right of the picture is the beginning of the shops. Important for chips, the purchase of wedding presents, the Off Licence and Sally the Baker’s. Plus the all important grocer’s.

I am wearing a black dress and a red beret. And for real fashion aficionados, the shoes were black patent with Louis heels and a flower detail. An interesting combination for a wedding outfit, and the basis of not a few jokes. But I take comfort from the fact that my niece (whose image is on the front cover of the book) saw this picture and asked me if I still had the dress as she liked it.  Or possibly because she was about to go to a fancy dress party.


* Friend M writes ‘Last night …. could not absolutely could not get to sleep.  Cup of tea etc and then I found Radio Gorgeous and you being interviewed! After that I was ab… z z z z z’

2016 – a look back



It’s nearly Christmas, and as I write the cards and dig out the wrapping paper [note to self, you have enough paper to redecorate Buckingham Palace, do not buy anymore, so what if they have all seen the amusing Santa and reindeer in a headlock motif for the last 5 years? it’s the present inside that counts] I have been reflecting over the last year.

Whoever would have thought, as we snoozed our way through the night into 1 January 2016, that at the end of the year we would be hoping that by some miracle Obama could stay on in the White House for another 20 or 30 years and that Brexit would just be a glint in a silent, forgotten Nigel Farage’s eye?  What a year – David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, Alan Rickman, Gene Wilder, Victoria Wood, Caroline Aherne all gone. Not to mention my mum, Peggy Perry, who died at the end of January and my brother-in-law, Alan Fountain, who died in March.

But there were some bright spots. Rudi, the son of niece Billie, born in October 2015, has continued to grow and thrive, spreading awe and wonder (as well as porridge) everywhere he goes.


The Film Quiz Night for the Eave Alan Fountain Scholarship Fund was a great event.

The Woodberry Wetlands is now open, so we wander into a wilderness of birds and bees. And there’s a very nice cafe there too.  What a great combination.

Woodberry Wetlands                    coffee at Woodberry Wetlands

In fact, all along Green Lanes, new coffee shops have been opening.  As well as Blend and Mokka (OK Wightman Road) we now have Beans & Barley, Beans & Music and Jam in a Jar, so we can drink Flat Whites any time we want.

But this year we decided we would become fit, healthy and toned – that is, more fit, healthy and toned than we already were, obviously, and to this end we decided we would try to walk 1000 miles in a year.  That’s about 3 miles a day.  Both C and I have a pedometer app on our phones which is a bad thing, because now we can’t bear to be without our phone to clock up the miles – even walking round the house.  We have about 6 weeks to go and I am going to need an average of about 15 miles a day if I am going to hit the 1000 mile target. That’s even including numerous comfort breaks.

Living in '66 - Pop, pirates and postmen BBC image

Unfortunately, before the toned part of the fitness regime could kick in, I got an email from a production company making a programme called ‘Living in ’66.’ This was for BBC1 who were putting on a number of regional programmes, all to be shown on the same night.  I was asked to be in the BBC East programme ‘Living in ’66 – pop, pirates and postmen‘. Because I had my 1966 diary. On a cold day in March I met the crew and BBC Radio 6 DJ Steve Lamacq in the Saracen’s Head pub, in the middle of Chelmsford.

Filming Living in '66After I had taught Steve Lamacq how to do the Mod jive, we walked round Chelmsford (I also taught him how to do the Mod Prince Philip walk) while I read passages from my diary.

The programme, which aired (as we say in the business) on 1 June 2016, kickstarted a relay of rather fab events.  An interview on BBC Radio Essex, about the show led to an occasional 6am appearance on BBC Radio Essex reviewing the newspapers, being interviewed by historian Stephen Norris as part of an oral history project about life in Chelmsford in the 50s and 60s, discovering the Ideas Hub – a Chelmsford coffee shop that is also the venue for all sorts of talks and exhibitions, where I talked about being a teenager in the 60s.

And finally, after approximately – hmmm – 30 years, Beyond the Beehive, my novel about life in 60s Chelmsford, finally saw the light of day.  That has been a source of great pride and pleasure, and it’s lovely having Billie on the cover.  We spent a morning in Soho trying out different images.

Billie19     Beyond-the-beehive-draft   beyond the beehive draft cover

But East West, home’s best – we decided on the one taken outside our back door.  beyond-the-beehive-shop


Local group Mark Shelley and the Deans, who played the rocking good sounds we danced to in the Sixties at the YMCA in Victoria Road, got in touch and agreed to play at the launch in Chelmsford which was fantastic.

Mark Shelley and the Deans in the 60s      mark-shelley-and-the-deans

After that there was a great launch in London. I’ve met lots of really wonderful people as I’ve spoken at events and readings. And the book has been selling. In the unlikely event you haven’t bought it yet – get down to Chelmsford Foyles now (or Sherry’s in Broadwick Street, London, or the Big Green Bookshop in Wood Green, or go online)!


Every year Goodreads the website for readers, asks you to set yourself a target for the number of books you will read in the year.  I set myself the target of 12 (I had a book to finish!!). I’m up to 13 in fact.  I really enjoyed The Colour by Rose Tremain, about the search for gold in 19th Century New Zealand (who knew?).  There was Michael Connelly, always good solid crime, the quirky Elvis Over England by Barry Hines (the author of Kes).  I read The Girl on the Train – hmm.  I also went back to my very (old) favourite Jean Rhys, Voyage in the Dark.  But my favourite book of the year was a Margaret Forster novel, Keeping the World Away, about a small painting that changes hands from woman to woman through the years.  A lovely story about becoming and being an artist.

Cover of Keeping the World Away by Margaret ForsterWe discovered Corsica.  We expected bandits and vendettas, and bitterness at French ownership of holiday homes. What we found was stunning scenery, friendliness, good food and interesting history.

Erbalunga, Corsica

There were a couple of disappointments – going to see Funny Girl when neither Sheridan Smith nor her fabulous understudy were performing.  And then when we turned up to Hornsey Town Hall to see Martha Reeves of Martha and the Vandellas we were met by disappointed concert-goers and notices saying, ‘She’s not here, she was never going to be here, there is nothing to see here.’ And the agency that had been selling the tickets was unavailable and their website had disappeared.

Martha Reeves didn't turn up

So we went and had tapas.

In Crouch End we now have the ArtHouse and the Picture House so we have the pleasure of great choice as well as good parking.  Earlier in the year there was a period when every film we went to see was about the 50s – Trumbo and Spotlight were excellent.  Bridge of Spies and Carol, were also good, and also 50s, and then recently A United Kingdom told the story of the marriage of the King of Botswana with a white woman from Britain, in the late 40s and early 50s.  A film I really enjoyed was Miles Ahead with the wonderful Don Cheadle, imagining a period in the life of Miles Davis.

the-martianThe Martian, with Matt Damon, we saw at a drive-in in Alexandra Palace, in the pouring rain.  We arrived in time to order hot-dogs – mine was called Clinton’s Love Child.  We ate quickly, washing them down with wine, and then it was time for the film.  The sound was a bit dodgy and some people left their carlights on which were reflected on the screen. So we missed the first 20 minutes through fretting, but despite that and despite being about life on Mars, it was an interesting movie.

But the prize for best, most telling, relevant and heart-breaking film, of course, goes to I Daniel Blake. There is a scene that takes place in a food bank which is the saddest, most gut-wrenching scene I have seen in a long while.


h4w-logoI’ve been involved for some time with the charity Housing for Women (H4W).  They provide accommodation to women who are escaping domestic violence, women who have been trafficked, women leaving prison and older women.  So it was a privilege a few weeks ago to be involved in the process of awarding grants to women to enable them to gain qualifications so that they can provide for themselves and their families. The grants were not large but, for example, would pay for a term of a hairdressing course or a dress-making and design course, or would pay for travel to college. When I was reading for the Bar two or three charities awarded grants to me.  Not only was it lovely to receive £100 or £200 but also to know that people believed in me and wanted me to succeed was a great feeling.  I hope the women who received grants two weeks ago felt the same.

Earlier in the year Leila Crerar, an actor friend of mine, made numerous visits to the Jungle in Calais, taking food and clothes.

Leila Asda - loading (2)       the Jungle

More recently Leila has been involved with the Refugee Info Bus. Two long-term volunteers Rowan Farrel and Sarah Story, with the support of Help Refugees, were converting a horse-box into a mobile tech hub, complete with desks, laptops, charging stations, and a printer. Collaborating with World Wide Tribe, UAidRefugees they introduced Wifi into the bus, and soon thousands had access to the internet.  The plan now is to take the bus to Greece, to assist refugees there to keep in contact with family and loved ones, a small consolation for the terrible plight they find themselves in. Recently an evening event in London raised £17,000 for this excellent cause – and it is not too late to donate.

UAidRefugees auction

It’s been a tumultuous year, at home the Tories hell bent on privatising the NHS and cutting benefits, wanting to bring back Secondary Modern Schools, along with the Brexit result, and abroad Donald Trump’s election, the war in Syria and the plight of refugees all over the world.

Holding our breath, let’s hope 2017 is a better, kinder, safer year for everyone.

Prepare to launch


On Thursday, the day before the London launch of Beyond the Beehive I was at Broadcasting House to appear, live, on Woman’s Hour on Radio 4. You can read about my morning at Broadcasting House here and listen to the interview here (my interview starts at 33 minutes in)

And then it was Friday, the day of the launch. The day started with a dash to Muswell Hill to see Frank my hairdresser. His dad used to have a café in Piccadilly in the Fifties and Frank used to play snooker with Tommy Steele and all the stars. So it wasn’t about preening so much as getting in to the groove. We listened to some Motown and I ended up looking a little bit like Cilla Black.


At 5 o’clock, just before the launch – which started at 6.30 pm – I was to record an interview with Georgey Spanswick for BBC radio. The programme, Feelgood Friday, is syndicated to all the local radio stations in the UK (that’s a lot of stations – 36, including Guernsey!)  I would be in Broadcasting House while Georgey Spanswick would be in another studio – in Leeds I think.  I had had strict instructions from the Manager (as she does not like to be called) that I must get away as soon as possible, to get back to the Launch pad as soon as possible, although she was not optimistic.  Her media experience was telling her that there would be time spent setting up, adjusting and generally farting around, before the recording began.

And the Manager was right. At 5.15 we still hadn’t started. However, after a short tussle over studios, the recording began. Georgey Spanswick was funny, cheerful and we got on famously. I’d sent her a list of some iconic bits of music from the era and she played My Generation by the Who and Rescue Me by Fontella Bass. You can listen to the programme here (the interview starts at 1 hour 10 minutes in). What I hadn’t realised, was that the programme was going to go out at 8pm that night – while we would be eating Twiglets and listening to the Harlem Shuffle at the launch.


No time to think about that. I dashed down to Oxford Circus tube and jumped onto the Bakerloo line – it’s just one stop to Piccadilly Circus. Then I pushed through the Friday night crowds of tourists, school children and wanderers, leaped onto a bus as its doors were closing, went one stop down Shaftesbury Avenue and arrived breathless into the hall at St Anne’s in Dean Street at 6 o’clock. Fortunately Team Beehive aka friends and family had arrived and were doing great work making the hall look lovely with cunningly placed posters and the Banner.  The hall has a sweet garden and with a few well placed flickering fake candles it looked like fairy land (in the middle of Soho!). The evening was mild and balmy which meant people could stand outside.


And people came, from all stages of my life, my pal Christine (aka Sandra), a mate from Tec College, people from Birmingham Uni, Feminists, Guardians, lawyers and a couple of judges, my French class, friends of friends of mine who knew each other quite independently.



At 7 o’clock it was the Readings. After a few minutes of intro and thanks and a mention of a fund raiser for WiFi for refugees on 6 December (information here) I read a couple of short pieces from the book.  The Election, where Linda is poll-checking for her dad, and A Day Out in London (Wormwood Scrubs) where bad boy Danny tries to fix Linda up with Trevor, a fellow in-mate.  People laughed in all the right places. And lots of books were sold and signed


We drove home very slowly, the car full of glasses and wine bottles, posters, the Banner and empty cardboard boxes. One of the battery candles wouldn’t go out and kept flashing and the iPlayer was playing tinnily in one of the bags.  But at home we discovered, after people had obviously listened to Georgey Spanswick’s programme, I’d sold another shed-load of books!

Of course, for me obviously it is all about art and literature. I merely include information about sales because I know some people are interested.

Thanks to everyone who provided support and to all those who came. It was a great evening.

launch-4-2                 launch-97                                    launch-6       sisters-28-10-16


News and Beehive reviews

beyond-the-beehive-banner-with-ew-2-2Preparing for the Beehive bash* on Saturday evening.  We have the banner! Getting the books, the posters and the 60s quiz all ready to go.

*Chelmsford Ideas Hub, 6.30 (Hub 1 1-4 Market Square High Chelmer Chelmsford CM1 1XF)

And so here are a few recent reviews.  I know –  all these three people are people I know, and one is even a relative, but I think their views deserve to be heard!

‘Buy the book everyone I am on chapter three and it is good!’ Sue

‘On chapter 8 – it’s a great read so far.’ Christine

‘I’m half way through and can’t put it down.’ Billie


‘I am a slow reader but now on chapter four and it is still good.’ Sue

What more can I say? The book is available and will be on sale on Saturday evening, when you can get yourself a signed copy AND listen to the magical sounds of Mark Shelley and the Deans.


You can also buy it here.

In the meantime – listen to the sounds that mark that start of the book – Green Onions, by Booker T and the MGs.


Opening the Beehive

Beyond the Beehive front cover

What a great evening at Waterstones Covent Garden on Friday night.  This was an event organised by Novel London and it was standing room only.  There were three authors, Christopher Bowden (the Purple Stain), Laxmi Hariharan (Taken) and me (Beyond the Beehive), each reading the first chapter of our latest novels.

The Covent Garden branch of Waterstones is in Garrick Street, in the middle of  busy Covent Garden.  It also has an entrance in New Row.  It is a place of nooks and crannies, layers and stairs, and shelves packed with enticing books. As I arrived, as the chairs were being arrranged and the wine glasses set out on the table, Norma Cohen who compered the show, gave the readers some last minute professional advice (only project).  Then the cameras were focussed, the mics were attached and, standing in front of a shelf with the title Smart Thinking, the evening began.

All three books were very different, mine about working-class girls in the 60s, Christopher’s about crime in Paris and London and Laxmi’s many-lives novel.  The evening was compered with enormous charm and humour by Norma Cohen.

Eizabeth Woodcraft & Norma Cohen at Waterstones Covent Garden

It was a great birthday party for me.  Several of my Christine-friends were there (people whose names are Christine) including my oldest friend Christine who is the inspiration for Sandra. Apart from arguing that she would never have worn caramel flavoured lipstick, I think she liked it (of course she hasn’t read the whole book yet) (Don’t sue me, I’m a lawyer).  There were people from my French class (merci!), writing pals, my relatives, barristerial colleagues and chums we see in Paris. I didn’t have copies of my book to sell, but I did have postcards! and there were a few copies A Sense of Occasion.  Afterwards, a few of us went to Carluccio’s across the road for a bowl of pasta and a glass of red wine and I went home with roses and gifts and cards.

So a huge vote of thanks to Waterstone’s Covent Garden and to Cameron Publicity for supporting such a great event, and of course to Novel London for setting it all up.

Beyond the Beehive front cover

Writing Process Blog Tour

Kit Habianic is the author of the recently published novel Until our Blood is Dry, the powerful story of two families’ struggles in the 1984 Miners’ Strike.  She has also published short stories in an awe-inspiring number of literary magazines and anthologies.

I spectacularly failed to get into the launch party for Until our Blood is Dry – there was a problem with doors and the enormous amount of people and a desire not to interrupt a reading by Dannie Abse – and yet she has asked me to take part in the Writing Process Blog Tour.  This is ‘a kind of whistle-stop tour of writers exploring their writing process – they answer four questions about their work, then send you on to the next writer’.  This is a wonderful initiative. It’s fascinating to read the methods that other writers use to get the work out there.  Sometimes it’s a reminder of temporarily forgotten but well-loved pieces, but also an exciting introduction to poetry and other writing that originally slipped by.  Kit has provided her answers and has now handed over to me. I am in august company – she has also asked Martina Evans, poet and writer, the author of the Betty Trask award winning novel Midnight Feast, to share her experiences.

Here are the four questions with my answers:

What am I working on?

My first two books were crime novels (Good Bad Woman and Babyface), but I have just published a collection of short stories about life in the 60s – A Sense of Occasion.

VespaFor some time I had been working on a novel based on the same characters – Beyond the Beehive – and couldn’t stop tinkering with it, adding chapters, moving characters round.  I was getting nowhere.  Then, at a writing group I’ve been involved with for some years, I met a woman who had just published her novel as an eBook.  She said, ‘I simply had to get it out there so I could move on.’  And I thought, That’s what I should do.  A Sense of Occasion was really me dipping my toe in the water, to see if I could do it.  It’s terrifying not having the protection of a big publishing company behind me, and I’m not very good at marketing.  But it was a real buzz to get the book up there and see it on a computer screen, the stories gathered together as a real book.  So now I am fired up to publish Beyond the Beehive.  Then it’s on to the Seventies.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

A Sense of Occasion and Beyond the Beehive are about Chelmsford – I don’t think there’s much out there about that part of Essex, certainly not about mod girls in the 60s.  And I’ve tried to reproduce the humour, I think there are some laugh out loud moments in the books.  Sometimes that’s not evident in novels about working class life.

Why do I write what I do?

I’m really proud of my upbringing, my dad’s union work, my mum’s socialist principles, coming from a council estate, the great friendships I had.  When I started writing my 60s stories – about 25 years ago, there wasn’t a lot of interest in that.  What I try to do, and I know I don’t always succeed, is get some politics in – socialist politics, feminist politics, not necessarily obvious, just there, how it was as I was growing up.  The way people talk to each other, the issues they care about, their moral codes.   I think we need those politics now more than ever.

How does my writing process work?


The word ‘process’ for my writing regime is a good vague word.  Before my first books were published I used to get up at 5.30, make a cup of tea and write till the sun rose and everyone in the house woke up.  It’s been more haphazard than that since then.  I write when I can.  Giving myself a deadline is good.  For A Sense of Occasion I decided, Right, it’s now or never, and I pulled a date out of the air.  30 April.  I got cold feet after a bit, because life was particularly hectic, and I changed the date to 1 May.  24 hours.  I felt much more relaxed then.  Having a cover to the book – a design by the fabulous Christine Wilkinson – also kept me on track.  But I was altering things right up to the moment when I pressed Save and Publish.

writing room

Now I hand over to two of my favourite people.  The American writer Sue Katz recently published a collection of wry and inspiring short stories Lillian’s Last Affair – the lives and loves of seniors.  VG Lee‘s award winning novels have delighted and amused me for many years.  VG’s Facebook posts brighten the darkest day.  These two great writers are about to tell you how they produce their work.