Hi Melanie, welcome back to Sally Lunn’s, it’s great to see you again. This time around I’ve decided on a change of format. I’m not going to ask questions. Instead I’m opening the blog to you to talk about yourself and what has been happening since you guested here last.
Hi Jo. It’s great to be back here with you at Sally Lunn’s. I love this place!
I’ve not done much writing since I was here last. My WIP (sequel to A Shadow in the Past) is still sitting at just over 62000 words. I think I last worked on it with any degree of diligence was back in November.
I do have some exciting things to tell you about, though. Last August, I hosted a book launch in the Scottish village where my father was born, and did a reading at the Central Library in Aberdeen. Both events were huge successes. I was hoping that being back in Scotland where A Shadow in the Past is set, I would be filled with inspiration to write when I got home – especially when I visited the locations I used in my book, so I could finish the first draft of Shadows from Her Past, but five days into our trip, my website got hacked and I spent the first few weeks on my return getting that mess sorted out. Any inspiration I had went straight out the window.
Despite not writing, let me re-phrase that – very little writing – I did have another book published. I had a bunch of short stories on my computer that I’d written for contests and in writing workshops so I thought I would put them together, polish them up, and publish them under my imprint King Park Press. The book is called The Consequences Collection after the lead story, Consequences, which was written during my hometown’s one and only storefront writing contest about three summers ago.
In addition to the website hacking, hubby had a few health issues last year that I won’t go into detail about, but suffice it to say, it knocked my concentration for six. I dedicated my short story collection to him.
And speaking of my short story collection, isn’t this cover grand? (insert consequences collection cover image here). My cousin, took this photo on a trip to Pentille Castle Gardens and kindly allowed me to use it for my cover.
You can buy The Consequences Collection for the kindle from Amazon (change the .com to your domain) from this link.
Our school days are supposed to be the best days of our lives – right? Well I guess that very much depends on who you are. Certainly I enjoyed college a whole lot more – freedom to dress how I wanted, lecturers who treated you like an adult and a far more relaxed teaching regime. Having said that, there were many memorable moments during those school uniform years – and after.
I grew up in a tiny Wiltshire village on the edge of Salisbury Plain which had no shop or post office, no pub and no school. So from five to eleven years of age I attended school in the next village three miles away. There was nothing remarkable about those first six years of schooling – fifty pupils, three class rooms and three teachers. That same school today has a teaching staff of over 25, the building has been extended beyond recognition and in keeping with this, there has been a dramatic increase in the school roll. The picture above is a very old one taken at the beginning of the twentieth century
When I passed my eleven plus my very small world expanded dramatically. I had been used to either being taken to school by parents, or in the spring and summer cycling unsupervised with two or three other kids from the village – something that would simply not happen in today’s world. But, of course, those were far more innocent and gentler times. Anyway, I’m drifting off course – I’m now eleven years old and am attending Marlborough Grammar School (picture right) which means a daily thirty mile round trip, catching two trains each way; a huge challenge! As you can imagine going from a village school with 50 pupils to one with ten times that amount took some adjustment too. And, of course there was a complete new ream of subjects to learn, including French, Chemistry and Physics and for the first time, homework!
At the end of my first year we moved to the far west of the county and my maroon and black uniform was swapped for navy and gold as I joined the second year (Year 8 in today’s speak) at Fitzmaurice Grammar School, Bradford on Avon (below left). This was a much smaller school – 300 pupils – and was a lot closer to home which made the daily journey (two bus rides each way) much easier. Class sizes were still the same, around 30 and for that first year our form room was at the rear of the school in a block of wooden huts which had been erected before the First World War! Predictably, these huts were like freezers in the winter and saunas in the summer. Thankfully, by the time we reached the third year (Year 9) we had moved up to classrooms in the newly-built Physics and Chemistry block. It was in this class room that quite memorably the whole class of 3A found themselves in detention. We had this American exchange teacher for a year and I think the move from teaching in a US high school in Philadelphia to a small provincial grammar school was a bit of a culture shock for him. I was never sure this was the reason why he appeared to have very little humour and even less patience. Anyway on this particular occasion we were waiting for him to arrive from the main school building and a large black Labrador wandered in. As two of the class tried unsuccessfully to catch it and put it out, he arrived. He wanted to know who had brought the dog into the classroom and when he was told it had come in by itself he simply didn’t believe us. He tried to get someone to own up and when no one did, the whole class was given detention!
The guy who taught us English doubled up as piano player for Music lessons in the gymnasium. On the English front, The Merchant of Venice was our Shakespeare play for ‘O’ level and he made a magnificent Shylock, pacing back and forth in front of us all waving the text book in his hand – the stage definitely lost a star when he went into teaching! On the occasions we gathered for singing in the gym one or two of the boys’ improvisations on lyrics – I remember What Shall We Do with the Drunken Sailor being one in particular – saw his hands come crashing down on the piano keys. He took singing very seriously and would make us all sit and listen while he would pour himself into songs (in the same the way he interpreted Shylock) as if introducing the uninitiated to something very grand. I saw him many, many years later while shopping in the local supermarket. By then it appeared Alzheimer’s had begun to claim him and I felt sad that someone with so much energy and passion for all he did had ended his days in this way.
Another pre-requisite for teaching appeared to be a deadly aim with chalk. Our Maths teacher in particular could have turned it into an Olympic sport. We never did work out how someone with their back to the class scribbling away on the blackboard could tell exactly who it was talking, turn with lightning speed and score an accurate hit. Today, of course, that would not be allowed, no doubt he would have been charged with assault on a pupil.
Another form of torture was meted out by our games mistress. During winter months the afternoon games period would find her choosing pupils for netball and hockey teams and those left over were sent out with the boys on a cross country run. No gloves, no scarves but at least we got to keep our jumpers! The run was all along the canal to the hamlet of Avoncliffe (picture right) a couple of miles out of town then back along the road and into school. Remembering occasions when the fog came down really thickly I sometimes look back and wonder whether it ever crossed her mind about the danger of sending young girls out in twos and threes along deserted tow paths (in those days the local canal was all but derelict). On really cold days we got into the habit of setting off only to hide in Tithe Barn (above left) where there was a certain degree of protection from the elements. We had the whole thing down to a fine art; staying there for the right amount of time before sneaking across the railway line and back into town, returning looking suitably breathless!
When I finished my four years at Bradford on Avon I was looking forward to college, a business diploma and the intricacies of the typewriter keyboard. The first time I sat in front of a typewriter, I could not understand how anyone could use this machine and get anything sensible from it. Of course that was before I learned about ‘home keys’ and from there the various finger positions. It’s funny how once you learn it becomes embedded into your sub conscious and completely automatic. The only thing I do still find difficulty with is the top line of the keyboard where the numbers are situated and still have to look at my fingers. And looking at fingers when we were learning to type was considered a hanging offence by our typing teacher!
Once we had built up a little speed the first five minutes of each lesson was given over to a typing test so we could check to see how we were improving. Our typing teacher was a woman in her late forties with lilac hair – yes lilac! In those days some women of a certain age favoured these sort of rinses if their hair was grey or white. A rather pleasant shade of pale blue was also available if my memory serves me correctly! During these speed tests she would pace up and down between the desks as we typed and if she happened to notice anyone looking at their keys they received a swat across the knuckles with the flat of the ruler she carried. Again, this simply would not happen today but I have to say it was very effective – no one ever wanted to feel that ruler a second time!
So were those ‘Days of the Old School Yard’ happy days? Well a bit of a mixture really. Yes I guess in comparison with today our teachers were quite hard and the times we lived in gave them licence to do things and treat pupils in a way they would never be allowed to do now. However apart from one or two individuals, all had our respect and these little quirks of personality made them the colourful characters we remember so well today.
Continuing the music theme, this week as promised it’s the turn of singer/songwriters. I’m absolutely in awe of anyone who can write a song. A book is one thing and don’t get me wrong, writing is hard work. It takes time and a hell of a lot of patience and I enjoy it because I have a love affair with words, the story playing as a choreography in my head as I write. But to be able to combine words with melody? Now that really is something else.
Last week when I finished my first post I made a list of all the singer/songwriters I’ve found quite inspirational. I guess Lennon and McCartney have to figure prominently because for me they started it all. OK in the beginning the songs were very simplistic, the boy meets girl falling in love/break up stuff like She Loves You and I Should Have Known Better but gradually their repertoire developed – musical stories like She’s Leaving Home, Eleanor Rigby, amusing songs like An Octopus’s Garden and When I’m Sixty Four and soulful compositions (my favourites) – For No One, The Long and Winding Road and While My Guitar Gently Weeps.
After Lennon and McCartney came The Moody Blues. I had a long-term love affair with the band’s music, helped to some extent by their good looking front man and song writer Justin Hayward. Here we’d moved on from lyrics and melody and now had the addition of amazing guitar work. That I think was the pivotal moment I fell in love with rock music. Justin was an amazing writer whose versatility enabled him to write haunting ballads like Nights in White Satin and Forever Autumn alongside rock numbers such as Question and I’m Just a Singer in a Rock and Roll Band. In concert they were amazing.
I soon developed a real appetite for rock music although not all bands appealed. One essential ingredient was melody so hard rock bands like Iron Maiden and Saxon were firmly off the list while acts like Asia, Pink Floyd, Tom Petty, Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood, Bad English, Roxy Music, Whitesnake, The Blessing and Bon Jovi definitely ticked the box. Along the way my tastes expanded into more contemporary singer/songwriters like Paul Carrack (Ace, Squeeze & Mike & the Mechanics), American Jackson Browne, Australians Darren Hayes (Savage Garden) and Iva Davies (Ice House) and Justin Currie of Scottish band Del Amitri who were all added to my CD library. And taking the list beyond the nineties, artists like James Morrison, The Stereophonics, Keane, Green Day and The Killers are also now part of my music collection.
However, the one song which has stayed with me all through the years is by an artist not many people know. An English singer/songwriter called Al Stewart had a successful career in the States in the seventies and I’ve always loved his blend of lyrics and music. Time Passages and On The Border are two of his better known airplay tracks but all in all he never received the following here that he did in the US. Year of the Cat, which is the only one of his songs to chart in the UK, in 1977, is my personal favourite not only for the story it tells but from the quality of the lyrics and musical arrangement. So I leave you all with this and hope you enjoy it as much as I always do. Back in a week’s time!