Grab your legwarmers and don your ra-ra skirt, the 80s are back!

berni-inn-627x800Did you grow up watching Grange Hill, listening to Duran Duran on your Walkman and taking back the empty pop bottles to the local shop to get a couple of pennies towards your next quarter of sweets?

It was a time before selfies and social media, hence photos like this, which features me and one of my closest us-in-the-80sfriends, Sarah, on a school trip to the Tower of London in the 80s, along with a couple of other friends and some seriously big hair. You only got one shot at the photo back then and you didn’t know what it was going to look like until a few days after you’d dropped the film down at Boots to be processed. Thankfully, though, the photos didn’t get posted to the internet – kids, can you believe there was no such thing? And you weren’t tagged into everything and judged on your every move and look, the way people are now.

1980s-annual-cover-2Oh, I know that every generation looks back with rose-tinted glasses at the simplicity of bygone years. And believe me, there are lots of things I wouldn’t want to go back to. I couldn’t imagine having to use an Amstrad computer or typewriter to produce my next book, or only being able to contact friends and family at a distance by expensive phone calls, or that lost art of the letter. Not that I don’t love letters – at least those that don’t come in brown envelopes – but to be able to Facetime my children when they are away, really is the next best thing to them being there. I can still remember an episode of Tomorrow’s World back in the 80s where they suggested that one day we’d be able to see the people we were talking to on the phone.  Oh, how we laughed at the ludicrousness of that suggestion!

What’s all this nostalgia about the 80s in aid of? Well, my formerly big-haired buddy, Sarah Lewis, featured in the photo above, has made a career out of her expert knowledge of all things 80s and today sees the release of The 80s Annual. Sarah has created a perfect blend of nostalgia and an up-to-date take on that essential Christmas present we all remember and love.

Sarah invited me to write a short story for inclusion with the annual, which I was delighted to do. It features dinner at the Berni Inn – the height of sophistication way back then – unrequited love and an Andrew Ridgeley look alike, which about sums up the decade for me!

So, if you’ve got someone in your life who you know would love to wallow in memories of the 80s, or if you’d like to treat yourself to a nostalgic trip back to the days of your youth, then The 80s Annual is definitely the book for you.

You can buy The 80s Annual from Waterstones here and read Sarah’s blog about all things 80s related here. If you’d like to try before you buy, you can also read an excerpt of the annual here – the-80s-annual-excerpt.

press-release-2

Lies, polaroids and taping the Top 40 – how we connected with Kerry Fisher’s brilliant new novel

picture 7373

I’m an unashamed child of the late 70s and early 80s, when Arctic Roll passed for a sophisticated dessert and you could lose your car keys for a week in the depths of the new shag pile carpet. I remember one birthday, when I was about seven or eight, being given the two things at the top of my wish list – a pogo stick and a Polaroid camera. I never did manage to pogo more than about twice in a row, but the Polaroid camera? Now that was nothing short of a miracle. Within moments – and some vigorous shaking that would give a Jane Fonda workout a run for its money – you had a passable instant image. I remember my dad saying “what will they think of next?”, if only he’d known! Those growing up now can’t move without taking a selfie (from 23 different angles, until they get it right) and posting the ‘wrong’ photo online carries with it the risk of going viral. In 2016 teenagers have their phones permanently attached to them, so almost nothing is safe from being caught on camera.

The WRs – many of whom were children in a similar era to me – were reminiscing this week about the tall tales our parents told in an attempt to protect us, and the fibs we told them in response, hoping to get away with pulling a fast one in an era before cameras came with us everywhere to capture every momentAAA Polaroid Camera.

Jessica confessed to being a secret Easter egg rustler – munching not just hers, but her brother’s Easter eggs before she was supposed to. Smoothing out the foil in the packaging afterwards to give the illusion the eggs remained untouched. Jessica was also warned that, if she played on a local building site, the police would cart her off. When her poor Easter-egg-deprived brother decided to test out his parents’ theory, he just got a polite warning from the boys in blue, but that didn’t stop his sister blackmailing him for sweets for some time to come, it order to keep schtum.

AAA nailbitingHelen R was told that if she bit her fingernails, she’d end up with a ‘manly’ fingernail like her aunt! We have to say that made all the WRs smile.

Lynne was told that if she didn’t eat her greens, she’d never get hairs on her chest. Unsurprisingly, that did little to convince her to tuck in…

Then there were the usual stories about eating carrots helping you to see in the dark and the warning that your face would stay like that if the wind changed. I remember one instance, when my mum had just finished wallpapering the tricky hallway and landing, only for me to accidently tear a bit of the new wallpaper off when I was dashing down the stairs. She asked my sister first and then me, if either of us had done it. We both denied it of course. My mum, wannabe Columbo that she was, told us it was fine and that she’d soon find out who the culprit was, because their tongue would turn black from lying. Cue me, running around hysterically, pulling out my tongue to see if was already too late! Put it this way, in the end, it didn’t take Columbo to work out who the guilty party was.

All of this explains why I loved reading Kerry Fisher’s ‘After The Lie’ so much and connected with Lydia from the prologue, where she was busy trying to tape the Top 40 off the radio, without the DJ butting in. My kids and their Apple Music downloads don’t know they are born. ‘After The Lie’ reveals the dangers a family’s secrets can risk, even in an era when going viral meant a bout of flu and the internet wasn’t even the stuff of science fiction movies. The novel moves from the prologue in the 80s to the present day, but the events of years before are still taking their toll on Lydia’s life:

Something happened in Lydia’s past that has shaped her whole life. Especially as her mother doesn’t given her a second to forget what the incident meant for the whole family. StillAAA After the Lie Lydia manages to put it behind her, or at least to shut it up tightly in a metaphorical box, until her past suddenly collides with her present in a way she could never have envisaged.

I loved both of Kerry Fisher’s earlier novels, ‘The School Gate Survival Guide’ and ‘The Island Escape’, but for me ‘After the Lie’ has hit a new high. As a forty something year old, I’m past the stage where I want to read about the search for ‘Mr Right’. I want to read something I can relate to and ‘After The Lie’ definitely gave me that.

This novel is beautifully written and even the most minor characters have an important role to play. ‘After the Lie’ has you rooting for Lydia, even when you want to shout at her not to do what she’s about to do. It’s believable, relatable and oh so real. This novel’s for readers who know that there’s so much more to life than a happy ever after and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

‘After The Lie’ is currently available on Amazon for just 99p. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did and, in the meantime, we’d love to hear about those little white lies you told growing up, or the ones your parents told you.

Have a great week

Jo xx

It’s all about the 80s for Sarah Lewis

Today we’d like to welcome friend of the WRs and all round 80’s addict, Sarah Lewis, to the blog.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We’d love to start by asking you a little bit about your writing journey so far and what it was that inspired you to write your first book?

I suppose you could say that I started writing my first book 30 years ago. It’s just taken me a while to get it finished! I’ve loved music for as long as I can remember – one of my earliest memories is dancing along to the Bay City Rollers when they were on Top of the Pops, when I was about 5. When Bob Geldof and Paula Yates moved to my home town of Faversham, when I was 11, my interest in the music industry and the people in it was piqued even further. By the age of 13, I had begun to meet a number of artists, including Midge Ure, Gary Kemp and Simon Le Bon, and I began to write to other musicians, with a view to putting together a book based on their replies. That love of music, popular culture, and the fantastic decade in which I grew up all inspired my first book, ‘My Eighties’.

Can you tell us a bit about your second book – Your Eighties – please?

It follows a similar format to the first book, in that it’s a combination of memories, anecdotes and celebrity interviews. However, instead of the memories and anecdotes being mine, they are ones they have been sent to me via my website, my blog, Twitter and Facebook. It has been fascinating putting the book together, hearing and reading other people’s recollections of the decade, and even being reminded of a few forgotten gems. To discuss the Eighties with fellow fans (there are a lot of us out there!) is always a real pleasure, and it I have the privilege of being able to share those discussions with a wider audience.

Of course, there have also been the interviews with some of the decade’s favourite faces, including Buster Bloodvessel, Martin Fry, Ranking Roger, Erkan Mustafa (Grange Hill’s Roland Browning), and Musical Youth’s Dennis Seaton and Michael Grant, which have been a blast! Transcribing the interviews afterwards, not so much. Despite what some may think, I really don’t like the sound of my own voice, and it drives me crazy when I have to listen to a section repeatedly, to ensure I’m quoting accurately.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Do you have any writing habits or superstitions e.g. writing in the same place, using a certain pen, times of day etc?

Most of my writing tends to take place after 9pm, when I just get lost in what I’m doing. I’ll check the time after what seems like an hour, to find it’s gone 1am! Usually, I’ll be in my office at the back of the house, and will have music playing in the background – anything from classical to Meatloaf, depending on my mood, and what I’m writing. If I’m researching or editing, I’ll do so during the day, and tend to follow the sun – I start off in my office, then as the sun moves round, I move to the desk in my bedroom. During the summer, I’ll work outside as much as possible – you can’t beat the al fresco office. Again, usually accompanied by music or the radio.

Do you ever get writer’s block and, if so, how do you tackle this?

The short answer is “Yes, and not very well!” There was a point when I was writing ‘Your Eighties’ when I just hit a wall. I had a stack of research notes, some amazing submissions from 80’s fans, and a few interviews transcribed, but I couldn’t write. At first, I tried doing something completely different, to ‘free the writer’. However, having cleaned my house from top to bottom, tackled an enormous pile of ironing (which I hate), and begun to de-clutter an overloaded garage, I realised I was merely procrastinating. So, I forced myself to write. I wrote anything I could think of, even if it was as basic as “last night I went to a gig, then I went backstage and I interviewed…”. It’s a lot easier to edit something that is badly written than nothing at all. I think the key is to keep the flow and momentum going. I have pens and piles of scrap paper scattered throughout the house, just in case inspiration should strike. Often, my moments of clarity come just as I’m dropping off to sleep, so I’ve become particularly adept at scribbling notes in the dark! I also carry a small notebook around with me. Struck with an opening line whilst driving, I spent 5 minutes the other day saying the same sentence over and over, until I found a safe place for me to pull over and jot down the idea.

What are you working on now and what are your writing aspirations?

I have just begun working on the third book in the 80’s trilogy, ‘More Eighties’, and I’ve recently started a weekly 80’s column in the Canterbury Times. You can check out my first post here. As far as writing aspirations go, I would love to write the biography for a musician from the Eighties. I have a couple of people in mind, but I haven’t approached them yet.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADo you see your future books continuing to focus entirely on the 80s or might you diversify?

As much as I love, and indeed live, the 80s, I’m always up for a bit of diversity. It would have to be something completely different though, not just a different era. I love the interviewing and research stages of writing, so anything that allowed me to do that would be great. If it involves visiting sunny climes, even better. Maybe something on the people and history of one of the Greek islands.

What’s the most amazing experience you’ve had as a result of researching the content of your books?

It has to be all the interviews I’ve done at gigs. Not only do I get to hear some of the most amazing live music, but I love the insight into the whole set up. Listening to sound checks, being backstage and seeing what goes on behind the scenes, chatting to some incredibly talented and creative musicians – what a thrill! Plus, I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of saying “I’m with the band”!

Who was your favourite person to interview?

That is a really tricky question, because I have truly enjoyed every interview I’ve done for both books. It’s always good when you feel you can ask an interviewee anything, so from that perspective, I would have to say Steve Blacknell and Erkan Mustafa, both of whom answered my questions with extreme candour. One of the easiest interviews I did was with Owen Paul, for ‘‘My Eighties’. He has loads of interesting stories to tell, and I really only had to say ‘Hello’, and he was off and running! However, I think my favourite interview to date has to be with Dr & The Medics. From the second I stepped into their dressing room, it was non-stop banter and laughter. Clive Jackson (the Doctor) and bass player Jon Randle were like a comedy duo. When you read that part of the book, you’ll see it was a ‘no holds barred’ kind of interview. My face was hurting from laughing so much.

Who’s the most famous person you have in your contacts list?

Now, that would be telling! All I will say is that my teenage self would have fainted if she’d seen some of the numbers I’ve got. There are some more famous names in the pipeline for ‘More Eighties’, as that contact list keeps on growing.

Do you ever get nervous when you interview people?My Eighties

Luckily, I’m quite good at compartmentalising, so even though I can be ridiculously excited or nervous before an interview, as soon as I walk into that room it’s like a switch flicks, and I go into ‘professional’ mode. Well, at least I hope that’s how I come across! I become so focussed on what they’re telling me (often fascinating insights), that I almost forget who I’m talking to. It’s only afterwards when I look back and think ‘Wow, did that really happen?’ The only person I’ve met, who’s given me an attack of nerves, was Jimmy White. I’d been to see him play a snooker match a couple of years ago, and bumped into him in the bar afterwards. I was shaking when I had my photo taken with him!

How important has social media been to your writing journey?

I would say it has been invaluable. Twitter especially has been a fantastic means of engaging with 80’s fans, and getting feedback on a particular topic. I must confess to being something of a Twitter addict (you can follow me @MyEighties). It’s wonderful to be listening to a radio show like Forgotten 80s, and discussing it in real time with fellow listeners. I do the same thing with a lot of the music programmes on TV – BBC4 on a Friday evening is a favourite, if I’m at home. I’ve encountered some amazing music brains and some lovely people through tweeting, and even got to meet some of them at a recent ‘Tweet Up’.

What are the best and worst things about being a writer?

The answer’s the same for both – having your work and thoughts out there for the world to see. It’s the best because you get to reach a lot of like-minded people, and hopefully make them smile. There’s nothing better than having people tell you how a piece you’ve written brought back some good memories for them. It’s the worst because I’m actually a very private person (despite being what one DJ described as “all over social media”). Every time I publish something, even if it’s only a blog post, I have an unnerving thirty second panic of feeling totally exposed, before I get a grip and get over myself!

New colours- Natalie's designWe love the design for ‘Your Eighties’, can you tell us a bit about how it came about?

It’s great, isn’t it? Back in the summer, we ran a competition to design the cover for the book. It was won by Natalie Owen, a 24 year designer from Nottingham. Her dad is a big fan of the 80s, and had told her about the competition, having seen me tweet about it. Her design perfectly captures the decade.

Are you doing anything to celebrate when the book is published on 28th November?

Most definitely! The launch party for ‘Your Eighties’ is going to be held at an old music hall in Kent – a fantastic venue. There’s going to be live music from an amazing local band called Skatacus, plus an 80’s disco, with none other than Erkan Mustafa (Grange Hill’s Roland Browning) on the decks. I’m also going to get to meet Natalie, as she’s travelling down for the party. Some of the book’s contributors will be there, along with some wonderful friends and family, so it promises to be a great evening.

What piece of advice would you give to an aspiring writer or even to yourself, if you could go back to before you’d written your first book?

I would say “don’t sweat the small stuff”. With the first book, I got very caught up in the tiniest of details, proper punctuation and having everything ‘perfect’. That’s what editors are for! I also wrote in a very linear fashion, which became very inhibiting. Now, I write freely in chunks, as and when I can, and pull it all together at the end.

‘Your Eighties’ is available for pre-order from 8th November on Amazon here and from the My Eighties online shop in paperback here. Published by Fabrian Books 28th November 2015.