As last year I inflicted myself on you for the final ‘Five’ of the year, this year I thought I’d mix it up a bit. As a thank you to all who kindly shared with us in 2019 I decided (in the best year end tradition) to look back over my favourite bits.
Five on Friday has gone from strength to strength since it started in August 2017. What began life as a one off Q&A for Patricia Dixon morphed into a regular feature which went from fortnightly to weekly. I never expected to be able to find enough participants to keep it going, but a combination of pleading and stalking on my side and friendly, co-operation on the other has seen this year be the best ever with 47 authors revealing all. For Five on Friday lovers, you’ll be pleased to know that 2020 is already starting to fill up. I hope that within the variety of traditionally, independent and self published authors who might be established, blossoming or debuting you’ll continue to find something new to take your fancy.
So, sit back, grab that cuppa and enjoy. (To view the full original feature simply click on the author image or name).
Which pieces of music/songs would you include in the soundtrack to your life and why?
Time from Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd – The lyrics to this song have inspired me since I was a teenager. Pink Floyd are my favourite band of all time.
Dancing Queen by Abba – I was seventeen when this came out. Seventies disco with your whole life in front of you.
Vincent by Don Maclean is about Van Gogh and is a powerful song for me. I remember it playing when I was a child, and my dad telling it was about the man who painted the sunflower picture on our wall. I couldn’t understand that it was just a print and not the real thing.
Stayin’ Alive by the Bee Gees. I went to college having had a very sheltered upbringing in a religious sect. I had never been to a disco and so dancing on a Friday night to Stayin’ Alive had to be one of my highlights…of course with all the John Travolta moves!
It’s a heartache – Bonnie Tyler. I connect this song to my early childhood in Akranes, a village in South-West Iceland. In the memory I play in the window sill of our living room with some earthworms I have dug up from the garden. My mother is cleaning and sings happily with Bonnie Tyler on the radio as she hasn’t seen the mess I’ve made.
Mozart’s Requiem – because this was the first oratorio I ever took part in. I played clarinet (badly) at the time and being in the middle of a full orchestra, along with soloists and choir, creating such incredible music together was intoxicating. I still love it. Also, it reminds me of the David Schaeffer play/film, Amadeus, in which rival composer Salieri believes himself to be cursed by God because he has been given the ‘gift’ of recognising Mozart’s talent but has no real talent himself. That’s me.
Gloria Gaynor – I will Survive. I think this iconic song resonates with so many people. For me, it’s not just about surviving relationship hell (and who hasn’t been there?). It’s about finding the strength within yourself to get through whatever life throws at you, rather than ‘crumbling’. There was a time when I might have. As a single mum, who’d suffered the loss of a little one, I was working a night job, trying to look after my young son. I was crumbling. Somehow, I came through it. Ever since, if I’m struggling when life does what it does… Yup, I can often be found belting out: “I’ve got all my life to live. And I’ve got all my love to give and I’ll survive. I will survive, hey, hey.”
The Cod Liver Oil song by Val Doonican: I first remember Granddad in Ireland (as opposed to Granddad in Stratford) singing this when we visited on holiday in the 60s. For years, I thought it was a traditional Irish song, but apparently it derives from Newfoundland where cod liver oil (ugh!) was a traditional remedy. It tells the tale of a young married man, with a sickly wife who ‘does nothin’ all day but to sit there and sigh, Wishin’ and prayin’ she-ee could die’. She’s saved by Doctor John, who proscribes a big bottle of cod liver oil, but as the wife gets stronger, the husband becomes ‘as quiet as a mouse’, eventually fearing that ‘if the kettle should boil, I’d swear it was singing of cod liver oil’. As a child, who loathed our daily, medicinal spoonful of cod liver oil with every bone in my body, I loved the humour of the lyrics – and still do.
Roxette. ‘The Look’ – this song makes me smile now, although back in 1988 it made me cry / wail. I walked into a hair salon with my mum and demanded the hairdresser make me look like the female singer out of Roxette. At 13 I didn’t understand that whereas the female singer from Roxette had a face suited for a very short cut, my face needed a LOT of hair to frame it. There were a lot of tears!
Sam Stone by John Prine
This is a fantastic song about drug addiction in a man returning from an unstated war and was a song that myself and my brothers would sing as kids in the car, not understanding the meaning behind the words, ‘There’s a hole in daddy’s arm where all the money goes…’
It is so poetic and tragic including the ending where the veteran is ‘climbing walls while sitting in a chair.’ My favourite line of all comes from the refrain: ‘Sweet songs never last too long, on broken radios’ which is immense. It was written when the singer was just 25 which amazes me to this day to be that profound and wizened that young.
Everything I own by Bread. David Gates wrote this just after his father, and mine, had died and it always resonates with me as something very beautiful.
Hey Joe by Jimi Hendrix takes me back to 1967 when I saw Hendrix perform in Manchester, including playing the guitar with his teeth. Backing groups The Move, The Nice, Pink Floyd and Amen Corner. Tickets cost £1. Amazing.
From The Gutter from Peter Grimes by Benjamin Britten. Ideally I’d like the whole opera, of course, but this track typifies why the work is so amazing. It’s a slow build barnstormer sung by all the female characters in the work, who suddenly find themselves thrown together on the street when the men storm off on a manhunt. They’re difficult, spiky people with little in common but as their music soars they briefly find common ground in the shitty way they’re treated by men. I am an opera nut and Peter Grimes was the first opera to hook me into a very expensive, lifelong passion. I can’t recommend it too highly for the uninitiated. Incredibly dramatic, genuinely shocking and shot through with moments, like this one, where the sun seems to come through the storm clouds.
Highlight things (apart from family and friends) you’d find it hard to live without.
Coffee, chocolate, books, writing, dogs, walking, the internet, radio, music and the sea featured highly on the majority of lists so I’ve picked out some of the alternative choices.
Books – in any format. There’s nothing like escaping with an enthralling read! And then there are various volumes I use for research too – from Blackstone’s police training manuals to the Royal Society of Chemistry’s guide to forensic science, From Crime Scene to Court. (Thanks, Andrea – a fantastic birthday present!)
Marmalade – I love the dark, thick-cut bitter sort, spread generously on toast! (Though recently, someone gave me a recipe for a gin cocktail which used it as an ingredient too. (Credit to Margaret – I was surprised at how good it was!)
A beautiful 1970s Hohner acourstic guitar given to me by my American friend Jane when she went back to the States after college. We had dinner a couple of months ago and I could tell her it’s still lovingly played.
The British countryside. I really can’t think of anything which might induce me to live in another country, and so much of my health and happiness depends on the big outdoors.
Horses. They’ve been part of my life for fifty years and a constant source of inspiration
Solitude – despite being a chatterbox I do like my own company. I talk to myself constantly when I am writing fiction so better away from folks so they don’t think I am wholly mad.
Northwich LitFest. I started Northwich LitFest eight years ago and have run it for the whole of June each year ever since. That means I must have organised approximately 120 LitFest events in total, a thought that has never crossed my mind before – no wonder I’m exhausted! It really is incredibly hard work for absolutely no financial reward whatsoever and every year I say ‘never again’. Nevertheless I have met, and come to know, some amazing people through the LitFest and that is reward in itself. So, much as I threaten to give it up each year, I think I ‘d find it hard to live without Northwich LitFest now – and I just surprised myself by saying that!
A garden−nourishes the soul and keeps me fit.
A shower. Some of my best ideas come when standing under a jet of hot water. It’s as if all the dross is washed away leaving my brain clear
Sunlight in all its infinite variety, dappling through trees, sharp and clear on a winter morning, mellow and warm on a summer afternoon.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
To my 16-year-old self I would warn against the use of olive oil and lemon juice as a sun tan accelerator. That foolish girl would make it up in a plastic bottle and douse herself in it. It might have given me a beautiful suntan back then but my older self isn’t too keen on the crêpey neck, or the abundance of wrinkles caused by sun damage. Thank goodness I didn’t suffer any more serious consequences.
Be the first to say sorry and attempt to repair a relationship – whether you feel / know you are in the right or not.
Live each day as if it may be your last – it’s a great way to sort out priorities.
Pursue your dreams – if you don’t achieve them at least you will know you gave it your best shot.
Don’t bother trying to iron your curly hair in your teens when curls weren’t cool. It was a tricky business with brown paper and ironing board and within half an hour the frizz returned.
This one’s related. Never, EVER let your mother cut your hair once you’re 4 years and older, especially the fringe. Mothers do dastardly things with fringes.
Stop arguing with your parents and be kinder; one day you’d give anything for just another day with them.
Don’t let mistakes define you – make them, laugh, and move on.
It’s OK to grow old(er). And it’s OK to be grumpy and not agree with people who piss you off. And it’s absolutely OK to speak your mind, because those who truly love you will deal with it.
I would tell my sixteen year old self to fight for my rights. I went to a grammar school for girls in Sheffield and did extremely well. I am one of life’s learners. I had five good O levels (98% in Maths, English Lit, English Lang and French, a measly 79% in German and a pathetic 26% in Geography in the days when exam results weren’t governed by letters of the alphabet) and I wanted to stay on to sixth form, take A levels and possibly head off to university. My father said no, I had to leave and go to work. With no mum to fight my corner (she died when I was eight) I had to give in. I wasn’t allowed to argue, and I left school. That one action by my dad changed me. Nobody tells me what to do now.
Slow down: I panicked about everything when I was young, but feel happier these days. Maybe because I take life at a sedate pace. Almost everything looks better after a siesta, I find.
Learn from your mistakes. I think it took me a while to realise the value of self-reflection, but it feels easier these days.
Travel more. I’ve gained so much from travelling, I wish that I’d started sooner! I still have several continents to discover.
Understand that life has unwritten rules… The sooner you can get a hold of this the better. Actions have consequences. So do inactions.
Decide early where you want to end up and don’t get distracted… Really wish I’d latched on to this one. My CV looks like Alan Wicker’s passport. I’d have started writing at least twenty years earlier.
Know when you’re doing well…I would find myself in an airport heading to some wonderful foreign destination looking at the departure board and wishing I was going somewhere else.
Blow your own trumpet.
My mum used to say this to me. It basically means, shout out how good you are because no one else will do it for you. As an older me, I would remind the younger me to do this more often.
Be kind to others.
Treat people as you want to be treated yourself, no matter how hard it may seem at the time. It may sound trite, but if you step outside and smile at people, the world generally smiles back at you.
The time to be happy is now.
Not tomorrow, or this time next year. Live in the moment and make each moment count. Another one of my mum’s sayings. I often wonder if living through a war made her that way? She was in the navy and lost a lot of loved ones, so life must have become extra precious.
Tell us something that most people don’t know about you.
I used to bake cakes for a living…
I once met Harold Bishop from Neighbours (this is my only claim to fame)
I’m distantly related to Dante
I used to write Starsky and Hutch fan fiction
I swim in the sea all year round
I learned to sail racing yachts on the Firth of Forth, dodging oil tankers. The waters of Southern England required different skills. I became the worst sailor in the history of the Cambridge University sailing team when I capsized a dingy on a flat calm lake during a critical competition. They still gave me a half-blue.
I have climbed all the 214 hills (known as Wainwrights) in the Lake District (some more than once). I took a bottle of champagne up the final one on my list (which was some weight in my rucksack) and sat on the cairn drinking and celebrating.
I was mistaken for a WAG once, whilst sitting next to a very famous footballer at Dublin airport. I merrily let autograph hunters take photos of us although I had no idea who he was and had to ask someone once he had been called for his flight. My one ever moment of glamour.
My great great uncle was killed by Apaches in 1871.
I won prizes in my professional accountancy exams, even though my then boyfriend had to show my how to work my calculator beforehand.
I’ve had dinner with 60s super model Twiggy and her husband, Leigh Lawson at their London home. They’re both gorgeous. Very down to earth and not at all starry.
I lived in a brothel when I was nineteen. A beautiful flat in a glorious Victorian house in Whalley Range, Manchester; cheap to rent. What’s not to like, my best mate and I reasoned? Ah… I’d like to make it clear that I was not a working girl myself, though I have nothing against the oldest profession. It’s just not for me.
I broke the school long jump record when I was twelve.
My family has always been involved in politics. My great great great great great great great grandfather was made a freeman of the borough of Pembroke in 1714 as an exercise in vote rigging and my great great great great great uncle (Methodist Reverend) was taken in for questioning following the failed French invasion of Fishguard in 1797, since all Methodists were naturally assumed to be dangerous revolutionaries.
As a schoolboy, I was invited to have tea with Ray Harryhausen after I wrote and sent him a comic called The Further Adventures of Jason and the Argonauts. I got to handle all those wonderful monsters up close.
I am descended from Charles Dickens on my father’s mother’s side.
I used to be a hand model…really. Well, once. I was working in a photographic studio in the time between school and university and they were taking photos for a Christmas Gifts charity magazine. I modelled a pen. And an apron. So I guess I’m not just a hand model.
I presented a late-night radio phone-in show dealing with sex problems (I wasn’t the expert I hasten to say… though after some months I felt I was….).
My mother wanted to call me Richard, but my father vetoed it on the grounds that all the Richard Oswalds in the family had been ne’er-do-wells. One particularly notable Richard Oswald was fond of betting on the horses and built Ayr Race Course. He lost all the family money and ended up selling the family home, Auchincruive, to pay his debts. The Auchincruive estate later became the headquarters and main teaching campus of the Scottish Agricultural College.
My grandfather on my mother’s side – Patrick McLaughlin – was vicar of St Anne’s Church in Soho, London, before and during WWII. He was friends with Dorothy L Sayers, who gave my mother her first cat (appropriately enough called Harriet).
(Image credit to David Cruickshanks)
I wrote my first crime story aged ten
I was interviewed on BBC Radio at age thirteen
I was once a lawyer acting for the Football Association
What are the first things you’d have on your bucket list?
Follow the course of Odysseus across the Greek islands.
Dive with manta rays in the Pacific Ocean.
I’d like to cross an ocean on a ship (in my head, I’d be charging around a luxury vessel like Henry Fonda and Barbara Stanwyck in The Lady Eve, but I suspect the reality would be me throwing up in a windowless room aboard a freighter).
Something that would be rather nice if money was in great supply would be to fly around the world to see all the big divas performing live on stage Barbara Streisand, Celine Dion, Bette Midler, and Diana Ross. I could go on and on.
I would love to charter a huge ship for family and friends and spend a long summer sailing around the beautiful Greek Islands. Sunshine, fabulous food, lots of laughs and a smashing tan
Sing in a west end musical
Work with Benedict Cumberbatch. I don’t care if he’s acting, producing, or directing, I just love the work he’s putting out and would love the chance to be part of that.
They say youth is wasted on the young. At the top of my bucket list is going back to university. I had a fantastic time at uni the first time around. But at that age you’re often not in a position to truly enjoy or appreciate it. You’re busy with your studies but you’re also busy with figuring out who you are, making new friends, worrying about the future and finding your place in the world. That leaves little time to relish your studies. I want to do a degree just for the sake of learning. I want to immerse myself in books without worrying about whether the knowledge they contain can be used to earn a living. I want to go to university for some time out, for a chance to reinvigorate my soul. I see it as a luxury spa trip for the brain.
Write a screenplay for The Odd Women by George Gissing.
To visit Antarctica and see Captain Scott’s hut.
I’d also like to have a book in translation, preferably in French, but even if it’s translated into a language I don’t speak, that would be a start!
I’d like to swim across The Channel, but if I do it, I’m going to want to go for a record, so either we’ll need to do it as a family (my kids and husband all swim) and set the record for a family relay crossing, or I’ll need to wait another twenty or thirty-odd years so I can attempt to be the oldest woman to complete the crossing!