My week of libraries, and the humble butter pie

(L-R) Cheshirati authors Zara Stoneley, (me), Nikki Ashton, Victoria Johns, Caroline James.

I chaired an author panel at Knutsford Library last week, with members of the fabulous Cheshirati.

We talked about sex (on the printed page, of course), self v traditional publishing, plotting (novels!), the value of writing groups, and why book bloggers are so flipping wonderful. We had a very lovely evening indeed, insightful questions from the audience keeping the talk lively and bopping along nicely. And there was wine, always a plus.

A third of the way through, though, a tangle of what looked like Donald Trump’s hair tumbled across the library’s carpeted floor…further inspection revealed it to be an orange-brown spider with the longest and thinnest legs in the history of the world ever. It was duly rescued and removed by a member of the audience. We wonder where that spider is now…

Afterwards, someone in Knutsford library tried to sell me a coat. In Liverpool pubs I’ve been offered ciggies, vodka, batteries, bacon etc etc – but it has never happened in a library before. I’m still musing over that.

Then at the weekend I was in Kendal Library, for a Get It Loud In Libraries show. As the name suggests, they put gigs on in libraries.

Meilyr Jones at Kendal Library, part of the Get It Loud In Libraries initiative

I loved that Kendal Library was on a road called…


On the way home the next day we stopped off at Wigan to buy butter pies, the good honest Lancashire comfort food of my youth.

Butter pie!

The pie shop was on the corner of…


I kid you not.

November is National Novel Writing Month, NaNoWriMo for short. Read best selling crime author Elizabeth Haynes’ shares her top NaNoWriMo tips with me here.



We’re a nation of terrible paparazzi

I was walking to the shops the other week. A woman parked her car on the other side of the road, and came over to me with a strange look on her face. As she came closer, I realised she was smothering a smile.

“Did you know you’ve got your skirt tucked into your knickers?”  she said, before corpsing big time.

SHE PARKED HER CAR. Bless her darling heart.

We had a good – and long – laugh, because what else could you do? It genuinely was very funny. “You really wedged your skirt in…really high…” she added, making folding motions with her hand, which set us both off again.

Someone said to me afterwards that it was luck on my part that this Good Samaritan for Women Who Can’t Dress Properly helped me, partly because there are so many people who would’ve filmed me on their phones and put it on YouTube (or wherever). You know, for larfs. And the bantz. I honestly never thought about that. As far as I know no one has (please God) but it got me thinking, and worrying.

At the boxing gym this week I was sparring with a new member, and before I had chance to blink her mate had filmed our session and put it on Snapchat. I wasn’t asked if I was ok being filmed by some stranger, and to be honest I’m not even sure why I didn’t say anything. Ordinarily I would.

I think it was because I was shocked, and my defenses were down. The gym is a safe place where you’re meant to be able to sweat (or glow, in may case ‘cos I’m a lady) and look as rubbish as you like. If you can’t relax when you’re working out, when can you?

But then again, why can’t we relax everywhere? Going back to the tucked in knickers incident again, even a couple of years ago we wouldn’t dream of even thinking someone might take a snap of something like that. But now it’s an automatic reaction.

My point is, we should be able to go out for a pint of milk without wariness. But that goes for everything else we do too. I get a shiver of horror when I see sneery photos of folk on social media getting their shoes mocked, VPL zoomed in on or unfortunate women like me who accidentally and foolishly expose their underwear.

I think it’s rude to take photos of people without their permission.   To my mind, it’s ok to take the piss out of yourself with this sort of thing, but definitely not ok to do it to others.

It’s like we’ve turned into a nation of terrible paparazzi. Very bad manners, in my opinion, whether we think someone else looks daft or not.


Vinyl Station

Sitting and listening to music. I do more of that now than for ages.

We have a 1960s stereogram, mocked by some in the past – you know who you are – but now declared an impressive feature because vinyl is so frigging trendy again. A wooden coffin on legs, it cost ten pounds nearly twenty years ago, going strong in 2015 (and for £375 in some shops – get us).

Vinyl is fashionable now and the ultimate sound carrier.

Only it isn’t.

Sound carrier snobbery is an odd little hobby to have, one I don’t have time for. Life is too short.

I like a vinyl record because I know it will be there forever. When I buy an LP it will live in my house with me. There is no subsequent home for records I buy. They’re a love match, always. They won’t break if I handle them with careful fingers, which I do.

CDs from 1980s and later are deteriorating now, tape cassettes tangle, MP3s are nice but they give me nothing to hold. So problematic, each; but the sound quality of one is no better than the others, vinyl included, for at home listening; not if you care for them properly. Whoever says different is wrong and selling you a hipster authenticity lie. Don’t listen to them. You’ll feel all the better for it.

I don’t use music as background noise. I don’t jog with it on earphones (I don’t jog at all, but you get my drift), I write in silence now because instead I start humming and go off on a tangent. I like my vinyl in the evenings and early mornings, so I can listen and appreciate better, sit down with a cuppa tea of glass of something, and enjoy. You may be different and that’s okay, listening rules are just silly. There are so many rules now to everything, we’re best ignoring them. It’s less stressful that way.
vinyl station 1

Last week we went to a new thing at Liverpool’s Metal – cute rooms (with an Aga!) at Edge Hill railway station just outside the city centre. Vinyl Station is held each month. You sit with local music lovers in companionable silence with a cuppa tea or glass of something (I lead, others follow; what can I say?) and listen to a brand new album. When it’s finished playing and only then, we talk about the record.

vinyl station

The best idea I’ve heard for such a long time, a sweet evening. They played Hooton Tennis Club’s debut LP ‘Highest Point In Cliff Town’ this month, I really liked it, I have both their 7” singles already. Not many other people loved the album quite as much, but not everyone can have my exceptional taste, can they?

And do you know what, that’s ok. If we all liked the same thing, how crashingly dull would everything be? Looking forward to next month already.


In Defence Of The Smash Hits Centrefold

I read an emotional piece by a long time Joni Mitchell fan this weekend, about her sadness at the singer songwriter’s illness and recent hospitalisation. It’s a tale is of fandom, a love for Mitchell’s work, what she signifies as an artist, her meaning over the decades.

I get it. We all have someone like that; I have artists I love, I adore their work. If I like someone I buy their work obsessively (I was going to say borderline obsessive, but that would be wrong; it’s obsessive alright and I’m proud of it). I hate to have gaps in my collection. This why my house is crammed with books and records; my husband is the same. (We desperately need a bigger house.)

I bought this box set of Elvis cassettes last month from a charity shop. I have no cassette player, but still I bought it. Fandom logic.
I bought this box set of Elvis cassettes last month from a charity shop. I have no cassette player, but still I bought it. Fandom logic.

Fandom is a personal pursuit; we each deal with it in our own way. Some fans don’t like the label fan at all, so deride and mock it as a blind faith. But to me fandom is not that; it’s a joy, a pleasure; with no shame attached.

In the Joni piece fandom of the singer songwriter is examined from every angle; Joni love lasts forever, not like our silly teen fandom of tennybop stars, where when we  get older and know better we cringe and shudder at the memory of the posters on our bedroom wall, and the crushes we had…

Erm…hang on a minute.  We should cringe and shudder at our teen fandom?  Be ashamed of something we got immense pleasure from? Rub out and cancel a significant part of our formative years like they never existed?

I don’t think so.

Ok, it’s easy to take the piss out of teenybop stars and those who follow them. It’s not rocket science to see why it happens:

Boy and girl bands don’t stay around for long, nor do the dancing prancing boy-men trilling soppy ballads.

The music is poppy, light and fluffy, disposable, here today and ta-ra tomorrow.

Pop tarts have short careers, product dissed and dating easily.

They’re not credible,but instead a Grammy free zone.

But…so what? Why does pop music have to be classic ( a problematic notion in itself, but that’s another article entirely) to be enjoyed? Everything has to stand the test of time, or else it’s worth nowt? Really? We’re going with that, are we?

We live in a time of the temporary, fashion clothes lasting for a handful of washes at best; every household implement seems to be made out of crackable plastic with a sell by date looming ever closer but let’s not fool ourselves; trends are nothing new. Trends are called trends for a reason, spiking high and harsh then falling off the grid, plunging into a freefall of obscurity.

Adults indulge happily in trends/temporary fandom, but are not invited to mock themselves. Faith in football teams and players is no different to the hoards of girls who camp out for One Direction tickets, the sense of tribalism, being part of a gang, spending time with peers is identical. Only we don’t take the piss out of men and women who trot off to the match every Saturday, handing over £LOTS for the pleasure, do we?

And quite right too, because it’s bloody rude apart from anything else.

We should NEVER be ashamed of our teeny bop fandom. The consumption of pop music by teenage and prepubescent girls is constantly dismissed as frivolous or silly, people get offended by it. Personally I think it scares adults, the notion of girls getting together, bonding over the same pursuit and passion. I’m still working out why such a thing is so frightening (answers on a postcard, please – or the comment box below).

The thing is, being a teenager is shit. Everyone’s teenage years carry different shades and levels of that shit.  As a teenager you have to conform, your home and school life demanding different types of behaviour; you can’t stand out too much at school or else you’ll get battered (or was that just my school?) but stand out enough so the teacher thinks well of you; don’t work too hard or else you’re a swot, but if you don’t…

The GCSE pressure cooker is hell, friends aren’t always friends at all, they shift allegiances as and when.  Teenagers’ parents never understand them and no wonder; teenagers don’t understand themselves, for fuck’s sake.

Sometimes, teenage girls have one constant; teeny bop fandom.  Posters on the bedroom wall, tunes on an iPod, they’re the things always there, lifelines both and a comfort. I don’t have a problem with that and can’t understand why anyone else would. Just because teenybop pop stars are a temporary comfort takes nothing away from their value, a very precious value at that.

My own sister was a Bay City Rollers fan as a teenager. You can read about that here.


Elvis & Me (and you)

I gave a talk at Ignite Liverpool this week. Held at Leaf Cafe on Bold St, the event takes place every three months. People are invited to come along and talk about things they are passionate about. I spoke about Elvis Presley. This is loosely what I had to say.

Elvis fans

Elvis, he died 1977 when I was 9 years old. I’ve been a fan since I was five. That’s a long time.

When people find out I am an Elvis fan they act in two ways. The first is of embarrassment on my behalf, as if I’ve let a deep dark dirty secret slip out. To them I should be ashamed, hang my head low.

The second response is laughter.

“What, YOU?”

Yes, ME.

They think I’m joking. I am not.

Some people are strange about Elvis, this working class boy from a background and childhood of grinding poverty miles and oceans away; they get aggressive about him. It’s odd, how he stirs such a reaction still, even after all these decades. They start challenging me on my fandom, try to convert me to proper music, whatever that is. The mansplanations on the error of my ways are plentiful and so often recited to me; the mansplainers, they must learn them by rote.

I’m told Elvis didn’t write his own songs. This is not news. (I’ve been a fan since I was five, remember?).

He was a manufactured artist. Apparently. Oh, and the Sex Pistols weren’t?

One person compared him to Justin Beiber. I’m still trying to work that one out.

Then there’s “he died on the toilet you know”. His wasn’t a rock n roll enough death for them. It lacks that needle in the arm authenticity.

For the mansplainers, I have a well-rehearsed speech of defence.

I talk about his influence. On other singers, fashion, the art of self-expression. How he mixed genres to make something exciting and new. His sheer power of performance.

My speech, it makes people back off and concede the “Sun Sessions are good, and erm, the 68 Comeback Special, but…” followed by a mumbled “yeah well, I’m not a fan but I appreciate what he did”, eyes toggling, searching for an escape route.

Then I say, you’re missing out on the country, gospel, the true quality Vegas era. The good films.

They like that! It tickles them, no end. They grin delightedly, smugly, think I’m a liar, or just stupid. I’m a sheep, following the herd. I need to listen to some Pink Floyd. That’ll sort me out.

This is why when I meet another fan I’m made happy. We are a broad church us Elvis fans, but have one fundamental thing in common.  Him. There’s an Elvis impersonator where I live, I see him in Asda sometimes. Just before Christmas, I spied him. He must be well into his seventies. I never looked at him properly before but  on this day, I followed him. I took in what he was wearing, the stonewashed denim jeans, distressed and bleached.

I thought, Elvis would not wear those.

He had these right white trainers on too, dazzling and bright and huge on the end of his legs.

I don’t think Elvis would like those either.

He wore a black blouson jacket.

Elvis died before they came out. Things weren’t looking up, at all.

Then I noticed he carried a long brolly, a long black one with a curved handle. He used it like a sceptre, brandished it as he walked. Like a king.

Oh yes, I thought. Elvis, he would  love that.


So I’m following the Asda Elvis impersonator, notice he is smiled at and nodded at as he does his shopping. I start thinking people are laughing at him, see Elvis as a joke. They’re laughing at my Elvis, my boy! I want to punch them, give each a good talking to.

Then I realise no, that’s not it. People are smiling because the Elvis impersonator in Asda, he reminds them of Elvis, and Elvis makes people happy. He really, really does.

We live in very divisive times, where neighbour is set against neighbour. It’s employed vs unemployed, striver vs shirker, hardworking vs lazy bastards. Them vs us. Elvis, he brings people together. And that is bloody beautiful. We all need to look deeper than the lies spoon fed to us, about the stereotypes about people who use food banks, stereotypes about those who have to sign on, question every stereotype going. Or indeed stereotypes about Elvis Aaron Presley. Because stereotypes by rote, they are rarely any good.


I have a flash fiction GOOD TIMES in a new book Slim Volume: No Love Lost (Pankhearst), out this week.  



The Fixer

I can’t be the only person reading this who, when they visit a book or record shop, um, rearranges stock to their liking? There are always books and records which in my view need shifting about a bit so that casual browsers might spy them and do the right thing. I feel like I’m sticking it up to the man, being mildly punk and anarchic, albeit in an admittedly benign way.

This snap of Edwyn Collins, Grace Maxwell and Dave Haslam at Dancehouse Theatre in Manchester would be outstanding were it not for the mysterious straying head
This snap of Edwyn Collins, Grace Maxwell and Dave Haslam at Dancehouse Theatre in Manchester would be outstanding were it not for the mysterious straying head

I was in Manchester last weekend to catch Edwyn Collins talking and singing and sharing his wonderful The Possibilities Are Endless film, so would like to apologise to Piccadilly Records, the Record Exchange and the big Waterstones for rotating their stock over the length of two days (although really you should be thanking me, you were hiding some real gems from your lovely customers. I see myself more as a fixer, really). I hope this confession doesn’t mean that I’ll have to visit these shops in disguise in future. Surely not?