Destiny Calling for Justin Moorhouse

Justin Time: Print off and add your own caption, if the mood takes you

Justin Time: Print off and add your own caption, if the mood takes you

Sometimes it seems that the comedy world decamps en masse to Edinburgh in summertime, and Justin Moorhouse is no exception.

And while the East Manchester born and bred salesman turned stand-up comic and actor might not be partaking in any of the liquid encouragement that seems to go hand in hand with the Fringe, that doesn’t seem to bother him.

As he puts it himself, “I’m off the sauce at the moment, so it’s all clean living!”

At the risk of conforming to stereotypes, surely it’s not easy to remain sober in Edinburgh in August?

“Well, not really, but it gives you a different perspective, being clear-headed in a town full of fuzzy-headed people!

“I kind of figured that if I’m doing the show and getting ready for the tour, I’d do it with a clear head.

“It’s very busy this year, and it’s been a lovely festival. The weather’s been great and there’s a really nice feeling about the place, with numbers up for everyone, right across the board. Fingers crossed, it’s a vintage year.”

Justin, whose Destiny Calling show is at Edinburgh’s Gilded Ballon until Sunday, August 30, must be a Fringe veteran by now.

“Yeah, this is my 10th in 15 years, and when I’ve not been performing I’ve been visiting. It’s certainly grown and changed over that period.”

Funny Side: Justin Moorhouse

Funny Side: Justin Moorhouse

Judging by a recent @justinmoorhouse tweet, it appears that you get to do stuff like shout at celebrity friends – in his case Richard Osman, of Pointless fame – across busy streets. Even if Richard did ignore him.

“Yeah! I can’t believe that. I know him quite well, but I guess he was tuned out. And he’s just so recognisable now.”

He must be easy enough to spot in a crowd, with his 6ft 7ins frame.

“Exactly. He’s the only big thing I’ve seen up here without a poster on it.”

So go on then, your show title, Destiny Calling – what’s all that about then?

“When I do my shows, they have kind of a loose theme, but I suppose this one is a snapshot of where I am in my life.

“Significantly, this year I turned 45, and I thought, ‘Mmm … maybe I’m half-way. But I tell that to audiences and they stare at me as if to say, ‘You’re ambitious!’

“The other big news is I’ve had my hip replaced, and I’m quite young for that. That makes you think this is the future – this is what’s going to happen from now, in and out of hospitals.

“So really it’s all about the man at 45 and which way you go, mid-life crises and all that sort of stuff.”

Club Classics: Manchester United fan Justin Moorhouse in his Manchester City top as Young Kenny, alongside his fellow Phoenix Nights regulars (Photo: Channel 4)

Club Classics: Manchester United fan Justin Moorhouse in his Manchester City top as Young Kenny, alongside his fellow Phoenix Nights regulars (Photo: Channel 4)

Well, our part of the world was a pioneer for those hip replacements, so perhaps we should take advantage.

“Yeah – Wrightington wasn’t it, near Wigan? That’s the thing actually – you mention hip replacements and everyone wants to know where you had it done.”

So where did you have yours done?

“Southport, near home. And it’s a great operation these days. You’re in and out within a couple of days. It’s fantastic, and it’s given me a new lease of life.”

Did you get a free hip flask to go with it? Only that would be a shame if you’re steering clear of alcohol.

“Exactly! The other thing is that when I tell people I’ve had my hip replaced, they tell me how their Grandad just had his done too!”

After Edinburgh, Justin will be taking his new hip and new show out on the road, starting on September 8 at The Borough in Lancaster. Has he played there before?

“I’ve done that venue a few times. It’s a great comedy club, every Sunday, a great room in a great pub with great food – what could be better?

Also on the list is Blackburn’s Thwaites Empire Theatre on October 10.

“That’s lovely too. I did a gig there regularly. It’s a great theatre and has a real music hall feel.”

Favourite Venue: Chorley Little Theatre is a big hit with Justin Moorhouse (Photo: Ian Robinson, Chorley Little Theatre)

Favourite Venue: Chorley Little Theatre is a big hit with Justin Moorhouse (Photo: Ian Robinson, Chorley Little Theatre)

Then there’s Chorley Little Theatre on November 22, another venue you’ve played before and gone down well.

“Oh, it’s incredible. What they’ve done to that place is fantastic. They’ve really latched on to the touring comedy, and sell it really well.

“They’ve trained the audience in Chorley to take a chance on comedy they might not have heard of before. They sell out, and the shows are great. It’s possibly my favourite venue on the tour.”

I spoke to someone from the venue about your last appearance, and he told me there was a woman on the front row who maybe had one too many drinks, and you couldn’t work out if it was the best night of your career or the worst.

That clearly still lurks in Justin’s memory, but all he says is, “Yeah … yeah!” like a comedy version of fellow Lancashire lad Georgie Fame.

Justin’s tour goes right through to December 11 at Bury Met. That’s quite an undertaking, but I guess he’s used to all that now.

“Yes, I’m looking forward to it.”

It mentions on Justin’s latest press release that he’s killed three animals unintentionally. This isn’t going to be a Cecil the Lion type confession is it?

“Not at all! I’m an animal lover, and a vegetarian.”

You didn’t lure something off a reserve in Manchester then?

“No … there’s nothing reserved about Manchester! I talk about it all on my show, explaining it. But it wasn’t malicious or pre-planned.”

Justin Live: Mr Moorhouse at the mic.

Justin Live: Mr Moorhouse at the mic.

I’m pleased to hear that. That same press release also mentions he’s started to dress like a toddler. Is this all part of his mid-life crisis, hitting 45 and matching his waist measurement?

“It could well be. Come and find out, but there is a certain look on tour I’ve gone for that I’m trying to spread, getting more people to dress that way.

“It makes you feel happier. And who knows, someone on the front row might ask me about a sleepover.”

More randomly, I see Justin’s left-handed, like me. Are there many more in the comedy world?

“I think there are in the creative world. I believe 10 per cent of us are sinister. I think that’s the right word, isn’t it?

“The other thing about being left-handed is that you find when you walk down a busy street and someone comes toward you, you’ll do that little dance. You’ll go left, and they’ll go right. That definitely happens more for us than right-handed people.”

Justin recently reprised the role that helped float his career, returning as Young Kenny in a record-breaking run – 15 shows in total – of Phoenix Nights Live at the Manchester Arena.

In the end they raised more than £5m for Comic Relief, Justin appearing alongside the likes of Peter Kay, co-writer Dave Spikey and Paddy McGuinness.

“Yeah. Five million! That was incredible! It was great, a lovely time, with packed houses, and everyone loving it.

“And if we don’t do anything else with that show afterwards, that was a great post-script.”

Tiger Face: Justin Moorhouse in his Young Kenny get-up

Tiger Face: Justin Moorhouse in his Young Kenny get-up

Was it good to be back with a few old mates too? Or do you keep in regular contact with a few of the Phoenix Nights crew anyway?

“I still see most of them socially, but it was lovely to hang out with everybody, and we had a perfect time.”

At that point, I let on to Justin that I revisited one of his best-known Phoenix Nights moments recently, explaining the face-painting scene to my eldest daughter after she took part in a youth theatre production which involved a major make-up operation.

You probably know the scene, a spray-can wielding friend of the Phoenix Club giving Young Kenny a tiger face he’s then unable to remove after the club’s inappropriate kids’  fun-day. And it clearly remains an issue with Justin.

“Do you know, if I go somewhere with my daughter and she wants her face painted, I can’t be the one who takes her! It’s really weird!

“Can you imagine it? ‘What do you want to look like?’ ‘Oh, like my Dad please!’ I’ve seen it before, face-painting at fairs, where people have actually had pictures of me“.

I take it you’re not still struggling to scrub it off, after all these years.

“No. I finally got rid!”

Justin’s been on our TV screens a lot since, for BBC1’s Live at the Apollo and Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow, as well as Comedy Central’s The Comedy Store and Dave’s Dave’s One Night Stand.

His other TV work has included parts in Shameless and Phoenix Nights spin-off Max & Paddy’s Road to Nowhere, while Justin appeared on Coronation Street in 2011 as a character delivering a car to Sally Webster, a present from estranged hubbie Kevin. Then last August he was back, this time as Flying Horse landlord Dean Upton. So was that another dream-come-true?

“Yeah – it was literally like stepping into the telly! That’s what it feels like, like doing Just a Minute or The News Quiz is for stepping into the wireless.

“And Dean’s still technically the landlord of that pub, so fingers crossed, hopefully one day I can go back.”

Rovers Return: Justin as Dean Upton, at the bar with Liz McDonald (Beverley Callard), talking to Steve McDonald (Simon Gregson) on Coronation Street (Photo: ITV / www.itvpictures.com)

Rovers Return: Justin as Dean Upton, at the bar with Liz McDonald (Beverley Callard), talking to Steve McDonald (Simon Gregson) on Coronation Street (Photo: ITV / http://www.itvpictures.com)

Of course, Corrie and Phoenix Nights have shared many links, with performances on the soap for many Phoenix Club regulars, including Peter Kay, Paddy McGuinness, Janice Connolly and Sally Lindsay. Justin’s also worked on a weekend Key 103 radio show in Manchester with Jennie McAlpine, Fiz from Corrie, and before that he worked with another former Wetherfield star, Anne Reid, during the two series he did of Everyone Quite Likes Justin on BBC Radio 4.

“Do you know, she’s done that much that I’d forgotten she was even on Corrie. She’s brilliant, an absolute treasure, and we got her just before Last Tango in Halifax took off.

“By the time of the second series the nation loved her, so we were lucky to get her back.”

Will there be a reprise of that show or other radio work?

“Hopefully. That show’s finished now, but I’ll carry on writing stuff, definitely.”

I thought I had an exclusive there. Are you doing a Carry On?

“Not quite!”

Justin has also seen success as the 2014/15 champion of champions on Radio 5 Live’s Fighting Talk, and – back on the TV – a Celebrity Mastermind win, with Les Dawson as his specialist subject. Was Les his comedy hero?

“Absolutely, and not just comedy. He’s why I ever considered doing all this, really. I loved all his work, and was a massive fan before I even thought of being a comedian.”

Film and football fans may also recall Justin’s role as Spleen in Ken Loach’s Manchester-based 2009 cult classic Looking for Eric.

In fact, you might not realise that despite Young Kenny being a City fan, Justin is clearly a Red Devil, and there’s no doubting that Eric Cantona is his sporting hero. So does the enigmatic Frenchman keep in touch?

fottball-fiulm“Do you know what, he hasn’t been to a show yet. Maybe we’ll try and get him along to Bury, or perhaps Chorley.”

That’ll be good. Actually, I heard he was swimming across the English Channel, according to those latest adverts for a certain French lager.

“He’s very good in those, isn’t he?”

Furthermore, Justin recently teamed up with writer Jim Poyser, whose credits include Shameless, to launch TV production company Working Men’s Productions, based at Salford’s Media City.

All in all, it’s fair to say it’s going pretty well for Justin. So was working in sales the perfect way to get into comedy?

“Well, comedy is a good way of getting out of being a salesman! But what it does give you is a good knowledge of the road and service stations, which you need for both jobs.”

For full details of Justin Moorhouse’s Destiny Calling tour, head to his official website

 

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Liberty Way, above and beyond – my continuing travels with Woking FC

Pattie Ole: New boy Ben Pattie shares the love with the KRE after goal number five against Chester (Photo: David Holmes)

Pattie Ole: New boy Ben Pattie shares the love with the KRE after No.5 against Chester (Photo: David Holmes)

I wasn’t ready for the new season. It arrived far too early. I didn’t doubt that Garry Hill and Steve Thompson had put our new-look squad through its paces, but I hadn’t even had my summer holiday.

Could it really have been 16 weeks since my last Cards outing, the final away game of the 2014/15 season at Liberty Way, the day our play-off hopes finally evaporated? Our hosts, Nuneaton Town, had already been jettisoned to the Conference North, my photos on the way out of the ground that late Spring evening suggesting a club needing a fresh start, a knackered sign outside the social club threatening to fall on unsuspecting punters any moment.

But it was a friendly set-up, and I was sad to lose them, so it’s good to see Liam Daish’s replacement Kevin Wilson has started the new campaign as brightly as us,  dropping just two points from their first five games in the National League North.

As for Woking, four months on we started against another club facing a rebuild, Tranmere Rovers, outside the Football League for the first time in 94 years. To get a handle on that, I’ll add that 22 years ago we finished eighth in our first Conference season while they were fourth in Division One, only missing out on the Premiership at the play-off stage.

I’d been to Prenton Park before, but there was little worth remembering from our 2006 FA Cup defeat save for a cracking Craig McAllister consolation strike in a 4-2 drubbing. Incidentally, I asked my better half what she recalled about our first visit, and all she could (sheepishly) mention was that Jason McAteer was playing for them. Once a Red …

Like Nuneaton, Tranmere proved properly friendly. It was a professional set-up too, not dissimilar to Wrexham in both respects. As a player it must give you a lift running out at a ‘big club’. As a fan – albeit one with a 2/6 hat on – it’s pretty special too, even if the malfunctioning wi-fi suggested I might as well be back on that cramped press bench at Liberty Way.

It seems somewhat ironic if, like me, you live so far away from your club that you pass within a few miles of several others – many admittedly bigger – en route to matches. And on this occasion, Goodison Park was briefly glimpsed down the end of Winslow Street as I headed for the Mersey Tunnel, with blue shirts in all directions before and after Everton’s Premier League clash with Stoke. But that’s just how it is.

As it turns out I was about to witness our only defeat in the first five matches, but four straight wins followed as the Cards climbed to second place at time of going to press, only upstaged by a 100% Forest Green outfit. And considering the wider implications of that opening fixture, that was something we really hadn’t expected.

That following week proved truly memorable, story-wise, with major national and international press interest in the fund started by club chaplain Ian Nicholson to aid the recuperation of star striker Scott Rendell, following his first-half anterior cruciate ligament injury at Prenton Park.

It took a while to realise the magnitude of that unfortunate challenge, players initially coming to the dug-outs way below our lofty press box for a drinks break that hot afternoon while Scott was treated with gas and air in our penalty area.

Cheque Mate: Scott Rendell and KC Kat visually reveal the success of the rehab campaign (Photo: David Holmes)

Cheque Mate: Scott Rendell and KC Kat visually reveal the success of the rehab campaign (Photo: David Holmes)

Eventually, he was stretchered off, to touchingly-warm applause from around the ground, on a day when 170 away fans got their first competitive viewing of the new-look Cards among an impressive 5,583 gate, the Wirral getting well and truly behind the hosts in their new league surroundings.

While we had no idea how bad Scott’s knee injury was, a photo of the incident by fellow press boxer Nick Shaw suggested it was grim. As it turned out, the most feared striker in the newly-renamed National League was unlikely to play any further part this season, but the resultant crowd-funding campaign to cover his medical, rehab and other costs topped £12,000 within a week or so, bucket collections at the Altrincham and Bromley home games accounting for £2,800, and large contributions coming in from across the football world – from fellow clubs, players and fans.

At a time when it seems that the mainstream ‘soccer’ empire is all about greed and big business, it was a humbling turn-up for the books. And you can find out more about the Rendell rehab fund, including a fundraising evening on October 15th where all proceeds beyond costs go to the appeal, here.

In that respect, the result that day was insignificant, but for the record we were undone by a quality 25-yard second-half free-kick from Jay Harris, the ex-Wrexham midfielder giving new boss Gary Brabin a perfect start after a nicely-worked routine that suggested a full-time side with plenty of time to tinker on the training ground.

As Garry Hill had hinted, this was likely to be a period of transition for the Cards after several changes over the summer. But as it turned out we made a positive start, those encouraging signs in Birkenhead soon bearing fruit.

Some 16 weeks earlier, my match report from that April day-trip to Nuneaton suggested the end of term had come too soon for Garry, Kevin Betsy’s second-half strike saving our blushes – securing a draw – but signalling the end of an era.

Don’t get me wrong, the seventh-place finish we ensured that day was a mighty achievement, proving us to be the highest-performing part-timers. Yet our ride on the coat-tails of the play-off race was over, and while that was arguably a good thing in the long run, we’d enjoyed the chase up to then. But seeing as I’ve not updated my own WFC travel blog since last November, I best get up to date first, filling in a few gaps from the last six months of that 2014/15 season.

While we amassed four wins from five games between the last day of September and the end of the next month, we only managed one more in the next seven games, some notably-poor showings seeing us exit the FA Cup and Surrey Senior Cup with little more than a whimper. The fact that the former was caught on the box, albeit via S4C, made it all the more galling. There was no disgrace in losing to Wrexham, a fine footballing side, but the manner of the defeat hurt. We failed to put up a proper fight.

Then came the night everything seemed to transpire against us in a 2nd vs 3rd tussle at Grimsby. With the mercurial Joe McNerney suspended, we then lost in-form keeper Jake Cole and top scorer/all-round inspiration Rendell on the night. You can factor in three league draws around then too, and while two contained many positives, a goalless encounter with Alan Devonshire’s Braintree in deepest Essex at the start of the month was largely forgettable judging by BBC Surrey’s commentary. I don’t do pessimism and grouchiness too well though, so I’ll concentrate instead on our televised success at Halifax and rousing home draw with leaders Barnet.

The old Wyatt motoring curse struck again for the former, despite leaving in plenty of time from a Sunday morning work date to head over the Pennines from Preston, Lancs. The fellas I were with sucked in their teeth and poured doubt on my plan to head ‘over the top’ and avoid the M61 and M62, but I felt vindicated as I sped past Burnley’s Turf Moor and over the Yorkshire border with ease. What’s more, it was far more scenic. But then, on the approach to Hebden Bridge – eight miles from my destination – I encountered one of those frustrating mid-town roadwork nightmares, the sort where chancers drive across yellow box junctions to block all exits when the lights eventually change.

TV Times: Goalscorers Adam Newton and Giuseppe Sole speak to BT Sport and BBC reporter Mark Clemmit after the Halifax victory (Photo: David Holmes)

TV Times: Goalscorers Adam Newton and Giuseppe Sole speak to BT Sport and BBC reporter Mark Clemmit after the Halifax victory (Photo: David Holmes)

Before I knew it, I’d sat there around 45 minutes and was left with a mighty challenge to reach The Shay in time for kick-off. And with the car park full, I ended up parking down the road a bit, running up that hill in Kate Bush style, my laptop bouncing on my hip. I made it, just about, but by then the press seats were full and I found myself perched on the back row alongside a few locals, with barely enough room to flip my computer. Thankfully this old stager still knows how to work a proper notebook.

Very friendly those Shaymen proved, I might add, although one told me with relish ‘Marriott’s out’ as I sat down – no doubt pleased to avoid another potential Jack treble following his heroics at the same venue last season. Yes, it was a blow, not least as he’d impressed against Wrexham in our midweek league draw at Kingfield. But the sight of Giuseppe Sole in his place allayed those concerns.

And lo and behold, within 25 minutes, a certain free-kick from his stand-in gave the home keeper no chance, at which point I nudged my neighbour, pointed at the celebrating Gez and co, and informed him that he’d done that a few times before (intimating it was his side’s fault for putting less than eight men in their wall). What a cracking strike too, as purred over by BT Sport commentators and viewers alike, in what soon went pretty much viral online.

We were superb that afternoon, with at least half a dozen man-of-the-match contenders, but stand-in midfielder Adam Newton saw them all off with his match-winning double – one with each peg. And you know the locals are getting restless in West Yorkshire when you hear one shout at a home midfielder, “You’re a luxury you are, lad – chuffing hell!”

A week later I was still on a high, back at Kingfield, a 480-mile solo round-trip almost leading to a further victory against ‘Mad Dog’ Allen’s top-of-the-table Bees. It didn’t start well, a cagey, stop-start first half suggesting we could barely string a few passes together, finding ourselves a goal down within 90 seconds. But the last half-hour was sheer edge-of-the-pants (I wasn’t sitting down, so it wasn’t edge-of-the-seat) drama, and I was chuffed (not in a Yorkshire sense) when Mike Cestor popped up with the equaliser – having scored in the same net earlier for Barnet.

That set up a pulsating finish, and with more than 2,600 inside Kingfield, there was a great atmosphere, the KRE chanting non-stop as we strove to find a winner. It didn’t quite happen, but not for the want of trying. It was just a shame that the wind was taken out of our sails the following Tuesday in Cleethorpes, although even then there was an inspired period in which we pulled back through the returning Dean Morgan before the Mariners finished us off. It was no doubt a long way home for the team and 22 hardy away souls.

Two home wins in four days followed, Braintree and Alty seen off 1-0 and 2-0 respectively, and I was looking to stretch my record of four out of four away wins at fellow play-off hopefuls Macclesfield that weekend. It wasn’t to be though, my unbeaten away record – stretching back to our sorry FA Trophy exit at North Ferriby the previous December – finally over. A penultimate-minute long-range strike from home skipper Paul Turnbull dealt the killer blow, the hosts drawing level on points with their spirited guests as we dropped to third. But we looked the better side in an absorbing second half.

Hill later defended his decision to leave three strikers on the bench and play the first 70 minutes with Morgan – our scorer – alone up top. There was certainly no lack of chances or commitment, but as the gaffer put it, “It just wouldn’t go into the back of their net. Then they counter-attack, the boy hits the ball, gets a deflection, and it goes in the corner.”

As it turned out, the rot started to set in, and three days later we went down 2-1 at Forest Green, December’s only bright point a 2-0 FA Trophy first-round win over Eastleigh, amid 2-1 home defeats to Southport then old foes Aldershot. There were also home and away draws with Eastleigh on Boxing Day and New Year’s Day, and until the end of January we only had one more league win, a 3-0 home success over Alfreton following an FA Trophy replay success against Conference South outfit Oxford City.

Even that Trophy run was soon over, a 1-0 defeat at Dover following a 3-3 draw at Kingfield seeing our Wembley dream burst for another year. And during that home defeat to Southport, we lost dependable defender Mike Cestor for the rest of the term, the French centre-half carried off on a stretcher before half time with a serious knee injury. Seem familiar?

There were good signs though, not least a goalless draw in front of a 3,853 home gate against Bristol Rovers, the Gasheads making plenty of noise on the Chris Lane Terrace, bringing a welcome big match atmosphere to Kingfield.

Severn Heaven: The blogger was chuffed to be back in Kidderminster, taking a brief wander by the Severn Valley Railway to spot a GWR 0-6-0 pannier tank steam loco before his afternoon at Aggborough (Photo: Malcolm Wyatt)

Severn Heaven: The blogger was chuffed to be back in Kidderminster, taking a brief wander by the Severn Valley Railway to spot a GWR 0-6-0 pannier tank steam loco before his afternoon at Aggborough (Photo: Malcolm Wyatt)

There was another promising display in mid-February as we drew 1-1 at Kidderminster, after a slim 2-1 defeat at champions-in-waiting Barnet, my next fix of the Cards seeing a much-improved second-half display at Aggborough as we reached the 50-point mark.

Amid occasional rolling puffs of smoke behind the ground from the Severn Valley Railway, we finally got up a head of steam, despite going behind to a first-half strike by Lee Hughes. Yep, him again, and while there was clearly no love lost between the 80-plus travelling fans and the veteran striker in this Valentine’s Day fixture, the boos that rang out from the away end did not deter the 38-year-old ex-West Brom, Coventry and Forest marksman.

Thankfully, the lively Yemi Odubade pulled us level in the 68th minute, finding a gap in a crowded area from a Josh Payne corner for his second strike in two matches, inspiring a wobble from a Worcestershire outfit who lost their last four home games, subs Sole and Betsy at the heart of a re-energised Woking. Yet Gary Whild’s hosts stood their ground, and might have won themselves but for a great late save by Jake Cole.

But Woking were ultimately good value for a draw as both sides remained within five points of the play-offs. And assistant boss Steve Thompson, a lone figure on the touchline after Garry Hill’s one-match ban following the previous weekend’s fall-out at Barnet, had a prophetic line for the press, saying, “Since the turn of the year we’ve turned performances around. What we need now is results to follow. And we’ve been showing the signs of going on that winning run.”

He was right of course, and on the last day of February a 2-0 success at Lincoln City proved to be the first win of six over the next four weeks, the next at Dartford followed by March’s only blip, a 2-1 loss at Grimsby.

I was there for the following encounter at Telford, a buoyant Garry Hill saying after our 3-1 win he was targeting eight wins from eight as we approached the climax, the play-offs still firmly in sight, our no-nonsense boss inspired by a rousing second-half in Shropshire against a battling basement outfit.

I hadn’t managed a Telford trip since September ’92, our first Conference season, when to quote from my musings in Wubble Yoo at the time, “This was football, pure football, and Biggo’s 10th-minute self-made goal (already Woking folklore) was one of the best I’m ever likely to see. The fact that I saw it unfold a few yards in front of me and not from the depths of the settee on a lethargic Sunday after a few too many roast spuds only made it better. As Lol Batty’s free-kick bounced over the halfway line, Mark outwitted his marker, wrong-footed two more and outran another only for the last to trip him up. He started to go down but somehow got the inspiration to brush himself off, polish his boots, comb his hair then set off again, nipping past more stranded Telford backs (having beaten at least 19 men by now) before burying the ball in the back of the net. Or something like that.”

There was no Laurence Batty or Mark Biggins on the team sheet this time, but late goals from Betsy and Sole – both set up by Antigua and Barbuda international Keiran Murtagh, during something of a midfield master-class – did the trick, bringing our third successive away win and the ninth on our travels that season. Meanwhile, the battle-scarred Bucks edged closer to the drop after a sixth loss in seven games left them 14 points adrift, Steve Kittrick chasing a first home win since November.

For all their early industry, Jake Cole hardly had a save to make, well protected by new-look back four Aswad Thomas, Brian Saah, Joey Jones and Adam Newton, while John Goddard was typically busy in midfield and a set-piece specialist in Payne’s absence as a cold wind permeated around the New Buck’s Head. Soon, Odubade and Rendell’s pace and Betsy, Murtagh and Goddard’s service left Telford quaking, Rendell putting us ahead from the penalty spot. The Bucks weren’t finished, and levelled after further rousing renditions from behind the goal of Slade classic Cum On Feel The Noize, good work on the right by Godfrey Poku – who would join us within a few months – leading to a corner headed home at the near-post.

On a pudding of a pitch we fought back though, Murtagh putting Rendell away, the earlier scorer showing great timing to release Betsy to his right, the latter keeping his cool then firing powerfully beyond the keeper on 81 minutes. And five minutes later, Murtagh beat his marker again then threaded through to Sole, who showed similar poise as he hit home.

Bucks Stopped: Late scorers Giuseppe Sole and Kevin Betsy look on as the latter's finish beats the Telford keeper (Photo: David Holmes)

Bucks Stopped: Late scorers Giuseppe Sole and Kevin Betsy look on as the latter’s finish beats the Telford keeper (Photo: David Holmes)

There was at least one more moment of note, Aswad Thomas’s brief return to our line-up halted by an injury that Garry Hill later put down to a ‘discolated thumb’. I can’t remember any dance celebrations out there after Rendell’s goal, but perhaps that’s when it happened.

Further home wins followed over Forest Green, a 1-0 win after a further Rendell penalty, then Torquay, when a stunning second-half fight-back saw us overcome a two-goal half-time deficit, with Odubade, Payne and Rendell on target in a lethal half-hour spell. And another then followed at Chester at the end of the month, two further Rendell finishes cancelled out before a spectacular late Payne finish settled it. On all three occasions, I was reliant on the BBC Surrey radio coverage and the aural landscapes painted by Jon Howick, Gary Smith and gloriously-biased summariser John Moore, the dream remaining and this Cards fan feeling part of it.

Beyond that, we stayed on the play-off fringes with a home draw against Welling, and despite a 2-1 Easter Monday defeat at Crabble – yes, bloody Dover again – after Yemi had put us ahead, we gave ourselves further hope with a 3-0 home victory over Gateshead, Rendell and Payne (twice) again on target, before that candle-snuffing  draw at Nuneaton.

That just left a semi-celebratory last-day thriller against Halifax, our late 3-2 win proving a perfect send-off for Cards legend Kevin Betsy. I was listening in on the radio this time, Garry Smith highly excitable as we turned around a 2-1 deficit in dramatic circumstances, Payne’s earlier strike followed by mesmeric Rendell and Odubade finishes deep in injury time.

Much had changed by the time of that opening afternoon of the 2015/16 season, but we went toe-to-toe with our Birkenhead hosts all afternoon, arguably deserving a draw but for that fine winner. And we seemed more at ease three days later, seeing off last year’s regional champions Bromley after a double from John Goddard, my Tranmere man of the match, both goals provided by Sole, who then got our opener that Saturday at home to Altrincham, new loanee and star performer Dan Holman then ensuring a 2-0 victory.

As the onslaught of early fixtures continued we had the perfect night out on the English Riviera, Kadell Daniel’s late delivery finding Ismail Yakubu at the far post, the impressive central defender heading home. And then came a thrilling 5-2 home victory over Chester that take us up to second. A first-half foul on Holman led to a sending off for Ben Heneghan which would leave the visitors stretched on a baking hot afternoon, that initial incident leading to stand-in penalty-taker Goddard putting us ahead. Holman and Daniel then put us in the driving seat shortly after the break, with late strikes by Joey Jones and Ben Pattie making sure on a day of quality finishes, not least Chester’s second from Wayne’s brother John.

From what I’ve seen and heard so far, there’s certainly been no lack of spirit so far, our initial fears over Rendell’s injury perhaps allayed. In fact, Scott’s misfortune seemed to galvanise the squad’s togetherness. If the Chris Ingram bail-out years have chiefly been about prudence and sensibly cutting the cloth to make the best of what we’ve got, we’ve stuck to that brief. I remain impressed at how well we do without some of the silly money being thrown at other clubs around us. A big-up for Hill and Thommo for their part in that.

As Garry H basked in sunshine in the dug-out after our stalemate at Liberty Way back on April 18th, he was somewhat chilled and philosophical, while hinting at big changes in his bid to take us to the next level. There was plenty about our ability to punch above our weight too, and a few months on that remains the case. The gaffer clearly felt he’d reached a watershed moment, not least with a few players set to disembark. Betsy’s decision wasn’t a big surprise, sad as it was to see him go. The same went for Adam Newton, although he was soon back, and we happily welcomed his return.

Warning Sign: Outside the Liberty Way social club in Nuneaton Town, April 2015 (Photo: Malcolm Wyatt)

Warning Sign: Outside the Liberty Way social club in Nuneaton Town, April 2015 (Photo: Malcolm Wyatt)

At Nuneaton, Hill spoke of clubs like Luton, Crawley, Fleetwood and Stevenage buying their way out of this league. We’ll never be in that position as far as I can tell, but thank goodness, I say. It’s a big ask for our backers to keep us firing at this level, but we get by. Perhaps we’ll never be a big club like Tranmere, Bristol Rovers or Grimsby, but that won’ty bother me if we show plenty of fight and quality and occasionally upset the odds.

As long as that continues, I’ll happily get behind and have pride in Woking FC. Since early 2011, it’s been a remarkable ride, and long may that continue. This time I’d like to see more of the same please … plus a little FA Cup and FA Trophy joy. Is that too much to ask?

There was a memorable Garry H quote at Nuneaton, the Home Counties Confusius musing, Cantona-like, “A changing room’s like your own front room at home when it needs redecorating. And there will be fresh paint in the changing rooms and fresh players for next year.”

As it was, I don’t think anyone predicted Rendell tripping on a prised-open tin of Dulux as he tracked back at Tranmere on day one. His injury hit us hard, but I didn’t doubt that Messrs Hill and Thompson would find us quality cover, and Colchester United loanee Dan Holman was soon impressing up top.

Incidentally, there was another great ‘Hillism’ from Mystic Garry at Liberty Way, telling BBC Surrey’s Gavin Dennison, “We’ve taken the club to heights far greater than anybody expected. The aeroplane’s up there now, and there’s going to be a bit of turbulence unless someone’s going to give us a few quid to push on.”

In that respect, our Tranmere opener suggested we were firmly back on terra firma. But the following fortnight told a different tale, and we were soon flying again. Yes, we lost crowd favourite Joe Mac and England C cap Payne, but Saah and Yakubu look great defensive prospects, and you need look no further than Joey J and Murtagh to ease Payne’s parting.

All in all, our established players continue to lead by example, while the new boys show definite promise. It’s early days, but I’m looking up rather than down, eager for my next away fix at the Moss Rose in Macclesfield and at Nethermoor, Guiseley, confident that Sqn. Ldr. Hill and Flt. Lt. Thommo will see us through any flak.

If you liked this, try:

Starting to believe again – my distant life with the Cardinals Nov 1, 2014 

Where to now? Woking negotiating Conference Runaround Jun 12, 2014 

After the storm and under the floodlights with Woking: from the Shay to the International, via the Humber and the Hoe Mar 9, 2014 

Taking the crunchy with the smooth, Cardinals style Nov 18, 2013 

Rec recollections as Shots ring out again July 31, 2013

Cardinal deliberations and Garry’s magic 50 Mar 19, 2013 

A lubbly Bubbly awayday at Haig Avenue Feb 28, 2013 

Out of town and out of sorts with the Cardinals Feb 21, 2013

A poor return and the not so magnificent seven Dec 6, 2012

Remembering England’s Evelyn Nov 11, 2012

Sat Nav be buggered – the pitiful search for Rodney Parade Nov 2, 2012

Return to the big time (kind of) Sep 20, 2012

Back to reality – the road from Stratford to Woking Aug 22, 2012 

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Something Only We Know by Kate Long – a writewyattuk review

malc pics 220815 002You know that paragraph at the beginning of books, explaining that what you’re about to read is a work of fiction, with names, characters, places and incidents purely down to the author’s imagination? When I read a Kate Long novel I feel like taking issue with that, reckoning I know the people involved.

Many published authors fail in that respect, yet Kate manages it time and again. Ask her, and she’ll reiterate that nothing personal goes in, or her books aren’t based on people she knows. She puts it down to copious amounts of research, but there’s more to it than that. It’s one thing to read case studies, another to have the craft to suggest truth from fiction.

From The Bad Mother’s Handbook onwards, Kate’s fan-base has truly identified with her characters, with latest offering Something Only We Know a further example. It’s not like she’s taken an easy option either. This Lancashire-raised, Shropshire-based author knows the Cheshire setting she’s chosen, yet this only child and mum of two lads convincingly tells a tale of two sisters, the oldest living in the shadows of an anorexic past.

The story is based around Jen, a trainee journalist not long out of uni, dealing with a number of problems on the home front, not least simmering family fall-out related to past eating disorder issues with big sis Helen. And while we might more readily identify with Jen’s more commonplace worries – over her career, boyfriends, sibling rivalry and parents – the author pulls us into the root problem too.

She’s big on issues in her books, and in this case it’s a mighty one, the elephant in the room as the family tip-toe around Hel, trying to avoid the eggshells. Mixed metaphors? Yep, but Kate has 400 pages to tell her tale, while I’ve just got this review.

As the author stressed in our recent interview – regarding writing about anorexia – you don’t want to get something like that wrong. Well, I’m pleased to report she makes sense of the condition. Luckily, I’ve not been around anyone in that situation, but found this a convincing study. In typical Kate Long fashion, it seems real.

True Craft: Kate Long

True Craft: Kate Long

At times I want Jen to do more to shake up her parents, her boyfriend and her sister, but it’s always easier from the outside. Besides, her protagonist is at a difficult time in her fledgling career, readjusting to home life after time away, reticent to rock the boat too much. She knows hers is far from a functional family, yet has enough respect for those around her to hang in there and help where she can.

While eating disorders have never been on my family radar, certain aspects of this book are closer to home, and I find Kate’s depiction of a newspaper office environment extremely plausible. Not just her pen-pic of a self-important, ladder-climbing editor, ‘Tweed-Knickers’ as she is dubbed, but Jen’s close-quarters sub-editor Gerry too. Again, I feel like I know both, the same going for the sports editor and the publication itself.

Drawing great characters isn’t enough on its own, but Kate doesn’t disappoint with her plot, several strands nicely weaved together. I won’t say much more than that, but there’s plenty of love interest and a little politics too. And as we go further in, it’s fair to say I feel more empathy for the main characters than I might have earlier on.

It’s that old concept of – as E.H. Shepard put it in his second autobiography – characters ‘drawn from life’. Not so much boy or girl next door fiction as family across the road fiction, people you think you know but when it comes down to it you’re not so sure.

somethingonl_paperback_147112892x_72As the title hints, there’s a thematic undercurrent of too many secrets, hidden in the exchanges between Jen and sister Helen, their parents and their boyfriends. But while a lot lies beneath the surface, surely that’s the case for every family. And if some of the exchanges seem mundane, isn’t that how it really is?

Kate shines a light on those feelings building up within. There are many light moments, but uncomfortable truths brought to the surface too. And it’s to her credit that pretty soon you’re there with Jen, willing her to break from an often-stifling environment. In fact, you grow to empathise with the wider family, even if in real life I might still only give them a slight nod as I pass. Perhaps that’s just the British way.

For this blog’s recent interview with Kate Long, head here.

And for all the latest from Kate, including details of how to get hold of a copy of Something Only We Know (published by Simon & Schuster in paperback and ebook format), try her website here

 

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Really wild at heart – the Steve Backshall interview

Owl's That: Steve Backshall and a feathered friend prepare to tour, and not just on the barn circuit

Owl’s That: Steve Backshall and a feathered friend prepare to tour, and not just on the barn circuit

It’s 9am and wildlife expert, travel adventurer, TV presenter and author Steve Backshall is already on his second conference call, facing at least half a day fielding questions. But he’s in high spirits, despite only having returned the night before from an Alpine climbing break.

Steve is pretty much the face of wildlife on children’s TV these days, his Deadly 60, Live and Deadly and The Really Wild Show appearances a huge hit with viewers of all ages.

He’s currently promoting his forthcoming Wild World tour, accompanying the paperback release of the third of his Falcon Chronicles fiction novels and the release of adult non-fiction book Mountain, My Life On The Rocks. And you can expect plenty of anecdotes about his adventures and expeditions too.

Throughout his career Steve’s come face to face with some of the world’s most remarkable predators. From the Arctic to the Antarctic, from the top of the world’s highest peaks, and from the depths of the rainforest to the bottom of the sea, there is very little he hasn’t encountered.

And when he’s not hanging off mountains or filming wildlife documentaries, Steve is proving himself to be a prolific author, with 13 already under his belt.

His Falcon Chronicles series – so far consisting of Tiger Wars, Ghosts of the Forest and Wilds of the Wolf – is aimed at a young adult audience, following the quests of Saker and Sinter as they attempt to right some of the wrongs perpetrated against wildlife around the planet.

Facing adventure and danger, their challenging adventures take them on wild and nail-biting journeys, bringing them face to face with the world’s most fascinating, majestic and lethal creatures. And it’s fair to say that’s something Steve knows plenty about.

51aCsec5E9L._SX319_BO1,204,203,200_I start by putting to him that at least half of his interviewers today will imagine he’s sat on a jungle set while fielding questions, or at least precariously perched in a treehouse.

“Well, do you know, I only just back late last night from the mountains, so actually that’s kind of where I’ve been for the last week, up in the French and Swiss Alps.”

On his tour dates, expect young and old alike to be transfixed by footage of Steve dangling beneath a helicopter into a crocodile’s nest, free-diving with great white sharks and under Antarctic icebergs with leopard seals, or catching the world’s most venomous creatures by hand.

Then there are the tales of first ascents of vast jungle mountains, the discovery of new species and cave systems, and Steve’s on-going love for conservation.

Let’s face it, he’s a busy man, so I go straight into my questions, asking which of the following holds the most fear for him – a night in a rainforest or a deep-sea dive, with deadly predators a few feet away; facing a large audience at Preston’s Avenham Park with the lovely Naomi Wilkinson for protection (as he was last time I saw him in person, back in 2011); facing Strictly Come Dancing judge Craig Revel Horwood and cutting comments on his cha cha cha (as he did last year, surviving with professional partner Ola Jordan until week nine); or the thought of a live date at Blackburn’s King George’s Hall this October (my excuse for calling him).

“I find all of those frightening, but all of them equally rewarding in their own way. There are really exciting things to be garnered from all those experiences … although maybe not the Craig Revel Horwood bit!

”I am so lucky my life is so incredibly diverse, with so many different aspects to it. I just never ever have a chance to get bored. There’s always something new that’s coming along.”

Are there any more celebrity appearances lined up? Only I’m guessing there would be outrage if he turned up on I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here.

“No, there’s no desperate desire to do anything like that. It would be a bit pointless, as I generally spend so much of my life in the rainforest … and not pretend rainforest.”

Was he a big talker at school? Does the live performance come naturally for you?

“I don’t know that it comes naturally. When I first started to do these kind of tours, I was very, very nervous, really scared and had what I guess you would call stage fright.

“But everyone’s always so nice and kind, and the reception’s always really positive, so eventually you get this sense of warmth from the crowd, which sets you at your ease.

Hello Ola: Steve Backshall, not in the standard rainforest clobber, with his 2014 Strictly Come Dancing professional partner Ola Jordan (Photo: BBC)

Hello Ola: Steve Backshall, not in the standard rainforest clobber, with his 2014 Strictly Come Dancing professional partner Ola Jordan (Photo: BBC)

“Now I actually quite enjoy it. It’s very different from just being out with just a couple of crew in the wild doing what I do.

“There’s an immediacy of reaction and positivity which is immensely rewarding, particularly getting to see a whole new generation of people who are going to be growing up to do essentially what I do for a living.”

Do you find your escapades and anecdotes from all your adventures bring out the wide-eye kid in viewers and spectators of all ages?

“It genuinely does, you know. I’ve always been staggered at the ages of people who come along to talks like this. I don’t dumb it down and talk to kids.

“I talk as if I’m talking to my peers, there’s a lot of proper science in these talks, and I’ve looked down in the end and there will be five and six-year-olds in the audience.

“I think, ‘Seriously?’ When I was that age all I was thinking about was going out on my bike, whereas they’re listening to science, and understanding it.

“But if they’re into this sort of stuff, they are old enough, and while they might not completely understand everything I’m talking about, just the pictures of crocodiles and sharks is kind of enough for them.

“I find there’s a tremendous range of people coming along, but what I find probably more thrilling than anything is that I’ve been doing these programmes long enough now that I’m starting to get to a stage where I get people turning up and they’ll be at university doing biology or PHDs and will come and say, ‘I’m doing this because of you, having watched your programmes as a kid.’

“When they say that I’m absolutely floored, I’m left with no response. It stops me dead! What a privilege, and the only time I get an opportunity to hear that is when I’m doing live tours.”

Deadly Duo: Steve Backshall with Live and Deadly Roadshow partner Naomi Wilkinson, as seen by this scribe at Avenham Park in Preston in late 2011 (Photo: BBC)

Deadly Duo: Steve Backshall with Live and Deadly Roadshow partner Naomi Wilkinson, as seen by this scribe at Avenham Park in Preston in late 2011 (Photo: BBC)

Did you ever get the chance to see any of your own wildlife heroes as a young lad?

“I don’t think so, it’s very difficult for me to talk about how people should get into doing what I do, because the route I had into it was so obscure, and it’s not something that can be replicated again. I guess I did make a job from nothing.

“As a kid I certainly didn’t have a chance to hear Sir David Attenborough speak. And it’s not been until recently that I’ve heard people like Chris Packham and Simon King, who are real heroes of mine.”

What’s been your proudest media moment so far – the first TV commission, the publication of your first book, your Children’s TV Presenter and Best Factual series BAFTAs, your Blue Peter gold badge, or something else?

“Crikey – that’s a really good question. I think the thing that stands out for me more than anything was the first ascent we did of a mountain called Upuigma in Venezuela.

“Pretty much everything we discovered at the top was completely new, never seen by science before, and it was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.

“Being somewhere like that and knowing for certain no one had ever been there before was extraordinarily special.”

With that kind of adventure in mind, and because of all the programmes we’ve seen you feature in, it seems hard to believe you’d be anything less than frustrated sat at a computer keyboard, writing books. Is that the case?

“No, I get a lot out of that as well. Clearly it’s not the thing that really switches me on, but I enjoy writing and I do a lot of my writing while I’m away.

“It’s a way of using up time on long journeys, where otherwise I might not be doing anything at all. So actually, it can be really valuable for me.”

61KPWWFi+JL._SL300_Were you a big reader as a kid?

“A massive reader! To a certain extent I’ve spoiled that now, as I have to read for my job. I very rarely read for fun anymore. I always have at least two or three books on the go – just not necessarily for pleasure.”

With that in mind, a series like The Falcon Chronicles must be a nice way to keep that love of literature alive, and something you don’t always know where it’s going to take you.

“That’s very true, and the amazing thing about doing something like The Falcon Chronicles is that when it’s going well, and I’m really feeling it, it’s like I’m watching a movie in my head and replaying that movie.

“When it’s not going well, it’s an absolute nightmare, but otherwise it’s immensely rewarding, not least that moment when I hit the word count button at the end of the day and think, ‘Wow, I’ve written 5,000 words. Yes!’”

Steve’s parents both worked for British Airways. Does it follow that he was well travelled as a child?

“Unbelievably well travelled! They didn’t have a lot of money but they got all their travel for free, so they would take us off to the most extraordinarily remote and wonderful parts of the world. Once they got there, they didn’t have loads of cash though, so we did it properly.

“We travelled exactly as I travelled when I was working for the Rough Guides. We’d turn up somewhere and wandered around like proper gipsies trying to find out the cheapest places we could possible stay for the night.”

That makes sense. I can’t quite see you on a package holiday, gearing up for the welcome night and meeting the resort reps.

“Well, we could not have been less like that! They were so adventurous, and still are today. They’re in their 70s, heading around India for six or seven weeks – that’s how they spend their retirement.”

When Steve says ‘we’, he’s including his sister, a couple years younger. Did she take a similar route to him … if there is such a thing as a similar route to Steve Backshall’s.

“She does a lot of travelling. She’s a nurse, but spent a lot of her nursing years travelling and working in Africa, New Zealand, Canada, using that as a way to see the world. Yes, she’s a tremendous traveller.”

Big Break: Steve's first major publishing venture

Big Break: Steve’s first major publishing venture

Did you have all you’ve achieved in mind when you were at school? Did you ever think this was something you could do for a living?

“Oh my goodness, no! When I was at school, what I really wanted to do was work in an African nature reserve. That was my big goal.

“When I got a little further on, I decided I wanted to be a writer and that was pretty much my aim. But it really wasn’t until I was a writer and struggling to make money at it that I thought, ‘Mmm, maybe television would suit me better!’”

Steve’s route into television was certainly not a straight-forward one, but his big break came after a spell writing for the Rough Guide series in South-East Asia.

Armed with an idea for a television series, he headed to Colombia, where he lived in the jungle, wrangled snakes and even ended up in jail (‘through no fault of my own’, he adds).

As it turned out, a team at National Geographic Channel International were so impressed that they bought the resultant pilot video of his adventures, giving him an ‘adventurer in residence’ role, one that ultimately led to so much more producing, filming and presenting adventure and natural history programmes.

From there, it’s been something of a rollercoaster, Steve circumnavigating the globe time and again, venturing into the Sinai desert, completing the Israeli paratroopers selection course, catching anacondas, vipers and cobras, making The Ten Great Dives of the World for the long-running series Earthpulse … the list goes on.

That makes me wonder if his Rough Guide writing experience would ever have been enough for him.

“Do you know, the Rough Guides would have been a super job for me, but you can’t make a living at it, and once I’d had this idea for a television programme, that was it.

“Television suits me very well, particularly in the small team work I do. It has so many elements to it, and I need that challenge and stimulation to keep myself going. That’s how I’m at my absolute best, when I’m really stretched.”

Steve was born and bred not far up the road from my old patch in Bagshot, Surrey. Is that right that his parents spent their leisure time running a smallholding for rescue animals?

“Yes it was, but it wasn’t used in any sense commercially. We didn’t sell much more than a few eggs. It was mostly for our own benefit, looking after rescue animals.

“We took in donkeys, geese, peacocks, horses, goats. The produce we just used for ourselves, so it was more an experience really. It was more like The Good Life!”

Major Influence: Gerald Durrell is a big hero of Steve's

Major Influence: Gerald Durrell is a big hero of Steve’s

I was wondering if you led a life like the family in the Gerald Durrell books. Could you ever see yourself doing that kind of thing again, perhaps in your dotage?

“Do you know what – I really could! Gerald Durrell was my utter hero, and My Family and Other Animals is still one of my favourite books of all time.

“And the idea of doing something that could have such a massive impact on how the next generation choose to live their lives would be a wonderful legacy and privilege to have.”

Have you a few pets of your own to come home to – when you are briefly at home – these days?

“I don’t. Back in the days of The Really Wild Show I had a really good sideline in doing animal introductions and aversion therapy. I used to have a house full of animals, with spiders, scorpions, snakes and all sorts running around the house.

“But now, because I travel so much and am away all the time, I don’t have the time to look after them. I don’t even have a dog, and that is the biggest hole in my life by far.”

To many, Steve is the face of CBBC’s Deadly 60 series, travelling the world learning about the most inspiring predators, finding himself squirted with ink by the Humboldt squid, flirted with by a tarantula, charged by elephants, stared out by thresher and great hammerhead sharks, all the time maintaining that wild animals pose no threat to people. In fact, quite the opposite.

However, I confess to him that my youngest daughter, now 13, and I had a standing joke at our house while watching the show, reckoning that for all his bravado he was probably scared of kittens and puppies, playing out imagined scenes where this intrepid presenter cowers in fear at the sight of a fluffy Labrador or a mini-moggy chasing a ball of wool.

He laughs at this, and I ask if there is an animal he particularly fears and need coaxing to go near.

“No! The further I go in life the more fascination I have for the ‘icky’ things people have the most aversion to. To me there is nothing more fascination than ants, wasps and bees.

“Their lives are infinitely complex, and I learn something about them that just blows my mind pretty much every day.  Particularly invertebrate life – it’s so complicated, so vast, so infinite, that it offers a world of knowledge that I find utterly captivating.”

It’s been 12 years since Steve’s switch to the BBC’s Natural History Unit, initially for The Really Wild Show. The following three years were awash with wildlife highlights, not least sharing a beach with 75,000 nesting olive ridley turtles, having a baby mountain gorilla take him by the hand, and a red-eyed tree frog leaping into his face. Just another day at the outdoor office, I guess.

Scorpion Rising: Steve Backshall tries to avoid the sting in the tail for The Really Wild Show (Photo: BBC)

Scorpion Rising: Steve Backshall tries to avoid the sting in the tail for The Really Wild Show (Photo: BBC)

Next, he joined the unit’s fledgling expedition team, highlights including the first ascent of a jungle peak and dropping into a vast sinkhole in the Mulu mountains in Expedition Borneo, then – in Lost Land of the Jaguar – making that first ascent of Mount Upuigma, sleeping on the vertical cliff-face, finding various unknown species of animals at the summit, and becoming the first outsider to enter the volcano Mount Bosavi, his team discovering as many as 40 new species, including the largest rat in the world.

He also abseiled to the bottom of the Kaiteur Falls in Guyana to a soaked wonderland below, and took part in a brutal caving expedition, opening up new passages in Mageni Cave in New Britain. Then there was Expedition Alaska, where he was almost swallowed by humpback whales and was swept into the guts of a glacier.

Some of his adventures were closer to home, such as Wilderness St Kilda, Extreme Britain – Caves, Springwatch Trackers, his nature reports for The One Show, and The Venom Hunter, enduring the stings of hundreds of bullet ants, the most painful stinging invertebrate. Whatevs, as the kids would say.

All in all he’s had some amazing adventures so far via the Beeb, the National Geographic Channel and Discovery Channel. So what’s next, expedition and achievement-wise?

“Well, apart from this tour I’m coming to see you all on, I’m doing a live programme next month called Big Blue Live, being filmed in Monterey Bay, California.

“We’re attempting to get whales and dolphins live on camera, obviously a massive challenge. If we succeed in that, it will be pretty big and pretty special!

“We’re doing it live on prime-time BBC 1, which I don’t get a tremendous amount of opportunities to do. So I’m really hoping it works well.”

Bay Watch: Steve Backshall and cameraman Simon Enderby ready to dive in Monterey Bay for Big Blue Live (Photo: BBC, with the image by Andrew Hoare, sound recordist)

Bay Watch: Steve Backshall and cameraman Simon Enderby ready to dive in Monterey Bay for Big Blue Live (Photo: BBC, with the image by Andrew Hoare, sound recordist)

Aside from all his TV work, Steve helps publicise at least seven charitable and conservation organisations. He’s also completed many endurance events, his accolades including finishing in the top third of the field in the Marathon Des Sables and the top 10 of UK’s Tough Guy, coming fifth in the Welsh 1000m peaks marathon, and completing the Devizes to Westminster kayak race.

His outdoor sports CV also includes having climbed the world’s sixth highest mountain (Cho Oyu, at 8,201m), and many other global ascents, plus numerous qualifications for kayaking, climbing, SCUBA diving and mountaineering.

I was running out of time now, so didn’t get a chance to ask about much of that. The same went for his thoughts on trophy hunting, something very much in the news of late following the barbaric death of Cecil, the Zimbabwean lion.

But his assistant later pointed me in the direction of Steve’s emotive and eloquent blog piece on the outrage, which can be found at http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/steve-backshall/.

I’ve no doubt that back in his student days Steve couldn’t have dreamed of all he’s achieved so far. Then again, by the time of his gap year from university, still a teenager, he was already backpacking solo around Asia, India and Africa.

It was also around then that he got to work on the Rough Guide series in Indonesia, becoming conversant in the local language, drinking blood with uncontacted tribes, risking fatal crossfire in riots in East Timor, and coming nose to nose with Komodo Dragons.

Going back to his English and theatre studies degree at Exeter, and later biology studies via the Open University, was he a good student, or just itching to get out there and travel?

“It wasn’t that I was itching to get out there and see the world, but I was a terrible student at school because I went to a rubbish school.

“It’s going to sound preposterously arrogant now, but I’m a very cerebral kind of person and if I’m not challenged I lose all interest.

“When I went to college and university and had more stimuli I was a very good student. But at the same time I probably still tried to do too much.

Behind You: Just another day for Steve Backshall (Photo: http://www.stevebackshall.com/)

Behind You: Just another day for Steve Backshall (Photo: http://www.stevebackshall.com/)

“I wanted to do absolutely everything, and that didn’t leave me enough study time.

“Also, I found it easy, and I’m never at my best when I find things easy. I’m much better when I’m struggling and I’m being challenged.”

At this point, Steve’s assistant jumps in, telling me we’ve more or less run out of time, my subject butting in with a ‘What? I was enjoying that!’ before I slip in three final questions.

Sometime before embarking on his media career, Steve studied martial arts in Japan, attaining his black belt along the way. Does he still keep his hand in?

“I do, as much as I can … which is not very much as it is. But I hope I’ll be able to do that for the rest of my life to some degree.”

Not everything he embarked on led to success, and by his own admission his attempt to walk solo across Irian Jaya was ‘a woeful failure’. Is he ever likely to go back to New Guinea and face that challenge again?

“Yes! Indeed. In fact, it’s very, very much on my radar.”

Hanging Around: Steve Backshall prepares to escape further questioning from this blogger (Photo: http://www.stevebackshall.com/)

Hanging Around: Steve Backshall prepares to escape further questioning from this blogger (Photo: http://www.stevebackshall.com/)

Finally, has he ever known an insurance company slam the phone down on him when they’ve learned his identity, after all those injuries and potential injuries over the years?

Steve laughs, then goes into something of a jocular rant about that very subject, his voice getting pretty high-pitched by the end.

“Do you know what, I actually have! I applied for house insurance last year and started going through, gave my name, and she stopped and asked, “You’re not the Steve Backshall, are you?’ She then refused to insure me!”

Steve Backshall’s Blackburn King George’s Hall show is on October 16, with ticket information available via 0844 847 1664. And his 21-date Wild World tour runs from October 15 at Inverness Theatre through to November 15 at Cardiff’s St David’s Hall, with full details at http://www.stevebackshall.com/tour.php

 

Posted in Adventure & Travel, Books Films & TV | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Long road to literary success – in conversation with Kate Long

New Publication: Kate Long's Something Only We Know is out now

New Publication: Kate Long’s Something Only We Know is out now

As someone who struggles to find the time to finish his own books, it’s fair to say I’m impressed by Kate Long’s work ethic and her take on the whole process.

And from what I’ve since learned, I’d say this is an author for whom procrastination is just a long word, and dedication is the key to literary fulfilment.

Kate, based in Shropshire but with proud Lancashire roots – raised in Blackrod and educated at Bolton School – saw her first novel published in 2004, The Bad Mother’s Handbook soon becoming a bestseller.

It was set in Bank Top, a fictional Lancashire setting but one based on her own formative patch, the author having left full-time teaching the previous year to dedicate herself to her craft.

That proved to be a wise move, not least with The Bad Mother’s Handbook going on to be serialised for BBC Radio 4’s Book at Bedtime, nominated for a British Book Award, and later adapted for ITV, with Catherine Tate and Robert Pattinson starring.

Kate very quickly made her mark, her early success replicated by follow-up Queen Mum (2006), then The Daughter Game (2008), Mothers and Daughters (2010), Before She Was Mine (2011), Swallowing Grandma (2012), and a sequel to her debut, Bad Mothers United (2013).

This week she saw her eighth novel published, Something Only We Know (Simon and Schuster). Yet for all that, it appears that Kate holds down a part-time teaching career as well as continuing to juggling duties at home and as a conservation volunteer.

When I called Kate, she’d not long finished her commitments for the academic year as a teaching assistant in Whitchurch. But within a couple of weeks, she’d be away from her desk again, as part of the team behind an Arvon residential writing course in the Shropshire Hills. So how much of a commitment was her teaching this year?

“Between a three and five-day week, depending on what they needed, which has meant I’ve only been able to write in the evenings.”

Dedicated Writer: Kate Long takes a brief break from her work (Photo: http://www.katelongbooks.com/)

Dedicated Writer: Kate Long takes a brief break from her work (Photo: http://www.katelongbooks.com/)

Is that odd? Or have you always been an evening writer?

“I’ve been a writer who can write when she needs to, managing to squeeze it in anywhere. I just set myself a word count and make myself get up to it.”

Some might swear they can only write in the early hours or in the middle of the night. So is that just about procrastination perhaps?

“I think the less precious you can be about when and where you write, the more productive and the more practical it is, really.

“If you have nothing else to do other than write, you can claim whatever part of the day you like, for calling down the muse. But I’ve got children, a house, a job, and other things going on.”

When she’s working elsewhere, does Kate tend to take a notepad along just in case something comes to her and she needs to jot it down there and then?

“I always have pen and paper somewhere, and if it comes to it, I’ll write on my hand. But I’ve learned the hard way. If you don’t get stuff down, it vanishes.”

At this point, I bring up the subject of Leslie Thomas, just one example of an author who fitted in his first books around long days working in the city of London. The lesson there I guess is that if you really want something, you have to go for it.

“You do. I met a woman once who was a foster mum, at one point with five foster children in the house. But she would lock herself in the bathroom for half an hour early each morning and do her writing then.”

I have to say, I often get despondent on realising that many authors out there are second-wage earners in a household. Maybe writing is a middle-class occupation. Is that Kate’s experience?

“I don’t think so. I’d say it’s more democratic than it’s ever been. Anybody can write, particularly fiction, have it published and accessible via e-books these days. It’s not confined to any particular group anymore.

“I also think that having a job alongside the writing isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It can stop you from being too introspective and make the urgency of the writing keener when you sit down and go, ‘Well, I really have to get this done.’ It also provides stimulation for ideas.”

What do you think the teenage Kate Long would have made of the fact that she’d have eight books to her name by the time she’d got to (whisper it) the big five-o?

“I would have been so thrilled, but disbelieving as well. I never thought anybody from my background would have been able to get published by a London publisher.

“My parents brought me up very much to wait your turn and know your place, so it’s been quite hard in that respect to push yourself to say, ‘Buy my book!’ That very much goes against the grain.”

Talking of marketing, it seems like your publishers have struggled in the past to get a handle on how to push you sometimes, certain past cover art suggesting you might be someone writing for the ‘yummy mummy’ niche instead.

“It has been a problem. I cried over the cover of Queen Mum. It’s like going to a really important party wearing the wrong clothes. You feel self-conscious and unrepresented. It’s horrible.

“But the cover I have for the new book I love. And I feel that’s an important step.”

I agree. It should jump off the shelf in that respect. So tell me about that new publication, Something Only We Know.

“It’s about two sisters, aged 22 and 30, one of whom is anorexic, and the way they have to come together to help tackle a family crisis.

“There’s an element of romance too, the younger sister in love with the older sister’s boyfriend, and a lot of mental health issues in there.

kate Bad-Mothers-United-new“There’s been a lot of fiction written about teenagers with anorexia, but not a lot I can find about adults.

“I’m not strictly talking about being in the throes of anorexia either, but those who still have a lot of the behavioural traits and struggle with that mindset on a daily basis.”

I don’t want to label you as an issue writer, but there are clearly a number of issues raised in your books.

“There are, and I think the fire and the drive of the narrative comes from having central issues that you’re looking at.

“But quite often that comes out of the story. I don’t decide to write about an issue then hang a story on it. I start writing, and the issue becomes clear as I go. In this case I really did want to write about mental health issues and eating disorders though.”

It’s easy to tell that Kate researches meticulously for her books’ core themes too.

“I did a lot of research this time, because, my goodness, you don’t want to get something like that wrong. I read a lot of first-hand accounts, and there is a lot of autobiographical fiction about eating disorders.

“I also spoke to Emma Woolf (author, journalist and anorexia survivor), who read the sections I’d written where my character describes what it’s like to think as an anorexic and how she organises her days, after the worst phases of anorexia.

“It was absolutely crucial to get that right, and Emma said I was spot on. And you know you always hear that anorexics look in the mirror and see themselves fat? Well, she said, ‘I never did’. So I thought, ‘Right, my character’s going to be the same then!’

“It’s a mental health issue, and everybody’s going to have a slightly different experience of it. I don’t want to produce a kind of stereotype.”

Was this a harder book to write than your others. I’m thinking of something like The Daughter Game, where there’s arguably a darker edge. Were there moments when you felt this was hard work and just wanted to get on to the next book?

“There are moments in every novel when you have a big panic and think, ‘Oh, this is awful. I don’t know where to go. Perhaps I should just junk it!’

“I would have said that was just me, but reading Sarah Waters’ tips on writing recently, she says the same.

“If something takes a year to do and you’re mainly working on your own, it’s this huge thing in your head. It’s a bit like being underneath a parachute, flailing about blindly, trying to get your co-ordinates.

Lancashire Roots: But Kate Long has been based in Shropshire since 1990 (Photo: http://www.katelongbooks.com/)

Lancashire Roots: But Kate Long has been based in Shropshire since 1990 (Photo: http://www.katelongbooks.com/)

“So yes, they’ve all had sticky points where I’ve wondered if I should just abandon them and do something else.

“One of the hardest things in writing this was trying to imagine what it was like having a sister. Not only do I not have a sister, I don’t have any aunts or daughters. Sisters are absolutely not on my horizon.”

While she was first published not long before hitting 40, Kate wrote from an early age, with spells teaching in Exmouth, my hometown Guildford and Chester, the latter city where Something Only We Know is set, before her career switch.

It was at school when she first realised writing might be her future, her ‘lightbulb moment’ arriving while reading some Ted Hughes poetry. That said, it took some academic encouragement to put her on the right track.

“My teacher said something that sparked my interest, taking an interest in me. That made the difference.

“The other thing was watching the film Kes, after which I wrote a poem that got short-listed in a national competition. I think I was 12. Again, I think that was a bit of a sign. These things sort of came together, my teacher writing in my book, ‘You must start collecting your poetry’.

“Later, we wrote to each other, until fairly recently, when very sadly I received a letter from her daughter, saying she’d died.”

As a teacher herself, I gather that Kate made up stories and even created home-made books for her pupils. Have any of those books come back to her at signing events in recent times?

“Gosh, no, I think those books would have just fallen apart! But it’s funny when I think about it. I’ve probably been writing all my life. It’s just that I didn’t really think of it as writing.”

Kate has taught at various levels over the years, from primary to secondary and adult education, including her work with Arvon, which is close to her heart.

“I don’t think I’d have been published without Arvon. A tutor there took a particular interest in me and said, ‘You have to finish this book’. And because she was so fired up by it, it gave me the confidence to submit it.”

You’ve said before that if you didn’t have the most incredibly boring childhood, you might never have become an author. I gather you were a natural day-dreamer and deep thinker.

“Very much so! Where else do you go when you’re that bored, except inside your own head?”

Rivington Pike: What's the verdict then, readers? (Photo: http://www.mypennines.co.uk/)

Rivington Pike: What’s the verdict then, readers? (Photo: http://www.mypennines.co.uk/)

One such image she conveyed that springs to mind for this blogger is of Rivington Pike, a sight familiar to many of us in Lancashire, as a giant breast on a hill.

“It is! Have you not seen it?”

And I’m guessing that creative mind is still in tact and those story ideas are still coming fast.

“Yes, I’m never short of ideas.”

Kate regularly pens features for newspapers and magazines between books, not least covering her North West roots and how they helped mould the person she is.

In one, she talks about her family and her Grandad’s sacrifices, circumstances seeing this very bright man missing out on the education he deserved and a chance to shine at Rivington Grammar School, while encouraging his daughter – Kate’s mother – to make the most of her own opportunities.

That will resonate with many of us, those past generations having sacrificed so much for the lives we now lead. So how about Kate’s own education?

“It was the making of me. There was a pressure, in that, ‘Oh, your Grandad would have been so proud’, but it was a positive pressure.

“I always thoroughly appreciated the education I received and was the last child who would have been naughty at school, always well-behaved and doing my homework.

“I was really surprised that other people didn’t see it like that. I saw it as this tremendous privilege, and as a woman I was very aware of past opposition to women being educated.

“When my Grandad sent my Mum to grammar School, he was mocked by his mates at the Cooke and Nuttall Vale paper mill in Blackrod, who said, ‘What was the point in educating a woman?’

As it turned out, both Kate’s parents had grammar school educations, with her father at Rivington and her mother not far down the road at Chorley.

Kate very recently lost her mother though, after a 25-year battle with Parkinson’s disease. She’s clearly still very raw about that, but paid this tribute.

“She was very stoic about it all, and as active as she could possibly be within the way the disease affected her.

“She was just a lovely woman and a huge part of me, now gone. It’s hard.”

Mother's Pride: Robert Pattinson and Holly Grainger during the TV adaptation of Kate Long's debut novel (Photo: ITV)

Mother’s Pride: Robert Pattinson and Holly Grainger during the TV adaptation of Kate Long’s debut novel (Photo: ITV)

That belief in such qualities comes over in certain characters in her books, not least the strong women at the heart of each novel, truly drawn from life.

I put to Kate how it’s a thin line sometimes, with certain authors having crossing it, arguably putting too much of their own family and personal experiences into their books.

As someone who writes such real characters, is this something she’s felt conscious of doing – separating the true from the imagined?

“I wouldn’t ever write about my family. The closest I came was in The Bad Mother’s Handbook, with some of the older anecdotes. Those were adaptations of things my Grandma told me. But nobody in the books is in my family or indeed a real person.”

One reviewer (okay, it was me, and it was for this blog), suggested the Bad Mother books gave us ‘Northern grit-lit with dashes of trans-Pennine rom-com’, yet without portraying any clichéd window on Northern working-class life.

At this point, I tell Kate about a recent conversation with my mother-out-law, when she asked, ‘Who wrote that Swallowing Grandma?’

She’d recently read the book, loved it, and now wanted to read more Kate Long titles. Like my better half, she particularly enjoyed the dialogue and believable nature of the characters.

My better half and her mum also both picked up on a certain mention of buying broken biscuits from Chorley market in that same book. And with that in mind I put it to Kate that those little snippets tend to resonate with her readers.

“Well, I certainly use anecdotes and details from life, just not people. And you have to ask permission sometimes.

“There’s something in Mothers and Daughters about a very poorly new-born baby, and that’s based on my friend’s little girl. The book is dedicated to her, as a memorial to her, as she died at the age of three.

“But I made sure her Mum read it and checked she was okay with it. You have to allow people to have a veto on anything they’re not happy with.”

Going Green: Kate receives the Environmental Mum of the Year accolade at the BizMums Awards (Photo: http://www.katelongbooks.com/)

Going Green: Kate receives the Environmental Mum of the Year accolade at the BizMums Awards (Photo: http://www.katelongbooks.com/)

So is Kate’s father still based around Blackrod?

“Yes, I’m up to see him every month or so, and my best friend still lives in Blackrod. And while I’m married with two sons, my other family is really just me and my dad now, other than cousins of his in Australia.”

Kate’s been based in Shropshire since 1990, where –as her Twitter followers well know – she’s seemingly surrounded by wildlife.

Is that just in recent years, or was she the kind of child that brought home all manner of creatures when she was growing up?

“I was! It caused some consternation at the time with my Mum, me bringing home dead animals, although I lost interest for a while in my teens.

“Settling here I was on my way to the supermarket once when I saw a water vole just sitting by the car park. That re-ignited a passion. I joined the Whitchurch Water Vole group and we do a lot of monitoring and conservation work.

“I’m always to be found poking about in the long reeds!

A few pictures I’ve seen you post suggest it’s all a bit Gerald Durrell at your place sometimes.

“I think it would be a lot more if my husband wasn’t quite as sensible. He still has his feet on the ground.

“A hamster and two guinea pigs is enough, really. And with the hedgehogs outside, we’ve plenty to be going on with.

“The house moves to a rhythm of wildlife. The birds have to be fed in the morning, the hedgehogs have to be fed at night, and the voles have to be checked on, pretty much daily.”

So what’s Kate’s writing room like? Is it away from all of this?

“Ha ha ha! Hollow laugh! I’m sitting here looking at the guinea pig pen, and there’s an exercise bike next to it. It’s just our front room, really.

“Until a few years ago I had to begin writing sessions by clearing Lego pieces out of the way. The desk is mine, but everything else is a free-for-all.”

Vole Writer: Kate has been known to put pen to paper about her beloved voles, including a piece in this BBC publication

Vole Writer: Kate has been known to put pen to paper about her beloved voles, including a piece in this BBC publication

Kate met her husband, Simon, while teaching in Guildford. Was he from down there?

“No, that’s how we got together – we were both Northerners. He’s from Yorkshire.”

Speaking of the White Rose county, it was Screen Yorkshire that filmed The Bad Mother’s Handbook, and in the follow-up book, central character Charlotte heads over to study in York. Be honest – was that to ensure funding for a follow-up film?

“No! That was a complete throwaway. In fact, when I came to write Bad Mothers United, the follow-up, I really kicked myself and wondered why I didn’t send her somewhere like Bristol, where I went to university!”

So is there any talk of a follow-up film?

“Well, nothing yet, but you know – one hopes. And I won’t be keeping quiet about it if it does happen!”

And will there be a third book in that sequence, perhaps a Bad Mothers Reunited?

“I’ve not ruled out the option of a third, but have other things I’d like to write before then.”

So what are you writing about now and next?

“I’m just coming to the end of a story about a very well-heeled middle-class cosseted woman who leaves her husband and goes to live on quite a rough estate, a bit of a culture shock for her.”

Eight novels in 11 years isn’t a bad tally.

“Yes, although the rate has slowed down a little through going back into teaching. It is easier now that the kids are older though. I wrote my first novel while working full-time and had a baby in the house.”

Do you think your writing style changed a lot since your debut publication?

“I don’t know! I’m maybe too close to answer that.”

Stuck In: Kate Long lends a hand (Photo: http://www.katelongbooks.com/)

Stuck In: Kate Long lends a hand (Photo: http://www.katelongbooks.com/)

Do you ever go back and wish you’d taken out one paragraph and put another in?

“Constantly! I’d revise all the novels and would continue revising them. I’m not alone in that. I’ve heard a lot of writers say they’re never really happy with their work.”

Which authors first spoke to you, would you say?

“That’s so hard to pick out, even for just a handful. I’d mention Alan Garner for his sense of place, and Michael Bond’s Paddington books, as when we went to London, my Dad actually drove me around the streets where they were set.

“I remember thinking, ‘How exciting’, looking out of the car and thinking it possible that he’d be coming around the corner! Even though I knew really he wasn’t real, there was still that sense that it happened here!”

That strikes a chord with me too. I felt the same way about Mr Gruber and Portobello Road. I was in no doubt that it was all real.

“Yes, and that’s why I try and set my books in places sort of based on reality, so people can go and check these things out.”

With so many good author friends, you won’t want to upset any, but what was the last great book you read?

“I’m going to say Sarah Waters’ The Paying Guests. I love everything she’s written. I love the way she makes the very ordinary fascinating.

“You don’t mind the fact that it takes a while to get much action, because the way she’s describing everyday life is just fascinating.

“That’s both inspiring but simultaneously depressing, because you think, ‘Shall I just give up now?’ She’s that good!”

Will there be a book that covers your obsession with 1970s women’s and girls’ magazines, problem pages and the like (as regularly highlighted on Kate’s Twitter page)?

“I’m going to have to think about that. I’ve put so much work in, I feel I ought to use it somehow!”

It’s got to at least be a coffee table type book for Christmas, and might even make you more money than some of your novels.

5165c1QPyML._SX325_BO1,204,203,200_Finally, I ask Kate about another emotive issue that came into Before She Was Mine – adoption, something that has played such an important part in her own life story.

She wrote on that subject for a national newspaper when the book was published four years ago, dwelling on her own experiences as an adopted daughter.

At the time she said she was shying away from researching the story of her own birth mother, not least as a tribute to the loving couple who brought her up – the couple she regards as her true family.

So has the rash of programmes since, not least the emotional rollercoaster that is ITV’s Long Lost Family, changed her views on that?

“If anything, I’m more of the same opinion, and no, I don’t watch Long Lost Family.

“My mum was my mum, and it begins and ends there. I’m just so very, very lucky to have had my parents. That’s it, really.”

For all the latest and lots of background about Kate Long, including details about Something Only We Know and how to get hold of a copy, head to her website at http://www.katelongbooks.com/

A review of Kate’s new Simon & Schuster paperback will follow n this blog, but in the meantime the writewyattuk verdict on 2013’s Bad Mothers United can be found here.

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Squeeze into a new era – the Chris Difford interview

Lined Up: Squeeze 2015 style. From the left - Glenn Tilbrook, Stephen Large, Chris Difford, Simon Hanson and Lucy Shaw (Photo: Squeeze)

Lined Up: Squeeze 2015 style. From the left – Glenn Tilbrook, Stephen Large, Chris Difford, Simon Hanson and Lucy Shaw (Photo: Squeeze)

Catching up with Chris Difford’s blog earlier this week, I realised how close we were to a new Squeeze album, the band’s first since 1998, the result of a project also serving as the soundtrack to a new BBC comedy drama series on our screens this autumn.

That series is Cradle to Grave, based on broadcaster and national treasure Danny Baker’s best-selling Going to Sea in a Sieve autobiography.

And Chris is on a high about the whole experience, as he confirmed when we caught up on the phone to talk about the new album, From the Cradle to the Grave, and plenty more.

The Squeeze co-founder and chief lyricist was speaking to me from his South Coast base, albeit only for a short while as he was off with the family for the afternoon, making the most of a little rare summer. So how does he think it’s all going?

“It’s going really well. It’s just all happening at once, like these things do. You’re not expecting it, and then suddenly … there it is!”

I should add that I have something of a vested interest in the world of the ‘At Odds Couple’ – that’s Chris and his co-writer and fellow Squeeze founder Glenn Tilbrook – after so many years following this South-East London outfit’s recorded and live output. I’m saying that just in case I get a bit gushy at times.

But from early hits Take Me I’m Yours, Goodbye Girl, Cool for Cats, Up the Junction, Pulling Mussels (From the Shell) and Another Nail in my Heart onwards, what’s not to love about Squeeze?

By the time they reached the acclaimed East Side Story album and follow-up Sweets from a Stranger, they were rightly lauded and loved the world over, that global respect continuing well beyond their initial 1982 split.

The hits didn’t altogether dry up after their 1985 reformation, but by then they were arguably more of an album band, their next six long players among my favourite from any era.

For those with a low boredom threshold, you’ll find me raving about all that elsewhere on this blog, be it in my general Squeeze appreciation from October 2012 here, my interview with Glenn Tilbrook from December 2013 here, or the features honed after conversations with two of the band’s best-known former keyboard players – namely Paul Carrack here (October, 2014) and founder member Jools Holland here (June, 2015).

Messed Around: The new Squeeze line-up, with Chris Difford out front and, from the left, Glenn Tilbrook, Stephen Large, Simon Hanson and new arrival Lucy Shaw (Photo: Rob O'Connor/www.stylorouge.co.uk)

Messed Around: The new Squeeze line-up, with Chris Difford out front and, from the left, Glenn Tilbrook, Stephen Large, Simon Hanson and new arrival Lucy Shaw (Photo: Rob O’Connor/www.stylorouge.co.uk)

To fast forward a little, I’ll add that while I loved Cosi Fan Tutti Frutti (1985), Babylon and On (1987), Frank (1989), Play (1991), Some Fantastic Place (1993) and Ridiculous (1995) to varying degrees, their finale Domino (1998) wasn’t so hot. Thankfully that wasn’t the end of the Squeeze story though, their 2007 reunion paving the way for what is now finally coming to pass.

As Glenn put it recently, “We split after the release of Domino. Chris and I were not getting on so well, we needed a break and to follow our own paths for a bit. We slowly but surely came back together as people, and then reformed Squeeze.

“Originally, this was only planned as a short reunion, but things went so well, here we are eight years later. And four years ago we agreed that if we were to carry on, we really needed to work on new material.”

In case it’s slipped you by, they’ve not been idle these past 17 or so years. And Chris – like Glenn in his own solo career – has enjoyed a rich vein of songwriting form of late, not least on his The Last Temptation of Chris album in 2008 and Cashmere If You Can in 2011.

To my ears, the words on those platters suggest plenty of introspection too, so it doesn’t surprise me – maybe inspired by good friend Danny Baker’s own foray into the world of books – that Chris has an autobiography coming, fittingly titled I Never Thought It Would Happen.

“Yes, I’m hoping that’s going to be next year. But every time I get close to finishing it, it seems to start again. It’s never-ending.”

Is that because you keep remembering stories you feel should be in there?

“Yes, and then I look at the last chapter and go back to the beginning, thinking, ‘That could be written better’ or, ‘There could be more of an angle to that’.

“The guy I’m working on it with is very busy too, so I don’t have a lot of time with him. When we do, it gets very heated, and we get lots done. I’m writing it, and he gives his opinion on how it should be.”

At Odds: Glenn Tilbrook gets behind songwriting partner Chris Difford, right, on Squeeze's big day out at Tenterden on the Kent and East Sussex Railway (Photo: Rob O'Connor/www.stylorouge.co.uk).

At Odds: Glenn Tilbrook gets behind songwriting partner Chris Difford, right, on Squeeze’s big day out at Tenterden on the Kent and East Sussex Railway (Photo: Rob O’Connor/www.stylorouge.co.uk).

Back to From the Cradle to the Grave, due this autumn, and some of the songs – including the title track – were taking shape as the band performed their Pop-Up Shop tour in 2012. Furthermore, I read that the tracks include an old Squeeze number with new words.

“That’s a song called Tommy, now called Sonny. We thought it was such a great string arrangement that we should keep it.”

At this point, Chris is briefly distracted and goes off to sort out a domestic mini-crisis, the Difford clan clearly geared up for their trip out, with just me holding them back. Sorry kids. He’s soon back, but I’ll take this opportunity to add a bit more about the new material, including a few quotes nicked from the latest band press release.

Chris says of the new songs, “We’ve grown up a lot in the last few years, musically. For the first five years back together, we were saying, ‘This is where we came from’. Now, this is where we are. We still love and own our past, but as musicians we needed to grow.”

Many of the new songs feature in the aforementioned TV series, providing the backdrop for an eight-part series based on Danny Baker’s life in the 1970s, adapted from his autobiography and co-written with award-winning scriptwriter and producer/director Jeff Pope, comedian Peter Kay playing Danny’s father Fred and Lucy Speed the presenter’s mother Bet.

Of course, Danny goes way back with Chris and Glenn, the former NME writer turned TV presenter and DJ brought up in Deptford, the band’s old stomping ground. And Squeeze were involved in the TV project at an early stage.

Glenn said: “When I read the book, I got in contact with Danny and said I thought we could do something together with his book. Danny was already talking with Jeff Pope about a TV series and the mood and sentiment of Cradle were completely in sync. Danny and Jeff both loved it and everything else followed on from there.”

When the team behind the show heard From The Cradle To The Grave, they were impressed enough to use it as the inspiration for the name of the show. And Chris added: “The scripts were inspiring; hugely funny. It tapped into a period that lyrically I was very familiar with, as I grew up in the same neighbourhood as Danny.

”We have been on location to see how it’s going. It gave us a spring in our step to see the quality of filming and the direction and attention to detail. It was very heartening and we are grateful to be involved in something that is so refreshing and also represents our past – we went to the same school, wore the same uniform, fell in love with the same art teacher!”

Two Directions: Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook (Photo: Danny Clifford)

Two Directions: Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook (Photo: Danny Clifford)

Chris is a huge fan of Danny’s radio shows and shares a similar eclectic musical taste, although he added: “I didn’t really have much to do with him when he was at the NME. It’s really only the last five or 10 years really. He came to my 50th birthday party and we remembered where we had both come from.”

Right, back to my interview now, and while this new LP under the Squeeze umbrella will be the first since Domino, as far as Chris is concerned, it’s the first he’s felt a proper part of since Ridiculous, 20 years ago.

“Yeah, this is definitely cohesive and sounds very strong.”

Meanwhile, Squeeze have a month of dates ahead to promote the album, 21 altogether, although Chris’ chief collaborator is with his own band in America at the moment, so the preparations will have to wait.

“Glenn’s out there until the end of the month, and we start rehearsing on September 9. And now we have Lucy in the band, so that’s going to be brilliant.”

That’s Lucy Shaw, fresh from Glenn’s band The Fluffers, replacing long-serving John Bentley on bass, with drummer Simon Hanson and keyboard player Stephen Large completing the quintet.

It’s the first Squeeze tour in three years, and they have cracking support in the wiry shape of legendary ‘tousled, raven-haired’ Salford bard Dr John Cooper Clarke.

Time Keeper: Dr John Cooper Clarke

Time Keeper: Dr John Cooper Clarke

“I can’t wait for that – I’m a huge fan! It should be good fun.”

He’s not known for his time-keeping. Have you got him under lock and key?

“Oh, I didn’t know that.”

I think it’s like with Ken Dodd – once he finally gets on, he never wants to go. You might need to drag him off with a crook.

“Well, I look forward to that.”

Actually, I was only listening to his radio show on BBC 6 Music yesterday.

“He’s very good, isn’t he!”

There was also an At Odds Couple tour not so long ago, Ivor Novello Award-winning songwriting duo Chris and Glenn playing acoustic sets and talking about their songs. Was that quite a cathartic experience?

“I think so. It’s been very good for us to go out and play with the bare bones, and I think people enjoy it.

“We’re taking the show to America at the end of the year, so we’ll see what they make of it there. That should be an experience.”

Do you tend to find as you talk on stage that you remember a fair bit more about the good and the bad old days as you go along?

“No.”

Well, that was almost diplomatic.

“Yeah, almost! No, I’m still trying to remember.”

Dynamic Duo: Chris and Glenn Tilbrook ham it up (Photo: Danny Clifford)

Dynamic Duo: Chris and Glenn Tilbrook ham it up (Photo: Danny Clifford)

If you haven’t quite picked up on it yet, Chris seems to be a man of few words, but he’s more shy than rude, and more droll than excitable. Of course, the fact that his house-load is waiting for him to finish his call might not help. But he’s doing a great job all the same.

Before Glenn returns to the UK, Chris has a solo date in Dorset later this month, at the Purbeck Valley Folk Festival on August 30th. He also heads songwriter workshops, has in the past managed Bryan Ferry and Marti Pellow, and currently looks after Irish r’n’b sensations The Strypes too. So how does he fit it all in?

“It’s kind of what you do. Fitting it in is the easy bit. The difficult bit is getting the time off in between. But without it, what would you do? That’s what life is.”

While I’m talking solo engagements, it appears that I recently missed a classic not far off my own patch, in Oswaldtwistle, East Lancashire, involving a guest appearance from a certain comic by the name of Peter Kay. I’m a bit sore about that. Tell me it wasn’t worth the short journey, Chris.

“It was a fantastic night. You should have seen it! Really good fun.”

Mmm, so much for playing it down. In fact, he puts it even better on his own blog, so I’ll nick a bit of that here.

“En route to the show I stopped off near Bolton to play a solo show, Peter Kay came by to have some food at my hotel, and then to join me later on stage. He introduced me and the small but very happy crowd were then entertained for the next two hours.

“Peter was on top form, with me in stitches like a child at his side. Oswaldtwistle is a small place with a big heart and this show will go down in local folklore as being one of the funniest nights ever.

Comic Turn: Peter Kay, big in Oswaldtwistle

Comic Turn: Peter Kay, big in Oswaldtwistle

“Peter introduced me as the bloke who never sung the songs, or knows the chords, I rambled on stage knowing he was right but it was funny, I feel that. He said that the audience should ask for their money back. I tried to sing a few songs but it was hopeless, Peter sung Tempted with me, not like Donny and Marie but like Arthur and Martha.”

For the record, I love Chris’ solo output, not least as it has his individual stamp on it. In fact, the last two albums are probably as close to Badly Drawn Boy, The Divine Comedy, The Go-Betweens and The Lightning Seeds as Squeeze.

“Oh thank you. That’s interesting though. I’ve not really though of it like that.”

I also confess that I always felt of Chris – and I’m sure this is the case for many of us – as the poet and Glenn as the musician. But recent work by both artists seems to have put all that to bed.

“I think we have, really. It’s important to know we can both do our own stuff. It’s really good that we can cover all angles when we’re not doing Squeeze.”

I’m sure that makes it more interesting for both of you too.

“It keeps you passionate, yes.”

You’ve worked with other fine songwriters as well as Glenn, most recently Leo Abrahams on the last solo album, and Boo Hewerdine before that. So I have to ask, were you aware of Boo and Neil MacColl (who has also featured on his recordings) back in their days with The Bible?

“That’s a difficult question to answer. I wasn’t, to be honest, but then again I wasn’t aware of a lot that was going on around me. But I’ve caught up on it all since, and have now got every record he made.”

I did similarly a few years back. I was a fan of The Bible, but kind of missed out on the solo material for a few years, catching up quick with the help of good friend and fellow blogger Jim Wilkinson, who just happens to be a big Boo and Squeeze fan.

“And there’s a lot of catching up to do there, for sure.”

The live shows start at Plymouth Pavilions on September 25 and go through to Harrogate International Centre on October 24.

Tony Time: Chris Difford's The Last Temptation of Chris (2008)

Tony Time: Chris Difford’s The Last Temptation of Chris (2008)

That includes Liverpool Philharmonic Hall on October 5 and Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall on October 12. Does he get to do a bit of sightseeing, or is it just a case of moving on to the next town?

“Unfortunately there’s no time for all that, but Liverpool Phil is a fantastic venue, always one to look forward to, and the audiences are always so wonderful to play for.”

It’s a bit different with Glenn, who’s one to drive around in a big old bus when he’s touring.

“Yeah. I couldn’t do that, but he loves it. I’d rather cycle everywhere.”

Now there’s a great tour idea – Chris Difford Gets on his Bike. I remind him that Housemartins and Beautiful South founder Paul Heaton did something similar. He laughs, but won’t commit himself.

Talking to one of Chris’ former bandmates recently, Jools Holland, I thought it nice that he said what he misses most while he’s touring is playing piano at home.

“Oh, that’s lovely!”

That sounds like a man doing the right job for a living. So I’ll ask you the same thing – what do you miss most?

“Mmmm … writing when I’m at home, I guess. Similar.”

Do you keep in touch with Jools?

“I’m playing with him in a couple of weeks’ time.”

I was lucky enough to be there for his recent televised big band show at Blackpool’s Empress Ballroom, I add.

“Oh, how great!”

Just Jools: The bandleader himself

Just Jools: The bandleader himself

Do you struggle to associate Jools the TV star with that young lad with Hell’s Angels mates who first came along to check out you and Glenn all those years ago?

“I don’t think so. He’s always had the desire to be successful. It’s really a lifelong friendship, I hope.”

Interviewing Tom Robinson last week, I was surprised he was 65. Now I’m talking to a mere 60-year-old. Has Chris got his head around that yet? Or does age not mean anything?

“Mmmm … not today. Some days it means more than other days, but it’s not an issue today. I’m fine.”

I still like to think a reluctant and shy Chris continues to post his lyrics under Glenn’s door when he’s finished them, like in the band’s early days. Or does that involve too much of a wander these days?

“Yeah – I’d have to run behind the bus!”

There have been a few well-documented fall-outs over the years. Do you think you’ve learned better to deal with each other these days? You’ve always had tremendous respect for each other, but there have been a few ‘living in each other’s pockets’ tensions.

“I think in time you do get to understand each other much better, so the process of time has really healed a lot of wounds, and we’re getting on extremely well. So it’s all good really.”

Jim Drury, in the excellent 2004 Squeeze: Song by Song book, reckoned he was surprised the Odd Couple’s working relationship lasted so long. But they’ve clearly got over all that now. He also described Chris as the ‘introverted, urbane wordsmith’ to Glenn’s ‘outgoing inventive entertainer’. Was that fair comment?

“That’ll do.”

There were always plenty of big-money offers for Squeeze to get back together. What changed by 2007 for you to try again?

“Well, it wasn’t to do with money. It was do with friendship and we got to learn to be closer together.”

Can Do: Chris Difford's Cashmere If you Can (2011)

Can Do: Chris Difford’s Cashmere If you Can (2011)

With that, Chris – who also has a grown-up son and two grown-up daughters – was away, save for a couple of exchanges about his beloved Louise and his house’s younger occupants, something he referred to as ‘Noah’s Ark’.

But it was 1pm by then and he had to jump in the car, closing with a cheery ‘Bye now’, no doubt with bucket and spade in hand.

It was definitely a pleasure to link up with this musical hero of mine, one – together with Glenn – right up there with the best UK songwriters as far as I’m concerned.

Some 42 years after 15-year-old Glenn answered 18-year-old Chris’ ad in a South-East London sweet shop, the mighty Squeeze continue to impress.

If he came over here as a ‘one-line answer’ man, don’t be fooled. There was plenty of warmth and humour from this pensive guy behind the deep voice.

I’ve had some difficult interviewees over the years, but I wouldn’t count Chris Difford among them. Shy maybe, but certainly with no front I’m aware of.

I had a few more questions about his management side-career, the Labelled with Love musical and whether there might be a follow-up some time, and several more addressing memories of Squeeze at various times over the last four and a bit decades, from those initial residencies in Deptford and Greenwich onwards.

A fair bit of that is in the songs anyway, for instance the wonderful 1975 – covering those early band days – and Like I Did – about his family growing up – on Cashmere if You Can. Hopefully the autobiography will tell us more too. But first there’s that intriguing Danny Baker project and that new Squeeze album and tour. And I for one can’t wait.

imagesFor details and tickets of the tour, call 0844 811 0051 or 0844 826 2826, head to gigsandtours.com, http://gigst.rs/Squeeze, or ticketmaster.co.uk.

Tickets for the Royal Albert Hall in London are £25 to £75, with others ranging from £32.50 to £47.50.

Alternatively, head to the official Squeeze website here or Chris Difford’s own site here.

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St Anthony: An Ode to Anthony H. Wilson

Duddell Act: Joe Duddell, left, and Mike Garry, who have reworked Garry's St Anthony as a single

Duddell Act: Joe Duddell, left, and Mike Garry, who have reworked Garry’s St Anthony as a single

I’ve probably said this before, but I don’t tend to do plugs on this blog. But this is a project I feel deserves wider recognition, involving a touching tribute to Anthony H. Wilson, the mouthpiece-turned-icon for so much great music and art.

It’s now eight years since Factory founder and former Granada presenter Tony Wilson died, and to mark that anniversary, Skinny Dog Records – a label formed by members of I Am Kloot and Elbow – is releasing an all-star tribute to the Mancunian legend.

From those first Sex Pistols shows at Manchester’s Lesser Free Trade Hall (as discussed with Buzzcocks’ Steve Diggle on this very blog a couple of weeks ago, with a link here) to Malcolm McLaren’s band’s TV debut on So It Goes and onwards, Wilson was at the heart of the Manchester scene, something readily acknowledged by so many influential players.

Some of those have now come together to mark the anniversary of his passing, contributing to a video to go with the single.

St. Anthony: An Ode to Anthony H. Wilson started life as a mere poem by Mike Garry, but I guess it was always more than that.

Anyone who’s seen this revered performance poet knows how much emotion goes into his shows, and his Tony Wilson tribute was always one of the highlights.

As he puts it, “The catalyst was Terry Christian phoning me up and saying, ‘I’ve got a radio programme I’m doing about Tony Wilson, will you write a poem for it?’

The Inspiration: Anthony H. Wilson (1950-2007) (Photo: ITV Granada Reports)

The Inspiration: Anthony H. Wilson (1950-2007) (Photo: ITV Granada Reports)

“I got the idea of an A-Z together, and – being a good Catholic boy – as a child my mother would always say if I lost anything to say a prayer to St Anthony. So this was my way to say a prayer to St. Anthony and write an ode in an attempt to re-find Tony, in a way.”

I first heard the result of that when I chanced upon Mike Garry and Luke Wright at Preston’s 53 Degrees, supporting John Cooper Clarke (with a review here). Amid three strong sets that night, St. Anthony still stood out.

I wrote at the time how it so evocatively told of ‘the late TV legend’s encompassing influence on seemingly everything that encapsulated Garry’s North West during the previous decades, provided in an A to Z namecheck of key moments’. Wordy maybe, but I’ll stand by that.

Putting it another way, New Order front-man and Joy Division founder member Bernard Sumner says, “I first heard St. Anthony the day before our Jodrell Bank gig in July, 2013. I thought it sounded fucking great.”

Now it looks like it’s finally getting the wider recognition it deserves, not least thanks to a promotional video made by Soup Collective and filmed at the Sharp Project, and seen as testament to the love and respect for Wilson that continues after his death.

The video features Mike performing with a little added emotive expression (I won’t use the term ‘miming’, although it definitely works here) from a collection of close friends and collaborators, each reciting lines from the poem.

That list of contributors includes the likes of Iggy Pop, Steve Coogan, New Order’s Bernard Sumner, Gillian Gilbert and Stephen Morris, Shaun Ryder, Christopher Eccleston, Richard Madeley, Julie Hesmondhalgh, Mark Radcliffe, and John Cooper Clarke.

Did I just write ‘the likes of’? Yeah, sorry, I might as well give you the full list, adding John Robb, Joe Duddell, Rowetta, Elliot Rashman, Mike Pickering, Johnny Jay, Leroy Richardson, Terry Christian, Johnny Bramwell, Paul Morley, Larry Gott, Vini Reilly, Miranda Sawyer, and Philip Glass.

The Artwork: Tony Wilson - Elephant Head (Ben Kelly)

The Artwork: Tony Wilson – Elephant Head (Ben Kelly)

The single itself is released on August 14th, featuring artwork by Peter Saville and a remix by Andrew Weatherall, who also appear in the video.

Apparently, Garry took the original poem to composer Joe Duddell (New Order, Elbow), and word has it that he immediately heard elements of New Order’s Your Silent Face, something that had passed the wordsmith by.

Accordingly, Duddell decided to base the music on that song, and St. Anthony: An Ode To Anthony H Wilson was born.

You probably know the AHW story already, but to get the rest of you up to speed, Wilson launched Factory Records in 1978, going on to establish the label by signing the likes of Joy Division and later New Order and Happy Mondays.

Known as ‘Mr Manchester’ for his work throughout his career promoting the city, he was immortalised on film by Steve Coogan in 2003’s 24 Hour Party People and again in the Joy Division biopic Control, this time played by Craig Parkinson.

After a long struggle with cancer, Tony Wilson died in 2007 in Manchester’s Christie Cancer Hospital. And fittingly, all profits from the single will go to The Christie Charitable Fund.

As Mike says himself, “When Anthony H. Wilson died in August 2007, I knew the world would never be the same.  Tony Wilson built the modern Manchester.”

St. Anthony: An Ode To Anthony H Wilson will be available to download and buy on CD and white vinyl 12”, all featuring the Weatherall remix, on Friday, August 14th.

Portraying Tony: Steve Coogan as Tony Wilson on the set of So It Goes for 24 Hour Party People

Portraying Tony: Steve Coogan as Tony Wilson on the set of So It Goes for 24 Hour Party People

To celebrate the release, there will also be a launch party at the old Granada Studios on the day, with Mike Garry and Joe Duddell leading an ensemble performing the single live, some very special guest DJs appearing, and the video being screened, alongside previously unseen, exclusive interview footage from the shoot.

For more information and to buy tickets to the event, go to www.stanthony.tickets. All proceeds from the event also go to The Christie Charitable Fund.

Meanwhile, a newly-launched official website, designed by Retro Fuzz, can be found at saint-anthony.co.uk and allows you to explore the places, people and stories which make up the lyrics – helping to see the full picture of Wilson’s impact.

Playing on the poem’s repeated refrain of ‘Talk to me of…’ the website allows you to send messages from your mobile phone direct into the site to join the conversation.

To pre-order the single go to http://saintanthony.tmstor.es http://radi.al/StAnthony or

http://radi.al/StAnthonyEP

You can also text donations to FACT65 £ followed by the amount to 70070.

There are also social media outlets via Facebook  and Twitter. And for more about Skinny Dog Records, try here.

Finally, catch the video here. It’s a stunning project for a great cause, and deserves your attention.

 

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