More rare footage of IOW 1969 unearthed

I am indebted to photographer Chris Dorley-Brown for unearthing a video from the BBC archives proving (once again) how wonderfully objective Aunty Beeb really is. The scathing tone of this news item about the 1969 IOW festival may come as a surprise to some, but not to those of us who remember just how hostile the British establishment once was towards pop festivals. But it was this hostility which made the festivals of the time – Woodstock, IOW69 and 70 – so interesting and politically charged.
Chris is the grandson of the man my Dad knew as “DB”, who employed him as electrical contractor for the Island Industries Fair, indirectly leading to him becoming the contractor for the IOW festival.

New JB children’s book site up at last

For several years I have intended to update my tired old children’s book site at http://www.jonblake.co.uk, and a week or so ago finally bought a copy of Serif Webplus X5. Serif produce cheap and easy-to-use software and if you buy the edition before the current one, it will not break the bank. However, it very nearly did break me, owing to the fact at the age of 58 I still have the enthusiasm of a six-year-old, an enthusiasm not matched by equivalent energy and health. Nevertheless I started work every morning when I woke up and stopped when my hands would no longer move. In consequence I now have a blood glucose level about three times what it ought to be but a finished site!

There are still one or two problems with the site on some servers and I am impatiently waiting for http://www.jonblake.co.uk to point to it, but for now it can be viewed at http://jonblake.webplus.net. I would be immensely grateful for feedback.

Why you won’t be seeing me at the Cardiff Children’s Literature Festival

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Great to see the continued interest in this website and healthy sales of 69ers. Do have a good look round the archives if you haven’t visited before. Meanwhile my teen novel The Last Free Cat continues to make waves in the USA: a great little review from a teen reader recently on Teen Ink which is one of the best summaries of the book I’ve seen. Many more reviews also on Goodreads which demonstrate that readers either love it or hate it – fortunately the lovers are in a large majority! The fact that some don’t like it at all does not surprise me. The book has a powerful sense of right and wrong which will not be shared by those of a conservative disposition. It prides me greatly that Albert Whitman recognised this in choosing the book for their very select imprint, which you can read about here.

The novel has also been re-reviewed in the key journal School Library Review (no link available) where it was first reviewed in 2008, and on Kirkus.

All this attention to a book written in Cardiff, Wales, has however failed to impress the organisers of the first Cardiff Children’s Literature Festival, which takes place in March this year. Despite the fact I have been singlehandedly flying the flag for Cardiff on the children’s literature stage for over 25 years, in China, Japan, Australia, the US, South Africa, Taiwan, half of Europe and more, they have decided I am surplus to requirements. Never mind the 300,000 books I have sold, nor the quarter century of school visits and community arts projects through which I have sought to inspire generations of young people in South Wales. Never mind the fact I have been published by almost every major publishing house in the UK as well as those abroad. I will leave my books to speak for themselves and others to judge whether the Cardiff Children’s Literature Festival will be devalued by my absence. In the meantime thanks to all those who have bought 69ers, The Last Free Cat or any other of my 56 books: it is your views I value.

My scandalous YA novel free from 19th to 23rd October

While I’m awaiting the last copies of 69ers to sell so that I can bring out an e-version, I’m making one of my young adult novels free for five days: October 19 to 23. Snails and Lovers was originally published as Geoffrey’s First in 1988, prompting the founder of Walker Books, Sebastian Walker, to ask what exactly his company were foisting on teenagers. Fortunately my then editor, the legendary Wendy Boase, defended the book vigorously. Wendy, despite her small stature and soft voice, was a hugely authoritative person and an exceptional editor. She had mentored the coming-of-age novel through many manifestations until it had reached a printable condition, and was its greatest champion. Sadly Wendy died a few years later, still quite young, but her memory is preserved in the Branford-Boase literary award and, I like to think, in just about everything I write.

Wendy and I both expected Geoffrey’s First to have more impact than it did. The book was very well reviewed, described by the Times Ed as a “most successful novel” and the Sunday Times as a “funny and moving love story”. But the teen market is notoriously difficult, especially if you don’t fit into an established category, and sales were disappointing. Nevertheless I have always regarded it as one of my very best books. Geoffrey, the oddball narrator, belongs to the cringe-comedy genre later popularised by Alan Partridge and David Brent, but from a jokey beginning the novel becomes increasingly serious and emotional, just as Geoffrey gets sanctified and then tested to the limit by his developing relationship with his great intellectual rival, Kim. I have never made any secret of the fact that Kim was based on the now Professor Liz Doherty of Sheffield Hallam University, with whom I shared a couple of torrid years as a young man, and although the work is a fiction, it is based on some very real emotions. Nor does it shirk from the realities of life: sexual, violent, political. I believed at the time of writing, and still believe now, that it is ridiculous to write for teenagers while hiding from the turbulence of real teenage experience.

Snails and Lovers isn’t perfect, but the only edit I have made in creating an e-book is to set it at a particular time: 1984. It would not make sense as a contemporary story. Beyond that edit I could not go: I wrote it in my early 30s with an early 30s worldview. And despite some raw edges I believe it still holds up, so much so that I’m offering it free for five days in the hope of its finding a new readership. Check it out, and if you like it, please spread the word on Twitter, Facebook etc.