30 years a published writer – some special offers

Mantis head thanks to www.cindychinn.com

Mantis head thanks to http://www.cindychinn.com

On November 20th this year I’ll be celebrating two things: turning 60 (hooray), and 30 years as a published writer. To commemorate these historic anniversaries, I shall be offering, for one week only, the ebook of When Dylan Sank The Isle of Wight (formerly 69ers) for just 99p. To take advantage of this one-off offer, go to Amazon between Nov 20 and Nov 27.

My second offer is a completely new novel for junior-age children, Insect Day, which will be COMPLETELY FREE for five days from Nov 20, and thereafter just £1.49. This again will be an e-book available on Amazon.

With Christmas in mind, if anyone is interested in a signed copy of any of my many other publications for children, I shall make these available at the price on the book cover plus postage – just drop me a line.

Review: As The Island Slowly Sank

as the island slowly sank bookAs the Island Slowly Sank is an invaluable addition to the history of both Bob Dylan and the first Isle of Wight festivals. As author Derek Barker (editor of Dylan fanzine Isis) acknowledges, these subjects were well covered by Brian Hinton’s Message To Love, which Barker draws upon for his booklet, but there is much new material here. First-hand interviews with key figures and research based on little-known publications has filled some important gaps in our knowledge of a hugely significant period in the history of popular culture.

I certainly gained some new insights into Dylan’s motivation for playing the Isle of Wight. Having withdrawn from the spotlight to concentrate on bringing up a family, the imposition of a major festival (Woodstock) down the road from his home, cashing in on his fame, was not something to which he took kindly. There’s plenty of detail about this period, and the process by which Dylan agreed to appear in England instead – although we also learn how the IOW was not quite how Dylan had romantically imagined it.

Barker is very thorough and level-headed on a number of key issues: how much Dylan actually got paid, why the huge delay before his performance, and indeed how good that performance actually was. There are plenty of interesting details about life at his residence at Forelands Farm and even the significant absence of a toilet in his backstage caravan – a matter of huge importance to his friend Al Aronowitz, whose ability to remember the conversations of 40 years ago verbatim must surely be taken with a pinch of salt.

For a short book, As the Island Slowly Sank does attempt to cover a lot of ground, and in doing so flies off at a few tangents to give incidental information which might better have been relegated to footnotes. While almost everything in the booklet was interesting to me, it might not appeal widely beyond Dylan fans or festival veterans, but then there are plenty of them! I certainly recommend it, not just for the read but also as a stimulus to further discussion of the subject, to which I am now inspired to contribute at http://www.dylan69.com.

The perfect festival novel? 69ers now released as e-book

new 69ers cover69ers, the novel of the 1969 Isle of Wight Festival of Music, has finally been released as an e-book.  Retitled When Dylan Sank the Isle of Wight, and with a new cover, the book is retailing at £3.59 (less than six dollars) and can be purchased here.

For reviews of the book, check out the paperback version, while you can find extracts on this site, along with a host of original archive material about the groundbreaking event around which the story is built.   It’s a story about another age, but one which takes a hard look at those times (and hopefully an entertaining one) rather than wallowing in nostalgia.   I really hope the e-book’s going to be read by people of all ages, and more reviews are welcome, even in the unlikely event that you do not enjoy it!

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.

Pete Seeger and Bob Dylan: Channel 4 gets it wrong

Among the major tv news programmes in the UK, people might expect Channel 4 News to be most attuned to the legacy of Pete Seeger, but yesterday’s obituary of the great man contained a horrible howler: it claimed that “the infamous Isle of Wight festival” was the occasion when Dylan controversially went electric. They had clearly confused IOW 1969 with the Newport Folk Festival of 1965 – possibly because the present day IOW festival takes place near Newport IOW. As readers of this blog will be well aware, IOW 1969 took place near Ryde, featured a downbeat and rather conservative performance by Dylan, but did not involve widespread booing or Pete Seeger threatening to cut the wires to the sound system.

Channel 4’s error was compounded by a selective quote from Seeger, referring to that threat, but taken completely out of context: Seeger was objecting to the distorted sound and the fact no-one could hear Dylan’s words. He was not opposed to electrification per se and made the point that Howlin Wolf had performed an electric set the day before, without any objections. Certainly there were purists in the folk movement, but they did not include Seeger. He was a man who, despite his middle-class roots, did more than anyone to champion the self-expression of the working-class and the emancipation of the oppressed. He had the guts to stand up to McCarthy’s Un-American Activities Committee and to decisively reject his early admiration for Stalin. I believe he was wrong to also reject revolutionary politics for a belief that fundamental change could be achieved incrementally, and even wronger to celebrate Obama’s presidency as evidence that “this land is our land”. But Dylan could certainly have learned from his steadfastness in devoting his life to the greater good.

Forty years on, not yet gone

closure cdThose who have enjoyed 69ers will have read (in the opening chapter) a fictionalised recreation of my experiences in an early 70s progressive rock band, struggling to emulate Yes, ELP etc around the church halls and pubs of Southampton. Since that time I ran the gamut of musical styles in a variety of bands – West Coast, punk, folk/world music, new wave, pfunk, acoustic duo, playing on through heart failure and the grim struggle to survive as a writer before finally giving up the boards around the time my son was born in 2007. By then I’d probably written a hundred songs, the best of which came late on, in my forties. Apart from the Adamsdown Song and Adamsdown Sings projects, I thought my playing days were over. However, two events this year changed my mind. The first was seeing Leonard Cohen performing at 78 with more vivacity than a lot of those acts at the IOW in 1969. The second was being asked to perform at a gay wedding. I’m not known as a great fan of the institution of marriage, but I knew how much this meant to my ex, so prepared a couple of songs. When I took to the mike I was surprised to find my 3 year old and six year old had spontaneously decided to perform with me. It was a great experience. I looked again at my song catalogue and thought, bloody hell, why have I never really done anything with this stuff? I am known for being fairly good with words: I also have tunes and a weight of experience. So I really hope you, dear reader, will check out what is at my music site and if you like it spread the word. My first gig is on November 22nd and hopefully there will be many more to come, health permitting. Bookings welcome!

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.

Isle of Wight Festival 2012

There’s no mistake, I smell that smell, it’s that time of year again – though this year’s IOW festival line-up indicates that we are steadily moving to the stage when it will be indistinguishable from a Radio One roadshow. Still, money talks, punters are prepared to pay for it, and the idea that festivals offer some kind of gateway to a new way of life has long been put to bed. When Paul McCartney and co can so easily be drafted into the service of the establishment for a Jubilee concert, the transformation of popular music from scourge of the elites to their willing bedfellows is almost complete.

69ers looks back to a different era. If the thought of Gary Barlow consorting with Prince Charles and the military wives curdles your coffee, you will surely enjoy re-experiencing the hope and idealism that lay behind the first great UK festival, when Bob Dylan emerged from exile to appear at Woodside Bay, Isle of Wight, in August 1969. But the novel does not go in for simplistic nostalgia: it dissects the naive idealism of the hippy project and explores the contradiction in capitalism which would eventually end in the triumph of a more permissive form.

It’s also a coming-of-age story, a love story, a review of the the 1969 music scene, and contains some of the most excruciating sex scenes ever committed to print. Just click on the book to the right and a signed copy could be yours in a couple of days. The novel is also available close to the festival site at Newport Waterstones.