Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Jerry Lee Lewis in love at 77

Goodness gracious, the new issue of the Jerry Lee Lewis fan club magazine, Fireball Mail, has arrived and has this heart-warming cover picture of the 77-year-old rock’n’roller at home with his wife Judith.
The couple, pictured on Valentine’s Day at their 30-acre ranch in Mississippi, are celebrating the first anniversary of their marriage last spring.
Isn’t that romantic?
As well as finding love, the singer nicknamed the Killer has been enjoying renewed success in what would for many be their retirement years. His most recent albums, Last Man Standing and Mean Old Man were the biggest-selling of his long and storied career and featured duets with a galaxy of stars who regard him as a hero, including Mick Jagger, Bruce Springsteen and Eric Clapton.
New eaterie, the Jerry Lee Lewis Cafe and Honky Tonk opened on Beale Street in Memphis this April.
I interviewed Jerry Lee last year when he released the career-spanning 4-CD box set A Whole Lotta Jerry Lee Lewis and asked him his plans from here. The response of the man who pioneered rock’n’roll with Great Balls of Fire in the 1950s? “To keep rockin’, if God’s willing.”

For details of the Jerry Lee Lewis fan club, visit the facebook page.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Patsy Cline - a lady, not a tramp

Patsy Cline - First lady of country
(Decca publicity shot courtesy of
Country Music People)
Fifty years ago, the residents of Camden, Tennessee, looked up at the sky, startled by what they would describe as the sound of a car with engine trouble or its exhaust torn off.
The next day, a search of woodland three and a half miles to the west revealed the wreckage of a single engine green and yellow Piper Comanche.
The world had lost the pilot, Randy Hughes, country stars Cowboy Copas, Hawkshaw Hawkins and and a 30-year-old woman still widely regarded as the greatest female country singer ever: Patsy Cline.
Famous for such songs as Sweet Dreams and Crazy, Cline took country out of the honky tonks and onto the Las Vegas stage.
Her glamorous ball-gowns and velvet voice hid her tough upbringing on the wrong side of the tracks in Winchester, Virginia. Off stage, she has been described as loud and brash.
But country singer George Hamilton IV knew Patsy before she was famous and remembers her differently. Talking to me on March 5, last year, the actual anniversary of her death, he said, “The Patsy I knew was quite different from the one I read about in some of the books that were written to cash-in on her life after she was no longer around to defend herself. Yes, she liked to take a drink. She liked to be one of the boys and she could tell a shady joke now and then. But she was a lady. She was by no means a tramp.”

George Hamilton IV
1937 - 2014

Update: 18 September, 2014. Woke to sad news this morning that George Hamilton IV died yesterday, following a heart attack at the weekend. Hamilton knew Patsy Cline in the 50s, when he was the teen idol singer of A Rose And A Baby Ruth. He went on to have 40 country hits, including the chart topping Abilene. His travels abroad earned him the title, The International Ambassador of Country Music. He was particularly popular in the UK, where he appeared at the first of the legendary Wembley Country Music Festivals and went on to host the BBC's TV coverage of that long-running event. He later played the part of narrator in Patsy Cline: The Musical on the West End stage and in several UK tours.
In recent years, he recorded some of his best albums, including A Tribute To Luke The Drifter - The Other Side Of Hank Williams, a live recording of a show with which he had enthralled audiences across the UK.

Hamilton was due to tour the UK in October, co-starring with Sandy Kelly in the Patsy Cline 50th Anniversary Tour. He will be much missed.

Click here for my memories of George Hamilton IV.

What’s life like for today’s women of country music? Read about the musical and romantic adventures of Cindy Coin and Katie Carnegie in Nashville Cinderella.

Saturday, 25 May 2013

The perfect leopard-skin accessory!

One of my loves is the circus - just read the above extract from The Showman’s Girl. Another is old black and white photos in which people always look so much more glamorous than they do today.
So I couldn’t resist showing you this picture from David Barnaby’s new book The Great British Circus - Views of Martin Lacey (Book Guild).
The lady is Martin’s former wife June, seen here taking the circus takings to the bank. I can’t imagine her getting robbed with that little cheetah for protection!
The issue of animals in the circus is, of course, a thorny one. You can read more about it, including my interview with Martin Lacey, Britain’s last tiger trainer, on my (br)other blog Circus Mania.
Or, for a return to a more romantic times, download The Showman’s Girl and read about the adventures of a girl who runs away with the circus in the 1930s.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Writers' Forum

If you’ve ever wanted to be a writer, three questions you may have asked yourself are:
  • What should I write?
  • How would I write it?
  • How would I get it published?
You’ll find the answers in Writers Forum. The new issue is out now and as usual it’s stuffed with inspiring articles on everything from finding ideas to storyboarding the plot of a novel and formatting ebooks..
With my Douglas McPherson hat on I’ve written a feature on how to pitch articles to magazines. I also reveal some tips I used to beat a bad case of writer's block and write comedy crime serial Who Killed the Easter Bunny, with regular My Weekly characters the Blue Rinse Brigade.
Speaking of the Blue Rinsers, I’ve been revamping my sister blog, or perhaps that should be brother blog, Circus Mania. Sprucing up the archives and adding some new pictures, I came across the second Blue Rinse Brigade serial Murder at the Circus. Click on the link to read 9000 words of big top mayhem for free.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Mick McManus - the final bell

Angel gazed admiringly at the cups and trophies crammed on the mantle piece above the gas fire. The gold and leather championship belts that hung proudly against the floral wallpaper and the countless framed photographs.
Granddad as an Adonis in trunks and wrestling boots, posing with every legend she could name. Mick McManus, Rollerball Rocco, Big Daddy, Giant Haystacks.
She’d grown up with the names and the stories. Most of them had been long gone, even then. Now just a few clips on YouTube remained. Ghosts from a mythical age before her time when the whole country had gathered to watch the Saturday afternoon wrestling on ITV.
She looked down at her granddad, bent, broken and breathless in his chair. He was almost the last of his kind.
That was why she had to make it. He had to see her make British wrestling great again.

The passage is from Blue Eyes and Heels, the story of a woman wrestler fighting for equality in a man’s world, that is one of the tales in The Fairground Girl and Other Attractions. It came back to me when I heard that one of the biggest legends of the roped circle had passed away today, aged 93.

Mick McManus
January 11, 1920 - May 22, 2013

Fancy a trip to the fair?

That's how it started for Beatrice in The Fairground Girl

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Julia's Jukebox

I use music a lot in my writing. Nashville Cinderella is set in the song-writing community of the country music capital, with lyrics at the heart of the plot. In The Fairground Girl & Other Attractions, chart hits mark the changing decades from the 50s to the present. In Closer!, Jess has a romantic moment listening to Robbie Williams while vintage girl Natty Smalls in Polka Dot Dreams only listens to two kinds of music - “rock... and roll.” She’d probably approve of the songs I’ve been swinging and singing along to in the past week.

There Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens by Kai’s Cats
From Jump Jive & Swing, available only from the website of American-born, London-based Queen of Vintage Swing Kai Hoffman,

(A Cat Called) Domino by Roy Orbison
Everyone focuses on the ballads, but he started out at the birthplace of rock’n’roll, Sun Records. This is, in my opinion, one of the greatest rockabilly records ever. Amazingly it went unreleased in the 50s and only appeared in the 70s.

To Make Love Sweeter For You by Jerry Lee Lewis
The first No.1 of his country comeback in the 60s. 4-CD box A Whole Lotta Jerry Lee Lewis hasn’t been off my desk since it came out last spring. This is a current fave pick. Other overlooked gems include the doo-wop Sixteen Candles.

Mexicoma by Tim McGraw
This track from the country star’s latest album, Two Lanes of Freedom, has been jammed in my head since I reviewed it in March.

Look At That Cadillac by the Stray Cats
Hadn’t heard this for years, then I came across their great video on YouTube and haven’t been able to get it out of my head since.

Walking My Baby Back Home by Willie Nelson
From his latest CD of songs from the 30s, 40s and 50s, Let’s Face The Music And Dance.

Rock Around The Clock by Bill Haley & His Comets
Half a century on, it’s as exciting as ever.

But what do you listen to while you write?

Friday, 17 May 2013

What's in a name?

Or how Douglas became Julia...

In 1859, Mary Anne Evans became George Eliot in order to be taken more seriously as a novelist at a time when it was believed women wrote only light romances. Today, it’s male authors who adopt female pen names to be taken seriously as romance writers.
The late best-selling saga writer Emma Blair was only revealed to be a 6’ 3” Glaswegian called Iain, when ‘she’ was nominated for the Romantic Novel of the Year award in 1998, and he turned up to the ceremony. Even ex-SAS hard-man Chris Ryan changed his name to Molly Jackson when he switched from war books to pen love story The Fisherman’s Daughter.
The reason for the sex-swap is a belief among publishers that women (the main market for romance) won’t buy books by male writers, and vice versa. That’s why JK Rowling opted for gender-neutral initials, so as not to put off boy fans.
Whether readers really care if chick-lit authors are chicks is debateable. Blair’s sales soared after Emma outed herself as Iain, and American author Nicolas Sparks has always sold romance by the ton without changing his name to Nicola.
Intriguingly, most pseudonymous authors of either sex make no secret of their true identities.
The novels of Annie Sanders reveal on an inside page that she is in fact two women: Annie Ashworth and Meg Sanders. Yet Annie (Ashworth, that is) says their publisher insisted on a collective moniker, fearing readers wouldn’t buy fiction with two names on the cover.
An author name, then, is a brand and it makes sense to choose one that fits the book, be it tough and masculine for a hardboiled thriller or soft and feminine for romance.
Douglas McPherson
When I started writing romance, I chose the name Julia Douglas to separate my fiction from the journalism and non-fiction books such as Circus Mania which I write as Douglas McPherson. I also thought that if I wrote a first person magazine story and the readers saw a male by-line, they might assume the narrator was a man when the character was in fact a woman.
Taking my lead from married crime writers Nicci Gerrard and Sean French who pooled forces as Nicci French, I borrowed my partner’s first name, Julia and turned my first name into a surname because I thought Julia McPherson was too evocative of the Highlands.
I give interviews as myself, though. In fact, making my ‘secret’ identity a talking point has proved a useful publicity tool.
But I’m not the first to think of that. When novelist Madeleine Wickham re-branded herself as Sophie Kinsella to pen the frothier Shopaholic series she initially concealed her identity with mysterious publicity photos that hid her face. She later revealed her double life as a way of promoting her book Can You Keep A Secret?

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Well done My Weekly!

Huge thanks to the enormously talented Andre Leonard for producing such a fantastic painting of Lizzie the maid who stars in A Life of Loyal Service in this week’s My Weekly.
It was a great honour to be asked to write a two part story for the Coronation issue. The 50s is my favourite era, so it was immense fun to research all the details of life below stairs in Buckingham Palace in 1953.
There’s more 50s fun in my new ebook The Fairground Girl & Other Attractions which follows the adventures of a girl who runs away with the fair in the rock’n’roll era. And if you like 50s fashions you’ll enjoy Polka Dot Dreams, a romantic comedy about Natty Smalls, a modern girl who dresses exclusively in the vintage fashions of yesteryear.
The lovely large print paperback edition of Polka Dot Dreams is available to borrow from your local library now... and will be out in a new Kindle edition very soon!