Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Vintage clothes and where to get them!

From the forces sweetheart look of the 1940s to the full-on rock'n'roll style of the 1950s, Natty Smalls the heroine of Polka Dot Dreams has a fabulous vintage or reproduction outfit for every day of the week. But where does she get them? And if reading Polka Dot Dreams gives you the urge to buy some retro threads of your own, where will you find them?

I asked three queens of the vintage scene which emporiums of mid-century style they recommend.

Kai Hoffman, the swinging singer with Kai's Cats and the hostess with the mostess of London's premier swing night, Live and Let Jive (Upstairs at Ronnie Scott's on the first Thursday of every month) gets all her stage-wear and just about everything else she wears from reproduction 40s and 50s fashion designers:
Vivien of Holloway
294 Holloway Road
London N7 6NJ
Tel: 020 7609 8754

Jazz zinger (and that's not a spelling mistake) Kitty La Roar recommends long-established vintage shop Blackout II on Endell Street in Covent Garden.

Vintage fashion event organiser Bettina Scarlett suggests the following vintage-inspired designers:

Outerlimitz www.outerlimitz.org for evening wear and Lady K Loves www.lady-k-loves.com for good value day clothes.

You might also like to pop along to Bettina's Christmas mid-century vintage market at The Hammersmith Club, 11 Rutland Road, Hammersmith on December 14.

So now you know where to get an outfit just like Natty's in Polka Dot Dreams a vintage clothes romance by Julia Douglas. Click here to try before you buy.

Monday, 23 September 2013

Jazz alert!

Hot on the heels of my last post in which Kitty La Roar talked about her role in Sinatra Sequins & Swing, along comes this new CD by SSS front man Kevin Fitzsimmons - and boy is it a dilly!

Kevin has such a perfect voice for Sinatra songs that he's been a voice stand-in for Old Blue Eyes in TV and radio ads. But the great thing about this disc is that he's even better when he's just being himself, especially on the original songs that sit snugly alongside such covers as a cool and quirky reading of The Beatles' Norwegian Wood.

He had me from the first line, "I'm back on the blues again..." and from there the disc just gets better.

The Fitzsimmons original Views From The Quayside, Slightly Intoxicated is about messing about on the Thames and it swings like crazy, thanks to some accelerating ivory playing by Leon Greening.

Elsewhere, there's razor sharp jazz accompaniment from trumpeter Steve Fishwick and sax men Alex Garnet and Derek Nash. But it's Kevin's effortlessly slick vocals and witty writing on songs like the title track, Show Me The Way that make a great hour of jazz.

Pre-order Show Me The Way by Kevin Fitzsimmons here. Better still, put on your zoot suit and scoot along to the launch party at the Spice of Life in Soho on Wednesday October 2.

See also: Julia's Jukebox for Polka Dot Dreams.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Kitty La Roar - Queen of the New Jazz Age

Kitty la Roar and Nick of Time
Putting on the jazz style

She sang in the bath for an EDF TV ad, but Kitty La Roar also rocks a neat line in vintage jazz age dresses, whether backed by a full orchestra in the touring theatre show Sinatra, Sequins and Swing, or in hip London cabaret clubs like the Cellar Door with her pianist husband Nick of Time.

In this interview which recently appeared in The Stage, Kitty told me all about the vintage jazz scene.

How did you get into vintage jazz?

I got seriously into it when I was about 8, growing up in Bolton. I was a strange child, but I loved Ella Fitzgerald’s voice - that soft, intimate vibrato that was really pleasurable to listen to. I also like the sophistication of the melodies in the great American songbook. There’s something whimsical about it, but something dark as well.

The cat's meow
Kitty La Roar in
Sinatra, Sequins & Swing
Where did you get the name Kitty La Roar?

I did a drama degree at Goldsmith College and a couple of us were trying to come up with camp alter egos for cabaret work. We came up with the name between us. I’m planning a new jazz project in a couple of months and I was actually thinking of changing the name in case it wouldn’t be taken seriously. But having talked to a few people from musicians to promoters, everyone seems to like Kitty La Roar, so it’s probably something I’ll stick with.

How did you meet Nick?

I saw him playing piano at The Edge in Soho. He was inviting people to get up and do a song, so I got up and sang My Funny Valentine. We did a few gigs and kind of circled each other for a while. It was the usual worry of can you have a working relationship with someone you’re involved with? But it’s worked out really well. We’ve got residencies at the Savoy and the Dorchester. Then we play a little place called the Cellar Door in Covent Garden where we experiment with our jazz stuff. It used to be a gents toilet and it’s tiny. It holds about 40 people, which is nice, because you can see people’s reactions and when they like a song it’s lovely to see.

How big is the vintage jazz scene at the moment?

It’s becoming more and more popular. It used to be that rockabilly was the counter-culture look, but now it’s more of a Hot Club, 1920s and 30s look. We’ll get 18 and 20-year-olds coming to gigs and they look immaculate. The interesting thing is, when we started playing the Cellar Door we were doing cabaret but we’ve shifted to more of a jazz profile and the audience has got bigger.

How did you get involved with Sinatra, Sequins and Swing?

I met Kevin Fitzsimmons, who has a lovely tone for Frank Sinatra songs, when we were both doing gigs at a racecourse. He was telling me his plans for the show and thought I’d be good for the glamorous sequin element. It’s a lot of fun. I get 8 costume changes and it’s rare to get the opportunity to sing songs like Marilyn Monroe’s Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend with the full arrangements. There are Rat Pack shows that don’t sound anything like the quality of a big band, and it’s the big band people go to see, really.

For details of Kitty's gigs with Nick of Time and Sinatra, Sequins & Swing, go to www.kittylaroar.com

For a fictional look at the vintage scene, meanwhile, try Polka Dot Dreams by Julia Douglas. Click here to try before you buy.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Behind the scenes of Polka Dot Dreams

The new Writers' Forum is out - and includes the concluding part of a two-part feature on how I wrote the rock'n'roll romance Polka Dot Dreams.

If you've ever fancied writing stories for womens magazines, there's also a feature in which I talk to four top fiction editors about what they are looking for in new writers... and what will put them off a manuscript.

To read the opening chapters of Polka Dot Dreams before you buy it, click here.

Friday, 20 September 2013

Julia's Jukebox for Polka Dot Dreams

Natty Smalls, the vintage clothes-obsessed heroine of Polka Dot Dreams only listens to two types of music: “Rock... and roll.” So what would be on the soundtrack if her jive through the retro scene was made into a movie?

Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On by Jerry Lee Lewis. This is the pumping piano smash on the jukebox when Natty walks into Matt’s 50s-themed ice cream parlour and first sets her eyes on the man of her dreams.

I Will Survive by Gloria Gaynor. The song Natty’s landlady and Matt’s widowed mum, the irrepressible Margie, blasts at full volume while Hoovering the stairs. Although she’s partial to a bit of Abba, too.

Big Hunk Of Love by Elvis Presley. Tartan-clad Teddy Boy band Duke & The Bop Tones are roaring through this full-on rocker when Natty and Matt have their first jive at the Cinderella rockabilly club.

Chapel Of Love by the Dixie Cups. As Natty sinks to her chin in a bubble bath and thinks of Matt, what more apt tune could be playing on her retro-styled CD player than this rock’n’roll song about walking down the aisle?

Second Chance by Natty Smalls. This is the song Natty writes after meeting Matt and hoping it will be second time lucky for both of them. Cameron Swoon, the mysterious Scottish Teddy Boy, swears it’s the song that will make Natty a singing sensation. But if Cameron can get her a record deal, what effect will that have on her relationship with Matt?

Click here to try before you buy the e-edition of Polka Dot Dreams on Amazon. Or check out a copy from your local library.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Four faces of Natty Smalls!

It's always fascinating to see how different illustrators picture a character, as can be seen from the covers of the different editions of Polka Dot Dreams.

The drawing on the left is how I imagined the heroine Natty Smalls in a doodle for my own amusement while writing the story.

This is how Natty appeared on the cover of the My Weekly Pocket Novel edition of Polka Dot Dreams.

Great hair, and I love the seaside setting. Not sure what happened to the bullet bra that features rather, ahem, prominently in the book. But, then again, it was My Weekly!

Pocket novels, incidentally, have a short but glamorous life on the newsstands of shops like Tesco and Sainsburys for just two weeks. So if you have a copy, hold onto it. It's a limited edition!

Here's Natty on the cover of the Linford Romance large print paperback, which is available to borrow from your local library.

I'm flattered by how closely she resembles my original doodle, including the ice cream from Matt's 50s-themed ice cream parlous. I also like the little details in the background, such as the suitcase, guitar case and leopard print coat that she wears in the opening scene.

And here's Natty large as life and in the flesh on the cover of the new e-edition. Perfect hair colour and the way she's tucking into that ice cream is Natty through and through!

Click here to read a sample chapter on Amazon.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Introducing Natty Smalls - the sensational singing star of Polka Dot Dreams!

Julia Douglas provides an exclusive interview with the heroine of her latest ebook, Polka Dot Dreams, the irrepressible Natty Smalls.

Name: Natty Smalls!

That’s an unusual name...

Natty by name and natty by nature! My real name’s Natalie, but Natalie Smalls sounds ridiculous!

What’s your role in Polka Dot Dreams?

I’m the star, of course! I breeze into town in my genuine 1950s vintage clothes, bullet bra and Twinco sunglasses and turn upside down the lives of everyone I meet. Especially the gorgeous Matt!

Who’s Matt?

Matt runs a rock’n’roll-themed ice cream parlour and is the most stunning specimen who ever pulled on a pair of vintage Levis! He’s got a blonde rockabilly flattop, the most amazing smile and a body-builder’s muscles that are simply to die for! He is a bit on the clumsy side, but I think that’s just nerves. We’re working on those!

You obviously like Matt. Does he have any rivals for your affection?

Well, there is the smooth and sophisticated Cameron Swoon! Now there’s a sharp dresser! Most people don’t understand the Teddy Boy look - Showaddywaddy have a lot to answer for! - but Cameron gets it perfectly: the expensive tailoring of a true Edwardian gentleman! Matt is jealous of Cameron because he’s going to make me a singing sensation!

Anyone else...?

My ex, the millionaire celebrity chef David Royale. But the least said about him the better.

Natty Smalls
as I first drew
Who are the female characters?

Oh, just wait till you meet the marvelous Margie - my larger-than-life landlady, Matt’s mum and, dare I say it, my potential mother-in-law! Margie owns an enormous house at the seaside. The other residents are Jase, a DJ - he’s harmless and nice. Then there’s Jude, a mysterious older woman who is Not To Be Trusted. There’s definitely something going on between Jude and Matt that I don’t like the look of at all!

What’s your best line in the book?

That would be when David says, “Virginity is a rather old fashioned ideal,” and I reply, “I guess I’m just an old fashioned girl!”

Can you tell us a secret that’s not in the book?

Matt’s always introducing himself as “I’m Matt, by the way,” - but that’s not his real surname! It’s Cardy - which could have serious implications for my name if we ever get married.

Polka Dot Dreams is available to download as an ebook from Amazon for the positively retro price of just £1.97. Click here to read the first chapter for FREE.

Polka Dot Dreams is also available to borrow as a paperback from your local library.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Rockabilly reading!

Follow the romantic adventures of vintage girl Natty Smalls as she jives through the UK rockabilly scene in the latest Julia Douglas novel, Polka Dot Dreams. Click here to read a sample chapter on Amazon.

Also available in paperback to borrow from your local library!

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree

Have you booked your tickets for the Wildest Cats in Town Annual Xmas Party?

Have you packed your circle skirt, blue suede shoes and sprig of mistletoe?

The flyer for Ritchie Gee's annual bash has just popped through my door and yule love the line-up.

Top of the bill is "The best young Elvis in the World" Travis Le Doyt. Also appearing are boogie woogie man Mike Sanchez, 80s hit-makers The Jets, and a whole host of others including the Rock-a-toons, the Bobcats, Some Like It Hot and many, many more.

But it's not just the bands that make the Wildest Cats in Town the party to be at. I've been to one of Ritchie's Teddy Boy festivals before and the atmosphere is amazing, from the ball room to the classic cars to the dining hall, where the nosh is top notch. 

It's all happening from Friday 29 November to Monday 2 December at Pontins Pakefield, near Lowestoft and you can get an apartment and meals for the positively 1950s price of just £159 per person for the whole weekend.

For details, say Hi-de-hi to Ritchie on 01530 455657 or 07976 964086 or visit www.tennesseeclub.net.

For a fictional view of the British rock'n'roll scene, meanwhile, meet rockabilly girl Natty Smalls, Edwardian Ted Cameron Swoon and rock'n'roll band Duke & the Boptones in Polka Dot Dreams by Julia Douglas. Click here to read a sample chapter on Amazon.

Monday, 2 September 2013

Tootsie Rollers - Queens of the Vintage Scene

Singing sensations
The Tootsie Rollers

You can't get away from the vintage scene at the moment. I was in Southwold yesterday, and there by the boating lake, just along from the pier, was a vintage market set up in a row of beach huts. What a fabulous idea!

But who is going to take the vintage revival into the pop charts? My money's on The Tootsie Rollers, a spirited sextet who describe themselves as the Andrews Sisters meet the Spice Girls.

I've just interviewed one of them for The Stage. The article will be out in the next week or so. In the meantime, check out their video for their theme song Tootsie Rollers - The Boys Go Wild on their website . It's the catchiest song I've heard in years.

For the story of a fictional vintage girl hoping to make it as a singing sensation, meanwhile, read about the adventures of Natty Smalls in Polka Dot Dreams by Julia Douglas. Click here to buy the ebook from Amazon for the positively 1950s price of just £1.97.

You can also borrow the paperback from your local library.