Radio 1: a love story

*cue Our Tune music*

On Twitter yesterday, Jenny Colgan tweeted a photo of a bunch of Radio 1 DJs from the 80s and reminded me of my 80s obsession with Radio 1. The only times I ever bunked off school were Radio 1-related. I remember faking illness because there was something I wanted to hear (and there was no iPlayer back then, kids!). It must have been 1984, cos I remember listening to Culture Club’s The War Song lying on my bed with my legs up the wall.

In 1985, Simon Bates had an interview with Wham! that ran every morning for a week. He said he’d be giving away tickets to The Final concert at Wembley. I bunked off every morning and sneaked into my aunty’s house to listen (my mum was at home, my aunty wasn’t). I somehow managed to miss the competition. (The interview was good though.)

In 1987, we went on a school trip to London and Pippa Taylor and I sat on at bench at Seven Dials to listen to the chart rundown. (It was Tuesday lunchtimes then, yes? With Gary Davies? I bloody loved Gary Davies. I hunted out this jingle yesterday and it made me cry. Really.) I looked in a London phonebook for a G Michael, rang it and asked if George was there. (He wasn’t.) When I came out of the phonebox, a man went in and found the purse I’d left in there. He gave it back to me, thank goodness. I literally don’t remember a single other thing about the trip.

In 1988, I bunked off school to go to the Radio 1 Roadshow in Southport. Someone came into the crowd and asked for volunteers for Bits & Pieces. Do you remember Bits & Pieces? I LOVED it. And I was really good at it. Even though I was shy, I was desperate to get on and do it. When they told me I was going to be on, I rang home and said something like “I know I’m supposed to be at school, but I’m actually in Southport and I’m about to be on radio, can you record it? Yes, yes, you can tell me off later…”

(Thanks to the fabulous website, Radio Rewind, you can hear Bits & Pieces. Not the one I was on, obv – I no longer have the tape – but still.)

Anyway, when the DJ interviewed me (I’m pretty sure it was Steve Wright, but I’m not 100%, which is mad considering how much I loved Steve Wright. You’d think I’d remember) (see update below!), he asked if I was a Bros fan. I answered, “Brosette, yeah.” How did he know I was a Bros fan? I was wearing (fake) Doc Martens, cut-off jeans, a white t-shirt and a bandanna. Shut up. Also, just a year later I would move to London and spend many, many hours standing outside Matt Goss’s house where wearing that outfit and/or calling myself a “Brosette, yeah” would have been the kiss of death. (You can read more about it here. You know you want to.)

So I won Bits & Pieces. Oh yes. And then I was carried offstage by Gaylord the Gorilla. Oh no.


Gaylord was actually Phil Cornwell, who you may remember from Stella Street or, more likely, as Dave Clifton on I’m Alan Partridge. Which puts me just three degrees of separation from pretty much everyone in Hollywood. Result.

Anyway, as with so many experiences in my life, I’ve always remembered the embarrassing Brosette-yeah-bloke-dressed-as-a-gorilla part of the experience and it was only yesterday following Jenny’s tweet that I thought I loved Radio 1 and Bits & Pieces and I went to the roadshow and won Bits & Pieces. Go, 17-year-old me!

Ooh, almost forgot to choose my tune! It’s the song that was number one that day in London…

Updated: It wasn’t Steve Wright, it was Peter Powell. I was googling for more Roadshow details and found this photo. I remember that shirt.


On Friday, I turned 41. On Saturday, we lost yet another family member. It’s made me think. Actually, it’s just made me think more about things I’ve been thinking for a while. You know.

There’s this (which is, these days, constantly in the back of my mind). There’s the line from my other uncle’s epitaph: “And once… he went to Jersey”. There’s the fact that I can practically see Harry and Joe growing in front of my eyes.

There are so many things I want to do. With writing. With blogging. With homeschooling. With my family. And I spend a lot of time procrastinating and just basically faffing about. And that’s a lot of fun – I wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t – but it also takes a lot of time. Time that I know could be better spent. So I’m cutting back. Streamlining. Getting organised.

This means less Twitter, Facebook and blog reading. It may actually mean more blogging, since I’ve enjoyed NaBloPoMo. But if I unfollow/unfriend/unsubscribe PLEASE don’t be offended. It’s not you, it’s me. Really.

If you’ve been following me for a while, you’re probably going, “Yeah. Heard this before. Anyone remember internet-free weekends?” I know. And, you know, this may not work. I may creep back and blush to remember this post. I hope not. Or you may not even notice. Because I’ll still be tweeting and FB’ing and blogging. Just not as much. Probably.

Celebrating UKYA

For a while now I’ve been beavering away on a new blog, along with fellow authors Keren David and Susie Day. I’ve been planning to write about it here, but Keren’s beaten me to it over on her wonderful blog and since I can’t possibly improve on what she’s written… I’ve nicked her post. (Yeah, okay, I got permission.) Over to Keren: 

It started, as so many things do, with a conversation on Twitter.  A chat about the difference between teen books and Young Adult, which morphed into a wider debate about American and British books, and spawned a hashtag #UKYA.

It crystallised a feeling that quite a few of us had, that American books for teens get a lot more attention than British ones, even in the UK. We go into bookshops and see special displays of imported YA books from the US. We see publicists for UK publishers promoting the latest transatlantic buy-in. And we suspect that YA is almost defined by that Mean Girls/Twilight High School feel, the proms, the basketball games, the road trips, so that reading about British kids doing GCSEs and watching EastEnders somehow feels all wrong.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with American YA books, and indeed it is we British teen authors who enthusiastically rush to buy, read and praise writers like John Green. Meg Cabot and Maureen Johnson.

But then I stumbled across a group on Goodreads where American readers were asking for recommendations of British teen books, and coming up with little more than Harry Potter. And I kept on reading American YA books set in Britain, which came across as inauthentic as those awful episodes of Friends set in London. Or British characters in American YA books who sounded as British as Dick Van Dyke. And then I saw an internet query from an American family planning to travel to London with a teenager. Which books should they read to get them in the mood? Suggestions ranged from Oliver Twist to Swallows and Amazons. Oh and Harry Potter got a mention.

Well, there is more to UK YA than Harry Potter. To prove the point (and hopefully provide something on the internet for anyone in the world looking for authentically British books) we have set up a new blog, which should be a showcase for the best of British teen fiction. You can find it here and I hope you’ll follow, share and generally shout about it.

When I say we, the very wonderful Keris Stainton* and Susie Day have done all the hard work (Hurray!). We’d love to get more blog posts, recommendations and comments. Please do get in touch if you’d like to be involved.

There have been moments when I’ve worried that our site is a bit Little Englandy –  too parochial, too inwards looking and a bit unfriendly towards foreigners. But that’s not the aim. We just want to celebrate the great fiction being written in Britain (not just by Brits either. Some of our best UKYA writers are in fact Americans, but they live here, so that’s OK) and redress the balance a bit.

Right now the British children’s best-selling lists are dominated by American Wimpy Kids and American dystopians. Sometimes I go into supermarkets or even bookshops and  have to look hard to find an actual British teen book. I’d love to see Waterstones or WH Smith put on a Best of British teen book promotion. In the meantime, use that UKYA hashtag and start telling the world about our blog.

* should I have edited this bit out? *blush* 

Interview with… Louise Jones (superstar teen blogger)

I can’t remember how I first discovered Louise Jones. It was on Twitter, I know, but apart from that… not a clue. But I’ve been following her for a while, we’ve emailed a few times, I read her blog and she’s just fabulous. She’s going to be a star. Seriously. So I nabbed her for an interview.

So who are you and what do you do?

HELLO KERIS! I’m Louise Jones, I’m the terrifying age of 18, and I’m blundering my way through A Levels. I also have a blog. It’s a nice blog. I quite like it.

I’ve been so impressed with your blog posts – how long have you been writing and how did you get started with blogging?

Thank you! I started the blog in November 2009, but I can’t tell you why, because I don’t remember. I knew I wanted to write though, thanks to my GCSE English teacher. I wasn’t doing that well, but after handing in my Creative Writing coursework, she kept me behind and told me I could do this writing thing. Someone had told me I was actually good at something, and it genuinely changed my life. I think then I wanted to be a celebrity magazine journalist, and had possibly seen others blogging (I really need to work on the memory thing), so decided to have a crack myself. At first it started as an online diary, but has turn into something quite unexpectedly mental.

You deservedly won Channel 4 Young Blogger of the Year. Without wanting to sound like a Miss World presenter: how did it change your life? 

My life changed within hours. I went from a standard unknown 17 year old, to having thousands of people following me and wanting to know me. It was weird. I was always the unstable girl, going from social group to social group, not really having her heart set on anything, but suddenly I was being congratulated by bloody Jon Snow on national TV [watch the interview here], and ferried around for interviews. Since then, I’ve worked for Heat magazine, Channel 4, various journalists, HarperCollins book publishers, Big Brother, and other little projects. I think it was then that I realised I was a proper individual, who had an odd ability of making people laugh and cry simultaneously with my writing. I could play with people’s emotions – BRILLIANT. I still have some secret ACE things lined up, and I could not be more grateful for all the help, support, and readers. I’m a very lucky girl.

I know you’re going to study English at university, what do you hope to do after graduation?

I don’t want to have set plans now, because I know I’ll focus too much on them and not allow for surprises. Taking life as it comes, and expecting the unexpected, has worked for me so far so I’ll stick with that notion. I just want to write, be creative, make people laugh, make people cry, make people think. I do not want an office job. Even being a journalist in an office is not for me. Structure is rubbish, so I want to work from home and write and have time to do random STUFF. Easier said than done, but we’ll see eh.

What advice would you give to teenagers interested in journalism?

For journalism specifically, I would say to write and write and write, and promote yourself with it. I sent my blog to a load of writers on Twitter who I’m now friends with (in my head we’re proper friends, anyway), all because I persisted in getting my writing out there. Get work experience too and NAG for it. If no one replies, email again! Be passionate and eager if you want it enough. But if you’re interested in ANYTHING, don’t let it go. If you’re interested in something that none of your friends are then DON’T CARE. Go for it. Hold onto that thing that makes you happy and worth it.

What’s been the best advice you’ve ever been given?

To not grow up fast. One of my teachers kept me behind last year (happens a lot, can you tell?) and scared me by telling me that, because I realised I was trying to. So caught up in trying to be famous with writing, that I was forgetting there was a whole world out there, with brilliant humans, and lots of time. I’ve also given myself stern advice to know I’m doing perfectly fine being me, and would do even better to remember it.

What one book would you take with you to a desert island? 

I hate this question. I hate it so much. I remember loving Let’s Get Lost, by Sarra Manning years ago, but haven’t read it again in a while, so would probably take that…and my diaries. Normal diary and Wreck My Journal. They don’t count as books.

If you could live inside a book – but still be you – which book would you choose?

Harry Potter, obviously.

And finally… Russell Brand or David Mitchell? 

Russell Brand.

Thank you

I’m not going to keep banging on about My TV Hell (probably*), but I did just want to mention one more thing*… Vanessa ended the segment (and also the show) by asking Shamash’s advice. Her question to him was something along the lines of “What advice can you give to this poor woman [i.e. me] who thinks virtual friends are the same as real friends?!” **

I think all your amazingly lovely responses to yesterday’s post prove that while virtual friendships may not be the same as so-called real friendships (I think Shamash said the brain reacts to them differently), they are still absolutely wonderful and to be valued rather than mocked. Thank you. You’ve made me laugh and cry and feel very, very lucky.

* There may be more flashbacks so I do need to leave some room for further ranting…

** Please do bear in mind that this may not be exactly what she asked. I haven’t seen any sort of playback, so I could of course be remembering it wrong.

What I learned from my TV hell

This is going to be a long one. You may want to make yourself a cuppa…

When I first heard I’d been invited to go on The Vanessa Show, I felt proud. Proud that someone had read something I’d written (Why I refuse to feel guilty about my Twitter addiction on Ready for Ten) and thought it was interesting enough to ask me to come on TV and expand on it.

Less than a week later, after recording the show, as I walked along Oxford Street crying into a tall mocha, the expression “pride comes before a fall” kept going through my head. I felt like an idiot. But then I thought, well, that’s a stupid expression. Why shouldn’t I have been proud? Why shouldn’t I still be proud that even though my first TV appearance didn’t go as well as I would have hoped, at least I did it? So I am still proud. And here’s why.

On a school day and everything!

As I headed for London on Tuesday morning, I admit I was feeling a bit full of myself. When I was a kid I was obsessed with London and desperate to live there. London, I thought, was where everything happened. London was where I could be myself and become a success. And then I moved to London and it didn’t quite work out that way. I was shy, insecure, afraid. When I left London (in 1997) I felt like a failure. It’s taken me a long time to be able to enjoy London again and each time I go back, I remember more and more why I loved it in the first place. So on Tuesday, I was thinking about how I no longer have to go every day to a job that I hate. How I get to be a writer and get to go to London and on TV. Get me.

When I got down there, I was nervous, but I met my lovely friend Sarah (and her gorgeous son) for lunch, checked in at my hotel and then got the tube to the studio, so I didn’t have time to get myself too worked up. I did keep thinking back to 1995 I think it was when I went with a friend to audition for a TV show (can’t remember what it was called – it was a film show presented by Johnny Vaughn) and could barely speak I was so terrified. But I’m nowhere near as shy as I was back then and wasn’t I just on the radio last week? This would be just like that only with cameras. And Vanessa Feltz.

Don’t mention Celebrity Big Brother…

As soon as I got to the studio, I was ushered into the make-up room where Vanessa was already sitting. I felt a flash of nerves then – she’s an intimidating presence – but she started chatting and I felt fine. She asked me to give her an example of a tweet I’d sent that day. I’d only sent one, which had been to say that my train to London had been delayed. “Boring, I know,” I said. “Yes,” Vanessa agreed, adding, “appallingly dull and tedious! What on earth made you tweet that?!” I said that sometimes tweets are just good for getting things off your chest, but that someone (Helen!) had then tweeted me to tell me that there were delays between Milton Keynes and London and how Twitter’s great for information as well as for chatting.

Vanessa asked me if I talk on the phone and I said I didn’t very much anymore. She said she doesn’t either, she just texts. I did have a moment when I wondered if she was treating our conversation as research for the interview, but then I thought, no, that would be unfair. And the questions will have already been prepared by a researcher. When I said I was nervous Vanessa said, “Oh there’s nothing to be nervous about! It’ll just be like this, us talking.”

Again, I felt a bit proud. I was holding my own, I wasn’t blushing and I didn’t feel intimidated or shy which – even though I haven’t really felt shy for years – is a massive thing for me. At school my worst fear was having to give a “talk” or read aloud from a book. I remember a teacher asking me to take a note to a teacher in a different classroom and I stood outside almost crying because I hated the thought of pushing open the classroom door and everyone looking at me.

Let’s have a heated debate!

I went back to the green room and chatted with Shamash, a mindfulness expert who was there as the “anti-Twitter”. I’d been a bit worried about this, worried that I’d be attacked and end up having a row on screen, but not only was Shamash lovely, he’s on Twitter. I felt confident that it would be, as the producer had assured me, a friendly and positive debate.

We walked through to the studio and watched Vanessa conduct a debate with a woman who feels bad about bribing her 2-year-old to do certain tasks and a parenting expert who doesn’t agree with bribery. And then it was time for our segment. We sat down. I saw myself on the giant monitor (why they have a bloody great screen directly opposite so you can see how utterly gormless you look I don’t know) and thought, ugh – the make-up artist had straightened my hair, but, by the look of it, only on one side – but then I just wanted to get on with it.

The show is recorded “as live” so Vanessa did a link to the next segment (my segment) and then there was an ad break or something. During the break Vanessa said something like “I’m really looking forward to this because it’s a real bone of contention between me and Ben” (her partner, who co-presents the show). “It’s a real argument, not a TV argument,” she continued. “It drives me absolutely fucking mad.”

And that’s when I thought… Oh. Shit.

I must have a life cos it flashed before my eyes

The actually interview is pretty much a blur, but I know she started by saying something about how she was amazed that I’d agreed to join them in the real world, something about “isn’t it true that you never even talk on the phone anymore!” and that my husband gets annoyed that I’m online all the time! And that I’m on Twitter when I’m with my kids!

I was completely wrong-footed. I remember thinking, “Wow. You bitch.” But at the same time I felt a sort of grudging admiration. She’s a pro. And I was naive. And I knew I was screwed. It’s The Vanessa Show, after all.

I don’t remember my responses clearly. I made a feeble joke about everything being in 3D. I know I said something about Twitter not being about what you had for breakfast. I know I told some stupid story about David melting butter on the radiator and how other people had tweeted “boneheaded” things their husbands/partners had done. I know I said I try to give my boys my full attention, but sometimes I’m tempted to go and tweet something they’ve done or said. And that Twitter has made me laugh and cry. But I couldn’t remember any of the things I’d wanted to say. I could barely remember what Twitter was.

It all went by really fast and then Vanessa was thanking me, the crew was congratulating me and then I was outside in the street thinking, “What just happened?” As I walked up to the tube, I thought of all the things I wanted to say, but hadn’t said.

Meanwhile, back in the real world…

I wish I’d said that parenting is isolating and Twitter is supportive and encouraging and entertaining. I wish I’d said that my virtual life is in addition to, not a replacement for, my real life, which is wonderful. I felt guilty that I’d talked about David. (Poor David always gets the shitty end of the stick.) I wish I’d told her how amazingly supportive Twitter is. How it can literally be a lifeline for some people. How I can be chatting with friends about TV, looking at photographs tweeted by astronauts on the Space Shuttle, and reading a link to an incredibly powerful and moving blog all within a few minutes.

Before the interview, I wanted to say that Twitter is not just broadcasting, it’s a conversation, but then I worried that – because she’s a broadcaster – it might get Vanessa’s back up. I wish I’d said it now. Because she may be an excellent broadcaster, but she’s not so hot on conversation. No wonder she doesn’t get Twitter.

Imagine All By Myself playing over this bit. Maybe on a saxophone.

As I walked through London, I felt worse and worse. I berated myself for sounding silly and frivolous and making Twitter sound silly and frivolous. I felt like I’d let the lovely women at Ready for Ten down. I felt like I’d let Linda Jones (who has been supporting and encouraging and inspiring me since I first started writing) down. I felt like I’d let everyone on Twitter down.

I wandered and I whimpered and I felt very sorry for myself. I tweeted about it, obviously, and got the most incredibly lovely responses that made me laugh out loud and also made me cry even harder.

Even so, I didn’t want to stay overnight as planned, I wanted to go home and see David and our boys. Leaving London a failure again. But when I woke up on Wednesday morning, I felt much better. I felt strong and confident and positive.

Yes, it’s all about me.

I don’t believe everything happens for a reason, but I do think this happened for a reason. It taught me that I can do things I didn’t think I could ever do. It taught me that I’m no longer that terrified girl standing outside the classroom door, scared to go in. It taught me that I’m not the blushing, tongue-tied 20-odd year old at the Johnny Vaughn audition. During the interview, Vanessa asked me if, on Twitter, I feel pressure to be “amusing”. I don’t know what I replied, but what I should have said was that the only thing I want to be is authentic. And that’s how I felt when I woke up on Wednesday morning.

In 1989 when I moved to London, I thought it was where I could be myself and become a success. Twenty-two years later, I no longer live in London, but I am myself (even to the point of not wanting the make-up artist to straighten my hair and replying “Absolutely!” when she asked if I’d be wearing my glasses) and I am a success.

Tweet that, Vanessa.