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Apaches, Blues and Cadillacs – The ABC of Growing Up With American As A Second Language

I’m delighted to welcome Richard Wall to my place with a fascinating blog about living- and writing- with the duel influences of American and British culture.

Over to you Richard…

Apaches, Blues and Cadillacs – The ABC of Growing Up With American As A Second Language

The USA has been in the news lately for all the wrong reasons. A new president who comes across as petulant, ignorant and divisive, and a spate of mass shootings is giving a great nation extremely bad press when it comes to world opinion.

As ever, the actions of the “few” has created a backlash of bad feeling towards the “many” – ordinary Americans just trying to get on with their lives.

America, it seems, is like Marmite. But whether you love the place with a passion or hate it and all it stands for, there is no denying the huge cultural impact the United States has made on life in Great Britain since the end of WW2.

Opinion varies as to whether this is a good thing or not, but what follows is my personal viewpoint.

As a writer, people often ask me why, as an Englishman, my stories contain so many references to American culture. Well, you could say I had no choice in the matter! Despite growing up in the backwater of a small market town in rural Herefordshire, I’ve been around Americans all my life.

I was born in 1962 and my g-g-generation was (I think) probably the first to be subjected daily to the American way of life without ever having to leave British shores. In the early 1960’s, television technology advanced and TV sets became accessible to more and more UK households; the numbers of channels and programmes increased and TV influences from across the pond came thick and fast. As a result of this, I, like everyone else in my age-group, grew up with American as a second language, absorbing an influence that reflects strongly in my writing.

My earliest memories are of watching John Wayne movies on our old black and white TV, and then playing cowboys and indians (I always wanted to be Geronimo, leader of the Apaches). I watched Neil Armstrong step onto the moon and news reports of the Vietnam war.

There were also countless US TV shows: Champion The Wonder Horse, Casey Jones, Bonanza, Kojak, Starsky and Hutch, The Rockford Files, M*A*S*H, Taxi, and many more.

When I began to take an interest in music I learned that blues men from the 1930’s inspired the Beatles, the Rolling Stones (also in their 50th year), Led Zeppelin and other British bands who took this music back to America to a white audience who were largely unaware of their own musical heritage.

American movies introduced me to classic American cars: Steve McQueen’s 1969 Ford Mustang (Bullitt), Gene Hackman’s 1971 Pontiac Le Mans (The French Connection), Jim Rockford’s Pontiac Firebird and Barry Newman’s Dodge Challenger (Vanishing Point).

Someone once said; “if you can’t see the beauty in an old American car, then you’ve got no soul.

American writers, such as: Stephen King, Andrew Vachss, Elmore Leonard, John Steinbeck, and Langston Hughes (and lately Ran Walker), added layers of depth and context to my TV and film influences, and gave me an ear for US colloquialisms.

When I finally realised my dream and visited the USA (Florida, and Rhode Island, courtesy of a nuclear submarine), I found it every bit as cool and exciting as I imagined it to be as a child.

Since then I have returned many times; visiting California, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Texas, Colorado and including one memorable road trip through Tennessee, Arkansas, Louisiana and the Mississippi Delta, visiting blues heritage sites and seeing with my own eyes the places where my blues heroes were born, lived and died.

All of these lifetime influences have been bubbling and fermenting in a cultural stew that I hope adds flavour to my writing.

My first short story to be published on Amazon was ‘Evel Knievel and The Fat Elvis Diner

An Englishman in Oklahoma is watching a storm approaching when he receives an email on his phone. As he waits for the email to download, it causes him to reflect on his childhood in 1970’s England, his relationship with his father and the journey that brought him to the USA.

Five Pairs of Shorts’ a collection of short stories, some with strong American influences, followed soon after.

In 2015 came my first novel, Fat Man Blues, inspired by the Mississippi road trip, and which has attracted a great deal of interest (and praise) across the world since its release. Fat Man Blues has opened the doors to a fascinating world where I have been extremely fortunate to meet and become friends with talented and creative people from across the planet.

Earlier this year I wrote another short story: ‘Hank Williams’ Cadillac’:

Vince and Stu’s road trip through Texas is cut short when Stu’s ancient Honda breaks down in the quiet town of Rambling. Nearby is Bubba’s used-car lot, containing a collection of classic American cars. Following a bizarre encounter with a talking crow, and a deal signed in blood, Stu trades in his Honda for a powder-blue 1952 Cadillac convertible. Back on the road, the two buddies continue their journey in style, until a series of Burma Shave road signs and an encounter in a cemetery changes things forever.

This was inspired by a road trip with friends, from Oklahoma City to Colorado, which took us along parts of Route 66, where glimpses of the America from my childhood imagination can still be seen. By the way, the cover photograph (taken by me in 2012) features the beautiful 1955 Cadillac in which we took a tour of Memphis.

The American influence continues with another short story due to be released at the end of the year. Beelzebub Jones will accompany the spaghetti western-themed concept album of UK Blues Man, Andrew ‘HalfDeaf’ McClatchie.

So, America. Good guys or bad guys?

Well, my personal view is that I’m British and proud to be so, but I can also speak American, because I grew up with it. At the end of the day we are all just people.

Ordinary Americans just want a quiet life, like we all do, and are among the friendliest people on the planet.

 

In the town of Kingfisher, Oklahoma, I was honoured to meet a WW2 veteran who, it transpired, fought in North Africa around the same time as my late father. He shook my hand with an iron grip and said: In North Africa we had everything and the Brits had nothing. I got nothing but respect for them; you push ’em back and push ’em back and push ’em back until they’re up against the wall and then they come back at you like tomcats…”

These words from an American made me proud to be British.

Oh, and I love Marmite.

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Richard Wall can be found loitering around www.richardwall.org 

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Many thanks for sharing your blog with us today Richard. Great stuff.

Happy reading,

Jenny x


Improving the recipe: a slice of lemon cake

In May of this year I started to write a brand new contemporary fiction novel. Normally I would have finished it long ago, but what with writing a novel as Jennifer Ash and starting Imagine, as well, I have been rather slower with my Jenny Kane words this year.

However, I am delighted to say that I have now reached the redrafting stage of my next novel, which goes by the working title of Lemon Cake, Espresso, and Thigh Boots.

Redrafting is rather like improving a recipe. I’m adding in an extra spoonful of words here and there, taking out excess sugar, and removing the overdose of fat (well commas actually).

Set in and around both the Roman Baths, Bath and the New York Central Public Library in the USA, this novel will have a little more in the way of spice than my previous JK novels- although not enough for it to warrant an over 18’s only sticker!

Roman Baths

Playful and fun, this story deals with the problems that go hand in hand with consciously deciding to live with two personalities…something I might just know something about.

There will – of course- be coffee involved. Espresso in this case- plus a serious- and I do mean serious- lemon cake craving.

I shall say no more about the plotline for now.

When will it be finished?

Watch this space…

Happy reading,

Jenny xxx

 


Bampton Charter Fair

Next week, on 26th October, I’m delighted to say I will be at the Bampton Charter Fair, selling my books, reading, and giving talks to adults and children about my work, and the joy of playing with words.

I will be with my fellow authors from the Exeter Author Association- you’ll be able to find us in the Community Hall on Station Road, conveniently next to a café and a nonstop supply of coffee!

The Devonshire Bampton Charter Fair has been an established tradition for centuries. here’s what the official Charter Website has to say-

Bampton Fair existed even before King Henry III granted it a Royal Charter in 1258 and it is always held on the last Thursday of October. It is one of the oldest surviving Charter Fairs in the country.

For centuries, the fair mainly sold sheep and cattle and was the largest sheep fair in the South West of England. During the 1880’s to the 1980’s it evolved to become the famous Bampton Pony Fair trading in Exmoor ponies.
Today this traditional Devon fair continues to attract local producers of foods and livestock, crafts and traditional skills from Exmoor and its surrounding villages. The streets, church, pubs and venues of Bampton are filled to over flowing with around 100 stalls, entertainments  including craft and music workshops, demonstrations and concerts, and funfair.

Opening from 9am, the Charter Fair regularly attracts in the region of 10,000 visitors- so why not come along and join the fun, pick up a few early Christmas presents, and hear a story or two along the way.

Hope to see you there!

Jenny xx


10 REASONS TO GO ON AN IMAGINE WRITING RETREAT

Alison Knight and I are proud to present our very first “Imagine” writing retreat…

10 reasons to go on an Imagine Writing Retreat…

1                    Writers need writers! No one understands writing and a writer’s life like another writer. Mutual support is the name of the game!

2                    Located in the stunning Victorian manor, Northmoor House, Imagine’s retreat gives you the chance to stay in a home untouched by time (But don’t panic, there is Wi-Fi). You can even indulge in the waters of an original Victorian bathtub…don’t forget your bubble bath!

3                    With so many of the manor’s period features still in place, Northmoor is the ideal location for sparking inspiration and dreaming up new plotlines.

4                    On the edge of Exmoor, near the popular village of Dulverton, there are plenty of beautiful places to explore should you, or any non-writing friends or partners, wish to. There are miles of good walking land on hand. The pre-historic Tarr Steps are but minutes away, and the cafes in Dulverton are excellent. I can personally recommend the poached eggs on crumpets in The Copper Kettle.

Tarr Steps

 

5                    However, you might not want to stray into the village for food because we have employed an excellent local caterer, who is providing a delicious menu that will cater for all dietary requirements. All food is locally sourced.

6                    Come along for a confidence boost! At Imagine we pride ourselves on helping everyone to get their words onto the page. We are here for beginners and experts alike.

Kate Griffin

7                    Meet Kate Griffin! One of Faber and Faber’s most successful crime writers. Kate Griffin is the author of the brilliant Kitty Peck Mysteries. An expert on Victorian London, Kate will be our guest speaker on the Wednesday evening.

8                    Find your inner writer’s peace of mind. We all know that authors suffer from imposter syndrome: “Why am I writing? I’m not good enough!” We all say it! Local happiness mentor and fellow writer, Trina Stacey, will be available for optional one-to-one conversations about how to believe in your abilities, and convince you that you are allowed to do what makes you happy.

9                    Let’s face it – Monday to Friday in a beautiful Victorian Manor, with time to write, all food provided, plus three optional workshops, a chance to meet Kate Griffin, and the opportunity to share writing ideas over a glass of wine (or two) – for only £450 (10% less if you book before 31st October) is a BARGAIN.

10               IT WILL BE A LOT OF FUN!

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Full details are available at https://www.imaginecreativewriting.co.uk/writing-retreats 

If you have any queries please email Alison or myself at imaginecreativewritng@gmail.com

PLEASE REMEMBER THAT THE EARLY BIRD DISCOUNT ENDS ON 31ST OCTOBER

Now is the time to drop heavy hints about wanting a writing retreat for Christmas… 

Happy writing everyone,

Jenny xx


Guest post from Marie Gameson: The Giddy Career of Mr Gadd (deceased)

I’m delighted to welcome Marie Gameson to my blog today to talk a little about her fascinating new book, The Giddy Career of Mr Gadd (deceased).

Over to you Marie…

 

“Winifred is exasperated by her Catholic mother’s inability to accept her conversion to Buddhism, and by her family’s determination to drag her back to her former life. But when an elderly stranger – haunted by his dead father – turns up on Winnie’s doorstep, insisting that stories she wrote as a teenager hold the key to his supernatural problems, Winnie is forced to renew acquaintance with her younger self.

Why did she write about a Mr Gadd, who died years before she was born?”

The Giddy Career of Mr Gadd (deceased) does have lots of humour, but the main theme is grief – not so much grief for the dead as for the living. The main character, Winnie Rigby, is exasperated that her conversion to Buddhism and attachment to the Orient are strongly resisted by her Catholic family, who make persistent attempts to remind her of the person she used to be.

I wrote this book to explore an issue which has long bothered me, and more so recently:  how do you cope when someone close to you has substantially changed? The reason could be because they have had some physical or mental trauma, joined a cult, become an addict, or simply because they have adopted a new political or spiritual belief system. Of course, in the case of the latter, the grieved-for person can be annoyingly positive about the change; most of us have come across a new zealot, and have good reason to avoid ‘born-again Christians’, or ‘born-again anythings’. But whatever the reason for someone changing, that person is still alive, still looks pretty much the same, and yet is no longer the person you remember.

In the case of Winnie Rigby, after practising Zen Buddhism for some years, she had an enlightening experience whilst on a mountain in Taiwan, which increased her resolve to further her practice. Since being forced back to the UK by her family, she feels alienated and out of touch with her old life; in fact neither her old neighbourhood nor her old acquaintances seem familiar, which is inconvenient, as people who insist they know her turn up with irritating frequency.

Consequently, her only objective is to get back to Taiwan just as soon as she can figure out how to replace the funds that have mysteriously disappeared from her account – (on her instructions according to the Bank) – but which seem to have gone to a cause that sounds suspiciously close to her mother’s heart.

Winnie’s refusal to return to her former persona or to traipse through pointless memories is challenged when an elderly man turns up on her doorstep, haunted by his dead father’s restless spirit, and insisting that the younger Winnie knew something about this late Mr Gadd. Although Winnie has no time for ghosts or superstition, when she is given proof that she did indeed write about Mr Gadd, she reluctantly agrees to try and find out why she wrote about a man who not only died years before she was born, but whose afterlife she seems to have recorded.

But the more she remembers, the more the answers seem to lie in the East. In her search for the elusive Mr Gadd, Winnie may fulfil her wish to return to the Orient – but unravelling the mystery of Gadd is bringing another unexpected revelation.

 

Taroko Gorge, Taiwan (where Winnie ‘saw the light’)

 

Although the book took a year to write, the preparation included a few months in Taiwan, two trips to China, an MA in Translation, a dissertation about Chinese ancestor worship, and frankly – countless fags and glasses of wine. It’s really nice that some people have said that they loved the book, but it is possible that I have reacted a little negatively when they have gone on to ask when the next one is coming out…

But with that little whinge out the way, the book has been a wonderful journey for me in terms of trying to reconcile East and West. Whether they are truly reconcilable or not, I will finish with a photograph I took some years back in Taipei of a Buddhist nun begging for alms. I rather like it.

Bio-

Marie Gameson is half of the mother and daughter writing team who published The Turtle Run as ‘Marie Evelyn’. Her latest book, The Giddy Career of Mr Gadd (deceased) was published by Salt this summer and is available on Amazon. You can find out more about her and her books at her website, www.marie-gameson.com 

You can buy The Giddy Career of Mr Gadd (deceased) from-

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Giddy-Career-Mr-Gadd-deceased/dp/1784631183/

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Many thanks for visiting today Marie. This sounds like a fantastic read.

Happy reading everyone,

Jenny xx


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