Homeward Bound – new review (and interview with me)

“Homeward Bound” made me smile from page 1 … it is a funny yet poignant novel centred around a grandfather who has a passion for music and his teenage granddaughter who moves in with him to keep an eye on him as he is getting frail, and also to give her some space from mum and dad. George (grandfather) has a massive record collection that has become his “comfort blanket” since his wife died – and as he plays his vinyls, he still tinkers along on his piano hoping to revive his musical ambitions. George’s son in law thinks he should be put in a home & sets out to find George a place. George’s daughter is the go between. George’s granddaughter wants space away from her parents and isn’t sure about her musical teenage boyfriend, who has his own idea of what music should sound like although he is fascinated by George’s collection. Then there are the homes George visits & the residents he meets, the notorious cousin, the impromptu musical recital, the seaside trip and the unexpected job offer. This novel has twists and turns, ups and downs, and plenty of musical innuendo. I loved it and it is a great light hearted read perfect for winter nights, holidays, lockdowns….

Review from Linda Hobden http://bootsshoesandfashion.com/

Full review and interview with me here

My thanks to Linda Hobden with her Books, Interview, Music/Entertainment, Reviews on http://bootsshoesandfashion.com/

Every home needs two dishwashers

“Two dishwashers? Why do you need two dishwashers?”
That was the question the lady designing our new kitchen asked me.
It struck me that if she was any good at kitchen design, she’d know the answer.

“Two dishwashers? Why do you need two dishwashers?”

That was the question the lady designing our new kitchen asked me. It struck me that if she was any good at kitchen design, she’d know the answer. But I could tell from the way she was staring at me, she was waiting for an answer.

“You take plates from cupboards, cutlery from drawers and glasses from shelves and use them for a meal,” I patiently explained.

“Yes.”

“When you’ve finished, you put them in the dishwasher.”

“Yes.”

My wife was rolling her eyes as she knew where I was going with this. Our designer manifestly did not.

“You wait until it’s full, then turn it on and when it’s finished, you take out the plates and put them back in the cupboards, the cutlery back in the drawers and the glasses on the shelves.”

“So?”

I think I hoped for a sign of recognition. Instead there was a blank expression with a soupçon of impatience. My wife just stared daggers at me.

“So next time you have a meal, you go back to the cupboard for the plates . .”

My wife interrupted. “I think we’ve got that.”

I needed to complete the cycle. “But with two dishwashers, next to each other, of course, you cut out all that unloading, putting away, fetching out again. You leave the clean stuff in one dishwasher until it’s needed, then take it out, use it and . .”

“. . .  put the dirties back into the second dishwasher. I get it now.”

“Exactly. And when dishwasher two is full, you turn it on and dishwasher one becomes the place where the dirties go.” I was pleased she didn’t pick up on the one flaw in my plan; what happens when you’re mixing dirties with unused cleans.

“What a good idea.”

And so the dual dishwashers were integrated into the new kitchen plan. It would make shelf, cupboards and drawers in the original scheme redundant. For the moment, I kept secret my hopes for using them as overflow storage for my records and CDs.

And so the dual dishwashers were integrated into the new kitchen plan. It would make shelf, cupboards and drawers in the original scheme redundant. For the moment, I kept secret my hopes for using them as overflow storage for my records and CDs.

Photo: Kimi Gill for Islington Faces

What has fascinated me is that no-one else seems to have cottoned on to this idea. I did a quick Google check and could find no manufactures that have created a double dishwasher, though surely there’s need for a new products with a unique design in a crowded market. Nor have retailers seized the moment to sell two instead of one to every customer. I offer them the concept. It could be my small contribution to helping the UK out of recession.

Inevitably this has led to me to re-evaluate other ‘givens’ of domestic life.

A full plate and plentiful supply of a good red is one not to change. And somewhere warm and safe to sleep is essential. The sofa with the TV on or music playing is as good a place as any.

But if we must have beds, why do we need to ‘make’ them?

If it’s straightened sheets and pillows you’re after, why not do it before you go to bed rather than waste time and energy in the morning, especially when there’s already the tedious routine of shaving for men and make-up for women. Though I’d go one further and say why bother make the bed at all. The sheets will be crumpled up within minutes of getting in anyway.  When the reaper comes calling, how much of your life will have been wasted making beds – smoothing sheets, hospital corners, plumping pillows and all? And if you really feel the need for crisp, cold sheets, tightly tucked down, then make it a treat to look forward to every couple of months when you change the bed or go on holiday and have hotel staff do it for you.  

And don’t get me on duvets and duvet covers. I had an eiderdown as a child. It needed no constant wrestling with a cover, just pulled up over me at night. No-one admits to inventing the duvet but its popularity in the UK seems to have arisen as some sort of fashion statement, when we were in the thrall of Habitat and Laura Ashley on every High Street. And where are they now, though we persist with the duvet?

And then there are cushions. What are they for? Show me a house with cushions and I’ll show you the influence of a woman. No male that I know would even consider buying a cushion, let alone festoon sofas and – worse still – beds with them.

But back to my genius dishwasher idea. I’d put it out of my mind to concentrate on writing Homeward Bound,  though I did get the occasional twinge about whether it would work and was I being a mite extravagant, decadent even.

I needn’t have worried. There was a late change. When the old kitchen was just a shell, I was informed that there was insufficient space in the new one for two dishwashers. And anyway, the plumbing couldn’t be adjusted to accommodate them both. I might have protested, but my wife and the designer presented the news as a fait accompli.

So we have a new kitchen but just one dishwasher, and I spend probably twice as long a week in the cycle of dishwasher-storage-dishwasher-storage as I do making the bed and plumping up cushions (though luckily I’ve never mastered the duvet, so that’s a task avoided).

But if you like the dual dishwasher idea, feel free to use it.

As for me, my disappointment was mitigated somewhat by an unexpected addition to the kitchen, one that required minimal space and no extra pipework; a wine chiller. And I couldn’t argue against that.

Richard Smith’s novel ‘Homeward Bound’ is out now and available from bookshops and Amazon (paperback and e-book).

A version of this blog first appeared during Rachel’s Random Books Tour

Dido changed my life

Dido changed my life.

Dido – Thank You, White Flag, Life For Rent, Stan (with Eminen) – yes, that Dido. She has changed my life.

I don’t suppose anyone – not least Dido herself – would have expected her music to be behind such an epiphany. How did it happen?

It started when I woke up in the middle of a BBC televised Radio 2 Live concert late one night. I’d fallen asleep during a particularly dull Match of the Day and was woken by Dido in full flow. I often fall asleep watching television. I close my eyes, with the intention of simply resting them and listening for a few moments . . . then it’s an hour later. I know it happens but I still do it. More than a few times, I’ve started watching a film, drifted off and woken up and continued watching, not realising until the end it’s a different film with different cast and plot.

Back to Dido. She was singing a song I know now to be called Friends. Dido’s usual gentle, mournful but appealing (to me) delivery was suddenly interrupted by a wild guitar break and even wilder drumming. I was hooked. And that’s always a cue for me to want to go buy it.

Trouble is, in these digital times, it’s been increasingly hard to buy new music. I like it on a physical medium, something I can touch, hold, read and smell – and possess. I’ve bought high-end equipment and so I can hear it at its best. Not for me Alexa or my laptop’s squawky speakers. 

This, some might say, obsession began in my childhood. I have assembled an array of vinyl (it’s too random to be called a ‘collection’) since my first singles at the start of the 1960s, gradually embracing LPs (albums as they became known).

No particular genre, just if it takes my fancy. And it’s probably as diverse as you can get. Sharing shelf space, Jimi Hendrix sits cheek by jowl with Heron Oblivion, Henry Cow, the Herd, Herman’s Hermits and Woody Herman. I also assembled CDs in the Dark Ages when records were few and far between. But in recent times, with the growth of mp3, I’ve missed out. And it’s left me feeling disenfranchised, as there’s a lot of good music out there, even to these ageing ears.

And Dido’s Friends, had taken my fancy. The worry I had was that it would only be available on mp3. So I was relieved to find that it was on a traditional vinyl album and, what’s more, on the shelf of my nearest surviving record shop.

Back home, on the turntable, I went straight to that track. But while sounding smooth and rounded, there was none of the drive from guitars and percussion that I’d imagined on the live show. Perhaps it was the way the record was pressed.

I have noticed that digital recordings sometimes don’t sound so good on analogue vinyl. So back I went and bought a CD version. No go. A little crisper, sharper, but none of what had first drawn me to the song in the Radio 2 session.

Desperate, I turned to YouTube and checked the performance online. The answer stared me in the face. The guitars were additional to the recorded version and the drumming came from a person not a synthesiser.

At first, dismay. And then, the epiphany.

I found I could plug my computer into my hifi’s pre-amp and, wow! The track came to life for me. With a couple of tweaks on the graphic equaliser, it sounded even better.

It was just a small step before I was Googling other live performances and listening to artists with an online presence only. What’s more, I started discovering tracks I don’t own or haven’t the space for. A new world of music previously unavailable to me. At my fingertips. In a decent quality. Online.

So late in the day, I have entered music’s digital age. And I’m excited at the discovery.

Dido, Thank You.

Friends is on Dido’s album Still On My Mind. (And the other tracks have hooked me too and are well worth a listen, I should add!)

Richard Smith’s first novel, Homeward Bound, is available on lone and from bookshops.

The tyranny of the pen

We weren’t allowed to use ball point pens at my school. The very word, Biro, was never mentioned. All writing had to be with a fountain pen, preferably using Quink blue-black. We also had lessons in how to form capital letters, and no essay would be accepted if the wrong form of ‘F’, ‘G’ or ‘T’ was used, or words were not joined up correctly.

I was sitting with my feet in a pool a while back, reflecting on life, and this early ‘60s memory flashed back to me. Having published my first novel, Homeward Bound, I’m often asked how I write; longhand or straight into a computer. My first response is it’s a wonder I write at all after that induction and suffering the tyranny of the fountain pen.  But the answer is that once I’d been given a Parker for my 18th birthday, I never looked back and now I compose entirely using its cheaper successors – a Biro, Bic, or one of those freebies you collect at exhibitions.

Why I like a ballpoint is it’s so easy to write quickly and even easier to make changes, ideal if thoughts are spilling out of your head at a rate of knots. And if there’s an inspiration for later, a word that’s just come to me to improve a previous sentence, or a paragraph that needs moving, I scribble it down and add an asterisk, a box, or an arrow to signal something to come back to later.

It takes just a second and  – more importantly – it doesn’t interrupt the flow of ideas. Add to the fact that I write on scrap paper – the reverse of single-sided photocopies or envelopes that held today’s consignment of bills and begging letters and I can add feeling virtuous about my recycling into the argument for longhand.

I’ve tried starting on a computer but, for me, it’s a slow, laborious and stultifying experience. I’m quite fast – a self taught two fingered style serves me quite well – but the plethora of red underlines and strange line spacings distract me, making me want to correct as I go, and the practicalities swamp and submerge the original inspiration. Using a ballpoint, the ideas can just flow.

There is a downside to paper. A puff of wind and the pages scatter across the room, a disaster when I’ve not numbered them. And worse, the speed that the ballpoint allows me invariably comes to the detriment of legibility. I’ve invented my own form of shorthand, with vowels omitted and words often just a squiggle between first and last letters. Their meaning is all so obvious as I write, but when it comes to reading back, it’s often impossible to decipher.

The answer? I don’t read it back! For the next stage is to transcribe my manuscript into my laptop and as often as not, I make it all up again. This is partly because I can’t make head nor tail of my longhand, but also because, having created a sense and the structure, I can recompose it straight into my laptop from memory. A second draft, as it were.

Once the page is on the laptop and saved (how many times did I use to lose a day’s work because I hadn’t saved my manuscript – and pardon me while I save this one, it’s still Document 29. Done it), the next question is proof reading and revising for a next draft. My preference would be to do it by printing out the pages. I find reading for content easier on paper, and making amendments using my ballpoint brings all the advantages of being able to scratch out words, move paragraphs and make comments to myself along the margins. But this is very wasteful of paper, even if the reverse does provide new scrap for the next handwritten manuscript.

My solution is to use an iPad with one of those electronic pencils. That way I have all the advantages of longhand and the sheaves don’t blow away. Then it has to be transposed on to the master laptop, but that’s OK as it’s yet another drafting and improving stage. By the end, I may have dozens of fragments of manuscripts on paper, laptop and iPad, not to mention bits I thought were good but left out, in case they should come in handy for something else.

It was one of these I was searching for just the other day. While working on my second novel, I thought I might be able to incorporate a section I’d written and left out of a first draft of Homeward Bound. I rummaged through a box stuffed with papers.

They’d been hidden there, away from my wife’s perfectly reasonable wish not to have every surface in the house awash with scrap paper and old envelopes. It didn’t take long to find the very manuscript I was seeking. Except I couldn’t read a word of it. Completely inscrutable.

But also in the box, an old school exercise book, with my handwritten notes on Shakespeare in blue-black ink, clear and legible.

Perhaps my school had a point

Cheering people up!

I’m really pleased with this review/blog, saying that, ‘After struggling at times during lockdown to have a desire to read, this book was exactly what I needed to remind me why the world of books is so wonderful.’

With more COVID restrictions, maybe this will cheer a few more people up!



Homeward Bound on tour!

All these reviewers will be feasting their eyes (or sharpening their pens!) on my novel Homeward Bound in the next couple of weeks. I’ll post their comments here.

As they say on the BBC News before Match Of The Day, ‘If you don’t want to know the results, look away now!’

‘Oi’ll give it foive.’ Juke Box Jury or Thank Your Lucky Stars?

Janice Nicholls. Remember the name from the 1960s? A teenager who gave her verdict on new record releases. Her ratings were out of five, and if she liked one, she’d say enthusiastically, ‘Oi’ll give it foive’. Her weekly appearances were on ATV’s Thank Your Lucky Stars, hosted by Brian Matthew. Her catchphrase was immortalised in song. I don’t know if she ever reviewed it herself, and it was completely ignored by the record buying public. But here’s your chance to give it a score!

‘I love Elvis and his pelvis . . . Mantovani drives me barmy . . . The Everly Brothers and the others . . .’
Oi’ll give it foive – Janice Nicholls – my copy on a pre-release demo whirring away on my Dansette.

Out of five – how many?

Oddly, many people confuse her with being on Juke Box Jury, another record review show, but on BBC and hosted by David Jacobs. (It’s a raging debate on Facebook‘s London in the ’60s and ’70s!) But on that show, four panelists would assess whether a record would be a hit or a miss. Its theme tune, by the John Barry Seven plus four, was aptly named . . . Hit & Miss. And unlike Ms Nicholl’s offering, this record was a hit (No. 10 in 1960).

Hit & Miss – John Barry Seven plus four, this one spinning on my Rock-Ola Tempo jukebox. This is the model originally used on Juke Box Jury – but with the letters ROCK-OLA covered over because of the BBC’s rules on adverstising.

John Barry went on to write the Bond theme (amongst many other film tunes). Janice Nicholls apparently went on to a life of podiatry.

If you’ve not had enough nostalgia, there’s loads online about the programmes, though not much about Janice.

And if you like music and a story that, according to one reader is ‘a gorgeous hug of a book,’ my novel, Homeward Bound goes on a blog tour in July. Catch it with these bloggers.

NATURE RAW IN BEAK AND CLAW

I watched in awe as two blackbirds set about a magpie in our back garden in Highbury Hill. Pecking and grabbing at its feathers, I was amazed at their ferocity and sorry for the magpie. My view was soon to change.

I’ve been observing the throngs of birds visiting our feeders, tiny garden pond and containers of water more than I used to, through a combination of ‘lockdown’ and new patio doors. From wrens, sparrows, blue tits and robins, through thrushes and blackbirds, to crows, magpies, blue jays and even the occasional woodpecker and sparrow hawk, they have established a literal pecking order of the seeds, fat pellets and dried worms on offer.

Bath time for sparrows. Keep a count!

The smaller birds enter the squirrel proof cages and hurl the food across the grass, a gift to the larger ones waiting in anticipation on the ground where there’s a literal pecking order.

Our tiny pond. Newts and frogs seem to be attracted to a fountain to rival Vegas!

The magpies, crows and pigeons get first picks, the rest waiting their chance of what’s missed. But there must be enough to go round as most of these birds seem to have built nests nearby, and we’ve already seen newly fledged robins and sparrows negotiating the feeders and bathing in our containers and pond.

Which brings me back to the altercation between the magpie and the blackbirds.

The squabble showed no sign of abating, with the magpie seemingly coming off worst.  Yet rather than escaping, it briefly touched down in the garden. Here, it stretched its neck and pulled from the undergrowth a tiny, helpless blackbird chick, pink mouth wide open in expectation of being fed. What happened next was a brief blur of feathers and squawking – then all the combatants flew away. But what of the chick? I went to investigate. No sign. Just a few small feathers. Had it escaped or had the magpie taken it? I fear the latter.

I was set up to take a picture of magpies and blackbirds, but this little fellow arrived to ruin it!

So my view of battered magpie changed from victim to offender. Yet, in retrospect, maybe there are hungry magpie chicks that needed something more substantial than slim pickings of seeds dropped by the sparrows. It’s nature’s way. But the possible loss of a blackbird chick is so disheartening.

Next day, they were all back in the garden, sparrows, blue tits, robin, blackbirds, magpie, following the same feeding routines – until, that is, they were all interrupted by the arrival first of a squirrel, then cats.

It’s tough being a bird.

PS – since I’ve written this, I’ve noticed a blackbird devouring a newt from the pond. The circle of life and death . . . . !

Richard Smith’s novel, Homeward Bound, is available as an ebook and paperback from Amazon and bookshops like Ink@84 and Waterstones

Excuse me, that’s the wrong record . . .

Did you watch the recent BBC drama, ‘Trial of Christine Keeler’? It’s set in 1963. But in the soundtrack, they play ‘Well Respected Man’ by the Kinks – a song not released until 1965. A little research would have come in handy, methinks. But it’s not unique.

I’ve lost track of the times I’ve watched a play or a film and somebody has slid the vinyl from its sleeve, placed it on a turntable, dropped the stylus into the groove . . . and out has come the wrong tune, or at least, to the eagle-eyed, a different tune from the one on the record that’s spinning. OK, it’s nerdish and we should be involved in the film’s narrative. But to anyone with any interest in records, it’s the first thing we see. It just comes naturally.

Original labels for the Beatles’ first hit single, released in 1962

The key to identification is the record label. Artists and songs were signed to companies with label brands, and each brand was recognisable.

For instance, the Beatles’ early singles were on red Parlophone.

Later labels for the same song after Parlophone changed its branding. This would be the wrong if used in a film set in 1962

Later copies and re-issues were black. These changes are unique date markers – vinyl carbon dating if you like – as brands were revised over time and for reissues. Not just for the Beatles but records through the ages.

Which means people like me will notice if the actors are using a record with the wrong label for the song or a reissue that’s not contemporary with the period of the drama.

My defence is we are not alone. I once made a film where I used an archive clip of a steam train and dubbed a whistle on it, culled from the nearest BBC Sound Effects LP – Vol 1 RED47M, Side 2 Track 5. It seemed to be just right for the soundtrack. Not just right for railway enthusiasts, though. I was lambasted by viewers because I’d used the wrong whistle. I expect they’d have demonstrated the correct one for me if I’d asked.

So allow me the moral high ground. Art directors or their researchers – do your research and get it right, please. We’re watching!!

Richard’s novel about music, ambition and ageing – Homeward Bound – is available from the high street and online bookshops and Amazon (paperback and ebook).