Justin Saban Plays Harmonica for Barney The Rock Show Radio Play

As with the other fantastically talented people who have helped me produce graphics and audio book versions of my Gwubbins the Witch stories, I was thrilled to have the input of Justin Saban.

Justin is a very talented all round musician who offered to help when it became apparent that I had written a story about a chicken who played the harmonica, without thinking it through.

When it transpired that Justin had a harmonica it was a godsend, and he generously agreed to come and play it for me so that it could be recorded for the story ‘Barney the Rock Show’.

Justin Saban, all round musician

Justin plays guitar and harmonica, recording for Barney the Rock Show Audio Version

We had a brief meeting where I showed him a simple blues song I had lifted from an album that was lent to me when I was sixteen. I think I had rewritten some of the lyrics as a search on YouTube did not match my version.

I had been shown how to play the blues two days before Justin arrived to help out. So I knew that I could not really handle the guitar part, as, to my surprise, if you haven’t truly mastered bar chords, playing the blues is very painful.

Justin instantly understood my predicament, took over the guitar part, allowed me to sing him the song unimpeded by finger pain, and recorded the guitar part for me.

Justin was able to picture my story and give life to the character called Daphne (the Blind Lemon Chicken) who plays the part of a diva performer on her harmonica – flashing the diamonds in her beak as she plays the blues from her perch on the stage.

It was inspiring to have such a clever musician pay attention to my work and help bring about the audio version of Barney the Rock Show. This project will continue over the winter months of 2018, and I would like to thank Justin for taking the trouble to create excellent material which has kicked us off with a bang!

Justin Saban is the brains behind Latent Lemon Studios, based in Luton, UK where he is a Producer, Recording Engineer and designer of Audio Effects. He likes dogs, beetroot and making music.


It is hoped that “Barney The Rock Show” will be available to be streamed early in 2020

Making A Children’s Audio Book #1

Children’s Audio Books #1
Having spent a good deal of my life as a singer songwriter and author, I am about to break into the world of Children’s Audio Books.

The problem with music is getting people to listen to it. The problem with e books is getting people to read them. But Audio Books seem like a totally different animal. The quest to find a safe medium in which to placate and safely entertain your child seems like a major issue for some parents. I don’t know – I am not a parent, but my research shows that parents are concerned about their kids in that they want to entertain them and educate them, and audio books fall into both these categories.

Audio Books link here

I began to research what I was getting myself into when it became apparent that my audio version of ‘Barney the Musical’ has the potential of becoming a huge hit with kids. With the help from my producer, Spon, we brought the story alive with some very entertaining sound effects.

As I have mentioned before, I write stories that I think I would have enjoyed reading as a child, and as a kid I loved funny noises. I have an enduring memory from childhood, and that is of myself and my sister sticking a finger in one ear and pretending to be folk singers. We were not immune to the comedy of this lark, and others, that involved silly noises.

Research on the net took me to many sites for parenting. Some were better than others. The best site I found in the limited time I gave myself was mumsnet.com – Sensible parents discussing sensible topics.

I was able to compile a list of recommended audio stories from mumsnet and other sites. Best of all I found conversations which showed how important audio books are for children who are reluctant to read. I also identified the environments that kids like to listen to audio books.

Other research showed me how disappointed customers could be when their CD audio books were poor quality or wrongly packed. I read a lot of criticism; from dislike for the accent of the narrator to the irritation of having to change a CD half way through a story. I also noticed that just about every children’s story ever written had at least one criticism. Not everyone is going to like my story, or my accent.

From this research I am able to get a measure of my own caliber. I am able to see where I may fit into the market and how to manage this product. The research has left me feeling quite confident as I believe that the story is good – it is politically correct (!), it is well paced and entertaining. My English accent is obviously not BBC – I think my slight cockney twang may become my trademark. I think I nailed the voices of the characters and the sound effects have animated the story. In short I think Barney The Musical can stand proudly with other children’s audio book products!

Interview with Ella Jo talking about her new novel, Touched By A Presence

Ella Jo talks about her first novel ‘Touched By a Presence’ and gives some insight into her writing and music background.

Touched By A Presence by Ella Jo Street – Stories from a rural community, paths cross and lives become entangled.

In 1824 John Street seeks unconventional help for his son’s nightmares and encounters an old woman who makes haunting prophesies. Ghosts appear as her words play out at a hang-fair twenty years later, and again, when folks decide to leave their precarious world to emigrate.

John is a survivor. He returns home from the army, no longer a boy, battle-scared and disturbed. The story follows his life as he finally settles down to become a straw plait dealer and marry his sweetheart, Sal Cambers. John’s grandfather and aunts provide an historical perspective, and add to the plot.

Characters appear who challenge the strict social rules of nineteenth century England, their motives imagined and explained in a vibrant interpretation of rural village life.

What comes to light is the mettle of those living through the gaiety and woes of Old England, before an established way of life is swept away by industrialization. Although fiction, Touched By A Presence is based on authentic characters and historical events.

Thanks to all involved with the making of this film.

Dump it on Parliament – Revisited

by 21st century youth and music.


The amount of work that went into this project was phenomenal. As a bystander, hearing about it as it unfolded and watching the culmination of all the hard work, it was truly breathtaking.

The project was run by Bedfordshire Libraries I believe, in a bid to keep these precious public places alive. Choosing music and its place in the right to protest was a formidable concept. Something that was news thirty years ago was resurrected and held up as an example of how people, working together, make their cause stronger. Well that was the main point, but of course, the history has to be explained, the flavour of the times revisited, in order to give a satisfactory view of how things really were.

I featured some songs from the Dump It On Parliament tape in a podcast. I listened and was impressed at the variety of styles of music and the wide involvement of people dedicated to protest against a nuclear dump near Bedford (yes believe it, it could have happened!)
The tape was made so that proceeds from its sale could provide financial help to those who were arrested and fined for demonstrating against this insane idea. The wider community woke up and participated in voicing its disapproval, and eventually the government dropped the proposal.

TeeShirt Print01

But this incident threw open a door to the times we were living in, times past and unknown to the present generation. History is coloured by the media, and the media can be woefully unfair. The punk scene, which became the alternative music scene, was not populated by drones. Sure the clothes were interesting but there was more to it than the look (which was hijacked as soon as a buck could be made from it anyway).

The Dump it on Parliament tape is an icon for activism, for building communities and for the arts. The 21st Century project ‘Dump It On Parliament Revisited’, directed by the fantastic trio Rochi, Dash and Dem, probes into all the factors that made this tape, connects to the anger of the times, the politics of unfairness and the grassroots effects of fighting back. The drama group of young students that enjoyed the dressing up and acting of the Young Ones gives a nod to the recognition of this phenomena in our country’s social history.

And I have to laugh. Much of it goes back to Luton 33 Arts Centre and the craziness that went on there. I admit I took it for granted, surely every town had somewhere like that? Well it turns out that this arts center was very special, and to think I only went there a few times to rehearse with my band. Discussing 33 nowadays is like talking about Shangri La – there were drama groups, a recording studio, a photography studio, a cafe – decorated with Tony Hough’s paintings (Luton’s incredible fantasy artist). Gorilla Video was based there, developing new film techniques and providing Channel 4 with the stuff that used to make Channel 4 worth watching.

This was the meeting place where workshops took place and bands met, not in competition but in building a community, organizing gigs together. It was the antithesis of X Factor. Of course the council condemned the building, pulled 33 Guildford Street down and no independent place has emerged to rival it since.

Now it has come to pass that the building has gone, and the people have scattered to the four winds; but the music is still with us. So the idea was to revisit the tape itself, and listen to the songs and study the history. Then, to invite bands/performers of today to participate, by commenting about the issues in their lives through their music.

My goodness, the bands that participated are living proof that this project is a bloody good idea. Firstly there was no age restriction, I believe the youngest participant was a very enthusiastic actor, it would be rude to try and work out the eldest, so lets just say this project appealed to all ages!

Secondly it was a project that embraced all facets of art, not just the music. Tee-shirts and posters were designed. Clothes were embellished and make up carefully applied by the  drama group. Films made by Gorilla Video were aired. There was even face painting – where people ‘wore’ an album cover on their face.

An interesting discussion about the times and the action taken by bands and film makers were discussed at a public forum in Leighton Buzzard, hosted by Dave Stubbs from Quietus Magazine.

With music being my main passion I was bound to be drawn in by the promise of live bands, but all this other stuff, the historical perspective, the inclusion of anyone who wanted to be involved in any way, I found this inspiring. And yet all it was, was people, encouraging other people, to discover and evolve their abilities and learn something. I was entertained. More importantly, I was educated about the music scene, and the battles fought with the government of the 1980s against nuclear dumping, among other issues. Things that are not in the National Curriculum, or the newspapers.

So how can you better the idea of asking bands of today to come along and show us what music is about now? The master stroke was this – ask each band to cover one of the songs on the Dump it on Parliament Tape (I also called it the ‘Anti Nirex tape’, as Nirex was the company that the government was going to farm out the nuclear waste to).
This is asking a lot considering that music has moved a long way since the eighties, the words can be lost and musicians are all ego maniacs – well that’s how they are portrayed in the media – right?

Musicians don’t always turn up for rehearsals, well we know that! Sometimes people say yes to things and do not deliver… life can get in the way..sometimes people just cannot make it. I have said it before, musicians are emotional creatures, when you strip your soul naked on a stage it takes courage. But there are plenty of brave people out there.

I turned up on the last night of this project at Leighton Buzzard Theatre and it seemed clear to me that this was going to be a fantastic effort because it was so much more than ‘just a gig’. I was privileged to meet many of the musicians performing that night and their commitment and credibility was awe-inspiring.
I have to say in an industry once populated with men (which is even reflected to some extent on the Anti Nirex tape) the girls have silenced the equality debate, which thankfully, for this project, has gone out of date. Women, dressed in clothes that betray the fact that they are serious musicians and not put together by some creepy media company executive (ie they were dressed normally) performed to a very high standard, as did everyone taking part on the night. Yes the bottom line was that these bands were worth seeing.



I like punky stuff and I like folky stuff, so I wasn’t disappointed. The show kicked off with the Grove Theatre Drama Group (?) Dunstable – performing a song strong on lyrics. We all get how bad it is to be young in a system that does not care about you, but hearing it from kids who are living it and understanding that things don’t have to be that way – made it a powerful performance. I truly hope that these kids do find a future in the arts, even if nobody will fund them.


Gary, known as Slippy Skills came over from Luton and rapped a set, and we were off into a night of sheer delight, as I like to say. He was followed by the Council Tax Band, who really don’t care if they cannot be found on Google. This band was tight, political and had a dynamic girl guitarist as well as the singer/keyboard player. They covered the Click Click track from the Dump it on Parliament tape. I enjoyed their defiant style and material.

Grand Mal were excellent too – a Bedford band fronted by bass player, sound engineer and singer Amy Mason, often found behind the bar at Esquires, Bedford.

Grand Mal

Grand Mal

Corolla were something different. Their performance had delicacy and a gentle delivery which completely reset the atmosphere. The girl (I should say lady) singer has a completely controlled delivery of her vocals. Holding back and putting space into the music, captured the attention of the audience, and held us in the palm of her hand. Even though this band was quieter, the sentiment and pace of the music was its strength. The musicianship was exquisite, the moment was precious.

In contrast, everything seems to be in a state of explosion around Nick the Poet. He is like a human detonator. When someone with his energy takes the mike and announces that he will read you his poem, nobody would ever consider heading for the door. Nick has written some wonderful stuff over the years. He has a punk heritage that takes us back to the days of the emerging and pimpled UK Decay. Nick gave himself the job of reading a poem to the crowd while there were band and equipment changeovers on the stage behind him. He loves a rabble to entertain and the rabble loves him for his word-smithing. Nick does not beat around the bush. His poetry will ask awkward questions – and on this evening he brings out a poem questioning what Thatcher and Reagan were up to and the disgrace that was Greenham Common. By the end of the night everyone in the venue will know who Nick the Poet is, and probably go to see him if they ever get the chance again.

Nick the Poet

Nick the Poet

Rochi and Spon performed a song from the ‘dump it’ tape and had the crowd singing a simple song by a bloke named Kev, and I wondered if it may have been a guy I went busking with years ago in Luton. We never found out but the song brought a great audience response with us singing along with the chorus and the drama group really feeling it. Their tutor, Chris performing as Red Lighter Man also gave us a haunting poem about the times we live in.



The evening was fast paced, so I had a sit down and quick chat with Steve Spon who was co-presenting and co curator of the project. Then I heard someone on the drums and I knew that it had to be Kirk. Halfway through my tea I jumped up and ran to catch the Kindred, because it is the only thing to do when the Kindred get on stage. I have seen this band steam the pub windows up, I would go so far to say that they are rather ‘mighty’.

I just about caught the first song and it was the cover of the Rattlesnakes song ‘No Money’. This being my favourite song of the whole thing, it is not surprising that the pics came out a bit out of focus, I was trying to mosh at the same time. Seems the Kindred were not together as a band at the time but I am hoping they reform and gig because the world is too quiet without their gut ripping energy. All excellent musicians, they seem like direct descendants from some of the bands that made the Anti Nirex tape. Of course I mentioned the Rattlesnakes before, it being Gregg Herbert’s band at one time. It was special to see Kindred, highly respected in my opinion, paying tribute to Gregg and the Rattlesnakes all this time later. It was good too that the boys knew it and felt that respect.


Kindred and Kin

The evening ended with the Defektors, the other band that I had already picked up on the radar as a bloody good set up. I had a chance to speak to their singer, Cara, the enigmatic front-person before they got on stage. The Defektors were covering a song by Penumbra Sigh and I wondered if she knew that the singer had passed away in the last couple of years. I had tried to contact Spiky Kaz, who had been the singer in Penumbra Sigh when I included the track on my radio podcast, but could not connect with her. Cara viewed this news in a mystical light, she has a spiritual dimension about her, and she paid tribute to Spiky Kaz when they performed the song. The Defektors set was the last of the night and they rounded off the evening with kick ass tracks and lively performance. Cara is totally dynamic, having mastered the art of movement and performance, she gives a masterclass in stage craft to anyone watching who would want to learn. I liked this band before, now I love them!

All was filmed by Andrew and others, and the sound recorded on the desk by Graham, from Pere Ubu who did the engineering single-handedly and must be congratulated for not a whiff of feedback! The library staff involved with this project were so friendly and I glimpsed them support the creators as they cleverly navigated their way through their aims and objectives.

What will be my lasting impression of this whole thing? Well I was an outsider looking in, but for me what sticks is that people were just lovely with each other.

 The Passing Of Gregg Herbert


We were saddened by the news that Gregg Herbert passed away. The only consolation is that he went peacefully in his sleep.

That a man who could happily admit to go sliding into the grave screaming ‘what a ride!’ should be so peaceful about it gives us all hope.
Gregg’s funeral was almost like an anti funeral. Sure we cried, but by god we had a good laugh too. We know that is what he would have wanted. So we heard about his life that was over all too soon and the packed crowd that came to see him off listened respectfully. (Although when the lady orator whilst relating an anecdote about Gregg’s life admitted that she had never woken up in the morning on the dining room table with someone hoovering beneath, there was a quip from the crowd of ‘well there’s always tomorrow’ which gave us a high comedy moment, and we knew Gregg was laughing wherever he may be).

The wake was like Luton’s punk reunion with members of Gregg’s past bands there and friends from gigs and the alternative Luton music scene. He was a drummer, and a mighty good one too.


His drums sat on the stage at the wake, surrounded by photos and posters. There were a lot of happy memories and a good piss up by the bar to see him off.

Gregg last played drums with the Flexy Boys, a dynamic Luton band featuring the Stevens brothers. However, Gregg had been in other bands over the years. Irritant springs to mind, and Spon mixed the CD they made a few years ago, collecting the material together and bringing this heavy heavy stuff to the masses. It was not for the faint hearted!

Gregg was also in The Twitch, described as a ‘noisy Luton pub rock band’ some members going on to form Alice’s Orb. My personal favourite band featuring Gregg was The Rattlesnakes. Everything was right about this band…from the name to the attitude which was cheeky punk of course. I never saw them live – they were a few years before my time, but footage and material that survives shows a vibrant, powerful enactment of all that was punk, from the hair styles to the swearing and the talent of keeping it together to perform when most people would probably be on the floor.

The Rattlesnakes were a golden moment in the Luton Punk Scene, and it seemed appropriate for their version of ‘Tough Shit Wilson’ to end Gregg’s funeral. It WAS tough shit and we had to get through it and say goodbye to a bloke who had made such an impression on so many people. It really was incredible that he had brought everyone together from Luton’s alternative community, and beyond. Many who have left came back to pay their respects. The bonds of comradeship of this community held together by its love for what makes Luton great – its alternative music scene – was really touching. The strangest thing was that it felt like he was going to come through the door at any moment.

At the end of that day distant friends had been found, and a few new friends had been made. We lost Gregg but will not forget him. We have the music, and the memories, and have inherited a backdrop which is too big for the house.

Thanks Gregg.  RIP



Earlier this year I had sad news of the demise of two people who I held as friends, although I do not see them very often.

Sadly Bob Hill passed away in Kent, it was a shock and I think my friends down there are still reeling. Bob was an incredibly talented man, he was a designer, architect and builder. He worked mainly in England’s South East and London I think, and I am sure his work will live on for centuries. Knowing him for a few years I appreciated his generosity and sense of humour.

As I reflected on him and his life I realized that Bob had subtly influenced me and I hadn’t even realized it. As I struggled to come to terms with his passing a tune entered my head and I realized it was the theme from the Worzel Gummidge children’s series. The reason for this was because the last time I visited Bob and his wife he had recommended I watch these kids videos, and I sat up at night and saw a few episodes. He just told me – ‘they are good, I don’t know why, but there is something about Worzel Gummage, you should watch them.’ I remember after a couple of episodes thinking – ‘I could write stuff like this, perhaps I should have a go at writing children’s stories.’

Looking back now I wonder if that was what Bob was getting at? I wonder if he recognized that type of creativeness in me, and without saying it he gently guided me into thinking of it myself? It was not long afterwards that I began writing ‘The Exploding Birthday Cake’ the first in the Gwubbins the Witch series for children. I didn’t realize until the sad news about Bob that he had been the initiator of this creative process.

Bob Hill

Bob Hill

The second person to cross over was a friend to me when I was a teenager, just before and after I ran away from home. Lorna was married to Brian. This couple allowed me as a feral kid into their home. I had a lot of respect for this couple because they chose their lifestyle, didn’t hurt anyone and accepted kids like me.

I was eighteen when I said to Lorna that I was going to get a tattoo. She looked at me and said ‘why don’t you think about it for five years?’ Years later I realized that was the best advice anyone could have given a headstrong kid of that age.

Lorna from Luton

Lorna from Luton

What really fascinated me about Lorna was that she was into magic and Tarot. My life moved on, but because of Lorna’s influence I acquainted myself with Tarot and became a reader and wrote books about the cards. I discovered that the Tarot held a structure, and suggested a framework for building a fulfilling life which I could not relate to anywhere else. From Tarot I discovered Buddhism and tarot encouraged me to travel.

One year I went to Lorna’s house for a Halloween party and it was the highlight of the year, for Lorna was a witch, of good intentions of course. This is how I will always remember Lorna and Brian (both now have passed on), they lived to enjoy life without apology, they understood that gaiety nurtured the soul, they loved music and were open to the mystical. They enriched their lives with magic – sometimes I thought their house was like a fairy grotto!

Lorna at Halloween

Lorna at Halloween

My life was very different from Lorna’s – I wasn’t into children and her children were everything to her. Yet, when we met up again years later we still had a connection, we did not judge each other and I always felt that she was my friend, despite rarely seeing her.
When she died her kids were young adults, they made her funeral into a party because that is exactly what Lorna would have wanted.

It was a privilege to know these people who both passed before their time. I am sad at their loss, but rejoice in the goodness that they gave to their family and friends and the  influences that they had on me.

Both were very different people, but both would have said the same thing – ‘Be the best you can be.’ May they rest in peace.

Writing About Music and Theater

Ella Jo discusses why she has chosen her subject matters.

In this post I explain why I think it is important to write about the theater and a rock show – examining their cultural significance.

There is a real life politician who would ban rock bands. (West Tyrone, Ireland). This is a revelation. At present I am writing a story about a dog who joins a band and plays rock shows. Is that bad? Plenty of people enjoy rock music and plenty of kids like to play air guitar now and again, even if they never bother to learn an instrument. The most base reason is that rock music is pure fun. Having recently watched a BBC docu charting the history of rock music, I think I gained a balanced view on the genre. It has been degraded in recent decades, but it is not dead.

I entertain the notion that most music is credible. It benefits the individual, (making it or just listening) and it benefits society as well. It is therapy, poetry, an outlet for anger and passion and much more. Music nurtures the youth and cradles the adult. It resonates deeply within each individual; your musical taste informs the world about you, and it makes for dancing!

As a music lover it seems natural to write stories about music and performance. In the world of insipid, competitive, shallow, farcical, celebrity culture many young people do not realize there is so much more to it. I am no expert, I just know that music was my crutch, and my inspiration, and it worked like therapy on different levels.

I am excited by music in an historical context. Such an ethereal substance is hard to measure and substantiate and bears controversy – I mean the idea that vocal harmony did not exist until the church invented it seems preposterous to me, yet this is believed by many.

Music and performance is art – an integral part of human culture. So I make no excuses for taking my characters to theaters and rock shows. If I must face bigotry it harks back from a Victorian age when actresses and singers were frowned upon for dressing up and wearing makeup – the connection with ‘working girls’ is obvious. I view it as a class issue. I understand how Puritanical and Victorian values have influenced English society. When these conditions dominate performing arts cannot thrive. Music and drama becomes distorted and smutty. In modern times the arts could thrive, if only the funding would allow.

My function as a writer is to preserve cultural life where music and expression is like cultural glue. It has a history, it binds, it attracts good things/people and bad things/people. It is a metaphor for life! I refuse to be embarrassed by harmless fun. I am perfectly aware of my responsibilities.

I believe that the history of music and folk culture is just as important as any other type of history. Unfortunately this ‘culture glue’ is not celebrated fully by the modern education establishment. School music in the UK tends to be religious – still singing hymns written in the 1800s.
Easter Passion Plays were amongst the earliest expression of drama in England. Ordinary people enacted the crucifixion in the streets. (1110 – The first performance of a miracle play in England given at Dunstable Priory). Before Christianity there must have been pagan rituals where Shamanic ‘acting’ bound people with natural events. Clearly today, we observe how dramatizing a story reinforces the culture, as in the school nativity at Christmas. However nonsensical, the children love to act. In the 11th century the Mummers plays introduced the new concept of doctors and war propaganda with the Saracens. This form of performance could have been discovered from Middle Eastern traditions of story-telling, interwoven in native traditions by the homecoming crusaders.(Hence St George- a Turkish figure makes his first appearance and is so thoroughly absorbed that he now signifies Englishness!)

The English seemed to have a rich, unfettered love of music and country dancing until the 1560s. The church clamped down on what must have been memories of pagan festivals, eventually eradicating them along with freedom of artistic (or any) expression. The Puritans (mainly from the 16th-17th Century) banned dancing and were strict about music, if they had it at all. Life was stuffy, uncomfortable and boring. I view the Puritans as fundamentalists who crushed the human spirit. No festivals, no outward expression of gaiety, they lacked generosity and spied on one another for religious misdemeanors. Superstitious and stupid, their restrictions must have been dreadful.

The theater survived (this was the time of Shakespeare) but many plays from that time have have been lost. Luckily the Puritans couldn’t keep it up for long. The world moved on and eventually the Morris men emerged, although there seems they had no place for women. As the industrial revolution began to destroy the old ways, Music Hall came into its own as singalong and sheet music was popular – it was commonplace to have a piano in the house. Classical music was well established by then, but seemed to be another marker of class as Empire building split the upper from the lower class in a different, but just as exploitative Victorian system.

We still have cinema which over took the music hall and still forms a bridge between modern cultures. Big band music kept peoples spirits up during the 2nd world war, then music went electric!

Pop music I believe is misnamed. It is popular folk music with its roots in American Slaves music. Recording technology captured Rock n Roll, then there was a songwriting explosion from the Beatles in the 1960s to the beginning of rave culture. After that I think pop music has been pulped by corporations and the original art form is lost in a commercial rampage. Popular ‘folk’ music is all at sea as the internet age tries to scramble a new format for true artists to be heard in the 21st century. (The West End/Broadway shows still run but very few ‘hit’ songs seem to emanate from them in recent years).

So for me, those decades from the 60s to the 90s make up an important musical heritage. My personal aim is to champion music in this form – with all of its variations.
Why it is good to be a musician
Creative thought – when composing tunes and musical parts, and writing lyrics.
Joining a band makes a person learn team work.
Playing to a live audience and recording – teaches self discipline, confidence and perfectionism.
When things go wrong – learning how to control ego and narcissism.
My reason for writing about Theater, Music and Rock Shows is to reflect the fact that music flows like a cultural spring, that it stimulates personal growth and is pure fun.

So no apologies to the prospective MP of West Tyrone. It appears that she would throw gay people into prison as well. We should cover her in chocolate and leave her up a mountain until she can laugh at herself. Thankfully she is in the minority. I am free to weave my stories around precious cultural icons that survived the Puritans and the Victorians and that are bound to be re-invented for a future fated to be influenced by technology. Or maybe not. Humans are strange, there are still brilliant buskers and genius musicians who would rather play around a campfire in a field.

We may yet be driven back to the roots of street plays and old fashioned story telling. Whatever happens, my characters will be there, howling, yodeling and rocking out with pure joy – even in West Tyrone.

Making a Children’s Audio Book #4

In this post I discuss writing for children and it’s wider implications for society.

I do not approach this subject as a mother, but as a commentator of what is at stake for society. If humans wish to evolve, we should expect that our children will live in improved societies of the future. But it is today’s children who will create the future, so it follows that what is fed into their minds is going to ultimately affect the culture of future society.

Simply put, parents need to raise a happy child who has the tools to contribute to society when they are an adult. I realize that many parents don’t have time to look at the long view as they rush about in the present world. I am bashing this system, but am willing to explain why.

I believe that childhood experience/exposure affects child and adult behaviour. Violence in the media makes a good example. It is damaging and has unconscious long-term effects. I believe that parents must have a hard time protecting their children from harmless looking media that promotes violence (not to mention guns). Virtual characters in video/computer games playing out violent scenarios seems wrong to me. The human brain still computes the violence whether animated, on screen or real. Kids are sensitive, they need monitoring.

So when I find that a Lit Agent wants stories full of ‘action’ with intense writing designed to grip the child my reaction is to turn away. Kids who thrive on this genre will read a comic. In my opinion a book is for savouring.

Remember that lovely moment when you have read a paragraph that flows so beautifully, rolling with rhythm and revelation that you have to read it again. That is so delicious. Better than Lemon Meringue (or equal to it!).

Why encourage children to steam through action packed throw away material? It implies to me that the literary world wants kids to chew up material as fast as possible, the shallower the story the better, just so that the book will be finished and the parents will have to buy another one. (Consume little air head, stuff yourself full and tell yourself how clever you are to get through the story so fast).

Sorry, but that is not my way. Adult skills can be learned in childhood. One incredibly subtle, but important tool is self discipline. Children who do not learn self discipline face difficulties in adulthood. Reading is an excellent tool for learning self discipline.First of all you have to actually learn to read. Then you have to concentrate on understanding what you are reading, not to mention ordering your life to allow you the space to sit and read. Quieting the mind and making an effort as well as processing the information that you have read, all takes self discipline. Reading can be a challenge that is relished as a good writer reveals an alternative universe.

The writers who helped me escape from the reality of my childhood offered me a passage to their world, built especially to entertain me. What a privilege. Life was slower then. Even Blue Peter was broadcast in muted colours. Children’s media today seems fast and gaudy. The senses are flooded repeatedly. And the result seems to desensitize the viewer or reader. The next treat has to be bigger, then bigger again. Disappointment is ultimately inevitable, surely?

So I am unafraid to add descriptions and to bring out the poetry of a piece of writing. I will not be panicked about building up the plot, keeping the reader engaged and entertained with the flow of the story. I trust the self discipline of my reader to engage with the world I have built and follow the path through it to the end.

Part of the fun should be discovering the characters, learning new ideas and relishing the ending.

So shove your modern consumerist ideas about children’s writing. I will do it my way. My wish is to write stories that stand the test of time. I want children to enjoy my stories when the system has changed and there is time to read to your child and spend time with your child instead of sitting for hours on a train or in a traffic jam, wondering if your child’s asthma will be worse when you get home.

My writing is a protest to our present system. But instead of hand wringing and chirping along with the multitudes mantra of ‘ain’t it awful’ I want to create something for the future to benefit mankind. They are only stories, but that is my contribution. They are designed to harmlessly entertain kids after a hard day of rocket science.

Evolution has given us the capacity to think and processes and enquire. Instead of using our imaginations to plot a downfall or plan a petty victory, why not positively create? We all loved stories when we were kids and that wont change, the world can go to shit but the children still need a bedtime story. Its a form of nourishment like food. The lit agent who wants action probably feeds her kids chips with everything. I suppose its a matter of taste. I propose children’s literature should entertain and stretch a child, surely that is better for our children and ultimately the future of society?

Children’s Audio Books #3

Content Quality :
My research made me question what passes as satisfactory, adequate and appropriate material for children’s reading. I scanned comments on Amazon about the books recommended by one American website and concluded that story content must be a minefield for responsible parents. It also made me aware that recommendations cannot be taken blindly!

In-car journey entertainment or not, it is still imperative for stories to have standards. I accept that when researching American sites there will be some degree of cultural difference. But I could not help but be extremely underwhelmed at the samples I was able to hear. Not one book recommended for 4 up to 8 years seemed very good to me.

I looked at loyalbooks.com for a comparison website. The freebies annoyed me – I believe the narrators should be paid something even if the story is out of copyright. Non payment devalues their work and others like me. But after the gripe I came across stories produced by the BBC like the Railway Children – obviously using the BBC sound library which was delivered to an excellent standard and reasonably priced. A good option.

It seems to me that parents need to be shrewd when choosing material for their children and not blindly follow recommendations. The little people are totally at the mercy of the adults who choose what literature they are exposed to. We are all aware how things from childhood either enrich or haunt us for the rest of our lives – including the words and music we are exposed to.

Criticism of Authors:
Disturbingly, there are other problems with the material widely available which is deemed acceptable for children. It is just as well that some parents are not afraid to say so. Scanning Amazon feedback pages of what are supposed to be our best loved authors, I found criticism which was no less than scathing. Dahl, Rowlings and others all get a good dressing down for sloppy work.
There are so many other children’s authors out there and the classics from back in the day. Admittedly, the old classics feel dated but I am wondering whether new authors are locked out of the industry. Literary agents don’t seem to want unknown material and miss the point about audio books as far as I can see. I am certain that they reject some excellent authors.

What do people want from an children’s audio book?
Firstly quality – it is a terrible oversight not to give information about the length of the story on the cd – its the first thing I looked for.
Sound effects improves the narration – it takes more work, but I can hear the difference.
Too much, too expensive – I am referring to the ‘play, listen and read’ concept. This expensive option includes the audio story, a book to follow the words and what looks like fuzzyfelt for the ‘play’ aspect. It looks like a good quality product – but again no indication of the duration of the audio book. At over thirty quid I would want to know. However, the feedback for products such as this is positive – or that is the way it seems. I think it is another facet to the market which is interesting, but whether it is value for money is questionable.

Children’s Audio Books #2

Format and Supply

I am looking at creating my audiobooks on Compact Disc Format.
My reasons for this is that I personally like a product that I can handle. Looking back to the days of LP covers, my opinion is based on the same principle. As a kid I loved to look at the pictures on my LP covers. Also this is a platform which enables me to include information like the production credits. CD labels promote this website which connects the reader to other stories and information available.

I want to supply this product myself. I am not interested in dealing with Amazon for reasons of ethics and quality.
In my opinion Amazon have ethically failed with their working practices. I have already avoided them because of their unfair policies towards authors, (especially their exclusivity deals). Authors get a hard deal with Amazon. Their staff get a bad deal. And I think the customer is in a hit or miss situation with this company. Yes people only write feedback to complain when things go wrong – but there are too many complaints.

Firstly I picked up that customers are sometimes confused by the selling pages and can buy the wrong product because it is unclear whether they were buying a book or a CD version of a story. Amongst other things the packaging has also been described as terrible.
Unforgivable guffs are box sets with CD’s missing, or being in the wrong order.

I already have a reasonable supplier who can fulfill small orders effectively. This is perfectly adequate for my needs at the moment.