1969: Does Music Capture the Heart of an Era?

In 1969, I was a sixteen year old and like all teenagers, listened to a lot of music. For me, it was Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Simon & Garfunkel as well as Van Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, The Who and The Rolling Stones.

Music vinyl covers from the sixties

Music vinyl covers from the sixties (Photo credit: Falcon Writing)

My current WIP, Under The Bed, is set in 1969 in NYC, a year that began with the inauguration of Nixon as President. 1969 fell in the shadow of the previous year, which saw the height of the anti-Vietnam War protests, and the assassinations of both Martin Luther King Jr.and Robert Kennedy.The ’68 Democratic Convention in Chicago was another scene of protest and riots.

Writing the Sounds of Silence, and Changing Times

Writers try to include most of the senses in any piece of work , but sound is one that can be overlooked. We do the same in normal life, often accepting background noise until it becomes annoying and then we’re surprised by how good it feels when it stops.

Music is something altogether different. Within a few bars of the song it has the power to carry you back in time, and evoke an emotion. Dependant on the music and the year, it can convey the popular culture of the day. In the case of the 1960’s it was often making a political statement.

 Woodstock -August 18th 1969

English: This photo was taken near the Woodsto...

English: This photo was taken near the Woodstock music festival on August 18, 1969. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The biggest music event of 1969 in the USA, was Woodstock. One of the the first big music concerts, it defined an era in its anti-establishment ambience and brought together an incredible collection of musicians including Jimi Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane and Janis Joplin.The backdrop of anti -Vietnam War sentiment was prevalent, epitomised by Hendrix own iconic version of the Star Spangled Banner.(FYI Hendrix himself had served in Vietnam in the 101st Airborne). Here’s a 1 minute excerpt from an interview with Hendrix talking about his rendition.


 Isle of Wight – August 30th 1969

The UK equivalent of Woodstock in 1969 was the first Isle of Wight Music Festival.Personally it was a turning point, where I changed from being a halfhearted teenybopper to a definitely wannabe hippie. Bear in mind, at sixteen, I was still living at home and going to school, so I was hardly turning on, tuning in, and dropping out. But the experience of the Isle of Wight was truly amazing, not only from the perspective of having music 24/7 – big names like The Who and Bob Dylan – but I’d never been exposed to such an “anything goes” atmosphere.This is a great 2 minute home movie which captures the feeling.


I came back from the festival saying things like “it was really too much,man” (i.e. really great) and started hanging out with a completely different crowd. I felt I’d found myself, and other kindred spirits. We developed into a close circle of friends who hung out and shared all kinds of new experiences in the following five years.

Music. It all came down to the music, which in that era at least, was a political statement. I suspect teenagers of all generations feel the same when they take a stand, and feel different.


Simon and Garfunkel Mrs Robinson UK EP

Simon and Garfunkel Mrs Robinson UK EP (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The way we listen to music has changed dramatically since 1969, when it was a much more social event, and music far less readily available. Who remembers going to their local record store and using the headphones in a sound booth to check out whether or not to buy an album?  OK, I’m dating myself, but you get the point. We take music and all kinds of sounds, and the way we receive them today, for granted. However we listen, the right music at the right time strikes a chord, and captures the emotions we have as individuals. As writers, in using music in our work, we can evoke an era and/or capture the heart of our characters.

Over to you. What part does music play in your work? What were you listening to in 1969? If you weren’t old enough to remember, then what were your key teenage years, and what part did music play? Come join the discussion, and please share this post on your favorite social media.

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Can Your Computer Drain Your Creativity?

South Downs nr Fulking, Sussex photo: A.K.Andrew

South Downs nr Fulking, Sussex
photo: A.K.Andrew

Creativity and computers have been trying to blend together for some time now. Photoshop, painting apps, word processing freeing up writing time by throwing out the tipex and carbon paper. And yet how many of you feel that the time spent in front of your computer actually drains your creativity?

I recently read an article in the Pacific Standard that did a field test about creativity and nature. Here’s the opening paragraph:

“Have you been staring cow-eyed at a computer all morning? Fiddling with your iPhone in line at Starbucks? Checking Twitter and ESPN every four minutes on your tablet?

Good. Here’s a little quiz. What one word ties these three ideas together: water + tobacco + stove? How about widow + bite + monkey? Or, envy + golf + beans?

Psychologists call such wordplay the “remote associates test,” or RAT, and use it to study creativity and intuition. The idea is that it requires a nimble, open mind to find the connection between seemingly unrelated ideas—in this case pipe, spider, and green.”

The study goes on to compare responses after people have been hiking in nature. Of course the results improve. But is this really to do with nature itself, or simply having relaxation time away from the computer? For some people a hike in the woods would be torture, and they might achieve the same rejuvenating effect with a walk around an art gallery, or even a shopping mall.

Do Computers Free Your Time for Creativity?

On one level, our computers free up time for creativity by making certain practical tasks easier e.g. editing and printing. Computers also give us the means to express ourselves in ways that were previously impossible . However, do you ever question whether the practical benefits outweigh the time we lose in the myriad of things we now do with our technology? Think Facebook. Think looking up a factoid and not returning to your original project until an hour and a half later as one “interesting article” distracted you and one website led to another.

Without doubt we can network with others more easily. We might link up with creatively like minded individuals, or pursue online learning opportunities. But in terms of encouraging or tapping into our creativity, is our time better served in other pursuits?

 How well do you manage your computer time with your creative life? Does it complement or detract from your creativity? If the latter, what things would you like to change?

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Computer screen garden (2)

Computer screen garden (2) (Photo credit: 4nitsirk)




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The Next Big Thing week 15: Interview with an Author

The Next Big Thing is an author’s Work In Progress project  from SheWrites. When I read Jeri Walker-Bickett’s  blog last week,  I immediately thought what fantastic questions for any author to ask themselves. So I was thrilled that afternoon, when Jeri emailed, and invited me to participate. A Big Thank You to Jeri.

What is the working title of your book?

Under The Bed’. It comes from the phrase ‘Red’s Under the Bed’, used in 1950’s America.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

I was set to write the sequel to my first book Radio Echo, catching up with the characters a few years after the end of WWII, but I decided to spread my wings as a writer, switched countries and found a completely different voice. The 50’s anti-Communist era in America struck a chord with me as part of the backdrop. In doing my research and seeing how widespread the effect of McCarthyism was, I didn’t want to focus on the more publicized Hollywood Blacklist, so decided to move cross country and settle my characters in New York.


Cover to the propaganda comic book "Is Th...

Cover to the propaganda comic book “Is This Tomorrow”‘ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


What genre does your book fall under?

Literary fiction. Specifically mid-Century historical literary fiction. Set in both the early 50’s and late 60’s, makes it a tricky time frame, as some camps argue historical fiction has to be 50 years in the past. Other’s say it can be considered historical fiction if the time period – and its depiction – is at the core of the story. I think if the work involves major political or social events of the time and the character’s role in those events are interlinked, it’s historical.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

I’ll let the two main characters in the novel comment on this.

Midge: “I know Izzie said I was a pissy mess the other week, but I’m trying darling, I really am. Putting on a few pounds wasn’t a crime the last time I looked, but pudgy is such an ugly word. And these Chanel suits don’t buy themselves. I was a very successful business woman before the shit hit the fan. Life Magazine was always doing some article on Boswell Designs. Seems a lifetime ago now… like someone else’s life…. Er,… where was I?  Oh yes… The actress would  have to play a younger me as well wouldn’t she?  To do both roles justice,  I think Sharon Stone  would be marvelous. She’s got the same coloring too, don’t you think?”

Izzie: “Do you think I give a shit who plays me in the film? How hard can it be to write some crap poetry, and take a few lousy photo’s in the East Village?  [Takes a hit on a joint]. OK, fine. So I do care. I bet that skinny-assed  Girl With a Dragon Tattoo actress would could make a stab at being meYeahRooney Mara. She’d be good.”

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Two women, a generation apart, each burdened by guilt regarding the death of a sibling, find their own lives in danger during the Vietnam era, when the older woman’s brush with McCarthyism emerges during their collaboration on her autobiography.


"A female demonstrator offers a flower to...

“A female demonstrator offers a flower to military police on guard at the Pentagon during an anti-Vietnam demonstration. Arlington, Virginia, USA” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


 Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I will definitely look for an agent to represent me.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

 11 months.

 What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I obviously wouldn’t dream of comparing myself to these authors, but I have certainly been inspired by them. These came to mind, each for different aspects of their content.

Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood. This is one of my favorite novels and spans the narrators lifetime, who is in her 80’s as she is writing.The novel pays particular attention to the pre & post WWII years, but goes far beyond that in  encapsulating a number of different story lines as well as time lines.

Toby’s Room by Pat Barker. Well know for her incredible “Regeneration Trilogy” ,  this is a sequence to Life Class,  though it’s also a stand alone novel. Set during WWI, the novel is as much about the interpersonal relationships as it is about the era. However, the two are interchangeable and it is the societal times of the era on the life of the individual that, for me is the real correlation between this and Under the Bed.

The Night Watch by Sarah Waters. This is mid 20th century fiction, set during WWII. But Waters deals with the time frame in a very interesting way as she goes from finish to start.



Who or What inspired you to write this book?

After a friend told me about growing up with parents who were in the Communist Party in the UK, and what it was like as a teenager in the sixties to have your phone bugged, it made me think about the invasion of people’s privacy and what effect it has on them. Since 9/11 the invasion of privacy has became almost an accepted ‘right’ by Western governments in the quest to protect our freedom. CCTV tracks us constantly and emails are tagged continuously in the fight against terrorism. I questioned the end justifying the means. Eventually I decided to follow how anti-communist fervour has moulded certain key elements of American history, and chose to juxtapose the eras of the Vietnam War and McCarthyism, with 1969 being ‘present day’.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

The novel blends the struggle of the individual with that of the bigger picture of the political events of the time. Can we as both individuals or as nations, learn from our past? I believe we can, and yet, as we know, history repeats itself. ‘Under the Bed’ explores how an individual’s lack of control over their fate can be in the hands of the government, even a generation apart. But ultimately the fight for survival and coming to terms with past mistakes is up to the individual.

Washington Square arch peace sign

Washington Square arch peace sign (Photo credit: holycalamity)


Here are the authors I’ve tagged for the project. Check out their websites and you’ll be able see their interviews posted there next week.

Claire Cappetta

Doreen Pendgracs

Hemmie Martin

Susan Cooper

Bridget Whelan

Sally O’Reilly


I’d love  your feedback on the interview, so do leave a comment below. Or post this blog to your favourite social media.

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Changing #Procrastination Creatively

Beachy Head by A.K. Andrew
Gouache on Card

Procrastination is the master of endless lists, even for things we supposedly want to do – I don’t have time, my artwork sucks, not enough room, too busy to focus, too tired, too________. You name it. They’re all valid reasons. Work, children, ill-health and a myriad of other things stop us from doing what we love. But if we love it so much why do we self-sabotage? Fear of failure? Fear of success? Anticipation creates as many reasons to stop as to start.  If you want to change procrastination, sometimes changing the way we do things creatively can provide a  solution to why we find it hard to pick up the tools of the trade. Shake things up and see what falls out. If you can’t do one thing do another.

I didn’t come to this conclusion by choice, but through developing Lupus, an auto-immune condition. I’ve been a visual artist for over twenty years, but  health problems started overnight almost thirteen years ago. My mobility was severely affected by joint and muscle pain, as well as fatigue. Creatively, it became a learning process of changing how to do things in order to continue doing what I loved.

Painting large canvases standing at an easel, now out of the question, became small works sitting down. Stretching my own canvases was impossible and pre-stretched canvases were initially traded in for flat canvas or paper. Oils became acrylics or watercolors, and long sessions switched to short ones.

Pacing myself is everything. At first I hated it. All of it. But I was determined not to give up. Then I found the challenge of being forced into new ways of working affected the creative process. The change became a source of creativity itself and I produced work I’d never otherwise have done. Procrastination was booted out.

More importantly, I also started writing. At first it was just a journal, but I read so much, I thought why not write? Illness jumpstarted my creative writing, but writing helped me through the process of dealing with my illness.  Synchronicity at it’s best. Writing can be a problem because of joint pain, but it’s something I can do in short bursts, more easily than getting out painting materials. I also use voice activated software when I need to.

Cat Doodle by A.K.Andrew
drawn in SketchbookX on iPhone

I’ve recently been re-introduced to computer art   by Susan Cooper* This has been SO fantastic and I’ve been painting on my iPhone. Now that’s a pretty small canvas! And the non-existent cleanup, leaves more energy for painting. Remember how much fun drawing and painting were when you were  child? Well it can be now. Right now. Whatever age you are. It doesn’t matter what it looks like – no-one’s  going to see it unless you want them to. It’s just fun to doodle. Instead of being bored on your train commute home, or waiting for a dental appointment, why not doodle on your phone or ipad?

For a  ‘painterly’ app, I’d recommend either ‘Brushes’, which is the app David Hockney uses, or ‘ArtRage’ which is a live simulation of the properties of real paint. Both are good for drawing too. At £1.59 for the app, you can’t beat it.  There are also lots of free apps to choose from. (SketchbookX & iDraw are two I’ve used)


City Summer Rain by A.K.Andrew
Painted  in ArtRage on iPhone

Blue Mountains by A.K.Andrew
Painted in ‘ArtRage’ on iPhone

We all have things holding us back from what we want to do, but I say if you can’t be a full time artist,  find ten minutes at lunch to write a few lines about a character, or make a sketch for your next painting. After the kids are in bed and you’re tired, jot down a few ideas, knit a few rows , think about what glaze to use in your next ceramic project. If you can’t do one thing do another – keep it small, think ‘different’ and you’ll be able to toss procrastination out with the garbage.

Illness has been a great teacher – I’ve learned to embrace change instead of fighting it, which leaves me open to try new things creatively, or use new tools. When procrastination comes knocking I look for different options. Are you ready to join me?

What draws you away from your creativity? Are there ways you can think of to break things down so that you can take smaller, more manageable steps?

Let me know. I’m always looking for new ways to do things.


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Flood by A.K.Andrew
Painted on iphone in ArtRage

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Nora Ephron – Pioneer Film Writer and Director

Nora Ephron (1941-2012), Thanks and Goodbye

Nora Ephron (1941-2012), Thanks and Goodbye (Photo credit: k-ideas)

Nora Ephron, pioneer film writer and director has died. She was nominated for three screenwriting Oscars, Silkwood, When Harry Met Sally & Sleepless in Seattle. When a writer dies, the loss is magnified not only by all the work they’ve done  but  all the work that might have been written, and the world has lost.

I have particular respect for screenwriters as they have to work in the dark – no lovely descriptive passages to help the story along, suggestions for the readers imagination. In film of course it’s fleshed out by both the actors and the director. Here’s where my second part of respect comes in – the screenwriter is part of a team – no flying solo, but having to rely on their interpretation of your work. So essentially the outcome is out of your control. Nora often both wrote and directed her movies.

Check out this link for a complete filmography : http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0001188/)

When I first saw Silkwood, I was stunned by the revelation of such a heinous crime the company Karen Silkwood, (played by a young Meryl Streep) worked for and tried to cover up. Making plutonium fuel rods for nuclear reactors., they skimped on safety standards and forced employees to work long, unsafe hours. But it was also a story of an ordinary woman and the struggles of her own life  – trying to raise three children and struggle with her ex-common-law husband. Most of her support comes from her lesbian friend Dolly (played by Cher). It was one of the first films where an ordinary woman takes on the establishment.

Nora was not only a writer, but also a director and a producer. Some would argue she created the rom-com genre.

Most men don’t want to direct movies that aren’t about them.

“If you can’t get it done, then do it yourself” – has often been the approach for women in film. Nora Ephron’s work is a legacy to all women who ever doubt themselves and their ability to break into a world previously closed to them.

Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim.  – Nora Ephron


Click on the link below for a really interesting interview on  a Seattle Public TV station in 2011. Nora talks about her life, how she became a journalist ( She was told “We don’t have any women writer’s at Newsweek” !) and how she moved on to screenplays.



Here is a film clip of excerpts from her films



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