90s Fiction and Sweeties Worth Stealing

pick and mix sweeties

Gimme, gimme, gimme

Ah, Woolworth’s – cheap make-up, vinyl singles and the mighty pick ‘n’ mix. I mourn your passing… In the ’80s and early ’90s any teenager worth their salt knew the layout of their local Woolworth’s like the back of their hand, if only to have an idea of the less risky places in store to shoplift. Or maybe that was just the folks I hung about with.

I’m on the Woolworth’s nostalgia trip because Artists Town, my coming of age tale featuring a type 1 diabetic heroine (so only a teensy bit autobiographical, right?) is now available on Kobo, Apple Books, Scribd et al. To give you a flavour of what’s the book’s like, here is an extract. It’s the early 1990s—so no mobile phones!—and teenage Daisy and her new best friend have just cycled ten miles to a nearby town which holds the promise of the afore-mentioned store… 

Artists Town

Daisy’s legs weren’t co-operating with her brain. They didn’t seem to want to obey the ‘stand up’ command, trying to fold under her instead. She grasped the shelf, the movement causing Katrina to look up.

What’s wi’ you?”

When Daisy didn’t respond at once, Katrina stopped what she was doing and grabbed her arm. “Oh! This is what your mum told me about!”

She sounded excited, but also far away. Daisy felt sweat gathering on her top lip and trickling down her back and the sides of her torso. Gross.

Kat—Kit-Kat! Kitty…” What was her bloody name, what was the name she said Daisy should call her? She tried to remember. The name began with a ‘K’, she was sure, but the rest of it flickered out of reach.

Katrina took hold of Daisy’s arm and pushed her gently down to the floor. “Dextrosol, Daisy?”

Daisy shook her head. “Not, not…no hypo,” she said, her chin slumping onto her chest. Katrina crouched beside her and began to rifle through her jeans pockets and the backpack.

Finding nothing, she stood up. “Stay here. I’ll be right back!”

Their actions had attracted the attention of two older ladies nearby. “Do you think she’s drunk?” one asked the other, pointing at Daisy.

Not…no…” Daisy muttered. It must have come out louder and angrier than she thought, as woman number one took her friend’s arm, and they both hurried away, shooting Daisy a dirty look over their shoulders.

Katrina was back, holding handfuls of pick and mix. “I didn’t know what to get to you, so I just went for the ones covered in sugar,” she said, kneeling next to Daisy. She’d picked cola bottles, jelly babies, shoestrings, bonbons and fizzy chips.

Not…no…”

Shut up!” Katrina said, pushing a cola bottle into Daisy’s mouth. “You’re hypo. Eat. Your mum said sometimes you don’t know when you’re low.”

By the time she’d forced the third cola bottle into Daisy, the shop’s manager had appeared. He’d brought a security guard with him too. Continue reading

Stepping Outside the Comfort Zone and #NaNoWriMo

This week…

Emma Baird and Caron AllanCaron Allan and I took a giant step outside our comfort zones this week when we did an event at Dalmuir Library—Murder, Mayhem and Indie Publishing*.

It involved, urgh, public speaking and honestly I’d rather go to the dentist than speak in front of people. Because I was reading from our books, Night and Day and Artists Town, I had to take my glasses off to do so which meant I got to avoid looking at people and gauging their reactions. You know, ‘Jeez, this is dead boring and that woman cannae act’ sort of thing. Or, ‘Crap. I thought I’d signed up for the Graham Macrae Burnet talk. When can I escape?’

In the end, it turned out to be… enjoyable. We’d formatted the evening as a Q and A session and I skillfully made sure I asked most of the questions, forcing Caron to do a lot of talking. What surprised me was how interested the audience were. One of the best feelings you get as an author is when a stranger reads, and hopefully likes, your book. Grateful as you are to family members, loyal husbands and friends who buy it, strangers have no emotional connection to you. They fancied the sound of your book and they’re under no obligation to say, “that was good!”

The same goes for questions. Our small but select audience seemed genuinely interested in what it’s like to write a book and what we do during that process. I’d anticipated having to plant questions but it wasn’t needed in the end and the event organiser had to step in to bring the questioning to an end so folks could get on with the serious business of teas and cakes.

Thanks to West Dunbartonshire Council Libraries and Cultural Services, everyone who attended (we had guests who came all the way from Edinburgh) and Sandy for doing his fair share of ferrying us to and fro.

Next year Derby where Caron lives!

On another writing note, I completed #NaNoWriMo on Friday, notching up my 50,000 words. Forcing myself to write every day proved interesting. Some days were dead easy; others the words had to be dragged out of me. It meant taking my laptop on train journeys and banging out the words while I ate lunch or dinner at times. The book isn’t finished. I’m struggling with the end and the further on I got, the more I realised I hadn’t got the structure quite right so it will need a major overhaul once I’ve finished. Still, it’s done and pre the official deadline on the 30th too.

Did you step out of your comfort zone this week? And if so, what did it involve and did you get a rush of adrenaline once you’d finished?

*If Caron’s the one writing murder stories, does that make me ‘mayhem’?!

A Wee Trip Down 90s Memory Lane

Shift dresses, heroin chic and Brit pop—do you fancy a wee trip down 90s memory lane?

Thanks to the Friends revival on Netflix* and shows such as Derry Girls, the 90s are enjoying a moment. I’m grateful as I’ve just written a book set in the early 90s, and I’m hoping that fondness for the decade will spill over and translate itself into sales.

In the meantime, let’s do a list of terrific 90s things…

Jolly memorable lyrics – it’s the curse of age to look back on the era when you were young and think that’s when the best music occurred. I don’t. I promise I’ve sung along to George Ezra’s Shotgun all summer as it’s so darn catchy. But remembering those 90s songs to conjure up the world as it was then brought back some powerful memories.

My favourite 90s lyrics include:

So move away, Jimmy Blue, before your small, small town turns around and swallows you.

Del Amitri

Wake up the dawn and ask her why? A dreamer dreams she never dies.

Oasis

I feel stupid and contagious. Here we are now, entertain us.

Nirvana

Ever seen a young girl growing old? Trying to make herself a bride.

The Stereophonics

Zephyr in the sky at night I wonder. Do my tears of mourning sink beneath the sun?

Madonna

I could go on, but we’d be here all day. And just to keep things challenging for you, I’ve not specified the song…

Kate Moss—the world’s coolest super-model, and the woman for whom the term heroin chic was coined. Those cheekbones! Those elbows sharp enough to injure a person!

The shift dress – see above for the woman who won the top prize for styling out appearing in public in what looks like your nightie.

Blur versus Oasis—yes, you were meant to choose a team and stick with it. I weighed up Damon Albarn’s gorgeousness versus Liam’s singing technique (I defy you to watch what he does with a microphone and not end up hot and bothered) and came down slightly in favour of Oasis.

Double denim. It was a thing. Match your jacket to your trousers for effortless style. Even better, do a Brittany and Justin and wear it together. No-one will laugh or think it’s naff. Oh no, they won’t.

Madonna. That coffee table book**. The Erotica album every young 90s woman bought and left lying around, even when singing along to Hanky-Panky felt problematic. The pointy-bra you wished you had the confidence to wear.

Artists Town is out now. You can buy it here (UK) and here (US).

*Many of us in the UK will argue Friends never went away; cf Comedy Central and Gold Friends groundhog day.

**Nowadays, she writes kids’ books. My 90s self rolls her eyes.

Dating in the 90s

Like anything else, dating is subject to change over the years.

If you dated in the 1960s, like my mum, you’d do a lot of dancing mainly because it gave people a legit excuse to touch each other. Ditto dates to the cinema, which offered darkness as a cover for all kinds of shenanigans.

Thanks to an unfortunate predilection for the bad boys, I did a lot of dating in the 80s, 90s and noughties before stumbling on my husband in 2008 (praise be!). When I wrote Artists Town, which is sent in the early 1990s, it took me back down memory lane and the days of dating pre-mobile phones and the internet.

In those days, dear Millennials and Gen Z readers, here’s what we put up with…

  1. In the 80s, answer machines were only just coming in, so if someone wasn’t in their house you had to phone them a lot while your fevered imagination conjured up scenarios of said guy out with Dread Other Girl.
  2. Most people had landlines—one per house. Phoning your beau often meant getting past his mother. Excruciating, especially when said bad boy made her lie on his behalf, and you heard him in the room whispering that she was to tell you he was out/ill/dead.
  3. No-one Google stalked anyone before going out with them. All you had to go on was what they told you—or their reputation. (The badder, the better worked for me.)
  4. And no Google stalking a person meant their dodgy political views came as a nasty surprise six dates in.
  5. Swipe right/left took place in real life. You’d go to a party or a disco and eye up the girls/boys and see them doing the same back—no, no, not in a million years, wouldn’t touch her with my mate’s, okay if I don’t find anyone else by the end of the night, andYES.
  6. You were able to hang up on people. In theory that’s possible now, but that misses out on the satisfaction of slamming down a phone, leaving the other person listening to the pips. Bad boy enthusiasts needed to do that a lot.
  7. If you grew up in a small town, as I did, no-one owned up to gayness. They just left and headed for the big cities where more open-minded folks lived.
  8. To Netflix and chill, you had to go to Blockbuster’s and pick up a VHS tape or DVD. And if you wanted to watch a series together, YOU HAD TO WAIT A WEEK BETWEEN EACH EPISODE!*
  9. Dates meant punctuality. Without a mobile phone, letting someone know you were going to be late wasn’t an option.
  10. If you wanted nude pictures of your guy or girl, you took them with a Polaroid camera—an instant snap, which cut out the embarrassment of taking your film to be developed in Boots.

The good thing about that last point is that revenge porn wasn’t that much of a thing in ye olden days. Your disgruntled ex could only share the picture afterwards with his mates, instead of putting them online where millions could admire your tush, bush and boobs. If he wanted to send it to Readers Wives, that would involve putting the picture in an envelope, addressing it, buying a stamp and posting it—rather than clicking two buttons.

Artists Town is available here and here. Pic thanks to anime90210 on deviant art

 

 

*I know. I saw all 92 episodes of Mad Men in two months earlier this year, I look back at those days and wonder how I coped.