Those Were The Days My Friend

‘I thought they’d never end’, (Mary Hopkin)

Once the new year celebrations were finished and we had all regrouped at Romaniac HQ, we found ourselves reflecting over the past 12 months, taking stock of how far we had come and how far we still had to go with our writing careers. Naturally, the conversation turned to how it all began. Not surprisingly, our love affair with writing began at an early age for us all and we took a trip down Memory Lane, thinking of the influences and experiences that have shaped us. We thought we would share our nostalgia with you.

We would, of course, love to know where your writing aspirations began and what your memories of that time are.

Laura 1979 - 1980

Laura: The late seventies and early eighties are the years I remember well. I loved music, and I became aware of the world around me. 1979 was the year of the UK’s first female Prime Minister, in Margaret Thatcher – that was a big deal, especially for women. We lived under the threat of nuclear war, there were bombings in Nothern Ireland, Sid Vicious was found dead from a heroin overdose, and China introduced their One Child Policy. As a twelve-year-old, I worried about how the world would survive. I yearned for the power to put everything right. I was going to be a doctor, or a child psychologist. Maybe a speech therapist – something that helped. Failing that, I’d entertain – become a singer. I realised songs were miniature stories and became fascinated with rhymes, patterns and words. I loved reading, but looking back, my love for writing began through songs.

The world changed during my formative years. Whether or not one agreed with Thatcher’s policies, women had a positive role model. I loved Blake’s 7, a Sci-Fi programme with a strong female character in Cally, Gloria Gaynor was belting out I Will Survive, and my mother, bless her, by this point in my life, was a single parent, who had successfully secured a mortgage in her name alone. Not easy. Is it possible these childhood factors led me to writing issue-driven romances, with strong female characters? By producing stories, my desire to entertain is fulfilled, my love for words is put to work, and I create my own worlds where ultimately, everything will be all right.

I’m beginning to think it was inevitable I would become a writer.

sue 1982

Sue: Being roughly the same age as Laura, I can identify with all the things she mentions above. The early 80’s saw me knocking on the door of my teenage years when I was living in a rural village and had a very free rein on what I did with my time. All the local kids used to hang around together, but to be fair, that didn’t actually amount to many – put it this way, in my year at school there were only three girls and six boys. I look back on those days with fondness as age didn’t really come into it and we all mucked in together. Sometimes we’d have a big game of football or cricket, other times we would swim/paddle in the river or generally hang out, usually at the bridge. I’m not sure what the attraction of the bridge was, but we spent an awful lot of time just congregating there. Having said that, living in a small rural community did mean it often had its dull moments and my answer to the boredom was to take myself off somewhere far more exciting via a good book, courtesy of the mobile library which visited us once a fortnight.

Me with my eldest brother circa 1973.
Me with my eldest brother circa 1973.

With regards to the larger world outside of this Cambridgeshire village, I have very clear memories of things like Shopper bikes for girls, Chopper bikes for the boys, Bermuda shorts, Haircut 100, Dexy’s Midnight Runners, Ultravox, Grange Hill, Crackerjack (‘It’s five to five and it’s Crackerjack!’), Why Don’t You, using a cassette player to try to record the Top 40 on a Sunday evening, deciding I’d give up on my dream of marrying Nick Skelton and set my sights on Adam Ant instead. It was around about this time I received a Silver Reed typewriter for Christmas and began typing up my stories; making them into books; illustrating them and designing the cover. Today, I am still trying to do pretty much the same thing (although the Adam Ant dream has gone the same way as the Nick Skelton one).

Jan: The late seventies evoke such fond memories for me too. We had lots of children living down our road and a great crew of us would play in the street (not nearly so many cars to worry about then!) racing each other up the road when we heard the tinkle of the ice cream van. We had a huge street party for the Queen’s silver jubilee celebrations with long trestle tables groaning under the weight of food and fizz. One of the neighbours set up some speakers in their hallway and played DJ for the duration, blaring out the likes of Abba and Stevie Wonder. I can remember our milkman and postman turning up, flares swishing, and hardly recognising the pair of them out of uniform. They were doing the rounds; such was the camaraderie amongst everyone in the area.

This is me in the early seventies, clearly deciding I wanted to try on my cousin’s Cub cap & tie!

I always took an interest in anything creative at school, from writing stories and poetry, to singing in school choirs and auditioning for Christmas and end of term plays. I can see my Dad now, three rows back, big cheesy grin on his face, trying to make my best friend (a notorious giggler) and I laugh, Mum nudging his elbow and giving him “the look”. Ever since those days, I’ve loved writing in all its forms, so to now be working on my debut novel really is one of my dreams come true.

Celia: Well, I’m a little bit…ok, quite a lot…older than the other Romaniacs, so my teenage and pre teen memories go back to the earlier seventies. By the time the redoubtable Mrs T was in her element and nuclear war was threatening, I was a young mum, panic stricken at the world I’d brought my daughters into but not really quite ready to be sensible. On a more cheerful note, I remember oodles of Motown (still can’t help dancing to ‘Needle in a Haystack’, in fact I brought the New Year in to it), lusting after Roger Daltrey, The Osmonds – all of them, I wasn’t a fussy teenager – and David Bowie. I was sure David, Marc Bolan, Freddie Mercury and Elton John were straight, and I’m still not convinced otherwise, so don’t try to mess with my dreams, ok? My favourite songs, as with Laura, inspired my writing, in fact my first book had song words at the start of every chapter. They took me ages to choose. Shame the book itself was so awful, really.

The past year has been a roller coaster ride for me. The downs were a very long way down but the highs were incredible, and I am so grateful to the Romaniacs for being there with me. Group hug? Left over mince pie anyone?

Debbie; Ahhh, the seventies. What lovely memories my fellow Romaniacs have evoked. It was a happy, carefree time for me as it was for many children back then, (other than bread strikes and having to queue at the stand pipes for water.)

I remember long hot summers, days that never ended, going off on my Raleigh Shopper bike (I had one Sue) with my ‘cozzie’ rolled up in a towel alongside some limp sandwiches in the front basket to the local park where there was a paddling pool. The rest of the time I’d be in the back garden, playing in my Wendy house, making ‘perfume’ from rose petals and lavender crushed in a couple of coconut shells with water added until it became a putrid mush. I also remember spending hours alone in my bedroom with my dolls and teddies playing teachers, being a Librarian, or pretending to do book signings. It’s strange now, looking back how I even comprehended that writers wrote and signed books at that age, but I remember it clearly. All my solitary activities revolved around books. As well as the pretend ‘classroom,’ the library and book signing, I spent hours in the bedroom simply reading and sometimes writing my own little stories.

It was, as they say, written in the stars, that I might pursue a career in writing…M3391M-1010

25 thoughts on “Those Were The Days My Friend

  1. Great post! My memories are mostly of the seventies too, particularly the time of the miners’ strike when the electricity would got off in the evenings and we’d sit around with paraffin lamps on in front of the fire, eating toast and jam! Like Debbie I spent hours reading (mostly Enid Blyton) and writing little stories in a notepad, and knew from around then that I wanted to be a writer 🙂

    • Hi Karen

      I was a massive Enid Blyton reader too and I think that’s the sort of way most of my own stories went too. Would so loved to have been in the Secret Seven or boarding at Malory Towers!

      Thanks for dropping by.

  2. Wow – you are bringing it all back. Especially with mentions of things like Blakes 7, Adam Ant and rose petal perfume 🙂 Strangely enough, my mum is in the process of clearing out her attic, and on my most recent visit she produced a mass of things I’d created during childhood and teenage years. Some were excruciating – like a request I had written to her (on my typewriter, too, Sue!) – that I be allowed to stay up late to watch Cagney and Lacey!!! But like this fab posting, so many other things brought childhood back to me. Amongst it all were certificates for handwriting competitions I’d won (how times change – it’s indecipherable now), poetry I’d written and short stories. I hadn’t a clue they even existed. But evidently, like you, it all started back then. I am loving this post – and the PHOTOS! 🙂

    • Cagney * Lacey … one day I’ll do my impression of Mary-Beth for you!
      As for handwriting, mine seems to change depending on my mood, I’ve always admired people with neat handwriting.

  3. Ooh, Chopper bikes! I used to walk home from school dreaming I’d find one waiting for me when I got home! Not likely coming from a family w/six siblings! Maybe that was where my writing started #makebelieve! OK, you can put the tissues away now. I did get my bike, eventually. Not a Chopper, but I loved it just the same! Fab post! Fab pics! 🙂 xx

  4. Ladies ~ reading your writerly origins is like one of those dreams where everything is very familiar, yet slightly different. Born in the 70s, my authorly ambition didn’t really start until the early 80s ( would have been about… ten). Reading was my life, and I was working my way methodically through the library (Enid Blyton, Astrid Lindgren, various German children’s authors, the Alfred Hitchcock ??? series, YA sci-fi–I read everything, and well ahead of age). Inevitably, I resolved to become a writer myself. I was given an ancient type writer and turned from scrawling by hand to hacking out my stories, going through buckets of Tippex and driving my Mum insane with the endless sound of keys knocking together.

    When music entered my life, I got busy copying out lyrics and translating them from English into German. My favourite pastime then was taking all my favourite song titles and songs and weaving them into a narrative. If you thought Mamma Mia was revolutionary, you thought wrong. I wrote stacks of manuscripts just like that using the songs and lyrics of Modern Talking, Europe and Aha (and that was just for starters).

    I even submitted some of my painstakingly typed work to a publisher of children’s books once; they wrote back saying that unfortunately, while they publish children’s books, they couldn’t publish children’s books. The irony might have been lost on them, but I took no note of it either. I kept writing. And now I’d better go before I hog your blog! Great post, ladies, thank you!

    • Another Enid Blyton fan – Yay!

      In my first job we had typewriters and carbon paper. Our copies had to be done on yellow paper, so I was delighted when you could buy yellow tippex.


      • Yes I used to type using carbon paper and tippex for errors.
        Then I had to learn Word Star and Word Perfect for 2 different office jobs.


  5. Apart from sharing the same wardrobe of scary clothes with The Romaniacs, it looks like we all shared the dream of becoming a writer. Some of my clothes are still questionable (you’ve seen me at the RNA parties, right?) but I have at least realised my ambition of becoming a writer. Worth putting up with flares, bad haircuts and wooly pullies just for that alone. Great blog, sisters.

    • Hi Lizzie.

      Don’t get me started on clothes. Some of the things I used wear were truly awful, however, having a Nan who was a seamstress in London for Cockney Rebel, I did get some great clothes for free when I was a teenager.

      Glad you enjoyed the blog!

  6. Lovely flashback to the seventies-and great pics! I typed up stories on my mum’s typewriter and sent them to Ladybird and made magazines for my friends. Happy New Year to you all and best of luck with your writing in 2013.x

    • I love the idea of making magazines for friends. I once made a poetry book for a friend all about her infatuation for a boy in the year above us at school – best I don’t mention any names here. 😉


  7. Oooh – I go back to the 60’s, ladies! Raleigh bikes and blakc polo neck sweaters, white eyeshadow and backcombed hair. And that was just the boys!!! I used to send little stories to Jackie – never got anywhere. And I wrote stuff in secrecy in my room and his it in my ‘treasure box’. Golden days. Sigh. See what you’ve started now!!!!

  8. Thanks for the memories. Being born in 1969 I grew up in the 70’s and 80’s and remember these things. Simpler times.

    Sue, I still have my first proper typewriter , a Silver Reed with its own travelling lid.


    • Hi Carol

      Simpler times, indeed 😉

      My Silver Reed was blue, I think I gave it to the charity shop when I left home – sigh

      Thanks for dropping by.

  9. I started out reading pony stories (Pulleyn-Thompson sisters, anyone?) and writing my own versions in which I had a ‘proper’ horse, not the scruffy, too-small, straight-off-the-moors pony that I really owned. When I discovered boys (late, obvs, horse-mad girls being what they are…) my stories started to include romance among the dungheaps.

    Anyone remember the Tomorrow People? I was heavily unfluenced by that…

    • In my first draft of my section for this blog, I mentioned The Tomorrow People – I loved it. I must have enjoyed a bit of Sci-Fi back then because I also remember a film called Return To Witch Mountain, and had a crush on Ike Ikeson…

  10. I had a scruffy Welsh Mountain pony but for some reason I never enjoyed reading any pony books.

    I do vaguely remember the Tomorrow People – they could read each others minds or something.


    • I love this blog. It brings back memories to me! I loved Adam Ant and David Essex. I can just remember going on holidays to Butlins. One night I felt like the bees knees because I was wearing a maxi dress, It was purple and black! It sounds terrible, but I loved it!

      Then of course there was my all time favourite film Grease. I never forget going to the cinema to see it. When I came home I went to my bedroom and picked up a pen and started singing summer nights. (couldn’t find a hair brush) Still love John Travolta today.
      I loved cracker jack, never missed it.
      As for writing I loved to sit down and write, filling up exercise books with stories. My mum would think of a title and I would write a story around it.
      As for the first adult book I read, it was Frenchmans Creek by Daphne Dumaurier. I read this and fell in love with romance.
      Ladies what was the first romance that you read?
      Really enjoyed reading this tonight.
      Lorraine x

      • Hi Lorraine. It’s brought back plenty of memories for us, too 🙂 Part two follows on the 28th xx

  11. I’ve really enjoyed this post – brought my childhood right back to me! Jane L, I too remember The Tomorrow People 🙂 As for the clothes – what about the hair? Those awful ‘midi’ haircuts, my aunts talking my mum into doing Twink perms for them, and of course the Purdy cut. (I have to confess to the latter.) And, as I talked my parents into buying me a proper portable typewriter for my sixth birthday, I definitely remember carbon paper, and the little paper sheets of Tipp-ex that never worked properly.

    • Ah, Kate – the Purdy cut. That’s put me in mind of Sapphire and Steele, with Joanna Lumley and David McCallum. I loved that programme, and again, I think it was because of the strong female role. Loved the eeriness of it too. Thank you for commenting. Laura .

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