Jon Blake's Blog

July 4, 2017

Thimble Monkey Superstar has been shortlisted for the 2017 Lollies (Laugh Out Loud awards). This is quite achievement for a book published by small Cardiff publishers Firefly Press, and for a writer who many people seem to have forgotten! One reason this has happened is that there was a period of several years when I hardly wrote anything while raising my young son Jordi, who has cerebral palsy. Now an outstanding young writer in his own right, Jordi is the model for Jams, hero of the book. I'm not sure if Thimble is the first chidren's book with a CP narrator to be shortlisted for a major award, but hopefully he won't be the last! We do need votes however - the Lollies are decided by popular vote, and (not unusually in this day and age) I am up against celebs! For more about the book, and links to where you can vote, go to my website at www.jonblake.co.uk.
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Published on July 04, 2017 02:47 • 31 views • Tags: disability, humour, lollies

June 14, 2016

I’ve been a successful children’s author for over 30 years, but Thimble Monkey Superstar, published on May 19th by Firefly Press, is a new departure for me. That’s because its main character, Jams, is based on my own son Jordi, who has cerebral palsy.

There are far too few books for children which feature characters with disabilities, and from fairy stories to Roald Dahl, physical difference is all too often associated with evil. I wanted to create a character who is just that, a character. Jams’ disability is part of who he is but he is not defined by it. He’s also warm, funny, creative and optimistic – rather like Jordi.

Right from the start, we have involved Bobath Wales in the promotion of the book. Bobath, an important provider of therapy for children with CP, are selling the book on their website and taking part of the proceeds.

I do want to emphasise that Thimble Monkey Superstar is not a boring educational book! It’s been a big hit with the children who’ve read it because it’s a fun, funny story. Hopefully it will lead to a series and many more children will get swept up in the adventures of Jams and Thimble.
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Published on June 14, 2016 01:45 • 44 views • Tags: disability

August 29, 2014

The news has quickly spread that supermarket chain Aldi has taken Revolting Rhymes from the shelves of one of its stores following compaints about the use of the word 'sluts'. Predictably there has been outrage of the PC-gone-mad variety over this act of censorship. I don't think censorship is the answer, but the problem is that no-one is even discussing the fact that Dahl was horrendously misogynist in both life and art (not to mention the other aspects of his reactionary nature). I don't stop my seven-year-old Jordi reading his books but I do discuss them with him and encourage him to engage with them critically. In the main I don't think they'll leave much imprint on him because they are such empty experiences - the literary equivalent of Macdonalds happy meals - and he reads widely enough to know that. Not all kids are like Jordi, however, and it would be an excellent thing IMO if this affair opens up a wider discussion of the ludicrous elevation of this man's backward, simplistic and often thoroughly nasty work to the status of classics of children's literature.
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Published on August 29, 2014 03:43 • 75 views • Tags: aldi, censorship, dahl, political-correctness, revolting-rhymes

August 14, 2014

Not had much interest on Goodreads for my adult novel 69ers (republished as e-book When Dylan Sank the Isle of Wight earlier this year), so here are a couple of Amazon reviews to hopefully create some interest:

"Jon Blake's new novel is about Scott and about me. I wasn't at the Isle of Wight Festival in 69 and at nine years old that is probably best. My first festival was in 76' but it didn't feel that different. This is a story of music and love and love of music and music being the food of love. It is the story of the forming of the self with all it's absurdities. Scott is in the cauldron of the forming of his young self and we watch him through the very uncomfortable, but wonderful process. The moments and the memories from this part of our lives are often our most intense and remain our most formative and best remembered. There is a great deal of Jon Blake in Scott of course, the cruelest and the tenderest laughter is usually reserved for our past selves, isn't it? Blake gets all this just right. His own knowledge and first hand experience gets the sense of place and time perfectly. The dialogue is wince-making, hilarious and beautifully balanced between acute sympathy for his character and the ironic scalpel of time and greater judgement. When Scott and his friends are mocked, they are also loved. When they are loved, they are also laughed at and with. This is very accomplished fiction.
The narrative builds beautifully to two crescendoes - Scott's first sex(and it's worth the wait) and Dylan's comeback performance. This is a terrific fictional concept and doesn't let down in the realisation. Blake's skill takes us through a moving and hilarious symbiosis of the historical and the personal without a creak or a slip.
The ending of the novel brings us into the present with the ache of loss that is profound.
The novel is a joy, from every music reference, to every political and social reference. I had forgotten the existence of Julie Felix!
Would this make a wonderful British film? It certainly is a wonderful book."

"Jon Blake's novel brilliantly captures the spirit of the time. To many, the 1969 festival was a defining moment in festival culture - bigger than the '68 Godshill one-dayer, but not as huge as the massive 1970 East Afton event that perhaps marked the end of the hippy ideal.

The book weaves a fictional story about a group of festival-goers in with many true occurences. You can certainly tell that Jon had actually been there by the way that he accurately describes the event, the music and the people. The main character, Scott, is superbly portrayed. He is a seething mass of contradictory emotions - desperately wanting to escape his conventional upbringing but at the same time unable to let himself dive into a fully-fledged, hippy lifestyle. His obsession for the hippy-chick Jayne is similarly full of contradictions and conflicting feelings.

The last chapter is remarkably poignant and moving.

Definitely recommennded to anyone was involved in the festival scene in the late sixties or has an interest in the period."

Signed copies available at http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/aag/main/r...
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Published on August 14, 2014 01:48 • 46 views • Tags: 69ers, comedy, dylan, festivals, pop-history, sixties

March 27, 2014

Tonight Puffin Books have organised a launch party for the third book in Dee Shulman's “Parallon” trilogy for young adults. Until yesterday I was planning to go. Dee and I had been fellow students and housemates back in the 1970s in York. While we were from very different backgrounds we shared a similar sense of humour and always got on well: in fact, as I remember, Dee was the only person ever to read my first novel, which I wrote I the summer of 1976. At that time I had no idea she had similar ambitions to write, and it was only a couple of years ago that we reconnected on social media and discovered that we were both children's authors.

Sadly our friendship is no more. Checking out the reviews of “Fever” on Goodreads, the first book in the trilogy, I smelled a rat. There was clear evidence that many of these were faked. When I confronted Dee about this, her response was a vehement denial (“WTF!”) that she had ever written a review on Goodreads, and a comment that “it is good to know who your friends are”. In point of fact, however, I did not accuse Dee of writing the reviews herself. Just who did is a moot point, but let me first clarify why it was my suspicions were aroused, and why I believe it is of the utmost importance that Goodreads remains an uncorrupted interface between writers and readers.

I looked at the reviews for “Fever” in chronological order. The first reviews were pretty scathing. As if in response, however, a series of glowing reviews appeared, all giving the book 5 stars. These, to me, struck a false note. I checked out the reviewers: “Bertie Bookreader”, “Catz Doc”, “Sven”, “Niki”, “Sally”. Every one of them had the address London H9: there is no such postcode. None had a photo. None had a friend. Three joined in April 2012 and posted their review on April 11. Two others also posted their reviews on the same day, Jan 13. I screengrabbed all the evidence, just in case these reviewers should just as mysteriously disappear.

The credibility of Goodreads absolutely depends on our being able to trust that we are reading the views of genuine readers. Publishing today however is an increasingly cut-throat business in which large sums are spent on marketing a limited range of books, and profit margins are threatened by discounting, the growth of e-books and self-publishing. It is naïve to suppose that publishers, authors and agents are not taking an interest in what is written on the world's largest bookreaders' site. However, it is impossible for those employed by the site to police the huge number of reviews posted there. That is why it is vital for those who use and value the site to keep a constant eye out for the fakes and alert the site owners to their presence.
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Published on March 27, 2014 07:18 • 106 views • Tags: fever, goodreads, parallon, shulman

January 29, 2014

Among the major tv news programmes in the UK, people might expect Channel 4 News to be most attuned to the legacy of Pete Seeger, but yesterday’s obituary of the great man contained a horrible howler: it claimed that “the infamous Isle of Wight festival” was the occasion when Dylan controversially went electric. They had clearly confused IOW 1969 with the Newport Folk Festival of 1965 – possibly because the present day IOW festival takes place near Newport IOW. As readers of this blog will be well aware, IOW 1969 took place near Ryde, featured a downbeat and rather conservative performance by Dylan, but did not involve widespread booing or Pete Seeger threatening to cut the wires to the sound system.

Channel 4′s error was compounded by a selective quote from Seeger, referring to that threat, but taken completely out of context: Seeger was objecting to the distorted sound and the fact no-one could hear Dylan’s words. He was not opposed to electrification per se and made the point that Howlin Wolf had performed an electric set the day before, without any objections. Certainly there were purists in the folk movement, but they did not include Seeger. He was a man who, despite his middle-class roots, did more than anyone to champion the self-expression of the working-class and the emancipation of the oppressed. He had the guts to stand up to McCarthy’s Un-American Activities Committee and to decisively reject his early admiration for Stalin. I believe he was wrong to also reject revolutionary politics for a belief that fundamental change could be achieved incrementally, and even wronger to celebrate Obama’s presidency as evidence that “this land is our land”. But Dylan could certainly have learned from his steadfastness in devoting his life to the greater good.

"69ers", my (adult) novel about the 1969 IOW festival, has a website which features lots of original archive material.
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Published on January 29, 2014 04:50 • 67 views • Tags: dylan, folk, seeger, stalinism

January 21, 2014

Every year about this time I get my Public Lending Right payment from UK libraries, which gives me a good idea which of my books are the most popular. Much to my surprise the runaway winner this year was Peace And Love At The House of Fun, borrowed over twice as many times as Daley B or The Last Free Cat. This was kind of poignant, as this was the book which Hodder's marketing team decided to rebrand halfway through publication, so that there are copies called by the original title beside copies called Stinky Finger's Peace and Love Thing. Hodder made the change because they didn't think the series was selling enough to justify their outlay: the first book sold about 20,000, the rest all about 10,000. Sales dipped following their rebranding (which was probably inspired by the success of the lamentable Horrid Henry series, with which they tried to compare my books in publicity), and the series was ended after one more volume.
Perhaps as a result of this, I've always considered Peace and Love possibly the weakest book in the series, but seeing its popularity in libraries I reread it and was pleasantly surprised how much good stuff it contained, the kind of stuff which (with all due modesty), David Walliams could not write in his wildest dreams. The quality of the book, however, will mean nothing to the publishers of today, who more than ever are ruled by the pitiless test of sales - despite the countless examples of songs which fail to chart, appear in an ad, then go to number 1.
I have one ambition for the series now, and that is to get my rights back from Hodder and republish, possibly in e-book format, still hopefully with David Roberts' illustrations (luckily he's one of the biggest fans of the books). In the meantime please look out Peace and Love and let me know if you think my opinion of it should be lowered!
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Published on January 21, 2014 06:46 • 81 views • Tags: hippies, humour, pacifism, walliams

October 29, 2013

Those who have enjoyed 69ers will have read (in the opening chapter) a fictionalised recreation of my experiences in an early 70s progressive rock band, struggling to emulate Yes, ELP etc around the church halls and pubs of Southampton. Since that time I ran the gamut of musical styles in a variety of bands – West Coast, punk, folk/world music, new wave, pfunk, acoustic duo, playing on through heart failure and the grim struggle to survive as a writer before finally giving up the boards around the time my son was born in 2007. By then I’d probably written a hundred songs, the best of which came late on, in my forties. Apart from the Adamsdown Song and Adamsdown Sings projects (google for details), I thought my playing days were over. However, two events this year changed my mind. The first was seeing Leonard Cohen performing at 78 with more vivacity than a lot of those acts at the IOW in 1969. The second was being asked to perform at a gay wedding. I’m not known as a great fan of the institution of marriage, but I knew how much this meant to my ex, so prepared a couple of songs. When I took to the mike I was surprised to find my 3 year old and six year old had spontaneously decided to perform with me. It was a great experience. I looked again at my song catalogue and thought, bloody hell, why have I never really done anything with this stuff? I am known for being fairly good with words: I also have tunes and a weight of experience. So I really hope you, dear reader, will check out what is at my music site and if you like it spread the word. My first gig is on November 22nd and hopefully there will be many more to come, health permitting. Bookings welcome!
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Published on October 29, 2013 13:11 • 62 views • Tags: closure, last-free-cat, music, singer-songwriter

October 4, 2013

I enjoyed writing from a young age. But I am quite sure I had nothing like the talent possessed by my six-year-old Jordi. Words flow from him like champagne. For a couple of years now I've been writing down his stories and sayings, and a short while ago helped him complete his first poem, about our kitten. My role was merely to help him think about the order his lines should take: the words all came from him. I wonder if there's another 6-year-old in the world could have written anything like this? If you like it, please comment and check out his website at www.jordiblake.co.uk.

Flora Poem

Floraloradora
You wetnose
You stucktail
You deepear
You arched claw
Powerful pouncer
Gifted slider
Scram expert
Stroke liker
Clever chaser
Hard biter
Licking lover
Long sleeper
Yawning waker
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Published on October 04, 2013 04:18 • 121 views • Tags: cat, poem, six-year-old

September 4, 2013

What an irony that Leonard Cohen, famous for his mournfulness, can create as joyous an event as his gig in Cardiff last night. His warmth, his humour, his humility, his generosity of spirit - not to mention one or two great songs - created as strong a bond as I've witnessed between performer and audience. At 78, he skipped off the stage at the end of two hours' performance - then came back for an hour's encore, in whch he introduced his band members for (I think) the fourth time. But what a band - every member a virtuoso - and in Sharon Robinson and the Webb sisters, backing singers easily good enough to fill the Motorpoint on their own. Personally I prefer Cohen and Robinson singing the fabulous Alexandra Leaving together, but her solo performance brought the house down. A great night. It's inspired me to get the guitar out and get back on stage - for anyone interested, some of my songs are at http://www.reverbnation.com/jonblake.
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Published on September 04, 2013 10:31 • 67 views • Tags: leonard-cohen