An unmarried mother and the most influential LP of the 20th Century, provide the inspiration for a comic novel, explains author Steve Goddard
By Dan Wooding, Founder of the ASSIST News Service
LIVERPOOL, UK (ANS May 1, 2017) — During the “Summer of Love” of 1967, Steve Goddard, now a top British author and PR man, had a girl in her early 20s living in his south London home. For anonymity’s sake, let’s call her Heather. Later that year Heather gave birth to a child she named after him.
It was a relationship that inspired his new novel Whatever Happened to Billy Shears? – published by Marylebone House on April 20.
“I have been a tad disingenuous,” he explained. “I was 14 at the time. “Heather came to south London from Scotland to give birth to an ‘illegitimate’ baby, far from disapproving, wagging tongues. My mother offered her lodging for the final months of the pregnancy. Heather was a redhead with pale skin and mischievous freckles. She was bright, profane and sexy – an exotic cocktail. We had the same sense of humour and teased one another endlessly.”
Eventually, she returned from hospital and presented her son to Steve. “You can hold him if you like,” she said. “What’s his name?” he asked as he took the little bundle carefully from her. “Stephen,” she said, with a coy smile.
“I was flattered, of course and became something of a surrogate father,” he went on to say. “I changed the odd diaper, winded the young boy after feeds and pushed his baby carriage up and down our sizeable back garden.”
On the morning he was to be given up for adoption, Heather shut herself away with her baby. Eventually, she re-appeared from her room. “I’ve said my goodbyes,” she said, stoically and walked straight out of our house and out of Steve’s life.
“I have never heard from her since. For an hour or two I was left holding the baby. Though he wasn’t mine I didn’t want to let him go. How dare two complete strangers take him away and change his name. Before the couple arrived, my mother told me that, on no account was I to find out who they were.
“By law, we were forbidden from knowing anything about them. I walked around the house, bringing up the wind of my namesake for the last time, angry I would never see him again.
“Later that morning, while my mother handed him over to an emotional couple (Stephen’s new mother blubbered tears of joy in our hall) I sidled past and went out into the road. I wanted nothing to do with them.”
“Well, that’s the last we’ll ever see of that dear little boy,” sighed Steve’s mother as they drove off.
“Not necessarily,” he said. “It might take some time but I could find out who the couple are and where they live.”
Steve explained that he had taken down the registration number of the couple’s car, and his mother was horrified, tell her son, “You must never, ever tell anyone what it is. Never!” He didn’t write it down but even today he could tell you exactly what it was today, 50 years later.
“I have always wondered what happened to Heather and young Stephen,” he said. “I half expect them to appear on the British TV series Long Lost Family, which features unmarried mothers like Heather. Under pressure from their families, they still regret giving away their babies and have spent years searching for them without success. Sometimes, children search for their natural parents. Through the work of the programme’s researchers, they are finally re-united. The encounters are intense and profoundly moving.
“Some other characters came into my life during that heady Summer of Love: circus performer Mr Kite, a family called the Hendersons, a girl called Lucy, a parking meter attendant called Rita, a horse called Henry – and a nervous, love-struck singer called Billy Shears.
“On the day of its release, June 1 1967, a friend of mine turned up with the Beatles’ latest LP under his arm. None of us had ever heard or seen anything like Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Wildly inventive, built on tape effects and experimental studio technology, Pepper wasn’t so much a record as an existential encounter: the dream-like haze of Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds, the fairground fantasy of Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite, the music hall parody of When I’m Sixty Four – culminating in the ‘orchestral orgasm,’ as producer George Martin called it, of A Day in the Life.”
Steve said, “Lyrically, Pepper gave us a snapshot of 1960s’ Britain in cultural flux. We had heard a thousand songs about faraway California and Kansas City, Tulsa and Texas. Never before had unfashionable places like the Isle of Wight, Blackburn and London’s Bishopsgate featured prominently on a ‘pop’ album.
“But after we’d followed her down to the bridge by the fountain, what happened to Lucy? Lennon always claimed the song wasn’t about LSD, but you can’t help wondering if she ever went on a bad trip. After Mr Kite topped the bill, did he go on and conquer the world or fade into obscurity? Did Billy Shears get over his nerves and sing to audiences far and wide? And what befell the young girl who ran away from home at five o’clock one morning, to meet a man from the motor trade? The Beatles left us to make up our own minds, of course.
“And, in real life, what happened to young Stephen, now heading for his 50th birthday? I shall probably never know but the events of my Summer of Love gelled together to form the basis for the novel. What if all the characters on Sergeant Pepper had known each other? What if some of them lived on the same street? What if 15-year-old Billy fell in love with Lucy at first sight only to find she had eyes for Godfrey Henderson, who lived in the big house across the road? What if the car accident that befalls the ‘lucky man who made the grade’ leads to the unravelling of a mystery that has lasted five decades?”
Steve Goddard’s marvellous novel, Whatever Happened to Billy Shears?, opens on Christmas Day 2015 with Canon William Shearwater, a minor sports journalist and ordained minister in the Church of England, reminiscing about one Lucy Pitcher. He doesn’t believe in that well-worn myth about the 1960s. He was there and remembers them all too well, in particular the lovely Lucy who turned his quiet suburban world upside down with one handstand.
As he secretly confesses all to his computer, English teacher Sophie Daggert is documenting her slow recovery from bereavement. Adopted at birth, she embarks on a search for her natural parents. A series of twists and turns bring Sophie and ‘Shears’ together in a shocking journey of self-discovery.
A tragicomedy, in the footsteps of novelists like David Lodge, Willie Russell and Nick Hornby, I have attempted to open up a conversation about the 1960s and its disputed legacy, asking questions about changing social mores and beliefs.
And, of course, Henry the (rocking) horse dances a merry old waltz – with a little help from a few friends.
Cindy Kent, MBE, (former lead singer of The Settlers), says of the book, “Witty, tragic and emotional. If there’s a better-observed comic novel about the 1960s, I’ll eat my kaftan,” while Don Maclean, MBE, former presenter of BBC TV’s Crackerjack!, adds: “’Goddard’s knowledge of popular culture is extraordinary, and the way he weaves it into a believable range of characters makes this book utterly compelling. A splendid read is guaranteed for all.”
Besides writing novels, Steve, along with his wife, Allison, recently purchased the Christian Resources Exhibition (CRE), and its next event is to be held from October 17-19, 2017, at the Sandown Park Racecourse in the United Kingdom. This event showcases products like an extensive range of books, music and resources to buy. Also, the latest multimedia equipment and expert advice etc. in the gifts and handicrafts industry. He is also the head of Stephen Goddard Associates, a PR company based just outside of Liverpool.
To order a copy of Whatever Happened to Billy Shears?, please go to: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1910674427.
To hear my “Front Page Radio” interview with Steve Goddard, please go to: http://frontpageradio.net/frontpageradiofiles/SteveGoddardFPR20170507Mono.mp3.
Photo captions: 1) Steve Goddard with his new book. 2) Dan Wooding interviews Steve Goddard about his new book. 3) Cindy Kent and Dan Wooding at a previous CRE exhibition at Sandown Park Racecourse. 4) Dan and Steve with the new book.
About the writer: Dan Wooding, 76, is an award-winning author, broadcaster and journalist who was born in Nigeria of British missionary parents, and is now living in Southern California with his wife Norma, to whom he has been married for 54 years. They have two sons, Andrew and Peter, and six grandchildren who all live in the UK. Besides running the ASSIST News Service, he has written some 45 books and hosts a weekly radio show and two TV programs in Southern California.
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