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Friday, 25 November 2016

Big Welcome to my old boss Steve Chilton!

And before he says it - not so much of the old!

I'm delighted to welcome Steve Chilton to my blog this week. Steve is a former Midlands Feature Writer of the Year with a long and illustrious career at the Coventry Telegraph which included news and features editor plus writing the offbeat Peeping Tom and Red Button columns. Walking Keef's Dog and Other Short Stories is Steve's first book and marks his d├ębut in fiction after a reporting career that spanned more than 25 years.

Additionally, Steve was my Features Editor when I first started writing features for the Coventry Telegraph way back. I just thought I'd share this little story with you, as he was actually responsible for sending me on my very first press trip, Lunch in Lille.

I really felt that I'd landed on my feet as I jetted off for lunch in Lille, France. It was a fabulous way of spend the day, being shown around the town, lovely free food, and then back in time for tea (well almost). It was a week later when Steve called across the office to me: “Have we had your copy for Lunch in Lille yet?”  Oh!” says I. “You want me to write about it?”

Anyway, back to this brand new book Walking Keef's Dog and Other Short Stories: “It’s a complete reversal for me,’ said Steve. ‘As a reporter you sometimes get accused of making up a story, although it is factually correct, because people just don’t like what’s being said. Now, I am making it up, in stories of complete fiction - well, almost - and hoping people do like it.”

Several of the short stories start with a foothold in historical fact, he says. But soon stray off into comedy fantasy. Steve explained that a photo of Keith Richards arriving for a Coventry gig cuddling his pet puppy provided the inspiration for the book. The unlikely paring of the Stone' bad boy and a cute puppy on tour in 1971 is one of 10 short stories in the book.

Keef did turn up at the Coventry Theatre with Boogie, his puppy, and the Telegraph has some great archive pictures, including Mick Jagger with wife-to-be Bianca in the cobbled lane off Hales Street leading to the stage door. But thereafter it’s a fantasy, as Boogie escapes for a brief taste of rock ‘n stroll before returning to the gig to find he’s been replaced by a bogus Boogie.”

Steve's home city and neighbouring towns feature strongly in his book. His targets for parody include Queen Elizabeth 1’s romantic break in Kenilworth, under-performing folk festival fans, star-struck local politicians and a hard-drinking jazz-loving gumshoe cop...from Leamington.

It’s not all played for laughs, though. There are a few satirical barbs aimed at the way PFI hospitals raise finances, the post-war planners of Coventry city centre, and men behaving badly on away football trips.

He says the Coventry region is a treasure trove of unlikely but true stories. “I was around for some of them,” he says, “although not - as some may believe - for Queen Elizabeth’s visit to Kenilworth in 1575, which has been portrayed as one of history’s great love stories. Well, maybe, but I’ve spiced it up a tad.”

Steve, says he was born between cathedrals in Coventry - “after the old one was destroyed but before the new one was consecrated’’ and points out that his birthplace has a long history of spinning celebrity surprises.

Brigitte Bardot turning up unannounced at the cathedral for a funeral service, John and Yoko planting acorns for peace and most bizarrely of all, Muhammad Ali visiting a Tile Hill chip shop to meet an old sparring partner, are just a few examples,” he says.

He admits ’ borrowing’ one or two star visits as a starting point in this collection of stories, but makes it clear where facts end and fiction begin. He’s hoping that the book will appeal to people looking for a light-hearted break from Christmas over-indulgence.

After all that stodge and TV, it could provide a dash of escapism and some gentle exercise, page turning. If you don’t like it, wrap it up and hand it over as a Boxing Day present to that relative who keeps giving you socks very year.”

Here's a short extract from She's a Killer...Queen

A mist was still hanging over the mere as we left the following morn, but the watery sun was showing well-enough to promise enveloping warmth later. The captain obviously had similar intentions and instructed his two men to follow 50 paces behind, well out of earshot.

Truth be told, there was little to hear that would have given us away as lovers. We talked easily about the excesses of the past few days, tried to best each other by naming the hedgerow flowers and song birds along the way and paused often at the small stream we were following to see if we could spot the sparkle of a trout basking in the shallows. We didn’t need anything else. It was just how I had imagined a fledgling romance might be, had I not been born different.

I had suffered many suitors since I came of age. Princes from Denmark, Spain and Sweden; the King of France... all seeking a political union. Their passion was for more power. I was merely a means to that end.

Courtiers from my own land were as numerous as the mayfly hatching along that lonely stream, and would have been as short-lived. For their ardour also would have died after they’d planted their seeds. I did not intend to be the vessel for their vanity. My father chartered that route and is remembered as an overweight ogre who treated his wives as brood mares.

I would not give up a sliver of my power let alone be subjugated by the rule of a man occupying my throne. What I wanted on that day, walking with my compliant lover, was to banish a dark yearning for something else, something that was recognised long ago.

You are different, like me’, my French governess had whispered in my ear on my 12th birthday, before kissing me tenderly on the lips.

Walking Keef’s Dog and Other Short Stories is published by Takahe, rrp £9.95 and is available from bookshops and major online bookstores. Steve Chilton’s website www.redbutton2.com has free extracts from three of the stories.

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