Feature/Interview

Neil Hughes (“The Old Familiar Places” by Sam Emony)

Neil Hughes is familiar to the jazz community as a promoter. He started The Cinnamon Club in Altrincham (South Manchester) in January 2003. The club puts on around 80 gigs a year on Thursdays and Fridays and also hires a lot of bands for private functions at the venue. He has a new and very different venture: he is writing a book. He explained the background to Sebastian: 

Neil Hughes/Sam Emony. Publicity photo supplied

LondonJazz News: Is the decision to write a book something you’ve thought about for a long time?

Neil Hughes: Yes, I went to uni 36 years ago to study English and drama with the intention of writing, but life has a habit of taking you along unexpected paths. And I guess you could say I have been procrastinating.

LJN: You’ve chosen a pseudonym, Sam Emony. What’s the story there?

NH: I thought I would use a different name as Neil Hughes is still very active with jazz promotion at both The Cinnamon Club and Southport Jazz Festival. Emony is such an unusual name with just two families in the UK I believe. This is my maternal granddad’s name so I am very proud to use it.

LJN: Can you give some clues as to what the story is about?

NH: This story is about Ruby and Freddie, and the passage of time between their two funerals, 44 years apart. Freddie is a music lawyer in Manchester but spends a great deal of time in London and the tale takes place in both cities. Ruby is a strong character and her resilience is tested when she is widowed at just 35. This is where the story begins, at Freddie’s funeral, and we are introduced to the storyteller Sonny whose life is then directed and manipulated over the next decade, but their love and friendship lasts a lifetime. Ruby is a dreamer and a writer, and she leaves her diaries to Sonny when she dies, and he reads the personal notes on her life, from before they had met and then from the mid-’70s right up to 2020.

LJN: Are there parallels with your own life? Is anyone going to recognize themself?! 

NH: None at all, the story is complete fiction.

LJN: And there is a kind of “soundtrack”… song lyrics that resonate with you and with the characters?

NH: Yes, the soundtrack is part of Ruby’s character, part of her DNA. She sees love and lessons in the tunes she listens too, and this is a key part of her relationship with Sonny. She reels him in with composers and lyrics, she inspires him to learn and excel, and she moves him around the world with ease, something he knows nothing about until he reads her diaries. There are lyrics dotted all over the book,

LJN: This is a jazz site… you promote jazz… is there jazz in the book?

NH: Yes there is jazz interwoven in the story. There are musical references from the very start. Puccini’s Crisantemi  (chrysanthemums) is played at the funeral and Sonny sees Freddie’s music room and grand piano at the wake. This is Ruby’s hook to keep him coming back, to assuage her guilt at losing Freddie. The lessons she learnt from her husband are passed on to Sonny and this is where The Old Familiar Places as a title is relevant. We all have our comforts, our go-to restorative havens and Ruby’s places become Sonny’s as surely as they became hers.

“I’ll be seeing you in all the old familiar places
That this heart of mine embraces all day through
In that small cafe, the park across the way
The children’s carousel, the chestnut trees, the wishing well”

The song was written by Irving Kahal and Sammy Fain and when I heard it, that phrase just fell into place as the title. You can expect more snippets from all sorts of song writers throughout the story.

LJN: You as a reader – what have been your favourite most inspirational novels… when you were a teenager?

NH: I loved English Lit at school, so Great Expectations was my first big coming-of-age story as Pip moved from a young boy to grown man, battling demons along the way but always maintaining a romantic idealism. The characters drawn on the page seep into our imagination.

LJN: And more recently?

NH: I am a real holiday reader, so a complete mixture of quick reads and challenging novels. Over the last few years I have read The Kite Runner, Cloud Atlas, One Day, Starter for Ten, For Whom The Bell Tolls, After The Last Dance, I Capture the Castle, The Slap, Love in the Time of Cholera and many, many more.

LJN: Brecht once wrote in a poem that the things that drew him to his writing desk were either anger or the imperative to describe beauty. What does it for you?

NH: At the moment I am drawn to love, relationships and justice.

LJN: Has the process of finding a publisher been straightforward?

NH: The idea of pitching to someone and baring your soul with your plans and storylines was at first quite frightening. But once I started talking, I just couldn’t stop. It was the most cathartic two hours. Joy, tears and truly feeling the characters. All out, everything on the table: plot, deaths, timeline and twists.

LJN: And is there a kind of self-discipline for you to get down and write ? Has that been easy to fit into your life?  Do you write at fixed times or suddenly have an urge?

NH: I write in chunks, great big chunks – it is the only way for me. However I am always taking notes, scribbling sentences and lyrics, building up stock for future use.

LJN:  And you have a fundraiser going on

NH: Yes, I have used Indiegogo which is a nice platform for creative projects. I already had an account as I have helped fund several albums for people I know in the business such as Phil Meadows, Gwyneth Herbert and Mari Wilson. So the principle of purchasing a copy in advance is something understood in this market. In the first 10 days I have raised 25% of my target. (Link Below)

LJN: What’s the money for?

NH: From the purchaser’s point of view the money is for a Limited Edition of my debut novel.
From my point of view the money raised in advance is to pay for proof reading, editing and printing. The idea of grouping 300 people together in advance helps me plan the route to market.

LJN: What’s the timescale?

NH: I want to publish the novel in April 2021

LINK: Sam Emony’s The Old Familiar Places at Indiegogo

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