Later this month (the 26th to be exact), John Howard’s autobiography Incidents Crowded with Life will be published by Fisher King Publishing.
For those who haven’t read this blog before, Lancastrian John had dreams of becoming an international pop superstar, but after signing to CBS in the early 1970s, events conspired against him and his first three albums, only one of which was released. Howard’s tumultuous personal life concerned his family and friends. After making a few sublime singles and enjoying spells playing in fashionable London clubs, Howard walked out of the limelight and forged a successful career in A&R.
However, the story has a happy ending. Thanks to its cover’s inclusion in a collection of iconic album art, the first CBS album Kid in a Big World was rediscovered and reissued on CD in the early 2000s, sparking a revival of interest in John’s career and the rapid release of the other two ‘lost’ CBS albums. The spike of critical attention and a new legion of fans encouraged the then-retired Howard to enter the recording studios again and he has since gone from strength to strength, releasing numerous solo albums and band projects.
Now married to former theatre actor and director Neil France and living in Spain where he records his albums, John told me all about his book deal, what readers can expect and his own reading habits…
How did the book deal come about?
I’d been writing the chapters and posting each one on my website since the beginning of 2016, doing about one a month. I thought that would be as far as the book would go, an online series which people could read as and when they wished to. But last summer I got an email from a friend of mine, David Thompson, where he said I really should get it published, in book form. My reply was “How? Who would be interested?”. He told me to leave it with him, and sure enough, God bless him, a week or so later he put me in touch with Rick Armstrong at Fisher King Publishing, who David had sent the online links to, and who seemed to really like what he’d read. A few days later, Rick and I had a really great Skype chat, and the contracts arrived very shortly after. I had a publishing deal!
What do you hope to achieve with the book? Why did you decide to publish it?
Well, I didn’t make that decision, Fisher King did. I hope it being out in book form will increase its readership, and I would imagine FKP want it to sell millions of copies! That would be nice! Oh, and to win the Booker Prize too. Seriously, I just want as many people as possible to read it. My husband Neil is simply thrilled to tell everyone he’s now married to a published author! I never expected Incidents to get published, that alone is a real achievement for me personally.
Do you hope people will gain inspiration from some of the aspects of the book?
Well, I guess it wouldn’t make anyone wish they were in my shoes in the ‘70s! I certainly had a full life in my 20s, packed with incident! I simply tell my story as it happened to me, good and bad things. I hope it touches people, entertains people and, when they’ve finished it, that they say “What a jolly good read…now, where’s the second instalment?!” I suppose it does show a certain resilience, a refusal to be cowed by events, that is something I would hope some people draw inspiration from.
How involved have you been with the production of the book?
Fisher King have kept me in the loop throughout. I sent them lots of period pics, some of which they’ve put in the book, and I was sent every proof of every version until we got it to completion. I am thrilled by how the book looks, the cover is great, a photo from 1975 which has an expression of “what’s next round the corner?”, which my life has always been about. I have always woken each day with a sense of anticipation, it’s what has kept me going.
What can people expect from the book?
Total honesty, no holds barred, and a narrative which I purposely made non-judgemental, I tell the story from my point of view, and never comment on a person, such as “What a bastard, eh?” kind of thing, that’s for the reader to make up their own minds about. Everyone in the book played a part in my story, some during the ups and others in the downs. The book begins as I’m lying in a hospital bed in October 1976 after breaking my back, and then reflects back over my life up to that point, a kind of narrative circle.
Can you outline one tale in the book which was a major turning point in your life but that people might not know about?
Lordy, there were so many really. The accident [where 23-year-old John broke his back jumping from the upstairs window of his apartment to escape an attacker] was certainly one, it stopped me in my tracks and gave me many weeks to ponder and reflect, which I hadn’t done for years. I’d up to then gone full on to achieve my ambitions of international pop stardom and have lots of sex along the way! I failed in the first ambition, but did pretty well with the second! I guess many people won’t know about my first big affair, and how it ended, rather dramatically! And a certain event in New York in 1975 when I was almost abducted by a serial killer, and oh yes, nearly getting gang-raped in Malta… certainly a life crowded with incident! I’m amazed now I had the time to follow a pop career!
Are you much of a reader of autobiographies yourself? What have been your favourites?
I don’t particularly enjoy those autobiographies which go in a totally linear “and then I met this person, and then I got this award, and then I made this film,” etc, where one is getting to know nothing about the person along the way. Really tedious and pointless.
I did love Dylan’s autobiography Chronicles, he writes like a film screenplay writer, you’re there in each scene with him. He, if anything, ‘under-writes’, giving the reader a quick but very clear sketch of an event or place and then allowing us to fill in the spaces with our imaginations. Brilliant, of course. His best songs do that too.
I’m actually more a novel reader myself, courtroom dramas are my favourites, following the thought processes of the narrator or lead character. The best books take you into the mind of the writer. In my teens I read the likes of Kafka, Dostoevsky, Virginia Woolf, avidly. Now I like to settle down and get comfortable with a book, rather than see it as a challenge. I did go back to reading a couple of Woolf novels recently but found them very overwritten and impenetrable, sadly. My loss I’m sure. Maybe an older brain doesn’t want to work as hard as it did when young and ‘empty’.
What are your favourite books and authors of all time?
Armisted Maupin and his Tales Of The City books are terrific reads, real page-turners, Patricia Cornwell’s Scarpetta series is fabulous, again she’s a wonderful scene-setter, Charles Castle’s biography of Noel Coward is great, very funny. Sheridan Morley’s theatrical biographies.
Are you reading anything at the moment?
I’ve just read an excellent book on The Beatles, Beatles ‘66, by Steve Turner. He really gets to the heart of what it was like to be alive and involved with what was great culturally during that year, it creates a wonderful flavour of those times.