zig zag line

Ghost Town – A Liverpool Shadowplay by Walton-born author Jeff Young

Every now and then a book comes along that hits me right between the eyes and I’ve got to tell everyone I know about it.

Much to my delight I’ve not had ONE person come back to me and say they were disappointed with Ghost Town – A Liverpool Shadowplay by Walton-born Jeff Young.


On the contrary.


This is his first book and it’s like nothing I’ve read before.


It’s based around his memories of growing up in the north end of Liverpool in the 60’s and 70’s but it’s certainly not your usual  ‘Wasn’t-it-great-in-the-good-old-days-when-you-could-leave-your-front-door-open’ kind of memoir.


“I tried to summon up ghosts -almost like a séance of my own memory- to try and get a sense across that it wasn’t a maudlin, nostalgic wallowing in the past, it was trying to bring the past into the present and hopefully concoct a kind of spell..that suggested possibilities for the future”, says Jeff.


Jeff is mainly known for his screen and stage credits including Holby City, Eastenders, Emmerdale and, a few years ago, a play Bright Phoenix at the Liverpool Everyman Theatre. He has many more literary notches to his credit including essays and drama for BBC Radios Three and Four.


Until recently he was senior lecturer in Creative Writing at the Screen School of Liverpool John Moores University.


The descriptions of some of the key characters when he was growing up in Winslow St near Goodison Park will resonate with many.


Everton legend Alex ‘The Golden Vision’ Young once ruffled his hair in the corner shop, for God’s sake!


There are some wonderfully evocative depictions of his family and in particular his dad’s family, who lived on Grey Rock St in Anfield.


His grandad lived there until it was demolished.


Jeff visited the house with his dad just before it was knocked down.


Boarded up with corrugated sheets on the windows and front door, it was the last house standing on the street.


Empty, except for generations of treasured memories and ghosts from the past.


[Extract from Ghost Town]


“We stand there on the pavement and then my dad tests the metal sheet that blocks up the front door. He pulls the tin away, bends the bottom corner over, just enough for us to crawl inside, and once inside we stand there in the dark lobby, waiting for our eyes to adjust to the gloom.


And then we go upstairs.


In the bedroom that my dad used to share with his three brothers, he kneels down on the floor and digs a spoon into a gap between the floorboards. He prises a section of the floorboard loose and pulls it free.


Into the gap beneath the floor and rummage around…..And then he smiles – he  takes out a biscuit tin and puts it gently down on the floorboards, opens the lid and inside there is a dirty rag bundle, which is really disappointing to me. But my dad unwraps the bundle like a magician and the audience of one child is hushed. Inside the bundle, oh such treasures!


Water pistol, fountain pen, shrapnel, shell-case, penknife, photograph of the dog he had when he was young, beer-bottle marbles.”


In some ways Ghost Town is a love letter to Liverpool – warts and all ; the people, the buildings, the treasures.


In the 40’s & ‘50’s his mum had been secretary to notable city architect and former council leader Sir Alfred Shennan and she knew the city’s streets and buildings “like the back of her hand”. She passed on her love of architecture to  Jeff  and his sister Val, regularly taking them on rambling tours of our most iconic streets and buildings on  Old Hall St, Dale St, Tithebarn St and many more …often to places where they really weren’t allowed.


As Jeff explains, “She was a trespasser…she was like a protype for Urban Explorers, you know.  She wasn’t bothered…she was ‘having a nose’; she liked to have a nose….I started to want to know the names of the architects who designed those buildings.”


The subject of Jeff’s play Bright Phoenix (“..punky portrait of Liverpool” – the Guardian) which was staged at the Everyman Theatre in 2014  centered around an (unsuccessful) campaign to save the historic Futurist cinema on Lime St.


Its modern replacement, along with those of the Scala, the old American bar and the other historic facades on that stretch of Lime St, are described by Jeff as boring, characterless ‘kitchen units,’ half of which remain empty to this day.


Is Jeff optimistic that the politicians and architects of today  will respect our heritage more than has been the case in the recent past?


“I’m quite pessimistic really….if you take away the nooks and crannies and the shadows you’re left with nothing really…you don’t want a city that doesn’t have eccentricity and strangeness on the streets.


You want a city that has that kind of magic.”


Ghost Town – A Liverpool Shadowplay is published by Little Toller Books and available to purchase from most online bookstores and  directly from Little Toller – https://www.littletoller.co.uk/shop/books/little-toller/ghost-town-by-jeff-young/


You can hear the full interview with Jeff Young on the latest Baltic Triangle Podcast with Mick Ord – available from your usual podcast provider including iTunes, Spotify, Google and the Baltic Triangle website – https://baltictriangle.co.uk/new-city-region-podcast-launched-from-the-baltic/