In 1967, my mother gave lodgings to a young Scottish woman, pregnant with an 'illegitimate' child. Let's call her Heather. She was bright, profane and attractive. I was 14 at the time and we got on famously. When she gave birth to a boy, she called him Stephen.
I changed his nappies, took him for walks, winded him, got him off to sleep at night. On the day his adoptive parents came to collect him, I didn't want to let him go. I wasn't allowed to know the name of the couple by law but sneaked into the road outside my house and memorised the registration number of the couple's car – much to my mother's fear and disapproval. I never wrote it down but I could tell you exactly what it was today, 50 years later. My novel Whatever Happened to Billy Shears? (Marylebone House, £8.99, published 20 April) was partially inspired by this event.
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 horse called Henry – and a nervous, love-struck singer called Billy Shears. Lyrically, Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band gave us an intriguing snapshot of 1960s' Britain in cultural flux.
But after we'd followed her down to the bridge by the fountain, what happened to Lucy? 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?
In real life, I have always wondered what happened to young Stephen, now heading for his 50th birthday. I'm sure I will never know – but the events of my Summer of Love gelled together to form the basis for the novel. What if the characters on Pepper had lived on the same suburban 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?
In Whatever Happened to Billy Shears? we meet Canon William 'Shears' Shearwater in the present day, a 60-something PR consultant retained by the fictitious Diocese of Southbury, dealing with a parish priest who has swapped wives with the church organist. In a former role as director of communications for the Anglican Diocese of Manchester, I discussed similar incidents with other directors. Defending the sometimes indefensible leads to intense ethical dilemmas. Shears successfully dispatches the dodgy priest to a diocese far, far away. However, he has his own hidden history and the priest is determined to exact revenge.
At the same time, 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.
In real life, I've spent more than three decades retained by dozens of Christian organisations, helping them become wider known through the media – with notable successes and some unforgettable failures! I've poured many of these experiences into Whatever Happened to Billy Shears? but, as I was finishing the novel, took on the greatest challenge of my working life: owning and managing the Christian Resources Exhibition. Often dubbed the 'ideal church show', CRE is the biggest annual exhibition of church resources in Europe, where you can meet everyone from chair makers to children's charities, sound system suppliers to stained glass specialists. By popular demand, CRE returns to Sandown Park, Esher, Surrey (Oct 17-19 2017).
If Pepper was a snapshot of England in the 1960s, CRE provides us with a living picture of the church going about its business in the teenies. Having first worked on the event's PR in 1987, I'm delighted to have been given this wonderful opportunity to develop the event for the benefit of thousands of churches who need the specialist resources it provides.
And it's just possible that copies of Whatever Happened to Billy Shears? will be on sale in the bookshop as well.
Steve Goddard is a PR consultant and former director of communications for the Anglican Diocese of Manchester. He co-edits www.shipoffools.com, a theological comedy website and online community. His first novel was Rattles and Rosettes (2014). In November 2016 he bought the Christian Resources Exhibition from the Bible Society and the first event under the new team's tenure will be at Sandown Park, Esher Oct 17-19 2017. Find him on Twitter @SteveGodd