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Celebrating Words at Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival

“Hello, Debbie, how are you? Busy with – whatever it is you do?”

This greeting from a neighbour the other day made me smile. It’s true that I do a lot of different things besides writing books, and even I have trouble keeping up with myself sometimes.

So I thought it might be a good idea to start sharing on my blog some of my various activities, just in case anyone else is wondering how I fill my days.  

This week, I’m going to tell you about the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival, which I founded in 2015 as an affordable, accessible and fun bookish event for my village.

HULF in a Nutshell

HULF, as we call it for short, has taken various forms over the years, starting out as an evening in the pub, rapidly growing into a huge all-day event in multiple venues, with four or five different events starting on the hour every hour between 10am and 5pm, before being put on hold during Covid lockdowns.

group shot from a previous HULF
From the last HULF before lockdown intervened (Photo by Angela Fitch)

Post-lockdown, I’ve revived it on a smaller and more manageable scale, bringing together a handful of authors and other guest speakers in a single venue to talk on a particular theme for an afternoon. In April 2023, I’ll be scaling it back up again to a full-day event, but still in a single venue.

Cook’s Perks for Festival Organisers

When I was a child, my maternal grandmother, who worked as a cook for a military officer, taught me a great phrase: “cook’s perks” – the secret bonuses of the job, such as getting to lick the spoon after you’ve finished spreading the icing on a cake.

That phrase still goes through my head not only when I’m cooking, but also when I’m planning the programme for the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival, because I get to pick the topics that I want to hear more about. Of course, I choose subjects and speakers to attract and please an audience, but I confess the first audience I think about is myself.

A Celebration of Words

I decided in December, when I was outlining the schedule of talks for the new year, that the next HULF event would focus not on a particular genre or theme of literature, but on the English language.

I wanted to hear about different aspects of language and writing in general, and I set about booking speakers with special knowledge of and expertise in words and ways of using language, from how the English language was formed and how words get into the dictionary, to specialist applications of language such as codes and lyrics.

The following programme is the result of my curiosity, and the HULF Festival of Words will take place on Saturday 22nd April (10.3-5pm).

graphic for HULF Talk save the date notice

The Talks

  • The Language of Bells – with a demonstration of bell ringing, a short talk, and readings of related poetry and prose
  • Jargon in Fiction – the language of pugilism in novels from Dickens to the present day
  • Cracking Codes & Made-up Languages – the Enigma Machine, the Colditz Code, Jabberwocky & Other Nonsense
  • The Secret Life of Ghostwriters – putting words in other people’s mouths
  • How New Words Are Chosen for the Dictionary – by a professional lexicographer from the Oxford English Dictionay
  • How William Tyndale Still Affects the English Language Today – just as much as Shakespeare, apparently!
  • On Translation – with readings from Brian Friel’s play of the same name
  • Fitting Words to Music  – a discussion of lyrics with St Mary’s Music Director and Choirmaster
  • Ancient vs Modern English:
    – in Historical Fiction: Gadzookery or Ok?
    – in the Church of England: an interview with two vicars
  • Language versus Meaning in the Old Testament – putting the Bible into historical context
  • Summing Up: The Art of the Aphorism
  • Words on Paper: A Calligraphy Exhibition

The event kicks off at 10.30am, with a lunch break from 1-2pm (more of that in a moment), and at 5pm we’ll close with Prospero’s wonderful speech: “Our revels now are ended…”.

The Speakers

Another perk of being Festival director is that I get to choose the speakers – all people who I know will do an excellent job. For the HULF Festival of Words I have assembled a cast of really interesting mix of experience and perspective:

  • Gerard Boyce – retired English teacher and brilliant reader of prose and poetry
  • Lucienne Boyce – author of historical fiction and non-fiction
  • Colin Dixon – Tower Captain of St Mary’s Hawkesbury Bell Ringers
  • Bill Fairney – author of fiction and non-fiction, including a novel about the Enigma machine
  • Ben Humphries – musician, composer and music director for the Badminton Benefice
  • Jennifer Hurd  – lexicographer at the Oxford English Dicitionary
  • John Lynch – author of fiction and non-fiction and professional ghostwriter
  • Ian Macfadyen – retired Air Marshall and churchwarden of St Mary’s Hawkesbury
  • Michael Macmahon – author of Brevity is the Soul of Wit and professional voice artist
  • Lisa Overton – historian and churchwarden of St Mary’s Hawkesbury
  • Tina Stubbs – author of Disowning the Violence: Challenging the Disturbing Image of God in the Old Testament
  • Rev Trevor Stubbs – retired vicar and missionary, and fiction author
  • Rev Richard Thomson – vicar of St Mary’s Hawkesbury and Badminton Benefice

The Venue

Choosing the venue is another privilege that I enjoy, and I like to use the festival events to draw attention to village venues that will benefit from the income and exposure. This time, the venue will be St Mary the Virgin, Hawkesbury  GL9  IBN, our beautiful ancient parish church that pre-dates the Domesday Book. St Mary’s is situated just down the hill from the centre of Hawkesbury Upton, in a peaceful, timeless hamlet.

I’m a member of the Friends of St Mary’s, which exists to maintain this beautiful part of our local heritage for the enjoyment of present and future generations. I hope that by staging a HULF event at St Mary’s, we’ll draw more attention to this hidden gem, attract more visitors, and raise much-needed funds. All the profits from this HULF Talk will go to the Friend’s of St Mary’s. 

photo of St Mary the Virgin Hawkesbury
(Photo by Ian Macfadyen)

Options for Lunch

Knowing that not much happens in Hawkesbury Upton without cake, I’ve made tea, coffee, cake and biscuits a regular feature of HULF. The £5 per person admission ticket for HULF Talks include copious refreshments.

As this is an all-day event, there will be an hour’s break for lunch, and you’re welcome to bring picnics and packed lunches to enjoy in the church and its beautiful grounds.

As an extra fundraiser, and for added enjoyment, this time there will be an optional sit-down lunch of home-made quiche, salad, and fruit, served in the historic setting of the ancient Malthouse opposite the church, by kind courtesy of Lisa and Christopher Overton. Due to limited space, this lunch is only bookable in advance for £10 per head. Wine and soft drinks will be available to buy on the day for a small extra charge. You must have an event ticket to be able to attend the lunch.

Like to Join Us?

I hope that explanation of my involvement with HULF may have whetted your appetite to attend, provided of course you live within reach of our idyllic corner of the Cotswolds. If so:


For more information about HULF, please visit If you’d like to keep informed about future HULF events, please join the HULF mailing list via the website. 

Now, back to whatever is next on my list of things to do. Ah yes, to cook tea for my husband and me. Cook’s perks, here I come again!

In Other News

  • My latest novel, Murder in the Highlands, has been on a whirlwind tour of bookbloggers, picking up some terrific reviews.
  • A new charity anthology, The Little Shop of Murders, featuring an all-new Sophie Sayers short story, is now available to buy in paperback, and the ebook launches on 1st April.
  • Artful Antics, my fourth Gemma Lamb mystery, set at St Bride’s School, is about to go into production with my publisher Boldwood Books.
  • I’ve just returned from a week’s writing retreat in Cornwall, where I planned a completely new book – but I’m keeping that under wraps for now!



English author of warm, witty cosy mystery novels including the popular Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries and the Gemma Lamb/St Bride's School series. Novels published by Boldwood Books, all other books by Hawkesbury Press. Represented by Ethan Ellenberg Literary Agents. Founder and director of the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival. Course tutor for Jericho Writers. UK Ambassador for the Alliance of Independent Authors. Lives and writes in her Victorian cottage in the heart of the beautiful Cotswold countryside.

One thought on “Celebrating Words at Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival

  1. The festival sounds amazing – would love to hear the talks or read them – later in print . Would love to be there- am sure it will all go well x thel

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