Thank You, Matthew Paris – Now I Don’t Have To Go To Peru

A post about holiday reading, discussed after my holiday on the BBC Radio Gloucestershire Book Club this week

Photo of Debbie in hat and coat at northernmost point of mainland Britain
Fending off the most northerly midges of mainland Scotland this summer

Although I love travelling, and rarely turn down an opportunity to travel anywhere, I do love putting in extra miles via the pages of a good travel book, whether to places I know well, to places I plan to go, or places I know will always be off my agenda. Continue reading “Thank You, Matthew Paris – Now I Don’t Have To Go To Peru”

Counter Spy in the New-Style Village Shop

New shop sign saying Hawkesbury Stores
The new name for the Hawkesbury village shop since it passed into community ownership

This post about my new role as a volunteer in our community-owned village shop first appeared in the Hawkesbury Parish News (August 2016)

A few days ago, I entered the village shop with some trepidation for my first ever shift in our new community-owned shop.

I am not sure how I got to be this old without ever having worked in a shop before. The closest I’ve come was is during a very brief career as a waitress in a York tea-shop when I was a student.  Continue reading “Counter Spy in the New-Style Village Shop”

What I Learned About Television Broadcasting from My Interview on That’s Oxfordshire TV

Photo of Mari Howard reading before an audience
My author friend Mari Howard reading her poetry at the first Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival last year
Picture by Clint Randall

A post about my recent appearance on That’s Oxfordshire TV

Just before I went away for my summer holidays, I had the pleasure of taking part in a television chat show for a local cable TV station That’s Oxfordshire, thanks to the kind invitation of my author friend Clare Weiner, who writes as Mari Howard.

I’ve known Clare/Mari for several years, we read and enjoy each other’s books, and she’s been a staunch supporter of the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival, where she’s spoken on panels and read from her novels and her poetry. We were therefore able to talk on the same wavelength (if you’ll excuse the broadcasting pun) when interviewed by presenter Eve Ahmed.

Continue reading “What I Learned About Television Broadcasting from My Interview on That’s Oxfordshire TV”

A Morning in Morecambe

A post celebrating the English seaside town of Morecambe, Lancashire

Even the great Eric Morecambe, this small town’s most famous son, commemorated on the seafront by a statue, couldn’t bring sunshine to Morecambe Bay the day we broke our journey there on the way to Scotland.

But his cheerful spirit abounded at the local branch of family pub chain Wetherspoons, named The Eric Bartholomew (his birth name) in his honour, where we breakfasted. Cheerful young bar staff called all the customers by terms of endearment that would have sounded more at home from the mouths of the largely middle-aged-to-elderly clientele, who were already enjoying their hospitality with everything from tea and toast to pints of lager and bottles of wine. One old man had nearly finished a bottle of wine at elevenses time. I guess the good news was that he was drinking it indoors out of a glass instead of a brown paper bag, while chatting companionably with the morning coffee brigade.

Despite the grey weather, it was good to see that this classic seaside town was looking considerably less seedy and neglected than on previous visits, with whole rows of terraced B&Bs along the seafront sporting “No Vacancies” signs.There is also a major construction project going on to revitalise the promenade.

It’s being financed by locally rather than by the EU, I noticed. I loved the decorative pavement edging inspired by local fossils.

The town has a proud and creative spirit, as shown by the original artworks nestling among vibrant-hued corporation planting. Seabird sculptures are everywhere, and a joyful statue of a mother twirling a child by the hands is the last you see of the town heading north along the coast road.These sit comfortably alongside more traditional landmarks such as this cute clock tower that looked like something straight out of Trumpton.

They’ve even managed to annexe the Lake District by placing a striking sculpture on the seafront indicating the hills theoretically visible from Morecambe. Lesser towns would have made do with a map.

Even though the rain obscured every one of the peaks that morning, the sculpture added to our positive experience of Morecambe.

Despite these highlights, it’s still impossible to visit this place without remembering the tragedy of the Chinese immigrant workers who lost their lives gathering cockles here a few years ago. The warning signs on the prom might seem laughably over the top to anyone who wasn’t aware of the serious dangers lurking in these treacherous shifting flat sands.

This region also inspired the multiple-award-winning, highly atmospheric novel The Loney by Andrew Michael Hurley, which I reviewed for Vine Leaves Literary Journal here.

Wherever you are holidaying this summer, respect the water and the hills, stay safe, and have fun, and I hope someone like Eric Morecambe brings you sunshine.

I Swear I Didn’t Mean It… (with a Free New Short Story!)

A quick post to share the article I’ve just written for the ALLi Author Advice Centre on the use of bad language in fiction

Photo of Debbie reading in the Quaker Meeting House
Already committed… (Thanks to fellow author Jacci Gooding for the photo)

Do you give a damn whether there is swearing in the stories you read?

Personally, I’m not keen on hearing the same bad language over and over again supposedly for the sake of realism, whether on television, in films or in books, and I don’t use it much either.

In fact, I’d always thought the language in my own fiction was pretty blameless. That is, until I started reading a new story, as yet unpublished, in the Quaker Meeting House as part of the Evesham Festival of Words last month. Eager to give a brand new, unpublished story, Drunk in Charge, an airing and get some feedback, I hadn’t really thought through the implications of the setting before I got there.

Today I’ve shared the experience over on the ALLi Authors Advice Centre blog, where every Monday is our “Opinion” day, on the basis that it’s good to start the week with a rousing debate. If you’d like to read my piece in full, you can hop over to the blog here.

Cover of Repent at Leisure
One of my works-in-progress, which will include the short story “Drunk in Charge”

Or if you prefer to cut to the chase, you can read Drunk in Charge hereA more polished version will appear in my next collection of short stories, Repent at Leisure, to be published, er, at my leisure… Join my mailing list here if you’d like me to let you know when it’s available, and you’ll also get a free download of Quick Change to read while you’re waiting.

Now back to writing the rest of the stories…



Old-fashioned Cameras vs the Smartphone – or Why Less is More with Holiday Snaps

In my column for the July/August edition of the Tetbury Advertiser, I ponder the dilemma of taking too many summer holiday snaps in the age of the smartphone and am nostalgic about the rarity value of photographs taken with the old-fashioned cameras of my childhood

Laura and Grandpa on the beach writing in the sand
Possibly my favourite holiday snap of all time: Laura with my dad on the beach at Mousehole

Lights – Camera – Inaction

Passport – check. Tickets – check. Currency – check. Camera – er, no, actually. These days, I don’t even possess a camera, having transferred my photographic loyalties to my smartphone, for several reasons. Firstly, it means one thing less to carry. Secondly, it means one thing less to remember. (Always good news once you get to a certain age.) Thirdly, as if by magic, the photos from my smartphone are automatically uploaded to cloud storage, so I don’t even have to do anything to get them onto my computer.

The downside is that I now have a vast number of photos up there in the ether that I’ve completely lost track of. Even so, I still snap everything in sight when I’m on holiday, because it’s free and easy to do.

Scarcity Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

Photo of Instamatic camera gift set
(Photo by Carsten Corleis – Own Work. Photographed with a ‘Praktica Luxmedia 4008’ digital camera, CC BY-SA 3.0)

What a change from my childhood, when I had one of those new-fangled Instamatic cameras. Remember them? The film came in an easy-to-load drop-in cartridge, so you no longer had to feed it into a spool inside your camera in a darkened room. It was the most democratising development (if you’ll excuse the pun) since the introduction of the Box Brownie, making photography more accessible and affordable for the untechnical masses. If you needed a flash, you popped a little cube on the top of the camera containing four bulbs, burning your fingers when you removed it after use. Well, one must suffer for art.


Latter-Day Rationing

The only big decisions were whether to choose film for slides or for prints – slides were a big thing in those days, and I had a small battery-lit box on which to view them – and whether to opt for twelve pictures, twenty-four, or, if you were feeling flush, because processing costs were in proportion to the number of pictures, an extravagant thirty-six picture film. On a pocket-money budget, I’d eke out one film for a holiday, rationing myself to a picture or two a day. Occasionally I’d have spare pictures to take when I got home. Films came with use-by dates, after which they’d start to degrade, so sometimes there’d be a mad rush to take the last few shots before a film expired.

The Unavoidable Lens of Digital Cameras

To my daughter, such limitations seem laughably quaint, but I wouldn’t mind returning to that style of photography. These days, it’s too easy to end up viewing half your holiday through your smartphone screen, self-imposing tunnel vision, and missing out on the third dimension.

Pictures Are Better in Your Head

So this summer, while I’ll still be taking my smartphone on holiday to send texts instead of postcards (sob! how I mourn for that endangered species!), I’ll be making a conscious effort not to spend so much time snapping holiday shots. After all, just as the pictures on the radio are better than on TV, the memories stored in your head will always be superior to your holiday snaps.

Wherever you’re spending your summer holiday this year, I wish you a wonderful three-dimensional time.


If this post has whetted your appetite for more on the theme of summer holidays, you might enjoy:

Cover of Young by Name
Collected columns from my first six years of writing for the Tetbury Advertiser

If you’d like to read more of my monthly “Young By Name” columns for the Tetbury Advertiser, you can buy them in a single volume as an ebook (£2.99) or in paperback (£6.99) – dare I suggest these short, light-hearted whimsical pieces might make good holiday reading? 

Order Young by Name from your local bookshop quoting ISBN 978-1911223030 or buy from Amazon here

(IMHO, it’s worth buying in paperback to get the beautiful watercolour cover image provided by my talented father!)