Posted in Events, Writing

The Sound of Christmas

‘It’s beginning to sound a lot like Christmas,’ as Bing Crosby didn’t sing in one of the most iconic secular songs of the festive season.

These days, the two things that excite me most about Christmas are seeing all the fairy lights appearing in the darkness and hearing Christmas music. I’m always relatively late putting up Christmas decorations in my house, rushing to get our tree into the front window minutes before the lights are turned on at The Plain (our village green). But I’m always early with the festive music.

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Posted in Writing

So, You Think You’ve Got a Book in You?

13 years ago, I gave up my full-time day job to focus on my writing. Now I earn my living from writing and writing-related activities such as public speaking and teaching. This post is to encourage anyone who has often thought they’d like to write a book that it’s never too late to start – and how to go about it. 

Do you often think, “I could write a book, if only I had the time”? The long, cold dark nights of November make spending leisure time outdoors or away from home less appealing. So why not take the opportunity to start getting that book out of your head and down on paper?

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Posted in Events, Reading, Writing

On Your Doorstep

People who live in large, sparsely populated countries have a different definition of ‘nearby’ from ours. I know someone who thinks nothing of driving two hours for their weekly shop, including a stint on a car ferry. Another friend drives twelve hours to their ‘local’ hospital. When we asked my visiting Canadian cousin where she’d like us to take her while she was in England, she said ‘France’. My aunt, her grandmother, chose Scotland.

How lucky we are here in the Cotswolds to have so much within easy reach – not only essential facilities, but places of historic and cultural interest to enrich our lives. My latest discovery on our doorstep is the tiny, historic church of St Andrew at Leighterton. (Other tiny, historic churches are available, as the BBC might say.)

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Posted in Travel, Writing

What’s in a Name?

Have you ever wanted to visit a place simply because its name intrigued you?

On a short break in North Devon, I am pleased to have the opportunity to visit Westward Ho! The exclamation mark that is part of the seaside town’s official name makes it sound so thrilling. The only thing I know about Westward Ho! is that Charles Kingsley wrote a novel by that name, so I assume he thought it worth celebrating. 

Yet as I plan our trip, I discover the novel Westward Ho! predates the town. Kingsley wrote it in 1855 while living in Bideford. (See header photo for Bideford’s statue in his honour.) Only in 1863 did an enterprising firm of developers start building an eponymous town nearby to cash in on the novel’s popularity.

copy of Tove Jansson's Moominsummer Madness and a cuddly toy Moominmamma
We love the Moomins…

In most countries, there’s no copyright on book titles, so I wonder this doesn’t happen more often. It’s a much more exciting approach to merchandising than the usual t-shirts, tea-towels and tote bags. My daughter and I would visit a real-life Moomin Valley like a shot.

So, if Kingsley’s book didn’t take its name from the town, where did it originate?

Received wisdom is that it came from Victorian water-taxi signs indicating their direction of travel along the Thames. There was also a play by the same name, written by John Webster and Thomas Dekker in 1604, about the westward expansion of London. There followed plays called Eastward Ho! and Northward Ho!  but no Southward Ho! Maybe Jacobean playwrights, like London cabbies, didn’t like going south of the river.

I wonder whether Westward Ho! is the only place name in the world to include an exclamation mark, and I’m pleased to discover another town with not one but two.

I think St-Louis-du-Ha!-Ha! in Quebec, Canada, sounds like a fun place until I find it’s named after the French word haha, meaning an impasse, rather than for a civic sense of humour. It’s the same word we use in English to mean a concealed trench to prevent animals passing from farmland to gardens, dispensing with the need for a fence or wall that might spoil the landowner’s view.

Sign for Canada Post office at St-Louis-du-Ha! Ha! in Quebec (3037740822)

The nearest haha I know to Tetbury is at Westonbirt School, at the edge of its Grade I listed gardens. (See Historic England’s offical mention of Westonbirt’s haha here.)  A vintage list of school rules forbids pupils from roaming beyond the haha. This instruction must have perplexed new girls, unless they all had hahas at home.

Meanwhile, back in Bideford, I discover on YouTube a satirical song called “Westward Ho! – Massive Letdown” by Half Man Half Biscuit.


With a discography that includes “Trouble Over Bridgwater”, “Back in the DHSS”, “Dickie Davies Eyes”, and “Voyage to the Bottom of the Road”, there’s a band that knows how to work a name.

Consequently, when I finally arrive at Westward Ho!, I’m bracing myself for a let-down, but thick fog drifts in from the sea shrouding the whole place, making it impossible to form a fair judgment. My sense of wonder therefore remains intact. Not so my computer’s grammar checker, sent into meltdown by all those rule-breaking exclamation marks.

(This post first appeared in the October 2023 edition of the Tetbury Advertiser).


cover of Christmas with Sophie Sayers
Launching Friday 24th November

The manuscript of my next novel, Driven to Murder, (Sophie Sayers #9) with the proofreader, and due to be published on 26th January 2024 (ebook available to pre-order here with a placeholder title – cover reveal to follow soon).

I now have a little leeway to work on another project that I’ve been planning for literally years – a new collection of festive short stories featuring Sophie Sayers and her friends from my Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries.

One of the stories also features staff and pupils at St Bride’s School, when Gemma Lamb accompanies a party of school carol singers to Wendlebury Barrow.

The collection also includes my first (and so far only) story about Sophie’s late Great Auntie May, in Christmas Ginger.

Some of the stories have been shared online before, and Christmas Ginger was included in the Everyday Kindness anthology, edited by L J Ross to raise funds for housing charity Shelter. But this is the first time the stories have been brought together in a book.

This collection of gentle, feel-good stories of Cotswold village life (with not a murder in sight!) would make a great stocking filler or Secret Santa present, or indeed a gift-to-self to help you get in festive mood.

Christmas with Sophie Sayers will be published worldwide on all the major retail platforms un paperback and ebook on Friday 24th November. The ebook is already available to pre-order on Amazon here. I’ll share buying links for other digital channels including Apple, Kobo and Nook as soon as they’ve been confirmed.

Posted in Personal life, Writing

Learning to Love the Bindweed

A post about garden weeds was originally written for the October issue of the Hawkesbury Parish News – plus recommended autumn reads.

“One year’s weeds is seven years’ seeds.”

So a neighbour warned me, casting anguished looks at my disorderly flower beds not long after I’d moved into the village.

Much as I tried, the weeds always seemed to appear faster than I could pull them up. I tried not to let them get me down, telling myself that by the end of August they’d all stop growing anyway.

Not so now. As I write, two-thirds of the way through September, one kind of weed is still going strong. I shall forever remember 2023 for the Summer of the Bindweed.

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