Author of the Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries – and much more
Author: Debbie Young
Optimistic author, blogger, journalist, book reviewer and public speaker whose life revolves around books. Her first love is writing fiction, including the new Sophie Sayers Village Mystery novels (out 2017), short stories and essays inspired by her life in an English village. She also writes how-to books for authors and books about living with Type 1 diabetes. She is Author Advice Centre Editor and and UK Ambassador for the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) Advice Centre blog, an ambassador for the children's reading charity Readathon, and an official speaker for the diabetes research charity JDRF.
My column for the April edition of the Tetbury Advertiser, published under the shorter title of “Of Books and Babies” to save space!
This month, as I prepare to launch my first novel, Best Murder in Show, I’ve been spotting the many similarities between producing a book and giving birth to a baby.
For me, the gestation time for my daughter and my novel have been about the same. There have been so many pre-publication checks by advance readers, editors and proofreaders, that I feel as if BMiS should have its own “orange book” of antenatal records that the NHS thrusts upon expectant mothers.
When you announce to friends that you’re pregnant, their response varies according to whether or not they have borne children themselves. So too with a novel:
“Ah yes, I’ve always thought I might do that, once I’ve got my career/house/travel bucket list sorted” versus “Oh my goodness, it’s SUCH hard work, but worth it in the end. I think.”
Regarding the title, I knew what I’d call my novel all along. No working titles for me. The same happened with my daughter. “But what if she doesn’t look like a Laura when she’s born?” a family friend enquired. Fortunately, she did.
When you write a book, you have plans, hopes and dreams for it, just as you do for your child. But when delivery day dawns, all you really want is for your baby to arrive intact and trouble-free.
The first time I saw my new-born daughter’s face, it was so screwed up that in my heavily drugged state I thought she didn’t have any eyes. “Never mind, we’ll get round it,” I thought to myself, ever the optimist. Two days later, when she finally deigned to open them, her eyes proved to be beautiful and perfect. Even so, I will be surprised if I don’t have at least one nightmare between now and my book’s official launch in which the letter “I” is omitted from my beautiful new book: Best Murder n Show, coming soon to a bookshop near you.
For medical reasons, Laura was born by planned Caesarean section. This meant I knew for weeks beforehand when her 0th birthday would be. So too with my book: it will enter the world shortly after 10am on Saturday 22nd April at the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival. (Laura was born at 10.22am.)
But here’s the biggest difference between my baby and my book:
I am and will only ever be the mother of just one child, having embarked on motherhood too late for younger siblings to be naturally possible. Yet Best Murder in Show is the first in a planned series of seven Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries. In fact, I’m already expecting the second, Trick or Murder, due to appear later this year.
From now on, I plan to keep producing novels well into my old age.
I just hope no medical intervention will be required.
Best Murder in Show is currently available from Amazon at the special launch price of £4.99 for the paperback, around the world, via Amazon – and from our village shop!
From 1st May 2017, it will revert to its usual RRP of £7.99, and will then also be available to buy from bookstores worldwide. Support your local bookshop, folks! Just give your friendly local bookseller ISBN 978-1911223139 and he or she will be able to order it via their usual trade supplier.
The ebook, currently available exclusively for Kindle, costs £2.99.
In my column for the April issue of the Hawkesbury Parish News, I wrote about this old adage for writers.
Common advice to authors is that when writing fiction, it’s best to write what you know. This is to add authenticity and to avoid errors. The only trouble with that advice comes when an author’s friends and relations assume that certain characters are based on themselves.
That’s why smart fiction publishers always print a disclaimer (“any semblance to people living or dead is purely coincidental”), although the author’s friends and relations may easily retort “Well, you would say that, wouldn’t you?”
So I’d like to take this opportunity to assure you all that no-one in Wendlebury Barrow, the fictitious village in which my new novel Best Murder in Show is set, is based on any real person, living or dead, in Hawkesbury Upton (or elsewhere, for that matter).
And although the two villages have plenty of features in common – annual show, shop, pub, school, drama group, writers’ group, WI – only one of them has a resident murderer.
Fortunately, that’s Wendlebury Barrow, not Hawkesbury Upton. Phew.
Best Murder in Show is now available from Amazon as an ebook and a paperback, although its official launch will be at the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival on Saturday 22nd April at 10am in the Bethesda Chapel, to which you are all invited.
After that, copies will also be available from the Hawkesbury Stores. That is, if the staff still want to stock it after they’ve read Chapter 4 about the eccentric village shopkeeper…
The special Festival price for the paperback is £4.99, rising to the RRP of £7.99 from 1st May – so get in quick to save yourself £3!
You may recall that a couple of months ago I took part in a special time-limited promotion with 11 other authors, between us offering 12 free ebooks, including my fun short story collection Marry in Haste. If you enjoyed taking advantage of that promotion – or indeed if you’re kicking yourself for missing it! – you may like to know that this weekend, I’m at it again, with another mix of authors and books (some the same as before, but some different). Once more you will be able to download any or all of the books for free.
Here’s the line-up of what’s available this time around:
As you’ll see, it’s an intriguing mix of titles across different genres, with something likely to please just about everyone. We think they’d all make great books for book group discussions, which is why we’re running this promotion under the banner of Book Club Gold, and providing as a bonus a free list of book group questions with every download. You can also find my list of questions for readers of Marry in Haste here.
Not Only for Book Clubs
Of course, you don’t have to be a member of a book club to take advantage of this offer, but if you were thinking of starting a book group, here’s an easy way to get a year’s worth of books for your book club free of charge.
Feel free to share the offer with your friends too – the more, the merrier!
As ever, if you enjoy any of these books, the authors will always be very glad of any reviews you care to write, on Amazon, Goodreads, your bookblog, or anywhere else you like to share your thoughts about reading. Or just use the oldest technology there is, word of mouth, and tell your friends!
PS In case you’re wondering why 12 authors give their books away free, when they’re also for sale at normal retail prices, here’s the method behind the apparent madness. Joint promotions of this kind are currently a very effective way for authors to introduce each others’ readers to their books and so to attract new readership for their own work. Instafreebie has given authors an easy-to-use device that is also very user-friendly for authors. Of course, Instafreebie is running promotions like this all the time, and if you choose to remain subscribed to their mailing list, you’ll receive regular updates from them about other authors’ free offers – but you can unsubscribe from Instafreebie whenever you like, so it’s win-win, really!
How I named the leading man in Best Murder in Show
Last week I explained how I chose the name for the heroine of Best Murder in Show, the first of my new Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries series, and this week, just three days before the ebook launches (paperback to follow three weeks later), I’m going to reveal how the leading man, Hector Munro, got his name.
Hector Munro is the proprietor of the village bookshop, Hector’s House. Those of a certain age will recognise the name Hector’s House, which was a 1970s children’s television puppet show, featuring a dog called Hector whose catchphrase was variations on this theme: “I’m a great big lovable old Hector”. It was the kind of show that warmed the heart of adults and children alike in the tea-time slot in my childhood, when the Magic Roundabout was taking a break. (You can sample it on YouTube here.)
The name for the bookshop has been forced onto Hector by the benefactor who co-financed its launch, but the name Hector is well and truly his own, chosen by his antique dealer parents who have a passion for the classics.
Though of course it was actually chosen by me, because I wanted something unusual. I don’t know any real-life Hectors, although I’ve since heard of an acquaintance coincidentally christening her baby with that name. My Hector is a creative, unconventional type, who thinks outside the box and is not afraid to do what he wants to do.
…and Why Munro
The name Munro came to me in a flash as a comfortable surname, partly because my Scottish husband is what’s known as a Munro bagger. Munro baggers are hillwalkers who set themselves the challenge of climbing all the Munros – 280+ Scottish mountains over 3,000 feet – which means Scotland’s highest mountains.
How did the mountains get their name? They were named in honour of the first man to map them all, a certain Hugo Munro.
Ever since I’ve known my husband, resident in England throughout his adult life, and so very far from the nearest Munro, he has been pursuing his goal of bagging them all. We spend many summer holidays touring Scotland in our camper van, seeking out the next mountain on his list. My daughter and I drop him at his starting point, then go off to do touristy things before picking him up post-conquest. This year it looks as if he’s going to complete the final Munro.
Therefore in my mind the name Munro is a symbol of challenge, determination and achievement, and also a certain rugged, wiry manliness, without being too obvious. The word Munro is like a code, as any Munro bagger will understand.
Putting Them Both Together
Putting the two together, I liked the way that Hector Munro tripped off the tongue. I also thought it memorable. But so much for my memory, because I didn’t realise until long after I’d established my character why I’d taken to the name so much. Picking up a copy of a book by one of my favourite short story writers, I was reminded that Saki‘s real name was Hector Hugh Munro.
As if that wasn’t enough, I also realised a little while later that the surname of the proprietor of my nearest independent bookshop is also associated with mountains, or at least large hills: The Corbetts are the next highest hills in Scotland after the Munros. Hereward Corbett, is proprietor of the Yellow-Lighted Bookshop (branches in Tetbury and Nailsworth). Whether Hereward’s parents had anything to with mountaineering, I do not know.
Next in the Scottish mountain pecking order are the Grahams and the Donalds. By chance, the landlord of the local pub in the Sophie Sayers series is called Donald, but I haven’t introduced a Graham yet. I think he’d better come into one of the sequels – I don’t want the Grahams feeling left out.
Hector Munro: His Own Person
But let’s be clear about this: Hector Munro is not based on any of his namesakes in any way. All the characters, settings and situtations are entirely fictional, as in any novel. My Hector Munro is a man unto himself, one not easily tamed or fathomed, as you will see when you read the series and follow how his character develops. To whet your appetite for what’s to come, here’s the scene where Sophie first meets him in Chapter 5 of Best Murder in Show, when she’s seeking a job in his bookshop…
Extract of BEST MURDER IN SHOW
“Hello, can you tell me where Hector is, please? Carol in the village shop told me that he needs help.”
“You can say that again,” came a familiar voice from the back corner. Arranged around three circular tin tables were a dozen old-fashioned folding garden chairs, one of them occupied by Billy, the non-cerebral stout-drinker from the day before. Despite the aspersions he’d cast on Hector’s tea, he was enthusiastically working his way through a large pot of the stuff.
A lean olive-skinned man in his early thirties was leaning on the main shop counter with his arms folded, longish dark curls flopping forward to cover his high forehead.
“I can. But should I?”
Confused, I glanced across at Billy for a clue. That was a mistake.
“She’ll be asking to see your buns next, Hector.”
“Thank you, Billy, if I need your advice, I’ll ask for it.”
The man at the counter unfolded his arms and pointed one finger at his chest. “He’s here. I’m Hector. Thank you for brightening my bookshop with your presence. I don’t believe we’ve met before?”
Despite Hector’s parents having only recently retired, I’d been picturing someone only marginally less aged than himself. After all, when you’re eighty-six, most people qualify as younger. Perhaps it was the archaic name that threw me. Hectors should be wrinkly grey-haired curmudgeons in cardigans, not gorgeous, enigmatic Greek gods.
Hector held out a warm, soft hand for me to shake, before coming out from behind the counter to stand alongside me. “But the more pressing question for me is, how can I help you? No, don’t tell me, I’ve got just the book for you.”
He strode over to the fiction section, plucked a paperback from among the Gs and presented it to me, deadpan.
“Here we are: Travels with my Aunt, by Graham Greene.”
Billy guffawed. “Point to you, young Hector!”
I gasped. “How did you know who I was? Did you recognise her skirt?”
I’d put on a long mulberry velvet one from my aunt’s wardrobe to try to look cultured.
“Have you looked in the mirror lately?” replied Hector. “You are obviously related to May Sayers. Billy tells me that you’re living in May’s cottage.”
“Actually, my name’s on the deeds now. My great aunt left the cottage to me.”
“You’ll have to wait about twenty years before people round here call it your cottage. Your name being…?”
“Sophie. Sophie Sayers. Sayers, same as my aunt.”
“Yes, you certainly are,” put in Billy, who clearly considered himself part of our conversation. “Don’t let old Joshua see you looking like that, whatever you do. It’ll be too much for him. We’ll be carrying him off to the graveyard to lie alongside her, if you’re not careful.”
Hector shot him a withering look. “Billy, really! Drink your tea or I’ll take it away.”
That shut him up. He must have needed the tea to sober him up after his early start on the stout the previous afternoon.
In the ensuing silence, I noticed for the first time the music that was playing softly in the background: Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells. Great Auntie May had long ago taught me to love this classic album from the 70s. It’s not something you hear much in public these days.
Hector’s smile had a hint of smugness about it. “Your tune? Your Auntie May always loved it, so I thought you might too.”
“What? Did you see me coming and put it on specially?”
We both listened appreciatively for a moment to the music’s gentle meanderings, while he set the Graham Greene book on the counter, facing me, presumably as a hint. But I wasn’t so easily hoodwinked by his charm into buying a book I neither wanted nor needed. May’s house was stuffed with books.
I pulled myself together, remembering the serious and pressing intent of my visit. If I wasn’t able to get a job here, I’d have to look further afield, and soon.
“So, as I was saying, Carol Barker said you were looking for an assistant. And Joshua Hampton, next door to me, encouraged me to apply. So please may I have an application form?”
Hector patted his pockets as if searching. “Sorry, I seem to be fresh out of them. Bit of a run on applications this morning. How about an application cup of tea instead?”
He gestured to the tearoom. I chose the table furthest from Billy.
“So, tea?” offered Hector, sitting down opposite me. “Not you, Billy, you’ve had enough for one morning.”
Behind me, Billy drained his cup noisily, and scraped his chair across the old oak floorboards. “No matter, I’ll be heading off to The Bluebird for my dinner soon.”
“But it’s only eleven o’clock.” I wondered what scenic route he’d be taking to the village pub, a few hundred yards away, to make his journey last till evening.
“That’s The Bluebird’s opening time. I has a ploughman’s lunch up there for my dinner midday every Tuesday. Washed down with a nice pint of old Donald’s special. Good luck with your interview, girlie.”
He rolled the word interview around his mouth like a euphemism for some lascivious delight.
The shop door jangled to allow Billy’s exit as Hector set down a loaded tea tray on the table between us. The crockery was decorated with the titles of classic novels in old-fashioned typewriter fonts. He’d given me Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations and himself Somerset Maugham’s Cakes and Ale. The teapot was branded Love in a Cold Climate, by Nancy Mitford.
Will Sophie get the job? Will she discover the secret that enables Hector’s House to keep his business solvent? (A bookshop in a tiny Cotswold village – really?) You’ll have to read the book to find out!
A post about the heroine of my debut novel,Best Murder in Show
New novel, I hear you cry? Yes, my new novel! Due to launch officially in paperback on Saturday 22nd April at the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival, Best Murder in Show is already available to pre-order as a Kindle ebook via Amazon. (Click here to find it on Amazon UK and here for Amazon US.)
It’s the first in a series of seven classic mystery stories set in the Cotswolds in the modern day, in a village not unlike the one where I’ve lived for the last 26 years.
Of course, as it’s fiction, any resemblance to real people, places or situations is entirely coincidental, although I confidently expect at least one of my neighbours will stop me in the street claiming to be X, Y or Z in the story.
As long as they’re not claiming to be the murderer, I think I can handle that.
To whet your appetite between now and the official launch, I’ll be writing a series of posts about different aspects of the book.
How I Named My Heroine
Today I’m going to tell you how I chose the name of the heroine, Sophie Sayers, who at the age of 25 inherits a country cottage from her great aunt. This legacy provides her with the perfect opportunity to ditch her sponging, controlling boyfriend, and instead to reinvent herself as a writer.
Only problem is, she’s not sure what to write or where to start.
In the meantime, although she’s able to live rent-free, she still has to earn her keep, so she secures a job in the village bookshop,where the charming but enigmatic bookseller Hector Munro takes her under his wing. (More about his name in a future post.)
Before long, Sophie is sucked into the busy social life of the village community, seeking to solve a murder mystery that everyone else assumes to be death from natural causes. She’s hoping that the handsome Hector will not turn out to be the murderer, but he’s definitely hiding something suspicious…
So Why Sophie Sayers?
Firstly, I’ve always liked the name Sophie, and at one time was holding it in reserve for a daughter, should I ever have one.
I did indeed eventuallly have a daughter in 2003, but I decided some weeks before she was born that she was actually a Laura. I still loved the name Sophie, not least because there’d been one in my family a few generations back, so post-Laura I decided to save Sophie for my next cat.
But my next cat, who arrived as a stray in a snowstorm on the same day as my aunt’s postcard of the red shoes from The Wizard of Oz, turned out to be a Dorothy.
She settled in straight away and has been here ever since, our Cotswold cottage apparently being her equivalent to Kansas: “there’s no place like home”.
A few years later, when I started writing the first in a planned series of mystery novels, I wanted to pay tribute to one of my own favourite detective story writers, Dorothy L Sayers, author of the wonderful Lord Peter Wimsey series. (I’d always assumed this was what M C Beaton had done when echoing Agatha Christie in her Agatha Raisin detective stories. and I’m now kicking myself for not asking her on the two occasions when I have been lucky enough to meet her.)
But I couldn’t call my heroine Dorothy, because the cat had nabbed that name.
So Sayers it had to be – and Sophie, retrieved from the backburner, provided a pleasingly alliterative match. The similarity between Sophie and her namesake end there. The title of Dorothy L Sayers’ biography hints at the author’s uncompromising approach to life, but Sophie is eager to fit in with others – often too eager, as is sometimes her downfall.
I’m glad to have found a worthy bearer of one of my favourite names at last, while also offering homage to one of my many influences (as indeed is M C Beaton, as testified by my bookshelf).
If you’d like to order the ebook of Sophie Sayers’ first adventure, Best Murder in Show, you’ll find it on Amazon UKand on Amazon US, and in fact on all the other Amazon sites around the world.