Posted in Self-publishing, Writing

Meet T E Shepherd, Illustrator for my Novels & Lit Fest

A post about T E Shepherd, the gifted artist who is drawing the imagined settings of my novels 

Meet Thomas Shepherd, artist and novelist

I first met T E Shepherd, or Thomas as I know him, through his novels. We were both members of the Alliance of Independent Authors, and for a little while we belonged to the same writers’ group, meeting regularly in Oxford. Only after reading and enjoying his Mr Tumnal novels did I realise he was also a talented illustrator, with a style so distinctive that readers have asked me whether he is related to A A Milne‘s illustrator, E H Shepard. (As you will have guessed from the different spelling, no, he’s not!)

When Thomas started sharing some of his drawings online, in particular a picture of Hawkesbury Upton’s village school, one of the venues for the Haweksbury Upton Literature Festival that I organise each year, I asked him to create a village map to help visitors find their way around the festival, and the result was stunning.

image of Hawkesbury Upton Primary SChool
Hawkesbury Upton Primary School – available to buy as a greeting card also (Image © T E Shepherd http://www.teshepherdart.com
map of Hawkesbury Upton
Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival map by T E Shepherd ©T E Shepherd http://www.teshepherdart.com

When he started sharing portraits of some of his favourite bookshops, it seemed only natural to ask him whether he might also draw a fictitious bookshop for me – Hector’s House, which is at the heart of my Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries. Sophie works in the shop and the proprietor, Hector Munro, is her romantic interest.

Usually Thomas draws from life rather than from his imagination, but for me he was prepared to make an exception, provided I was able to give him a good brief and some photos of the kind of thing I was looking for.

For Hector’s House, I’d already specified certain details in the books, and needed to find a Cotswold cottage that matched that specification – harder than I’d expected! Eventually I sent Thomas a snapshot of Nailsworth Computers (highly recommended for their computer services, by the way – I’ve been a regular customer for years) plus a list of changes that would be needed to complete the transformation. I was astonished when a local friend told me later that this building used to be a bookshop.  It was clearly meant to be!

line drawing of Hector's House by T E Shepherd
This illustration of the Hector’s House bookshop by Thomas Shepherd is in the same style as Sophie’s ficitious cottage (Image © T E Shepherd http://www.teshepherd.art.com)

I was so delighted with Thomas’s attention to detail and the thought that went into the drawing that as soon as my second series of novels was established, the Staffroom at St Bride’s School Stories for Grown-ups, that I asked him to draw the school building. This time his starting point was the cover design of the first book in the series, Secrets at St Bride’s, with his own personal flourishes added.

drawing of St Bride's School
I never knew until Thomas drew it on that there was wisteria growing up the side of the building, but it looked just right! (Image © T E Shepherd http://www.teshepherdart.com)

When I started my spin-off series of quick-read novelettes set in the same parish as these two series, Tales from Wendlebury Barrow, I couldn’t resist completing the set by commissioning Thomas to draw the Wendlebury Barrow village green, which features in all three series. Again I found myself driving round the Cotswolds looking for appropriate visuals for him, and ended up sending a selection of different greens from which he took various elements to create a completely new one just right for me stories. He even added Sophie and Hector!

image of Wendlebury Barrow village green
A glimpse of some of the characters who inhabit my novels (Image © T E Shepherd http://www.teshepherdart.com

I now have framed prints of all three on my study walls to help me immerse myself in these worlds as I write my stories. I’ve also turned the first two into attractive cards and bookmarks to give away to readers at events, and will be doing the same with the third once we’re allowed to hold in-person events again. I’m also planning to add the appropriate drawing to the interior title page of each book so that all my readers may enjoy them,

As is usual with such things, the copyright remains with the artist, and anyone wishing to order prints from him or to book commissions of their own should contact him via his website: www.teshepherdart.com. He has a different website about his books: http://www.shepline.com/books.

He also sells prints of his other landscape drawings of bookshops and historic buildings, and this year produced for the first time a calendar of his art. There are still a few copies available to buy in his January sale on his website here

image of T E Shepherd's calendar
Still a few copies for sale on Thomas’s website

I’ll be holding a prize draw for a copy of the calendar for my Readers’ Club in my next newsletter which I’m planning to despatch tomorrow. If you’d like a chance to win one and you’re not already a member, you can join my Readers’ Club here. There’s a different prize draw every month for something fun associated with my books.

But that’s enough about me! Now here’s a chance to get to know more about Thomas and his work via this exclusive interview that he kindly gave me a few days ago.


Exclusive Interview with T E Shepherd, Illustrator & Novelist

Meet Thomas Shepherd, artist and novelist

Thomas, welcome to my blog – I’m so pleased to be able to introduce my readers to the man behind the drawings! When did you take up drawing and how has your career progressed?

I’ve always drawn, for as long as I remember. Give me a pad of paper and a pack of those cheap felt tip pens from the post office or Happy Shopper on the corner and I am lucky. At college I was never that great at taking notes in lectures because I’d be doodling patterns on my notepad instead. I did art at college, specialising mainly in photography and printmaking which I loved, however since leaving college I of course lost access to the dark room (this was almost a decade before digital cameras) and it’s hard to set yourself doing printmaking. I also left college thinking that my kind of art wasn’t really that good because it wasn’t the weird stuff you find art galleries winning awards! It wasn’t until I was fortunate to be working the day job with the fantastic Rachel Henderson Art that she encouraged me into doing things with my art.

Please describe the media you work in and the processes involved in creating a new drawing.

I work mainly in Indian Ink although I also use coloured pencils. I have been known though to work in photography, printmaking, airbrush, gouache – basically it depends what the picture is that I’m doing!

Why do you particularly enjoy drawing buildings?

The honest answer is that I have historically been terrible at drawing people! The slightly more interesting is that they interest me. It has to be said, I have a bit of thing for cobbles, walls, and doorways. My A-Level art exam piece was a piece created from the subject “Through doorways” in 10 hours, or two back to back days.

For this year you produced a calendar of your favourite drawings of Oxfordshire and the Cotswolds. What makes this region particularly rewarding for you as an artist?

Simple answer really that I live in Oxfordshire on the doorstep to the Cotswolds and that is the geographical area that I have mainly been selling my work, at markets, when markets are allowed to happen. I grew up in East Anglia though and still have strong links there so I could have done the East Anglian. Collection (following on in the footsteps of John Piper I already have three Suffolk churches to my name!). When you include all the bookshops of I’ve drawn it puts my geographic spread is even wider.

What else do you like to draw?

Anything and everything that interests me. I’m a very visual person – even when I’m writing my books it’s the frame by frame cinematic scenes that I’m picturing as I write. And so if I see a view or frame a picture in my gaze I want to capture it, often with a photo (or two, or three…) ahead of drawing them.

Tell us about your passion for bookshops and why you love drawing them.

As mentioned above, I write books. My degree, as well visual arts also involved creative writing, and I’ve written three novels to date: my debut standalone book, and the first two parts of a trilogy about imaginary friends. I love books, and stories – I have a ‘library’ of over 2000 books in the house. If I visit a town and there’s a bookshop, I can’t not go in, and chances are I will buy at least one book, so yes you could say that bookshops are bad and evil places for me to visit… *grins*

I have an on-going project to illustrate myself around the country drawing (mostly) independent bookshops for my celebration of bookshops in my my illustrated The Booklover’s Guide to Bookshops.

What is the most challenging picture you’ve ever drawn and why?

My most challenging picture that I had to draw was my illustration for Tales of the Wendlebury Barrow. Not only was this to be an imaginative piece but it needed to include a traditional village scene of people and to be honest people have never been my strong point. My two big inspirations are the work of Rex Whistler and Edward Ardizzone and I’ve found my style to be somewhere in between. One of the things I love about Ardizzone’s illustration is the way they are very loose simple designs but have all the character and expression. It was a challenge, but one that I believe I pulled off, particularly when the author saw her two lead characters come walking out of the picture towards her.

Previous to that, one my biggest challenges was a pen and ink and colour illustration I did of Bolton Abbey in Yorkshire. I was established in the medium of black and white, so adding colour was a bit of a departure, but one that was really effective and led directly to a commission late last year of a full colour picture of Notley Abbey as a wedding anniversary present.

Which is your favourite of all the pictures you’ve done and why?

If I had to choose just one, it would be my picture of St Andrew’s Church, Covehithe in Suffolk. Covehithe is one of my most favourite of places in the world with some very fond memories for me. There is a poignancy to the place as it probably has no more than 60 more years before the fragile Suffolk coast tips it into the sea. Sadly I don’t have the original any more as it was snaffled up within days of me finishing it but I know that it went to a new home.

image of St Andrew's Covehithe
Thomas’s favourite illustration – St Andrew’s, Covehithe, Suffolk (Image © TE Shepherd http://www.teshepherdart.com)

I know you take other commissions too – what does this entail and how do people go about commissioning a picture from you?

In short, just get in touch! I work from photographs so geography is no obstruction to having a commission done. What I do need is high resolution photos  that I have permission to use. These can be photos either that you have taken or from a professional photographer so long as you have obtained copyright permission for me to work from them. I can’t use photos that you’ve grabbed from Google! My pricing is based on size of the finished work not by number of scenes, so you could have multiple views of your subject in one picture, and you pay for it upon completion of the piece when you are happy with it.

You’re not only an artist but an author too – please tell us a little about your books.

My books are what I would call real-world fantasy or magical realism. My debut novel is set in Iceland and is a story where Norse Mythology meets modern day climate science as our protagonists face The End Of All Worlds. My other two books are the first and second books in my Imaginary Friends trilogy. The first in the series, Mr Tumnal, concerns a man, Louis Tumnal who marries his imaginary friend and has an imaginary child. When he meets his real-life girlfriend things get complicated beyond imagining.

What are you working on at the moment – both in terms of drawing and writing?

I’m currently writing the third book in the trilogy, Forgotten Friends, set 40 years after the events of the first book in a post-technological world (imagine consulting Wikipedia in print in a vast room underground Oxford’s Bodleian Library!) With my drawing, I had a crazy end to last year, finishing my last commission a day before delivering it to my client on Christmas Eve and so I’m taking January off – partly this is because I incurred a drawing-induced injury of trigger finger! But I have been creating art, having acquired a press to get back to etching too, which is something I’m very excited about.

Where can people go to find out more about your illustration and your books?

The best way to find out about my illustration work is on my online shop: www.teshepherdart.com but you can also find me on Instagram and Facebook at @t.e.shepherd.art. My books, can be found at www.shepline.com/books or follow me on Twitter at @shepline.


Biography of T E Shepherd

Derbyshire born, Suffolk bred. Thomas Shepherd now lives in Oxfordshire with his wife Emma and five cats, five chickens, three bunnies, two African land snails and some fish. He’s a landscape artist and novelist. His two main inspirations are the work of Edward Ardizzone and Rex Whistler, and his style is somewhere between the two. As a published author, books are his passion, and he is currently working on a project to create an illustrated guide of bookshops. He works principally in Indian Ink and Polychromos artists’ pencils. He takes commissions, including maps and book illustration.

Find Out More About T E Shepherd

 

Posted in Events, Personal life, Writing

The End of an Era: The Chronicle of an Extraordinary Five Years

cover of Still Charmed
My latest book has just been launched to mark 30 years of life in Hawkesbury Upton

As regular readers of this blog will know, once a month I share here my latest column for the Hawkesbury Parish News, our local community magazine that is possibly the best-read journal in our little Cotswold village of Hawkesbury Upton, the real-life village that inspired my Sophie Sayers Village Mystery novels.  

If you’ve been following my blog for more than five years, (and if so, gold star to you!), you may also recall that I gathered together my earlier columns into a book called All Part of the Charm. The columns in that book ran from January 2010, when I gave up my last full-time day-job to write, through 2015. I also included some essays I wrote about moving to the village in 1991.

As the end of 2020 was approaching, being a fan of round numbers, and also to celebrate 30 years of living in Hawkesbury Upton, I decided it was time to collate my next batch of columns into a new book – 60 columns in all, one each month from 2016 to 2020. Rereading them to refresh my memory of their content before writing the introduction, I realised what an extraordinary five years they had been, and how much change – turmoil, even – they had brought to our lives. Yet throughout my columns, written for a local audience in our small corner of the Cotswolds, ran a common thread:

In an ever-changing world which seems to be lurching from one crisis to the next, it’s comforting to have some events in life that are dependably consistent – and to live in a community in which everyone looks out for their neighbours, not only in the season of goodwill, but all year round.

Wherever you are in the world, if you’d like to feel like an honorary or adoptive member of the parish of Hawkesbury, reading this little book will take you there as surely as the back of a certain wardrobe transports us to Narnia.

Below I’m sharing the introduction I wrote to this new book, which you can order now in ebook and paperback.

It’s a slimmer book than the first volume, as it doesn’t include any additional essays, and I’ve changed the layout to be less extravagant with paper, but I hope you’ll think it’s great value at that price – and that you will be what it says on the cover: still charmed.

 

The watercolour by my talented father has already been much admired by friends online

Foreword to Still Charmed:

Thirty Years On

This week, in celebration of 30 years since moving to the Cotswold village of Hawkesbury Upton on 4 January 1991, I dug out my old diary to revisit my initial impressions of village life, starting with a hectic first day in our new home.

“The log man came, bringing 15 sacks of logs, then the sweep came and cleaned both chimneys amazingly cleanly. I’d expected him to be covered in soot. Felt a little out of place when I realised that not only was I straining to understand his accent, but he was straining to understand mine.”

Next day, my husband “went to the shop for eggs and bread. Lots of people friendly there – one man knew he was from the old post office already.”

The house, unoccupied for eighteen months before we bought it, was somewhat spartan, the only heating provided by a vintage single-bar electric fire in the bathroom and an inefficient open fireplace in the front room. For several weeks, we slept on the floor in front of the fire, as everywhere else was too cold and damp. But by the second day, I was already acclimatising to our new home, a mid-nineteenth century stone cottage:

“Even though it seems in some respects that we’re roughing it, the convenience and comfort are infinitely greater than they would have been for the original occupants. When I put off going to the loo here as it’s so cold and damp, I ought to remember they would have gone down the bottom of the garden to the privy.” (Two outdoor toilets, buckets beneath holes in wooden planks, were still intact when we moved in.) “I understand the attraction of chamber pots for the first time.”

In the intervening 30 years, the house has been transformed to modern standards of comfort while we’ve retained many original features and added whimsical new ones of our own. My husband is building a mezzanine floor above the kitchen as I write. We’ve also become completely immersed in village life and are charmed by it.

During that time, I’ve served on many committees and volunteered for various community organisations in one way or another, and for the last 11 years, I’ve been writing a monthly column for our local parish magazine, the Hawkesbury Parish News, which, despite our village now boasting a high-speed internet connection, is just as much the hub of local news as it was when I first moved here. If you want to know about events, developments, future plans, and the traditional hatches, matches and despatches in our community, all you need to do is invest 50p a month in the parish mag, a fee that also includes optional delivery to your door. These days, electronic delivery is also available.

Although I often write articles for the various local organisations I’m involved in, such as the annual Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival which I founded in 2015, my monthly column has no particular brief. I just write about whatever is front of mind as the deadline looms, which is usually seasonal or otherwise topical. The aim of my contribution is to entertain, amuse, divert and share experiences that I think will make my local friends and neighbours smile. There are plenty of jokes at my own expense, and my chosen topics are often village-centric.

But although Hawkesbury Upton is surrounded by fields and reached only by winding country lanes, most of them single track, our rural idyll does not escape the harsh realities of the outside world. The period this volume covers began in the run-up to the EU referendum and ended literally on the day we in the UK left the European Union. One of the last things I did in 2020 was apply for a new passport, as my old one was due to expire on 2 January 2021. The new one will be blue, not red, and will not bear the words European Union on the cover.

Also, as I wrote the first column shared here, the US presidential election that resulted in a win for Trump was in full swing. As I wrote the final piece, Biden’s victory was assured.

Collating these columns for the collection last week, I gasped when I realised the first entry would be titled “Flu Fury”, a jokey piece written while I was on the mend from a dose of winter flu. I’m glad I didn’t know then about the coming Covid-19 pandemic, nor the disruption and devastation it would bring to the whole world. Even Hawkesbury Upton, tucked away in the Cotswolds, with its moat-like surround of agricultural land, has not escaped unscathed, and my heart goes out to all those who have lost loved ones or suffered long-term health complications.

During this extraordinary five-year period, I have lost count of the number of times I have said to my daughter while watching Trump supporters invade the Capitol, “Take note of this, we’re witnessing history in the making”, and last night, as I was planning what to write in this foreword, I said it again.

This time, she replied in her teenaged wisdom, “Everything is history these days”.

Yet truer than ever are the pieces I’ve written celebrating the joy of coming home to Hawkesbury after holidays away and my gratitude for living “in a community in which everyone looks out for their neighbours, and not only in times of crisis or the season of goodwill”. (Who Needs Wifi When You’ve Got Good Neighbours, January 2018). I also often remark upon the continuity of village life. “In an ever-changing world which seems to be lurching from one crisis to the next, it’s comforting to have some events in life that are dependably consistent.” (The Comfort of Consistency, July 2019)

During the pandemic, we may have lost the events that provide the consistency – the Hawkesbury Horticultural Show, the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival, the midnight carol singing on Christmas Eve – but the community spirit is stronger than ever, not least due to the continuing presence of the Hawkesbury Parish News, which appeared as regularly as ever throughout lockdown, a comforting dose of normality in the midst of the most abnormal of years. In the absence of events news to fill the pages, the editor, Colin Dixon, persuaded more villagers to write articles, reproduced copy from the archives, and kindly shared extracts from my novels to help keep people entertained.

On a brighter note, the five years represented in this volume have included the culmination of my lifelong ambition to become a novelist, with the first of my eight novels published so far unveiled on 1 April 2017. It may have been no surprise to anyone familiar with my columns that my novels have been inspired by my delight in village life, although I hasten to add that all the characters, settings, and situations in my Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries, my Staffroom at St Bride’s series, and my Tales from Wendlebury Barrow Quick Reads are entirely made up. So if you enjoy reading these columns, you should find my novels just your cup of tea – and vice versa. (You’ll find a full list of the novels published so far in the back of this book, and there are plenty more to come.)

Now writing my ninth novel, and with the deadline of my 134th column for the Hawkesbury Parish News looming, I’m grateful for the enthusiasm and support of its readers and production team spurring me on. First Fiona Rowe and now Colin Dixon have worked tirelessly and meticulously, with the support of a hardworking and efficient team behind the scenes, to take the magazine from strength to strength, growing it thicker and more interesting each year. Whatever history has in store for us, I will be proud to write for the Hawkesbury Parish News for as long as I am able, and may it forever be a source of comfort, entertainment and pleasure to its readers.

Debbie Young
January 2021

Buying Links for Still Charmed

Paperback

Ebook

cover of Still Charmed

Buying Links for All Part of the Charm

Paperback

Ebook

Cover of All Part of the Charm

Click here for more information about my Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries


COMING SOON: Travels with my Books – a new monthly series of guest posts by authors talking about the setting for their novels

First on the list: B M Allsopp, author of the Fiji Islands Mysteries – follow my blog (click button in the sidebar to the right of this post), if you don’t already, to make sure you don’t miss this intriguing exclusive interview!

Posted in Personal life, Writing

Planning for a Better Year

In my first column of 2021 for the Hawkesbury Parish News, I wrote about the art of planning ahead – or, more accurately, my life as a Last-minute Martha.

As the editor of the Parish News will no doubt agree, I am something of a last-minuter. Ever since I started work as a journalist back in the 80s, nothing makes me as productive as a deadline. Above my desk hangs a framed Posy Simmonds cartoon strip I cut out of The Guardian back then, featuring a hapless hack racing to meet a copy deadline and doing everything but writing. She meets friends at a wine bar (well, this was the 80s), takes clothes to the dry cleaners, and washes her hair, while accruing sympathy from her friends about the pressure of her wretched deadline. She submits her piece to her long-suffering editor at absolutely the last minute, having pulled an all-nighter, garnering further sympathy from her gullible husband.

cartoon of journalist complaining about her deadline - then going for a drink with her friend
(c) Posy Simmonds

Remembering the Filofax

Inspired by that cartoon for over thirty years (so much so that I named my first cat Posy – Ms Simmonds was very pleased when I told her, after I’d heard her speak at the Cheltenham Literature Festival), I’m always pleased to discover a new method of planning my workload more effectively. I’ve tried everything from the Filofax (another craze from the 80s, when we had to file copy by telex and fax to our head office) to an electronic diary. None of these methods have lasted long. Although I’m comfortable with computers, at heart I am a low-technology girl.

More recently, I tried this tip: let your daily to-do list be no longer than would fit on a Post-it Note. My solution: buy bigger Post-it Notes.

photo of book of post-it notes in various sizes

Buying into the Bullet Journal

Then I discovered the Bullet Journal, invented by Ryder Carroll. (Watch his free four-minute tutorial here.) refuse to use the affectionate abbreviation of BuJo that many users prefer, because it reminds me of our Prime Minister’s nickname, which distracts me from any thoughts of efficient planning.

The Bullet Journal starts life as a blank notebook, preferably dotted so you can draw grids for various lists. It includes an index at the front to keep track of the lists you create, such as books to read, creative ideas, and long-term goals, as well as daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly to-do lists. A key provides an appropriate symbol so you can see at a glance how your day is shaping up: a bullet point (no surprises there) for a task, a circle for an event, and so on. You number the top three priorities and put a cross through items as they are completed, so it’s easy to see progress.

image of spread in my bullet journal

So far so good, until I discover one more recommended symbol, a forward arrow named “task migration”, indicating an item to be moved to the next day. In my head, I’ve already labelled it the mañana option – Spanish for “an indefinite time in the future”. So much for deadlines!

But with a year like 2020 behind us, planning no longer seems relevant. In 2021, let’s just seize the day, take our pleasures where we can find them, and do the best we can. If what I do happens to feature on my daily to-do list – like writing this column – I’m counting that as a win.

Wishing you a very happy and healthy New Year, however you plan to spend yours.


IN OTHER NEWS

cover of Still Charmed
Coming soon!

New Non-fiction Book Out Soon

This week marks my thirtieth anniversary of moving to Hawkesbury Upton. To celebrate, I’m working on Still Charmed, the second volume of my collected columns from the Hawkesbury Parish News, which I hope to publish as an ebook and paperback later this month. I’ll announce it here when it’s ready to order, but in the meantime, here’s the cover, featuring a watercolour by my talented father. (The first collection, All Part of the Charm, featured another section of the same painting.)

New Novel Bubbling Under

I’m also working on the seventh Sophie Sayers novel, Murder Lost and Found, which I’m hoping to publish in the spring.

99p Offer on Murder by the Book

I’ve currently got a special seasonal offer running on the fourth Sophie Sayers novel, Murder by the Book, with the ebook just 99p/99c or local currency equivalent until the end of the month. (Also available in paperback at the usual RRP.) This story takes place from the start of January and finishes on Valentine’s Day, when Sophie and her friend Ella plan to hold an event to help stop the village pub, The Bluebird, from going bust – an especially topical theme right now when so many pubs are struggling to survive the pandemic. Revealing fun surprises about Hector’s past, and with the addition of two lively new characters who are siblings to regulars in the series (no plot spoilers here!), Murder by the Book is the perfect pick-me-up for these dreary, dark days and long nights. Click here to order the ebook from the ebook store of your choice and click here to order the paperback.

image of murder by the book on a sofa with blankets
Cuddle up with a book this winter

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Posted in Personal life, Writing

With the Wisdom of Hindsight at the Turn of the Year

Author Debbie Young
Glad to see the back of 2020
(Photo by Laura Young)

One of the most important things I learned in 2020 was that it is very easy to lose perspective when so much of my life feels out of control.

When a flurry of friends shared end-of-year posts in which they realised 2020 had been more rewarding than it had seemed at the time, I recognised the same was true for me.

At the end of 2019, I was sure that 2020 could only be better. Quite apart from political and environmental disappointments (no need to go into those here), the old year had brought me two major health crises. Two scary dashes to hospital with breathing difficulties just after Christmas had led to a new diagnosis of asthma, on top of a year-long debilitating flare of my rheumatoid arthritis that was not responding to treatment.

Thwarted Plans

I had lots of exciting plans to look forward to in 2020, including the annual Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival that I run in my home village, The Selfies Awards ceremony at the London Book Fair for which my novel Secrets at St Bride’s was shortlisted, and some interesting speaking engagements at various writing retreats and conferences around the country. Then along came the pandemic.

That annual rail pass I bought in January 2020 is about to expire unused.

Confined to my home by the need to shield due to the immunosuppressants I take for the arthritis (thankfully new ones from February 2020 brought a vast improvement), I felt thwarted, and I struggled to write as much as I thought I should be writing, given the lack of distractions. As a last resort, I set up an unfinished novel on pre-order on Amazon, the deadline forcing me to work flat out to finish it.

Cast Away

Even so, I felt like a castaway, marooned and powerless – a modern-day Robinson Crusoe, albeit with a regular supermarket delivery slot, cats in place of goats, and a husband and daughter instead of Friday for companionship. So while I was hardly deprived, sometimes I couldn’t stop my gaze lingering on the horizon, hoping for signs of rescue. Although one might think this would have been the perfect time to write my planned travel memoir, Travels with my Camper Van, after several false starts, I set it aside, disappointed that it had stalled.

A Surprisingly Productive Year

However, with the wisdom of hindsight that New Year’s Eve brings, I now realise that in 2020 I was far more productive than I had been in 2019, when I published just one novel, Secrets at St Bride’s.

By contrast, in 2020, I wrote two more novels, Stranger at St Bride’s and Murder Your Darlings; the first two in my new series of Tales from Wendlebury Barrow Quick Reads (c. 20% novel length), The Natter of Knitters and The Clutch of Eggs; and the first Sophie Sayers prequel, a short story Christmas Ginger, featuring Sophie’s Great Auntie May.

array of two new novels and two new novellas
New fiction in 2020

As I’ve done every year since 2010, I also wrote 10 columns for the Tetbury Advertiser and 12 for the Hawkesbury Parish News.  In addition I completed the first two articles in a newly commissioned series of eight for Mslexia (the magazine for women who write), a short non-fiction guidebook for the Alliance of Independent Authors, plus various blog posts for my own blog and as a guest writer on other sites.

By anyone’s standards, that’s productive.

Writing in Captivity

Only now as I’m writing this post does it occur to me that prison has proven a famously fruitful workspace for writers. Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote, John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, and Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur were all written in jail. (More examples are in this Guardian article, though not all are such great role models – Marquis de Sade, I’m looking at you!)

Buoyed Up for New Year

So as I ditch my old 2020 calendars and diaries, I’m going to focus on even more ambitious productivity goals for the new year:

cover of Travels with my Camper Van
Look out 2021, here I come!
  • a new Sophie Sayers novel, Murder Lost and Found
  • a new St Bride’s novel, Scandal at St Bride’s
  • a new trilogy of May Sayers short stories, May Sayers Comes Home
  • in time for Christmas 2021, The Wendlebury Barrow Christmas Compendium of short seasonal stories
  • a third Tale from Wendlebury Barrow (haven’t decided which from my bulging ideas book yet)
  • Travels with my Camper Van, now jumpstarted

So look out, 2021, I’m coming for you!

Whatever your plans are for the new year, I wish you a peaceful, healthy and happy one full of whatever your heart desires.


In the meantime, if you haven’t yet read my new short story Christmas Ginger, which was published on 24th December 2020 exclusively on Helen Hollick’s Discovering Diamonds blog, you can read it here for free, for a flavour of my planned 2021 short story trilogy, May Sayers Comes Home

Posted in Writing

Christmas Ginger – a New Christmas Story Free to Read Now (The First Ever Sophie Sayers Prequel!)

Debbie Young with Helen Holllick
With Helen Hollick, novelist and founder of the Discovering Diamonds blog

Today I’m pleased to share with you Christmas Ginger, a heartwarming festive short story that I’ve written for novelist Helen Hollick‘s  Story Song series, in which during December a different story inspired by a song is published each day on her Discovering Diamonds blog.

Christmas Stories Past

line drawing of Hector's House by T E Shepherd
Hector’s House was the scene of last year’s Christmas story (Copyright Thomas Shepherd http://www.shepline.com)

The first story I wrote for Helen’s blog was Lighting Up Time, set at the winter solstice, and since published as an ebook, audio short, and a tiny paperback the perfect size for a stocking filler.

Last year my contribution was a short story called It Doesn’t Feel Like Christmas, set in the Hector’s House bookshop, featuring Sophie, Hector, Billy and other favourite characters from my Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries. You can read that one here – and see whether you can guess before the end which song inspired the story! (This one hasn’t made it into a book yet, but will be included in my planned Wendlebury Barrow Christmas Compendium in 2021.)

Christmas Story Present

photo of angel made of beads
One of May Sayers’ many souvenirs from her travels – a South African Christmas angel

For this year’s series, I decided to write a story I’d had in my head for a while: the return of Sophie’s late great-aunt, May Sayers, to live in the cottage that she’ll eventually leave to Sophie.

In this story we find May unexpectedly alone for Christmas, in a scenario that sadly so many people will face this festive season. Then an unexpected visit from her old friend Billy inspires the ever-resourceful May to use an old-fashioned trick to transform her lonely vigil into her most special Christmas ever.

Whether or not you’ve read any of the Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries yet, I hope you will enjoy this gentle Christmas tale.

Christmas Ginger has not yet been published anywhere else. so for now the only place you can read it is on the Discovering Diamonds website:

READ “CHRISTMAS GINGER” HERE

Christmas Stories Yet to Come

By Christmas 2021, I’m planning to publish The Wendlebury Barrow Christmas Compendium. One of my projects over this holiday season is to write another new story inspired by the poinsettia – which I’ve just discovered rather pleasingly is named after one Joel Poinsett. More of that to follow in my story next Christmas!

Also in the new year I’m planning to write a trilogy of short stories, May Sayers Comes Home, as well as a new novel in each of the Sophie Sayers and St Bride’s School series. I’m going to be busy!

For now, have a peaceful and restorative Christmas, and I’ll look forward to catching up with you here on my blog at the end of the year.


My Other Books with a Christmas Theme

(all available in paperback and ebook – click images for ebook store links)

cover of Stocking Fillers by Debbie Young
The perfect antidote to Christmas stress
cover of Stranger at St Bride's
A gentle mystery solved at the School Christmas Fair
cover of Murder in the Manger
When Sophie’s nativity play goes wrong…