Posted in Personal life, Travel

I’m on the Train…

Pleasingly the April issue also featured the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival on the front page – click the image to jump to the Festival’s website

(My column for the April issue of the Hawkesbury Parish News)

Travelling by train to London yesterday for the first time in ages, I was pleasantly surprised by the changes in the rail service. So often corporate rebranding goes only skin-deep, but the changes at GWR are much more than a new logo, colour scheme and smart uniforms. Immaculate new rolling stock with thoughtful extras such as a recharging point for every seat, an efficient trolley service, and scrolling electronic displays with journey information all made the journey more relaxing. Not forgetting the high-tech new engines, of course!

But what really took my breath away was the toilet cubicle – and I mean that in a good way. It was big enough to hold a party. (I resisted that temptation.) The high-tech controls suggested I was about to be teleported, Star Trek style.

I wasn’t the only one enjoying the journey. The pleasant young man serving refreshments volunteered what a great company GWR is to work for. He confided that he’d applied for engine driver training. Engine driver – once the ambition of every small boy. I hope his application is successful.

In this anxious age of political uncertainty and turmoil, the whole experience soothed and reassured me. Britain can still be great, when it gets its act together, as GWR has done.

Meanwhile, I just wish we could persuade GWR to reverse the Beeching Cuts and even to add new lines.

Next stop, Hawkesbury Upton Station? In my dreams!

 

Posted in Personal life, Travel

Train of Thought

In my Young by Name column for the April edition of the award-winning Tetbury Advertiser, I’m getting all nostalgic about train travel 

cover of the Tetbury Advertiser April 2019
Click the image to read the whole magazine for free online

Growing up in a London suburb half an hour by train from Charing Cross, I became a seasoned railway traveller at an early age. The slam of compartment doors and the rattle of trains on the line are part of the soundtrack to my childhood.

When I went up north to university, I enjoyed the longer train rides because I always met interesting people. From my current perspective as a parent, the thought of a teenage girl seeking out strangers on trains makes me shudder, but for the teenage me it was all an adventure.

On boarding, I’d choose my compartment carefully, walking through the corridor to find the most interesting looking passengers. Before the first stop we’d be sharing the sweets and biscuits bought for the journey while discussing the meaning of life. We felt we were striking up life-long friendships, but of course they never lasted beyond our destination. This is probably just as well, particularly with the middle-aged lady who invited me to bring my swimming costume and sunbathe in her garden any time I liked.

I wasn’t the only one to treat train travel like a social occasion. Once, as I followed a group of girl students into a compartment, its only prior occupant, a middle-aged lady, gave a deep sigh. “So we’re all girls together.” She sounded disappointed. Was the sole purpose of her trip to search for Mr Right in the form of a random fellow passenger? I wondered whether she had a season ticket.

If you didn’t want to chat, too bad. The Quiet Coach had yet to be invented. For a bit of peace, you went out to stand in the corridor.

Then and Now

These days when travelling by train, I always book a seat in the Quiet Coach to avoid irritating mobile phone conversations. This week, too weary to trek to my reservation at the far end of the train, I settled down in a normal carriage, bracing myself for the noise. To my astonishment, it was as silent as the Quiet Coach. Every occupant was staring at an electronic device, most of them further isolated by earbuds or headphones. The train might just as well have had no windows, because none of them once looked out to enjoy the view.

The ever-changing view: another great benefit of railway travel. I still can’t board a train without Robert Louis Stephenson’s poem “From a Railway Carriage” popping into my head at some point along the way:

“…And ever again, in the wink of an eye,
Painted stations whistle by.”

cover of Young by Name
Earlier columns from the Tetbury Advertiser, available in paperback and ebook – click image for more details

So I was pleased to learn recently of a care home that has mocked up a railway carriage for the benefit of elderly residents too frail for real trips. (Click here to see the BBC News report, complete with picture.) Complete with scrolling scenery behind fake windows, and with an excellent refreshment service, it offers them all the pleasures of train travel without them having to leave the building.

I bet they’d be great conversationalists too.


Posted in Writing

Countdown to the 5th Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival!

Little did I know what I was getting into when five years ago I decided to mark World Book Night in my village by running a mini literature festival…

Humble Beginnings

Enjoying the first ever Hawkesbury Upton Lit Fest five years ago with author friends Orna Ross (left) and Katie Fforde (seated). (Photo by http://www.pixelprphotography.co.uk)

The idea was to bring together a few author friends for an evening of talks and readings in one of our local pubs. What started out as a sedate two-hour schedule quickly overflowed into five hours, to allow time for all who wanted to take part. These included illustrious guests such as the bestselling romantic novelist Katie Fforde, who kindly accepted my invitation to declare it open, and Orna Ross, bestselling historical novelist and poet and founder of the Alliance of Independent Authors, for which I’m UK Ambassador.

Before the evening was over, people were already saying to me:
“This is going to be an annual event, right, Debbie?”
“Can you make it a whole day next time?”
“Let’s have it on Saturday next year so the kids can join in.”

Five Years On…

Always eager to please, I fell in with all of those suggestions. Five years on, here we are a month away from the most ambitious Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival yet, on Saturday 27th April. 

That modest evening in the pub has morphed into a village takeover, with events now scheduled simultaneously in six venues, with different things starting on the hour every hour from 10am through 5pm.

map image
Now we have so many venues in the Festival that we’ve had to provide a map, beautifully drawn by Thomas Shepherd (image © T E Shepherd)

A Vast Array of Talent & Goodwill

Over seventy authors and artists will be taking part in talks, discussions, readings, a poetry slam, an art exhibition, children’s events and a series of workshops.

We’ve gained huge local support, including sponsorship from local individuals and organisations – the Hawkesbury Parish News, Head Start Studio, Hawkesbury Writers, Sid Crighton of Orange Dog Studio – and also from the globetrotting travel writer Jay Artale, who is managing our Twitter account from wherever she is in the world! (See our list of sponsors here.) Their generous support and encouragement has enabled us to keep the Festival free to attend, while increasing its reach and appeal.

team line up in school hall
Teamwork! The team of authors, poets, artists and volunteers take a bow at the 2018 HULF. (Photo by Angela Fitch Photography)

How to Attend the 2019 Festival

HULF Save the date graphic
Just a month to go! Save the date and come and join the fun – it’s all free!

If you’d like to attend, no prior booking is necessary – just come along on the day. Head for the Village School, the hub of the Festival, to grab your programme and venue map.

Even better, download them now from our website to plan your day in advance, so you don’t miss any of the events that especially appeal to you. You can also keep up with Festival news on Twitter at @HULitFest.

More Reasons to Attend!

And if you’re not yet convinced that a day at a small provincial lit fest is worth your while, read my guest post on the Oakwood Literature Festival website about what makes these events so special: What Do Small Lit Fests Offer that Big Ones Don’t? I’ll be speaking at the second Oakwood Festival on Saturday 18th May, and in the meantime at the Wrexham Carnival of Words on Thursday 2nd May.

And maybe in June I might find time for a little lie-down in a darkened room…

Posted in Writing

Fanfare for my New Series of Novels

About my imminent new series of novels set in a girls’ boarding school

For some time I’ve been planning to write a series of novels set in a traditional girls’ boarding school, and today’s cover reveal is a hint that I’m going to be launching the first of these, Flat Chance, very soon.

As a child, like many of my generation, I loved books set in schools. Mavourite was Anthony Buckeridge’s Jennings – what was yours?

But my series will be for adults, and the focal point will be the staffroom rather than the classroom or dormitory.

Led by a charismatic maverick headmistress, each of the eccentric staff is hiding a different secret, including new recruit Gemma Lamb. Gemma’s other potential career choices included lighthouse keeper and nun – any job, in fact, that provided a roof over her head.

About the Staffroom at St Bride’s

The Staffroom at St Bride’s series will be lighthearted and gentle, with a touch of romance and a lot of comedy. But I’m not planning any murders, not only on the grounds of good taste but also for credibility.

Would you send your child to a school in which the school roll keeps reducing due to assassinations? I certainly wouldn’t.

Besides which, I don’t really like killing people – which will reassure my family and friends!

But there will be crimes and misdemeanours in which the culprit will live to tell the tale…

Another Rachel Lawston Design

I’ve commissioned the wonderful Rachel Lawston of www.lawstondesign.com for the series’ cover designs, because I am so pleased with her treatment for my Sophie Sayers Village Mystery series.

She has cleverly come up with something that echoes the branding of the Sophie books, making it clear that these come from the same stable, while establishing a new and different setting – just a bike ride away from Wendlebury Barrow, home to Sophie. And yes, Gemma and Sophie will have the chance to meet!

On the Flat Chance cover, you’ll spot the details of the black cat and the bicycle. These are pivotal features in the plot. We’ll be playing with different details against a similar backdrop in each of the future books in the series, which currently have the working titles of Past Master and Near Miss. (I almost always know the title before I start writing a book, which helps me believe in it as a project and set myself deadlines!)

And speaking of deadlines, I’d better get back to inputting my edits to the final manuscript!

More news on Gemma Lamb and friends soon…

Posted in Personal life, Writing

The Red Van and the White

Photo of antique post office sign
Ironically, my house was at one point the village post office. I found this sign in my back garden when I moved in and have since given it pride of place on my kitchen wall.

My column from the March 2019 issue of the Hawkesbury Parish News considers the courier vs the postman

Having lived in the village for nearly 30 years, I tend to forget how bewildering city-dwellers find it that so many houses round here don’t have door numbers. Urban courier drivers’ hearts must sink when Hawkesbury Upton crops up on their route for the day.

Knowing a house’s postcode isn’t as helpful as one might think, as each code covers an average of 15 properties. When you’re a delivery driver working against the clock, 15 is a lot of houses to check to find the right one. No wonder our parcels so often end up being left at the wrong place.

Word seems to have got out amongst couriers that I work from home, because lately I’ve had a spate of puzzled delivery drivers knocking on my door during the day to ask for directions to a house of one name or another. Although even I may not know every house name, if they tell me the person’s name I can usually point them in the right direction.

But sometimes even that’s not enough to satisfy them. One poor courier was almost in tears of disappointment and disbelief when I refused to accept the gas boiler he’d been trying to deliver to a number of houses, none of them correct.

This is why these days when ordering something on line, I choose standard Post Office delivery, because I know we can trust our village posties to get it right. Although they might have trouble fitting a gas boiler through my letterbox.

Postscript After reading this post in his copy of the Hawkesbury Parish News, heroic villager Terry Truebody emailed me to say he has created a Hawkesbury Upton A-Z, which he’s recently updated to include the newest houses in the village. Very generously, he’s willing to share it with anyone who might find it helpful. so I’m including a link to a download of it here. Thank you, Terry – couriers and villagers will all be very grateful to you.

Cover of All Part of the Charm

 

Like to read more of my columns from the Hawkesbury Parish News?

Here’s a collection from 2010-2015, available in paperback and as an ebook.

The second volume will be out at the end of 2020.