Posted in Personal life, Reading, Writing

Recommended Reading: Must-Read Classics (Whether You Want To or Not)

Cover image of Jonathan Livingston Seagull
Photo of latest edition from Amazon – click for more details via the online retailer

This week I’m talking about Richard Bach’s Jonathan Livingston Seagull, the July Book of the Month for our BBC Radio Gloucestershire Book Club

Like many avid readers, if I only ever read books that I most wanted to read, I’d never have discovered lots of great books that I’ve gone on to enjoy. For example, I never used to read historical fiction, not because of any aversion to it, but it wasn’t something I naturally gravitated towards.

Then I joined a local Historical Novel Society book group, largely because I wanted to support Lucienne Boyce, the historical novelist who was setting it up, and was quickly hooked on the genre, even though I disliked about half the books we read there. As a result, I’m now an official reviewer for the HNS, and very much enjoy being a part of it.

As Featured on BBC Radio Gloucestershire

Similarly, I’ve been glad when I’ve had to read a book or an author that I felt I ought to have read, but had never got round to doing so. July’s Book Club choice for the BBC Radio Gloucestershire Book of the Month was a case in point. I didn’t especially enjoy it, but I’m glad that I’ve now read it and now what the fuss is all about – because fuss there certainly is.

Photo of two radio chaps in broadcasting studio
Dominic and producer David Smith in the BBC Radio Gloucestershire studio ready for the show (photo from the station’s Facebook page)

 

Although Jonathan Livingston Seagull was published back in the seventies, it’s still in print, and even had a fourth part added to its three-part format recently in a beautiful new edition, and there’s even an app for it, so its publisher clearly thinks it’s an evergreen book and a sound business investment.

The story is essentially a fable about being true to yourself and following the path in life that is right for you, rather than mimicking the masses – a very 1970s message. The hero prefers flying to scavenging for food, which causes him to become an outcast from his social group, but he decides he cannot compromise for the sake of conformity.

A Book to Change Young Lives?

When I asked Facebook friends who else had read it, I was overwhelmed by the flurry of passionate responses about how the book had changed their lives, empowering them to go on to become what they are today.

Personally, I don’t think it will change mine – but then I’m reading it in middle-age, when I am comfortable with my life choices and with where I am and what I’m doing now.

However, had I read it when a teenager or student or young aspiring PR executive (and mostly hating it), it might have given me the courage to step into the ejector seat sooner of what become a long career, and not waiting till a significant birthday to decide what I really wanted to be when I grew up was a novelist. (I finally published my first novel this spring – more about that at the foot of this post.)

When discussing the book on BBC Radio Gloucestershire with lunchtime presenter Dominic Cotter and fellow panelist Caroline Sanderson, associate editor of The Bookseller magazine, we agreed that it was more of a young person’s book. Of the three of us, only Dominic had read it before, as a teenager, and still loved it, whereas Caroline and I found it a bit harder to take – Caroline described it as schmaltzy, and I had trouble with my natural aversion to seagulls and to characters with unlikely names. (I know, I’m that shallow.) But we were all glad we’d read it.

(You can listen to the show on iplayer here for the next four weeks if  you’d like to hear our full discussion, which starts a few minutes into Dominic’s show.)

The Ultimate Beach Read?

So although I wouldn’t say to someone “You must read this book, it’s fantastic and it will change our life”, I am most certainly saying “You must read this book, if you haven’t already, because it’s a significant piece of popular culture from the 1970s that many of my friends adore.”

It is also a very short, quick read, will be universally available from bookshops and libraries, and, like the tiny books I was recommending this time last week, it will slip easily into your hand-luggage for your summer holidays. It might also have one benefit unanticipated by the author: if you’re heading to a British seaside resort this summer, it will make you more tolerant of the inevitable plague of seagulls, and more forgiving if they do the classic seaside thing and swipe your Cornish pasty or ice-cream cone.

Happy reading, wherever you decide to read it!

cover of Best Murder in Show
The first in the Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries series

PS Fancy reading one of my books this weekend? Best Murder in Show, a lighthearted modern mystery story, is the perfect summer read, set at the time of a traditional village show. Now available as an ebook for Kindle or in paperback  – order from Amazon here or at your local neighbourhood bookshop quoting ISBN  978-1911223139.

 

Posted in Personal life, Reading, Writing

Writing: You Couldn’t Make It Up…

For Writers’ Wednesday (#ww), a post about writing fiction. This post first appeared on the Authors Electric blog, for which I’m now a regular monthly contributor. (I write a new post on the 30th of each month).

Debbie sitting in a bluebell wood with a copy of her book
If you go down to the woods today…

If you go down to the woods today…

When I started writing my new series, the Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries, and set myself the ambitious target of publishing a cycle of seven novels over two years, I had no idea how much I would come to enjoy escaping into its fictitious Cotswold village of Wendlebury Barrow.

Cover of Best Murder in Show
Set in Wendlebury Barrow – my second (and entirely fictitious) home

Having now drafted the first three in the series – Best Murder in Show was published in April, Trick or Murder? will launch in August, and Murder in the Manger will be my 2017 Christmas special (no surprises there) –  I feel as if the characters are old friends. I feel entirely at home with them.

That shouldn’t really come as a surprise, because in real life, I’ve  resided in the small Cotswold village of Hawkesbury Upton for over a quarter of a century.

picture of Debbie on winding footpath with the Hawkesbury Monument in the distance
The long and winding road to Wendlebury Barrow – I mean, Hawkesbury Upton

Both the fictitious and the real village are safe, fun but eccentric places to live. (Well, safe apart from the odd murder – only in Wendlebury Barrow, ouf course.) Frequently heard in response to Hawkesbury Upton events is the phrase “You couldn’t make that up!” There are probably more implausible events happening in the actual village than in the pretend one.

I love living in Hawkesbury Upton, and although I’ve been careful to make all my characters and events fictitious, I write about Wendlebury Barrow in celebration of the kind of village life that surrounds me.

I’ve only once so far caught myself writing “Wendlebury Upton.”

Of Darker Places

Which leads me to wonder whether authors who write much grittier crime books than mine feel the same about the grimmer worlds that they have conjured up. Do they live in places like that? Do they want to visit them? I don’t think so.

Yes, I do know about catharsis, but the closest I get to enjoying it in fiction is in the likes of Alice in Wonderland, with its classic “oh thank goodness it was only a dream” moment.

As for me, I’d rather feel safe all the time, whether weaving stories in my fictional world or walking the streets of my home village.

Not for me the more violent books, films or television programmes that my husband enjoys. You probably know the sort of thing I mean: where the soundtrack consists almost entirely of the physical impact of violence (fists on flesh breaking bones, bullets sinking into fleshy targets) and the dialogue would be half the length if all the swear words were omitted.

Or maybe that’s why he watches them – precisely because they make me swiftly leave the room. Perhaps straight afterwads, he channel-hops to “Strictly”.

Incitement to Murder

However, I must admit that writing the Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries is also in part a response to his previous complaint that “nothing happened” in my three volumes of short stories – well, nothing violent, anyway.

My pre-planned series of titles commits me to at least one murder per book. My only problem now is that I’m getting so attached to the characters that I don’t want to kill any of them off.

Which my neighbours in Hawkesbury Upton will probably be very glad to know…

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
cover of Trick or Murder?
Available to pre-order now

The first Sophie Sayers Village Mystery, Best Murder in Show, is set in the summer months, at the time of the traditional village show, so it makes the perfect summer read. It’s now available to order Amazon in paperback or ebook here, or from your local neighbourhood bookshop by quoting ISBN 978-1911223139.

The second in the series, Trick or Murder?, an autumnal story set around Halloween and Guy Fawkes’ Night, will be launched at the Hawkesbury Upton Village Show on Saturday 26th August).No wonder I’m getting the real world mixed up with my fictional one!) Meanwhile you can pre-order the ebook on Amazon here.
Find out what readers are saying about Sophie Sayers here

Posted in Personal life, Writing

Whimsy: The Scents and Sense of Summer

My column for the July/August issue of the Tetbury Advertiser is a whimsical post inspired by the classic scent of an English summer

Cover of July/August issue of the Tetbury Advertiser
Click on the image to read the whole of the magazine online for free

At the start of the heatwave, I throw open my study window and am almost knocked over by the heady scent of honeysuckle immediately filling the room. On the first floor of my cottage, my study is at the same height as the vast drift of the stuff that has engulfed the old apple tree outside my back door.

Daily at my desk, I assess the passing of the seasons more by the state of the branches of tress than by shrubs and flowers at ground level. This is probably the closest I will ever get to having a tree house, which I hear is the latest trendy addition to the domestic garden, outranking in the cool stakes the previous must-have shed office, or shedquarters, as my friends call theirs.

Stealthy Stalker

There’s something magical about the scent of honeysuckle. The fragrance is so thick and heady that I’m almost surprised I can’t see it as it sneaks up and takes possession of me, holding me captive before I’ve even noticed that it’s about to pounce. But the associations are all positive, and I’m sure it lowers my blood pressure, makes me calmer, more reflective, and more content with my lot.

Straight to Sidcup

This perfume takes me straight back to my suburban childhood home, where we had a vast hedge of it scrambling over the wall by the back door. That’s why I planted this one in a similar spot in my present country garden. Next on my list is to establish a rose garden. I may be some time.

Subtler Scent

Roses have a similar effect on me to honeysuckle, although their assault is more subtle, and you have to meet it halfway. Having grown up in a suburb where nearly every garden featured traditional roses, I still cannot pass a rose in full bloom without the impulse to bury my face in its petals and inhale.

Sense of Swimming

A recent trip to the world-famous walled rose garden at Mottisfont, where the old warm bricks entrap and intensify the scent of thousands of roses, made me feel like I was swimming through perfume. No matter how glamorous or alluring the advertisements for modern designer perfumes, surely no chemical manufacturer will ever develop a product with such magical and transformative powers. I’m a naturally calm and optimistic soul, but such experiences always send me a few notches up the laid-back scale, to the nearly horizontal.

Scents for Sense

Living in a chaotic political age, when sometimes the whole world seems in turmoil, I can only draw hope from the knowledge that the grounds of both the White House and 10 Downing Street include a rose garden. I can only hope that this summer our leaders spend more time in such grounding and redemptive places, emerging stronger, saner, and more sensitive for the experience. There, I told you I was an optimist.

photo of honeysuckle in blook
Wishing you a perfectly fragranced summer

 

Cover of Best Murder in Show
The first in the series is set in high summer – a great holiday read!

PS If you love traditional English gardens as much as I do, you might like to know that one recent reviewer of my village mystery novel Best Murder in Show said “The book is worth the read just for Young’s description of gardens and hedgerows!” You can imagine how happy that made me!

Buy online here or quote ISBN 978-1911223139 to order from your local bookshop. 

Posted in Reading

Recommended Reading: Tiny Books

This week I’m sharing my love of passport-sized books

passport and small book of Shakespeare sonnets at the same size
Pocket-sized books: your passport to poetry, and more…

With the summer holidays upon us, in the northern hemisphere at least, my recommended reading for this weekend is something that you can easily fit in your pocket along with your passport: tiny books.

Why I Like Small Books

At first glance, that might seem as shallow as recommending, say, books with blue covers – but actually, it’s not as daft as all that, and here are some reasons why.

  • The content of any tiny book will have been very carefully selected, as so little space is available, so whether it’s a single short story, an essay or a small collection of poetry, it jolly well ought to be worth reading.
  • With the reading material effectively rationed, you tend to linger longer over every word, because your impulse is to spin it out and make it last. This makes it a highly suitable format for reading poetry and for thought-provoking essays.
  • They allow you to easily sample someone’s work before deciding whether you want to commit the time required to read a longer book.
  • They’re the ideal gift for someone in hospital, as they’re not tiring to hold and they’ll fit easily into the patient’s limited storage space.
  • They are relatively cheap  – so you can buy them with a clear conscience!

Pick Up a Penguin

I always loved the Penguin 60s (tiny books retailing at 60p to celebrate the publisher’s sixtieth anniversary), then the Penguin 80s (ditto for 80p for their eightieth). The slightly larger Penguin Great Ideas series, retailing at £4.99, includes intriguing titles such as Books vs Cigarettes by George Orwell and Days of Reading by Marcel Proust. The latter provides an easy way to be able to say you’ve read Proust without ploughing through the six volumes of  À la recherche du temps perdu.

But I’m especially pleased with my latest discovery: Souvenir Press‘s vintage collection of small hardbacks, about the same size as classic Beatrix Potter books (and who doesn’t love that format?), each one featuring a single, thoughtful poem, with understated monochrome linocut or scraperboard illustrations. The simple charm of these pictures has made me want to have a go at scraperboard art myself.

I picked up Agatha Christie‘s My Flower Garden a few weeks ago for a couple of quid at a rural market in mid-Wales, more out of curiosity than anything, as I didn’t know she wrote poetry and wondered what it would be like. I’ve since acquired another, Remembrance, online at a similar price. The series includes some of my favourite poems, including John Donne‘s No Man is an Island.

I feel an addiction coming on. But the good news is, it won’t take up much room in my already overflowing bookshelves…

two small Agatha Christie poetry books
Utterly beguiling in their own little way

What I’ll Be Reading This Weekend

Meanwhile, I’m off to read Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach – another very short read, which I’ll be discussing on Tuesday at noon on the BBC Radio Gloucestershire Book Club on Dominic Cotter’s lunchtime show. It was his turn to choose our Book of the Month this month, and neither fellow guest Caroline Sanderson nor I had ever read it before, and I can’t wait to compare notes with them. If you’d like to tune in to join us, here’s the link to Tuesday’s show: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p056q800 (also available on iplayer for a month afterwards).

Happy reading, whatever you choose!

Cover of Best Murder in Show by Debbie YoungPS Fancy reading one of my books this weekend? Best Murder in Show, a lighthearted modern mystery story, is the perfect summer read, set at the time of a traditional village show. Now available as an ebook for Kindle or in paperback  – order from Amazon here or at your local neighbourhood bookshop quoting ISBN  978-1911223139.

 

Posted in Writing

Writing: Why It’s Sometimes Good to be an Irregular Writer

Many writing coaches counsel writing a set amount every day, preferably at the same time, and even in the same place, to programme oneself into good productivity habits. In this post, I’ll describe how when I flouted that advice I surprised myself with the new-found productivity of an all-or-nothing binge writing routine.

This post first appeared on the Alliance of Independent Authors’ Author Advice Centre blog here.

ALLi logo

Plenty of bestselling authors point to their own regular work pattern to account for their success, from Jeffrey Archer (four two-hour stints per day – phew!) to Graeme Greene (a low word count of just 500, but consistently adhered to). Simple arithmetic provides a compelling argument for such regularity.

365 days x 500 words = 182,500 words = 2 novels

500 words a day – that doesn’t sound so hard, does it?

From 0 to 60K in a Month

Before I started writing novels, I wrote short stories, most of them no longer than the articles and features I’d written previously as a journalist. Used to polishing short word counts, it was a huge change for me to fill a bigger canvas. I took the NaNoWriMo route, aiming at 2,000 words a day, till the first draft of the novel was done. This well-trodden path seemed a sensible choice.

But a short and minor hospital surgery that left me resting in bed for a couple of weeks unleashed a whole new writing me. I discovered that when the rest of life didn’t get in the way, I could just keep going. In fact, I not only could, but I longed to.

Before long I was writing most of my waking hours, and between the end of November and the middle of February, I wrote the first draft of not one but two novels, the second and third in my new Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries, Trick or Murder and Murder in the Manger.

Are Writing Rules Made to be Broken?

Cover of Anita Brookner's Hotel du Lac
A holiday read – and a holiday write too, apparently (Image from Amazon)

I felt like a schoolgirl disobeying the rules, although I also took heart from the role model of Anita Brookner, a university professor who only wrote fiction during her summer vacation – but then churned out a whole novel, to a very high standard. Her Hotel Du Lac won the Booker Prize in 1984.

Ironically, by mid-February, my health had returned and I’d got over my op and the anaesthetic, but I was completely exhausted. The ten-week writing binge had sucked me dry.

However, I felt as if I’d discovered magical powers. I’d let the binge-writing genie out of the bottle.

Writing non-stop till I’d drained the creative well felt so much more natural and productive than the scientifically measured and monitored x words per day. I was then so exhausted mentally that I felt I had no choice but to take a complete break for about six weeks before I sat down to edit the first of those manuscripts, which I’m now just about finished two months later. So it’s been an all-or-nothing process, but it’s got me across the finishing line. It’s worked.

ALLi pen logoAm I a lone rebel against the tried-and-trusted regular writing method? I put the question to the ALLi hive and was gratified to have a flurry of positive responses from people who shared my approach. Their endorsement has given me the reassurance I needed to continue to follow my writing instincts, and as soon as I’ve finished editing these first drafts, I’ll be putting my head down to go round again for book four. Seconds out…

Visit the ALLi blog here to read thoughts from other ALLi author members who love binge writing. 

  • Cover of Trick or Murder?
    The sequel, set around Halloween, will launch on 26 August

    One of the products of my latest binge writing session will be published next month, Trick or Murder?, the second Sophie Sayers Village Mystery novel, and it’s already available to pre-order as an ebook here.

  • The first in the series, Best Murder in Show, is already available in paperback and as an ebook.
  • Order Best Murder in Show on Amazon UK here
  • Order Best Murder in Show on Amazon US here
  • Or order from your local bookshop by quoting ISBN 978-1911223139