Bestselling author of the Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries & much more
Author: Debbie Young
English author of warm, witty novels including the popular Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries, set in the Cotswolds
Founder and director of the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival
Advisor to the Alliance of Independent Authors
Ambassador for the children's reading charity, Read for Good, and the Type 1 Diabetes charity JDRF
Sponsoring this desk in a school for Ugandan children made me feel like a million dollars – and cost me just £20.
Read on for more information about this fun scheme and to find out how to get your name on a desk like this to help give impoverished children in Kampala a better start in life.
When my writer friend Martin Brown told me about the charity he helped set up to fund Ugandan schools, Infancia Uganda, it was with his characteristic energy and enthusiasm, and I couldn’t help be intrigued by what he was doing.
The charity has a Spanish name, because when it was founded, Martin was living in Spain, and the two other founders are Spanish nationals. Martin recently returned to England after several decades as an expat, including a substantial stint in California.
Infancia Uganda – Helping to Educate Ugandan Children
This is how he describes the charity’s work:
“Our mission is very simple and specific. We support several small schools in and around Kampala, Uganda. The public school system in Uganda is broken, and so private schools are everywhere. The only chance that children really have of acquiring an education is to find a place in one of these schools.
“Now when we say private schools, don’t think of it in the same way as we do in the UK or USA. These are not elitist establishments, only for the rich. The cost, for example, to pay for an education for one child for one year in one of our schools is £75! At present, we are paying for 28 children. Our project is small and we want to keep it that way, under control and with 100% of the money collected going directly to the school. We also have appeals from time to time for desks for the schools and also for clean water projects.
“Thank you for taking the time to read this and we hope you will work with us to bring some light into the kids’ worlds.”
How You Can Help
There are various ways in which donors can sponsor the charity, but the particular programme that sparked my imagination was its appeal to sponsor a desk.
Just £20 will pay for a new wooden desk to seat up to four eager pupils, and as you can see from the photo, the desks are built to last!
The charity is pleased to recognise the donor by painting the name of their choice on the front of the desk, and sending a photo of it to the donor.
When I shared the sponsorship opportunity with author friends at the Alliance of Independent Authors, there was a rush of donations, with us all loving the idea of having our pen names on desks. Martin thought the children would be thrilled to know their desks were sponsored by writers.
But you can have whatever names you like inscribed – your family name, your business name, or someone whom you’d like to commemorate.
(My column for the January edition of the Hawkesbury Parish News)
Driving back from Cribbs Causeway recently, I was bemused to spot what looked like a drab, chunky office block with big white letters on the side proclaiming it to be the “Village Hotel”. According to its website, it’s “a modern hi-tech hotel,” which doesn’t sound very villagey at all to me.
I first noticed the misappropriation of the word village years ago when managing the PR for the launch of the UK’s first factory outlet retail park, Clarks Village in Somerset. Clarks Village boasts 90 shops and 1,400 parking spaces. That’s a village? That’s news to me.
Confusingly, a billboard close to The Village Hotel invited me to move to “The Villages” at Charfield. Apparently, these are the new housing developments springing up in Charfield. What do people who live in the village of Charfield say when a house-hunter asks directions to The Villages? I’d be tempted to say, “Which village would you like? Charfield, Hawkesbury, Hillesley, Kingswood? There’s no shortage of villages around here.”
The National Geographic Society’s definition describes a village as “larger than a hamlet, smaller than a town”. But to me, a true village means so much more – a community with a heart and a soul, with personality and spirit, where everyone looks out for each other and where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, to the benefit of all its residents.
And if anyone is still unsure, I have just one piece of advice: visit Hawkesbury Upton to witness a first-rate village in action. I’m glad to say it’s the only village in this village.
At primary school, our headmaster used to say stamina was the secret of success.
This was in the days when schools were obliged to have a daily religious whole-school assembly, and although there were always a couple of hymns and a prayer, Mr Bowering also liked to use the occasion to put across some of his own key messages about life, the universe and everything.
His favourite activities included:
using a remote-controlled system built into his lectern to illuminate capital cities on the vast wooden map of the world suspended above the platform, and we’d shout out the names of those we knew (I hardly knew any of them, and envied Simon Evans his legendary total recall)
leading a rousing rendition of William Blake’s hymn “Jerusalem” every Tuesday, an extended assembly to include hymn practice (I don’t know why it took me so long to join the WI, when I’ve been word- and note-perfect in its anthem since the age of seven)
appointing the King and Queen of the Shiny Shoes every Friday (I always regretted never having patent leather shoes for instant, constant shine – the rich kids had a clear advantage there)
But perhaps his most memorable eccentricity was to impress upon us the importance of stamina if we wanted to be a success in whatever we did with our lives.
“What do you need?” he would bellow to the sea of rapt faces through cupped hands.
“Stamina!” we would shout back, as one.
Although I suspect I was not the only child to be a little confused as to what it was. The only place I’d heard the word outside school assembly was in a popular television advert for dogfood, possibly Pedigree Chum, which promised to fill your dog with stamina. This was in the same era as the famous Trill birdseed advert that promised to “make budgies bounce with health”. I imagined them ricocheting off the bars of their cages like the ball bearings in a pinball table.
Stamina as a Writer
But his saying stuck with me, and it does still spur me on occasionally. So my ears pricked up (that’ll be the Pedigree Chum kicking in) when Jane Davis, author of award-winning literary fiction, asked writer friends to explain the secrets of their writing stamina. I am very pleased that she chose to include my response among her findings, outlined in her latest blog post here:
I always love doing radio, especially when the show’s presenter is a great friend. Today I was pleased to be the studio guest of Michael MacMahon, one of BCfm Silver Sound’s hosts.
About Michael and Me
I’ve known Michael for quite a few years now, having met through our shared interest in writing. Although Michael writes non-fiction books and I write mainly fiction, we get on famously and are often helping each other out in practical ways. Michael is a popular fixture at my Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival, renowned for his rendition of Prospero’s speech from the Tempest at our closing ceremony. I’ve chaired his launch events for both of his books, and each time it has been great fun.
The most recent of these launches was just last month, for The Wedding Speech Handbook, when we dressed up as if for a wedding, complete with buttonholes, wedding cake, and in my case my best wedding hat!
What We Talked About on the Show
Today on the Silver Sound show, we were talking about how and why people shouldn’t think in terms of retirement, but instead of how to reinvent themselves, as indeed both he and I have done with our writing careers. I was very interested to hear about Michael’s plans for his next book, interviewing people who have reinvented themselves in retirement – including my dad, who, as I mentioned on the show, embraced multiple artistic hobbies after a career in computer engineering.
How to Listen to the Show
If you’d like to hear our wide-ranging conversation, you can catch up with it online via BCfm’s website www.bcfmradio.com/silversound Just click on “Silver Sound” in the programmes list, then on today’s date (20/12/18). We’re on for the first hour from 10am, chatting from about four minutes into the show, after the news at the top of the hour.
After the show, we parted company, but a little later an email from Michael pinged into my inbox. “I get dozens of emails every day, but this was the first one I opened when I got home,” he wrote, forwarding the one he’d received to me:
I think Jeff Bezos must be watching us…
What’s Next for our Double-Act?
We’re hoping to stage a joint event on a wedding theme in the new year, involving both his Wedding Speech Handbook and my collection of short stories, Marry in Haste. More news to follow in due course!
For more information about Michael, his multi-faceted reinvention of himself, and his excellent books, visit his website, www.michaelmacmahon.com – or tune in to Silver Sound to catch his show!