Posted in Events, Reading, Writing

Write What You Know

In my column for the April issue of the Hawkesbury Parish News, I wrote about this old adage for writers.

Cover of Best Murder in Show amongst apple blossomCommon 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!
  • Also available to order from Amazon.
  • From 1st May, you will also be able to order the book via your local bookshop at the usual RRP from 1st May by quoting ISBN 978-1911223139.
Posted in Events, Writing

A Place in the Rain

My column for this month’s Hawkesbury Parish News

clare-gma-and-david-penny
David Penny chatting up my mum at the Hawkesbury Show on the Hawkesbury Upton Lit Fest stand

My friend David Penny, who writes historical novels set in Spain, has just been accepted to appear on A Place in the Sun. This television programme helps weather-weary would-be expats find a new home in the foreign country of their choice.

Authors make great candidates for the programme because as people who spend their days imagining themselves in different places, they’re good at walking into a house and picturing what it might be like to live there. Relocating to the place that’s the setting for their books must feel like a dream come true.

Cover of Best Murder in Show by Debbie Young
Due to launch 22nd April at Hawkesbury Upton Lit Fest

Tempting though it is to pitch for a spot myself, not least because the show’s guests get a free week’s holiday out of it, it wouldn’t work for me, because the novels I’m writing now are set in a small fictitious Cotswold village called Wendlebury Barrow, inspired by Hawkesbury Upton.

All characters and incidents are entirely fictitious, not only because I don’t want to be sued. It’s also because events in Hawkesbury are often so funny/bizarre/surprising that you couldn’t make them up if you tried.

And that’s another reason I’m glad to be living here. At this time of year especially, it may be cold, wet and grey, but life in Hawkesbury Upton is certainly never dull.

Cover of The Incubus by David Penny
Reviewed on my book blog

If you’d like to know more about David Penny’s books, check out my review of his latest novel, The Incubus, over on my book blog.

Posted in Events, Writing

It’s Not Quite Over Yet… Festive Oxfordshire TV Readings Now Available on YouTube

A quick shout-out for  my festive TV appearance before the 12 Days of Christmas are over!

Photo of four authors on TV studio sofa
Festive readings on That’s Oxfordshire TV with Mari Howard, Thomas Shepherd, Lynne Pardoe and me.

In our household, we have a strict rule that the Christmas decorations don’t come down till 12th Night, which we reckon is tomorrow, 6th January. I know there are various theories on when Christmas starts and finishes, but that’s the one we stick to – even though I’m often itching to declutter well before then, and make the house feel a bit more springlike. (Yes, I know we’ve still got a long way to go before the first day of spring on 21st March, but I hate January and February, and like to pretend they don’t exist.)

That Jackanory Moment

However, this attitude is to my advantage today, because it means I can just about get away with sharing with you the videos of two pieces I read on a regional television station for Christmas, when, along with Mari Howard, Lynne Pardoe and Thomas Shepherd, three author friends from the Oxford Authors Alliance, I was a guest at Talk Oxfordshire. We each read short stories or passages from our books with a festive flavour, and they’ve just put the tapes up on YouTube where those outside of the station’s reach.

I did two readings – one non-fiction, one fiction – and you can view them both by clicking the images below.

In the first one, I’m recalling one of my favourite memories from my childhood Christmasses, which features in my essay collection Young by Name: Whimsical Columns from the Tetbury Advertiser 2010-2015.

In the second, I’m reading “Do You Believe?”, a lighthearted short story about a shrewd little boy’s visit to Father Christmas. This is one of the twelve short festive stories in my collection Stocking Fillers.

I’m planning to add more readings soon, so to hear them as they appear, you might also like to subscribe to my YouTube channel.

Finally, as I brace myself to clear away Christmas, I’d like to share a quick anecdote from my great-niece (3), who finding that the Christmas tree and decorations in her house had been taken down overnight while she slept, asked “Where’s Christmas gone?” When told it was over now that January was here, she said crossly “Go away, January!” I know how she feels.

 

Posted in Events, Personal life

Of Jealous Guys and Ambitious Bonfires

(This is my November column for the Hawkesbury Parish News, published just before the annual village Bonfire Night celebrations)

Cover of the Ladybird book entitled James I and the Gunpowder Plot
All you need to know about Guy Fawkes in child-friendly detail (image: Amazon UK)

I’m old enough to remember not only the time when “Penny for the Guy” was a common cry at this time of year, but when a penny would be enough to buy something.

You could get four fruit salad sweets or a chocolate mouse for a penny. Or for just a few pennies, you could buy the cheapest fireworks from our local Post Office. My favourite was a box of coloured matches, while naughty boys preferred bangers or jumping jacks. Children were allowed to buy them, and we did. These days we may complain that health and safety regulations have gone mad, but looking back, you can see why we needed to invent them.

My favourite childhood memory of Fireworks Night was our family party. Raised in London suburbia, I was lucky enough to live in a house on the corner of the street, with a wrap-around garden big enough to host a decent bonfire without torching either the guests or the neighbours. That’s something you couldn’t do in most modern estate houses.

Each year our guy got sent on his way atop a pile of crumpled newspaper and sticks. In that simpler age, it didn’t occur to us to build a bonfire shaped like anything other than a bonfire.

Not so now we live in Hawkesbury, where the village bonfire is always a spectacular structure: Tower Bridge last year, complete with London bus. What shape will this year’s be? Whatever it is, if the old guys we used to make could see it, they’d be flabbergasted. Some guys have all the luck, they might say.

Picture of giant model of train in bonfire
The answer: Hawkesbury’s 2016 Bonfire Night set fire to the Hogwarts Express (Check out the two people standing to the left of the picture for an idea of the giant scale of the train!) Photo by Andy Musty
Posted in Events, Family, Personal life, Writing

Guys and Trolls – My November Column for the Tetbury Advertiser

Cover the November Tetbury Advertiser
Probably the first and last time Donald Trump will feature on the cover of the Tetbury Advertiser – the editor put him on there because of my commet about his hair towards the end of my Young By Name column this month!

(This post was written for the November issue of the Tetbury Advertiser, which was published prior to both Guy Fawkes Night and the US Election)

“We don’t do Halloween in our house, because it’s all about fear and ingesting too much sugar,” said a friend of mine halfway through October. With two children under five in her household, the second point alone was something to fear.

While her comment didn’t make me cancel the Halloween party I’d promised my daughter (13), it did remind me that prior to becoming a parent, I’d been anti-Halloween too.

I’d preferred Guy Fawkes Night, believing it to be a more patriotic tradition until I discovered recently that Halloween was a British export to America.

Who’s That Guy?

Even so, when I was a child, we never celebrated Halloween. My first taste of trick or treating was when I spent a year in the USA at the age of eight. No-one over there had ever heard of Guy Fawkes Night. Fireworks, they told me, were for the Fourth of July, not the Fifth of November.

Back on home turf, we resumed our annual family Guy Fawkes parties. As a child, chucking an effigy on a bonfire and watching it burn never bothered me. These days, that spectacle horrifies me.  Even if Guy Fawkes was caught red-handed in the act of attempted mass murder, burning him in effigy for hundreds of years afterwards is hardly a civilised response. It’s not far removed from reenacting a public hanging with a mannequin, or seeing a dressmaker’s dummy hung, drawn and quartered.

Variation on a Horrid Theme

These days most Guy Fawkes Night parties have moved away from the original cast, losing any historic justification in the process. Some communities even have elections to choose who to burn in effigy. I daresay there will be plenty of Donald Trumps atop our nation’s bonfires this month. To be fair, his hair would make a great firelighter.

I hadn’t realised how strongly I felt about this issue until I read a request from our local Fireworks Party committee to send along the scarecrows from the recent village scarecrow trail to grace this year’s bonfire. I was aghast, and not only because four new IKEA lime-green blankets went into the giant Very Hungry Caterpiller in our front garden. Most of the other scarecrows had been equally lovable figures, including a sweet elderly couple with a zimmer frame outside the local retirement home. I imagined local children being traumatised by seeing their favourite storybook characters go up in smoke, their parents worrying that granny had wandered into the danger zone by mistake.

So my vote goes for a humane rethink of Guy Fawkes. By all means keep the bonfires and the fireworks. I’m even happy for you to make a Guy. But when you’ve finished, please don’t burn him at the stake. Just chuck him in your cellar, lock the door, and throw away the key. Or export him to the States to stand as president. They could do with a good guy as candidate.