Posted in Events, Writing

The Reluctant Murderer at Oakwood Literature Festival

cover of the June issue of the Tetbury AdvertiserThis post first appeared in the June 2018 edition of the award-winning Tetbury Advertiser.

“I have a no-murder policy,” said the tall, softly-spoken man in black.

If, like me, you were obliged to sit beside him for the next hour, would you be reassured by that remark, or alarmed?

What if that statement had a similar impact to those “Keep off the lawn” signs that make you want to do nothing so much as kick off your shoes and run barefoot across it, desperate to feel the cool blades of grass tickling the soles of your feet?

Or to those tantalising signs in the swimming pools that list all the things that you’re forbidden from doing: “No diving, no bombing, no running”, etc – I’m sure you can reel off the list as well as I can – at the same time helpful providing a clear line drawing showing you exactly how to commit each of those offences.

Having a murder policy of any kind might even exert the power of suggestion, in the same way that the instruction “Don’t think of oranges” immediately makes you think about oranges.

It’s All About the Context

Of course, context is all. If the man’s statement had been an unsolicited chat-up line in a wine bar, or his opening gambit at a speed-dating session, I would have been worried. What else might he have up his sleeve? “I have a no wife-beating policy.” “I have a no-coveting-my-neighbour’s-ox policy.”

Cover of Child Taken by Darren Young
Don’t worry, they all live to tell the tale

As it happened, it was music to my ears, as what had brought Darren and I together was an invitation to speak on a panel at the Oakwood Literature Festival in Derbyshire last month, and he was describing his approach to writing his psychological thriller, Child Taken.  As I am a writer of crime novels that are more Miss Marple than Nordic Noir, I really have to force myself to kill people for the sake of the plot. I’ve even started describing myself to readers as “the reluctant murderer”, which no doubt comes as a relief to my friends and relations. Listening to Darren, I was glad to know I wasn’t alone in my reluctance.

So as introductions go, his opening line was much more innocuous than one might assume. Although it turned out his surname was also Young. Now that was creepy.


set of four Sophie Sayers booksTo read more about my cosy mystery series, in which all the murders are gentle and sometimes there’s even a stay of execution, click here.

Cover of Young by NameAnd if you’d like to read more of my whimsical columns for the Tetbury Advertiser, here’s a book of the first sixty of them, available in ebook and paperback.

Posted in Events, Writing

I am Not a Number

Debbie with a microphone gesturing to the audience
Making the opening address at Oakwood Literature Festival last month (Photo: Angela Fitch Photography)

(This post first appeared in the Hawkesbury Parish News, June 2018.)

 

“Hello, Debbie,” said the lady serving me tea at the Oakwood Literature Festival. “Would you like sugar in your tea, Debbie?”

This struck me as odd, as I had never met her before in my life, but I smiled politely and thanked her for the tea. Then, as I was drinking it, another lady gave called out cheerily as she passed by: “Good morning, Debbie!”

When a third person I didn’t recognise greeted me by name, I started to feel distinctly uncomfortable. How could this be? I was a hundred miles from home, in a part of the country where I had no friends or relations, and yet everyone seemed to know me.

I wondered whether that was how it felt to be the Queen.

Photo of Debbie necklace
How to make friends and influence people… wear necklace with your name on it

And then it clicked. The night before, while spring-cleaning my dressing table, I’d rediscovered a tatty old silver-coloured necklace that spells out my first name in cheap metal italics. I remembered buying it for 99p in a scruffy tourist shop on holiday in Fort William, Scotland. It would be hard to find a more parsimonious version of Sarah Jessica Parker’s iconic gold “Carrie” necklace from the TV series “Sex and the City”, but in a fit of nostalgia, I’d put it on and had forgotten to take it off.

So my reputation hadn’t gone before me after all. All the same, it was so cheering to receive such friendly greetings from strangers that I wore it again the next day, and the day after that.

photo of Debbie and Dawn
Chatting with the organiser of the Oakwood Literature Festival, Dawn Brookes – one of many Festival friends (Photo: Angela Fitch Photography)

NEXT UP: EVESHAM FESTIVAL OF WORDS
I’m looking forward to appearing at the Evesham Festival of Words twice in June – for the full programme, visit their website here.

For more information about the Oakwood Literature Festival, visit their website here.

 

Posted in Events, Self-publishing, Writing

A Busy Bee on the Busy Words Blog

Photo of the front of the shop plus the Daffodil next door
The delightful independent bookshop the Suffolk Anthology nestles beside the famous Daffodil restaurant

As just one of a flurry of events that have kept me busy during the last few weeks, I recently had the pleasure of being guest speaker at Cheltenham Writers’ Circle, at the invitation of historical novelist Edward James. Edward also attends my Cheltenham Authors’ Alliance, which meets every third Tuesday of the month at the wonderful Suffolk Anthology bookshop.

About Edward James

cover of The Frozen Dream by Edward James
Edward James’ prize-winning novel explores a little-known period of Tudor history

I’d first come across Edward a few years ago, when he won a prize awarded by publishing service provider SilverWood Books and ebook distributor Kobo, which I’ve just enjoyed reading. It tells the story of a little-known historical episode when Tudor explorers attempted to find a north-east trade-route passage via the Arctic to China. His prize was to have his novel beautifully produced by SilverWood, and as you can tell from this stunninng cover, they did their customary great job. (You can find out more about his book on the SilverWood website here.) 

Amongst Friends

When he invited me to speak at Cheltenham Writers’ Alliance about my own writing and publishing activities, I didn’t expect to know anyone else there, so it was a pleasant surprise to see in the audience the lovely bookseller Sallie Anderson from the Suffolk Anthology bookshop and Dr Terri Passenger, a trustee of Read for Good (formerly Readathon), the wonderful children’s reading charity that I used to work for.

My Talk

Edward had asked me to talk about my books and writing, and about the self-publishing process. Fuelled by coffee and Kit-Kats all round, I managed to talk for nearly two hours, with lots of show-and-tell of my books, and plenty of questions from the audience.

Afterwards, Edward kindly invited me to be interviewed on his blog, so that members who were not at the meeting, and anyone else who was interested, might catch up with what they’d missed. He’s now posted the interview on his website, and it includes my answers to the following questions:

  • When did you decide you wanted to be a  writer?
  • What did you do before you became a full-time writer?  How did  it contribute  to your writing?
  • Tell me about some of the things you have written.  What is your current project?
  • What made you decide to self-publish?
  • Can you describe your writing day?
  • You convene two local groups of ALLi.  Can you tell me about ALLi and how it can help self-published authors?
  • You have  a lot of other activities including the Hawkesbury Festival.  How did that come about?
  • When you spoke to Cheltenham Writers’ Circle you told us about Beta Readers.  Could you say something here for those of us who were not at the meeting?

Could you give us some links  to tell us more about your work?

If you’d like to read my answers, click this link to read the interview on Edward’s Busy Words blog.

Edward’s blog also includes interviews with a range of interesting authors and bookish types, and I was delighted to discover one of them is Helene Hewett, proprietor of the Suffolk Anthology bookshop, which brings us neatly full circle to where I began this post!

Group shot of authors in doorway of bookshop
Helene Hewett is immediately behind me in this group shot of author friends in the Cheltenham Authors’ Alliance, in this jolly shot by Angela Fitch Photography. (Unfortunately this was taken before Edward joined the group.)

 

Posted in Events, Personal life, Travel

All Roads Lead to Hawkesbury

When I wrote this post for the May issue of the Hawkesbury Parish News, the 4th Hawkesbury Upton Lit Fest was still in the future!

Australian flagA few weeks ago, I was surprised to receive a message from my Australian Facebook friend, Serene Conneeley, saying that she was hoping to attend this year’s Hawkesbury Upton Lit Fest. As I only knew her via Facebook and have never met her in real life, I wondered whether she’d mistaken it for an event taking place in the “other” Hawkesbury, near Sydney.

Not that the two are unconnected, of course, the vast Hawkesbury River being named in 1789 after Charles Jenkinson, 1st Earl of Liverpool, then Baron Hawkesbury, and very much part of “our” Hawkesbury.

Aerial view of Hawkesbury River
Hawkesbury River by Tim Starling (Taken by Tim Starling) [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
But no, Serene knew exactly where our Festival takes place. While attending it wasn’t the prime purpose of her trip to England, from what she’d heard of previous HULFs, she wanted to include it in her itinerary.

So this year we had a new record for who travelled the furthest to come to the Festival. And it’ll be a hard one to break, because the exact opposite spot to Hawkesbury Upton, in terms of latitude and longitude, is in the middle of the ocean, south-east of New Zealand. But I’m not saying it’s impossible – mermaids will always be welcome here. Advance notice will be required, however, so we can fill Farm Pool (our usually dry village pond) with water to give them somewhere comfortable to stay.

DIARY DATE FOR NEXT YEAR

The 5th Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival will take place on Saturday 27th April 2019 – a little later than usual due to the very late Easter next year. For more information, visit www.hulitfest.com.

team photo
Celebrating another successful Hawkesbury Upton Lif Fest (Photo by Angela Fitch Photography)
Posted in Events, Personal life

Why Easter is Such a Movable Feast (of Chocolate)

My column from the March 2018 edition of Hawkesbury Parish News

photo of rabbit in a field looking startled
So early an Easter is enough to catch the Easter Bunny on the hop (Photo by Gary Bendig via Unsplash.com)

“But Easter’s so early this year!”

With Easter Sunday falling on 1st April this year, the schools will barely have time to squeeze in the spring term before the bank holidays begin. My daughter’s school breaks up on Maundy Thursday, the day before Good Friday.

But it could be worse: it’s possible for Easter Sunday to fall as early as 22nd March. No cause for immediate alarm though, as that’s not due to happen till 2285.

Next year, we will have the opposite problem: Easter will be three weeks later, on April 21st. (Latest Easter possible is 25th April, as will happen in 2038.)

At least a later Easter means that Valentine’s Day won’t coincide with Ash Wednesday, as it did this year, causing a dilemma for anyone who’d given up chocolate for Lent. (What do you mean, your Valentine never brings you chocolates?)

Why do Easter dates vary so much?

photo of the authors parents
Getting married at the vernal equinox has kept my parents forever young (married 65 years and counting…)

They are set according to the phases of the moon. Easter Day is deemed to be the first Sunday after the first full moon to follow the vernal equinox. (No, I don’t know why, either.)

When’s the vernal equinox? Easy – 21st March, my parents’ wedding anniversary (impressively, their 65th this year, in case you’re wondering). Or so I thought, until I googled “vernal equinox” and discovered it is just as likely to fall on 19th or 20th March, depending on when the sun crosses the celestial equator, a notional line running from south to north above the equator.

In all of this mayhem, you’ll be pleased to know there is still one absolute certainty: that wherever Easter falls on the calendar, there will always be Easter eggs in the shops from Valentine’s Day onwards – and often even earlier. But not to worry: in my opinion, there’s no such thing as too much chocolate.

Happy Easter, folks!

 


Cover of Murder by the Book
Launching on 21st April: the fourth Sophie Sayers Village Mystery

The timing isn’t all bad news, though – it’s just right to get me in the mood for starting to write my fifth novel in the Sophie Sayers Village Mystery series, Springtime for Murder, which kicks off with someone thinking they’ve found the Easter bunny dead in an open grave.

Don’t worry, though, all is not what it seems… he’ll still be delivering chocolate this Easter! 

In the meantime, you can catch up with the first books in the series here.