Posted in Events

The Dyson Solstice and the Secret Powers of Doughnuts and Squishies

array of books on bookstall

A post about the fun to be had running bookstalls at Dyson’s staff fairs – with AA Abbott and Ana Salote

What a difference six months makes! At the end of last year fellow authors AA Abbott (aka my chum Helen Blenkinsop), Ana Salote and I were freezing beneath multiple layers of clothing running a book stall at Dyson’s Christmas Fair…

photo of two authors on an outdoor bookstall

Ana and Helen smile into the chilly winter sun at the Dyson Christmas Fair…even after dark:

photo of Debbie on stall in darkness beneath fairy lights
We kept going till the end of the working day, fortified by Dyson’s staff Christmas lunch

By contrast, last weekend found us sweltering in as few clothes as we could get away with at their Summer Fair.

Debbie behind bookstall in khaki hat and vest
You could be forgiven for thinking I’m on safari here – it certainly felt hot enough
Helen behind the bookstall
Helen’s always a brilliant saleswoman, wherever she sells her books

These were both staff-only events, held at their premises close to where I live, and where Helen has in the past worked, hence the invitation to Helen and her friends to run a bookstall there.

Both events were run with an impressive efficiency that befits a world-class engineering company, also with much kindness and consideration for everyone involved.

Both times we came away convinced that Dyson is a wonderful employer, as well as a brilliant innovator, manufacturer and marketer of ground-breaking products.

And both times we also enjoyed meeting fascinating fellow-stallholders. As novelists, we couldn’t help but make mental note of some great story lines suggested by their anecdotes, and also by their products.

At the Christmas Fair, we watched in fascination the never-ending queue at the fancy doughnut stall, which sold out well before the Fair was over, eclipsing the steady traffic to the rest of our stands.

Are doughnuts the secret ingredient of Dyson’s corporate brilliance? Although Homer Simpson, that other great consumer of doughnuts, also works in engineering, perhaps all that Duff beer he drinks is an antidote to doughnut-fuelled brainpower.

At the Summer Fair, even the doughnut stall was outranked by a one selling something we’d never even heard of: squishies.

At this point, those of you with young children may well emit a heavy sigh. The rest of you might be thinking: whatties? No, I hadn’t heard of squishies either, till last weekend. So let me enlighten you.

All About Squishies

Squishies are small pieces of memory foam, the same material that revolutionised mattresses a few years ago, cut into cute shapes with child appeal and painted in bright colours. Some are animals or superheroes, others are in the shape of items of food – cakes, stacks or pancakes or fruits. They are similar to executive stress balls, but in much jazzier colours and cuter designs.

The nature of the material makes them neither hot not cold, and very soft to touch, and it was easy to see how they could be both comforting and calming.

Photo of squishes
Helen couldn’t resist taking a picture of them to show her family later.

The only way to play with them is to squish them – compress them down – and then watch them expand to their previous shape. Apparently, the better the quality, the longer they take to reform. To add interest, some are scented. And that’s it.

As we were setting up before the Fair opened, I mistook them for dog toys. It immediately became clear that they were in fact child-magnets.

“Oooh, look! Squishies!” shrieked one small child after another as they dashed past us to the stall.

The good-natured chap selling them took it all in his stride. He’d seen it all before, running a business that anticipates and caters for the next new trend in childhood crazes:

  • Fidget spinners? He was straight on to them.
  • Loom bands? He blamed a scare-mongering report in The Sun newspaper for nipping that trend in the bud before he’d profited from his investment.

“So what’s next?” I asked him, hoping for inside information, even though my daughter’s now too old to be interested in such things. (It’s amazing how often I still find loom bands in odd corners, though.) He declined to speculate.

But next time I see an outlandish new toy being touted on every street corner, I’ll be hoping that, like Dyson with the bagless vacuum cleaner, he got in first and cleaned up.

Posted in Events, Writing

The Reluctant Murderer Finds Partners in Crime at CrimeFest

This post first appeared on the Authors Electric collective blog at the end of May. 

Partners in crime at CrimeFest, on a panel chaired by the fabulous Zoe Sharp, far left

In the same month that I joined the Romantic Novelists’ Association, I also pitched up on a panel at CrimeFest. An unlikely duo, you might think, but my cosy mystery series has a foot in both camps, with a strong romantic subplot  underpinning the murder in each novel.

In some respects it’s a similar situation to visiting Greenwich and being able to stand on the Meridian line with one foot in the east, the other in the west. Further variety is added by a generous helping of comedy running throughout my books.

But I’m by no means the only one to tread such a complex path, genre-wise. Fellow CrimeFest panellist Alison Morton adds alternative history to her crime/romance split.

Deemed by The Guardian to be the best crime writing festival in the world

A Multiplicity of Murderers

Just because two authors write in the same genre, doesn’t mean their books need have much in common. While each of my books has “Murder” in its title, none of them are that dark. One reviewer, Rosalind Minett, a career psychologist, describes mine as “uplifting murders”. Certainly my books include plenty of life-affirming threads and happy endings for everyone except the murderer(s).

Reluctant to Murder

The fourth Sophie Sayers Village Mystery

Sometimes I even provide a stay of execution for the murderer’s intended victim. I’ve started describing myself as The Reluctant Murderer, because sometimes I have to force myself to polish people off. I took no chances with my latest novel, Murder by the Book, shoving someone unceremoniously down a well to their death in the very first chapter, before my resolve could weaken.

And in the book I’m currently writing, Springtime for Murder, (Sophie Sayers Village Mystery #5), I’m as yet undecided as to whether the person who gets hit over the head with a hammer will be allowed to survive. (“Might knock some sense into X,” Billy has just muttered, about 20k words into the manuscript.) [Update on 25th June: I’ve now finished writing the first draft and it’s not looking good for the hammered one…]

Different Shades of Danger

My first in series, Best Murder in Show, stood out on the bookshop table at Crimefest as practically the only one with a sunny blue sky on the cover. The rest were mostly murky muddy colour palettes, or various shades of bruising. But that’s fine, there’s room for all kinds – and many readers enjoy the whole range.

Sharp as a Zoe

I hadn’t met our panel’s host, Zoe Sharp, before the day of our talk (the last of the four-day festival), but a reference to her in a previous talk had me alarmed. A member of the audience asked that panel what was the best way to kill a person with a knife with a single would to the head.

“That’s easy enough,” said the chair, “but if you ask Zoe Sharp, she’ll tell you how to do it with a biro.”

What’s in a Name?

Sharp by name, I thought… though her name too is a mixture of light and dark, with Zoe being Greek for life, in contrast to her surname that might be chosen as a pseudonym filled with threat, hinting at razor blades and flick-knives.

As it turned out, Zoe was sparky, smiley and smart, and while her books may be full of combat, her direction of our panel was pure fun.

Which just goes to show: it takes all sorts to make a murder story.

You couldn’t meet a nice bunch of murderers – a quartet of CrimeFest authors: David Penny (seated) next to me, Alison Morton (standing left), Carol Westron (standing right)
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.)