Posted in Events, Personal life, Writing

The Alchemy of Marrows

My column from the September 2019 issue of the Hawkesbury Parish News

My current stockpile of marrows from my cottage garden

“A glut! How rural!” said a city-dwelling friend when I complained about an excess of vegetable marrows.

The dictionary defines a glut as “an abundant supply – more than one could need or sell”. Some might argue that when it comes to marrows, a glut is any number above zero. At the Hawkesbury Show, auctioneer Nick Cragg always raises a laugh when he adds “and a marrow” to the list of items in a lot – you can’t give marrows away in the country at this time of year.

photo of auction in progress at Hawkesbury Village Show with Nick Cragg and Terry Walton
Country Property auctioneer Nick Cragg this year was aided by BBC Radio 2’s allotment guru Terry Walton

But each spring, knowing they’ll provide a guaranteed crop, untouched by the caterpillars and slugs that decimate brassicas, it’s hard to resist the temptation to plant them. This year, in an attempt to make the inevitable glut more interesting, my husband planted a yellow variety.

What’s more, we’ve now alighted upon a satisfying way of using them up: with the aid of a spiraliser. This hand-cranked mechanical cutting device is a bit like a giant’s equivalent of Grandma’s old-fashioned mincer.

photo of a spiraliser sideways on
The spiraliser – reminiscent of the traditional mincing machine

Position the marrow on the shaft, turn the handle, and a tangle of long, thin ribbons emerges through the cutting disc. Spiralising yellow marrows, I feel like Rumpelstiltskin spinning straw into gold in the Grimms’ fairy tale.

photo of spiraliser end on with ribbons of golden marrow
Tada! Spinning marrows into gold.

Simmer or stir fry the spirals briefly to provide the perfect vehicle for the pasta sauce of your choice. Who’d have thought the much-maligned marrow could give you three reasons to be cheerful? Courgetti spaghetti, to use the gourmet’s euphemism, counts as one of your five a day, save calories and carbs compared to pasta, and reduces your marrow stockpile.

So if you came home from the Hawkesbury Show with a marrow surplus to requirements, now you know what to do with it. And if you didn’t, I’m sure there’ll still be a few going begging in our household by the time you read this…


Seasonal Fiction for October

In Trick or Murder?, Sophie’s adopted village of Wendlebury Barrow must choose between Halloween and Guy Fawkes’ Night – risking the wrath of the strange new vicar, the Reverend Neep, who bans their traditional Halloween festivities. Join Sophie and friends as she tries to get to the bottom of what drives this strange fellow – and to prevent the despatch of more than just a guy on the village bonfire. For more information, and to read the first chapter for free, click here.


cover of Trick or Murder?
Available in paperback and ebook, with a lively story spanning Halloween and Guy Fawkes’ Night

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Posted in Events, Personal life, Reading, Self-publishing, Travel, Writing

A Trip to the Van Gogh Exhibition and More Serendipitous Inspirations

In keeping with Orna Ross‘s recommendation to replenish the creative well by going on a “createdate”with yourself every week to a fun, stimulating place, I book tickets for the Van Gogh Britain exhibition currently running at London’s Tate Britain Gallery. I bend Orna’s rule by taking my teenage daughter with me, because Van Gogh is her favourite artist and this seems the perfect focus for quality mother-and-daughter time.

Van Gogh Britain Exhibition

The exhibition is even bettter than we thought it would be, demonstrating how a three year stay in London before he began to paint influenced Van Gogh’s themes and style, and how his own paintings went on to influence subsequent generations of British artists. It was not only art that influenced him, but also British literature, his favourite being Charles Dickens, and the architecture and ambience. He particular enjoyed the views from the Thames Enbankment, a constant source of inspiration to artists and writers.

Afterwards my daughter and I channel our inner Van Gogh by walking along the Embankment on our way to Trafalgar Square, via Whitehall, then back down the Mall and through St James’s Park, as I point out historical and cultural landmarks along the way. I enjoy introducing her to the landmarks that as a Londoner I grew up with, and have never felt fonder of my home city.

3 Unexpected Pleasures

But as always with planned trips, serendipity yields more food for thought. On this trip to London, three incidents stand out for me that transported us out of London and around the world:

  1. Waiting at the bus stop for our coach to London, we’re approached by what I assume to be an unremarkable old man, in old-fashioned windcheater and slacks. He is clutching a Sainsbury’s carrier bag, and I assume he’s come into Chippenham to do a bit of grocery shopping. When he strikes up a conversation with us, we discover he is also London-bound, on his way to meet a former student he taught in Macau as Professor of Intercultural Trade and Relations. He still teaches for in China, Hong Kong and Macau, for three months a year, the maximum visa period. He gives us plenty to think about on our way to London. My key takeaway is “Never judge a man by his carrier bag.”
  2. Strolling down the South Bank of the Thames before our allocated time slot for our date with Van Gogh, at the foot of the Oxo Tower we chance upon Latitude, a free exhibition of wildlife photography, an array of breathtaking pictures of Arctic polar bears, Antarctic penguins, and all kinds of animal in between, including cheetahs frolicking as playfully as domesticated kittens and a tiger apparently leaping towards the photographer with murderous intent. From a modestly tiny picture of the photographer Roger Hooper in the exhibition brochure, I recognise the grey-haired man lurking diffidently in the corner. “Excuse me, are you the photographer?” I ask. “Yes,” he says with a smile. “How many risks do you take to get such fabulous shots?” I ask, indicating the hungry tiger. “Ah,” he smiles wryly. “You’ve picked the one shot that isn’t entirely real. That tiger is the one used in the film The Life of Pi, and i had a piece of meat on a stick dangling from my hand beside the camera. I photoshopped the background in and blurred it afterwards.” That still sounds pretty risky to me. The mental image of that set-up is almost as pleasing as the resulting photo, which I can’t reproduce here for copyright reasons, but you can find out more about the photographer Roger Hooper and view his pictures on his website here. You may also be interested in his laudable charity to help build a brighter future for African girls here: www.hoopersafricatrust.org.
  3. The final surprise of the day is when, exhausted, we’re sitting in St Martin’s in the Fields Crypt Cafe, enjoying our tea, when my eyes alight upon what seems to me the most perfect piece of brick wall. The pleasing array of colours in such a neat grid reminds me of Van Gogh’s thick daubs of rich colour, and to an artist’s watercolour paint box filled with the promise of the pictures still locked inside the neat rectangles of pigment. Whether prompted by our encounter with the Professor at the bus stop, or the amusing snap of Roger Hooper apparently being photobombed by a giant panda, it also puts me in mind of the Great Wall of China and all the wonders of the world, whether natural or manmade. My daughter is bemused by my fixation with beautiful bricks (“I can’t believe you posted bricks on Instagram!” she crows later) after all the sights we have seen, but to me it seems a neat and fitting end to a stimulating day, and the perfect end to an enjoyable July.
A paintbox in brick form in the crypt of St Martin in the Fields – could be an artist’s palette for skin tones

Thank You, July, It’s Been Fun

And what a busy July is has been! It kicked off with included a week in Scotland (see my earlier post), finishing my latest novel for publication, and completing a new novella to be sent as an free ebook to my mailing list next month. (If you’re not already on my mailing list, you can sign up now via the form at the foot of this page to receive your copy in August – sorry, originally intended for July!)

I also enjoyed being a part of the usual monthly BBC Radio Gloucestershire Book Club, in which we talked this month about Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, 300 years old this year but still a cracking read. If you’d like to hear what we had to say about this and other bookish talk, you can listen again for the next couple of weeks on BBC Sounds via this link – we’re in the first hour of the show.

Our discussion about Robinson Crusoe included reminiscing about the wonderful old children’s TV series that we all grew up watching

One other highlight of July for me was starting to write guest posts for the IngramSpark blog. IngramSpark is a huge printing company that not only prints books for all kinds of publishers but also puts them into the distribution system for high street bookstores. All my books are published via IngramSpark, which means that you can order them from your favourite bookshop rather than online. I love bookshops – a good bookshop is an invaluable part of the high street and of the wider community, so I’m really glad to be able to drive trade their way.

IngramSpark’s blog is aimed at authors rather than readers, but if you’d like to read the post I wrote for them, about writing productivity, here’s the link: https://www.ingramspark.com/blog/writing-1000-words-a-day-finding-better-ways-to-measure-productivity-finish-your-book

So that’s it for July. And despite my careful plans for a productive month ahead, I wonder what serendipity August will bring?

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Posted in Events, Personal life, Writing

The Comfort of Consistency

Photo of show schedule with first prize rosette
The schedule for the 2019 show is now available from Hawkesbury Stores and Hawkesbury Post Office to help you plan your entries

In my column for the July issue of the Hawkesbury Parish News, I’m looking forward to this year’s Hawkesbury Horticultural Show on Saturday 31st August – a pleasingly longstanding village tradition and the social highlight of the village year for all ages

In an ever-changing world which seems to be lurching from one crisis to the next, it’s comforting to have some events in life that are dependably consistent – such as the imminent Hawkesbury Horticultural Show (Saturday 31st August).

Although each year the hardworking Show Committee announces a handful of carefully considered changes to the schedule – a new category here, changed criteria there – part of the joy is that on Show Day, the essential formula remains the same.

cover of Best Murder in Show with Amazon bestseller flag
The Hawkesbury Horticultural Show, on whose committee I served for thirteen years, was the inspiration for my first novel – although of course the novel is a complete work of fiction. We do not have any murders at Hawkesbury Show!

But I wasn’t aware of just how true to tradition our Show is until my father recently brought to my attention an extract from a book published privately around 1950, Life in a Hampshire Village by Kathleen E Innes. Her description of St Mary Bourne’s village show at the turn of the 20th century could almost be of the present day Hawkesbury equivalent, without the influence of modern technology and the rise of equal rights for women!

… the village Flower Show was the great summer event. A marquee was hired to protect exhibits from sun, wind and weather and beside it in the field there arrived the day before the show, a fair, with all the traditional equipment of roundabouts, swings, coconut shies and wonderful sideshows… Pennies saved up for months soon vanished in rides on the shiny-painted horses of the roundabout, which went round and round to the droning music, working up to what to the riders seemed a terrifying speed… Amid shrieks and laughter, boat-shaped swngs were worked up to a height far above the horizontal, till it seemed as if the occupants must fall out, but they never did…

Judging took place in the morning, and the judges, who came from outside, did not see the names of competitions till the decisions were taken. Then the cards with names were turned face upwards, ready for the rush of excited entrants as soon as the tent was open in the afternoon. Gardeners had separate classes to prevent them, through any unfair advantage, carrying away all the prizes, but many a non-gardener’s exhibit would have gained the award even in the gardener’s class.

There was always a class for cakes, and a dish of boiled potatoes “to give the women a chance”, but on more than one occasion the prize for the best cake was borne away by a boy who had made up his mind to be a chef…

The scene inside the tent was gay and colourful. Vases of mixed flowers, the best table decorations, bowls of roses, sprays of sweet peas, were placed to meet the eye on entering. Classes of vegetables were in their allotted places on long tables round the edge – marvellous marrows, spotless and shapely potatoes, peas and beans with pods full from top to toe; cabbages solid as cannon balls, cauliflowers round and comely, carrots long and straight. All these were set out as an inspiration and a challenge. Their owners hovered with pride near at hand to hear the freely-expressed envy and admiration.

When the exhibits were removed and the tent left empty, the fair went gaily on till the summer nightfall, the monotonous music of the roundabouts inviting all and sundry to stay and make an evening of it, for it would be gone on the morrow. It was late before even the tired and happy children went to bed.

That nostalgic description has whetted my appetite for the 2019 Hawkesbury Show – now I’m off to find the schedule and start preparing my entries. See you at the Show next month, whether or not my name graces any prize certificates!

Photo of interior of village show schedule showing details of vegetable class entry requirements
We don’t do things by halves in Hawkesbury Upton

Everyone’s welcome at the Hawkesbury Horticultural Show – come and join us on Saturday 31st August for a day to remember! I’ll be in the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival tent, near the playpark and the Pimms stall fun by the Friends of St Mary’s (another committee that I’m on!) More details on the show’s website at www.hawkesburyshow.org

Photo of reader talking to author in show tent
Meet the authors in the Hawkesbury Upton Lit Fest tent at the show (Photo of my mum talking to historical novelist David Penny by another Festival author, Mari Howaqrd)

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Posted in Events, Writing

An Eventful June

A round-up of what I’ve been up to this month.

Bleddfa Centre Self-publishing Workshop (16th June)

This month I was delighted to revisit the beautiful Bleddfa Centre near Knighton in Wales. It’s an inspiring setting for creative activity, and perfect for the self-publishing workshop that I’d been invited to run there with fellow authors David Penny and Katharine E Smith who also runs Heddon Publishing, a self-publishing services company.

Photo of David Penny, Debbie YOung and Katharine E Smith
David Penny and Katharine E Smith enjoyed the day as much as I did

Together we provided an eager group of delegates with an overview of how to become an independent author, drawing on our own extensive experience, and with much reference to the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi), of which we are all members and of which I’m UK Ambassador. I was especially pleased to meet John Musgrave, who had been on another publishing course there two years before, there I had spoken about self publishing. He had since joined ALLi, self published his first book and had more in the pipeline.

I’m kicking myself for forgetting to take any photos of the gorgeous setting, but the expressions on our faces in the photo above taken by event organiser Caroline Sanderson, author, journalist and Bleddfa Centre trustee, at the end of the day, shows how much David and Catherine and I enjoyed ourselves.

Do take a moment to check out the Bleddfa Centre’s website for the details of further arts events in their programme. It’s always good to have an excuse to go there.

BBC Radio Gloucestershire Book Club (26th June)

On this month’s show, the usual gang – lunchtime presenter Dominic Cotter, fellow panelist Caroline Sanderson (yes, the same Caroline as at Bleddfa – she’s everywhere!) and I discussed The Salt Path by Raynor Winn.

Photo of Debbie and Caroline with The Salt Path by Raynor Winn at the BBC Radio Gloucestershire studio
Shame I had my eyes closed for Dominic’s photo!

The book is an extraordinary tale of a middle-aged couple whose way of dealing with a double crisis – bankruptcy and the diagnosis of terminal illness for Rayner’s husband Moth – is to backpack and wild camp their way around the south-west coastal path. In turns poignant, shocking, funny and lyrical, this is an unforgettable memoir of triumph over adversity and the redemptive power of nature. It is also beautifully written. Caroline and I had the good fortune to attend one of Raynor Winn’s many speaking engagements, organised at the Nailsworth Quaker Meeting House by the Yellow-Lighted Bookshop a couple of months ago, and we can confirm that she speaks as beautifully as she writes.

As always on Dominic’s show we talked about all manner of bookish things, and also chose next month’s book, Daniel Defoe’s seminal Robinson Crusoe, arguably the first English novel and inspiration for so many further works from The Swiss Family Robinson to Lost in Space to Desert Island Discs. I can’t wait to see what we all make of it when we reconvene at noon on Wednesday 24th July.

In the meantime, you can catch the show on iplayer here – Book Club starts eight minutes into the show, just after the news. And if you’d like to track down a Raynor Winn talk near you, her current schedule is below – and you can find out the latest news on her Twitter account at @Raynor_Winn.

graphic of cover of The Salt Path by Raynor Winn and list of her coming talks

Evesham Festival of Words (27th June)

At the time of writing, this event has yet to come! Tomorrow night I’l be chairing a panel of crime writers as part of the Evesham Festival of Words, with a fabulous trio of authors: David Penny (yes, as at Bleddfa, above!) who writes historical thrillers set in medieval Moorish Spain; Barry Faulkner, who writes contemporary police procedural novels; and Angela Buckley, who writes true crime. We’ll be discussing all different kinds of crime fiction, past, present and future, both as professional writers and as avid readers. The event is at 7pm in the enticing setting of Evesham Rowing Club on the banks of a beautiful stretch of the River Avon. Tickets are still available at £7.50, so if you are in town, do please come along on the night – it would be great to see you!

Photo of Evesham Rowing Club
Evesham Rowing Club is the congenial setting for our Crime Panel discussion

In Between Times: Lots of Writing!

I love doing events like this and am always open to invitations – so if you would like me to speak at an event for you, please don’t hesitate to ask. I’m now taking bookings from mid-July onwards. At the moment I have no bookings for July and am looking forward to spending lots of time with my daughter, now on an extended holiday from school after completing her GCSE exams.

It’s also been good to have space to catch up with online activity, including this delightful review on YouTube of Best Murder in Show by vlogger J P Choquette.

However I’m also pleased when I can space them out in the diary to allow plenty of writing time – and this month I’m thrilled that I managed not only to finalise the manuscript of my next novel, Secrets at St Bride’s, due to launch next month, but also to write an 11,000 word short novella, The Pride of Peacocks, a bonus extra to my Sophie Sayers Village Mystery series, and which also segues into the world of the new series! Also coming soon is the new audiobook of Best Murder in Show, narrated by Siobhan Waring, who I thought was the perfect voice for Sophie Sayers.

Thanks to my designer Rachel Lawston for creating the required square cover for the audiobook!

If you’d like to get an email telling you when Secrets at St Bride’s and the new audiobook of Best Murder in Show are available – and also to receive a free ebook of The Pride of Peacocks next month (it’s an exclusive gift for members of my mailing list – not available to buy in shops!), just leave your email address in the form below, and I’ll add you to my list.

Cover of Secrets at St Bride's by Debbie Young
Coming in July – join my mailing list to receive notification when it’s available to order

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Posted in Events, Self-publishing, Writing

Looking Forward to June Events

A preview of my public events in June

I thought it might be helpful and, I hope, interesting, if I share a post at the start of each month previewing any imminent public events that I’m involved in. Then at the end of the month I’ll report back on them.

Although I realise that most people reading these posts won’t be able to attend these events in person due to their location,  if you do manage to get to any,  please come and find me and say hello – I’d love to see you  in real life! 

Self-publishing: A Complete How-To Guide (Saturday 16th June)

On Sunday 16th June, I’ll be joining two other successful indie authors and great friends of mine, Katharine E Smith and David Penny, to teach an exclusive one-day course in self-publishing in the beautiful and inspiring setting of the Bleddfa Centre near Knighton in Wales.

I’m delighted to have the opportunity to return to this peaceful place, where I very much enjoyed being on the panel of a more general publishing day a couple of years ago.

The rural setting is idyllic, and the standard of catering superb – a combination highly conducive to learning!

Drawing on our own experience as authors, publishers and marketers, we’ll be sharing practical guidance, top tips and moral support, as well as debunking popular misconceptions about the exciting possibilities that self-publishing offers the independent author – and indeed to those who contracts with publishing companies. This blog post I wrote for the Bleddfa Centre tells you a little more about those possibilities.

With a limited number of places available, this course will be an intensive but highly accessible event providing the perfect opportunity for aspiring authors to ask questions about their own ambitions and plans, and to receive specific guidance from experts, whatever stage they are at in their writing and publishing journey.

Find out more and reserve your place at the Bleddfa Centre’s website.

Crime Panel at Evesham Festival of Words (Thursday 27th June)

Later this month I’ll be returning to the Evesham Festival of Words, where I’ve spoken several times before. This year my role is to chair a fun discussion about the nature of crime-writing, from cosy to dark, from fact to fiction, in the company of three distinguished and entertaining authors:

  • historical mystery writer David Penny (yes, the same David Penny who’ll be joining me at Bleddfa!)

We’ll be convening at the pleasant setting of Evesham Rowing Club, down by the river (I presume!) to discuss what makes great crimewriting, to considerwhy it’s enduringly popular, and taking questions from the audience. We’ll also each read an extract from our work to showcase the variety that we offer between us.

I’ve spoken alongside all of three of my fellow panellists at other events, and I can tell you they are all sparkling company – so expect a lively, accessible and intriguing conversation with serious moments but plenty of laughs!

Find out more about the busy Festival programme and how to book tickets here.

Plus all the regular events…

Although the BBC Radio Gloucestershire Book Club usually broadcasts from the Gloucester studio, we occasionally take it out on the road – or in this case to the canalside presenter Dominic Cotter took this photo of Caroline and me with canalboat skipper Pete, with the perfect reading matter for anyone interested in messing about in boats!

Every month, three further events feature in my diary:

  1. The BBC Radio Gloucestershire Book Club show, hosted by lunchtime presenter Dominic Cotter. on which I’m a regular panellist, alongside fellow local author Caroline Sanderson. For an hour live on air, usually the first hour of the show (which starts at noon), we discuss our chosen book of the month, book-related news and local literary events. It’s always great fun, and you can always listen online for 28 days after the show if you don’t catch it live. In June, our Book of the Month will be Raynor Winn’s inspiring memoir of walking the south west coastal path with her seriously ill husband, The Salt Path, and in July we’ll discuss Daniel Defoe’s classic Robinson Crusoe – so two very different adventure stories for summer reading! Here’s a link to last month’s show, in which we discussed Angie Thomas’s stunning YA novel The Hate U Give: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p077r655 The date of our next Book Club slot is Wednesday 26th June from noon.
  2. The Bristol Authors’ Alliance – the monthly group for writers that I host for sharing best practice and moral support at the very pleasant Foyles bookshop at Cabot Circus. To find out about meetings and to join our group, visit our Meetup page here: https://www.meetup.com/Bristol-Authors-Alliance/ We meet on the first Wednesday of each month from 6pm until 7.45pm in Foyles, so this month’s meeting is Wednesday 5th June.
  3. The Cheltenham Authors’ Alliance – another writers’ group that I host along the same lines at the ever-hospitable Anthology Bookshop in Suffolk Parade, Cheltenham. For more information about to join our group, visit this Meetup page: https://www.meetup.com/Cheltenham-Alliance-of-Independent-Authors/ . We meet on the third Tuesday of each month from 10.30am until 12.15pm.

Both the writers’ groups are so popular that for reasons of space I’ve had to restrict the number of places at each meeting – not least to make sure we have enough chairs to go round! Therefore it’s essential to reserve a place in advance. I also give priority to members of the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi)*, the global nonprofit organisation that helps authors all over the world share best practice, campaign for writing-related causes, access helpful discounts, deals and benefits, and share friendship and camaderie with fellow writers, 24/7/365. If you’re not already a member when you join our group, you’ll almost certainly want to join it by the time you leave your first meeting!

(*The link above is my affiliate link, which means if you join ALLi once you’ve clicked on it, I’ll receive a small reward from ALLi. So thank you for that!)

So – that’s it for this month. I’ll report back on how it all goes at the end of the June!

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