Posted in Events, Reading, Writing

On Providing Cover Quotes on Other Authors’ Books

My quote on the cover of Amy Myers’ latest Tom Wasp mystery, out today

While I’m often a little sceptical about some of the quotes on book covers by famous authors, critics and other celebrities, particularly where the same names appear over and over again, I’m always pleased to be asked to read other writers’ books prior to publication, especially if they or their publishers are after an endorsement quote from me.

Double Standard?

I hope not, because I do genuinely read the whole of each book myself, and whatever is attributed to me on their cover has been composed by me rather than any PR. ( I spent a large part of my former career working in PR, so am familiar with the territory!)

image of three book covers
A trio of Wasps

Usually any such requests come directly from authors, and usually they are friends of mine from the independent sector, publishing their own books. But recently publishing house Endeavour Quill approached me to read and review the latest book from an author new to me, Amy Myers. Amy has written many books, including a series of historical detective stories set in Victorian London – the Tom Wasp Mysteries, in which the eponymous detective is a chimney sweep.

Swept Off My Feet by a Chimney Sweep

cover image of Tom Wasp and the Seven Deadly Sins
Book 3 in Amy Myers’ series

Despite my to-read list being huge, I have had a soft spot for London chimney sweeps ever since I fell in love with Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins at the age of 7. I am also addicted to historical mysteries, such as Lucienne Boyce’s Dan Foster and Susan Grossey‘s Sam Plank series). And I’m a Londoner by birth, though have lived in the Cotswolds for nearly 30 years now. So I couldn’t resist this offer, and rapidly tore through Tom Wasp and the Seven Deadly Sins. I particularly enjoyed the relationship between Tom and his young sidekick, whom he’d rescued from climbing chimneys; the colourful scene-setting in the city reminiscent of the movie sets of Oliver! (yes, I have read the Dickens novel too, and seen the stage show, but Myers’ books was very filmic); and the plot based around the London bookselling scene (a topic also addressed beautifully, albeit at a slightly earlier era, in Lucienne Boyce’s novel To The Fair Land).

Behind the Scenes with “Little Darlings”

cover of Little Darlings by Melanie Golding
Get a sneak preview at Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival

Whether or not I’m asked to provide a cover endorsement, it’s still gratifying to be offered advance review copies (ARCS, as they’re known in the trade), as it allows you a sneak preview of a book before it hits the shops. Thus last night I stayed up late to finish the most recent ARC I’ve been sent, the wonderful Little Darlings, debut novel of Melanie Golding, due for publication in May by HQ (a Harper Collins imprint).

It’s an eerie thriller about the mother of twins who becomes convinced her babies are changelings. I’d describe it as the love child of Rosemary’s Baby and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and I’m sure it’s going to be as big a hit as both of those. (The film rights have been sold already, even though the book’s not out till May.)

I first came across Melanie Golding when one of her short stories was picked at Stroud Short Stories, a regional competition of which I’m co-judge. When she read it to the audience, I knew I was hearing an exceptionally gifted and accomplished writer, and I’m thrilled that she has taken her writing to novel length. Her contract for this book was one of the biggest and most shouted-about last year, and you’re all going to be hearing great things about the book once it hits the shops.

HULF Save the date graphicSneak Preview of Little Darlings at the Hawkesbury Upton Lit Fest (Saturday 27th April)

So I’m particularly thrilled that Melanie has agreed to read an extract at the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival, the free local liffest that I run in my village, prior to her book’s publication. So if you’d like to be ahead of the general reading public, and are in striking distance of the Cotswolds, do come along on the day – admission’s free, no advance booking is required. Click here to download the full festival programme and see what else you won’t want to miss during our action-packed day.

And Finally, A 99p Challenge…

cover of Best Murder in Show with Amazon bestseller flag
Just 99c/99c till 7th March

If you’re at a loose end for something to read tonight, and like reading ebooks, you might like to take advantage of the special offer running at present on Best Murder in Show, the first in my Sophie Sayers Village Mystery series – just 99p/99c or the equivalent in your local currency, from Amazon stores around the world. (Also available as a paperback to order from all good bookshops.) But hurry, the offer ends on 7th March, and after that it reverts to full price. Here’s the link which should take you to the local Amazon store wherever you live. Oh, and it would be remiss of me not to mention that this book carries a lovely endorsement quote from the ever-generous Katie Fforde!

Posted in Events, Writing

The Michael & Debbie Double Act Strikes Again!

bcfm logoI 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

Cover of The Wedding Speech HandbookI’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!

Celebrating Michael’s new book about weddings in style (he’s seated, left in his DJ) 20181127 – Photo @JonCraig – 07778 606070

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.

Post-Script Coincidence

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:

screenshot of Amazon ad

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!
 
Posted in Events, Reading, Self-publishing, Writing

Juggling a Trio of Literature Festivals

 Autumn: season of mists and mellow fruitfulness – and literature festivals!

1 LitFest Past: Ness Book Fest

Profile photo of Debbie at microphone with Waterstones banner behind
Speaking at Ness Book Fest on Saturday (with thanks to Lesley Kelly for the photo)

Last weekend I had the pleasure of speaking not once but twice at the delightful Ness Book Fest in Inverness. This event, now in its third year, is a wonderful celebration of local writing talent (I loved the three-minute slot showcasing a local author at the start of each session) and authors like me from further afield (although the fact that Inverness is mentioned in my first novel, and my eighth will be set in Inverness may have earned me honorary local status!)

My gigs in the excellent venue of the mezzanine event area in Waterstones’ Inverness store required me to wear two different hats:

  • firstly, an hour’s talk about how to self-publish books successfully, in my role as ambassador for the Alliance of Independent Authors
  • secondly, talking about my novel writing, with specific reference to my current Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries series, though also touching on future plans for other series, including Staffroom at St Bride’s, for which I’m currently writing the first book

The audience for both talks was highly receptive and engaged, and it was a joy to linger chatting to them afterwards, hearing about their own writing and reading activities, and signing books. One man even gave me a copy of a poem he’d written – what a lovely thing to do!

festival poster on back of toilet door
I’m in the bottom row, third from left

Another surprise came just before my first event, when I nipped to the public toilets next door to Waterstones – and found myself facing a picture of myself on the back of the toilet door! An ingenious bit of lateral thinking for advertising the Ness Book Fest, whose posters were dotted strategically all around the town!

Oh, and yes, I was wearing the same actual hat for both talks, but next day I did snap up a second hat in Harris Tweed, to which I am addicted, and whose warmth I appreciated next day on my constitutional around the National Arboretum at Westonbirt.

photo of Debbie Young in Harris Tweed hat with large sculpture of Gruffalo behind her
Looks like the Gruffalo is after my new Harris Tweed hat

2 LitFest Present: Cheltenham Literature Festival

photo of team
With the BBC Radio Gloucestershire team in the Cheltenham Literature Festival VIP Tent

I then had just a day at home to draw breath and finish reading the BBC Radio Gloucestershire Book Club‘s book of the month, this time the intriguing and unusual (and, millions claim, life-changing) fable The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, before hot-footing it to Cheltenham for an outside broadcast with the station’s lunchtime presenter, Dominic Cotter, in the Festival’s VIP tent. I spent a very pleasant couple of hours there, talking books with the BBC team and with other guests, including my friends Heidi Perry, Vicky Pember and Wilf Merttens from the children’s reading charity, Read for Good. By coincidence, they were there to do an event with one of the charity’s storytellers to a packed audience of younger readers. We managed to squeeze them into the show too!

You can share some of the fun of the Festival by listening to the show here on iPlayer any time during the next 28 days. (The Book Club slot starts about 13 minutes into the show, and Read for Good’s about 20 minutes before the end.) And if you’re a regular Book Club listener, you can get ahead for next month’s show by reading Daljit Nagra’s poetry collection, British Museum, which fellow panellist Caroline Sanderson chose, in between chairing numerous Festival events!

Meanwhile the Cheltenham Literature Festival will be in full swing till the end of Sunday – visit their website to see what else is coming up in their programme.

3 LitFest Yet To Come: Bristol Literature Festival

photo of AA Abbott reading her book in cell
A A Abbott reading from one of the books in her “Trail” series in the historic police cells

And now the dust has settled on those two outings, I’m gearing up for my next event, which is a fun celebration of crime writing organised by thriller writer A A Abbott as part of the Bristol Literature Festival. Following the success of the launch of her last but one novel at the old police cells at Bridewell Street, Bristol, she dreamed up the idea of a multi-author crime book fair in the same atmospheric setting, to take place on Saturday 20th October from 2pm until 4.30pm. At “Crime, Thrillers & Horror in the Cells“, there will be talks and readings by the crime writers present, and also of course the authors will be happy to sign copies of any books you’d like to buy. You can find more details of the event here on the Bristol Lit Fest website. It’s also a great excuse to have a look round this historic site, completely free of charge.

Next on my Festival to-do list will be to get the planning under way for the next Hawkesbury Upton Lit Fest (Saturday 27th April 2019) – more news on that soon! 

Posted in Events, Reading

Scarecrow Trail Celebrates Roald Dahl’s Matilda’s 30th Birthday

photo of Matilda scarecrow with Little Free Library
A guest appearance by Roald Dahl’s Matilda at the Hawkesbury Upton Scarecrow Trail

It’s an annual tradition in the village where I live to have a Scarecrow Trail each September, organised by Louise Roberts. Each year I try to tie it in somehow with the Little Free Library on my front wall, and this year I chose Roald Dahl’s Matilda, possibly the most well-known and best-loved booklover in fiction.

Free Roald Dahl Books to Borrow

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been raiding local charity shops to find secondhand (pre-loved) copies of Roald Dahl’s children’s books, and I’ve amassed about a dozen – so this week only, the children’s section of my Little Free Library (the one on the right in the picture) will contain exclusively Roald Dahl books for young visitors to borrow. (Donations of more Dahl books will be most welcome.

Happy 30th Birthday, Matilda!

By chance I discovered last weekend that this year is the thirtieth anniversary of Dahl’s Matilda, and this autumn there will be special editions of the book published featuring cover illustrations of what she might be like by the time she’s 30 – doing great things in every one!

How to Visit the Scarecrow Trail

The Hawkesbury Upton Scarecrow Trail runs from today through next Sunday, and there’ll be tea and cakes served in the Methodist Hall from 3pm until 4.30pm both Sundays. Everyone welcome!


cover of "Trick or Murder?"
Available worldwide in paperback and Kindle ebook
  • For more information about the wonderful Roald Dahl, here’s his official website: www.roalddahl.com
  • To find out about the Little Free Library scheme, visit www.littlefreelibrary.org
  • For scarecrows of quite a different kind – home-made guys for Guy Fawkes’ Night – check out my autumn-themed novel, Trick or Murder?
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.