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.

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.