Posted in Events, Personal life

Constant Comforts

This post first appeared in the June 2022 issue of the Hawkesbury Parish News, in the run-up to the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee – so please excuse the out-of-date final paragraph about that event.

Since joining the village choir and taking up bell ringing, I’ve been spending a lot more time in St Mary’s Church, and whenever I enter that ancient building, I feel a sense of calm that comes from being in a building that dates back over 1000 years. Its timelessness and permanence provide a helpful anchor in the midst of a busy life and a constant when everything else seems in flux.

I’d already decided on the topic for this month’s column when by a strange coincidence at church this morning the service included a prayer giving thanks for the constants in our lives, including the village school, the community shop and the pubs. It struck me as very Vicar of Dibley to say a prayer for the pubs (and very thankful we should be), but that may have been because our opening number at last night’s concert (which you can view on YouTube here) was the television show’s theme tune (Howard Goodall’s setting of “The Lord is my Shepherd” – you can listen to it here on YouTube).

picture of vintage bus at wedding
Seeing the bride and groom leave St Mary’s after their wedding with their guests in a vintage bus was another reminder of how little this part of the parish had changed – this picture could have been taken 70 years ago and there’d be no visible difference

Of course, the church building is not entirely constant. It has evolved over the centuries and continues to do so, in small and large ways – from the installation of new energy-saving lightbulbs which might go unnoticed to all but the person signing off the electricity bill, to the very visible restoration of the tower and the installation of eight very audible new bells.

aerial view of bells in church aisle
It was a privilege to be present at the blessing of our bells before they were installed in the tower last year

The same goes for the built environment of the village: here a new extension, there a new house popping up in a spare bit of garden or a disused paddock, and sometimes, oh my goodness, along comes a whole new housing estate.

More subtle are the occasional changes of use, from barns and pubs and shops and places of worship to housing stock. The original purpose and many uses of the Methodist Chapel, which sadly closed at Easter, will be a treasured part of our collective memory for generations to come.

drawing of the Methodist Chapel
Image by Lynne Pardoe, a Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival author

Only when showing a visitor around the village recently did I realise just how much the built environment of the village had altered in the 31 years that I’ve lived here. Perhaps the degree of change has been slightly masked by the continuity that comes from a calendar of regular community events. While some are longstanding institutions, such as the Hawkesbury Horticultural Show (135 years old and counting), others are relative newcomers, such as HU5K (turning 10 this month) and HULF – the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival (now 7).

Speaking of longstanding institutions, this month we’ll be celebrating another one that belongs to this village as much as to anywhere else in the country: HM The Queen. As for most people in Hawkesbury, she’s the only monarch I’ve ever lived under. Whatever your feelings on the monarchy, the stability of having a long-serving head of state does provide a welcome contrast to the tumultuous comings and goings of our political leaders. Personally, I’m in no hurry to see a new face on our banknotes. There’s probably a joke in there somewhere about change (ho ho), but for now I’ll just wish you an enjoyable Platinum Holiday – another chapter of Hawkesbury history in the making.


To find out more about St Mary’s, Hawkesbury, visit the Friends of St Mary’s website here: New Friends are always welcome! 


Posted in Events, Reading, Travel, Writing

The Most Relaxing Holiday Destination

This post was first published in the May 2022 issue of the Hawkesbury Parish News, prompted by news headlines about numerous flight cancellations, but sadly a month later chaotic travel is still very much in the news!

Every year at the start of the holiday season, there is a sudden outburst of news reports of chaos at airports and ferry ports and on roads. This year, the disruption seems worse than ever as the travel industry struggles to scale up its operations after two long years in which venturing beyond the village seemed like a major excursion.

These scaremongering reports are enough to put anyone off travelling this spring, especially when so many people are returning from crowded travel hubs with the unwanted souvenir of Covid.

So here’s an alternative approach. This holiday season, why not spend your vacation in a delightful Cotswold location of which I’m very fond?

picture of cows in field
The natives are pretty friendly too

With a fresh climate nurtured by its relative elevation, it offers stunning views across rolling hills and vales. Situated on a famous national trail and in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, it provides a range of invigorating or gentle walks to suit all levels of physical fitness. Anyone seeking more strenuous physical activity may hire the local tennis courts at a very reasonable rate or, as a useful alternative in inclement weather, the village hall for badminton.

photo of Cotswold Way section
The section of the Cotswold Way that runs beside the village is affectionately called by locals The Yellow Brick Road

Two local pubs and a well-stocked village shop give you the choice of dining out or self-catering. And what could be more relaxing than a summer afternoon picnicking on local produce at the village cricket ground, to the sound of leather on willow?

For younger visitors, the newly upgraded and expanded playpark, complete with zipwire, provides ample entertainment, while the skatepark and basketball court will please teens.

Those who prefer to relax in a more sedentary manner may pick up as many books as they care to read, completely free of charge, from the Books on the Bus box in the bus shelter, or from the Post Cottage Little Free Library on France Lane. Available to buy from the village shop are new books by the many local authors – it’s a famously creative village. These books make great souvenirs, as do the local crafts, honey, attractively packaged sweets and home-made baked goods on sale there.

photo of Matilda scarecrow with Little Free Library
Matilda loves my Little Free Library!

All these appealing holiday facilities are available to you right now, without fear of queues or cancellations, and with zero environmental impact. The closest you are likely to find to a traffic jam is having to slow down for tractors or horses.

Welcome to Hawkesbury Upton. Just open your door and you’re there. We wish you a very happy holiday.

photo of gate opening up onto fields
The start of a whole new Cotswold adventure…


HULF Talk on Holiday Reads

Whether or not you are travelling abroad yourself this summer, if you live in or near the Cotswolds, you might like to come along to join me at the HULF Talk on Holiday Reads – the  occasional series of Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival talks featuring three guest authors speaking on a particular topic.

This time we’ll be talking about novels set all over the world by:

  • Carol Cooper, a medical doctor and journalist whose touching family mystery The Girls from Alexandria is set in the Egyptian city in which she grew up
  • Kate Frost, whose latest romantic escape novel One Greek Summer is currently #25 in the Kindle UK chart, with An Italian Dream launching in July
  • Helena Halme, a Finnish author of Nordic thrillers and romantic sagas such as The Red King of Helsinki and her Love on the Island series

Chairing the discussion, I will also be flying the flag for the Cotswolds, although I’ll also talk a bit about my sixth Sophie Sayers novel, Murder Your Darlings, set on a tiny fictitious island off the coast of Ithaca.

We’ll talk about what makes a great holiday read, the joy of travelling through the pages of a good book, and the challenges of creating an effective sense of place in fiction. The authors will also share the stories behind their novels, offer glimpses into their writing lives, and give readings.

As always, tickets will cost just £5 each, and for that you get all the tea, coffee and cake you can consume, plus a £2 book voucher redeemable on the day. Refreshments this time will be on a holiday theme – we will have fun!

Book Your Tickets Here

Due to limited space at our delightful venue, the Bethesda Chapel in Park Street, Hawkesbury Upton GL9 1BA, please book your ticket in advance via Eventbrite here:

graphic advertising HULF Talk



Posted in Events, Family, Personal life, Travel

On Track for the Holidays

A few years ago, my husband suggested we download an app* that keeps track of family and friends via their mobile phone signals.

He tends not to listen when I tell him where I’m going, and the most frequent message left on my mobile is from him, saying, “Debbie, where are you?”

He once called me on a Friday afternoon, concerned that our daughter was late home from school. My reply: “That’s because she’s here with me in the car, and we’re on our way to Cornwall for the weekend.” We had of course told him of our plans many times before we left.

While my husband was all in favour of the app, my daughter and I were not keen. It felt intrusive, like being microchipped or electronically tagged.

When the pandemic put paid to travel, we let the matter drop, but when we started to travel again this spring, and with my daughter planning some gap year adventures, we agreed to install the app for reassurance.

Our first chance to test it came in April, when my husband and daughter headed to the south of France for a week. As I’d made all the bookings, I felt personally responsible that everything should go smoothly, so I was glad to use the app to track their progress . With planes, trains and automobiles involved in their journey, there was ample opportunity for trouble – flight delays, cancellations and missed connections – even before we factored in my husband’s propensity to misplace his possessions.

Initially, following their progress on the app made me feel like a spy, but it soon became enjoyable and absorbing, although the intermittent phone signal made it slightly unreliable.

Often they appeared to be in two different places, even when I knew from speaking to them on the phone that they were in the same vehicle or hotel. Part way through their trip, I discovered that if I hit the right button, I could follow their progress at micro level.

When they were in Avignon, for example, I could trace their progress along the ancient bridge, although it didn’t tell me whether they did the famous dance immortalised in the song, “Sur le Pont d’Avignon”, as we did when we visited ten years ago. Fortunately, I remembered the ancient bridge no longer reaches the other side of the river, but stops mid-stream. Otherwise I might have been concerned that they’d dropped off the end and been swept away by the Rhône.

So thanks to the app, I was able to relax while they were away, and on their return, I knew exactly when to put the kettle on to make them a welcome-home cup of tea.

Admittedly, my husband returned minus his glasses (mislaid before they’d boarded the first plane), his jacket (lost, then found, then lost again), and his wallet.

All we need now is an app to keep track of his possessions.

This post first appeared in the Tetbury Advertiser‘s May 2022 edition. 

*The tracking app we used is called Life360.

Speaking of Holidays…

I’ve chosen as the topic of the next HULF Talk – a Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival event – “Holiday Reads“. On Saturday 25th June, I’ll be chatting with three guest authors to help you find your next books to take on holiday – or to read at home this summer to travel by book. Between them, Carol Cooper, Kate Frost and Helena Halme have written engaging, easy-to-read novels set in holiday destinations all over the world,  from Scandinavia to Zanzibar, from Cornwall to the Mediterranean. For more information and to book your tickets, visit the HULF website at

graphic advertising HULF Talk

Posted in Events, Reading, Writing

The Golden Age of Detective Fiction

This is the talk I gave at the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival HULF Talk on 30th April 2022 on the topic of Crime, Thriller and Mystery Fiction. See for more information about that talk and future HULF Talks.

My favourite period is crime-writing is the 1920s and 1930s. I’ve been reading books from the Golden Age of Detective Fiction since my teens, and it has also given me role models for my own writing.

Although many of its authors continued writing well after the Second World War, the term The Golden Age of Detective Fiction  refers to the inter-war years, when society was still reeling from the impact of the First World War. Then in 1918, the Spanish Flu pandemic killed more people than the whole of the war. Tragically, unlike Covid, this was a strain of flu which particularly affected young people with strong immune systems – the generation that had been so decimated in the trenches. The authors writing in the Golden Age of Detective Fiction had seen horror indeed, which influenced and informed their writing lifelong.

Famously Agatha Christie’s intimate knowledge of poisons was gained from her voluntary work as a nurse, then as an apothecary’s assistant in a hospital for those sent home wounded from the First World War battlefields. Hercule Poirot was inspired by seeing Belgian refugees sent to her hometown of Torquay.

In Dorothy L Sayers’ early novels, her sleuth Lord Peter Wimsey has frequent flashbacks to the war. He suffers shell shock at times of crisis, (in an era when shell shock was only starting to be acknowledged and understood), from which he is rescued by his faithful manservant Bunter – the same batman who had saved his life during the First World War, rescuing him from a shelled dug-out in the trenches.

Perhaps one reason handguns seem to proliferate in these stories is that so many men seemed to hang on to their old service revolvers. There always seems to be one handy in the desk drawer of the country house study or wherever else the writer needs to find one for the murder of a victim or the suicide of a rumbled killer seeking to avoid the gallows.

That’s another dark feature of the detective fiction of this era. Although not all the stories are of murder, most of them involve the inevitable sentencing of convicted murderers to the death sentence by hanging – capital punishment was not abolished until 1953.

So although the phrase “Golden Age” suggests nostalgia for an idyll, it arose from a dark place. It was also in some respects pioneering and forward-looking, bringing to the public’s attention what were then ground–breaking and modern themes. The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club mentions the influence of “glands” on behaviour, which had just been discovered. Also forensic pathology and the psychology of serial killers, before the term serial killers had been coined. For this reason, Sigmund Freud was a fan of Golden Age Detective Fiction.

But just like everyone else, the detective writers sought respite from tragedy in fun and frivolity. They wrote to the sounds of the Jazz Age with its freer, impulsive music. They wore less fettered fashions than before the Great War, allowing them freedom of movement. They embraced the motor car to give their heroes and villains independence and mobility – Dorothy L Sayers even rode a motorbike herself – even if they did seem to drive them off the road and into ditches with alarming frequency. Well, there was no “health and safety” in those days, and no law against drink-driving. Drinking alcohol around the clock was no deterrent to getting behind the wheel, and whisky and soda was a standard nightcap.

Of course, the detectives back then did not have the advantage of modern technology – no internet, no satellite tracking, no mobile phones – but it was a case of swings and roundabouts. With terrestrial telephony still in its infancy, they could arrange for any suspicious call to be traced at the exchange, because calls were still connected manually by human beings. In one mystery (I think a Margery Allingham Albert Campion novel?), the sleuth is able to trace a particular car in the middle of London because it is remembered by a traffic policeman on point duty.

Although  many popular Golden Age novels feature privileged people in Wodehousian settings, the authors came from various backgrounds, from the working class to the aristocracy and across the full political spectrum from hard left to far right. Many were free and original thinkers, defying the social conventions of their day. Some had difficult personal problems – Sayers secretly gave birth to a son and had him adopted by a cousin without even her parents or her employers knowing, and we may never know the truth behind Christie’s infamous eleven-day disappearance in 1926. Such secrets would be nigh impossible to hide in the 21st century and the age of the paparazzi.

What united this assorted bunch of authors was their approach to the detective story as an intellectual puzzle – almost like a parlour game, or that new and highly popular fad, the crossword puzzle, invented in 1913.

They imposed upon themselves a strict code of fair play, to give the observant reader a chance of solving the mystery alongside or even before the sleuth in the story. Wimsey’s mother likes his love interest, Harriet Vane, a detective writer, because it takes her longer than usual to guess the villain.

One of their number, Ronald Knox, whose day job was that of a Catholic priest, came up with ten commandments of detective fiction, which I’ll read you now:

  1. The criminal must be someone mentioned in the early part of the story, but must not be anyone whose thoughts the reader has been allowed to follow.
  2. All supernatural or preternatural agencies are ruled out as a matter of course.
  3. Not more than one secret room or passage is allowable.
  4. No hitherto undiscovered poisons may be used, nor any appliance which will need a long scientific explanation at the end.
  5. No Chinaman must figure in the story.
  6. No accident must ever help the detective, nor must he ever have an unaccountable intuition which proves to be right.
  7. The detective must not himself commit the crime.
  8. The detective must not light on any clues which are not instantly produced for the inspection of the reader.
  9. The stupid friend of the detective, the Watson, must not conceal any thoughts which pass through his mind; his intelligence must be slightly, but very slightly, below that of the average reader.
  10. Twin brothers, and doubles generally, must not appear unless we have been duly prepared for them.

Although there are plenty of writers who break these rules and still come up with great tales – I’m sure there are plenty of Chinamen in Sherlock Holmes, for example – and the tone of these commandments is tongue-in-cheek, I reckon for the most part they’re a good rule of thumb even now.

The authors concurred and colluded in other ways. Nowhere is this clearer than in the formation of the Detection Club, founded with 26 author members, including some who are still household names – Agatha Christie, G K Chesterton, Dorothy L Sayers – as well as many who though hugely popular in their time went out of fashion until revived by the British Library Crime Classics series a few years ago. Its membership included writers better remembered now for other kinds of fiction – Baroness Orczy of Scarlet Pimpernel fame, and Christiana Brand of the children’s Nurse Matilda series, and even A A Milne.

This was a private club which met regularly to talk shop, and they had a formal constitution and rules, including a guarantee of quality. To qualify, members generally had to write at least two novels of a certain literary standard (although they happily admitted A A Milne, who wrote just one, because – well, Winnie-the-Pooh!), and in which detection had to be the main interest.

Its current president is Martin Edwards, and he is also officially the Club’s archivist. If you’d like to know more about the extraordinary lives of the Club’s first members, I highly recommend his account, The Golden Age of Murder.

If you prefer to discover them through the pages of fiction, there’s a unique way to sample twelve of them in a single book, a novel, The Floating Admiral, a remarkable collaboration.  Each of the twelve authors wrote a chapter, without conferring with the others on the plot or the eventual outcome, adding more red herrings and twists as they went along, until Anthony Berkeley had the unenviable task of pulling them all together in the final chapter, which he entitled, “Clearing Up the Mess”. A fascinating appendix presents how each of the contributors would have solved the mystery, and their solutions and interpretations of the previous chapters to theirs are completely different.

The Detection Club is still going strong, although its reach has broadened. As Simon Brett, its president from 2000-2015, says, “Crime fiction is a much broader church now that it was in the 1920s and 1930s”. Which leads us neatly into our discussion of the thriller, with Valerie Keogh and A A Abbott…

photo of authors at the HULF Talk
Left to right: the authors who spoke at the HULF Talk in April 2022 – back row Lucienne Boyce and Debbie Young, front row Valerie Keogh and A A Abbott (Photo by Laura Young)

To read Lucienne Boyce’s talk about The Victorian Origins of Crime Writing, you can now do so on her blog here:

It has great illustrations too!

See for more information about future HULF Talks.