Posted in Family, Personal life, Writing

New Ages for Old

cover of May issue My column for the May edition of the award-winning Tetbury Advertiser

Many years ago, when the New Age was still new, I bought at a festival a t-shirt with the slogan “Whatever age you are now, you are every age you have ever been.”

The notion particularly caught my fancy because the previous week at my office, when someone said something about Little Tikes ride-on plastic cars for toddlers (remember them?), our sixteen-year-old receptionist piped up, “Oh yes, those are great fun, I love those.” It was a sobering reminder to her older colleagues that she was not far removed from toddlerhood herself.

This month that t-shirt slogan has again been front of mind following two recent encounters connected with my own younger years.

Friends Reunited

First came a reunion with my aunt, who had emigrated to Canada in 1970. I hadn’t seen her for twenty-nine years, and last time I saw her, she was younger than I am now. But as with all the best relationships, and with family ties in particular, we picked up where we left off, and it felt as if no time had elapsed at all.

photo of Mandy and Bella
My sister and my aunt – relatives, reunited

Then yesterday I was reunited with the boy next door from my suburban childhood home. When I last saw him forty-nine years ago (yes, I am that old and more), Little Tikes cars hadn’t been invented, but he’d ride shotgun on my much-loved big white tricycle as we careered around our large back gardens. As we reminisced about the fruit trees that we used to play beneath, he described the taste and texture of their russet apples as if it was only yesterday.

photo of Debbie and Robin
My boy next door, half a century on

Old Friends

These vivid illustrations of how much time I’ve spent on this earth – and by implication, my mortality – might alarm me, if I hadn’t been involved lately with a heartening project involving elderly people, inspired by the National Dignity Council’s Dignity in Care campaign. (www.dignityincare.org.uk)

As a volunteer at a local care home, my brief was to set down in the residents’ words what dignity means to them. I anticipated a discussion about respecting senior citizens, but what emerged was a wide-ranging conversation full of wise counsel about childhood, parenting, and society at large.

“We’ve been children, we’ve raised children, we’ve cared for children, and although we’re older now, there’s still a child in all of us,” they assured me.

photo of t-shirt
Been there, got the t-shirt…

I’m planning to add a lot more ages to my collection yet, and if when I’m old, I end up as sage and as generous as these dignified and gentle folk, I shall consider my life very blessed. I just hope my t-shirt will hold up after so many years of laundering.

Posted in Events, Personal life, Travel

All Roads Lead to Hawkesbury

When I wrote this post for the May issue of the Hawkesbury Parish News, the 4th Hawkesbury Upton Lit Fest was still in the future!

Australian flagA few weeks ago, I was surprised to receive a message from my Australian Facebook friend, Serene Conneeley, saying that she was hoping to attend this year’s Hawkesbury Upton Lit Fest. As I only knew her via Facebook and have never met her in real life, I wondered whether she’d mistaken it for an event taking place in the “other” Hawkesbury, near Sydney.

Not that the two are unconnected, of course, the vast Hawkesbury River being named in 1789 after Charles Jenkinson, 1st Earl of Liverpool, then Baron Hawkesbury, and very much part of “our” Hawkesbury.

Aerial view of Hawkesbury River
Hawkesbury River by Tim Starling (Taken by Tim Starling) [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
But no, Serene knew exactly where our Festival takes place. While attending it wasn’t the prime purpose of her trip to England, from what she’d heard of previous HULFs, she wanted to include it in her itinerary.

So this year we had a new record for who travelled the furthest to come to the Festival. And it’ll be a hard one to break, because the exact opposite spot to Hawkesbury Upton, in terms of latitude and longitude, is in the middle of the ocean, south-east of New Zealand. But I’m not saying it’s impossible – mermaids will always be welcome here. Advance notice will be required, however, so we can fill Farm Pool (our usually dry village pond) with water to give them somewhere comfortable to stay.

DIARY DATE FOR NEXT YEAR

The 5th Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival will take place on Saturday 27th April 2019 – a little later than usual due to the very late Easter next year. For more information, visit www.hulitfest.com.

team photo
Celebrating another successful Hawkesbury Upton Lif Fest (Photo by Angela Fitch Photography)
Posted in Personal life, Reading

All Booked Up in Hawkesbury Upton

My column for the April issue of the Hawkesbury Parish News

Here’s a sentence I don’t expect to hear in Hawkesbury Upton this month: “I haven’t got anything to read”.

There can’t be another village in the country offering as many opportunities to pick up good books without leaving the parish.

photo of two Little Free Library boxes on the drystone wall outside my house
The Little Free LIbrary on my front wall is open 24/7 every day of the year for people to borrow books – and they’re welcome to keep them if they like!
photo of Gordon with Liz, volunteer librarian
First customer of Hawkesbury Upton’s new Community Library was my husband Gordon, who was delighted to find they stock audio books as well as print
  • As well as the inevitable book stalls at jumble sales and other fundraisers, the Hawkesbury Stores and Head Start Studio sell new and second-hand books.
  • You can borrow books 24/7 from the Little Free Library boxes on my front wall. (No membership required – just come and help yourselves.)
  • At the village school, the children have access to the beautiful Bookery (school library), and, this being Hawkesbury, they didn’t need to go far to find an author to visit them for World Book Day – no further than Back Street, home to local children’s author Betty Salthouse.
  • Young and old alike can now benefit from our own new Community Library, opening fortnightly in the Village Hall. Huge thanks to South Gloucestershire Libraries for providing the stock and the willing band of volunteers who staff it. And it’s not just a place to borrow books – it’s also a social hub to meet friends over coffee and cake.
  • Finally, the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival will return on the 21st of this month, at which dozens of visiting authors will introduce you to even more good books. (Click on the link to view the full programme to help you plan your day at the Festival.) Admission is free, so you can save your money to buy their books – and, of course, cake.

 

table full of cakes
Cake and books in the new Community Library – a super new facility for socialising as well as finding new reading material

 

photo of folding bookshelves on wheels
Portable shelves make it easy to set up the Community Library every fortnight in the Village Hall

I sometimes think this village runs on cake. Books and cake. I’m not complaining – what better combination to nourish mind and body?

But it’s just as well that only the cake contains calories.


cover of Murder by the Book
Coming soon! The fourth in the Sophie Sayers Village Mystery series.
  • As a local author, I was asked to do the honours of declaring the library officially open. If you’d like to read my speech, which pays tribute to the defunct mobile library service that the Community Library is replacing, you’ll find it here. 
  • I was also very pleased to find one of my novels, Best Murder in Show, on its shelves! Look out for the fourth in the Sophie Sayers Village Mystery series, Murder by the Book, to be launched on 21st April at the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival. For more information about the Sophie Sayers series, visit this page on my website.
Posted in Personal life, Travel, Writing

The Perfect Date?

My column for the April 2018 edition of the award-winning Tetbury Advertiser

image of wishing well in a forest
Well, well (image by mensatic via http://www.morguefile.com

Feeling depleted by the snowy weather, I decided to follow the advice of my friend Orna Ross, a teacher of creative thinking, to “fill the creative well”.

It felt like timely advice for me because my latest novel, Murder by the Book, begins with a murderer shoving the victim to his death down a disused village well.

I know Orna doesn’t mean that kind of well. Instead she is referring to the mental reserves that need regular boosting if you are to sail through life, contented and creative, rather than stumbling like an automaton on auto-pilot.

To replenish those reserves, she recommends a weekly “create-date” – an outing to be spent entirely on your own doing something fun. It doesn’t need to be an overtly creative activity, just something you expect to enjoy.

My Create-Date in Clevedon

So last week, on the slim pretext of needing to research a stretch of the M5 mentioned in my novel (the rest of the book is more exciting than that makes it sound), I made a solitary trek to the coast to visit Clevedon Pier.

selfie with Pier stretching out behind Debbie
On Clevedon Pier

The only Grade I listed pier in England, it’s an elegant, minimalist Victorian structure much more to my taste than the over-hyped high-tech one in Weston-super-Mare. It even met with John Betjeman’s approval: he described it as “the most beautiful pier in England”. Might a decent pier have saved Slough from the Poet Laureate’s famous condemnation? Oh, and a seaside location, of course.

At the pier’s admissions office, I asked the young man on the till the entry price. With the sweetest of smiles he told me: “As it’s International Women’s Day, to you it’s £1”. I assumed that was a concession, not a premium.

long shot of pier viewed across beach
Clevedon’s pier is prettier than its beach

Water, Water, Everywhere

photo of ornate Art Nouveau drinking fountain
The Victorian alternative to plastic water bottles

On my gentle, sunny stroll along the pier’s wooden boards, I especially enjoyed reading the tiny brass plaques embedded in its walls, conjuring up back-stories of the citizens they commemorate.

Afterwards, a wander around a charity shop in Hill Road resulted in my acquisition of some beautiful vintage piano music. I was beginning to feel as if I’d travelled back to the nineteenth century, especially when, walking back to my car, I spotted the most spectacular Art Nouveau drinking fountain I’d ever seen. Not quite a well, but I was pleased to see it was full to the brim.

Four days later, my personal well is overflowing, and I’ve been working like a demon ever since my return.

So I think these solitary create-dates may become a habit. And at least I’ll know I’ll always be in good company.


For more information about how to enjoy a create-date, read Orna Ross’s post here

Murder by the Book, which begins with someone plunging down a well to their death, and which is set partly in Clevedon, will be launched at the free Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival on Saturday 21st April, and can be pre-ordered as an ebook already here. The paperback will also be available very shortly .

Posted in Personal life, Self-publishing, Writing

The Unintended Consequences of a Writing Life

My latest post for the Authors Electric collective, originally published on 30th March 2018

head and shoulders photo of Debbie at churchyard gate with graveyard behind
In the churchyard of St Mary’s, Hawkesbury (Photo by Angela Fitch)

In 2010, realising that no matter how hard I worked in my day job, it was leaving me unfulfilled, I made the radical decision to walk away from it without a job to go to. I intended to refocus my life on my writing ambitions.

Reading Between the Lines

It felt like a miracle when I almost immediately landed a part-time job with a wonderful children’s reading charityRead for Good, which served two purposes for me (apart from giving me an income, that is):

  • It reinforced the importance of books and reading not only for children but for all ages, which in turn validated my ambition to write books myself.
  • It gave me space to explore different ways in which I could write what I wanted to write – and indeed to discover exactly what that was.
The first three in my Sophie Sayers Village Mystery series – soon to be four!

Using commissioned non-fiction projects and experimental short stories as stepping stones, I gradually gained the confidence and competence needed to achieve my long-term goal to write a novel.

Now I’m hooked, with three novels published in the last year, the fourth due out next month, and my planned series of seven, the Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries, now starting to morph into a series of ten.

Planning for Success

But as in all of life, the things that you don’t plan are often some of the most exciting.

Here are five serendipitous things that have happened to me over the last few years while I was making other plans. Not only is my writing life is the richer for them, but it turns out they’ve helped other people too.

1) Being invited to join a regular monthly spot on BBC Radio Gloucestershire‘s lunchtime show, in its Book Club slot, alongside its delightful presenters, initially Clare Carter and now Dominic Cotter, and The Bookseller’s Caroline Sanderson, to talk about our chosen book of the month and any other book-related topics that take our fancy – and I’ve discovered I love doing radio.

photo of Debbie and Caroline in tinsel-decked recording studio
Enjoying the BBC Radio Gloucestershire Christmas party with fellow Book Club panelist Caroline Sanderson (Photo: Dominic Cotter, the show’s presenter)

2) Launching a free local literature festival to bring indie authors, poets and illustrators to my community at the Hawkesbury Upton Lit Fest, with no admission charges so that visitors could save their money to buy the speakers’ books instead. This started out as a simple plan to spend a few hours in one of the village pubs with a few writer friends – four years on, it’s somehow morphed into 50+ authors in a packed day-long programme, this year with an art exhibition running in tandem.


3) Being the inadvertent catalyst for a new book by other authors – the panel of authors I’d introduced to each other for the second Hawkesbury Upton Lit Fest to discuss writing about difference (that’s politically-correct-speak for disability, to be clear) got together afterwards to collaborate on Silent Voices, an anthology by carers and the cared-for, venting their feelings.

cover of Silent Voices
So proud to have been a catalyst for this moving book

4) Encouraging other writers to grow from nervous debutant to confident published author, either through their participation in the authors’ groups I run in Cheltenham and Bristol or through their participation in the Hawkesbury Upton Lit Fest. (I’ve observed a direct relationship between the most nerves and the biggest post-performance smile at every event.)

5) Helping other people achieve their publishing ambitions through what I’ve learned on my own journey as an indie author, such as enabling a 95-year-old, terminally ill refugee to turn his memoirs into a book before he died, or helping a retired neighbour revive children’s stories she’d written decades ago. Not only was I able to publish them as books, I also sent her into the village school as guest author on World Book Day, where she was very well received.

Cover of Parrot Talk
One of four children’s books that I’ve helped Betty Salthouse publish so far

Is It Karma?

Some author friends swear there is such a thing as book karma: if you’re helpful to others, that helpfulness will come back to you in some other form at a later date.

So is it karma that this week that I spotted the first book in my Sophie Sayers series rising up the cosy mystery charts?

If so, I’m fine with that. When I started self-publishing my books (I’d written stories all my life but hadn’t seriously pursued publication), I thought just writing the books would be satisfying enough for me. And if anyone else benefited along the way from anything I did, I’d jokingly tell myself that virtue was its own reward, or I’d get my reward in heaven, and that would be enough for me.

And if there aren’t any books in heaven? Then I’m not going. 

If you’re within reach of the Cotswolds, come along and join in the fun at this year’s Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival this month, on Saturday 21st April. Download the full programme from its website, www.hulitfest.com, to help you plan your day in advance – but there’s no advance booking required, and no admission charge. Just turn up on the day and enjoy! 
 

I’ll be launching the fourth in my Sophie Sayers Village Mystery series, Murder by the Book, at the Festival, but you can pre-order an ebook copy here in the meantime at the special launch price of 99p/99c, and the paperback from 21st April, at viewbook.at/MurderByTheBook.