Posted in Events, Personal life, Writing

The Power of the List

cover of Quick ChangeWhen my author friend Lucienne Boyce read the original manuscript for my first collection of short stories, Quick Change, she gently pointed out that she thought it odd I’d mentioned recycling bins in four of the 20 stories. I changed one bin into a bonfire, which made for a much better story. However, my column for the September 2023 issue of the Hawkesbury Parish News reveals that recycling is still very much in my thoughts…

Recently I spotted an advertisement seeking volunteers for a council study of household recycling habits. When it popped up on my computer, it reminded me of a market research programme I took part in as a child. My best friend’s mum corralled a dozen of my classmates into the local church hall to taste-test various brightly coloured drinks. We went home clutching clanking carrier bags filled with glass bottles of lurid liquids, and instructions to report back on which flavour ran out first.

I didn’t much like any of the drinks, preferring Treetop orange squash, but the parties were fun, and the free samples made me feel special. My fond memories of the process were enough to make me volunteer for the recycling research.

The survey required me to keep a diary of everything I recycled over three days, snapping photographs on my phone. I thought I was good at avoiding waste, buying as much fresh, loose food as possible, but my diary was a wake-up call. So much packaging!

Cardboard packaging from a National Trust tea towel
One of my classier items for recycling – the wrapper from a National Trust tea towel, a lovely gift from my Auntie Thelma
  • Have you ever been on a diet that required you to write down everything you ate or drank?
  • Have you tried to save money by recording every item of expenditure?

In both cases, it can be easier to abstain than to add to your list.

If we had to make a note of everything we recycled every day, I reckon we’d soon find ways to reduce and re-use instead – so much better for the environment.

I’m astonished to recall that when I first moved to the village in 1991 there was no recycling service. We just chucked everything in the black bin – a bigger one than we have now, emptied weekly rather than fortnightly, and thanks to our throwaway culture, it was often full.

A century ago, there would have been no council refuse collection of any kind, but nor was there much need, as there was much less waste. People bought food loose or wrapped in paper and carried it home in wicker shopping baskets. They returned empty jars and bottles for deposits. Old tins provided useful storage – no Tupperware in those days. Rag rugs gave new purpose to worn-out clothes.

Photo of rag rug
Anthologies, like rag rugs, are much greater than the sum of the parts (I am very proud of having made this rag rug too!)

Everything else the householder had to dispose of on his property, burning it in the hearth or garden bonfires, or burying it in the garden. Even now, bits of old china, glass and metal buried decades ago frequently rise to the surface in my flowerbeds.

As a crime writer, I can’t help wondering what lies beneath my lawn…

photo of old enamel sign for Post Office
This sign lay abandoned in my back garden when I moved in, the legacy of when my cottage used to ve the village post office.

Not all rubbish could be burned or buried. Rag-and-bone men used to collect cumbersome items and sell them on as scrap. Even as late as the Sixties, a rag-and-bone man occasionally drove a van or a horse and cart slowly down our street in suburban London, calling “any old lumber?” A popular sitcom during my childhood was Steptoe and Son, revolving around a scrapyard. Could Yate’s Sort-It Centre make a great setting for a modern comedy series? I like to think so.

I’m pleased to say I found taking part in the council’s recycling research just as interesting as the squash parties of my childhood.

I’m just glad that this time I didn’t have to taste-test samples.


DRIVEN TO MURDER (Sophie Sayers #9)

holidng image for new cover for Driven to Murder
A placeholder image is now up on Amazon – cover reveal to follow soon!

On Monday I submitted the manuscript for my ninth Sophie Sayers cosy mystery, Driven to Murder, to my editor at Boldwood Books, and this morning I was delighted to receive an enthusiastic email with her proposed (very light) edits.

“What a tonic!” she said, going on to describe it as “a rich experience for returning fans” as well as “accessible to new readers”.

Now it’s down to me to make a few minor revisions in line with her comments, and then it goes to a copy editor, then a proofreader. Meanwhile, she will brief the cover designer, and I can’t wait to see what the designer comes up with!

The official launch date is 28th January 2024, but if you’d like to kept up to date by my publisher about progress, and any special offers on my other Boldwood Books, you might like to sign up for their Debbie Young mailing list here.


cover of Starting Over at Silver Sands Bay
Karen Louise Hollis’s second novel is now out

Karen Louise Hollis, author of Starting Again at Silver Sands Bay, kindly invited me to be a guest on her book blog, interviewing me about my books and my writing life.

If you’d like to read the interview, hop over to where you’ll also find information about Karen’s own books.


If you’d like to come to hear me in conversation with Kat Ailes, debut author of The Expectant Detectives (great title!), bookings are now open for our Stroud Book Festival event at The Subscription Rooms at 4pm on Sunday 12th November. Click here for more details and to book your tickets now.

Banner image for Cozy but Criminal event

COUNTDOWN TO NEXT HULF TALK (Saturday 30th September)

save the date image for nextHULF Talk In the meantime, just down the A46 from Stroud, I’m gearing up for the next book talk in the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival series of events in my home village.

This time, the theme is “Research and Inspiration: The Stories Behind the Stories“, and eight authors of novels across different genres will be in conversation about where they get their ideas, how they undertake their research, and how they weave facts seamlessly into fiction to create compelling, convincing stories.

Come and join me and Ali Bacon, Jean Burnett, Heather Child, Mari Howard, Justin Newland, and HJ Reed, from 2pm until 5pm in the Bethesda Chapel, Park Street, Hawkesbury Upton GL9 1BA. The ticket price of £5 includes tea and cake, plus a £2 discount voucher to spend on the book of your choice by one of the guest authors.

There just 50 seats in our venue, a light and airy Victorian chapel, so book now to be sure of a place, using this Eventbrite link.

For more information about Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival, visit


Posted in Events, Personal life, Writing

Lost and Found

With a stressful day ahead including trips to the doctor and dentist, I don a jaunty blue and green necklace to lift my spirits. It’s a gift from my friend Elizabeth, whom I’ve known since we started secondary school 52 years ago this month. Its bright colours match most of my clothes, and it rests comfortably on my collarbone – my favourite length for a necklace.

Photo of lost necklace

Arriving home after completing all my errands, I’m pleased with myself, until I put my hand to my throat. My necklace has vanished.

I tell myself to keep calm. I have form on losing necklaces only to find them again.

Once at a student disco, the DJ stopped the music, turned up the house lights, and directed everyone to search the floor. Then I realised the necklace hadn’t gone missing. It had just come undone and slipped down inside my top. To my acute embarrassment the DJ announced, “Ok, you can stop looking now. She’s found her necklace. It was round her neck.”

It’s not as if this is my only necklace.

I have a drawerful, unlike my paternal grandmother who alternated between two, or my maternal grandmother who always wore a simple gold chain. But although most of my jewellery is cheap and cheerful, you can’t put a price on a necklace chosen for you by a loved one, and I feel bereaved.

With a deadline looming for a magazine article, there’s no time to retrace my steps. I’ll be burning the midnight oil in any case.

I turn on my computer, pausing only for a quick prayer to St Anthony, the patron saint of lost things.

I don’t usually converse with saints, but having mentioned him, tongue-in-cheek, in my latest novel, it would be churlish to overlook him.

Next day I make an unplanned return trip to my GP’s practice. While queuing at the pharmacy window, I ask my daughter to check lost property at reception. When she reappears, missing necklace in hand, I shriek with joy. From the waiting room, patients regard me with astonishment. Perhaps they think I’ve just been given a miracle cure. But I’m simply a shepherdess rejoicing at finding her lost lamb.

So, with the new school year starting, when your child or grandchild comes home without gym shoes/pencil case/blazer, you know what to do. Just tell St Anthony I sent you. I’d like to keep in with him if I can.

headsthot of Debbie with neacklace
Reunited with my necklace – hurrah!

PS When looking up images to add to this post, I discovered The Noun Project (, which is “building a global visual language that unites us” – and all their images are royalty free. I love their image for “lost and found”, pictured as the featured image at the top of this post. I may be a wordsmith, but I love the idea of a universal language of pictures!

Further Reading on the Theme of Lost and Found

The seventh Sophie Sayers mystery, Murder Lost and Found, kicks off with a startling find in a school lost property cupboard.


 The fourth Gemma Lamb mystery, Artful Antics at St Bride’s, includes a scene in which the youngest class seek the help of St Anthony.

This post first appeared in the September edition of the Tetbury Advertiser

Posted in Personal life, Writing

Catching Up with Covid

There’s never a good time to get Covid, but I was surprised to catch it for the first time just as the NHS tracking app expired.

With reduced immunity due to rheumatoid arthritis and asthma, I’m clinically vulnerable and have had every vaccine offered. When I phoned 111 for advice, they told me I qualified for anti-viral medication, which was only on my radar as something President Trump had been prescribed early in the pandemic. He’s not my usual role model, but given the alternative was “high risk of serious complications and death”, it was an offer I couldn’t refuse.

Continue reading “Catching Up with Covid”