Posted in Events, Personal life, Reading, Self-publishing, Travel, Writing

A Trip to the Van Gogh Exhibition and More Serendipitous Inspirations

In keeping with Orna Ross‘s recommendation to replenish the creative well by going on a “createdate”with yourself every week to a fun, stimulating place, I book tickets for the Van Gogh Britain exhibition currently running at London’s Tate Britain Gallery. I bend Orna’s rule by taking my teenage daughter with me, because Van Gogh is her favourite artist and this seems the perfect focus for quality mother-and-daughter time.

Van Gogh Britain Exhibition

The exhibition is even bettter than we thought it would be, demonstrating how a three year stay in London before he began to paint influenced Van Gogh’s themes and style, and how his own paintings went on to influence subsequent generations of British artists. It was not only art that influenced him, but also British literature, his favourite being Charles Dickens, and the architecture and ambience. He particular enjoyed the views from the Thames Enbankment, a constant source of inspiration to artists and writers.

Afterwards my daughter and I channel our inner Van Gogh by walking along the Embankment on our way to Trafalgar Square, via Whitehall, then back down the Mall and through St James’s Park, as I point out historical and cultural landmarks along the way. I enjoy introducing her to the landmarks that as a Londoner I grew up with, and have never felt fonder of my home city.

3 Unexpected Pleasures

But as always with planned trips, serendipity yields more food for thought. On this trip to London, three incidents stand out for me that transported us out of London and around the world:

  1. Waiting at the bus stop for our coach to London, we’re approached by what I assume to be an unremarkable old man, in old-fashioned windcheater and slacks. He is clutching a Sainsbury’s carrier bag, and I assume he’s come into Chippenham to do a bit of grocery shopping. When he strikes up a conversation with us, we discover he is also London-bound, on his way to meet a former student he taught in Macau as Professor of Intercultural Trade and Relations. He still teaches for in China, Hong Kong and Macau, for three months a year, the maximum visa period. He gives us plenty to think about on our way to London. My key takeaway is “Never judge a man by his carrier bag.”
  2. Strolling down the South Bank of the Thames before our allocated time slot for our date with Van Gogh, at the foot of the Oxo Tower we chance upon Latitude, a free exhibition of wildlife photography, an array of breathtaking pictures of Arctic polar bears, Antarctic penguins, and all kinds of animal in between, including cheetahs frolicking as playfully as domesticated kittens and a tiger apparently leaping towards the photographer with murderous intent. From a modestly tiny picture of the photographer Roger Hooper in the exhibition brochure, I recognise the grey-haired man lurking diffidently in the corner. “Excuse me, are you the photographer?” I ask. “Yes,” he says with a smile. “How many risks do you take to get such fabulous shots?” I ask, indicating the hungry tiger. “Ah,” he smiles wryly. “You’ve picked the one shot that isn’t entirely real. That tiger is the one used in the film The Life of Pi, and i had a piece of meat on a stick dangling from my hand beside the camera. I photoshopped the background in and blurred it afterwards.” That still sounds pretty risky to me. The mental image of that set-up is almost as pleasing as the resulting photo, which I can’t reproduce here for copyright reasons, but you can find out more about the photographer Roger Hooper and view his pictures on his website here. You may also be interested in his laudable charity to help build a brighter future for African girls here: www.hoopersafricatrust.org.
  3. The final surprise of the day is when, exhausted, we’re sitting in St Martin’s in the Fields Crypt Cafe, enjoying our tea, when my eyes alight upon what seems to me the most perfect piece of brick wall. The pleasing array of colours in such a neat grid reminds me of Van Gogh’s thick daubs of rich colour, and to an artist’s watercolour paint box filled with the promise of the pictures still locked inside the neat rectangles of pigment. Whether prompted by our encounter with the Professor at the bus stop, or the amusing snap of Roger Hooper apparently being photobombed by a giant panda, it also puts me in mind of the Great Wall of China and all the wonders of the world, whether natural or manmade. My daughter is bemused by my fixation with beautiful bricks (“I can’t believe you posted bricks on Instagram!” she crows later) after all the sights we have seen, but to me it seems a neat and fitting end to a stimulating day, and the perfect end to an enjoyable July.
A paintbox in brick form in the crypt of St Martin in the Fields – could be an artist’s palette for skin tones

Thank You, July, It’s Been Fun

And what a busy July is has been! It kicked off with included a week in Scotland (see my earlier post), finishing my latest novel for publication, and completing a new novella to be sent as an free ebook to my mailing list next month. (If you’re not already on my mailing list, you can sign up now via the form at the foot of this page to receive your copy in August – sorry, originally intended for July!)

I also enjoyed being a part of the usual monthly BBC Radio Gloucestershire Book Club, in which we talked this month about Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, 300 years old this year but still a cracking read. If you’d like to hear what we had to say about this and other bookish talk, you can listen again for the next couple of weeks on BBC Sounds via this link – we’re in the first hour of the show.

Our discussion about Robinson Crusoe included reminiscing about the wonderful old children’s TV series that we all grew up watching

One other highlight of July for me was starting to write guest posts for the IngramSpark blog. IngramSpark is a huge printing company that not only prints books for all kinds of publishers but also puts them into the distribution system for high street bookstores. All my books are published via IngramSpark, which means that you can order them from your favourite bookshop rather than online. I love bookshops – a good bookshop is an invaluable part of the high street and of the wider community, so I’m really glad to be able to drive trade their way.

IngramSpark’s blog is aimed at authors rather than readers, but if you’d like to read the post I wrote for them, about writing productivity, here’s the link: https://www.ingramspark.com/blog/writing-1000-words-a-day-finding-better-ways-to-measure-productivity-finish-your-book

So that’s it for July. And despite my careful plans for a productive month ahead, I wonder what serendipity August will bring?

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Posted in Personal life, Reading, Travel, Writing

Let the Holidays Begin!

With my daughter finishing school in June after completing her GCSE exams, our holiday season kicked off early with a week away in the Scottish Highlands at the start of July, showing a visiting aunt from Canada some of our favourite places. Even so, with views like this at the end of our lane, we’re always glad to come home to our beloved Cotswolds.

View of wheatfield full of poppies
Summertime, and the reading is easy… view from the Cotswolds lane in which I live and work

Even better to come home to a relatively empty diary, freeing me to tackle some ambitious writing and publishing deadlines during the rest of July:

  • Secrets at St Bride’s, the first in my new Staffroom at St Bride’s School series, which will go on sale from the end of July
  • my new short Sophie Sayers novella, The Pride of Peacocks, to be distributed free, exclusively to readers who subscribe to my mailing list, also at the end of July (those already subscribed will be sent a copy too)

If you haven’t yet signed up for my e-newsletter and would like to receive the new novella, and to be alerted to the publication date of the novel, just follow the simple instructions at the foot of this post.

I’m also planning to attend some bookish events this month. I’m looking forward to seeing Deborah Moggach in Tetbury next week at an event organised by the ever-fabulous Yellow-Lighted Bookshop. I loved her historical novel Tulip Fever and am looking forward to hearing her speak about her new novel, The Carer. Ticket info here if you’re interested in coming along. And tonight I’m off to the Stroud Book Festival‘s launch party. My good friend Caroline Sanderson, my fellow panelist on BBC Radio Gloucestershire’ Book Club, is the Festival’s Artistic Director, and is putting together an amazing programme for this autumn’s event. I’ll also be catching up with her on 24th July when, with radio presenter Dominic Cotter, our Book Club discusses Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, three hundred years old now and still a cracking read!

header advertising Stroud Book Festival 2019
http://www.stroudbookfestival.org.uk

I’ll be rounding the month off with a trip to the fabulous Rain or Shine Theatre Company‘s open-air production of Shakespeare‘s As You Like It at Swinhay House, near Wotton-under-Edge – a beautiful venue that has added literary appeal as being once used as a set for the Benedict Cumberbatch Sherlock series (my teenage daughter’s favourite programme). They’re touring nationwide in a series of terrific venues, and having seen other productions by them – they’re a great company, well worth seeing, so if you’re in the UK and you fancy seeing them, check out their website to find the nearest gig to you.

Highlights of the Scottish Highlands

But while my Scottish trip is still fresh in my head, I’d like to share a few highlights with you.

Staying in Callander, in the Trossachs region, we were on the edge of the Highlands – somewhere I’ve been holidaying for nearly two decades with my Scottish husband as he pursued his hobby of “Munro-bagging“, ie climbing every Scottish mountain over 3,000 feet, of which there are 227. He conquered #227 last year. So now we can pick and choose where we go, whether or not there’s a Munro nearby!

This year’s high points (ho ho) included a cruise in the century-old steamship SS Sir Walter Scott on peaceful Loch Katrine, a setting that inspired not only Scott but also, more surprisingly, Jules Verne to write a novel set there. Although Verne being Verne, his novel The Underground City was set beneath these peaceful waters!

Photo of SS Sir Walter Scott ready to depart for a cruise on Loch Katrine
No other pleasure craft beside the official cruise ships are allowed on Loch Katirne

We enjoyed wildlife encounters wherever we went, from spotting rare ospreys on Loch Katrine to giant pandas and koala bears at Edinburgh Zoo.

photo of giant panda at Edinburgh Zoo
Edinburgh Zoo has two giant pandas on loan from China
Sign on bear enclosure at Edinburgh Zoo saying "Please don't lean over or sit on the wall. We feed the bears enough protein."
We enjoyed the Zoo’s sense of humour too

We’re always on the lookout for Highland cattle. A tour party guide demonstrated his alarming party trick of sharing a carrot with Hamish, pictured below – one end in his own mouth, the other eagerly taken by Hamish. We didn’t take up his offer to try it ourselves!

Photo of Highland cattle

Exploring Stirling Castle, I discovered a recipe topical to my new short novella, The Pride of Peacocks. (Join my mailing list via the link at the foot of this post if you’d like me to send you a free copy as soon as it’s ready – a copy of the novella that is, not the roast peacock!)

Linlithgow Palace and Doune Castle were both fascinating in different ways. We especially enjoyed the guided tour by local twelve-year-old schoolgirls in Stuart costume at Linlithgow, birthplace of Mary, Queen of Scots. They really brought it to life for us.

At Doune, pictured below, we enjoyed Terry Jones’ narration on an audio guide. Doune was one of the sets for the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Remember the scene where the French hurl abuse – and a black and white cow – from the battlements onto our brave knights below? You can now buy plastic cows as souvenirs from the shop, as well as coconut shells, with which to provide your own horsey sound effects. The first time I visited Doune a few years ago, on a wet, windy day, the only other visitor was a solitary chap surreptitiously filming his own tour, coconut shells in hand.

Photo of Doune Castle from approach
Doune Castle was used as a set for the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail
inside the medieval Great Hall at Doune Castle
Picture this Hall full of Pythons – scene of the Spamalot song
photo of sign for shop showing availability of coconut shells
Oh no, forgot to bring your coconut shells? The souvenir shop can oblige.

We stepped even further back in time at the recreated Iron Age settlement at the Scottish Crannog Centre on Loch Tay.

Photo of Scottish Crannog - a reconstructed Iron Age hut on stilts over Loch Tay
The Scottish Crannog Centre is a fascinating reconstruction of an Iron Age settlement. You can’t go far in Scotland without stumbling across historic curiosities.

We also managed to fit in Glencoe, Oban, the Highland Folk Museum (one of the settings for my planned eighth Sophie Sayers novel – I’m currently writing the sixth), the Beatrix Potter Garden in Birnam (yes, as in Birnam Wood moving to Dunsinane in Shakespeare’s Macbeth – two literary references for the price of one, there!) but my camera was playing up so I’ve no photos to share, but here’s the website if you’d like to take a look: It’s a delightful museum all about her childhood holidays spent in Scotland before her family started going to the Lake District, with which she’s more famously connected.

Back at base in our holiday flat in Callander, we enjoyed exploring this little market town, and especially visiting the secondhand bookshop, where I bought Early in Orcadia, an extraordinary novel by Scottish author Naomi Mitchison imagining the lives of the early settlers of the Orkneys, another part of Scotland that we enjoyed visiting a couple of years ago.

The secondhand bookshop in Callander
The unassuming but absorbing and very well-stocked secondhand bookshop in Callander

I’m always glad to bring home a new book about Scotland, but this visit I also returned with a cuddlier souvenir.

Och Aye the Panda’s kilt is in a tartan especially created to incorporate the panda’s distinctive black and white fur; red, deemed lucky in China and auspicious of birth (they’re hoping the Edinburgh pandas will breed); and green to represent bamboo, the panda’s staple diet

Back to the Writing Desk

I hope your summer has started as well as mine, if you’re in the northern hemisphere – and if you’re south of the equator, I hope you’re already starting to see early signs of your spring, now that your shortest day has passed.

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Quick! Before We Run Out of May…

photo of abundant May blossom on hawthorn hedge
May blossom at my favourite time of year

…How I’ve Spent Most of Mine

In between pulling over on impulse at various points on various journeys to take photos of the gorgeous spring views in the Cotswolds, I’ve had a packed calendar of events, the weight and complexity of which has scuppered my plan at the start of this month to post a weekly uupdate on what I’ve been up to. So I’ve decided in future to do this just once a month, in a single post at the end of each month. Today’s post will fill you in on how I spent the second half of May, having published a couple of posts earlier about the first half. Well, I did say I have been busy.

I will still try to post here weekly, including the monthly columns I write for our two local magazines, plus anything else that strikes me as possibly of interest to you.

My First Twitterchat (14th May)

I confess I barely knew this was a thing before, but when Tim Lewis, who runs a weekly Twitterchat for the Alliance of Independent Authors, asked me to feature as a guest to speak about running a literature festival, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to promote my beloved Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival (HULF)!

promotional image for my Twitterchat

“What is a Twitterchat?” I hear you cry. It’s a conversation on Twitter, identified by a specific hashtag , in this case #IndieAuthorChat. It takes place at at set time – in this case 8pm-9pm London time. The host asks a series of questions and the guest answeres, but anyone else may join the conversation by searching for and applying to their own tweets the required hashtag. Tim explains at greater length in a post on the ALLi blog here.

The hour flew by, and even though as Tim instructed I had carefully prepared lots of ready-made answers and photos, I felt like I was typing fast enough to melt the keyboard for the whole hour. As well as enjoying talking about HULF, and encouraging other authors to consider setting up something similar themselves, I made some great new friends.

BBC Radio Gloucestershire Book Club (15th May)

This month we were discussing the young adult book that everyone has been talking about lately – The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. Show presenter Dominic Cotter, fellow guest Caroline Sanderson and I all have teenage daughters, each of which had identified this as a must-read, and we finally caught up with it! It tells the story of a girl living in a poor black of the USA, riddled with drug dealing and violent crime, and how she finds the strength to cope with the aftermath of the shooting of two innocent friends – and to campaign for reform. It’s an incredibly powerful book on so many levels – an engrossing read (although it took me a chapter or two to tune into the dialect and slang) with a tremendous sense of place and beautifully drawn, memorable characters, as well as politically important and empowering. We all felt it will become a timeless classic, and, we hope, instrumental in bringing about change in the real world. Read it!

And if you’d like to tune into the show to hear what else we had to say about this and other book-related topics, such as HULF, you can catch it on iplayer till mid June via this link. Book Club is the first hour of the lunchtime slot, and starts about 10 minutes into the show.

Next month’s Book Club choice is Raynor Winn’s memoir The Salt Path, and the show will be live from noon on Wednesday 26th June.

Our BBC Radio Gloucestershire Book Club recommendations for May and June

Captain Swing & the Blacksmith (17th May)

I was thrilled to have the chance to see my first ever Folk Opera, based on a wonderful book I was sent to review a couple of years ago – Beatrice Parvin‘s Captain Swing and the Blacksmith, a historical novel set at the time of rural riots against the mechanisation of farming with the introduction of the threshing machine. The book came with a CD of the folk songs that inspired it, and this show took the whole to its natural conclusion with a dramatic presentation through readings, songs and instrumental music, all in the delightful rural setting of Avebury‘s Social Centre, a tiny hall a stone’s throw from the, er, stones – the mysterious standing stones of Avebury. What better way to spend a sunny spring evening? I liked it so much I also bought a music CD from the accordionist’s band, not least because he is featured playing it in Hugo, one of my favourite films.

Captain Swing and the Blacksmith Folk Opera Cast

Oakwood Literature Festival (18th May)

The next day I had an early start to drive to Oakwood, a suburb of Derby, where my author friend Dawn Brookes was organising her second Oakwood Lit Fest, which she’s created on a similar model to Hawkesbury’s. Last year I had fun as keynote speaker, and this year I chaired a panel talking about the nature of Cosy Crime Fiction – what it is and why it’s so popular. On the panel with me were Dawn, who writes mysteries set aboard cruise ships, and Wendy H Jones, who writes both cosy and dark crime novels. I also enjoyed talking about my Sophie Sayers series at a Meet the Author event in the local library.

promotional banner for the Cosy Mystery panel event

Stroud Short Stories (19th May)

Next evening I was Stroud-bound, this time thankfully to sit in the audience and enjoy someone else doing the work! I’m an occasional judge for the twice-yearly Stroud Short Stories event, which culminates in ten authors reading their short stories before a live audience. This was the first time in a new venue, the Cotswold Playhouse, which, like the previous venue, was sold out for the event, despite being twice the capacity! The stories were all so scintillating, and the readings so magnficent, that many in the audience, myself included, declared this to be the best yet. I was also pleased to discover the venue, which I’d never been to before – they have a great programme of shows at affordable ticket prices all year round, and I suspect I’ll be back there again soon, possibly for the Bristol Old Vic students’ rendition of The Canterbury Tales on 4th July.

Cheltenham Authors’ Alliance (21st May)

A much-needed day at home was followed by my monthly trip to Cheltenham to host my Cheltenham Authors’ Alliance writers’ group in the delightful Suffolk Anthology bookshop. As ever, it was a lively discussion about everybody’s news and questions and issues of the moment, and although it was exhausting after such a busy month, it’s always lovely to see everyone there and to help them make progress with their own writing lives. When one member very kindly described me afterwards as his guardian angel, it gave me enough spring in my step to drive home safely!

Wotton-under-Edge Arts Festival Meeting (22nd May)

Just about still able to string a sentence together, next night I’d agreed to meet a representative of this festival that takes place at our nearest market town, just three miles away. Next year will be their 50th Festival, and at HULF one of their committee approached me to ask whether we might provide a literary event as an outreach for them next year. I was honoured to be asked (not least because Wotton is about five times the size of Hawkesbury!) and enjoy and hour’s brainstorming meeting with Anne Robinson, who is going to take our ideas to the next committee meeting and develop things from there.

Matilda the Musical (27th May)

And finally I wound up my hectic month with a treat – well, my teenage daughter’s birthday treat, actually! A trip to the Bristol Hippodrome to see Tim Minchin’s wonderful stage musical rendition of Roald Dahl‘s classic children’s book, Matilda. I love Matilda with a passion. You may remember I made a model of her for our village scarecrow trail last autumn, when she manned my Little Free Library for a week. I can’t bear to throw her away, so now she’s taken up residence in the reading nook in my dining room.

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

We first saw the show when it launched at Stratford-upon-Avon, prior to its London run, and loved every moment – and this was sufficiently long ago that we had forgotten a lot of the detail, so it was still really fresh to us. It is an astonishing show, enjoyable on so many levels – the story, the music, the ingenious lyrics, the choreography and the sentiments – and will be loved by adults and children alike. If you have the chance to see it, do – you won’t regret it.

Guest Posts

I was pleased to be interviewed by Rachel McCollin for her blog here:

Interview with Debbie Young, Cozy Mystery Writer

And to be quoted again on her blog the following week when she was polling authors about where they get their inspiration – you can read that post here:

How to Get Writing Inspiration?

I love doing guest posts and interviews so was pleased to be invited this week by printing giant IngramSpark, to write a series of blog posts for their website, aimed at other indie writers.

What About the Writing?

Somehow – and I’m not entirely sure how – in between all of this frenzy of activity, I managed to finish my final edit of my new novel, which has now been despatched to my invaluable editor Alison Jack. I also decided in a lightbulb moment to change the title from Flat Chance – A Staffroom at St Bride’s Mystery to Secrets at St Bride’s – A School Mystery for Grown-ups. It’s a fun mashup of romantic comedy, mystery and satire, aimed at all those who grew up hooked on traditional school stories for children, such as Malory Towers and the Chalet School series. The cover is now with my talented designer for amendment (sorry to make extra work for you, Rachel Lawston!) It will also be the first in a new series.

I also signed off the audio files for my first audiobook novel, which will be of the first in the Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries series.

New Writing Projects

Today I started writing a new Sophie Sayers novella which will be given free of charge to everyone on my mailing list. (If you haven’t yet signed up, you can do so using the form at the bottom of this post.) I’m hoping this will be ready in August.

Then I’ll be writing the sixth Sophie Sayers Village Mystery, Murder Your Darlings, set at a writers’ retreat on Ithaca, at which Sophie inadvertently won a free place back in Best Murder in Show.

After that I’ll be alternating between the two series in future, and publishing at least one book in each series each year, if not more. St Bride’s #2, Stranger at St Bride’s, in which an American gentleman turns up claiming the estate is rightfully his, as a descendant of the (supposedly childless) founder, will be my autumn writing project.

Book Reviews Always Welcome!

In the meantime, if you’d like to spur me on, and you’ve read and enjoyed any of my books, it would make me very happy if you could spare a moment to leave a brief review online somewhere.

New reviews help books get discovered among the masses of novels out there in the world, and your support could make a real difference to my sales.

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Ali Smith, CrimeFest & Partners in Crime

Selfie of Debbie Young, Alison Morton, & David Penny
CrimeFest is a great place to network with fellow crime-writers such as my author chums Alison Morton and David Penny.

Last week went by in a bit of a blur for me, but included attending two very enjoyable events that you might like to know about.

I must admit after having spent a large part of this year so far organising the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival, it was bliss for me to attend events as a member of the audience, and to sit back and enjoy myself rather than rushing about making things happen.

Ali Smith at Tetbury Book Fest

The week kicked off with the new Tetbury Book Fest, run by the Yellow-Lighted Bookshop at the delightful Tetbury Goods Shed, a small-scale events space on the site of the former and sympathetically converted former Tetbury railway station. This Cotswold market town, just a few miles up the road from me, was filled with party atmosphere, its annual Wacky Races event, in which locals race home-made go-carts around its street, having taken place a little earlier that day.

At Tetbury, I really enjoyed a talk by Ali Smith, one of the country’s most highly-regarded authors. She doesn’t do many public events like this, but the Yellow-Lighted’s ever-persuasive Hereward managed to lure her along. She was there to talk about her latest book, Spring, but it was also inspiring to hear her talk about her love of books and reading,

cover of Spring by Ali Smith
The third in Ali Smith’s seasonal quartet of novels

“My books are nothing to do with me once I’ve finished them,” she said. “Books belong to us all individually as well as communally.”

She passionately advocated rereading books – a great excuse for those who, like me, like to keep books they’ve enjoyed in case they want to return to them later.

“Books are different to us on rereading ten years later,” she observed, and I completely agree.

I was also chuffed to learn a new word from her: intertextuality. This means the act of referring to other texts within a book. I do that a lot in my Sophie Sayers series (Sophie works in a bookshop), mostly for comic effect, but it’s pleasing to know there’s a formal name for it.

I didn’t take a photo of Ali because she is very shy and it would have felt intrusive, but I had a nice chat with her while she was signing her book for me, and was pleased to be able to tell her that the previous week I’d been with Dr Gerri Kimber, whom she thanks in the acknowledgements section of Spring, when she came to speak at the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival about Katherine Mansfield, referenced in her book.

CrimeFest

My week ended with four days in a big Bristol hotel at CrimeFest, a huge international writing conference that draws authors and readers from all over the world. The hotel felt a bit like a crime scene itself, with stripes of colour-coded tape stuck to the carpets to guide you through winding corridors and deserted ballrooms to specific events. I would not have been surprised to find a chalk outline of a body along the way.

As well as a tempting bookshop, there was a stall selling crime-related props designed for use at murder mystery parties or launches of crime novels. The closest they had to a real weapon was a chocolate gun, but much as I love chocolate, even that made me shudder whenI heard the vendor saying breezily “Kids love them”. I really don’t want to see a child with a chocolate gun in its mouth. Ugh.

The CrimeFest programme is packed, with several strands of events running simultaneously all day long. In between socialising with crimewriting friends, I attended the following sessions across the four days:

  • Whose Story: Unique Voices and Unreliable Narrators
  • They’ve Been in My Head for Years: Writing a Long-standing Series
  • Writing Elsewhere: Using an International Setting
  • Don’t Make Me Laugh: Humour in Crime Fiction
  • Contemporary Issues: Reflecting How We Live
  • Crime Fiction Legacies: Desmond Bagly, Campion, Holmes and More
  • A Light Touch: Writing Traditional Mysteries
  • Unlikely Alliances: Partners, Sidekicks and Friends
  • The Indie Alternative
The Indie Alternative, chaird by the fabulous Zoe Sharpe, with B L Faulkner, Beate Boeker, Lynn Florkiewicz and Stephen G Collier (I spoke on this panel at CrimeFest 2018)

Each panel had three or four speakers plus a moderator, all published authors, some long-established bestsellers, others closer to the start of their crimewriting career. The standard of moderators and speakers was very high, with only one of the panels descending quickly into self-promotion.

The authors who particularly captivated me were all people whose books I’d never read, but that’s about to change: 

  • Norwegian novelist Gunnar Staalesen, writing the same series for 43 years
  • Felix Francis, son of the more famous Dick Francis, continuing his legacy, with his own name on the cover of his books but underneath the strapline “A Dick Francis Novel”!
  • Mike Ripley, an irrepressible author of comic crime novels and also continuation author for Margery Allingham
  • Janet Laurence, a dignified and gracious lady who talked with great authority about the Golden Age of Crimewriting – I could have listened to her all day
  • Beate Boeker, a delightful German who says her name in a certain dialect translates as “Happy Books” – talk about nominative determinalism!
  • Charlie Gallagher, a serving police officer writing bestselling police procedurals
  • Vaseem Khan, whose detective’s sidekick is a baby elephant, and whose day job is at the Jill Dando Institute of Security and Crime Science

These last two provided a sobering reminder that crime doesn’t only happen in fiction.

Spoiled for choice as to what to read next and unable to choose between all of these, I bought instead a book I’d been meaning to read for ages: Martin Edwards’ The Golden Age of Crimewriting – the perfect follow-up to my current read, Janet Brabazon’s biography of Dorothy L Sayers.

But it’s a fair cop, I confess: on arriving home, I immediately went online and bought secondhand from a charity retailer the first in Vaseem Khan‘s series. Well, what’s not to love about baby elephants?


What’s Next?

Another week, another festival! This week I’ll be chairing a panel on cosy crime novels at the Oakwood Literature Festival in Derby; going to a musical evening in Avebury based on Beatrice Parvin‘s historical novel Captain Swing and the Blacksmith, and attending the Spring event for Stroud Short Stories. And in between times, I may even get some writing done! Full report to follow next week…

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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!