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 Events, Reading

Sharing My Speech from the Launch of Our Community Library

Pic of Gordon checking out some audio CDs
The first satisfied borrower of the day: my husband, with Liz Howard, volunteer librarian

I was delighted to be invited to launch the new Hawkesbury Upton Village Library yesterday, and I wrote a short speech to mark the occasion. A number of people afterwards asked me for a copy of it, so here it is for anyone who would like it.

After I’d spoken, local councillor Sue Hope added her thanks on behalf of the community to the Hawkesbury Village Hall Committee, the Parish Council and the Hawkesbury Writers for their support and funding for the new facilities, for which the books and services will be provided by South Gloucestershire Libraries. A team of eight wonderful village volunteers will staff the library and open it for two hours every fortnight.

My Opening Address

It’s a pleasure and an honour to be invited to open what is going to be a wonderful new resource for our community. It feels like we’re at a little bit of Hawkesbury history in the making.

Like many of you, I was sad that funding cuts led to the closure of the mobile library that had served us so well for so long. It brought great comfort and interest to many villages and hamlets beside ours, and it was always a heartwarming sight to see it trundling down our lanes. It was like a tardis full of books, manned by kind, friendly and knowledgeable staff always willing to help us, no matter how obscure our questions, even when we forget our library cards. I don’t know whether the mobile staff realised how much we loved and appreciated them, but on behalf of our community, I’d like to thank them for the pleasure they have brought us – and to congratulate them for their driving skills to manoeuvre that great bus down the lanes to us, time after time.

So a sad loss, but, like a phoenix from the ashes, this new and different kind of library, with its permanent base in our community, is the start of a whole new chapter (groan) in our bookish lives. In a way it will bring us the best of both worlds: access to the entire stock from South Gloucestershire Libraries, not only from Yate’s stocks but from anywhere in the south west. All we need to do is request them online from the comfort of our own homes, and they’ll be served up to us by our fantastic team of volunteers, all trained to give us the help we need at a local level.

Photo of bookshelves open and stocked
Smart new mobile shelving allows the librarians to create a pop-up library every fortnight in the village hall

You can of course still use the other South Gloucestershire libraries of your choice – in Yate when you’re shopping, or the library nearest your workplace – but just as the mobile library brought resources to those who couldn’t get to those, so will the community library. But choosing books from the Community Library will help you save fuel and time – just as the Hawkesbury Stores makes it possible for us to buy groceries close to home.

For any cynics who are wondering whether public libraries are still relevant to us in the digital age, think again. Studies show that a large proportion of library users are also regular buyers of books. Libraries are for everyone – and not just for those who can’t afford to buy books.

Why do affluent book buyers use libraries too? Library books should not be considered as second-best to buying books. The quality of books in libraries is always high, mostly as new or nearly new condition, and it’s a joy to touch and hold them – these days, with the high production values of modern books, they are an aesthetic treat as well as a literary one. You can get as much of a buzz out of walking home with an armload of library books as from buying them in shops – and you don’t have to worry about running out shelf space at home, either.

Libraries also offer a low-risk strategy to expand your choice of reading matter. Well, I like to think of a library as a tasting menu in a restaurant. Like a tasting menu, a visit to the library offers you the chance to try new things. When you haven’t paid for a book, it doesn’t matter if you don’t much like it or finish it – but at the same time, you might discover new passions and interests in the process.

A library is also like a smorgasbord because it’s an all-you-can-eat menu – only in this restaurant of reading, you don’t end your visit by paying a bill. The only money you will spend here is if you treat yourself to some tea and cake, which you can do with a clear conscience because the takings for refreshments are what will cover the hall hire costs for each session.

But that’s fine too because libraries aren’t only about books on shelves. They are also an important social meeting point, accessible and affordable to all, where everyone may meet on an equal footing. They are hugely democratic and an enormously valuable anchor in our society for all sorts of reasons unrelated to books – the books might even be considered a bonus. What matters is that we connect.

cover of Reading Allowed by Chris Paling
Recommended reading for everyone who loves libraries

I’ve just finished reading a fascinating fly-on-the-wall memoir by a librarian, Chris Paling, called Reading Allowed. He points out that public libraries can also be study centres, play areas, A&E departments, refuges for the homeless and much more – Hawkesbury librarians, you have been warned! I’m sure our library will serve as a brilliant coffee shop too – a safe, warm place to socialise with friends. Fortunately libraries no longer have a silence rule!

I realise not everyone may be instantly persuaded that the library is for them. “I’m not much of a reader,” they might say, or “I don’t have time to read”. I bet they still find time to watch television. In that case, I say they just haven’t met the right book yet.  

The book stock has been carefully curated to match the needs and interests of our community, and it will be constantly refreshed to keep it interesting for us.

photo of cake on table
Celebratory cake – we don’t do much in Hawkesbury that doesn’t include cake

Who watches “Game of Thrones”? Of course, that hugely popular series is based on books by a very wise man, George R R Martin, who famously said about books and reading:

“He who reads lives a thousand lives. He who does not read lives only once.”

Our new community library gives us all the chance to live a thousand lives. So please do take advantage of this wonderful gift to our village, today and every time it opens, once a fortnight, in future. I’m delighted to declare it now officially open.


If you love libraries, you might enjoy these other posts from my blog archives:

In Praise of Public Libraries for National Libraries Day

Sharing My Stories about Public Libraries

Another Story Inspired by Public Libraries

cover of Quick Change
Click the image for buying ilnks

Both of the stories about libraries featured in those last two posts are included in Quick Change, my collection of flash fiction, available in paperback and ebook. Click the image to buy online or quote ISBN 978-0993087967 to order at your local bookshop.

 

Posted in Reading, Writing

A Book for All Seasons: The Joy of Seasonal Reading and Writing

This post about seasonal writing first appeared on 30th August on the Authors Electric blog, for which I’m now a regular monthly contributor. (I write a new post on the 30th of each month).

When I started planning the cosy mystery series I’m currently writing, I thought I had a bright idea: I’d make the seven books span the course of the year.

What’s not to love about writing a book for all seasons, and then some? Whatever the time of year, I’d have a topical book to tout.

Given that my Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries are set in a small (fictional) English village (no surprises there), its residents are naturally very conscious of the seasonal changes, and their social calendar dictated by the time of year.That’s just how it is in the small (non-fictional) English village in which I’ve lived for the last twenty-six years. Here in my real life village, I’m so much more aware of the passage of the seasons than when I lived and worked in and around London.

Working in a city centre, I was more likely to spot the season by what was in shop windows, rather than by the appearance (or disappearance) of lambs and the like.

Bikinis in Marks and Spencers? Ah, then it must be February.

I much prefer the rural indication of the coming of spring: seeing the lambs appear down my lane.

Seasonal Satisfaction

Yes, I often share my street with sheep, or sometimes cows. Today we passed a few chickens pottering about at the roadside outside the local farm shop. Well, where else would a chicken go to do its shopping?

And if there’s a traffic jam down my way, it’s more likely to be caused by a farm vehicle than a stream of commuter cars. On nearby Sodbury Common, herds of cows frequently block the road.

For those who don’t live in the country, reading the Sophie Sayers books will give them the chance to enjoy the seasons vicariously as they work their way through the series.

Seasonal books = seasonal reading = seasonal sales.

Good plan. 

Until I try to launch my new autumn read, Trick or Murder?, full of mists and mellow murder, on a searingly hot August Bank Holiday weekend, when we can almost convince ourselves that summer still has weeks to run.
It felt indecent to be talking about October already

I find myself not wanting to even think about the autumn, never mind promote my autumn-themed book. 

It seems unkind to remind people that autumn is just around the corner, like the supermarkets that start hyping back-to-school wear the minute the schools break up for their summer holidays.

Standing in scorching sunshine talking about Halloween and Guy Fawkes’ Night – key events in Trick or Murder? – seems as tasteless as touting mince pies and Christmas cards in September. Yes, I know Tesco’s will be doing that. I rest my case.

 I know that commercial traders, including bookshops, will carry on regardless, marketing things at least a season before we really want to think about them.

But I’ve decided to launch my Christmas special for the series, Murder in the Manger, for the day after Guy Fawkes’ Night, and not a minute sooner.

Time passes us by all too fast without me fast-forwarding the seasons.

In the meantime, I plan to make the most of whatever remains of the summer sunshine.

May we all have many sunny days yet to come. 
cover of Best Murder in Show cover of Trick or Murder?

The first two books in the Sophie Sayers Village Mystery series are now available in ebook and paperback. You don’t need to read them in order, if you prefer to start with the one most appropriate for the current season. The third book, Murder in the Manger, will be out on November 6th.

Posted in Events, Reading, Writing

Recommended Reading: The Grass Trail by A A Abbott

What will you be reading this weekend? The new thriller The Grass Trail by A A Abbott is currently top of my to-read pile – and it’s hot off the press!

Launched from a Prison Cell

Where better to launch a crime novel that opens in a prison cell?

I confess – I’ve allowed it to leapfrog to the top of the pile, having acquired my copy only this Tuesday, inspired to read it by the author’s excellent launch event in Bristol that evening, to which my sister and I were pleased to be invited.

A A Abbott is a Bristol-based author whom I first met last year when we were both part of a local author event at Foyles’ Cabot Circus, Bristol branch, along with historical novelists Lucienne Boyce and David Penny. She’s an energetic and engaging character, very upbeat and passionate about her writing, at the same time as being a high-flying accountant, and it is her career in finance and commerce that inform the worlds of her books.

photo of blue gate with government logo and lock
Setting the tone from the minute we arrived

I so enjoyed her company and her earlier books – The Bride’s Trail, The Vodka Trail and Up in Smoke – that I invited her to take part in the most recent Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival. She’s a great speaker and good fun, so I knew that this week’s launch event would be enjoyable. To add to the fun, she’d booked a very apposite but unusual venue: the old prison cells of Bristol’s former police station in Bridewell Street, now a commercial venue called The Island, but retaining the forbidding atmosphere of its previous purpose.

photo of grim courtyard secured with barbed wire
Not an easy place to escape from

First, we were invited to join her in a long room painted entirely in black – a sinister and dramatic setting for Michael MacMahon, another local author friend (author of Back to the Black, funnily enough, a self-help book about personal finance). Michael’s an actor, voice artist and coach, specialising in public speaking (his next book will be a guide to making effective wedding speeches), and he is also a Hawkesbury Upton Lit Fest regular. His memorable rendition of Prospero’s speech is now a regular part of the Festival’s traditional closing ceremony, and it makes my spine tingle every time. (I’m now kicking myself that I didn’t think to ask him on Tuesday whether this was Prospero’s Cell!)

Both Michael MacMahon and A A Abbott were on top form

Here his role was to interview Helen (A A Abbott is her pen name, artfully chosen to put her at the top of any alphabetical list of authors!), and they made a great double-act, talking about this book and her writing in general.

Then we were led away to the…

image of "Cells" stencilled in black on to a grey wall

… where Helen gamely treated us to a reading from the opening of her new book, which is set in a prison cell.

Sentenced to read…

The lively opening scene, in which prisoner Shaun Halloran is introduced to his new cellmate, made me laugh out loud (a bit echoey in a prison cell!) and left me keen to read the rest asap.

Next Book, Please, David Penny!

David Penny’s latest book is his medieval Spanish crime series

By coincidence, next evening there was another event that would have had me grabbing a copy of David Penny‘s latest book, The Incubus, if only I hadn’t already read it! He was featured on the television programme A Place in the Sun, filmed back in February when he and his lovely wife Megan were guests on the show seeking a new holiday home in the Axarquia region of Spain in which his historical novels are set. It’s now available to watch on Channel 4 on demand here.

Suffragette City

A great follow-up to her earlier excellent book about the Bristol Suffragettes

Fortunately, the same can’t be said of Lucienne Boyce‘s books – although I’ve read all her fiction and enjoyed it very much, I have on my Kindle her latest non-fiction book, The Road to Representation, a collection of essays about the Suffragette movement, always a fascinating subject, and this little book will be perfect to dip into in between the fiction.

What will you be reading this weekend? I’d love to know!

Photo of "Best Murder in Show" in the window
Getting my weekend off to a great start was this image of my latest novel in pride of place in the window of a local independent bookshop, the excellent Cotswold Book Room in Wotton-under-Edge. (Thanks to my friend Chris Taylor for the photo.)

 

Posted in Personal life, Reading, Writing

Recommended Reading: Must-Read Classics (Whether You Want To or Not)

Cover image of Jonathan Livingston Seagull
Photo of latest edition from Amazon – click for more details via the online retailer

This week I’m talking about Richard Bach’s Jonathan Livingston Seagull, the July Book of the Month for our BBC Radio Gloucestershire Book Club

Like many avid readers, if I only ever read books that I most wanted to read, I’d never have discovered lots of great books that I’ve gone on to enjoy. For example, I never used to read historical fiction, not because of any aversion to it, but it wasn’t something I naturally gravitated towards.

Then I joined a local Historical Novel Society book group, largely because I wanted to support Lucienne Boyce, the historical novelist who was setting it up, and was quickly hooked on the genre, even though I disliked about half the books we read there. As a result, I’m now an official reviewer for the HNS, and very much enjoy being a part of it.

As Featured on BBC Radio Gloucestershire

Similarly, I’ve been glad when I’ve had to read a book or an author that I felt I ought to have read, but had never got round to doing so. July’s Book Club choice for the BBC Radio Gloucestershire Book of the Month was a case in point. I didn’t especially enjoy it, but I’m glad that I’ve now read it and now what the fuss is all about – because fuss there certainly is.

Photo of two radio chaps in broadcasting studio
Dominic and producer David Smith in the BBC Radio Gloucestershire studio ready for the show (photo from the station’s Facebook page)

 

Although Jonathan Livingston Seagull was published back in the seventies, it’s still in print, and even had a fourth part added to its three-part format recently in a beautiful new edition, and there’s even an app for it, so its publisher clearly thinks it’s an evergreen book and a sound business investment.

The story is essentially a fable about being true to yourself and following the path in life that is right for you, rather than mimicking the masses – a very 1970s message. The hero prefers flying to scavenging for food, which causes him to become an outcast from his social group, but he decides he cannot compromise for the sake of conformity.

A Book to Change Young Lives?

When I asked Facebook friends who else had read it, I was overwhelmed by the flurry of passionate responses about how the book had changed their lives, empowering them to go on to become what they are today.

Personally, I don’t think it will change mine – but then I’m reading it in middle-age, when I am comfortable with my life choices and with where I am and what I’m doing now.

However, had I read it when a teenager or student or young aspiring PR executive (and mostly hating it), it might have given me the courage to step into the ejector seat sooner of what become a long career, and not waiting till a significant birthday to decide what I really wanted to be when I grew up was a novelist. (I finally published my first novel this spring – more about that at the foot of this post.)

When discussing the book on BBC Radio Gloucestershire with lunchtime presenter Dominic Cotter and fellow panelist Caroline Sanderson, associate editor of The Bookseller magazine, we agreed that it was more of a young person’s book. Of the three of us, only Dominic had read it before, as a teenager, and still loved it, whereas Caroline and I found it a bit harder to take – Caroline described it as schmaltzy, and I had trouble with my natural aversion to seagulls and to characters with unlikely names. (I know, I’m that shallow.) But we were all glad we’d read it.

(You can listen to the show on iplayer here for the next four weeks if  you’d like to hear our full discussion, which starts a few minutes into Dominic’s show.)

The Ultimate Beach Read?

So although I wouldn’t say to someone “You must read this book, it’s fantastic and it will change our life”, I am most certainly saying “You must read this book, if you haven’t already, because it’s a significant piece of popular culture from the 1970s that many of my friends adore.”

It is also a very short, quick read, will be universally available from bookshops and libraries, and, like the tiny books I was recommending this time last week, it will slip easily into your hand-luggage for your summer holidays. It might also have one benefit unanticipated by the author: if you’re heading to a British seaside resort this summer, it will make you more tolerant of the inevitable plague of seagulls, and more forgiving if they do the classic seaside thing and swipe your Cornish pasty or ice-cream cone.

Happy reading, wherever you decide to read it!

cover of Best Murder in Show
The first in the Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries series

PS Fancy reading one of my books this weekend? Best Murder in Show, a lighthearted modern mystery story, is the perfect summer read, set at the time of a traditional village show. Now available as an ebook for Kindle or in paperback  – order from Amazon here or at your local neighbourhood bookshop quoting ISBN  978-1911223139.