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.

 

Posted in Personal life, Reading, Writing

Writing: You Couldn’t Make It Up…

For Writers’ Wednesday (#ww), a post about writing fiction. This post first appeared 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).

Debbie sitting in a bluebell wood with a copy of her book
If you go down to the woods today…

If you go down to the woods today…

When I started writing my new series, the Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries, and set myself the ambitious target of publishing a cycle of seven novels over two years, I had no idea how much I would come to enjoy escaping into its fictitious Cotswold village of Wendlebury Barrow.

Cover of Best Murder in Show
Set in Wendlebury Barrow – my second (and entirely fictitious) home

Having now drafted the first three in the series – Best Murder in Show was published in April, Trick or Murder? will launch in August, and Murder in the Manger will be my 2017 Christmas special (no surprises there) –  I feel as if the characters are old friends. I feel entirely at home with them.

That shouldn’t really come as a surprise, because in real life, I’ve  resided in the small Cotswold village of Hawkesbury Upton for over a quarter of a century.

picture of Debbie on winding footpath with the Hawkesbury Monument in the distance
The long and winding road to Wendlebury Barrow – I mean, Hawkesbury Upton

Both the fictitious and the real village are safe, fun but eccentric places to live. (Well, safe apart from the odd murder – only in Wendlebury Barrow, ouf course.) Frequently heard in response to Hawkesbury Upton events is the phrase “You couldn’t make that up!” There are probably more implausible events happening in the actual village than in the pretend one.

I love living in Hawkesbury Upton, and although I’ve been careful to make all my characters and events fictitious, I write about Wendlebury Barrow in celebration of the kind of village life that surrounds me.

I’ve only once so far caught myself writing “Wendlebury Upton.”

Of Darker Places

Which leads me to wonder whether authors who write much grittier crime books than mine feel the same about the grimmer worlds that they have conjured up. Do they live in places like that? Do they want to visit them? I don’t think so.

Yes, I do know about catharsis, but the closest I get to enjoying it in fiction is in the likes of Alice in Wonderland, with its classic “oh thank goodness it was only a dream” moment.

As for me, I’d rather feel safe all the time, whether weaving stories in my fictional world or walking the streets of my home village.

Not for me the more violent books, films or television programmes that my husband enjoys. You probably know the sort of thing I mean: where the soundtrack consists almost entirely of the physical impact of violence (fists on flesh breaking bones, bullets sinking into fleshy targets) and the dialogue would be half the length if all the swear words were omitted.

Or maybe that’s why he watches them – precisely because they make me swiftly leave the room. Perhaps straight afterwads, he channel-hops to “Strictly”.

Incitement to Murder

However, I must admit that writing the Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries is also in part a response to his previous complaint that “nothing happened” in my three volumes of short stories – well, nothing violent, anyway.

My pre-planned series of titles commits me to at least one murder per book. My only problem now is that I’m getting so attached to the characters that I don’t want to kill any of them off.

Which my neighbours in Hawkesbury Upton will probably be very glad to know…

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
cover of Trick or Murder?
Available to pre-order now

The first Sophie Sayers Village Mystery, Best Murder in Show, is set in the summer months, at the time of the traditional village show, so it makes the perfect summer read. It’s now available to order Amazon in paperback or ebook here, or from your local neighbourhood bookshop by quoting ISBN 978-1911223139.

The second in the series, Trick or Murder?, an autumnal story set around Halloween and Guy Fawkes’ Night, will be launched at the Hawkesbury Upton Village Show on Saturday 26th August).No wonder I’m getting the real world mixed up with my fictional one!) Meanwhile you can pre-order the ebook on Amazon here.
Find out what readers are saying about Sophie Sayers here

Posted in Reading

Recommended Reading: Tiny Books

This week I’m sharing my love of passport-sized books

passport and small book of Shakespeare sonnets at the same size
Pocket-sized books: your passport to poetry, and more…

With the summer holidays upon us, in the northern hemisphere at least, my recommended reading for this weekend is something that you can easily fit in your pocket along with your passport: tiny books.

Why I Like Small Books

At first glance, that might seem as shallow as recommending, say, books with blue covers – but actually, it’s not as daft as all that, and here are some reasons why.

  • The content of any tiny book will have been very carefully selected, as so little space is available, so whether it’s a single short story, an essay or a small collection of poetry, it jolly well ought to be worth reading.
  • With the reading material effectively rationed, you tend to linger longer over every word, because your impulse is to spin it out and make it last. This makes it a highly suitable format for reading poetry and for thought-provoking essays.
  • They allow you to easily sample someone’s work before deciding whether you want to commit the time required to read a longer book.
  • They’re the ideal gift for someone in hospital, as they’re not tiring to hold and they’ll fit easily into the patient’s limited storage space.
  • They are relatively cheap  – so you can buy them with a clear conscience!

Pick Up a Penguin

I always loved the Penguin 60s (tiny books retailing at 60p to celebrate the publisher’s sixtieth anniversary), then the Penguin 80s (ditto for 80p for their eightieth). The slightly larger Penguin Great Ideas series, retailing at £4.99, includes intriguing titles such as Books vs Cigarettes by George Orwell and Days of Reading by Marcel Proust. The latter provides an easy way to be able to say you’ve read Proust without ploughing through the six volumes of  À la recherche du temps perdu.

But I’m especially pleased with my latest discovery: Souvenir Press‘s vintage collection of small hardbacks, about the same size as classic Beatrix Potter books (and who doesn’t love that format?), each one featuring a single, thoughtful poem, with understated monochrome linocut or scraperboard illustrations. The simple charm of these pictures has made me want to have a go at scraperboard art myself.

I picked up Agatha Christie‘s My Flower Garden a few weeks ago for a couple of quid at a rural market in mid-Wales, more out of curiosity than anything, as I didn’t know she wrote poetry and wondered what it would be like. I’ve since acquired another, Remembrance, online at a similar price. The series includes some of my favourite poems, including John Donne‘s No Man is an Island.

I feel an addiction coming on. But the good news is, it won’t take up much room in my already overflowing bookshelves…

two small Agatha Christie poetry books
Utterly beguiling in their own little way

What I’ll Be Reading This Weekend

Meanwhile, I’m off to read Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach – another very short read, which I’ll be discussing on Tuesday at noon on the BBC Radio Gloucestershire Book Club on Dominic Cotter’s lunchtime show. It was his turn to choose our Book of the Month this month, and neither fellow guest Caroline Sanderson nor I had ever read it before, and I can’t wait to compare notes with them. If you’d like to tune in to join us, here’s the link to Tuesday’s show: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p056q800 (also available on iplayer for a month afterwards).

Happy reading, whatever you choose!

Cover of Best Murder in Show by Debbie YoungPS 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.