Posted in Personal life, Travel, Writing

My Dream Office (with a little help from the National Trust)

This post first appeared on the Authors Electric collective blog

shot of Debbie going through a gate into a graveyard
Debbie Young, going places…

“Where do you write?” asked a very pleasant lady at a talk I gave recently to the Cheltenham Writers’ Circle.

I gave my standard answer: how lucky I am to have my own study in my Victorian Cotswold cottage, with a big desk facing a window that looks out over the garden.

But next morning, when I sat down to write there, I shrieked as a sharp pain shot from my spine to my ankle, reminding me that lately I had been spending far too long at my desk-with-a-view – and I felt desirous of change.

Prompted by the arrival of my new National Trust card in the post the day before, and licensed by my friend and mentor Orna Ross to fill the creative well with a weekly “create date” with self, I stowed my purse, my shades, and my notebook and pen into my backpack, donned my walking boots, and set off to nearby Dyrham Park.

photo of Dyrham Park manor in deer park
The long and winding road down through the deer park to the spectacular Dyrham Park
The long and winding road down through the deer park to the spectacular Dyrham Park

Ok, I confess, I drove there (well, it is about eight miles away) – but on arrival, I eschewed the visitor bus service and set off down the path to this beautiful stately home, nestling at the bottom of the deer park, in search of a different place to write my daily words.

A cosy nook beckoned me from inside a hollow tree

This old hollow tree looked tempting. I’ve always had a soft spot for hollow trees since reading Enid Blyton’s The Hollow Tree House (over and over again) when I was a child. Unfortunately this one was roped off from public access.

I proceeded to the main house, skirting round the building – it was too sunny outside to be indoors – admiring beautiful Delft pots of tulips on the way. (This was a few weeks ago now.)

The original owner had served as Dutch ambassador

I thought the chapel would come in handy if my writing wasn’t progressing well and I needed a quick pray, but sadly it was locked.

The chapel now serves as the parish church.

There were plenty of seats to choose from with scenic views of the flowerbeds…

To sit in sunshine or shadow? – depends on which end you choose

…although I might be tempted to take pity on the gardener and lend him a hand with the weeding.

I think he might benefit from a bigger wheelbarrow

Wildflower meadows complemented the formal planting, replete with so many traditional English plants that I found Oberon‘s seductive lines running through my head…

“I know a bank where the wild thyme grows…”
Great swathes of forget-me-nots – a humble plant invested with a special significance in my Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries – brought me back to the purpose of my visit: to write.
Not forgetting…
I turned my back on the lake to investigate what looked at first glance as a kind of wooden hammock.
Nature’s hammock?

…but closer inspection revealed a forbidding sign.

Then – who’d have thought it? – I found myself on the threshold of the National Trust gift shop. I do like a National Trust gift shop. Thoughts of writing were quickly forgotten as I snapped up a lovely new linen sunhat, a book about drawing (a hobby I’ve wanted to take up for a long time), and some souvenir postcards.
Running out of time to get home for my daughter’s return from school, I got the bus back up the hill to the car park, and returned home feeling like Wordsworth inspired by his visit to Tintern Abbey, rested, revitalised and refreshed by my impromptu outing, back at my normal place of work.
“Home again, home again, jiggety jig”
And where did I write this post? In Dyrham Park’s excellent tea room, of course. At last – I’d discovered the perfect office!
  • To find the nearest National Trust property to you, click here
  • To find out more about my Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries, click here
  • To order any of the Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries, click here.
  • To read other posts by the Authors Electric, click here
Posted in Events, Personal life, Travel

All Roads Lead to Hawkesbury

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

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

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

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

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

DIARY DATE FOR NEXT YEAR

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

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

The Perfect Date?

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Create-Date in Clevedon

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

selfie with Pier stretching out behind Debbie
On Clevedon Pier

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

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

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

Water, Water, Everywhere

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Posted in Family, Travel

In the Land of Giants

My column for the October edition of the Hawkesbury Parish News

Lego model of knight on horseback
Tally ho! We’re off to Legoland!

In the first hour of a trip to Legoland on an INSET* day in September (no queues – hurrah!), I spot several signs that I must be getting old:

  • Realising I’m admiring the autumn colours of the landscaping as much as the theme park’s rides
  • Being more interested in the opening times of the coffee shops than of the attractions
  • Wondering how many plastic bricks the builders trod on in stockinged feet while assembling the hundreds of Lego models on display
  • Considering whether the staff valiantly performing in character costumes are thwarted RADA** graduates
  • Not minding the circuitous walks between attractions because they boost the step count on my fitness tracker
photo of hotel carpet
The hotel carpets had pictures of Lego bricks scattered on them – it was hard not to walk around them, as any parent will understand

But such churlish thoughts are vanquished by lunchtime, supplanted by the childish sense of wonder that results from strolling, Gulliver-like, among miniature models of famous landmarks from around the world.

photo of Lego models of landmarks
I towered over the Eiffel Tower at Legoland

Despite the 17,777 paces notched up by my step counter by bedtime, I leave the park feeling rejuvenated. Expensive though Legoland may be, at least it’s cheaper than Botox.

photo of toilet doors with Lego people on them
How to embarrass your teenage daughter: take photos in the Legoland toilets because  the decorations made you smile

*For non-British friends, I should explain that an INSET day is an In-Service Training Day during the school term, when the teachers go to school but the pupils do not. Each school has theirs at different times, so it provides the perfect day to take your kids to a popular attraction that is normally swamped at weekends.

**RADA is a leading British school for actors

Cover of All Part of the Charm

 

My collected columns from Hawkesbury Parish News 2010-2015, is available as an ebook and in paperback.

Posted in Travel, Writing

The Mystery of the Vanishing Bag

A post about one of the milestones in my Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries series

photo of Harris Tweed shoulder bag
It’s in the bag… well, nearly!

This is the beautiful shoulder bag that I bought this summer at the Harris Tweed shop in Inverness this summer. It’s the repository for my research for the eighth book in my Sophie Sayers Village Mystery series.

Regular readers of this blog may remember that I’d planned to make it only (!) a seven-book series, but this summer’s trip to the Highlands planted an indelible germ of an idea for an eighth adventure following on after the seven-book cycle has run the course of the village year.

Sophie will take Hector to meet her parents, who live and work in Inverness, and inevitably a local mystery will ensue there, with a series of attempts on Hector’s life, and taking them all over this vibrant Highland city just above Loch Ness, to the Highland Folk Museum (our favourite museum in the world), the remarkable Leakey’s Bookshop, and into the Highland wilderness.

The Handbag Vanishes…

The bag has already been involved in a mystery of its own. I realised a couple of day after we’d unpacked our camper van at the end of our summer trip to Scotland, with my husband unloading while I put everything away in our house, that my precious new bag had not made it back into the house. My husband swore blind he had emptied the van, and that there was nothing left in there at all.  I started to doubt my own memory – had I put it away in the house in such a safe place and forgotten where I’d put it?

I started to doubt my own memory – had I put it away in the house in such a safe place and forgotten where I’d put it?

A few weeks later, on a trip out in the van with his best friend, when they were turning the van inside out in search of his friend’s missing glasses (his friend had put Gordon’s on by mistake, and said “These glasses don’t work”), he told me again that the bag was nowhere to be found.

They would certainly have found it this time, Gordon told me, especially after his friend had found his glasses.

In despair – as I had stuffed the bag full of notes, brochures, ideas, and postcards as I roamed around Inverness on our final day there – I made a special trip to the van to see for myself. There on top of my husband’s sleeping bag lay the missing bag.

Needless to say, I won’t be asking him for advice on detection techniques any time soon.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

cover of Murder in the Manger
The Sophie Sayers Christmas Special is due out on 6th November

Meanwhile, I’m on the home straits with book #3 in the series, Murder in the Manger, which will be published on 6th November as a Christmas special. It’s already available to pre-order as an ebook on Amazon, and the paperback will be published at the same time.

cover of Trick or Murder?
Available now in paperback and ebook, with a lively story spanning Halloween and Guy Fawkes’ Night

And in the meantime, the second book in the series will provide a topical seasonal read. The story in Trick or Murder? kick off right about now, and runs through Halloween (31st October) and Guy Fawkes’ Night (5th November).

Here’s the buying link to the series so far on Amazon – or you can order the books from your local independent bookshop by quoting the title, my name, and the ISBN.

There’s also more information about the series on my website here.