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!
A 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.
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.
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.
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.
Water, Water, Everywhere
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.
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 .
My column for the October edition of the Hawkesbury Parish News
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
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.
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.
*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
My collected columns from Hawkesbury Parish News 2010-2015, is available as an ebook and in paperback.
A post about one of the milestones in my Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries series
This is the beautiful shoulder bag that I bought this summer at the Harris Tweedshop 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.
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.
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).
My Young By Name column from the September issue of the Tetbury Advertiser
Whenever I’m on holiday, my writer’s habit of eavesdropping on other people’s conversations goes into overdrive.
It is particularly well rewarded this August in the heart of Inverness’s shopping district, a regular pit-stop when we’re touring the Highlands in our camper van.
Outside the Co-op in a seedy side street, a cluster of pale, unkempt young men is hanging on a bedraggled, older woman’s every word. She looks like she is holding court, giving her loyal troops their instructions for the day.
“There’s the cemetery, like, the graveyard. There’s always the graveyard.”
I am unsure whether this is a deployment directive or a warning against disobedience.
As my teenage daughter checks out Primark, a father and his little girl are idling in the toy section. He must be under orders to occupy her while his wife enjoys a bit of low-budget retail therapy. The child, decked out in princess pink, is beautiful: strawberry blonde curls, blue eyes, sweet face. She seems to be taking the lead in the entertainment stakes, so perhaps the maternal instructions were for her to keep Daddy amused, rather than the other way round.
“Let’s play chicken,” she suggests brightly.
He looks blank, unsure of the rules. I pretend to browse a nearby rack of t-shirts while I wait to find out.
She seizes two plastic bazooka-style guns from a nearby display.
“You’ve got to shoot me, and I’ve got to shoot you. Bang, you’re dead! Now you shoot me. Now we’re both dead.”
The father looks dumbstruck, and I suspect I do too. What has he raised? The natural successor for the lady outside the Co-op?
Half an hour later, towards the top of town where the smarter shops are, I am heartened by the approach of a more wholesome-looking family group emerging from Marks and Spencer: a father, son of about ten, and daughter young enough to be riding on her father’s shoulders. They are all bronzed, beautiful, and glowing with health. They could have stepped out of the pages of an upmarket Sunday lifestyle supplement.
Their glowing tans make me wonder which country they’re from. The Highlands is awash with foreign tourists in summer. Parked near our van that day are high-end cars registered in Monaco and San Merino, as well as the usual swarm of Italian, French, German, Spanish and Dutch motor homes. Then I spot the boy’s West Ham supporters’ scarf.
As the group passes by, the little girl’s crystal tones ring out in Queen’s English: ‘Well, everybody has to pass wind.”
I suspect Daddy may be regretting offering her a shoulder ride.
Tourists in Tetbury
I wonder what Tetbury’s tourists take away from conversations they hear in its streets? Listen out next time you venture into town – you may find your routine shopping trip more entertaining than you expect.