Posted in Events, Family, Personal life, Travel

On Track for the Holidays

A few years ago, my husband suggested we download an app* that keeps track of family and friends via their mobile phone signals.

He tends not to listen when I tell him where I’m going, and the most frequent message left on my mobile is from him, saying, “Debbie, where are you?”

He once called me on a Friday afternoon, concerned that our daughter was late home from school. My reply: “That’s because she’s here with me in the car, and we’re on our way to Cornwall for the weekend.” We had of course told him of our plans many times before we left.

While my husband was all in favour of the app, my daughter and I were not keen. It felt intrusive, like being microchipped or electronically tagged.

When the pandemic put paid to travel, we let the matter drop, but when we started to travel again this spring, and with my daughter planning some gap year adventures, we agreed to install the app for reassurance.

Our first chance to test it came in April, when my husband and daughter headed to the south of France for a week. As I’d made all the bookings, I felt personally responsible that everything should go smoothly, so I was glad to use the app to track their progress . With planes, trains and automobiles involved in their journey, there was ample opportunity for trouble – flight delays, cancellations and missed connections – even before we factored in my husband’s propensity to misplace his possessions.

Initially, following their progress on the app made me feel like a spy, but it soon became enjoyable and absorbing, although the intermittent phone signal made it slightly unreliable.

Often they appeared to be in two different places, even when I knew from speaking to them on the phone that they were in the same vehicle or hotel. Part way through their trip, I discovered that if I hit the right button, I could follow their progress at micro level.

When they were in Avignon, for example, I could trace their progress along the ancient bridge, although it didn’t tell me whether they did the famous dance immortalised in the song, “Sur le Pont d’Avignon”, as we did when we visited ten years ago. Fortunately, I remembered the ancient bridge no longer reaches the other side of the river, but stops mid-stream. Otherwise I might have been concerned that they’d dropped off the end and been swept away by the Rhône.

So thanks to the app, I was able to relax while they were away, and on their return, I knew exactly when to put the kettle on to make them a welcome-home cup of tea.

Admittedly, my husband returned minus his glasses (mislaid before they’d boarded the first plane), his jacket (lost, then found, then lost again), and his wallet.

All we need now is an app to keep track of his possessions.

This post first appeared in the Tetbury Advertiser‘s May 2022 edition. 

*The tracking app we used is called Life360.

Speaking of Holidays…

I’ve chosen as the topic of the next HULF Talk – a Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival event – “Holiday Reads“. On Saturday 25th June, I’ll be chatting with three guest authors to help you find your next books to take on holiday – or to read at home this summer to travel by book. Between them, Carol Cooper, Kate Frost and Helena Halme have written engaging, easy-to-read novels set in holiday destinations all over the world,  from Scandinavia to Zanzibar, from Cornwall to the Mediterranean. For more information and to book your tickets, visit the HULF website at

graphic advertising HULF Talk

Posted in Reading, Travel, Writing

Me & My Mini #2: Amie McCracken

cover of Mrs Morris Changes Lanes
Cover design by Rachel Lawston inspired by the single-track roads of the Cotswolds in spring

Although I’ve never owned or even driven a Mini car, it seemed the perfect choice for the heroine of my recently-published novella, Mrs Morris Changes Lanes, in which an unusual loan car takes the heroine on a lifechanging journey.

Even prior to publication, as soon as I shared the wonderful cover design by Rachel Lawston, showing a purple Mini driving down a Cotswold lane, friends began to tell me how much they missed their Mini.

I couldn’t resist finding out more about the reason for their brand  loyalty to the iconic little car. I was sure it must be different from Mrs Morris’s. I invited them to share their experience in a new series of guest posts, which began just before Christmas, with historical novelist Anita Davison. (Click here to read it if you missed it.) 

My second guest is US author Amie McCracken, currently based in Germany. Like me, Amie enjoys a touch of magical realism. She is an editor, designer and author. Her latest novella is Leaning into the Abyss, set in the US and Mexico, which starts with the startling premise of Rhea’s fiancé falling off a cliff to his death on their wedding day.

The story of Amie and her Mini is less dramatic! Over to Amie to tell us all about it.

Hello, Amie! To start with, please tell us why and when you acquired your first Mini.

On Christmas Day 2013 in fact. I had been on the lookout for one and thought I would fly to the UK since they are cheaper there, but a friend found one near me in Germany that was pristine and I couldn’t pass it up.

How much did it cost and how much did you sell it for?

I bought it for 4,000 Euro in Germany and sold it in the US for 8,000 dollars.

They were never manufactured in the US, so they are a huge novelty.

And our buyer happened to be Austrian so she could read the German manuals and receipts!

How long did you keep it and why did you sell it?

I sold it in 2017 because it made sense. The plan had been to restore it, completely decked out in TARDIS style (the US plate we had on it said GALIFRY). I had even used it in a video announcement of my pregnancy and brought my son home from the hospital in it.

But we found an interested buyer and I knew it just wouldn’t work to bring the car back to Germany again. It was the right time, though I still miss her.

Please describe it in as much detail as you can remember.

A 1989 Mini Mark IV, none of that BMW crap. It had been repainted, so it was a glistening black. The interior was gray, and the driver’s seat dug into the middle of your back terribly. The heater never worked, so when it rained we had a sponge on the dash to wipe away the condensation. But the car ran when I needed it most. At least, most of the time.

Mini from the front

Many Mini drivers seemed to feel compelled to name their Minis, as if they have a personality of their own. (Do they have a personality of their own?!) What was yours called?

Foxy. My plate in Stuttgart was FX 1989.

What is it about Minis that makes most owners feel so attached to them?

I think it comes down to the history.

They are a classic, and most classics come with the history of their entire model.

A Mustang is more than the metal and rubber it is made of, but is the smell of burning tires and speeding down a straight track.

A Mini is an everyday car that putts along with personality and carries a twinge of cheekiness.

I know mine liked to break down at the most inopportune moments, but when I was really in a pinch she stepped up and did the job.

What did you most love about your Mini? 

I loved feeling so tiny yet safe. She handled like a Formula 1 car.

What drove you nuts about it?

But without the heater working rainy days and cold days were the absolute worst.

Where did your longest journey in your Mini take you?

The car moved with us across the ocean from Germany to the US.

But the most memorable trip was from Coburg to Berlin to catch a flight, stuck in European summer traffic, with plenty of time to spare and yet still needing to reach speeds beyond the 140 km/h the speedometer could read. We reached the airport with seconds to spare, but as we watched the plane board from the other side of the empty security line, and had the security officer tell us that digital tickets were not accepted, we gave up and got back in the Mini to drive home.

What was your most exciting trip?

See above…

What most surprised you about your Mini?

How well a car seat fit in the back!

Did you ever have any accidents or any scary trips in your Mini?

No. Even when we drove next to American semis and SUVs, I felt safe.

Who was your favourite/most interesting/most difficult passenger and why?

My son on all counts. He was never a fan of riding in the car when he was a baby, so it was always an adventure! Plus, trying to maneuver him into the back seat with a rear-facing infant car seat while he was asleep and without waking him—that was a true challenge. Part of the restoration plans involved adding a third door.

Was your Mini a one-off buy or did you stay brand loyal and buy more Minis later?

I have not bought more Minis, though I believe I will one day. Always the classic versions. Never a BMW.

What car do you drive now?

Now it’s a 1973 VW Type 2 camper! (Also called a Bulli here in Germany.)

What do you miss about your Mini?

The novelty of owning a fun and classic car.

What would be your dream car if money were no object?

A Koenigsegg. Or maybe a Lamborghini Diablo. I like to go fast. Which, admittedly, the Mini does not satisfy.

In Mrs Morris Changes Lanes, what did you think of her Mini and of her adventure?

I loved it. The Mini is certainly a magical car, and the perfect one to bring someone back to their roots. It is a mischievous car, one that I could see yanking a person out of their intended path to create a little bit of chaos and stir things up.

Thank you, Amie, for sharing your fond memories, anecdotes and photos of your beautiful Mini!

Extract from

Leaning into the Abyss

by Amie McCracken

cover of Leaning into the Abyss by Amie McCrackenThe world was in chaos around me. I sat in the eye of the storm, glass of water growing heavy in my hand, every now and then feeling a kiss on my cheek or the pat of a hand on my shoulder. Dad sat in his own separate world in the far corner, ensconced in his wingback chair, waiting for the rest of us to leave. His house was the closest to the hotel, and the largest, so we had convened here to understand what was going on.

“Rhea.” The drone of a voice burrowed through my headache and fog. “Rhea.” There was nothing to be done other than to sit here and let the planet circle the sun. “Rhea.” Phoebe’s voice broke through the barrier and clanged in my ear. I turned to face her. “The police are here. They want to speak with you and Andrew’s parents.”
“Please don’t leave me alone,” I whispered. I squeezed her hand with the force of a woman in labor. She still wore her navy bridesmaid’s dress, long and elegant and curving delicately over her hips. Her dark hair had fallen loose and she tucked a wisp behind her ear. I had not noticed before that her face was heart-shaped, giving her a child-like sweetness. My gaze darted in the direction of The Parents. They seemed to be enveloped in a whirlwind of anger and frustration and shame. It was blue and crackling, menacing, terrifying. I didn’t want to be swallowed by that.

To find out more about Amie and her books and services, please visit her website:

Have you ever owned or driven a Mini? Amie and I would love to hear about yours! 

Posted in Reading, Travel

Travels with my Book #12: To Iceland with Bjorn Larssen

headshot of Bjørn Larsson in Iceland
Meet Bjørn Larsson, author of “Storytellers” and more

In a year when there have been so many constraints on travel, I’ve really enjoyed touring the world through the pages of good books and sharing some of my favourites with you on my blog. I’ve saved for my final post in this series, and of 2021, for an author who blew me away with his vivid debut novel set in Iceland, Storytellers. I’m delighted to welcome Bjørn Larssen – who describes himself as “writer, blacksmith, spiritual Icelander” – to tell us why he is so passionate about that country, and how it has inspired his writing.

Bjørn, welcome! Please would you kick off by describing the location of Storytellers.

I set Storytellers in Klettafjörður, a non-existent village on the Icelandic coast in the south-west. Originally I picked an actual village, but as the story continued to develop I realised its inhabitants might not be happy about it… and I’d like to make more friends there before I start on the enemies.

Please give us a brief description of Storytellers

In Storytellers, a historical suspense novel set in 1920, Gunnar, a hermit blacksmith, finds an unexpected guest on his farm one night… a guest with a broken ankle and a story to tell, one that might change Gunnar’s life by ending it – once the storyteller recovers enough to write the other characters’ final chapters.

I believe there’s also in the pipeline another, quite different book set in Iceland – what will that book be like?

My work-in-progress, currently called Untitled Romance because I’m very creative like that, will be an m/m sweet-with-heat romance (duh) set in Reykjavík and its surroundings.

The book is not just about the love between the characters, it’s my love letter to Iceland as well.

There is more coming. I’m unlikely to stop writing about Iceland.

What makes Iceland such a great setting for your stories?

I needed a location that could be simultaneously claustrophobic and far away from everything, and I specifically wanted some of the characters to be fishermen. As I was writing the first draft I didn’t have any particular place in mind. At the same time I was listening to Ásgeir’s debut album, Dýrð í dauðaþögn (Glory in the Silence) on a loop and suddenly it occurred to me that Iceland was an actual country. Until then I just sort of imagined it as some mythical spot with a Björk in it.

I bought a book about the relevant period in Icelandic history, Wasteland With Words: A Social History of Iceland by Sigurður Gylfi Magnússon, and it turned out that Iceland had been created especially so that I could set my book there. Although maybe it was the other way round.

Typical Icelandic kitchen from the 1880s

What is your relationship with Iceland and how much of your life have you spent there?

I corresponded with a historian at the Reykjavík City Museum and the Árbæjarsafn open-air museum, who helped me a lot. Still, I had a lot of specific questions and wanted to get a feel for the place, and that open-air museum had buildings from the exact period I was writing about. It was supposed to be a four-day outing with some geysers, waterfalls, or whatever they had there. Instead I fell in love with the strange planet that Iceland is. The year after we went for an entire month, because I was hoping to get over the infatuation. It only got worse.

I intend to live there someday, my heart already does.

What is special about the people native to Iceland?

In the 19th century Iceland had the highest literacy rate in the world – and most of its inhabitants wrote (they still do) diaries and poems. In Halldór Laxness’ novel, Independent People, farmers who meet for a funeral first discuss deworming their sheep, then read the poems they have written since they’d last met. I thought that was dark comedy. It wasn’t.

Since Laxness won a Nobel prize for literature and Iceland only has 350 thousand inhabitants, that means they have the most Nobel prizes per non-existent million inhabitants, too!

Icelandic sitting room from the 1880s

What are your top tips for any readers planning to travel to the setting of your book?

Iceland is one of the most expensive places in the world. The Bónus supermarkets are your friends, but they don’t sell alcohol – no shops do, except for designated liquor stores. If you want to chat over a beer or two either stock up at the airport, or drive to a liquor store, or be prepared to pay one kidney per pint of beer. In the bars you’ll be able to chat with fellow tourists, because Icelanders socialise in the public pools.

For the love of Gods, don’t buy bottled water in a place where the tap water comes straight from the glacier. (That’s cold tap water. The hot water comes from the geothermal springs. You’ll get used to the rotten egg smell, but if you dyed your hair, do not wash it with this water. I found out the hard way.)

Cold tap water comes from glaciers, while the water in the hot tap comes from thermal springs

If you want to see the Northern Lights, go between October and March, in the beginning of April it never gets dark enough anymore. Which means you can go for a drive at 2am and have the normally crowded tourist spots mostly to yourself.


Icelandic national dishes are (whispers) horrible. Kjötsupa, the meat soup, and the baked goods are exceptions. Ethics aside, you really don’t need to try the shark or the whale, just buy any old rotten fish and dip it in vinegar mixed with salt. Instead, find the hot dog booth near the Saga museum, which is by the way incredibly disappointing – they sell the best hot dogs in the world. Literally. Award-winning. They taste like hot dogs.

And do NOT touch the moss. Just don’t.

“Only in Iceland” – name three things that could only exist/happen there.

  1. There is a dating app that allows you to check how close your relationship with the potential partner is – there are simply very few Icelanders and, well, it’s an island that’s been historically isolated for a very long time.
  2. No Icelander is going to say with 100% certainty that elves DEFINITELY do not exist.
  3. If you meet one, an elf, not an Icelander, don’t eat any food they give you. Say thank you, then dispose of it when the elf can’t see you any more.

Are there any other books set in Iceland that you’d like to recommend?

Halldór Laxness, obviously. I haven’t read Ragnar Jónasson’s books, because thriller is not my genre of choice, but I hear he’d murdered half of the country by now and did so rather interestingly. I still need to get to Burial Rites by Hannah Kent. And you can’t go wrong with Alda Sigmundsdóttir’s Little Book of Icelanders series, although those are technically non-fiction.

Where is your latest book set and where will the next one be set?

Children, a dark-but-funny re-telling of selected Norse myths, is set in the heathen Nine Worlds – and its sequel, Land, will add the tenth world, Earth. Land will be a re-telling of Hrafnaflóki’s discovery of Iceland, but with more Gods, magic… and the Hidden Folk, of course.


Storytellers by Bjørn Larssen

Cover of Storytellers by Bjørn Larsson
Available in ebook, paperback and hardback

“Sshh,” Arnar whispered. “Put on your coat and come outside.”

Where are we going, Juana wondered, half-asleep as she crawled through the small door. The cold night air roused her within seconds. It was cool inside the hut, but outside it was freezing, everything covered in a thin layer of ice, lit by moonlight, and, and…

“Look at the sky,” he whispered. Juana obediently raised her eyes, and her mind went blank as her mouth opened in shock.

Something that resembled green fire danced in the sky. The colours moved faster, then slower. They disappeared, then reappeared, regrouping stronger, covering the stars. Their shine was so powerful that the frozen grass appeared greener than during the day, a gleaming colour she had never seen before.

“There,” Arnar pointed, and Juana’s eyes followed. The flames painted the sky, slowing down, stopping as if teasing, then returning to their dance with renewed energy.

“Is this magic?” she whispered. “Is it mountains changing shape? Is the sky burning?”

“When the nights get longer and darker, this is what God sends us to let us know he hasn’t forgotten about us,” he whispered back. “It seems dark, aye, but there is light and always will be. When you think things are going bad, remember they will always turn out fine. This is what þetta reddast means. It will always turn out fine.”

Juana shivered from the cold, but she didn’t care, fascinated by the magical lights. If there was a pattern to their dance, she couldn’t understand it. The green colour was now being licked by a hint of purple, as if the flames themselves were set on fire again. But the fire she had known until now never looked or felt like this, it never obscured the stars or cast a greenish glow. “Are you sure this isn’t dark magic?” she whispered and made a sign of the cross.

“This is the fire that burned in my heart every day that I spent in America,” said Arnar, holding her hands tight and kissing her cheek. Juana didn’t pay him much attention, staring, trying to understand the impossible. Only God or Devil could create something like this, and the beauty convinced her it was God himself. He was giving them their blessing. “This is what happiness looks like,” whispered Arnar, and she believed him.

(available in paperback, hardback, ebook and audio from a wide range of stores)



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cover of Mrs Morris Changes Lanes

My guest post series for 2022 will address travel from a completely different angle.

Under the series heading “Me and My Mini”, a diverse range of authors will share their passion for their Mini cars, past and present – a car that started to fascinate me when I was writing my new novella, Mrs Morris Changes Lanes, earlier this year.

Posts in this series will appear on the last Wednesday of each calendar month. Click here to read a test-drive I took with this idea a couple of months ago, when historical novelist Anita Davison took us for a spin.

In the meantime, if you haven’t already read Mrs Morris Changes Lanes, now would be a good time to try it! Order the paperback from your local bookshop quoting ISBN 978-1911223818 or online here, or download the Kindle ebook here. (If you’re a Kindle Unlimited subscriber, you’ll be able to read the book for free!)

And if you have already read and enjoyed it, reviews are always welcome!

In the meantime, wishing you a very happy, healthy and peaceful 2022.


Posted in Personal life, Travel

O, Flower of Christmas!

When I was a child growing up in a London suburb, one of the highlights of our festive season was to sing carols around the huge Christmas tree in Trafalgar Square.

Although this may sound like a very English tradition, the Trafalgar Square Christmas tree is not British at all, on two counts.

  • Firstly, Christmas trees only caught on in Britain after Prince Albert introduced the concept from his German homeland in 1848. You may be surprised to realise that the quintessential portrait of the Victorian British Christmas, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, published in 1843, does not contain a single Christmas tree.
  • Secondly, the tree in Trafalgar Square is a gift from the people of Norway. They have sent one every year since 1947 to thank Britain for its support during the Second World War. (An interesting aside: the word “quisling”, meaning traitor, derives from the name of Norwegian Nazi collaborator Vidkun Quisling, who from 1942 until 1945 led the German-friendly government while the King of Norway took shelter in Britain.)
Christmas tree in Trafalgar Square
By Diliff – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Evergreens of other kinds, such as holly, ivy, and mistletoe, have been part of a British Christmas for centuries. Borrowed from pagan winter festivals, they symbolise the promise of new life, whether in the form of spring or the birth of Christ.

The poinsettia, however, is a relative newcomer to the traditional Christmas canon of plants. Until recently, I’d assumed the only reason it pops up in shops in December is because of its festive colours. Not so.

The connection comes from a sweet Mexican legend…

image of a poinsettia
By André Karwath aka Aka – Own work, CC BY-SA 2.5,

A little Mexican girl was fretting because she was too poor to buy a birthday gift for Jesus, to lay at her local church’s manger scene, in keeping with village tradition. Suddenly an angel appeared, telling her to gather weeds from the roadside, because what mattered was not the cost of her gift, but what was in her heart. Her neighbours were scornful when she brought a bouquet of green weeds to the church, but in a heart-warming Christmas miracle, as she set them down on the altar, red flowers sprang up among the green leaves in the shape of the star of Bethlehem.

My first slightly frivolous thought on hearing the story was that it’s a Mexican take on my favourite carol, “In the Bleak Midwinter”: “What can I give him, poor as I am? I know, I’ll bring a poinsettia.”

As you probably know, the red parts of the poinsettia technically aren’t flowers at all, but leaves that have turned red. Its flowers are the tiny yellow buds at the centre of each cluster of red leaves. But modern botanical definitions don’t detract from the power of the legend.

While the name we use for the plant commemorates the American diplomat, Sir Joel Roberts Poinsett, who first imported cuttings from Mexico to the US in 1836, in Mexico, it’s known as flor de Navidad (Christmas flower) and flor de Nochebuena (flower of the Holy Night). The closest the Mexicans have to a Christmas tree is a decorated cactus.

Whatever greenery you choose to decorate your home this Christmas, I wish you joy and peace this festive season, and a New Year full of new life and hope.

This article first appeared in the Hawkesbury Parish News, December 2021

Further Festive Reading

Whether you are still Christmas shopping or you would some lighthearted and uplifting books to read during the holidays, you might like to take a look at these seasonal reads.

I’ve provided buying links in case you’d like to order them, but if you have any problems placing orders online, just let me know and I’ll arrange to send them to you myself.

cover of Murder in the Manger

Murder in the Manger – the third Sophie Sayers Village Mystery, a gentle, feel-good story that kicks off when the nativity play penned by Sophie goes somewhat off-script…

Order the paperback

Download the ebook

cover of Stranger at St Bride's

Stranger at St Bride’s As the staff and girls at St Bride’s prepare for their annual Christmas Fair,  stranger turns up to lay claim to the estate, and the fight to save the school is on!

Order the paperback

Download the ebook

cover of Stocking Fillers by Debbie Young

Stocking Fillers – the antidote to pre-Christmas stress, 12 funny stories about different aspects of the festive season, easy quick reads that make the perfect Secret Santa present or indeed a gift to self!

Order the paperback

Download the ebook

Cover of Lighting Up Time

Lighting Up Time – this short story is set at the winter solstice, available in a slim paperback the size of a picture postcard

Order the paperback

Download the ebook

Posted in Reading, Travel, Writing

Travels with my Book #11: To Birmingham with A A Abbott

photo of A A Abbott outside White Horse pub
A A Abbott at the White Horse pub, which features in “The Vodka Trail”

For the penultimate post in my Travels with my Book series of guest authors, I’m delighted to welcome my good friend A A Abbott, who is so enthusiastic about her chosen destination of Birmingham, England that I reckon they should recruit her for the city’s tourist board!

The Birmingham in her books is the British one, in the West Midlands of England – not to be confused with Birmingham, Michigan or Birmingham, Alabama!

London and Bristol also feature in her stories, but Birmingham holds a very special place in her heart. Over to A A Abbott to explain why…

Birmingham is a big city with many suburbs too. Which particular part of Birmingham do you most like to write about?

Its attractive Victorian Jewellery Quarter and the creative Digbeth area.

photo of the author with her book in the Jewellery Quarter
A A Abbott with her first in her Trail series, in the Jewellery Quarter

Please tell us a little about your latest book to be set in Birmingham.

My psychological thriller Bright Lies is about a teenage girl plunged into a nightmarish situation. She runs away and ends up homeless in Digbeth, because that’s where her one-way coach ticket takes her. It’s also a place with a thriving club scene, which proves to be her salvation.

Bright Lies is my darkest story ever. I’ve also written a mystery thriller series about a glamorous young woman determined to make the world’s best vodka. If only she hadn’t tangled with gangsters when she was down on her luck…

These fun, fast stories feature Birmingham too. There are five books: The Bride’s Trail, The Vodka Trail, The Grass Trail, The Revenge Trail and The Final Trail. Each reads well as a standalone story, but together, they’re a gripping riches to rags to riches saga.

line-up of all A A Abbott's novels
The complete A A Abbott collection

What makes Birmingham such a great setting for your stories?

Ever heard the saying that Birmingham has more canals than Venice?

It’s a city of contrasts: fascinating, friendly and fun. You’ll find canal-side cocktail bars, concrete towers and craftsmen making jewellery in Victorian workshops. There’s also an amazing sense of possibilities. The city is infused with a can-do attitude, so it’s the ideal place someone to turn their lives around. In Bright Lies, teenage Emily hits rock bottom and she needs to change in order to survive.

photo of canal boats at Gas Street Basin
Canal boats at Gas Street Basin

What is your relationship with Birmingham and how much of your life have you spent there?

I came to Birmingham as a student, adored the city and lived there for two decades. In Brum, as locals like to call it, I met the love of my life (we are still together), became a mum and forged a career. I also went to writing classes run by Barbara Joan Eyre. She wrote Mills & Boon romances to keep the wolf from the door, but darker stories were her guilty pleasure.

What is special about the people native to Birmingham?

You’re never alone in Birmingham. Brummies are the friendliest people you could meet, and strangers are welcomed. Perhaps that’s why, famously, the city is a melting-pot of cultures.

photo of Birmingham Skyline with Bull Ring
A fascinating mix of old and modern architecture

What challenges does your protagonist in Bright Lies face dealing with the local people?

Apart from the Brummie accent, there are dialect words to learn. Emily gets a cash-in-hand job at a nightclub called The Bobowlers. It is some weeks before she discovers that ‘bobowler’ is the local word for a moth. (As you probably guessed, Bright Lies is set just before the pandemic, in times when cash was more widely used.)

What are the distinguishing features of Birmingham in terms of geography, geology, flora, fauna or any other detail you care to mention?!

The city has an exciting mixture of architecture, with ornate Victorian red brick buildings as well as cutting-edge newbuilds like the Library of Birmingham.

My favourite time of year is the autumn, when mellow sunlight really makes the red bricks glow.

Rotunda and bridge
Birmingham’s famous Bull Ring

What are your top tips for any readers planning to travel to Birmingham?

Take time to explore the canals in the city centre, as Emily does in Bright Lies. See the colourful houseboats and upscale bars in Brindleyplace, then walk to the Jewellery Quarter and grab a coffee in lovely St Paul’s Square. You will see a slower pace of life than the frenetic buzz around New Street station. Also, if you like a beer, you will be pleasantly surprised by the prices. I especially recommend The Gunmakers Arms, which is the brewery tap for Two Towers Ales (named in homage to Brummie JRR Tolkien).

photo of The Gunmakers Arms
The iconic Gunmakers Arms

“Only in Birmingham” – name three things that could only exist/happen there.

  1. If you’re female and even remotely young, you’ll be called ‘Bab’. My other half tells me it happens to guys too…
  2. You’ll find a library with its own herb garden (the Library of Birmingham).
  3. You can walk across a canal bridge decorated with pictures of Black Sabbath. Yes, the infamous rock band hails from Brum!

Are there any other authors’ books with the same setting that you’d like to recommend?

There are too many to mention them all, so here are a few! Park Life by Katharine D’Souza is a book all women over the age of forty should read. It’s set in the trendy Moseley and Kings Heath area, where I used to live.

Also, try Tom Bryson’s gritty police procedural stories and Andy Conway’s Touchstone series of time travel tales.

Where will your next book be set?

In a departure from the norm, my next book will be a psychological thriller set wholly in Bristol, where I stayed during the pandemic. Of course, I missed Birmingham. I’m excited to be able to return!

What formats are your books available in?

Bright Lies is available in audiobook, ebook, Kindle Unlimited, paperback, large print paperback and dyslexia-friendly paperback.

(All photos by A A Abbott)



Jack wanders through the dark, silent streets. He stops, stares at the vodka bottle, sets it down and picks it up again.  While desiring oblivion, he’s afraid of what might happen first.

He walks away from the city centre, finding himself outside a telecoms shop on Deritend High Street. The decorative red brick terrace was built when the English Midlands were the workshop of the world. Now it’s crumbling at the edges. A shabby black-painted door leads to the flats above. He is supposed to view one with Emily tomorrow, or should that be later today? It’s already Friday morning, although it will be several hours before the sun wheezes over the winter horizon. Until then, frost sparkles orange in the streetlights.

He won’t rent that flat. Without Emily, he can stay in a cheaper, smaller place. A studio is sufficient for his needs. He tells himself he doesn’t care what Emily does. It’s a lie. He cares about Emily a great deal.

At last, Jack unscrews the cap and takes a swig. The neat spirit burns his throat. He hadn’t expected that. Spluttering, he tries again, hoping to be rendered senseless and slumped in a gutter.

It hasn’t worked yet. He still feels stone-cold sober.

Can he believe a word she’s told him? He wants to, but most likely, she’s exactly what she first appeared to be. When they met, he was convinced she was a kid with a coke habit, on the run from dealers. Addicts are polished liars: they have to be.

His phone rings. Jack removes it from his pocket, sees it’s a call from Cassie, and swipes the red button. Who cares what she wants right now? He doesn’t need the hassle.

A moth beats its wings against the lit screen. Jack blows gently at it, sending it tumbling away on the cold air, and replaces the phone in his pocket. The club is well-named, for bobowlers are creatures of the night, seeking light and excitement. Emily has always reminded him of one: fragile, yet a survivor.

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