My column for the August 2017 edition of Hawkesbury Parish News
A few years ago, an old school friend from abroad came to visit me here in Hawkesbury and was keen to learn about village life. He took a special interest in our famous Hawkesbury Horticultural Show.
At that point, I was a member of the Show Committee, and I was responsible for producing the schedule each year. Although the next Show was some months away, I was able to show him the draft schedule, and his eyes widened at the huge range of entry classes and trophies.
“Wow, this sounds just like the sort of thing you see in Midsomer Murders,” he enthused. (They watch a lot of British television in the Netherlands.) “Is there a prize for Best Murder in Show?”
Reluctantly I had to disappoint him, but I squirrelled away his suggestion for future use, and earlier this year I published a novel by the same name, the first in a series of classic cosy mysteries set in the fictitious village of Wendlebury Barrow.
It now occurs to me that our Horticultural Show would also make a cracking setting for a localised game of Cluedo: “Entries Secretary, in the Produce Tent, with a Prize Marrow” or “Show Chairman, in the Village Hall, with some Celery”. The possibilities are endless.
Here’s to another inspiring Show Day for us all – and may we all live to tell the tale.
*Actually, that house in the photo above is really a tea cosy – which I turned into a doorstop by stuffing it with a house brick and some of my husband’s old socks, and covering the base with a piece of his old corduroy trousers. Result: second prize in Class 471 – “a functional object made from all recycled material”
If you’d like to find out more about Best Murder in Showand its new sequel, Trick or Murder?click here. Both are available in paperback and ebook.
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
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 Abbottis 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.
I so enjoyed her company and her earlier books – The Bride’s Trail, The Vodka Trailand 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.
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!)
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…
… where Helen gamely treated us to a reading from the opening of her new book, which is set in a prison cell.
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!
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.
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!
I originally wrote this post for the Alliance of Independent Authors‘ blog, but I hope readers of my own blog will also find it entertaining. I certainly enjoyed writing it!
(This is an abridged version of the original post, but you can read it in full on the Alliance of Independent Authors‘ website here.)
Editors: Unsung Superheroes Who Save Authors from Themselves
No matter how well authors polish a manuscript before submitting them for professional editing, and regardless of how dazzling their prose, a good editor will always polish it further. In true superhero style, editors and proofreaders daily avert disaster, and I’m glad I’ve secured the services of two brilliant professionals to help me with my books, Alison Jack and Helen Baggott.
Classic Errors Spotted by Editors
Here are some typical errors recently shared by authors and editors on ALLi’s private member forum, spotted either in their own books or in books by other writers.
Continuity errors are too easy for an author to miss:
two unrelated characters sharing the same surname
eyes or hair spontaneously changing colour from one page to the next
a character’s medication changing from one chapter to the next
someone at the theatre sitting in mid-air (in the front row of the circle, they leaned forward to tap the person in front on the shoulder)
a character entering a flat twice without leaving in between times
a person landing at JFK before the flight has taken off from Heathrow (and in a different model of plane from the one in which the journey began)
Global search-and-replace can trigger disasters:
changing Carol’s name to Barbara was fine until the carol singing scene
swapping “ass” for “butt” resulted in a case of embarrbuttment
There are also comical typos that a spellchecker will let through because the words are correctly typed, but the meaning is wrong in the context:
a bowel full of sauerkraut left on the balcony to ferment
a female character becoming enraptured by the scent of a man’s colon
a trip on an udderless boat
the stoking of cats
an acute angel
the Suntan of Brunei
Serious Consequences (Bad Reviews) Averted by Editors
Author Geoffrey Ashe, in The Art of Writing Made Simple, classifies readers into three different groups:
the critical reader
the lazy reader who won’t make an effort
the one who has the eye for the comic or incongruous
If you’re an author, it’s worth keeping all three in mind while you’re writing and self-editing.
While an indulgent reader of the third kind might simply smile and move on, it’s also very easy these days for dissastisfied readers to post scathing reviews online, deterring others from buying your books in future.
So although this is a light-hearted post, the message is a serious one on the importance of the editor’s role in helping you publish your books to professional standards – or indeed anything else that you happen to be writing for public consumption, including blogs of business reports for work.
In Praise of MY Editor and Proofreader
While ALLi policy precluded me from giving a shout-out in the original post to the professional editorial people that I employ for my own books, I would like to take the opportunity to thank Alison Jack (www.alisonjack-editor.co.uk) and Helen Baggott (www.helenbaggott.co.uk) for regularly saving me from myself when editing and proofreading books for me.
I should add that this post has been edited only by me, so any errors it contains are entirely my responsibility – and proof of how dependent I am on the likes of Alison and Helen!
My column for the July 2017 issue of the Hawkesbury Parish News shares my husband’s latest gardening crisis
As he’s nearly severed a finger not once but twice while cutting wood, when my husband announces that he’s going to prune some of the trees in our garden and a chainsaw is mentioned, I decide my best course of action is to retreat to my study and hope for the best.
A little later, an anguished cry comes from downstairs.
“Help! It’s an emergency!”
I nearly have an accident myself running to his aid, wondering what injury he’s sustained this time.
Pale and anxious, he’s standing in the middle of the kitchen pointing at a small pile of sticks on the table. That’s not much to show for an hour’s pruning, I think, then I hear some faint cheeps, and realise it’s a nest full of open-beaked baby blackbirds.
He’s inadvertently pruned the limb supporting the nest and is unsure what to do about it. My maternal instinct kicks in on the mother bird’s behalf.
“Put the nest back in the same tree as close as you can to the original site, and she’ll follow the sound of her chicks to find them,” I advise him.
When he steels himself to check next day, all are alive and cheeping, so I’m guessing my plan worked. I bet the mother bird told her chicks off for moving the nest while she was out, though.
If you enjoyed this post, you might like to try this collection of five years of my columns in the Hawkesbury Parish News, with, as bonus material, a previously unpublished set of essays about country life that I wrote when I first move to the village over twenty-five years ago.
“Totally charming… makes you want to pack up and move there right away” (5* review on Amazon UK)
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.
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!
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.