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 Personal life, Self-publishing, Writing

The Unintended Consequences of a Writing Life

My latest post for the Authors Electric collective, originally published on 30th March 2018

head and shoulders photo of Debbie at churchyard gate with graveyard behind
In the churchyard of St Mary’s, Hawkesbury (Photo by Angela Fitch)

In 2010, realising that no matter how hard I worked in my day job, it was leaving me unfulfilled, I made the radical decision to walk away from it without a job to go to. I intended to refocus my life on my writing ambitions.

Reading Between the Lines

It felt like a miracle when I almost immediately landed a part-time job with a wonderful children’s reading charityRead for Good, which served two purposes for me (apart from giving me an income, that is):

  • It reinforced the importance of books and reading not only for children but for all ages, which in turn validated my ambition to write books myself.
  • It gave me space to explore different ways in which I could write what I wanted to write – and indeed to discover exactly what that was.
The first three in my Sophie Sayers Village Mystery series – soon to be four!

Using commissioned non-fiction projects and experimental short stories as stepping stones, I gradually gained the confidence and competence needed to achieve my long-term goal to write a novel.

Now I’m hooked, with three novels published in the last year, the fourth due out next month, and my planned series of seven, the Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries, now starting to morph into a series of ten.

Planning for Success

But as in all of life, the things that you don’t plan are often some of the most exciting.

Here are five serendipitous things that have happened to me over the last few years while I was making other plans. Not only is my writing life is the richer for them, but it turns out they’ve helped other people too.

1) Being invited to join a regular monthly spot on BBC Radio Gloucestershire‘s lunchtime show, in its Book Club slot, alongside its delightful presenters, initially Clare Carter and now Dominic Cotter, and The Bookseller’s Caroline Sanderson, to talk about our chosen book of the month and any other book-related topics that take our fancy – and I’ve discovered I love doing radio.

photo of Debbie and Caroline in tinsel-decked recording studio
Enjoying the BBC Radio Gloucestershire Christmas party with fellow Book Club panelist Caroline Sanderson (Photo: Dominic Cotter, the show’s presenter)

2) Launching a free local literature festival to bring indie authors, poets and illustrators to my community at the Hawkesbury Upton Lit Fest, with no admission charges so that visitors could save their money to buy the speakers’ books instead. This started out as a simple plan to spend a few hours in one of the village pubs with a few writer friends – four years on, it’s somehow morphed into 50+ authors in a packed day-long programme, this year with an art exhibition running in tandem.


3) Being the inadvertent catalyst for a new book by other authors – the panel of authors I’d introduced to each other for the second Hawkesbury Upton Lit Fest to discuss writing about difference (that’s politically-correct-speak for disability, to be clear) got together afterwards to collaborate on Silent Voices, an anthology by carers and the cared-for, venting their feelings.

cover of Silent Voices
So proud to have been a catalyst for this moving book

4) Encouraging other writers to grow from nervous debutant to confident published author, either through their participation in the authors’ groups I run in Cheltenham and Bristol or through their participation in the Hawkesbury Upton Lit Fest. (I’ve observed a direct relationship between the most nerves and the biggest post-performance smile at every event.)

5) Helping other people achieve their publishing ambitions through what I’ve learned on my own journey as an indie author, such as enabling a 95-year-old, terminally ill refugee to turn his memoirs into a book before he died, or helping a retired neighbour revive children’s stories she’d written decades ago. Not only was I able to publish them as books, I also sent her into the village school as guest author on World Book Day, where she was very well received.

Cover of Parrot Talk
One of four children’s books that I’ve helped Betty Salthouse publish so far

Is It Karma?

Some author friends swear there is such a thing as book karma: if you’re helpful to others, that helpfulness will come back to you in some other form at a later date.

So is it karma that this week that I spotted the first book in my Sophie Sayers series rising up the cosy mystery charts?

If so, I’m fine with that. When I started self-publishing my books (I’d written stories all my life but hadn’t seriously pursued publication), I thought just writing the books would be satisfying enough for me. And if anyone else benefited along the way from anything I did, I’d jokingly tell myself that virtue was its own reward, or I’d get my reward in heaven, and that would be enough for me.

And if there aren’t any books in heaven? Then I’m not going. 

If you’re within reach of the Cotswolds, come along and join in the fun at this year’s Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival this month, on Saturday 21st April. Download the full programme from its website, www.hulitfest.com, to help you plan your day in advance – but there’s no advance booking required, and no admission charge. Just turn up on the day and enjoy! 
 

I’ll be launching the fourth in my Sophie Sayers Village Mystery series, Murder by the Book, at the Festival, but you can pre-order an ebook copy here in the meantime at the special launch price of 99p/99c, and the paperback from 21st April, at viewbook.at/MurderByTheBook.

Posted in Personal life, Writing

Spring Fever

It seems appropriate to share my post for the March issue of the Tetbury Advertiser on the first official day of spring – also my beloved parents’ 65th wedding anniversary. Such a romantic and positive day for them to have got married, I always think.

cover of the March issue of the Tetbury AdvertiserAdmiring the green shoots of daffodils popping up in my front garden, I’m struck by their similarity to post-hibernation grizzly bears. Both spend the winter tucked away, hidden and forgotten, in a kind of cocoon: bulb and cave, respectively. Seeing them emerge in spring is enough to warm the heart of any mortal, though round these parts you’re more likely to spot the former than the latter.

A friend advises me that narcissi contain a natural form of antifreeze. I bet hibernating bears would like some of that, but unfortunately it’s not in a form that’s accessible to them or to us. Otherwise I could have offered a bunch of daffodils to my husband for his car radiator when its burst hose deposited all his antifreeze on the M4 yesterday.

Fur Fury

Further signs of spring at Young Towers are the little tufts of white, orange and black fur scattered throughout the house. Unlike me, Dorothy, our calico cat, takes no heed of the maxim “Cast not a clout till May be out” (or, possibly may with a little m, as in the flower, depending on which version of the saying you prefer). Dorothy starts ditching her winter coat as soon as the days are noticeably longer. By mid-February, she’s kitten-skittish, despite her middle age.

blue sky over the rec
Big spring skies above the Hawkesbury Recreation Ground

I know the feeling. A single day of forget-me-not blue skies and bright sunshine is enough to infect me with spring fever even in stubbornly sub-zero temperatures. That is, until I stumble across an article identifying this notional affliction as a tangible, physical and serious illness. Common around March in pre-industrial times, “spring disease” was characterised by muscle weakness, wounds that wouldn’t heal, and loose teeth. It could even prove fatal.

C Fever

dorothy looking out of the window at the snow
“Ok, who’s hidden the spring flowers?”

Although the article is hardly ideal reading the night before a dental appointment, I brace myself to investigate. The disease turns out to be scurvy, caused by a winter diet low in fresh fruit and vegetables. By early spring, the only sources of Vitamin C were vegetables that didn’t rot during storage, such as leeks and cabbages, and, once we’d discovered them, potatoes. Given my impending trip to the dentist, I concoct a supper consisting entirely of all three vegetables, just to be on the safe side.

Confident that I can now enjoy my spring fever without losing my teeth, I step out next morning into a crisply cold but sunny day, ready to visit the dentist. But unlike Dorothy, I keep my winter coat on.


Cover of Murder by the Book
Coming this spring: the fourth Sophie Sayers Village Mystery

You’ll find a further taste of spring in the fourth novel in my Sophie Sayers Village Mystery series, Murder by the Book, to be launched at the FREE Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival on Saturday 21st April. The ebook is already available to pre-order at a special earlybird price of just 99p/99c here: viewbook.at/MurderByTheBook

 

 

Posted in Writing

Murder, She Wrote Reluctantly

photo of Debbie leaning on a tomb in Hawkesbury churchyard
Crime writer Debbie Young makes a grave confession (picture by Angela Fitch in the churchyard at St Mary’s, Hawkesbury)

Making notes for an article I’m writing about the importance of meeting readers’ expectations, I’m forced to acknowledge that, for a cosy mystery writer, I’m a reluctant murderer.

While I love devising an intriguing and imaginative plot that provides motive and opportunity for a multitude of suspects, when it comes to delivering the fatal blow, I have to force myself to, er, bite the bullet.

There have even been moments when I’ve regretted announcing in advance that all seven titles in my Sophie Sayers Village Mystery series would have “Murder” in the title – although when they’re all lined up together on the shelf, they will make an excellent matching set:

  1. Best Murder in Show
  2. Trick or Murder?
  3. Murder in the Manger
  4. Murder by the Book
  5. Springtime for Murder
  6. Murder Your Darlings
  7. School’s Out for Murder

Mea Culpa

I confess… a certain hesitation in bumping people off for the sake of entertainment. This may come as a relief to my family, friends and neighbours. But it’s hardly an ideal quality in a crime writer.

I’m guilty… not of murder, but of occasionally breaking the rules of what’s expected in a crime story.

I stand accused… of letting intended murder victims occasionally escape with their life at the last minute, or to have a murder turn out to be not what it first seems.

It’s a fair cop But it’s all good fun, all the same.

Must Try Harder

image of covers of first three books in the Sophie Sayers series
The first three books are available from Amazon or may be ordered from your local independent bookshop

But in my next book, Murder by the Book, I’ve pulled myself together and started the story in no uncertain terms: by chucking a stranger down the village well to a certain death.

But who is the victim? And who pushed the stranger, and why?

All will be revealed in April, when I’ll be launching Murder by the Book at the fourth Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival on Saturday 21st April.

  • For more information about the Festival, visit www.hulitfest.com
  • To buy the first three Sophie Sayers books before the fourth is published, click here.
  • For general information about the Sophie Sayers Series, click here.
Posted in Personal life, Writing

Spring Balance

In my column for the February edition of the Hawkesbury Parish News, I’m trying to persuade myself of the virtue of living in a climate with four seasons – and wishing winter away.

photo of daffodils on the lawn
Daffodils outside Hawkesbury Village Hall this week

Apparently, at the equator, the sun rises at 6am and sets at 6pm every day, all year round.

Though stunningly beautiful, equatorial sunrises and sunsets last only a few minutes, with none of the long, languid transformations that we see on Hawkesbury’s horizons.

The climate in equatorial countries varies so little, they have only two seasons: wet and dry.

That lack of seasonal variation must limit conversation about the weather: “Turned out nice again. And again. And again.”

Ex-pats living on the equator must miss hearing the phrases that drive me nuts each British winter: “The nights are really drawing in” and then “The days are getting longer”.

These are just some of the things I’ve been telling myself to make the long dark nights of winter seem more tolerable.

On short dull days post-Christmas, when it’s often felt like the sun hasn’t risen at all, if it had been possible to teleport myself to the equator for a twelve-hour day of sunshine, I would have done.

But now a scattering of cheerful blackbirds – my favourite British garden bird – has started paying daily visits to the bare-branched apple tree outside my study window, their sunny yellow beaks a little brighter each time they stop by. This natural change in their marking shows they’re gearing up for their spring mating season. That thought cheers me up almost as much as it must them, even though I suspect this is the closest I’m going to get to seeing sunshine until March.

They don’t have blackbirds at the equator. That’s another reason added to my list. I’ll convince myself eventually.

photo of branch of catkins in spring sunshine
Catkins on the Cotswold Way, behind Hawkesbury Primary School

cover of Best Murder in Show
Available in paperback and ebook

Fed up with waiting for warmer weather?
Get a dose of sunshine early with
Best Murder in Show,
set in a classic English summer,
the first in my series of cosy mystery novels
that span the course of a village year.

Quote ISBN 978-1911223139
to order from your local bookshop
or buy online in the UK, in the US,
or in any other Amazon store.