Posted in Personal life, Writing

For Remembrance Day

Lest we forget
cover of Hawkesbury At War by Simon Bendry
A moving tribute by a fellow villager (click image for more information about this important book)

I’m lucky enough to live in a village with a profound sense of community, and never is it more strongly visible than on Remembrance Sunday.

On Remembrance Sunday, villagers come together to process down the High Street from the former Hawkesbury Hospital Hall (built to nurse injured soldiers in wartime) to the war memorial on the Plain (our village green) at the centre of our village. All local groups are involved, either in laying wreaths at the service or taking part in services in school or in church or in one of our two chapels.

I don’t remember this degree of commemoration when I was my daughter’s age, living in suburbia in the 1960s.

Perhaps the war was still too close for my parents’ and grandparent’s generation – they wanted to forget. Although it’s now so much longer since the end of the Second World War, I feel much more conscious of it now.

Cover of Murder in the Manger
This Christmas special includes commemorations on Remembrance Day

For this reason, and slightly to my surprise, I found myself writing it into the Christmas special of my latest cosy mystery novel, Murder in the Manger, whose timeline runs from 6th November to the week before Christmas.

My Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries are essentially comedies, but there’s always at least one serious, and, I hope, moving scene. One such scene that I found myself writing in Murder in the Manger takes place on Armistice Day (11th November) in the village school, in which villagers join the children in the village school. During a short service of commemoration, the children recite the names on the war memorial, many of whom, as in Hawkesbury Upton, are still represented in the village by their descendants (Chapter 13 We Will Remember Them). It also draws the reader up to consider who in their acquaintance would be called up to fight should there ever be another such war. (Chapter 14 We Can Be Heroes)

I know that is something I consider every year, as I stand quietly at our war memorial during the service there, observing the young men and women in the crowd who would be sent to fight, or who would not have long to wait for their call-up papers. My daughter, her friends, and her peers.

This small episode in my novel is my small tribute to those that sacrificed their lives in both World Wars and to their bereaved families and all those who loved them, not just in Hawkesbury Upton, but all around the world.

We shall remember them.

poppy field image in public domain
Posted in Personal life, Writing

Season of Mists and Mellow Idleness

Cover of October issue of the Tetbury Advertiser

(My column for the October 2017 issue of the Tetbury Advertiser)

People often say to me “I don’t know how you do so much”.

But I have plenty of sins of omission, because, as an optimist, I am constantly trying to fit more into the day than can physically be done.

I wish I could bring myself to subscribe to the Fall Off the Desk rule invented by my former boss. She held that if you ignored a task for long enough, there’d no point in doing it.

Harnessing Time’s Chariot

Not being that defeatist, I decided last month to re-embrace the timesheet. Years ago, working as a consultant, I had to keep timesheets to demonstrate I’d spent no more hours on a client’s business than they had contracted to pay for. These days, my chief client is me, but I hoped the practice might help me get more ticks on my action list each day – or at least excuse me from wasting precious time on the ironing.

cover of Dull Men of Great Britain
Cover photo via Amazon

The last time I filled in timesheets was before the invention of smartphone time management apps. We got by with paper lists or commercial systems such as Filofax. Such systems may look smart, but they’re not exactly exciting. My novelist friend Alison Morton‘s husband’s collection of Filofaxes earned him a place in the book Dull Men of Britain, alongside a drainspotter. No, that’s not a typo.

Squirrelling Time Away

So this time round, I decided to go high-tech, choosing from a wide selection an app called Toggl, because it reminded me of Tog, the red squirrel from the 1960s children’s television series Pogle’s Wood.

Toggl lets you set a timer running as you begin each new task. My first experiments were fun, but flawed, due to pilot error. I kept forgetting to turn it off when I went to lunch, logging five-minute tasks as taking an hour. Usually I turn my computer off before I got to bed, but when I forgot, Toggl recorded a gruelling night shift. I may burn the candle at both ends, but I’m not that bad. With constant mistakes reducing its accuracy, Toggl’s novelty started to wear off, and I wondered whether to send the little squirrel into hibernation.

Tuning into a New Trick

Then by chance over breakfast, I heard an article on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme promoting the importance of idleness to the creative mind.

To be more productive, it suggested, I shouldn’t be managing my working hours but increasing my down-time.

I already knew my best ideas arise when I’m not actually trying. Sure enough, after the programme finished, I got the idea for this column not at my desk but while in the bathroom cleaning my teeth. Well, it could have been worse.

Here’s to a season of mists and mellow idleness for us all. I think we deserve it.

Cover of Young by Name

If you enjoyed this post, you might like to read my collected columns from my first six years of writing for the Tetbury Advertiser.

Now available in ebook from all good eretailers, and in paperback online and from your favourite independent local bookshop – just quote ISBN 9781911223030 to order.

 

***STOP PRESS***

The Tetbury Advertiser has just won another award for parish magazines – best for content and third place overall. Congratulations to the Tetbury Lions, who run it to raise money for charity, to the tireless editor Richard Smith, and to all my fellow contributors. What a team! 

 

 

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. 

 

Posted in Self-publishing, Writing

1 Simple Tip to Boost Your Writing Productivity: Learn to Touch-Type

A post in praise of touch-typing

This post originally appeared on the Alliance of Independent Authors’ Self-publishing Advice blog here, where it was obviously aimed at indie authors and aspiring writers, a startling number of whom don’t touch-type. I’m reproducing it here because I believe the content is equally relevant and helpful to anyone who uses a computer keyboard for any purpose, business or pleasure.

Why the old-fashioned skill of touch typing can be a real boon to twenty-first century indie authors, and why you should add this accomplishment to your repertoire to help you increase your output as a writer.

Blog posts and books abound about how indie authors can increase their self-publishing productivity by various means, primarily by focusing on increasing daily word counts. Different methods exist for boosting your writing output, such as getting into a daily habit of writing a fixed number of words per session or day, or by writing in sprints, against the clock, or using popular schemes such as NaNoWriMo to squeeze out a fixed word count in a set time frame.

Image of keyboard with most of letters rubbed off

True touch typing means it doesn’t matter if you’ve written so much, you’ve worn the letters off your keyboard

Missing a Trick

But most of these schemes fail to mention one of the most straightforward practical tips there is: to learn to touch-type.  In an informal survey I’ve just conducted of over 100 indie authors, around 40% of them admitted they didn’t touch type. This included writers of multiple books. I wondered how much more prolific they might be if they mastered this important art.

What is Touch-typing?

Touch typing means typing accurately without looking at the keyboard. Thanks to an ALLi member in Russia, Alexander Kirko, I can tell you that in three other languages, touch typing is known as “blind typing”, which I think is a more graphic description.

When you can touch type efficiently, you can set down many more words per minute than you can when you have to look at the keyboard. This frees you to concentrate on picking the right words, rather than hunting for the right letters.

There’s no such thing as a “sort of” touch typist. It’s like being “a bit pregnant”. You either are or you aren’t.

Many Ways to Learn

Many of the respondents to my informal poll reported that they’d learned to touch type early in their careers, either at school or at college or on first entering the world of work, and plenty went on to say it was the most useful skill they’d ever learned.

But the good news is, it’s never too late to learn, and by throwing a little time at the task each day, you can quickly acquire the skill. It’s simply a question of putting in a certain number of hours to program your brain.

How you do it is up to you, and there’s plenty of choice.

  • I learned fresh out of university, using a tried-and-trusted traditional approach: a typing manual with a cardboard chart that taught you to match the right fingers to the right keys, building up your skill one row and one new finger at a time till you’d mastered the alphabet.
  • These days there are plenty of automated programs available online to make the process more fun.

Whichever route you choose, make sure you pick one that serves the layout for whatever language you write in. When I went to work in Switzerland in my twenties, I had to reprogramme myself to use a German keyboard, in which the Y and the Z trade places.

If you’ve learned to drive a car, you can learn to touch type. And you won’t even have to master hill starts or parallel parking.

So if you haven’t mastered the art of touch typing yet, and are seeking to increase your writing output, don’t dismiss this simple technique. Once you’re hammering out 80 words a minute (my current rate – I just checked on this fun online gadget), you’ll be glad that you persevered.

http://www.allianceindependentauthors.org/?affid=?885
All for one and one for all – the Alliance of Independent Authors’ cute pen logo

If you’re an author or an aspiring author, you’ll find more posts like this, with a new one published every day, on the Alliance of Independent AuthorsSelf-publishing Advice blog, of which I’m Commissioning Editor. 

Posted in Reading, Writing

A Book for All Seasons: The Joy of Seasonal Reading and Writing

This post about seasonal writing first appeared on 30th August on the Authors Electric blog, for which I’m now a regular monthly contributor. (I write a new post on the 30th of each month).

When I started planning the cosy mystery series I’m currently writing, I thought I had a bright idea: I’d make the seven books span the course of the year.

What’s not to love about writing a book for all seasons, and then some? Whatever the time of year, I’d have a topical book to tout.

Given that my Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries are set in a small (fictional) English village (no surprises there), its residents are naturally very conscious of the seasonal changes, and their social calendar dictated by the time of year.That’s just how it is in the small (non-fictional) English village in which I’ve lived for the last twenty-six years. Here in my real life village, I’m so much more aware of the passage of the seasons than when I lived and worked in and around London.

Working in a city centre, I was more likely to spot the season by what was in shop windows, rather than by the appearance (or disappearance) of lambs and the like.

Bikinis in Marks and Spencers? Ah, then it must be February.

I much prefer the rural indication of the coming of spring: seeing the lambs appear down my lane.

Seasonal Satisfaction

Yes, I often share my street with sheep, or sometimes cows. Today we passed a few chickens pottering about at the roadside outside the local farm shop. Well, where else would a chicken go to do its shopping?

And if there’s a traffic jam down my way, it’s more likely to be caused by a farm vehicle than a stream of commuter cars. On nearby Sodbury Common, herds of cows frequently block the road.

For those who don’t live in the country, reading the Sophie Sayers books will give them the chance to enjoy the seasons vicariously as they work their way through the series.

Seasonal books = seasonal reading = seasonal sales.

Good plan. 

Until I try to launch my new autumn read, Trick or Murder?, full of mists and mellow murder, on a searingly hot August Bank Holiday weekend, when we can almost convince ourselves that summer still has weeks to run.
It felt indecent to be talking about October already

I find myself not wanting to even think about the autumn, never mind promote my autumn-themed book. 

It seems unkind to remind people that autumn is just around the corner, like the supermarkets that start hyping back-to-school wear the minute the schools break up for their summer holidays.

Standing in scorching sunshine talking about Halloween and Guy Fawkes’ Night – key events in Trick or Murder? – seems as tasteless as touting mince pies and Christmas cards in September. Yes, I know Tesco’s will be doing that. I rest my case.

 I know that commercial traders, including bookshops, will carry on regardless, marketing things at least a season before we really want to think about them.

But I’ve decided to launch my Christmas special for the series, Murder in the Manger, for the day after Guy Fawkes’ Night, and not a minute sooner.

Time passes us by all too fast without me fast-forwarding the seasons.

In the meantime, I plan to make the most of whatever remains of the summer sunshine.

May we all have many sunny days yet to come. 
cover of Best Murder in Show cover of Trick or Murder?

The first two books in the Sophie Sayers Village Mystery series are now available in ebook and paperback. You don’t need to read them in order, if you prefer to start with the one most appropriate for the current season. The third book, Murder in the Manger, will be out on November 6th.