My Young By Name Blog

Posted in Events, Writing

The Reluctant Murderer at Oakwood Literature Festival

cover of the June issue of the Tetbury AdvertiserThis post first appeared in the June 2018 edition of the award-winning Tetbury Advertiser.

“I have a no-murder policy,” said the tall, softly-spoken man in black.

If, like me, you were obliged to sit beside him for the next hour, would you be reassured by that remark, or alarmed?

What if that statement had a similar impact to those “Keep off the lawn” signs that make you want to do nothing so much as kick off your shoes and run barefoot across it, desperate to feel the cool blades of grass tickling the soles of your feet?

Or to those tantalising signs in the swimming pools that list all the things that you’re forbidden from doing: “No diving, no bombing, no running”, etc – I’m sure you can reel off the list as well as I can – at the same time helpful providing a clear line drawing showing you exactly how to commit each of those offences.

Having a murder policy of any kind might even exert the power of suggestion, in the same way that the instruction “Don’t think of oranges” immediately makes you think about oranges.

It’s All About the Context

Of course, context is all. If the man’s statement had been an unsolicited chat-up line in a wine bar, or his opening gambit at a speed-dating session, I would have been worried. What else might he have up his sleeve? “I have a no wife-beating policy.” “I have a no-coveting-my-neighbour’s-ox policy.”

Cover of Child Taken by Darren Young
Don’t worry, they all live to tell the tale

As it happened, it was music to my ears, as what had brought Darren and I together was an invitation to speak on a panel at the Oakwood Literature Festival in Derbyshire last month, and he was describing his approach to writing his psychological thriller, Child Taken.  As I am a writer of crime novels that are more Miss Marple than Nordic Noir, I really have to force myself to kill people for the sake of the plot. I’ve even started describing myself to readers as “the reluctant murderer”, which no doubt comes as a relief to my friends and relations. Listening to Darren, I was glad to know I wasn’t alone in my reluctance.

So as introductions go, his opening line was much more innocuous than one might assume. Although it turned out his surname was also Young. Now that was creepy.


set of four Sophie Sayers booksTo read more about my cosy mystery series, in which all the murders are gentle and sometimes there’s even a stay of execution, click here.

Cover of Young by NameAnd if you’d like to read more of my whimsical columns for the Tetbury Advertiser, here’s a book of the first sixty of them, available in ebook and paperback.

Posted in Events, Writing

I am Not a Number

Debbie with a microphone gesturing to the audience
Making the opening address at Oakwood Literature Festival last month (Photo: Angela Fitch Photography)

(This post first appeared in the Hawkesbury Parish News, June 2018.)

 

“Hello, Debbie,” said the lady serving me tea at the Oakwood Literature Festival. “Would you like sugar in your tea, Debbie?”

This struck me as odd, as I had never met her before in my life, but I smiled politely and thanked her for the tea. Then, as I was drinking it, another lady gave called out cheerily as she passed by: “Good morning, Debbie!”

When a third person I didn’t recognise greeted me by name, I started to feel distinctly uncomfortable. How could this be? I was a hundred miles from home, in a part of the country where I had no friends or relations, and yet everyone seemed to know me.

I wondered whether that was how it felt to be the Queen.

Photo of Debbie necklace
How to make friends and influence people… wear necklace with your name on it

And then it clicked. The night before, while spring-cleaning my dressing table, I’d rediscovered a tatty old silver-coloured necklace that spells out my first name in cheap metal italics. I remembered buying it for 99p in a scruffy tourist shop on holiday in Fort William, Scotland. It would be hard to find a more parsimonious version of Sarah Jessica Parker’s iconic gold “Carrie” necklace from the TV series “Sex and the City”, but in a fit of nostalgia, I’d put it on and had forgotten to take it off.

So my reputation hadn’t gone before me after all. All the same, it was so cheering to receive such friendly greetings from strangers that I wore it again the next day, and the day after that.

photo of Debbie and Dawn
Chatting with the organiser of the Oakwood Literature Festival, Dawn Brookes – one of many Festival friends (Photo: Angela Fitch Photography)

NEXT UP: EVESHAM FESTIVAL OF WORDS
I’m looking forward to appearing at the Evesham Festival of Words twice in June – for the full programme, visit their website here.

For more information about the Oakwood Literature Festival, visit their website here.

 

Posted in Events, Self-publishing, Writing

A Busy Bee on the Busy Words Blog

Photo of the front of the shop plus the Daffodil next door
The delightful independent bookshop the Suffolk Anthology nestles beside the famous Daffodil restaurant

As just one of a flurry of events that have kept me busy during the last few weeks, I recently had the pleasure of being guest speaker at Cheltenham Writers’ Circle, at the invitation of historical novelist Edward James. Edward also attends my Cheltenham Authors’ Alliance, which meets every third Tuesday of the month at the wonderful Suffolk Anthology bookshop.

About Edward James

cover of The Frozen Dream by Edward James
Edward James’ prize-winning novel explores a little-known period of Tudor history

I’d first come across Edward a few years ago, when he won a prize awarded by publishing service provider SilverWood Books and ebook distributor Kobo, which I’ve just enjoyed reading. It tells the story of a little-known historical episode when Tudor explorers attempted to find a north-east trade-route passage via the Arctic to China. His prize was to have his novel beautifully produced by SilverWood, and as you can tell from this stunninng cover, they did their customary great job. (You can find out more about his book on the SilverWood website here.) 

Amongst Friends

When he invited me to speak at Cheltenham Writers’ Alliance about my own writing and publishing activities, I didn’t expect to know anyone else there, so it was a pleasant surprise to see in the audience the lovely bookseller Sallie Anderson from the Suffolk Anthology bookshop and Dr Terri Passenger, a trustee of Read for Good (formerly Readathon), the wonderful children’s reading charity that I used to work for.

My Talk

Edward had asked me to talk about my books and writing, and about the self-publishing process. Fuelled by coffee and Kit-Kats all round, I managed to talk for nearly two hours, with lots of show-and-tell of my books, and plenty of questions from the audience.

Afterwards, Edward kindly invited me to be interviewed on his blog, so that members who were not at the meeting, and anyone else who was interested, might catch up with what they’d missed. He’s now posted the interview on his website, and it includes my answers to the following questions:

  • When did you decide you wanted to be a  writer?
  • What did you do before you became a full-time writer?  How did  it contribute  to your writing?
  • Tell me about some of the things you have written.  What is your current project?
  • What made you decide to self-publish?
  • Can you describe your writing day?
  • You convene two local groups of ALLi.  Can you tell me about ALLi and how it can help self-published authors?
  • You have  a lot of other activities including the Hawkesbury Festival.  How did that come about?
  • When you spoke to Cheltenham Writers’ Circle you told us about Beta Readers.  Could you say something here for those of us who were not at the meeting?

Could you give us some links  to tell us more about your work?

If you’d like to read my answers, click this link to read the interview on Edward’s Busy Words blog.

Edward’s blog also includes interviews with a range of interesting authors and bookish types, and I was delighted to discover one of them is Helene Hewett, proprietor of the Suffolk Anthology bookshop, which brings us neatly full circle to where I began this post!

Group shot of authors in doorway of bookshop
Helene Hewett is immediately behind me in this group shot of author friends in the Cheltenham Authors’ Alliance, in this jolly shot by Angela Fitch Photography. (Unfortunately this was taken before Edward joined the group.)

 

Posted in Reading, Writing

Thinking Outside the Box about Bookmarks

This post was originally written for the Authors Electric collective blog.


Call me old-fashioned, but I love a good bookmark, and I have a large collection ready for action whenever I need one. Some of these have been made for me by those too young to read my books yet…

I have some that I’ve treasured since I was very young – I’ve had these two since I lived in California at the age of 8…

I have some handmade ones, such as these two I embroidered when my eyesight was sharper than it is now…

Some are souvenirs of bookish events I’ve enjoyed or at which I’ve spoken…

Bookmarks make great low-budget souvenirs of places that I enjoy visiting as a tourist…

So when I decided to produce some swag to promote my growing Sophie Sayers Village Mystery novels (four and counting…), a good bookmark was the obvious choice.

But as to the design, I was stumped. I love the gorgeous book cover designs produced for me by the wonderful Rachel Lawston of Lawston Design, but with three more books to come in the series, and three more spin-offs planned, if I featured the covers on my bookmarks, I’d either have to wait till I’d written the whole lot, or be stuck with bookmarks that didn’t feature the latest additions to the series.

Beautiful book covers by Rachel Lawston of Lawston Design

Then came a light-bulb moment from an unlikely quarter. It was when I was planning the most recent Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival, the fourth of which took place last Saturday. (Diary date for the fifth one: Saturday 27th April 2019.

Gosh, Festival bookmarks – bet you didn’t see those coming!

In previous years, I’d used my dad’s watercolour of our best-known local landmark to promote the Festival, but this year, when adding a new venue to our programme, Hawkesbury Primary School, I shared a photo of it on Facebook.

Next evening, I was pleasantly surprised to find a beautiful sketch that one of the Festival authors, Thomas Shepherd, had produced, entirely unsolicited.

Hawkesbury Primary School – Copyright Thomas Shepherd

Ever the opportunist, I immediately sought and was granted his permission to use the image (which remains his copyright) in Festival publicity, putting it on the printed programme and on the website. He also kindly offered to provide a high quality print, which I bought as a thank-you gift for the School, which they liked very much.

“Do you take commissions?” was my next question, as my plot began to hatch…

A New Episode for Sophie Sayers

As anyone who has read any of the books in the Sophie Sayers series will know, the stories take place in a pretty Cotswold village similar to the one where I’ve lived for the last twenty-seven years, and one of the focal points in each book is the village bookshop, Hector’s House, where Sophie works and falls in love with the charming, enigmatic proprietor, Hector Munro.

Thomas’s drawing gave me the idea of commissioning a picture of Hector’s House to go on a bookmark that purports to promote my fictitious bookshop – though there’s also be a line on there to promote my books more subtly than simply displaying the covers.

“Can you send me a photo of what you have in mind?” asked Thomas, which sent me scurrying around the Cotswolds looking for a building that matched my mental picture of Hector’s shop.

The closest I could find was Nailsworth Computer Shop, which needed a few architectural adjustments to make it right.

Long story short: the drawing that Thomas produced was lovelier than I could possibly have imagined, and he even added touches of his own, such as Hector’s personalised numberplate – and he’s given me strict instructions to write into the series a mysterious event taking place in the hayloft above the garage!

Hector’s House – Copyright Thomas Shepherd

As you can probably tell by now, I was thrilled – and enormously grateful – and immediately ordered a simple bookmark that shows it off in all its glory, leaving the flip side blank so I could also use it as a compliments slip or correspondence card.

It is now capturing the imagination of so many people who see it – including my dad, who has found a further application for the design: a promotional shopping bag!
I had fun giving them out when I launched the fourth book in the series, Murder by the Book, at the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival on 21st April, and I now have a supply permanently stashed in my purse so I can pass them on to anyone I see reading a book, anywhere I go!

So if you’re also a fan of bookmarks…

A fan of bookmarks (ho ho)
…and you’re looking for an illustration of a key venue in your books to promote them, you know who to ask: Thomas Shepherd of www.shepline.com, who, as it happens, has also just launched The Imaginary Wife, the second in his extraordinary series about a man who marries his imaginary friend. (That is not his imaginary friend in the photo below – it’s fellow Festival author Katharine E Smith!)
Thomas Shepherd and Katharine E Smith at the Hawkesbury Upton Lit Fest last weekend (photo by fellow Festival author Kate Frost)

To order a copy of Murder by the Book, visit viewbook.at/MurderByTheBook – now available in ebook and paperback around the world.

To find out more about the Sophie Sayers series, visit the series page at viewbook.at/SophieSeries – or visit my website’s fiction section.

To commission your own drawing by Thomas Shepherd, contact him via his website: www.shepline.com – and tell him that Hector Munro recommended him!

FOOTNOTE
When I was sharing this experience with some local writer friends, one of them told me that the Nailsworth Computer Shop, on which the drawing was based, used to be a bookshop – how spooky is that?!

Posted in Family, Personal life, Writing

New Ages for Old

cover of May issue My column for the May edition of the award-winning Tetbury Advertiser

Many years ago, when the New Age was still new, I bought at a festival a t-shirt with the slogan “Whatever age you are now, you are every age you have ever been.”

The notion particularly caught my fancy because the previous week at my office, when someone said something about Little Tikes ride-on plastic cars for toddlers (remember them?), our sixteen-year-old receptionist piped up, “Oh yes, those are great fun, I love those.” It was a sobering reminder to her older colleagues that she was not far removed from toddlerhood herself.

This month that t-shirt slogan has again been front of mind following two recent encounters connected with my own younger years.

Friends Reunited

First came a reunion with my aunt, who had emigrated to Canada in 1970. I hadn’t seen her for twenty-nine years, and last time I saw her, she was younger than I am now. But as with all the best relationships, and with family ties in particular, we picked up where we left off, and it felt as if no time had elapsed at all.

photo of Mandy and Bella
My sister and my aunt – relatives, reunited

Then yesterday I was reunited with the boy next door from my suburban childhood home. When I last saw him forty-nine years ago (yes, I am that old and more), Little Tikes cars hadn’t been invented, but he’d ride shotgun on my much-loved big white tricycle as we careered around our large back gardens. As we reminisced about the fruit trees that we used to play beneath, he described the taste and texture of their russet apples as if it was only yesterday.

photo of Debbie and Robin
My boy next door, half a century on

Old Friends

These vivid illustrations of how much time I’ve spent on this earth – and by implication, my mortality – might alarm me, if I hadn’t been involved lately with a heartening project involving elderly people, inspired by the National Dignity Council’s Dignity in Care campaign. (www.dignityincare.org.uk)

As a volunteer at a local care home, my brief was to set down in the residents’ words what dignity means to them. I anticipated a discussion about respecting senior citizens, but what emerged was a wide-ranging conversation full of wise counsel about childhood, parenting, and society at large.

“We’ve been children, we’ve raised children, we’ve cared for children, and although we’re older now, there’s still a child in all of us,” they assured me.

photo of t-shirt
Been there, got the t-shirt…

I’m planning to add a lot more ages to my collection yet, and if when I’m old, I end up as sage and as generous as these dignified and gentle folk, I shall consider my life very blessed. I just hope my t-shirt will hold up after so many years of laundering.