My Young By Name Blog

Posted in Events, Reading, Writing

Write What You Know

In my column for the April issue of the Hawkesbury Parish News, I wrote about this old adage for writers.

Cover of Best Murder in Show amongst apple blossomCommon advice to authors is that when writing fiction, it’s best to write what you know. This is to add authenticity and to avoid errors. The only trouble with that advice comes when an author’s friends and relations assume that certain characters are based on themselves.

That’s why smart fiction publishers always print a disclaimer (“any semblance to people living or dead is purely coincidental”), although the author’s friends and relations may easily retort “Well, you would say that, wouldn’t you?”

So I’d like to take this opportunity to assure you all that no-one in Wendlebury Barrow, the fictitious village in which my new novel Best Murder in Show is set, is based on any real person, living or dead, in Hawkesbury Upton (or elsewhere, for that matter).

And although the two villages have plenty of features in common – annual show, shop, pub, school, drama group, writers’ group, WI – only one of them has a resident murderer.

Fortunately, that’s Wendlebury Barrow, not Hawkesbury Upton. Phew.

Best Murder in Show is now available from Amazon as an ebook and a paperback, although its official launch will be at the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival on Saturday 22nd April at 10am in the Bethesda Chapel, to which you are all invited.

After that, copies will also be available from the Hawkesbury Stores. That is, if the staff still want to stock it after they’ve read Chapter 4 about the eccentric village shopkeeper…

  • The special Festival price for the paperback is £4.99, rising to the RRP of £7.99 from 1st May – so get in quick to save yourself £3!
  • Also available to order from Amazon.
  • From 1st May, you will also be able to order the book via your local bookshop at the usual RRP from 1st May by quoting ISBN 978-1911223139.
Posted in Reading

Special Weekend Offer: Free Download of “Marry in Haste” – and 11 Other Free Ebooks

Cover of Marry in HasteYou may recall that a couple of months ago I took part in a special time-limited promotion with 11 other authors, between us offering 12 free ebooks, including my fun short story collection Marry in Haste. If you enjoyed taking advantage of that promotion – or indeed if you’re kicking yourself for missing it! – you may like to know that this weekend, I’m at it again, with another mix of authors and books (some the same as before, but some different). Once more you will be able to download any or all of the books for free.

Here’s the line-up of what’s available this time around:

Array of 12 book covers

As you’ll see, it’s an intriguing mix of titles across different genres, with something likely to please just about everyone. We think they’d all make great books for book group discussions, which is why we’re running this promotion under the banner of Book Club Gold, and providing as a bonus a free list of book group questions with every download. You can also find my list of questions for readers of Marry in Haste here.

promotion banner for Book Group Gold

Not Only for Book Clubs

Of course, you don’t have to be a member of a book club to take advantage of this offer, but if you were thinking of starting a book group, here’s an easy way to get a year’s worth of books for your book club free of charge.

Feel free to share the offer with your friends too – the more, the merrier!

Just visit www.deborahswift.com/instafreebie and follow the simple instructions to grab your free books before the end of April 10th 2017.

Reviews Always Welcome!

As ever, if you enjoy any of these books, the authors will always be very glad of any reviews you care to write, on Amazon, Goodreads, your bookblog, or anywhere else you like to share your thoughts about reading. Or just use the oldest technology there is, word of mouth, and tell your friends!

Happy reading!

PS In case you’re wondering why 12 authors give their books away free, when they’re also for sale at normal retail prices, here’s the method behind the apparent madness. Joint promotions of this kind are currently a very effective way for authors to introduce each others’ readers to their books and so to attract new readership for their own work. Instafreebie has given authors an easy-to-use device that is also very user-friendly for authors. Of course, Instafreebie is running promotions like this all the time, and if you choose to remain subscribed to their mailing list, you’ll receive regular updates from them about other authors’ free offers – but you can unsubscribe from Instafreebie whenever you like, so it’s win-win, really!  

Posted in Writing

Why I Named the Leading Male Character in “Best Murder in Show” Hector Munro

How I named the leading man in Best Murder in Show

Cover of Best Murder in Show by Debbie YoungLast week I explained how I chose the name for the heroine of Best Murder in Show, the first of my new Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries series, and this week, just three days before the ebook launches (paperback to follow three weeks later),  I’m going to reveal how the leading man, Hector Munro, got his name.

Why Hector…

Image of battered guidebook
My husband’s well-worn guide to hillwalking in the Munros

Hector Munro is the proprietor of the village bookshop, Hector’s House. Those of a certain age will recognise the name Hector’s House, which was a 1970s children’s television puppet show, featuring a  dog called Hector whose catchphrase was variations on this theme: “I’m a great big lovable old Hector”. It was the kind of show that warmed the heart of adults and children alike in the tea-time slot in my childhood, when the Magic Roundabout was taking a break. (You can sample it on YouTube here.)

The name for the bookshop has been forced onto Hector by the benefactor who co-financed its launch, but the name Hector is well and truly his own, chosen by his antique dealer parents who have a passion for the classics.

Though of course it was actually chosen by me, because I wanted something unusual. I don’t know any real-life Hectors, although I’ve since heard of an acquaintance coincidentally christening her baby with that name. My Hector is a creative, unconventional type, who thinks outside the box and is not afraid to do what he wants to do.

…and Why Munro

The name Munro came to me in a flash as a comfortable surname, partly because my Scottish husband is what’s known as a Munro bagger. Munro baggers are hillwalkers who set themselves the challenge of climbing all the Munros – 280+ Scottish mountains over 3,000 feet – which means Scotland’s highest mountains.

How did the mountains get their name? They were named in honour of the first man to map them all, a certain Hugo Munro.

Ever since I’ve known my husband, resident in England throughout his adult life, and so very far from the nearest Munro, he has been pursuing his goal of bagging them all. We spend many summer holidays touring Scotland in our camper van, seeking out the next mountain on his list. My daughter and I drop him at his starting point, then go off to do touristy things before picking him up post-conquest. This year it looks as if he’s going to complete the final Munro.

Therefore in my mind the name Munro is a symbol of challenge, determination and achievement, and also a certain rugged, wiry manliness, without being too obvious. The word Munro is like a code, as any Munro bagger will understand.

Putting Them Both Together

Photo of collection of short stories by Saki
Equally battered is my copy of Saki’s short stories (real name: Hector Hugh Munro)

Putting the two together, I liked the way that Hector Munro tripped off the tongue. I also thought it memorable. But so much for my memory, because I didn’t realise until long after I’d established my character why I’d taken to the name so much. Picking up a copy of a book by one of my favourite short story writers, I was reminded that Saki‘s real name was Hector Hugh Munro.

As if that wasn’t enough, I also realised a little while later that the surname of the proprietor of my nearest independent bookshop is also associated with mountains, or at least large hills: The Corbetts are the next highest hills in Scotland after the Munros. Hereward Corbett, is proprietor of the Yellow-Lighted Bookshop (branches in Tetbury and Nailsworth). Whether Hereward’s parents had anything to with mountaineering, I do not know.

Next in the Scottish mountain pecking order are the Grahams and the Donalds. By chance, the landlord of the local pub in the Sophie Sayers series is called Donald, but I haven’t introduced a Graham yet. I think he’d better come into one of the sequels – I don’t want the Grahams feeling left out.

Hector Munro: His Own Person

But let’s be clear about this: Hector Munro is not based on any of his namesakes in any way. All the characters, settings and situtations are entirely fictional, as in any novel. My Hector Munro is a man unto himself, one not easily tamed or fathomed, as you will see when you read the series and follow how his character develops. To whet your appetite for what’s to come, here’s the scene where Sophie first meets him in Chapter 5 of Best Murder in Show, when she’s seeking a job in his bookshop…

Extract of BEST MURDER IN SHOW

“Hello, can you tell me where Hector is, please? Carol in the village shop told me that he needs help.”

“You can say that again,” came a familiar voice from the back corner. Arranged around three circular tin tables were a dozen old-fashioned folding garden chairs, one of them occupied by Billy, the non-cerebral stout-drinker from the day before. Despite the aspersions he’d cast on Hector’s tea, he was enthusiastically working his way through a large pot of the stuff.

A lean olive-skinned man in his early thirties was leaning on the main shop counter with his arms folded, longish dark curls flopping forward to cover his high forehead.

“I can. But should I?”

Confused, I glanced across at Billy for a clue. That was a mistake.

“She’ll be asking to see your buns next, Hector.”

“Thank you, Billy, if I need your advice, I’ll ask for it.”

The man at the counter unfolded his arms and pointed one finger at his chest. “He’s here. I’m Hector. Thank you for brightening my bookshop with your presence. I don’t believe we’ve met before?”

Despite Hector’s parents having only recently retired, I’d been picturing someone only marginally less aged than himself. After all, when you’re eighty-six, most people qualify as younger. Perhaps it was the archaic name that threw me. Hectors should be wrinkly grey-haired curmudgeons in cardigans, not gorgeous, enigmatic Greek gods.

Hector held out a warm, soft hand for me to shake, before coming out from behind the counter to stand alongside me. “But the more pressing question for me is, how can I help you? No, don’t tell me, I’ve got just the book for you.”

He strode over to the fiction section, plucked a paperback from among the Gs and presented it to me, deadpan.

“Here we are: Travels with my Aunt, by Graham Greene.”

Billy guffawed. “Point to you, young Hector!”

I gasped. “How did you know who I was? Did you recognise her skirt?”

I’d put on a long mulberry velvet one from my aunt’s wardrobe to try to look cultured.

“Have you looked in the mirror lately?” replied Hector. “You are obviously related to May Sayers. Billy tells me that you’re living in May’s cottage.”

“Actually, my name’s on the deeds now. My great aunt left the cottage to me.”

“You’ll have to wait about twenty years before people round here call it your cottage. Your name being…?”

“Sophie. Sophie Sayers. Sayers, same as my aunt.”

“Yes, you certainly are,” put in Billy, who clearly considered himself part of our conversation. “Don’t let old Joshua see you looking like that, whatever you do. It’ll be too much for him. We’ll be carrying him off to the graveyard to lie alongside her, if you’re not careful.”

Hector shot him a withering look. “Billy, really! Drink your tea or I’ll take it away.”

That shut him up. He must have needed the tea to sober him up after his early start on the stout the previous afternoon.

In the ensuing silence, I noticed for the first time the music that was playing softly in the background: Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells. Great Auntie May had long ago taught me to love this classic album from the 70s. It’s not something you hear much in public these days.

“You’re playing—”

Hector’s smile had a hint of smugness about it. “Your tune? Your Auntie May always loved it, so I thought you might too.”

“What? Did you see me coming and put it on specially?”

“Spot on.”

We both listened appreciatively for a moment to the music’s gentle meanderings, while he set the Graham Greene book on the counter, facing me, presumably as a hint. But I wasn’t so easily hoodwinked by his charm into buying a book I neither wanted nor needed. May’s house was stuffed with books.

I pulled myself together, remembering the serious and pressing intent of my visit. If I wasn’t able to get a job here, I’d have to look further afield, and soon.

“So, as I was saying, Carol Barker said you were looking for an assistant. And Joshua Hampton, next door to me, encouraged me to apply. So please may I have an application form?”

Hector patted his pockets as if searching. “Sorry, I seem to be fresh out of them. Bit of a run on applications this morning. How about an application cup of tea instead?”

He gestured to the tearoom. I chose the table furthest from Billy.

“So, tea?” offered Hector, sitting down opposite me. “Not you, Billy, you’ve had enough for one morning.”

Behind me, Billy drained his cup noisily, and scraped his chair across the old oak floorboards. “No matter, I’ll be heading off to The Bluebird for my dinner soon.”

“But it’s only eleven o’clock.” I wondered what scenic route he’d be taking to the village pub, a few hundred yards away, to make his journey last till evening.

“That’s The Bluebird’s opening time. I has a ploughman’s lunch up there for my dinner midday every Tuesday. Washed down with a nice pint of old Donald’s special. Good luck with your interview, girlie.”

He rolled the word interview around his mouth like a euphemism for some lascivious delight.

The shop door jangled to allow Billy’s exit as Hector set down a loaded tea tray on the table between us. The crockery was decorated with the titles of classic novels in old-fashioned typewriter fonts. He’d given me Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations and himself Somerset Maugham’s Cakes and Ale. The teapot was branded Love in a Cold Climate, by Nancy Mitford.

Will Sophie get the job? Will she discover the secret that enables Hector’s House to keep his business solvent? (A bookshop in a tiny Cotswold village – really?) You’ll have to read the book to find out!

Cover of Best Murder in Show by Debbie Young
Ta-da! Now available to order as an ebook for Kindle (paperback to launch on 22nd April)

Click here to order the ebook – paperback to follow shortly! 

 

 

Posted in Reading, Writing

Who Is Sophie Sayers Anyway?

A post about the heroine of my debut novel, Best Murder in Show

Cover of Best Murder in Show by Debbie Young
Ta-da! Now available to order as an ebook for Kindle’ paperback to launch on 22nd April

New novel, I hear you cry? Yes, my new novel! Due to launch officially in paperback on Saturday 22nd April at the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival, Best Murder in Show is already available to pre-order as a Kindle ebook via Amazon. (Click here to find it on Amazon UK and here for Amazon US.)

It’s the first in a series of seven classic mystery stories set in the Cotswolds in the modern day, in a village not unlike the one where I’ve lived for the last 26 years.

Of course, as it’s fiction, any resemblance to real people, places or situations is entirely coincidental, although I confidently expect at least one of my neighbours will stop me in the street claiming to be X, Y or Z in the story.

As long as they’re not claiming to be the murderer, I think I can handle that.

To whet your appetite between now and the official launch, I’ll be writing a series of posts about different aspects of the book.

How I Named My Heroine

Today I’m going to tell you how I chose the name of the heroine, Sophie Sayers, who at the age of 25 inherits a country cottage from her great aunt. This legacy provides her with the perfect opportunity to ditch her sponging, controlling boyfriend, and instead to reinvent herself as a writer.

Only problem is, she’s not sure what to write or where to start.

In the meantime, although she’s able to live rent-free, she still has to earn her keep, so she secures a job in the village bookshop,where the charming but enigmatic bookseller Hector Munro takes her under his wing. (More about his name in a future post.)

Before long, Sophie is sucked into the busy social life of the village community, seeking to solve a murder mystery that everyone else assumes to be death from natural causes. She’s hoping that the handsome Hector will not turn out to be the murderer, but he’s definitely hiding something suspicious…

So Why Sophie Sayers?

Firstly, I’ve always liked the name Sophie, and at one time was holding it in reserve for a daughter, should I ever have one.

I did indeed eventuallly have a daughter in 2003, but I decided some weeks before she was born that she was actually a Laura. I still loved the name Sophie, not least because there’d been one in my family a few generations back, so post-Laura I decided to save Sophie for my next cat.

Photo of Dorothy on a cushion
A safe landing for Dorothy

But my next cat, who arrived as a stray in a snowstorm on the same day as my aunt’s postcard of the red shoes from The Wizard of Oz, turned out to be a Dorothy.

She settled in straight away and has been here ever since, our Cotswold cottage apparently being her equivalent to Kansas: “there’s no place like home”.

 

Photo of Debbie Young and M C Beaton
With writing hero M C Beaton, author of the Agatha Raisin and Hamish Macbeth series

A few years later, when I started writing the first in a planned series of mystery novels, I wanted to pay tribute to one of my own favourite detective story writers, Dorothy L Sayers, author of the wonderful Lord Peter Wimsey series. (I’d always assumed this was what M C Beaton had done when echoing Agatha Christie in her Agatha Raisin detective stories. and I’m now kicking myself for not asking her on the two occasions when I have been lucky enough to meet her.)

But I couldn’t call my heroine Dorothy, because the cat had nabbed that name.

Cover of Sayers biography, "Such a Strange Lady"So Sayers it had to be – and Sophie, retrieved from the backburner, provided a pleasingly alliterative match. The similarity between Sophie and her namesake end there. The title of Dorothy L Sayers’ biography hints at the author’s uncompromising approach to life, but Sophie is eager to fit in with others – often too eager, as is sometimes her downfall.

 

I’m glad to have found a worthy bearer of one of my favourite names at last, while also offering homage to one of my many influences (as indeed is M C Beaton, as testified by my bookshelf).

Dorothy L Sayers collection on packed bookshelf
Taking inspiration from cherished treasures: the fragile paperbacks that I avidly collected as a teenager, nestling amongst other favourites such as Orwell and M C Beaton

If you’d like to order the ebook of Sophie Sayers’ first adventure, Best Murder in Show, you’ll find it on Amazon UK and on Amazon US, and in fact on all the other Amazon sites around the world.

The paperback will be launched on Saturday 22nd April at the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival, and will then be available to order from all good bookshops. 

Image of ebook on Kindle
Best Murder in Show – now available as an ebook (paperback coming soon)

 

Posted in Family, Personal life

A Shout-out for Life Kitchen – Catering for People with Cancer

A serious post about an important new cause

Life Kitchen logo
A new initiative to tempt the appetite of people with cancer

Driving to hospital for a routine rheumatology appointment this morning, I heard a moving interview by on BBC R4’s Today programme with Ryan Riley, a young man who has set up a new initiative in memory of his mother who had died of lung cancer. It is called Life Kitchen and aims to help people whose tastebuds and appetite have been adversely affected by chemotherapy and other treatments for cancer. The interviewer Nick Robinson recently had lung cancer himself, and although he barely mentions it, the project clearly resonated with him.

Why It Resonated with Me Too

It hit a nerve for me as well because seventeen years ago my first husband died of leukemia after a brief but brutal illness (seven weeks from diagnosis to death) in which one of the first and lasting characteristics was the change of his attitude towards food and drink. Losing his desire for both, he rapidly lost weight and with it his physical strength and mental resilience.

I tried to tempt him with various foods in his hospital bed – he was an inpatient for virtually the whole time – with no success. It wasn’t that the hospital food was bad, but it wasn’t great either. Because of the inevitable lag betwteen ordering and eating it, he often didn’t want the dishes he’d chosen by the time they arrived.

There was one memorable evening when I was visiting, as I was every weekday and twice a day at weekends, when he was delivered a pork pie, still in its wrapper and as solid as a brick. He could barely stand to look at it, and was about as likely to eat the plate as the pork pie, indigestible as they are at the best of times. I assumed he’d ordered it because it was something he’d enjoyed eating in happier circumstances, but as an invalid food, it was, er, invalid.

Giving up on hospital food, he would ask me to bring things in that he thought he might fancy, despatching me to a supermarket or takeaway to fetch whatever his whim of the moment was. And whatever it was, he would practically never eat it, his palate reduced to intolerance of just about everything.

I remember him clutching my arm in real distress at one point and saying “What if I can never eat more than five different foods again?” (I forget now what those five tolerable foods were, but he wasn’t eating much of them either.) I didn’t have the heart to tell him that was the least of his problems.

At that point I was myself living largely off food from garage forecourt shops bought on my journey to and from the hospital, apart from whatever was on the lunch menu at my workplace. I’d therefore end up eating his rejects to avoid waste. I’ve never felt as conspicuous as when surreptitiously eating Kentucky Fried Chicken out of a cardboard box in the middle of a hospital ward surrounded by seriously ill people, trying not to let its spicy, fatty fragrance waft around the ward.

Of course none of this was his fault, but it was enormously upsetting for us both. Already exhausted and stressed out, I felt terrible for feeling cross and resentful and anxious about the cost. I wouldn’t have minded if all this effort had made him eat, but the weight just fell away from this man whose body had always been strong and healthy and more than adequately covered with flesh. It was like watching him dissolve.

How to Support Life Kitchen

Whether Life Kitchen would have made a difference to him I will never know, but surely it is an idea worth supporting and exploring. I’ve just made a small donation to its crowdfunding appeal, and if you’d like to support the cause, you’ll find more details here, along with Ryan’s own moving story: https://www.gofundme.com/LifeKitchen You can also follow its progress on Twitter at @LifeKitchen.

Full marks to this young man for dreaming up the initiative. I am sure his mother would be very proud of him. 

Ryan Riley and his late mother
Life Kitchen founder Ryan Riley with his late mother Krista