I always love doing radio, especially when the show’s presenter is a great friend. Today I was pleased to be the studio guest of Michael MacMahon, one of BCfm Silver Sound’s hosts.
About Michael and Me
I’ve known Michael for quite a few years now, having met through our shared interest in writing. Although Michael writes non-fiction books and I write mainly fiction, we get on famously and are often helping each other out in practical ways. Michael is a popular fixture at my Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival, renowned for his rendition of Prospero’s speech from the Tempest at our closing ceremony. I’ve chaired his launch events for both of his books, and each time it has been great fun.
The most recent of these launches was just last month, for The Wedding Speech Handbook, when we dressed up as if for a wedding, complete with buttonholes, wedding cake, and in my case my best wedding hat!
What We Talked About on the Show
Today on the Silver Sound show, we were talking about how and why people shouldn’t think in terms of retirement, but instead of how to reinvent themselves, as indeed both he and I have done with our writing careers. I was very interested to hear about Michael’s plans for his next book, interviewing people who have reinvented themselves in retirement – including my dad, who, as I mentioned on the show, embraced multiple artistic hobbies after a career in computer engineering.
How to Listen to the Show
If you’d like to hear our wide-ranging conversation, you can catch up with it online via BCfm’s website www.bcfmradio.com/silversound Just click on “Silver Sound” in the programmes list, then on today’s date (20/12/18). We’re on for the first hour from 10am, chatting from about four minutes into the show, after the news at the top of the hour.
After the show, we parted company, but a little later an email from Michael pinged into my inbox. “I get dozens of emails every day, but this was the first one I opened when I got home,” he wrote, forwarding the one he’d received to me:
I think Jeff Bezos must be watching us…
What’s Next for our Double-Act?
We’re hoping to stage a joint event on a wedding theme in the new year, involving both his Wedding Speech Handbook and my collection of short stories, Marry in Haste. More news to follow in due course!
For more information about Michael, his multi-faceted reinvention of himself, and his excellent books, visit his website, www.michaelmacmahon.com – or tune in to Silver Sound to catch his show!
My column for the December 2018/January 2019 issue of the Tetbury Advertiser
Crossing to France via the Channel Tunnel the day after Remembrance Day fills me with fin-de-siècle melancholy. This is likely to be the last time I set foot in mainland Europe as an official European. This column is no place for politics, but I mention it because it’s just part of a general end-of-year yearning for time to stand still.
When I was younger, I used to look forward to welcoming each New Year. Now that my parents are in their eighties, I’m conscious of the growing likelihood of less welcome changes as each year goes by. I hanker after reminders of my younger days, when I had less sense of my own mortality, or of anyone else’s.
Plus C’est La Même Chose
Second-hand books in the editions I enjoyed as a child are comfort reads. I enjoy knowing from memory what will appear on the next page before I turn to it.
I rescue from a charity shop a battered bear of comparable vintage to my own childhood teddy. What misfortune befell his owner that this creature should be consigned, appropriately enough, to a branch of Barnardo’s? I don’t want to answer my own question.
Vintage. You know you’re getting old when artefacts from your childhood are classified thus, as I’m reminded when I scour the internet to replace the Parker Lady pen I had for starting big school. This diminutive black lacquer, gold-trimmed fountain pen (so much classier than a cartridge model, don’t you think?) was just the right size for the hand of an eleven-year-old girl.
My quest isn’t only down to nostalgia. I wish to right a wrong done to me when I changed schools at the age of 14. Another girl stole my pen and claimed it was hers, despite clearly being perplexed as to how a fountain pen worked. As the new arrival, I wasn’t confident enough to contradict her. In a life of few regrets, that’s one of mine. I’m hoping she didn’t just throw it in the bin when it ran out of ink, as we did with the orange plastic Bic biros bought from the school shop. (Plastics recycling had yet to be invented.)
On eBay, I find the perfect replacement: a Parker Lady pen so treasured by its owner that he kept it in its original box. I hope it will comfort the seller, the son of the late owner, that this precious pen will have gone to a good home, though I can’t help wondering why a man bought a Parker Lady pen in the first place. A lost love who never received his gift? Perhaps one day I’ll write the story of what might have been.
So as the year turns, don’t forget to cherish the old as you ring in the new.
I wish you a peaceful and contented Christmas, treasuring and treasured by those that you love.
In this column for the December 2018 issue of the Hawkesbury Parish News, I get ahead of myself with the seasons
In the retail trade, buyers plan at least a season ahead. While we’re Christmas shopping, they’re planning their stock for the spring.
I share their sense of being out of step with nature’s calendar. Today, for example, the deadline of the Hawkesbury Parish News’s December issue, I launched my latest novel, Springtime for Murder. I wrote it in the summer months, edited it in the autumn, and it’s set at Easter. Now I’m about to start writing a novel that takes place in May. No wonder I have to stop to think what month it is in the real world.
It doesn’t help that I can’t rely on the weather to give me a natural steer on the seasons. With it often so unseasonably hot/cold/wet/dry, a glance out of the window can be misleading.
Taking a break from my desk to go grocery shopping does nothing to put me straight. Why are supermarket shelves still full of fresh summer fruits in the winter? Every time I go to Waitrose lately, there are punnets of strawberries reduced for quick sale, because the shop has more than it can sell. Still, at least I’m full of Vitamin C to guard against winter colds.
Thank goodness for the man-made visual clues around the village. Impressively carved pumpkins dotted around the village heralded Halloween. Mid-November, the poppies on the Plain and in St Mary’s ensured we remember the date we should never forget. Now the Christmas lights will soon be upon us.
Even so, if you see me shivering in a summer dress in December, now you’ll know the reason why: I’ll have simply lost the plot. Which really shouldn’t happen to an author.
I wish you all a merry Christmas and a happy New Year!
PS And if you fancy some seasonal reading that is just right for December…
Dare I confess that in 27 years of living within walking distance of them, I’ve never been to the Badminton Horse Trials? And in the last few years, as a frequent traveller to Scotland, I’ve spent more time on Loch Ness than at Westonbirt Arboretum.
While in Inverness at the start of October to speak at the Ness Book Fest, I squeezed in a quick tourist cruise on the loch. When the tour guide asked at the end how many of our party of about 30 had spotted the legendary monster, an elderly lady put her hand up. One in 30 – that’s pretty good odds.
On my return, determined to make up for lost time, I renewed my Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum membership for not much more than my one-off Loch Ness boat trip had cost me. The new Welcome centre at which I signed up was not the only change I noticed. Last time I came, the treetop walk was just a glint in the Forestry Commission’s corporate eye. Nervous of heights, I was relieved to discover the broad, steady boardwalk, not a bit like the rickety rope bridge I’d imagined from watching travel documentaries about rainforests.
As I renewed my acquaintance with the familiar pathways of the Old Arboretum, I espied a life-sized Gruffalo (yes, of course Gruffaloes are real). I don’t remember seeing him before, but maybe he has been there all along, and it was just my lucky day to spot him. Perhaps he’s Westonbirt’s equivalent to Loch Ness’s monster or the Himalayas’ yeti.
Plus Ca Change…
But of course there was still so much that was the same. Just as I surprise myself by knowing all the words to pop songs from my youth, I remembered particular views before they appeared at each twist and turn of the skilfully designed paths. As I walked, I fell to reminiscing about the many times I used to come here in my lunch hour or after work, when I was employed across the road.
Working at Westonbirt School, originally the private house of Arboretum founder Robert Holford, gave me a special affinity for him, as if he were a family friend. 15 years ago, I even wrote a playscript performed as part of the school’s seventy-fifth birthday celebrations. I had fun putting words into the mouth of the great man, gamely played by the school’s then Head of Drama, Henry Moss-Blundell, sporting my knee-high brown leather boots as part of his costume. He reprised the role – and borrowed my boots – many times more to lead heritage tours. I still have the boots, so that’s another way I can walk in Holford’s footsteps.
Only when I was on my way home from renewing my Westonbirt membership, legs tingling after my bracing walk, did I realise that it’s not only the Arboretum that has changed since my earlier visits. In those days, I used to run round the paths. 27 years on, my Holford boots are strictly made for walking.
This post was originally written for the November issue of the wonderful Tetbury Advertiser, which has just won yet another award, this time for the quality of its editorial content. (Well, who am I to argue with that?!)
It also raised a huge amount of money for local good causes and helps local businesses raise awareness and attract custom. So all in all, a very worthwhile magazine to write for, and I’m proud to be associated with it.
Read the whole magazine online for free by clicking the image, left. If you’re into Twitter, it’s also worth following the magazine at @LionsTetbury – the editor never fails to make me laugh.
I’ve just spotted that this little paperback of my short story Lighting Up Time has been reduced to about half price (£1.52) by Amazon’s UK store just now, so I thought I’d flag that up for you before they put the price back up to its usual £2.99. (Usual price applies in other Amazon stores.)
Set just before Christmas at the winter solstice, 21st December, it’s a timely read for these dark, wet, windy winter nights, telling the story of a young woman trying to come to terms with her fear of the dark as she babysits her nephew and niece in a remote country house.
With equal touches of spookiness and humour, it’s a touching, feel-good quick read that’s just right for this time of year.
The small format paperback is the size of a postcard, which makes it a great stocking-filler or Secret Santa gift, and just the right size to slip inside a Christmas card. It’s also available as an ebook for just 99p/99c.
What Readers Say:
“Lovely story that perfectly captures that big sister/little sister thing, and Aunt Sophie is a lovely gentle presence throughout – I especially like the way you use scent (perfume, flowers) to evoke her.” – Lucienne Boyce, historical novelist
“You had me scared of the dark with you!” Melanie Spiller
“Lovely story and a great, feel-good ending .” – Christina Courtenay, romantic novelist
“Debbie Young packs so much into her short and poignant stories.” – Tom Evans
I don’t know how long Amazon will be running this special offer, so if you fancy it, best snap it up while you can!