My Young By Name Blog

Posted in Events, Personal life, Writing

The Power of the List

cover of Quick ChangeWhen my author friend Lucienne Boyce read the original manuscript for my first collection of short stories, Quick Change, she gently pointed out that she thought it odd I’d mentioned recycling bins in four of the 20 stories. I changed one bin into a bonfire, which made for a much better story. However, my column for the September 2023 issue of the Hawkesbury Parish News reveals that recycling is still very much in my thoughts…

Recently I spotted an advertisement seeking volunteers for a council study of household recycling habits. When it popped up on my computer, it reminded me of a market research programme I took part in as a child. My best friend’s mum corralled a dozen of my classmates into the local church hall to taste-test various brightly coloured drinks. We went home clutching clanking carrier bags filled with glass bottles of lurid liquids, and instructions to report back on which flavour ran out first.

I didn’t much like any of the drinks, preferring Treetop orange squash, but the parties were fun, and the free samples made me feel special. My fond memories of the process were enough to make me volunteer for the recycling research.

The survey required me to keep a diary of everything I recycled over three days, snapping photographs on my phone. I thought I was good at avoiding waste, buying as much fresh, loose food as possible, but my diary was a wake-up call. So much packaging!

Cardboard packaging from a National Trust tea towel
One of my classier items for recycling – the wrapper from a National Trust tea towel, a lovely gift from my Auntie Thelma
  • Have you ever been on a diet that required you to write down everything you ate or drank?
  • Have you tried to save money by recording every item of expenditure?

In both cases, it can be easier to abstain than to add to your list.

If we had to make a note of everything we recycled every day, I reckon we’d soon find ways to reduce and re-use instead – so much better for the environment.

I’m astonished to recall that when I first moved to the village in 1991 there was no recycling service. We just chucked everything in the black bin – a bigger one than we have now, emptied weekly rather than fortnightly, and thanks to our throwaway culture, it was often full.

A century ago, there would have been no council refuse collection of any kind, but nor was there much need, as there was much less waste. People bought food loose or wrapped in paper and carried it home in wicker shopping baskets. They returned empty jars and bottles for deposits. Old tins provided useful storage – no Tupperware in those days. Rag rugs gave new purpose to worn-out clothes.

Photo of rag rug
Anthologies, like rag rugs, are much greater than the sum of the parts (I am very proud of having made this rag rug too!)

Everything else the householder had to dispose of on his property, burning it in the hearth or garden bonfires, or burying it in the garden. Even now, bits of old china, glass and metal buried decades ago frequently rise to the surface in my flowerbeds.

As a crime writer, I can’t help wondering what lies beneath my lawn…

photo of old enamel sign for Post Office
This sign lay abandoned in my back garden when I moved in, the legacy of when my cottage used to ve the village post office.

Not all rubbish could be burned or buried. Rag-and-bone men used to collect cumbersome items and sell them on as scrap. Even as late as the Sixties, a rag-and-bone man occasionally drove a van or a horse and cart slowly down our street in suburban London, calling “any old lumber?” A popular sitcom during my childhood was Steptoe and Son, revolving around a scrapyard. Could Yate’s Sort-It Centre make a great setting for a modern comedy series? I like to think so.

I’m pleased to say I found taking part in the council’s recycling research just as interesting as the squash parties of my childhood.

I’m just glad that this time I didn’t have to taste-test samples.


DRIVEN TO MURDER (Sophie Sayers #9)

holidng image for new cover for Driven to Murder
A placeholder image is now up on Amazon – cover reveal to follow soon!

On Monday I submitted the manuscript for my ninth Sophie Sayers cosy mystery, Driven to Murder, to my editor at Boldwood Books, and this morning I was delighted to receive an enthusiastic email with her proposed (very light) edits.

“What a tonic!” she said, going on to describe it as “a rich experience for returning fans” as well as “accessible to new readers”.

Now it’s down to me to make a few minor revisions in line with her comments, and then it goes to a copy editor, then a proofreader. Meanwhile, she will brief the cover designer, and I can’t wait to see what the designer comes up with!

The official launch date is 28th January 2024, but if you’d like to kept up to date by my publisher about progress, and any special offers on my other Boldwood Books, you might like to sign up for their Debbie Young mailing list here.


cover of Starting Over at Silver Sands Bay
Karen Louise Hollis’s second novel is now out

Karen Louise Hollis, author of Starting Again at Silver Sands Bay, kindly invited me to be a guest on her book blog, interviewing me about my books and my writing life.

If you’d like to read the interview, hop over to where you’ll also find information about Karen’s own books.


If you’d like to come to hear me in conversation with Kat Ailes, debut author of The Expectant Detectives (great title!), bookings are now open for our Stroud Book Festival event at The Subscription Rooms at 4pm on Sunday 12th November. Click here for more details and to book your tickets now.

Banner image for Cozy but Criminal event

COUNTDOWN TO NEXT HULF TALK (Saturday 30th September)

save the date image for nextHULF Talk In the meantime, just down the A46 from Stroud, I’m gearing up for the next book talk in the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival series of events in my home village.

This time, the theme is “Research and Inspiration: The Stories Behind the Stories“, and eight authors of novels across different genres will be in conversation about where they get their ideas, how they undertake their research, and how they weave facts seamlessly into fiction to create compelling, convincing stories.

Come and join me and Ali Bacon, Jean Burnett, Heather Child, Mari Howard, Justin Newland, and HJ Reed, from 2pm until 5pm in the Bethesda Chapel, Park Street, Hawkesbury Upton GL9 1BA. The ticket price of £5 includes tea and cake, plus a £2 discount voucher to spend on the book of your choice by one of the guest authors.

There just 50 seats in our venue, a light and airy Victorian chapel, so book now to be sure of a place, using this Eventbrite link.

For more information about Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival, visit


Posted in Events, Personal life, Writing

Lost and Found

With a stressful day ahead including trips to the doctor and dentist, I don a jaunty blue and green necklace to lift my spirits. It’s a gift from my friend Elizabeth, whom I’ve known since we started secondary school 52 years ago this month. Its bright colours match most of my clothes, and it rests comfortably on my collarbone – my favourite length for a necklace.

Photo of lost necklace

Arriving home after completing all my errands, I’m pleased with myself, until I put my hand to my throat. My necklace has vanished.

I tell myself to keep calm. I have form on losing necklaces only to find them again.

Once at a student disco, the DJ stopped the music, turned up the house lights, and directed everyone to search the floor. Then I realised the necklace hadn’t gone missing. It had just come undone and slipped down inside my top. To my acute embarrassment the DJ announced, “Ok, you can stop looking now. She’s found her necklace. It was round her neck.”

It’s not as if this is my only necklace.

I have a drawerful, unlike my paternal grandmother who alternated between two, or my maternal grandmother who always wore a simple gold chain. But although most of my jewellery is cheap and cheerful, you can’t put a price on a necklace chosen for you by a loved one, and I feel bereaved.

With a deadline looming for a magazine article, there’s no time to retrace my steps. I’ll be burning the midnight oil in any case.

I turn on my computer, pausing only for a quick prayer to St Anthony, the patron saint of lost things.

I don’t usually converse with saints, but having mentioned him, tongue-in-cheek, in my latest novel, it would be churlish to overlook him.

Next day I make an unplanned return trip to my GP’s practice. While queuing at the pharmacy window, I ask my daughter to check lost property at reception. When she reappears, missing necklace in hand, I shriek with joy. From the waiting room, patients regard me with astonishment. Perhaps they think I’ve just been given a miracle cure. But I’m simply a shepherdess rejoicing at finding her lost lamb.

So, with the new school year starting, when your child or grandchild comes home without gym shoes/pencil case/blazer, you know what to do. Just tell St Anthony I sent you. I’d like to keep in with him if I can.

headsthot of Debbie with neacklace
Reunited with my necklace – hurrah!

PS When looking up images to add to this post, I discovered The Noun Project (, which is “building a global visual language that unites us” – and all their images are royalty free. I love their image for “lost and found”, pictured as the featured image at the top of this post. I may be a wordsmith, but I love the idea of a universal language of pictures!

Further Reading on the Theme of Lost and Found

The seventh Sophie Sayers mystery, Murder Lost and Found, kicks off with a startling find in a school lost property cupboard.


 The fourth Gemma Lamb mystery, Artful Antics at St Bride’s, includes a scene in which the youngest class seek the help of St Anthony.

This post first appeared in the September edition of the Tetbury Advertiser

Posted in Reading, Writing

Why the English Countryside Makes a Great Setting for Mystery Novels

This week I’m in conversation with my author friend Helen Hollick about why rural communities make such great settings for cosy mystery novels

Debbie Young with Helen Holllick
Taken when I first met Helen Hollick at the launch of my first book many years ago! We have since become firm friends.

When my historical novelist friend Helen Hollick took to writing cosy mystery stories during lockdown, I couldn’t wait to read them. I’d enjoyed her Jesemiah Acorne pirate series, and her Arthurian novels were among my mum’s favourite books. What’s more Jan Christopher, the heroine of her new mystery novels was a young librarian in a public library very much like the one I belonged to as a child.  

Like me, as an adult Helen moved from greater London suburbia to the countryside – in her case to Devon, rather than to my neck of the woods in the Cotswolds. Her latest Jan Treasure mystery embraces Devon life at harvest time. I’m pleased to invite Helen on to my blog to day to tell me a bit about why rural Devon – or indeed any rural community – makes such a great setting for cosy mystery stories.

affiliate link to book's page on Amazon store
Click the image to view the book on Amazon

Helen: Hello Debbie, thank you for hosting me – and Jan Christopher – today!

Debbie: Jan’s adventures alternate between her native suburban London Borough of Waltham Forest and rural Devon. Why does a rural community make such a great setting for a cosy crime story? 

Helen: I moved from London with my husband and daughter, (and the horses and the cats and a dog) to Devon in January 2013 – best thing we ever did!

During Covid lockdown I wanted to write something where I could use my experience of working as a London suburb library assistant during the 1970s. A cozy mystery seemed a good idea, so the Jan Christopher Mysteries came into being. Snag. I also wanted to write about Devon; not exactly autobiographical, but drawing on living in the countryside. Easy solution: alternate the locations.

I think a rural community setting appeals to readers of cozy crime because of the lure of a slower pace of life, and the huge advantage of a village community is that everyone knows each other – ideal for amateur sleuthing via murder mystery writers!

Array of four book covers of Jan Treasure series
And then there were four…

Village gossip is no mythical exaggeration. Often X who lives at the other end of the village will know what you’re going to do before you do yourself. It’s a sad fact, but I only knew my immediate next-door neighbour when I was back in London, no idea of anyone else in the street. Here, I know almost everyone in the village, even though my nearest neighbour lives almost ¼ of a mile away!

And the biggest appeal of all? Many people long to live in the countryside, away from the hustle and bustle, but have no opportunity to do so. To escape into an outdoor life via the pages of a book is the next best thing to actually doing it – and with the added bonus of working out ‘whodunit’, well, who can resist?

Devon field with tractor harvesting
Work in progress

Debbie: What does the rural setting offer that the urban one doesn’t?  – and vice versa?

Helen: North Devon couldn’t be more different to Waltham Forest – a sprawling north-east London Borough consisting of the towns of Chingford, Walthamstow, Leyton and Leytonstone. It’s one advantage: Chingford borders the County of Essex and can boast the inclusion of Epping Forest, where I used to ride and keep my horses.

When musing about writing a murder mystery, I knew that I did not want to write it as a police procedure series. I know very little about crime investigation, beyond what I watch on TV, and anyway, my mysteries were to be set in the 1970s when we didn’t even have mobile phones, let alone the internet!

Here in a rural community we rarely see a police car, but they are everywhere in a London town.

In the countryside, strangers are all too happy to chat to other strangers. Alas, it doesn’t happen in London, everyone is far too busy rushing about from A-B with ‘no time to stand and stare’. Country people can often be found leaning on a gate, thoroughly enjoying the view.

Timekeeping rarely seems to exist. There’s a Devon word ‘Dreckly’, it basically means ‘some time soon’. Soon could be this afternoon or next month… or the next.

So in a rural setting you have fewer locals to include as characters but a greater opportunity for the community to gossip.

One huge advantage for a murder mystery, in a small rural village is that it will take a while for a summoned policeman to arrive. In town, you’re probably talking within the hour – add a couple more hours for Devon. Which gives your criminals time to get away, and time for some quality amateur sleuthing.

Field after harvesting
Nearly done!

A village will probably only have one or two shops and pubs. Town will have several in a small area. Fewer cars in villages, so the ‘grockles’ (strangers/tourists) are more readily noticed.

Good tip for mystery writers: visitors’ cars are usually clean.

The locals get used to the muddy lanes and soon don’t bother cleaning their cars!) A murder committed in town will usually get immediate attention. In a village – well someone in authority will come along ’dreckly…

Debbie: Like Jan – and Sophie Sayers and me! – you’ve moved in real life from an urban to a rural setting. But your move to the countryside, like mine and Sophie’s, was permanent. Jan clearly appreciates the beautiful, peaceful scenery – we know this as the stories are written mostly in her voice. Do you think it might tempt her to move permanently to Devon, if Laurie can get a work transfer?

Helen: Oh that would be telling wouldn’t it? Although in the postscript of Episode One, A Mirror Murder, (with the p.s set in modern times,) a much older Jan is clearly not in London. Does she move permanently? When? How? And is she still with DS Laurie Walker? Ah…all that will be in another story!

Debbie: How do your real-life neighbours take to having a crime-writer living in the midst of their peaceful community? Have you ever been asked to solve any local crimes or misdemeanours?

Helen: No, to the second part of the question, thank goodness, although I’ve often had to search my fields for a missing horseshoe that one of the horses has lost. Or one of the dog’s toys – or, actually, even a missing pony! We have a couple of Exmoor ponies and they are frequent escape artists. We found them once, over half-a-mile away almost up at the village. I’m sure they were heading for the pub!

My real-life neighbours are wonderful. I must add that my quirky characters are all entirely fictional, apart from three people: Heather is my friend who is often involved with the village community shop. We have tea and cake together usually once a week and often discuss the next mystery. So of course she had to become the Devon shopkeeper in my stories. In A Meadow Murder I have also included pub landlords Hazel and Steve, primarily as a thank you for their wonderful hospitality at the Exeter Inn. Hazel, Steve and Heather gave their full permission to be used as characters, and I have assured them that they would always be ‘goodies’ and not victims!

I have heard that there’s often a fair bit of chatter in the village shop about my books … mostly good, I hope!

Loaded tractor proceeding down a Devon country lane
Jan takes a ride on top of a loaded tractor in “A Meadow Murder”

Debbie: My fellow bell-ringers at our parish church are always suggesting new murder ideas for me – 101 ways to kill someone with a church bell! Does your adopted home in Devon inspire you with new ideas for crime stories that are specific to rural Devon or to the countryside in general?

Helen: Oh yes! Read A Meadow Murder and find out! I came up with the plot last summer whilst watching our local farmer, Andrew, trundle up and town turning the cut hay in our top field. The field slopes so you can’t see the bottom at all. “What if…” I thought.

The cover image for Meadow Murder is actually my field. The deer and rabbits have been added, but we do see them there.

Debbie: Jan’s stories are set in the 1970s. Her home town in north-east London will have changed a lot – to what extent have things changed since then in rural Devon? How different would the stories be if Jan was a member of Generation Z, ie born between 1990 and the early 2000s?

Helen: A modern Jan would be very different –which is why the stories are set in the 1970s, ‘my’ years as it were. (I was born in 1953.) Technology is a big difference, nearly everyone has cars, phones, laptops today. Though not everyone has a good Internet connection – ours can be very sporadic. We get quite a few power cuts too. I really enjoy your Sophie Sayers mysteries, Debbie, but, well, I just couldn’t do it. Jan and Laurie and their families are from the ’70s and that’s that! The thought of writing modern day just doesn’t appeal to me at all. I guess nostalgia wins out for me – and I hope for my readers, too!

Debbie: Finally, thank you for allowing me to share below an extract from A Meadow Murder  to whet my readers’ appetites! 

3D stack of paperbacks of A Meadow MurderExtract from A MEADOW MURDER

The tractor was trundling off down the row, the baler scooping up the cut hay, packing it into slabs, automatically tying them together with two lengths of baler string and shooting the trussed rectangular bale out behind, before repeating the whole process. Mr Greenslade drove the tractor round the field in ever decreasing circles – or more correctly, odd-shaped squares. Down one row, along the bottom of the meadow, up the furthest row, across the top of the meadow, down the next row, along the bottom… coming at each turn closer to the middle of the field until there were only two rows left.

Our job, I discovered, was to follow the tractor and stack the bound bales in groups of six or eight in order to make the next step of loading them onto the trailer easier.

“Roll them,” Kevin advised when he saw me lifting a bale by the string. “Less likely for the twine t’ break an’ easier on your back. Roll with the lie of the land, downhill.”

It took a while to cover the entire field, walking up and down the rows – down was fine, up… the hill seemed to get steeper with each row. Funny how it didn’t look steep from the top, but imitated Mount Everest from the bottom. (Slight exaggeration, but you know what I mean!) At last the tractor came to a stop, with (and we all cheered) no more breakdowns. Scattered across the field as if they were some form of crude artistic sculptures, were stacks of hay, baking in the heat of the haze-shimmering, airless afternoon. We were all somewhat sweaty and grimy, with sore backs and smarting hands, despite wearing gloves. But the work was only half done. Five-hundred bales of hay had to be transferred into the security of the barn before those blackening clouds came any nearer.

If I thought anything we’d done so far was backbreaking, hard work, I soon discovered that I’d been wrong. Stacking the bales on the trailer was much harder, even though I had one of the easier assignments. Aunt Madge and I were on the flat bed of the trailer receiving the bales that the men tossed up. We had to stack them one layer at a time, with each layer criss-crossing, otherwise, if they’d been simply one atop the other the whole lot would fall down. The first three layers were quite simple, but as the stack got higher, the bales had to be tossed higher, and we had to climb higher to keep up with the enthusiastic (and apparently untiring) bale-tossing men. I say it was hard work (it was!) but it was also a laugh. Teasing and banter between us, laughing as the tractor pulling the trailer lurched across the field from each six or eight stacked pile of haybales to the next. I had never felt as stiff and tired before, nor had I ever felt as wonderfully alive and happy.

Aunt Madge jumped down as the fourth layer began to grow, aware that she wasn’t too confident at balancing on a lurching and swaying height, which left me to do the last two layers on my own, but I’d got into the swing of it by then, so didn’t mind.

I suppose the trailer took about seventy bales. (I can’t tell you exactly; I’m guessing as I lost count somewhere along the third layer.) Then the next fun bit… there was no way I could get safely down – balancing atop a trailer stacked high with bales of hay is a challenge, believe me. Outside of learning how to fly, or leaping into Laurie’s outstretched arms in the hope that he’d catch me (both not an option), there was only one thing for it. I made myself a hollow in the centre of the top layer to ride the trailer all the way down the lane.

“Duck your head under the low trees!” Laurie called as Mr Greenslade set off negotiating the gate and the fairly tight turn from the meadow into the lane.

I have to say, it was one of the most thrilling things I’d ever done – and this included those scary, whizzy rides at the fun fair! The trailer was slow, very bumpy and rattly, and I could hear the occasional grinding of complaining brakes holding back the tremendous weight as we went down the steep hill, but the view above the hedges to across the fields was magnificent, and the ride itself was, well I can only describe it as exciting.

ereader showing A Meadow MurderAbout A Meadow Murder 

Make hay while the sun shines?

Summer 1972. Young library assistant Jan Christopher and her fiancé, DS Lawrence Walker, are on holiday in North Devon. There are country walks and a day at the races to enjoy, along with Sunday lunch at the village pub, and the hay to help bring in for the neighbouring farmer.

But when a body is found the holiday plans are to change into an investigation of murder, hampered by a resting actor, a woman convinced she’s met a leprechaun and a scarecrow on walkabout…

A Meadow Murder is the fourth tale in the Jan Christopher cosy murder mystery series, the first three being A Mirror Murder, A Mystery of Murder and A Mistake of Murder… see what I’ve done there? Yes, I’ve created a proper puzzle for myself because now every tale in the series will have to follow the same title pattern of ‘A M-something- of Murder’ (Suggestions welcome!)

Based on working as a library assistant during the 1970s, the mysteries alternate between the location of Chingford, north-east London, where the real library I worked in used to be, (the building is still there, but is, alas, now offices,) and my own North Devon village, but ‘Chappletawton’ is a fictional version, larger than my rural community and has far more quirky characters.

The main characters in the series, however, remain the same: Jan Christopher is the niece, and ward, of Detective Chief Inspector Toby Christopher and his wife, her Aunt Madge. In A Mirror Murder, Jan (short for January, a name she hates) meets her uncle’s new driver, Detective Constable Lawrence Walker. Naturally, it is love at first sight… but will an investigation into a murder affect their budding romance?

“As delicious as a Devon Cream Tea!author Elizabeth St John

“Every sentence pulls you back into the early 1970s… The Darling Buds of May, only not Kent, but Devon. The countryside itself is a character and Hollick imbues it with plenty of emotion” author Alison Morton

About Helen Hollick

Headshot of Helen Hollick
Helen Hollick

First accepted for traditional publication in 1993, Helen became a USA Today Bestseller with her historical novel, The Forever Queen (titled A Hollow Crown in the UK) with the sequel, Harold the King (US: I Am The Chosen King) being novels that explore the events that led to the Battle of Hastings in 1066. Her Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy is a fifth-century version of the Arthurian legend.

She writes a nautical adventure/supernatural series, The Sea Witch Voyages. She has also branched out into the quick read novella, ‘Cosy Mystery’ genre with her Jan Christopher Murder Mysteries, set in the 1970s, with the first in the series, A Mirror Murder incorporating her, often hilarious, memories of working as a library assistant.

Her non-fiction books are Pirates: Truth and Tales and Life of A Smuggler.

Helen lives with her husband and daughter in an eighteenth-century farmhouse in North Devon.



Posted in Writing

How I Wove the Legacy of the Cotswold Wool Trade into “Artful Antics at St Bride’s”

In each episode of both my cozy mystery series, I introduce new characters and settings to old favourites from previous books. This post is about some new faces and an ancient manor house at the heart of my latest Gemma Lamb Cozy Mystery, Artful Antics at St Bride’s

photo of paperback of Artful Antics at St Bride's on green gingham tablecloth with magnifying glass and spots of bloodIn this story, St Bride’s School acquires a secretive new pupil, Frieda Ehrlich, whose school fees are sponsored by enigmatic tycoon Sebastian Goldman-Coutts. He’s the new owner of Torrid Manor, which lies hidden behind high hedges and forbidding walls just a few miles from the school’s private grounds in the Cotswolds.

When English teacher Gemma Lamb is invited to visit Torrid Manor, she is astonished to find the historic mansion is almost derelict. With only candles lighting the house, Gemma snatches shadowy glimpses of its former glory.

Why would a supposed billionaire choose such a shabby home? What is he hiding? Or who is he hiding from?

These days, Cotswolds mansions are highly sought after by super-rich celebrities from actors and rock stars to politicians and royalty. Having made their fortunes elsewhere, they escape to a rural idyll. Yet the mansions’ original owners got rich through a very local trade: Cotswold wool.  

Photo of a Cotswold sheep facing camera in field
Image by DRichards2, via Wikimedia under Creative Commons Licence

In medieval times, the thick, curly, golden fleeces of the ancient Cotswold Lion breed of sheep produced the finest wool in the world. It was as prized and prestigious as precious metals and jewels. Cotswold merchants amassed great wealth by exporting wool throughout Europe.

Hidcote Manor (geograph 4415286)
I imagined Torrid Manor to be something like Hidcote Manor. (Picture via Wikimedia under Creative Commons licence.)

Like modern billionaires, these rich merchants invested their riches in property. They commissioned the building of prestigious homes, fashioned from the distinctive golden-hued Cotswold stone.

Many also endowed the construction of magnificent churches. Pictured here is the parish church of St John the Baptist, Cirencester.

photo of Cirencester parish church via Wikimedia Creative Commons licence

As demand soared, market towns sprang up throughout the region as trading centres for sheep and fleeces. If you’ve ever wondered why so many Cotswold town names include the word “Chipping”, it’s because “Chipping” is the local word for “market”. Smaller buildings provided studios and workshops for wool processors: spinners, dyers and weavers. Street names bear witness to their original purpose, such as Dyer Street or Weavers’ Row. Laurie Lee’s local pub was The Woolpack.

Skyscape of Painswick, the Cotswold wool town
The beautiful Cotswold wool town of Painswick (Public domain image via Wikimedia)

Sadly, the Cotswold wool trade declined during the Industrial Revolution, with the rise of the steam-powered mills in the north. But the honey-coloured mansions, churches, and market towns are a lasting legacy of the Cotswolds’ Golden Age of Wool.

In Artful Antics at St Bride’s, Gemma Lamb detects that Sebastian Goldman-Coutts is hiding dark secrets at Torrid Manor, including his own agenda for St Bride’s. So begins her latest quest to save the school, with unexpected consequences…

Extract from Artful Antics at St Bride’s

‘So we’re calling this term’s Essential Skills Challenge, “Raise the Roof with Your New Business”,’ Hairnet announced, making eye contact with each of the teachers in turn as if to ensure our cooperation. ‘As you know, several girls are already running successful businesses in their own modest – and safe – way, trading in home-made jewellery and handicrafts via Itsy Bitsy.’

I assumed she meant Etsy. Modern technology wasn’t her strong point.

‘Those girls can be mentors and role models for the others, in whatever line of business they choose. Although the purpose of these new businesses will be rather different: we will launch the programme with an inspirational and informative talk by someone seasoned in managing a successful business and who has much wisdom to share.’

The bursar seemed to grow a few centimetres taller at this remark, only to shrink back at her next statement.

‘A couple of you have already met Mr Goldman-Coutts, the generous sponsor of our delightful new sixth form pupil, Frieda Ehrlich.’

Hazel and I exchanged glances. Even though, like me, she always tried to see the best in our girls, I don’t think either of us would have applied the adjective ‘delightful’ to Frieda.

‘The rest of you will soon have the opportunity to meet the dear man. He has kindly agreed to address the girls after lunch tomorrow, despite his busy schedule.’

Mavis raised her hand. ‘Miss Harnett, just what is Mr Goldman-Coutts’ line of business that qualifies him to advise a hundred adolescent girls?’

Oriana raised a well-manicured forefinger, as if too indolent to put up her whole hand.

‘Whatever it is, it’s making him extremely rich. I looked up his estate on Google Earth and it’s massive. Torrid Manor’s a huge mansion, with countless outhouses, far more than a home of that size might need for stables or coach houses or garden bothies. He must be fabulously good at whatever his line of business is.’

‘Torrid Manor?’ Judith raised an eyebrow. ‘I didn’t think anyone had lived there for years.’

‘Nonsense,’ retorted Oriana. ‘He told Hazel and Gemma that’s where he lives.’

Silenced by Oriana’s curt manner, Judith pressed her lips together. I suspected Judith knew more than she was letting on. I decided to have a quiet word with her as soon as I could get her on her own. She had been a wise and supportive friend to me, and I trusted her judgement more than Oriana’s.

‘It doesn’t follow,’ said Mavis. ‘He might have inherited an even property portfolio from his father and be in the process of squandering it on decadent living and business ineptitude. I’m sure we can all think of figures in public life with a similar record.’

‘Actual wealth trumps earning power in my book,’ retorted Oriana. ‘Provided a man’s rich enough for life, I don’t care whether or not he’s an entrepreneurial genius. What matters is the here and now.’

Like to read more? Click here to order your copy online now, or ask for it by name wherever you like to buy your books. 

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(This post first appeared on my publisher’s blog at

Posted in Reading, Writing

Inspired by Books About Boarding Schools

This post was originally written for my publisher Boldwood Books’ blog to mark the launch of Artful Antics at St Bride’s, my fourth Gemma Lamb Cozy Mystery set at the eccentric St Bride’s School for Girls. 

When I dreamed up St Bride’s School, the setting for my Gemma Lamb Cozy Mystery series, I was drawing not only on my experience of working at a girls’ boarding school, but also on my love of the various boarding school stories I read as a child.

Continue reading “Inspired by Books About Boarding Schools”