My Young By Name Blog

Posted in Personal life, Writing

May Be Not…

My column for the May issue of the Hawkesbury Parish News

cover of May issue features photo of Debbie launching HULF
A strangely familiar face on the May front cover too…

After a hectic start to 2019, I was hoping my May diary would be blank.

Not that I’ve turned anti-social all of a sudden. But 1st May marks a major life-change for me, as on 30th April I leave my part-time day job in order to devote all my working hours to writing. The only diary dates I’d envisaged for May were self-imposed milestones for my next book.

The impartial observer might notice no difference in my behaviour. In my day job, I worked almost entirely from home, with the shortest commute possible (bedroom to study, five paces) and an office dress code of pyjamas.

Same applies from 1st May. I’ll still be sitting in the same chair, at the same desk, at the same computer, although I regularly change the pyjamas. But in my head, the difference will be enormous. I hope soon to have a new book out as evidence of my personal revolution.

Yet despite my best intentions, before April is out, there is already a flurry of events in my May diary: Dog Show, Plant Sale, Big Breakfast, HU5K. And that’s before the May issue of the Parish News falls on my doormat. (I scan every issue, diary in hand, as soon as it arrives, for fear of missing out – don’t you?)

Of course, living in a community as lively as Hawkesbury Upton, a blank diary could only be a figment of my imagination.

But imagination’s my long suit. After all, I do write fiction.


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Headshot of Debbie Young by Angela Fitch
Posted in Events, Reading, Writing

Ali Smith, CrimeFest & Partners in Crime

Selfie of Debbie Young, Alison Morton, & David Penny
CrimeFest is a great place to network with fellow crime-writers such as my author chums Alison Morton and David Penny.

Last week went by in a bit of a blur for me, but included attending two very enjoyable events that you might like to know about.

I must admit after having spent a large part of this year so far organising the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival, it was bliss for me to attend events as a member of the audience, and to sit back and enjoy myself rather than rushing about making things happen.

Ali Smith at Tetbury Book Fest

The week kicked off with the new Tetbury Book Fest, run by the Yellow-Lighted Bookshop at the delightful Tetbury Goods Shed, a small-scale events space on the site of the former and sympathetically converted former Tetbury railway station. This Cotswold market town, just a few miles up the road from me, was filled with party atmosphere, its annual Wacky Races event, in which locals race home-made go-carts around its street, having taken place a little earlier that day.

At Tetbury, I really enjoyed a talk by Ali Smith, one of the country’s most highly-regarded authors. She doesn’t do many public events like this, but the Yellow-Lighted’s ever-persuasive Hereward managed to lure her along. She was there to talk about her latest book, Spring, but it was also inspiring to hear her talk about her love of books and reading,

cover of Spring by Ali Smith
The third in Ali Smith’s seasonal quartet of novels

“My books are nothing to do with me once I’ve finished them,” she said. “Books belong to us all individually as well as communally.”

She passionately advocated rereading books – a great excuse for those who, like me, like to keep books they’ve enjoyed in case they want to return to them later.

“Books are different to us on rereading ten years later,” she observed, and I completely agree.

I was also chuffed to learn a new word from her: intertextuality. This means the act of referring to other texts within a book. I do that a lot in my Sophie Sayers series (Sophie works in a bookshop), mostly for comic effect, but it’s pleasing to know there’s a formal name for it.

I didn’t take a photo of Ali because she is very shy and it would have felt intrusive, but I had a nice chat with her while she was signing her book for me, and was pleased to be able to tell her that the previous week I’d been with Dr Gerri Kimber, whom she thanks in the acknowledgements section of Spring, when she came to speak at the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival about Katherine Mansfield, referenced in her book.

CrimeFest

My week ended with four days in a big Bristol hotel at CrimeFest, a huge international writing conference that draws authors and readers from all over the world. The hotel felt a bit like a crime scene itself, with stripes of colour-coded tape stuck to the carpets to guide you through winding corridors and deserted ballrooms to specific events. I would not have been surprised to find a chalk outline of a body along the way.

As well as a tempting bookshop, there was a stall selling crime-related props designed for use at murder mystery parties or launches of crime novels. The closest they had to a real weapon was a chocolate gun, but much as I love chocolate, even that made me shudder whenI heard the vendor saying breezily “Kids love them”. I really don’t want to see a child with a chocolate gun in its mouth. Ugh.

The CrimeFest programme is packed, with several strands of events running simultaneously all day long. In between socialising with crimewriting friends, I attended the following sessions across the four days:

  • Whose Story: Unique Voices and Unreliable Narrators
  • They’ve Been in My Head for Years: Writing a Long-standing Series
  • Writing Elsewhere: Using an International Setting
  • Don’t Make Me Laugh: Humour in Crime Fiction
  • Contemporary Issues: Reflecting How We Live
  • Crime Fiction Legacies: Desmond Bagly, Campion, Holmes and More
  • A Light Touch: Writing Traditional Mysteries
  • Unlikely Alliances: Partners, Sidekicks and Friends
  • The Indie Alternative
The Indie Alternative, chaird by the fabulous Zoe Sharpe, with B L Faulkner, Beate Boeker, Lynn Florkiewicz and Stephen G Collier (I spoke on this panel at CrimeFest 2018)

Each panel had three or four speakers plus a moderator, all published authors, some long-established bestsellers, others closer to the start of their crimewriting career. The standard of moderators and speakers was very high, with only one of the panels descending quickly into self-promotion.

The authors who particularly captivated me were all people whose books I’d never read, but that’s about to change: 

  • Norwegian novelist Gunnar Staalesen, writing the same series for 43 years
  • Felix Francis, son of the more famous Dick Francis, continuing his legacy, with his own name on the cover of his books but underneath the strapline “A Dick Francis Novel”!
  • Mike Ripley, an irrepressible author of comic crime novels and also continuation author for Margery Allingham
  • Janet Laurence, a dignified and gracious lady who talked with great authority about the Golden Age of Crimewriting – I could have listened to her all day
  • Beate Boeker, a delightful German who says her name in a certain dialect translates as “Happy Books” – talk about nominative determinalism!
  • Charlie Gallagher, a serving police officer writing bestselling police procedurals
  • Vaseem Khan, whose detective’s sidekick is a baby elephant, and whose day job is at the Jill Dando Institute of Security and Crime Science

These last two provided a sobering reminder that crime doesn’t only happen in fiction.

Spoiled for choice as to what to read next and unable to choose between all of these, I bought instead a book I’d been meaning to read for ages: Martin Edwards’ The Golden Age of Crimewriting – the perfect follow-up to my current read, Janet Brabazon’s biography of Dorothy L Sayers.

But it’s a fair cop, I confess: on arriving home, I immediately went online and bought secondhand from a charity retailer the first in Vaseem Khan‘s series. Well, what’s not to love about baby elephants?


What’s Next?

Another week, another festival! This week I’ll be chairing a panel on cosy crime novels at the Oakwood Literature Festival in Derby; going to a musical evening in Avebury based on Beatrice Parvin‘s historical novel Captain Swing and the Blacksmith, and attending the Spring event for Stroud Short Stories. And in between times, I may even get some writing done! Full report to follow next week…

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Posted in Events, Writing

My Favourite Subject

A post about three recent public appearances – one on the radio and two at litfests

Well, who doesn’t like talking about themselves?

In the first of what I’m hoping will be a weekly round-up of what I’ve been up to in my writing life, here’s a quick summary of three highlights for me from last week (if you count the first day of the week as a Saturday, that is!)

1 The 5th Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival (Saturday 27th April)

Despite Hurricane Hannah, Brad Borkan and I were still smiling at the end of the very successful day (Photo by Angela Fitch Photography)

I’m pleased to report that this year’s HULF (one of the many things people call it for short – HULit is popular too!) was a roaring success, the biggest and best yet with over 60 authors, poets, illustrators and artists taking part to stage a packed programme of events to suit all ages and interests. To get the full picture, hop over to the Festival’s website, where we’re already counting down to HULF2020 (!), but where we’re going to be keeping the magic going year-round by weekly posts from the guest speakers. We kick off with a post sharing keynote speaker Brad Borkan’s wonderful opening address about the power of books and reading. In the sidebar of that blog you’ll find a “follow” button if you’d like to receive each new post in your inbox, and an email list sign-up button if you’d like to be kept abreast of Festival news.

I purposely kept myself out of the programme this year to allow myself plenty of time to scurry about from venue to venue, checking everything was running smoothly, (which it was, thanks to my amazing team of speakers and volunteers). But I did enjoy welcoming everyone in the opening ceremony, sharing my dream for a free festival accessible to all, and celebrating the huge talent assembled in the village from far and wide for this special day. I also indulged myself by giving a reading from Best Murder in Show to round off the “Around the World in 8ish Books” session which provided a virtual world tour chaired by Caroline Sanderson, Associate Editor of The Bookseller. My book brought us firmly back to life in an English village!

2 Read My Lips Radio Show (Monday 29th April/Tuesday 30th April)

Yes, you read that right – it spanned two days! I had to log on just before midnight on the Monday and was on air till 1.30am!

Bonnie D Graham, aka Red Radio, was the perfect host at the midnight hour

Agreeing to be a guest on a live radio show which started in North Carolina at 7pm their time might not seem like the smartest decision, as by that time I was exhausted from the Festival and really needed to catch up on sleep, but I’m really glad I did, because it was great fun! Host Bonnie D Graham (aka Radio Red!) is a feisty host, a real pro, segueing easily between disparate topics and making fellow guest Sanjog Aul and me feel very comfortable. Sanjog’s self-help book, The Tricycle Way: How to Stop Racing Through Life and Start Enjoying the Ride, might not sound like the obvious bedfellow for my cosy mystery novels, but we found we had a surprising amount in common and many shared values.

I have Brad Borkan to thank for the introduction to Bonnie – he’s featured on her show several times.

Although the show went out live, it’s available to listen to on demand, so click this link if you’d like to tune in – I don’t chime in till about half way through but I found Sanjog’s interview very interesting too! 

http://www.blogtalkradio.com/bonniedgraham/2019/04/29/the-tricycle-way-pt-2-with-sanjog-aul-and-uk-mystery-author-debbie-young

3 Wrexham Carnival of Words (Thursday 2nd May)

I rounded off my busy week with a trip to speak about my cosy mystery novels as part of the vibrant Wrexham Carnival of Words, which my author friend David Ebsworth helps organise. He had kindly come to HULF on the Saturday to give his fascinating illustrated talk, “Five Things You Probably Didn’t Know about the Spanish Civil War”, drawing on the research he did for his excellent historical mystery series that kicks off with The Assassin’s Mark, a Christiesque detective story. I highly recommend all three books in the series. by the way.

I was invited to speak in the Carnival’s new lunch-time strand of Meet the Author talks in the spacious, light and airy Wrexham Library, set in the midst of beautifully tended gardens. What a lovely asset for any town and litfest!

The audience may have come to Meet the Author, but I really enjoyed meeting the audience too! I talked about my Sophie Sayers Village Mystery series, why I chose to write cosy mystery, and the relationship between the concept and my real life in a small Cotswold community very similar to the fictional one featured in the stories. I gave several readings and shared some anecdotes about life in Hawkesbury Upton that if you put in a novel, one might not believe! I also told them a bit about HULF, and at least one member of the audience put it straight in her diary and has started planning her trip for HULF 2020! I was happy to sign quite a few books for sale afterwards, and I so enjoyed the experience that I donated the first three books in the series to Wrexham Library.

It was a joy to speak to an enthusiastic audience at Wrexham’s very pleasant library

What’s Next?

After such a busy week out and about, i was glad to look forward to a weekend at home to build up my strength for the following week, when it would be my turn to be in the audience, at a talk by the inspirational author Ali Smith as part of the new Tetbury Book Fest, and at the four-day CrimeFest conference in Bristol. More news of those events next week…

Posted in Personal life, Self-publishing, Writing

The End of an Era and the Beginning of a New One

A post about my new life as a full-time novelist

Debbie with ALLi friends in selfie shot
Celebrating the launch of “Opening Up To Indie Authors”, a book I co-wrote with Dan Holloway (right), at the London Book Fair – with fellow authors Jessica Bell, Hugh Howey and Orna Ross and Kobo’s UK Director Diego Marano

In just two weeks’ time, it’ll be all change for me as I leave the closest thing I have to a day-job to devote all my time to writing and marketing my books.

In some respects there’ll be no change, in that my commute will be exactly the same: from bedroom to study, just six paces. But instead of  working for the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi, as in “ally”), I’ll be working entirely for myself.

All about ALLi

ALLi logoIn case you’re not familiar with ALLi, let me explain a little about what it is, what it does, and what I did there. ALLi is a global, non-profit organisation for independent authors to share best practice and support, founded by Irish author and poet Orna Ross in 2012.

Debbie on the terrace of the House of Commons with an ALLi flyer
Raising awareness of ALLi at the House of Commons, July 2015, at the All Party Writers’ Group Summer Drinks Party

In 2013, Orna invited me to be Commissioning Editor of its daily blog (www.selfpublishingadvice.org), and that role soon expanded. I moderated its members’-only advice forum, co-wrote self-help books for authors in ALLi’s series of guidebooks, wrote ALLi-related guest posts on other blogs, helped man its stand at the London Book Fair, and spoke on ALLi’s behalf at various festivals and writing events around the country. As an offshoot, I also started two writers’ groups, one in Cheltenham and one in Bristol, whose membership I had to restrict to ALLi members only to keep the numbers manageable.

With a new blog post required every day, and to a specific deadline, my ALLi work had to take priority – and for a long time I hugely enjoyed it, not least because I was networking online daily with all manner of authors all over the world, and learning an enormous amount along the way, particularly from Orna herself, who had become a real mentor to me in my writing as well as in my role at ALLi.

And Plenty More Besides

Orna Ross (left) has been part of the Hawkesbury Upton Lit Fest from the beginning – pictured here with Katie Fforde at the first ever HULF (Photo by http://www.pixelprphotography.co.uk)

I also managed to fit in a reasonable amount of writing (I’ve published five novels in the last two years), public speaking on my own account, and running the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival, of which the fifth is about to take place (Saturday 27th April). However, around Christmas time, with my work-in-progress novel beset by a series of delays, I realised that if I was to achieve my long-term writng goals, something would have to give. I was operating on as little sleep and as little housework as I could get away with, and there were still never enough hours in the day. A series of minor illnesses (all now thankfully resolved) underscored the message that I was simply trying to do too much.

For years people had been saying to me “I don’t know how you do it all” – it just took me a while to agree with them.

Onward and Upward

Coming soon – honest! The first in my new series of novels.

Orna and the team at ALLi have been gracious and generous as we’ve worked on a handover, and I’ve been vastly amused to discover I’m being replaced by not one but three people! (Ok, so they’re all working part-time on what I used to do, but the thought still made Orna and me laugh.) I will continue to be ALLi’s UK Ambassador, and to write and speak on the organisations behalf now and again, but apart from that I will be my own person. If I don’t get as many books written as I plan, I will have no excuse, and no-one to blame but myself! So watch this space – and if you’d like me to alert you as I release new books, please click here to join my Readers’ Club, and I’ll keep you posted of progress.

I’ll close now with Orna’s version of this news, over on the ALLi blog. She is very kind!

New Horizons for Our Blog Editor and Self-Publishing Advice Center Manager Debbie Young