My Young By Name Blog

Posted in Reading, Writing

A Book for All Seasons: The Joy of Seasonal Reading and Writing

This post about seasonal writing first appeared on 30th August on the Authors Electric blog, for which I’m now a regular monthly contributor. (I write a new post on the 30th of each month).

When I started planning the cosy mystery series I’m currently writing, I thought I had a bright idea: I’d make the seven books span the course of the year.

What’s not to love about writing a book for all seasons, and then some? Whatever the time of year, I’d have a topical book to tout.

Given that my Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries are set in a small (fictional) English village (no surprises there), its residents are naturally very conscious of the seasonal changes, and their social calendar dictated by the time of year.That’s just how it is in the small (non-fictional) English village in which I’ve lived for the last twenty-six years. Here in my real life village, I’m so much more aware of the passage of the seasons than when I lived and worked in and around London.

Working in a city centre, I was more likely to spot the season by what was in shop windows, rather than by the appearance (or disappearance) of lambs and the like.

Bikinis in Marks and Spencers? Ah, then it must be February.

I much prefer the rural indication of the coming of spring: seeing the lambs appear down my lane.

Seasonal Satisfaction

Yes, I often share my street with sheep, or sometimes cows. Today we passed a few chickens pottering about at the roadside outside the local farm shop. Well, where else would a chicken go to do its shopping?

And if there’s a traffic jam down my way, it’s more likely to be caused by a farm vehicle than a stream of commuter cars. On nearby Sodbury Common, herds of cows frequently block the road.

For those who don’t live in the country, reading the Sophie Sayers books will give them the chance to enjoy the seasons vicariously as they work their way through the series.

Seasonal books = seasonal reading = seasonal sales.

Good plan. 

Until I try to launch my new autumn read, Trick or Murder?, full of mists and mellow murder, on a searingly hot August Bank Holiday weekend, when we can almost convince ourselves that summer still has weeks to run.
It felt indecent to be talking about October already

I find myself not wanting to even think about the autumn, never mind promote my autumn-themed book. 

It seems unkind to remind people that autumn is just around the corner, like the supermarkets that start hyping back-to-school wear the minute the schools break up for their summer holidays.

Standing in scorching sunshine talking about Halloween and Guy Fawkes’ Night – key events in Trick or Murder? – seems as tasteless as touting mince pies and Christmas cards in September. Yes, I know Tesco’s will be doing that. I rest my case.

 I know that commercial traders, including bookshops, will carry on regardless, marketing things at least a season before we really want to think about them.

But I’ve decided to launch my Christmas special for the series, Murder in the Manger, for the day after Guy Fawkes’ Night, and not a minute sooner.

Time passes us by all too fast without me fast-forwarding the seasons.

In the meantime, I plan to make the most of whatever remains of the summer sunshine.

May we all have many sunny days yet to come. 
cover of Best Murder in Show cover of Trick or Murder?

The first two books in the Sophie Sayers Village Mystery series are now available in ebook and paperback. You don’t need to read them in order, if you prefer to start with the one most appropriate for the current season. The third book, Murder in the Manger, will be out on November 6th.

Posted in Personal life, Travel, Writing

Eavesdropping While Shopping

My Young By Name column from the September issue of the Tetbury Advertiser

Cover of September issue
The editor’s choice of images to illustrate my column always makes me laugh – spot the subtle listening device in the black and white picture, top left

Whenever I’m on holiday, my writer’s habit of eavesdropping on other people’s conversations goes into overdrive.

It is particularly well rewarded this August in the heart of Inverness’s shopping district, a regular pit-stop when we’re touring the Highlands in our camper van.

Co-op Encounter

Outside the Co-op in a seedy side street, a cluster of pale, unkempt young men is hanging on a bedraggled, older woman’s every word. She looks like she is holding court, giving her loyal troops their instructions for the day.

“There’s the cemetery, like, the graveyard. There’s always the graveyard.”

I am unsure whether this is a deployment directive or a warning against disobedience.

Peril in Primark

As my teenage daughter checks out Primark, a father and his little girl are idling in the toy section. He must be under orders to occupy her while his wife enjoys a bit of low-budget retail therapy. The child, decked out in princess pink, is beautiful: strawberry blonde curls, blue eyes, sweet face. She seems to be taking the lead in the entertainment stakes, so perhaps the maternal instructions were for her to keep Daddy amused, rather than the other way round.

“Let’s play chicken,” she suggests brightly.

He looks blank, unsure of the rules. I pretend to browse a nearby rack of t-shirts while I wait to find out.

She seizes two plastic bazooka-style guns from a nearby display.

“You’ve got to shoot me, and I’ve got to shoot you. Bang, you’re dead! Now you shoot me. Now we’re both dead.”

The father looks dumbstruck, and I suspect I do too. What has he raised? The natural successor for the lady outside the Co-op?

Models in Marks

Half an hour later, towards the top of town where the smarter shops are, I am heartened by the approach of a more wholesome-looking family group emerging from Marks and Spencer: a father, son of about ten, and daughter young enough to be riding on her father’s shoulders. They are all bronzed, beautiful, and glowing with health. They could have stepped out of the pages of an upmarket Sunday lifestyle supplement.

Their glowing tans make me wonder which country they’re from. The Highlands is awash with foreign tourists in summer. Parked near our van that day are high-end cars registered in Monaco and San Merino, as well as the usual swarm of Italian, French, German, Spanish and Dutch motor homes. Then I spot the boy’s West Ham supporters’ scarf.

As the group passes by, the little girl’s crystal tones ring out in Queen’s English: ‘Well, everybody has to pass wind.”

I suspect Daddy may be regretting offering her a shoulder ride.

Tourists in Tetbury

I wonder what Tetbury’s tourists take away from conversations they hear in its streets? Listen out next time you venture into town – you may find your routine shopping trip more entertaining than you expect.

_______________________

Cover of Young by Name

 

FURTHER READING

You’ll find more like this in Young By Name, the book that brings together my first 60 columns for the Tetbury Advertiser, available both as an ebook and in paperback. Click here for details of how to order your copy. 

 

Posted in Travel, Writing

When Blog Posts are Like Buses…

View across the Cromarty Firth
By the time morning came around, this deserted spot on the Black Isle had gained two surprising new visitors: vast cruise ships moored on the Cromarty Firth – fortunately on the other side of it from our camper van

Catching up with my blog for September

A fraught September culminated with a certain inevitability in a debilitating cold virus, which sent me into near-hibernation for a few days. This has put me woefully behind with my blog, even to do what I regard as the bare minimum: to keep it as a central archive of what I’ve written elsewhere online or for printed publications.

So if you’re a regular reader here, please forgive the prolonged silence, which will now be followed by a sudden flurry of posts before I run out of September!

I’m kicking off with the column that I wrote for September’s Hawkesbury Parish News, when I was in Scotland on my summer holidays. Seems like light years ago now!

Stretching the Summer

In August, we head for the Scottish Highlands, whose soaring mountains make the Cotswold hills look like speedbumps.

It’s not just the landscape that is on a grander scale here. This far north, the daylight hours are significantly longer than at home.

From Mallaig, we watch the sun set over the islands of Skye, Rum and Eigg a good hour after Hawkesbury’s nightfall. On the Cromarty Firth, despite the absence of light pollution, it’s only just dark enough at 11pm to discern the Perseid meteorite shower at its official kick-off time.

It is as if we have travelled back in time to the summer solstice.

Although I have been a frequent visitor to Scotland for the last seventeen years, the difference in daylight hours never fails to fascinate me. In the same way, every time I stand on a beach (in Nairn, east of Inverness, this holiday), I marvel at the way the moon pushes and pulls the tides.

Returning home in time, as always, for the Village Show, I know the earlier nightfall down south will come as a shock, as we’ve been away long enough to acclimatise to northern nights. But it’s not as if we’ll feel fast-forwarded into the fall, because whatever the sun or moon might do, everybody knows that the day after Hawkesbury Show is the first day of autumn.

View from Mallaig car park
Over the sea to Skye – and Eigg, and Rumm – viewed from our camper van in Mallaig this summer

 

 

Posted in Events, Personal life, Writing

Village Show Cluedo

photo of giant vegetables next to model house
For vegetables bigger than your house, visit Hawkesbury Horticultural Show *

My column for the August 2017 edition of Hawkesbury Parish News

A few years ago, an old school friend from abroad came to visit me here in Hawkesbury and was keen to learn about village life. He took a special interest in our famous Hawkesbury Horticultural Show.

At that point, I was a member of the Show Committee, and I was responsible for producing the schedule each year. Although the next Show was some months away, I was able to show him the draft schedule, and his eyes widened at the huge range of entry classes and trophies.

photo of the 2017 schedule
Our copy of this year’s schedule, slightly dog-eared after much use

“Wow, this sounds just like the sort of thing you see in Midsomer Murders,” he enthused. (They watch a lot of British television in the Netherlands.) “Is there a prize for Best Murder in Show?”

Reluctantly I had to disappoint him, but I squirrelled away his suggestion for future use, and earlier this year I published a novel by the same name, the first in a series of classic cosy mysteries set in the fictitious village of Wendlebury Barrow.

It now occurs to me that our Horticultural Show would also make a cracking setting for a localised game of Cluedo: “Entries Secretary, in the Produce Tent, with a Prize Marrow” or “Show Chairman, in the Village Hall, with some Celery”. The possibilities are endless.

Here’s to another inspiring Show Day for us all – and may we all live to tell the tale.

*Actually, that house in the photo above is really a tea cosy – which I turned into a doorstop by stuffing it with a house brick and some of my husband’s old socks, and covering the base with a piece of his old corduroy trousers. Result: second prize in Class 471 – “a functional object made from all recycled material” 

cover of Best Murder in Showcover of Trick or Murder?
If you’d like to find out more about Best Murder in Showand its new sequel, Trick or Murder? click hereBoth are available in paperback and ebook.

Posted in Personal life

Weekly Whimsy: Desktop Stressbusters

Photo of Bach Rescue Remedies, lip gloss, perfume and hand cream
Four simple stress remedies that live on my desk

A recent social media discussion about stress at work made me realise I’ve developed an unusual set of mechanisms to combat desktop stress, without even realising what I was doing. I thought I’d share it here too, in case anyone else finds it helpful.

Four Simple Therapies on my Desk

Among the mass of stationery, ornaments and other bits and pieces on my desk, I keep within arm’s length of my keyboard four cheery and uplifting treats to self:

  • a zesty orange lip gloss, a free gift from the ACX stand at the London Book Fair in April
  • a citrussy miniature Yves Rocher eau de toilette spray bought on holiday in France at Easter
  • an uplifting verbena hand cream which I was given for my birthday
  • that perennial stressbuster in the idiosyncratic clicky tin, always fun to open – Bach’s Rescue Pastilles, in the newish orange and elderflower flavour

Each of these will give me a lift any time I’m feeling stressed. A quick slick of lip gloss is great if I’ve been anxiously chewing my lips in concentration. Massaging in the handcream is great therapy for aching fingers from constant typing. A spritz of perfume lifts my spirits, and the deep intake of breath it prompts must be good for me too. (It’s astonishing just how often we forget to breathe properly.) All three also remind me of happy occasions, so provide a moment’s diversion from the task in hand as I remember how I came by them. The pastilles are a last resort, but always help. Whether or not you think Bach’s Flower Remedies are a cranky placebo, I don’t care – they work for me.

It’s easy to tell when I’ve had a particularly stressful session at my desk, because I’m especiallly soft and fragrant.

I Spy a Citrus Theme Here

I didn’t realise until I put them all together for the photo that each of them has a citrus element, which is great for increasing alertness too. On a whim, I googled “effect of citrus” and discovered that just smelling citrus fragrances can boost your mood to the extent of reducing the need for antidepressants.

Who knew? Not me. Well, actually, I think my subconscious must have known. And just like my mum, my subconscious always knows best. Although my mum would probably also tell me to get up from my desk and have a rest more often – which is exactly what I’m going to do when I’ve finished this post.

What are your favourite remedies for combating stress at your desk? I’d love to know!