My Young By Name Blog

Posted in Personal life, Writing

Whimsy: The Scents and Sense of Summer

My column for the July/August issue of the Tetbury Advertiser is a whimsical post inspired by the classic scent of an English summer

Cover of July/August issue of the Tetbury Advertiser
Click on the image to read the whole of the magazine online for free

At the start of the heatwave, I throw open my study window and am almost knocked over by the heady scent of honeysuckle immediately filling the room. On the first floor of my cottage, my study is at the same height as the vast drift of the stuff that has engulfed the old apple tree outside my back door.

Daily at my desk, I assess the passing of the seasons more by the state of the branches of tress than by shrubs and flowers at ground level. This is probably the closest I will ever get to having a tree house, which I hear is the latest trendy addition to the domestic garden, outranking in the cool stakes the previous must-have shed office, or shedquarters, as my friends call theirs.

Stealthy Stalker

There’s something magical about the scent of honeysuckle. The fragrance is so thick and heady that I’m almost surprised I can’t see it as it sneaks up and takes possession of me, holding me captive before I’ve even noticed that it’s about to pounce. But the associations are all positive, and I’m sure it lowers my blood pressure, makes me calmer, more reflective, and more content with my lot.

Straight to Sidcup

This perfume takes me straight back to my suburban childhood home, where we had a vast hedge of it scrambling over the wall by the back door. That’s why I planted this one in a similar spot in my present country garden. Next on my list is to establish a rose garden. I may be some time.

Subtler Scent

Roses have a similar effect on me to honeysuckle, although their assault is more subtle, and you have to meet it halfway. Having grown up in a suburb where nearly every garden featured traditional roses, I still cannot pass a rose in full bloom without the impulse to bury my face in its petals and inhale.

Sense of Swimming

A recent trip to the world-famous walled rose garden at Mottisfont, where the old warm bricks entrap and intensify the scent of thousands of roses, made me feel like I was swimming through perfume. No matter how glamorous or alluring the advertisements for modern designer perfumes, surely no chemical manufacturer will ever develop a product with such magical and transformative powers. I’m a naturally calm and optimistic soul, but such experiences always send me a few notches up the laid-back scale, to the nearly horizontal.

Scents for Sense

Living in a chaotic political age, when sometimes the whole world seems in turmoil, I can only draw hope from the knowledge that the grounds of both the White House and 10 Downing Street include a rose garden. I can only hope that this summer our leaders spend more time in such grounding and redemptive places, emerging stronger, saner, and more sensitive for the experience. There, I told you I was an optimist.

photo of honeysuckle in blook
Wishing you a perfectly fragranced summer

 

Cover of Best Murder in Show
The first in the series is set in high summer – a great holiday read!

PS If you love traditional English gardens as much as I do, you might like to know that one recent reviewer of my village mystery novel Best Murder in Show said “The book is worth the read just for Young’s description of gardens and hedgerows!” You can imagine how happy that made me!

Buy online here or quote ISBN 978-1911223139 to order from your local bookshop. 

Posted in Reading

Recommended Reading: Tiny Books

This week I’m sharing my love of passport-sized books

passport and small book of Shakespeare sonnets at the same size
Pocket-sized books: your passport to poetry, and more…

With the summer holidays upon us, in the northern hemisphere at least, my recommended reading for this weekend is something that you can easily fit in your pocket along with your passport: tiny books.

Why I Like Small Books

At first glance, that might seem as shallow as recommending, say, books with blue covers – but actually, it’s not as daft as all that, and here are some reasons why.

  • The content of any tiny book will have been very carefully selected, as so little space is available, so whether it’s a single short story, an essay or a small collection of poetry, it jolly well ought to be worth reading.
  • With the reading material effectively rationed, you tend to linger longer over every word, because your impulse is to spin it out and make it last. This makes it a highly suitable format for reading poetry and for thought-provoking essays.
  • They allow you to easily sample someone’s work before deciding whether you want to commit the time required to read a longer book.
  • They’re the ideal gift for someone in hospital, as they’re not tiring to hold and they’ll fit easily into the patient’s limited storage space.
  • They are relatively cheap  – so you can buy them with a clear conscience!

Pick Up a Penguin

I always loved the Penguin 60s (tiny books retailing at 60p to celebrate the publisher’s sixtieth anniversary), then the Penguin 80s (ditto for 80p for their eightieth). The slightly larger Penguin Great Ideas series, retailing at £4.99, includes intriguing titles such as Books vs Cigarettes by George Orwell and Days of Reading by Marcel Proust. The latter provides an easy way to be able to say you’ve read Proust without ploughing through the six volumes of  À la recherche du temps perdu.

But I’m especially pleased with my latest discovery: Souvenir Press‘s vintage collection of small hardbacks, about the same size as classic Beatrix Potter books (and who doesn’t love that format?), each one featuring a single, thoughtful poem, with understated monochrome linocut or scraperboard illustrations. The simple charm of these pictures has made me want to have a go at scraperboard art myself.

I picked up Agatha Christie‘s My Flower Garden a few weeks ago for a couple of quid at a rural market in mid-Wales, more out of curiosity than anything, as I didn’t know she wrote poetry and wondered what it would be like. I’ve since acquired another, Remembrance, online at a similar price. The series includes some of my favourite poems, including John Donne‘s No Man is an Island.

I feel an addiction coming on. But the good news is, it won’t take up much room in my already overflowing bookshelves…

two small Agatha Christie poetry books
Utterly beguiling in their own little way

What I’ll Be Reading This Weekend

Meanwhile, I’m off to read Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach – another very short read, which I’ll be discussing on Tuesday at noon on the BBC Radio Gloucestershire Book Club on Dominic Cotter’s lunchtime show. It was his turn to choose our Book of the Month this month, and neither fellow guest Caroline Sanderson nor I had ever read it before, and I can’t wait to compare notes with them. If you’d like to tune in to join us, here’s the link to Tuesday’s show: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p056q800 (also available on iplayer for a month afterwards).

Happy reading, whatever you choose!

Cover of Best Murder in Show by Debbie YoungPS Fancy reading one of my books this weekend? Best Murder in Show, a lighthearted modern mystery story, is the perfect summer read, set at the time of a traditional village show. Now available as an ebook for Kindle or in paperback  – order from Amazon here or at your local neighbourhood bookshop quoting ISBN  978-1911223139.

 

Posted in Writing

Writing: Why It’s Sometimes Good to be an Irregular Writer

Many writing coaches counsel writing a set amount every day, preferably at the same time, and even in the same place, to programme oneself into good productivity habits. In this post, I’ll describe how when I flouted that advice I surprised myself with the new-found productivity of an all-or-nothing binge writing routine.

This post first appeared on the Alliance of Independent Authors’ Author Advice Centre blog here.

ALLi logo

Plenty of bestselling authors point to their own regular work pattern to account for their success, from Jeffrey Archer (four two-hour stints per day – phew!) to Graeme Greene (a low word count of just 500, but consistently adhered to). Simple arithmetic provides a compelling argument for such regularity.

365 days x 500 words = 182,500 words = 2 novels

500 words a day – that doesn’t sound so hard, does it?

From 0 to 60K in a Month

Before I started writing novels, I wrote short stories, most of them no longer than the articles and features I’d written previously as a journalist. Used to polishing short word counts, it was a huge change for me to fill a bigger canvas. I took the NaNoWriMo route, aiming at 2,000 words a day, till the first draft of the novel was done. This well-trodden path seemed a sensible choice.

But a short and minor hospital surgery that left me resting in bed for a couple of weeks unleashed a whole new writing me. I discovered that when the rest of life didn’t get in the way, I could just keep going. In fact, I not only could, but I longed to.

Before long I was writing most of my waking hours, and between the end of November and the middle of February, I wrote the first draft of not one but two novels, the second and third in my new Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries, Trick or Murder and Murder in the Manger.

Are Writing Rules Made to be Broken?

Cover of Anita Brookner's Hotel du Lac
A holiday read – and a holiday write too, apparently (Image from Amazon)

I felt like a schoolgirl disobeying the rules, although I also took heart from the role model of Anita Brookner, a university professor who only wrote fiction during her summer vacation – but then churned out a whole novel, to a very high standard. Her Hotel Du Lac won the Booker Prize in 1984.

Ironically, by mid-February, my health had returned and I’d got over my op and the anaesthetic, but I was completely exhausted. The ten-week writing binge had sucked me dry.

However, I felt as if I’d discovered magical powers. I’d let the binge-writing genie out of the bottle.

Writing non-stop till I’d drained the creative well felt so much more natural and productive than the scientifically measured and monitored x words per day. I was then so exhausted mentally that I felt I had no choice but to take a complete break for about six weeks before I sat down to edit the first of those manuscripts, which I’m now just about finished two months later. So it’s been an all-or-nothing process, but it’s got me across the finishing line. It’s worked.

ALLi pen logoAm I a lone rebel against the tried-and-trusted regular writing method? I put the question to the ALLi hive and was gratified to have a flurry of positive responses from people who shared my approach. Their endorsement has given me the reassurance I needed to continue to follow my writing instincts, and as soon as I’ve finished editing these first drafts, I’ll be putting my head down to go round again for book four. Seconds out…

Visit the ALLi blog here to read thoughts from other ALLi author members who love binge writing. 

  • Cover of Trick or Murder?
    The sequel, set around Halloween, will launch on 26 August

    One of the products of my latest binge writing session will be published next month, Trick or Murder?, the second Sophie Sayers Village Mystery novel, and it’s already available to pre-order as an ebook here.

  • The first in the series, Best Murder in Show, is already available in paperback and as an ebook.
  • Order Best Murder in Show on Amazon UK here
  • Order Best Murder in Show on Amazon US here
  • Or order from your local bookshop by quoting ISBN 978-1911223139

 

 

Posted in Reading, Writing

Golden Age of Detective Fiction or a Health and Safety Nightmare?

Cover of Footsteps in the Dark by Georgette Heyer
How did I get to be this old without ever reading a Georgette Heyer novel before?

The first in my new “Monday Musings” series, in which I’ll write about whatever’s top of mind at the start of each week

This weekend while reading a classic mystery story from the Golden Age of Detective Fiction, Georgette Heyer‘s Footsteps in the Dark, I was startled by the irresponsible behaviour of some of the key characters:

  • copious cigarette smoking (the ashtrays are always full, and the cover of the edition I read shows a man chivalrously lighting a lady’s gasper)
  • casual attitude to alcohol (the butler brings in a tray of whisky and soda at 10pm as a nightcap, to round off the day’s drinking )
  • reckless driving (or rather, wreckful – when Margaret takes a corner too fast and puts her car in a ditch, she acts like its par for the course)
  • dangerous attitude to firearms (just about all the characters have easy access to a handgun at will and are ready to use them if crossed)

A Product of Heyer’s Age

The last of these points especially surprised me. I had never before associated such general ownership of handguns with English society.

And then the penny dropped. The guns are mostly old service revolvers, and when the book was published, in 1932, many adults would have firsthand experience of using them during the First World War, as did many of the characters in this novel.

To anyone spending any time in the trenches of the First World War,  carrying a pistol in your pocket would seem relatively low-risk.

cover of A is for Arsenic
This one’s on my to-read list

The conflict’s influence was long sustained. Heyer’s contemporary Agatha Christie’s knowledge of poisons as a means to murder was learned while she worked as a pharmacy assistant during the First World War. Dorothy L Sayers’ detective, Lord Peter Wimsey, who appointed his military batman as his butler, suffers from shell-shock well into the series.

The Modern Obsession with Health and Safety

This realisation makes my fretting about health and safety issues in my Sophie Sayers Village Mystery series seem over-cautious:

  • In Best Murder in Show, the murder victim is wired to the safety barrier that surrounds the carnival float on which she’s travelling to stop her falling off, and Sophie worries about the profusion of dangerous implements at the Village Show
  • In Trick or Murder?, the Headmistress give out health and safety instructions to the children playing with sparklers on Guy Fawkes Night, while Bob, the village policeman, patrols around the bonfire on the look-out for hazards to the public
  • In both books, I’ve been slightly concerned that too much alcohol is flowing, (the village bookshop serves its teas with illicit hooch for those who want it), and I’ve been thinking of making Sophie go on the wagon in a future book

My health and safety allusions are largely tongue in cheek, but the fact that I’m even thinking about them makes me realise how much more nervous we as a society have become.

Misplaced Nostalgia?

Cover of Clouds of Witness
One of my favourite Lord Peter Wimsey stories

It’s ironic then that one of the reasons that classic crime novels are still so popular is that they offer us the chance to be nostalgic for a bygone age. Yet behind Heyer’s facade of witty banter and genteel behaviour lies significant scars still healing.

We may still call hers a Golden Age of Detective Fiction, compared to ours, but I know which one I’d rather live in, even if a late-night Scotch and soda does have a certain appeal.

How different would the novels of Georgette Heyer, Agatha Christie, and Dorothy L Sayers be if they were writing today? And will modern crime novels age as gracefully? I wonder…

 

  • Cover of Trick or Murder?
    The sequel, set around Halloween, will launch on 26 August

    Best Murder in Show is now available as an ebook and in paperback.

  • Trick or Murder? will be launched on 26th August at the Hawkesbury Village Show, which I hope will be free of murders.

 

Read more about the Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries here.

My review of Footsteps in the Dark is here.

Posted in Reading, Writing

Recommended Weekend Reading: A Brace of Historical Detectives

Photo of Debbie with box set of Sherlock Holmes
Recommended weekend reading, every Friday, new on my blog (Photo: Dominic Cotter, at BBC Radio Gloucestershire)

This is the first in a new weekly series of posts on my blog, sharing my favourite recent reads every Friday and recommending them as weekend reads. This feature will supersede the book blog that I’ve been writing for the last couple of years, as I was finding it too much of a strain to keep two websites running in parallel. In time I’ll move the reviews from the other site back to the archive here, and you’ll always be able to find a complete list of the reviews held on this site on the index page here. Given that I read at least one book at week, and often more, I should have no shortage of material, but I’ll only ever share here the books that I wholeheartedly recommend.

Today I’d like to recommend two historical detective series that I’ve been reading in parallel over the last few years, following their development from the day the first in each series was launched. I’ve even introduced the authors to each other (online, as they live on opposite sides of the country), as they seem to have so much in common. I just wish I could get their two heroes in the same room together too!

Meet Dan Foster and Sam Plank

Cover of Portraits of Pretence by Sam Grossey
Fourth in a gently addictive series
Cover of the Fatal Coin
A gripping novella with as much action and excitement as a full novel

Dan Foster is the creation of Lucienne Boyce, and Sam Plank is from the pen of Susan Grossey. Both are Bow Street runners, from the early era of British policing when constables sought out criminals for local magistrates to bring them to justice.

Dan Foster & Sam Plank: Compare and Contrast

  • Both are sensitively drawn, complex characters, who have risen above deprived and difficult backgrounds – Dan was a child pickpocket turned bareknuckle boxer, and Sam was a street urchin.
  • Each has acquired an interesting wife, providing thoughtful subplots and plenty of character development opportunities. Sam’s is a loving and loveable helper, but Dan’s is introduced as a drunken, self-pitying wretch. Both, by coincidence, are childless.
  • Both solve crimes particular to the age, against meticulously researched historical backgrounds. While their stories are set against a detailed and vivid backdrop, in neither case does the reader feel on the receiving end of a history lesson.
  • Dan’s adventures are darker and grittier than Sam’s, but despite being more violent (only when necessary to the plot, I hasten to add), they are also sensitively drawn, with poignant moments cleverly woven in amongst the adventures, as they are in Sam’s too.

I’ve read and enjoyed all of the adventures of both so far, and have been lucky enough to have a sneak preview of Dan’s second and third stories prior to publication. But for this weekend, I’m recommending Dan’s second, The Fatal Coin, and Sam’s fourth, Portraits of Pretence – and when you’ve read them, I’m sure you’ll be glad to know that there are more adventures of both ready and waiting for you.

What I’ll Be Reading This Weekend

  • my first ever Georgette Heyer novel, Footsteps in the Dark (I know, how did I get to be this old without reading Georgette Heyer before?)
  • Richard Bach’s Jonathan Livingstone Seagull (same applies) – our BBC Radio Gloucestershire Book of the Month for July
  • the manuscript of Trick or Murder? – just back from my editor, second in the Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries series and due for publication at the end of August – exciting times!

Happy weekend reading, folks!

Cover of Best Murder in Show by Debbie Young
Fist in a series of seven Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries

P.S. Fancy reading one of my books this weekend? Best Murder in Show, a lighthearted modern mystery story, is the perfect summer read, set at the time of a traditional village show. Now available as an ebook for Kindle or in paperback  – order from Amazon here or at your local neighbourhood bookshop quoting ISBN  978-1911223139.