My Young By Name Blog

Posted in Personal life, Writing

The Red Van and the White

Photo of antique post office sign
Ironically, my house was at one point the village post office. I found this sign in my back garden when I moved in and have since given it pride of place on my kitchen wall.

My column from the March 2019 issue of the Hawkesbury Parish News considers the courier vs the postman

Having lived in the village for nearly 30 years, I tend to forget how bewildering city-dwellers find it that so many houses round here don’t have door numbers. Urban courier drivers’ hearts must sink when Hawkesbury Upton crops up on their route for the day.

Knowing a house’s postcode isn’t as helpful as one might think, as each code covers an average of 15 properties. When you’re a delivery driver working against the clock, 15 is a lot of houses to check to find the right one. No wonder our parcels so often end up being left at the wrong place.

Word seems to have got out amongst couriers that I work from home, because lately I’ve had a spate of puzzled delivery drivers knocking on my door during the day to ask for directions to a house of one name or another. Although even I may not know every house name, if they tell me the person’s name I can usually point them in the right direction.

But sometimes even that’s not enough to satisfy them. One poor courier was almost in tears of disappointment and disbelief when I refused to accept the gas boiler he’d been trying to deliver to a number of houses, none of them correct.

This is why these days when ordering something on line, I choose standard Post Office delivery, because I know we can trust our village posties to get it right. Although they might have trouble fitting a gas boiler through my letterbox.

Postscript After reading this post in his copy of the Hawkesbury Parish News, heroic villager Terry Truebody emailed me to say he has created a Hawkesbury Upton A-Z, which he’s recently updated to include the newest houses in the village. Very generously, he’s willing to share it with anyone who might find it helpful. so I’m including a link to a download of it here. Thank you, Terry – couriers and villagers will all be very grateful to you.

Cover of All Part of the Charm

 

Like to read more of my columns from the Hawkesbury Parish News?

Here’s a collection from 2010-2015, available in paperback and as an ebook.

The second volume will be out at the end of 2020.

 

Posted in Personal life, Writing

Life Lessons Learned from School

Click the cover image to read the whole the magazine online

In my Young By Name column in the March issue of the award-winning Tetbury Advertiser, I’m musing about the most valuable and lasting lessons from my schooldays.

 

As my daughter muscles down to revision on the home straight of her GCSEs, I can’t help wondering which of the many facts and concepts she’s memorising will be of greatest value to her in later life. When I ran an informal survey some years ago, asking the alumni of Westonbirt School the most useful thing they’d learned at school, my favourite answer was “Not to sign anything I hadn’t read – and at my prep school, how to steam open an envelope”. While I can’t promise to better those examples, here are the most lasting takeaways from my own schooldays.

How to Write a Three-Point Essay

Our English teacher, Mr Campbell, spent many lessons hammering home this simple but clear strategy for essay-writing. First, pick three points on your chosen topic, outline each one in a separate paragraph. Top and tail the trio with an interesting introduction and conclusion, and you’re done. Why three? Perhaps because it’s the magic number in rhetoric, or because of the limited staying power of a class of fourteen-year-olds – or because that’s all he could face marking. I must have written hundreds of three-point essays during my working life, and I wish he was still alive so I could thank him.

Never Give More Than One Excuse

I can’t remember which two excuses I gave to Mr Crane, the school’s pantomime director, when I wanted to bunk off an after-school rehearsal, but neither of them was genuine. (The real reason was that I wanted to get to the local bookshop before it closed.) Whatever they were, he saw straight through them, kindly letting me off the hook with the advice that, for future reference, giving more than one excuse is unconvincing. I never missed another rehearsal. He was a wise man.

The Masses Are Asses

This blunt statement was frequently shared by Mr Judis, our A Level history teacher, when trying to explain to a classful of teenage idealists why so many bad decisions had been made in the name of democracy. The topics of our study were the causes and effects of the First and Second World War, twentieth-century East-West relations, and the fall of colonialism, but as I listen to twenty-first-century news stories, his words frequently echo in my head.

So if, Desert Island Discs style, I had to pick just one of these school-life lessons as the most important, which would it be? It would have to be the three point-essay. Just cast your eye back up the page. Do you see what I did there?


If you’d like to read my archive of columns written for the Tetbury Advertiser, you can buy the first collection as an ebook or in paperback – click here for more details

 

 

Posted in Events, Reading, Writing

On Providing Cover Quotes on Other Authors’ Books

My quote on the cover of Amy Myers’ latest Tom Wasp mystery, out today

While I’m often a little sceptical about some of the quotes on book covers by famous authors, critics and other celebrities, particularly where the same names appear over and over again, I’m always pleased to be asked to read other writers’ books prior to publication, especially if they or their publishers are after an endorsement quote from me.

Double Standard?

I hope not, because I do genuinely read the whole of each book myself, and whatever is attributed to me on their cover has been composed by me rather than any PR. ( I spent a large part of my former career working in PR, so am familiar with the territory!)

image of three book covers
A trio of Wasps

Usually any such requests come directly from authors, and usually they are friends of mine from the independent sector, publishing their own books. But recently publishing house Endeavour Quill approached me to read and review the latest book from an author new to me, Amy Myers. Amy has written many books, including a series of historical detective stories set in Victorian London – the Tom Wasp Mysteries, in which the eponymous detective is a chimney sweep.

Swept Off My Feet by a Chimney Sweep

cover image of Tom Wasp and the Seven Deadly Sins
Book 3 in Amy Myers’ series

Despite my to-read list being huge, I have had a soft spot for London chimney sweeps ever since I fell in love with Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins at the age of 7. I am also addicted to historical mysteries, such as Lucienne Boyce’s Dan Foster and Susan Grossey‘s Sam Plank series). And I’m a Londoner by birth, though have lived in the Cotswolds for nearly 30 years now. So I couldn’t resist this offer, and rapidly tore through Tom Wasp and the Seven Deadly Sins. I particularly enjoyed the relationship between Tom and his young sidekick, whom he’d rescued from climbing chimneys; the colourful scene-setting in the city reminiscent of the movie sets of Oliver! (yes, I have read the Dickens novel too, and seen the stage show, but Myers’ books was very filmic); and the plot based around the London bookselling scene (a topic also addressed beautifully, albeit at a slightly earlier era, in Lucienne Boyce’s novel To The Fair Land).

Behind the Scenes with “Little Darlings”

cover of Little Darlings by Melanie Golding
Get a sneak preview at Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival

Whether or not I’m asked to provide a cover endorsement, it’s still gratifying to be offered advance review copies (ARCS, as they’re known in the trade), as it allows you a sneak preview of a book before it hits the shops. Thus last night I stayed up late to finish the most recent ARC I’ve been sent, the wonderful Little Darlings, debut novel of Melanie Golding, due for publication in May by HQ (a Harper Collins imprint).

It’s an eerie thriller about the mother of twins who becomes convinced her babies are changelings. I’d describe it as the love child of Rosemary’s Baby and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and I’m sure it’s going to be as big a hit as both of those. (The film rights have been sold already, even though the book’s not out till May.)

I first came across Melanie Golding when one of her short stories was picked at Stroud Short Stories, a regional competition of which I’m co-judge. When she read it to the audience, I knew I was hearing an exceptionally gifted and accomplished writer, and I’m thrilled that she has taken her writing to novel length. Her contract for this book was one of the biggest and most shouted-about last year, and you’re all going to be hearing great things about the book once it hits the shops.

HULF Save the date graphicSneak Preview of Little Darlings at the Hawkesbury Upton Lit Fest (Saturday 27th April)

So I’m particularly thrilled that Melanie has agreed to read an extract at the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival, the free local liffest that I run in my village, prior to her book’s publication. So if you’d like to be ahead of the general reading public, and are in striking distance of the Cotswolds, do come along on the day – admission’s free, no advance booking is required. Click here to download the full festival programme and see what else you won’t want to miss during our action-packed day.

And Finally, A 99p Challenge…

cover of Best Murder in Show with Amazon bestseller flag
Just 99c/99c till 7th March

If you’re at a loose end for something to read tonight, and like reading ebooks, you might like to take advantage of the special offer running at present on Best Murder in Show, the first in my Sophie Sayers Village Mystery series – just 99p/99c or the equivalent in your local currency, from Amazon stores around the world. (Also available as a paperback to order from all good bookshops.) But hurry, the offer ends on 7th March, and after that it reverts to full price. Here’s the link which should take you to the local Amazon store wherever you live. Oh, and it would be remiss of me not to mention that this book carries a lovely endorsement quote from the ever-generous Katie Fforde!

Posted in Personal life, Travel, Writing

A Penguin’s View of Tetbury

cover of February Tetbury Advertiser featuring penguin
My regular Young By Name column made the front cover in this issue (Click image to read whole issue online)

This post first appeared in the Tetbury Advertiser‘s February 2019 edition.

I make no secret of the fact that I hate February, with its dull, short days, and no redeeming feature besides brevity. At least January includes my birthday (the day I’m writing this). But by February, I am usually pining for blue skies, bright flowers, and green leaves, instead of grey, grey, grey, and I’m longing to flip the calendar to March.

But this year my attitude has changed after reading some books about early polar explorers, including Michael Palin’s Erebus: the Story of a Ship. These books have given me a new perspective not only on the frozen north and south but also on my home turf.

Armchair Travellers All

Although few of us have come close to the North or South Pole, these days we all feel we know what the Arctic and Antarctic landscapes looks like, thanks to television documentaries. Not so for the early explorers. Obviously there was no television, but even photography was in its very infancy. The daguerrotypes taken of officers before the Erebus set off in search of the North West passage were the very latest in 19th century technology. Only in the 20th century did we start to see photographic evidence such as the remarkable work of Frank Hurley, whose accompanied Shackleton and others. The only visual records of the Erebus’s journeys north and south are the crew’s drawings and paintings.

According to Michael Palin, one of the crew in the Erebus’s early 19th century polar voyages was startled at his first sight of icebergs, expecting them to be clear, like ice cubes in a glass of Scotch. They’d never seen Antarctic penguins, either, although they might have spotted variants native to South America, South Africa and Tasmania on their way south.

Picking Up On Penguins

But how much more remarkable would a penguin find the Cotswolds? There’s so much here that is completely absent from the Antarctic: trees, grass, and other terrestrial plants and flowers; stone walls dividing fields; rolling green hills instead of stark mountains; roads and automobiles; four-legged animals; and, for the most part, people.

Set a penguin down in the middle of Tetbury, or anywhere in the Cotswold countryside, and its mind would surely be blown by the extraordinary display of colour, texture, shapes and sizes, even in the middle of winter, compared to the whites, blues and greys down south. If you wanted to break your penguin in gently, you could show a bit of camaraderie by wearing a dinner suit, and find it a field carpeted with snowdrops.

So this year I have a new strategy to stop me succumbing to the February blues. Instead of bemoaning the grey winter days, I will try to view the local landscape through the eyes of a visiting Antarctic penguin. The transformation is remarkable, like the scene in The Wizard of Oz where Dorothy opens the door of her black-and-white house to reveal the glorious Technicolor Munchkinland.

Even so, I’ll still be craving the spring.


cover of Springtime for Murder
And in the spring, Sophie Sayers’ fancy lightly turn to thoughts of… murder!

If you’d like a bit of spring reading to cheer you up, Springtime for Murder, Sophie Sayers’ fifth village mystery, could just hit the spot. Available in paperback online and to order from all good bookshops, and also as an ebook for Kindle. For more information, and to read the first chapter on my website, please click here

Posted in Personal life, Writing

Snowdrops vs Daffodils

photo of roadsign to Hawkesbury with snowdrops

(This post first appeared in the February issue of the Hawkesbury Parish News)

photo of snowdrops on the grass verge beside the road
Snowdrops by the roadside between Hawkesbury Upton and Wotton under Edge

Weary of the continuing long dark nights, today I drove to Wotton in the daylight for the first time this year. Catching sight of the snowdrops lining the roadside banks cheered me up no end.

Visions of their natural successors in order of flowering – daffodils, wild garlic, bluebells – rushed through my imagination like a speeded-up nature film, fast forwarding me to spring.

Despite the plummeting temperature, I felt warmer than I had done for days.

Not for nothing do snowdrops symbolise hope in the traditional language of flowers.

I was reminded of the effect that daffodils had on Wordsworth, buoying him up long after he had got back to his cottage in the Lake District:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

William Wordsworth – from I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud

(click here to read the poem in full, courtesy of The Poetry Foundation)

I like to think that had Wordsworth chosen to settle in Hawkesbury rather than Grasmere, he might have serenaded snowdrops instead of daffodils.

Though he might have found it harder to find a word to rhyme with them.