Posted in Reading, Writing

Here’s Cheers to a Local Pub’s Reading Initiative

For the last two years, I’ve been a regular monthly contributor to the Authors Electric blog. As I streamline my workload to allow more time for writing novels, here’s my final post before I stood down from the AE collective at the end of August.

photo of Debbie in rainhat at Glencoe
Refreshed by Scottish mountain air

After a fortnight’s holiday near Glencoe in a minimalist cottage and abundant fresh mountain air, I returned to my own cluttered cottage ten days ago determined to ditch surplus possessions. Even (whisper it) a few of my large collection of books…

Fate sent me a helping hand in the form of a request from the landlady of Dinneywick’s pub in Kingswood, the next-but-one village from where I live in the Cotswolds. She asked me whether I could donate any secondhand books for the pub’s new free library scheme.

I’ve had a Little Free Library on my front garden wall for a couple of years, and there are more like this popping up all over the country.

photo of bookshelves on my garden wall

A Bookish Pedigree for a Pub

Aggie’s interest in doing something similar came as no surprise. When she and her partner Guiseppe ran The Fox in Hawkesbury Upton, they gained a reputation as an innovative, energetic couple full of ideas for keeping a country pub afloat. One of these ideas was to support the first ever Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival when I founded it four years ago. They generously provided the venue, and for the next two Festivals were a key player in its success. As a tribute to their support, the cover of the first Festival’s anthology sported a drawing of The Fox by Festival author and illustrator Sophie E Tallis.

The Fox graced the cover of the 2015 Hawkesbury Upton Lit Fest anthology
photo of Debbie outside pub
“I’ll have a pint of paperbacks please!”

Earlier this year they moved to the delightfully quaint Dinneywicks pub in Kingswood, near Wotton-under-Edge. Dinneywicks customers will be able to borrow books for free from the Dinney’s Little Library whenever they drop into the pub.

This is a valuable social service to a small rural community without its own public library. Customers are welcome to access it at any time during opening hours. Aggie is hoping that it will encourage people to come in for a coffee and chat during the day, as well as during the busier evening hours.

All of the books are donated, and I was glad to be able to deliver two large bags yesterday to help fill their shelves. Most of the books are in as-new condition.

Sophie Sayers Sneaks In

The eagle-eyed reader familiar with my Sophie Sayers Village Mystery novels may spot a brand new set of them on the second shelf down at the right hand side. I was happy to throw those in for free for three reasons:

  • I was delighted to have the opportunity to return the favour that Aggie and Guiseppe did me when they were so supportive of the Hawkesbury Upton Lit Fest.
  • I know that Dinneys will be actively luring eager readers to the pub to enjoy their new facility, so this is a useful opportunity for me to reach a new audience.
  • When you’re writing a series of novels, free sampling is a handy marketing technique, assuming that if a person receives a free book in the series and enjoys it, it’s quite likely they’ll go on to buy the rest of them.

When Free Books Act As Ambassadors for Authors

photo of Debbie with Hereward in his Tetbury shop
Debbie Young with Hereward Corbett (photo by Chris Cuppage)

It’s a similar situation to finding a book in a charity shop or jumble sale. When a reader picks up a book for £1 or even pence there, the author may not profit from that sale, but he does gain valuable exposure and a connection with a potential new fan. That fan may go on to snap up full-price copies from conventional bookshops after that.

I confess I only made this connection a few years back when I was interviewing Hereward Corbett, the proprietor of The Yellow-Lighted Bookshops in Nailsworth and Tetbury. I asked him whether he minded so many charity shops selling books in those towns, assuming he’d view them as competition undercutting his prices.

photo of Dinneywicks
Dinneywicks – a country pub with books on the menu

Not at all, he told me, because readers would often take a punt on an unknown author, and once hooked came to his shops to order brand new copies of their other books at full price.

I wish Aggie and Guiseppe every success with their new venture, and I hope their example will encourage other pubs to follow suit.

Of course, Dinneywick’s isn’t just about books: it’s a delightful pub, which they’ve just refurbished to a very high standard, with a cosy, attractive interior, pleasant walled garden and terrific food. So if you’re passing that way, do call in to see them – with or without a book to donate!

 

Image of first four books in the Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries series
The story so far….
Posted in Writing

Putting the Log Back into Blogging

This post was originally written for the Authors Electric collective blog in July.

photo of Debbie in hat on bookstall
If you want to get ahead, get a hat – I mean, a blog

We’re all so used to reading and writing blogs now that it’s easy to forget that they are a relatively recent phenomenon. Jane Perrone, writing on The Guardian’s blog just 14 years ago, felt the need to explain what they were for the sake of the uninitiated:

A weblog is, literally, a “log” of the web – a diary-style site, in which the author (a “blogger”) links to other web pages he or she finds interesting using entries posted in reverse chronological order.

We Sing, We Dance, We Blog…

I’d almost forgotten that blogs used to be called weblogs. When I see that word now, my instinct is to read it as “we blog” rather than “web log”, as if it’s part of the declension of the verb “to blog”. (Iblog, youblog, heblogs, weblog …) Interesting, too, that Perrone defines the main purpose of a weblog as being to link to other web pages rather than to post original content, which I’ve always perceived as the bigger priority.

Back to the Bloginning (groan)

Stumbling across Perrone’s definition set me thinking about how my own blog came into being, eight years ago. I started it at a critical time in my life: I had just handed in  my notice for my last full-time day job in order to focus on building an author career.The purpose of my blog was then three-fold:

  • to declare my intent to be an author, on the basis that publicly committing yourself to something makes it more likely to happen
  • to make myself write something new on a regular basis
  • to start building an audience for my books when I got round to writing them
Having fun with M C Beaton

Eight years and over 500 published posts later, I’ve revamped the look and the layout of my blog countless times. Many a time I’ve counselled those new to blogging that a writer’s blog is never done. No matter how much work I do on my blog, the day will never come when I can tick it off my to-do list as a fait accompli.

Whereas my blog started out as the front page and focal point of my website, it’s now a subset of my now substantial author website, which has separate pages on each of my books, news about my events, reviews, videos, podcasts and other jollities.

Reasons to be Posting

I’ve also changed what I post about.

At the outset, it was anything and everything – I’d pick a fun idea and treat it as a writing prompt, whether or not it had anything to do with my writing career. This list demonstrates the crazy diversity of my early posts:

More recently with most of my writing energies being directed into my growing series of novels (the fifth is due at my editor’s tomorrow), I’ve mostly kept my blog topped up by repurposing other content, such as the monthly columns I write for two local magazines, or guest posts published elsewhere. And before you ask, yes, I repost my Authors Electric posts there too.
Four novels and counting… the fifth Sophie Sayers Village Mystery will be out in September

I’ve been trying to keep the plate spinning and keep my blog fresh by posting weekly, ideally on a Wednesday. I chose that day for no other reason than the existence of a #writerswednesday or #ww hashtag on Twitter that made it easy to remember when to post. For the same reason, I try to make any appointments I have at 11am, so that I don’t forget when they are!

Elevenses – such a great time of day!
(With Oakwood Lit Fest director Dawn Brookes)
(Photo: Angela Fitch)

The Ever-Changing Blogosphere

While my blog was evolving, the blogosphere also changed. In short, it’s become saturated. Every man and his dog has a blog. (Quite a few cats have their own blogs too..

So many blogs to read, so little time to read them – which means it’s harder to get people to read yours, no matter how good your posts, how winning your images, and how optimised your SEO.

Going Full Circle

Eight years since that first post, my declaration of intent has been fulfilled:

I’m now an established author with a growing back-catalogue of novels and other books, and a busy diary of writing-related engagements.

Opening Oakwood Lit Fest (Photo: Angela Fitch)

So I’m about to redefine my blog’s purpose yet again. I’m going to take it back to basics and make it more of a writer’s journal, with short posts about the various events in my writing life – talks, festivals, outings that inspire me, as well as announcements about my books and as a record of pieces I publish elsewhere.

Although I’m just winding down to taking some time off during the school summer holidays, my diary is usually madly busy. If I write about every writing-related event in my life, I’ll be posting far more often than weekly.
Which I’m trying to view as a benefit: if I find I can’t keep up with recording what I’ve been doing, then I’m trying to do too much (a constant weakness of mine) – and I’ll take that as a sign that I should ease up for the sake of my sanity.

So in summary, my new-look blog will actually be an old-fashioned writer’s diary, only in digital form – a log of my writing life.

My new objectives for my Writing Life blog will be:

  • to provide those who enjoy reading my books with interesting insights and fun facts about the person who wrote them
  • to help other writers achieve their own career goals by sharing what I learn along the way
  • to keep a record of events and developments in my writing life for my own interest
After all, if I don’t find my blog interesting, why should anyone else? As Oscar Wilde would say, one always needs something sensational to read on the train…

Please always feel free to join the conversation via the comments box!

Taking a bow at Hawkesbury Upton Lit Fest
Posted in Personal life, Travel, Writing

My Dream Office (with a little help from the National Trust)

This post first appeared on the Authors Electric collective blog

shot of Debbie going through a gate into a graveyard
Debbie Young, going places…

“Where do you write?” asked a very pleasant lady at a talk I gave recently to the Cheltenham Writers’ Circle.

I gave my standard answer: how lucky I am to have my own study in my Victorian Cotswold cottage, with a big desk facing a window that looks out over the garden.

But next morning, when I sat down to write there, I shrieked as a sharp pain shot from my spine to my ankle, reminding me that lately I had been spending far too long at my desk-with-a-view – and I felt desirous of change.

Prompted by the arrival of my new National Trust card in the post the day before, and licensed by my friend and mentor Orna Ross to fill the creative well with a weekly “create date” with self, I stowed my purse, my shades, and my notebook and pen into my backpack, donned my walking boots, and set off to nearby Dyrham Park.

photo of Dyrham Park manor in deer park
The long and winding road down through the deer park to the spectacular Dyrham Park
The long and winding road down through the deer park to the spectacular Dyrham Park

Ok, I confess, I drove there (well, it is about eight miles away) – but on arrival, I eschewed the visitor bus service and set off down the path to this beautiful stately home, nestling at the bottom of the deer park, in search of a different place to write my daily words.

A cosy nook beckoned me from inside a hollow tree

This old hollow tree looked tempting. I’ve always had a soft spot for hollow trees since reading Enid Blyton’s The Hollow Tree House (over and over again) when I was a child. Unfortunately this one was roped off from public access.

I proceeded to the main house, skirting round the building – it was too sunny outside to be indoors – admiring beautiful Delft pots of tulips on the way. (This was a few weeks ago now.)

The original owner had served as Dutch ambassador

I thought the chapel would come in handy if my writing wasn’t progressing well and I needed a quick pray, but sadly it was locked.

The chapel now serves as the parish church.

There were plenty of seats to choose from with scenic views of the flowerbeds…

To sit in sunshine or shadow? – depends on which end you choose

…although I might be tempted to take pity on the gardener and lend him a hand with the weeding.

I think he might benefit from a bigger wheelbarrow

Wildflower meadows complemented the formal planting, replete with so many traditional English plants that I found Oberon‘s seductive lines running through my head…

“I know a bank where the wild thyme grows…”
Great swathes of forget-me-nots – a humble plant invested with a special significance in my Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries – brought me back to the purpose of my visit: to write.
Not forgetting…
I turned my back on the lake to investigate what looked at first glance as a kind of wooden hammock.
Nature’s hammock?

…but closer inspection revealed a forbidding sign.

Then – who’d have thought it? – I found myself on the threshold of the National Trust gift shop. I do like a National Trust gift shop. Thoughts of writing were quickly forgotten as I snapped up a lovely new linen sunhat, a book about drawing (a hobby I’ve wanted to take up for a long time), and some souvenir postcards.
Running out of time to get home for my daughter’s return from school, I got the bus back up the hill to the car park, and returned home feeling like Wordsworth inspired by his visit to Tintern Abbey, rested, revitalised and refreshed by my impromptu outing, back at my normal place of work.
“Home again, home again, jiggety jig”
And where did I write this post? In Dyrham Park’s excellent tea room, of course. At last – I’d discovered the perfect office!
  • To find the nearest National Trust property to you, click here
  • To find out more about my Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries, click here
  • To order any of the Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries, click here.
  • To read other posts by the Authors Electric, click here
Posted in Reading, Writing

Thinking Outside the Box about Bookmarks

This post was originally written for the Authors Electric collective blog.


Call me old-fashioned, but I love a good bookmark, and I have a large collection ready for action whenever I need one. Some of these have been made for me by those too young to read my books yet…

I have some that I’ve treasured since I was very young – I’ve had these two since I lived in California at the age of 8…

I have some handmade ones, such as these two I embroidered when my eyesight was sharper than it is now…

Some are souvenirs of bookish events I’ve enjoyed or at which I’ve spoken…

Bookmarks make great low-budget souvenirs of places that I enjoy visiting as a tourist…

So when I decided to produce some swag to promote my growing Sophie Sayers Village Mystery novels (four and counting…), a good bookmark was the obvious choice.

But as to the design, I was stumped. I love the gorgeous book cover designs produced for me by the wonderful Rachel Lawston of Lawston Design, but with three more books to come in the series, and three more spin-offs planned, if I featured the covers on my bookmarks, I’d either have to wait till I’d written the whole lot, or be stuck with bookmarks that didn’t feature the latest additions to the series.

Beautiful book covers by Rachel Lawston of Lawston Design

Then came a light-bulb moment from an unlikely quarter. It was when I was planning the most recent Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival, the fourth of which took place last Saturday. (Diary date for the fifth one: Saturday 27th April 2019.

Gosh, Festival bookmarks – bet you didn’t see those coming!

In previous years, I’d used my dad’s watercolour of our best-known local landmark to promote the Festival, but this year, when adding a new venue to our programme, Hawkesbury Primary School, I shared a photo of it on Facebook.

Next evening, I was pleasantly surprised to find a beautiful sketch that one of the Festival authors, Thomas Shepherd, had produced, entirely unsolicited.

Hawkesbury Primary School – Copyright Thomas Shepherd

Ever the opportunist, I immediately sought and was granted his permission to use the image (which remains his copyright) in Festival publicity, putting it on the printed programme and on the website. He also kindly offered to provide a high quality print, which I bought as a thank-you gift for the School, which they liked very much.

“Do you take commissions?” was my next question, as my plot began to hatch…

A New Episode for Sophie Sayers

As anyone who has read any of the books in the Sophie Sayers series will know, the stories take place in a pretty Cotswold village similar to the one where I’ve lived for the last twenty-seven years, and one of the focal points in each book is the village bookshop, Hector’s House, where Sophie works and falls in love with the charming, enigmatic proprietor, Hector Munro.

Thomas’s drawing gave me the idea of commissioning a picture of Hector’s House to go on a bookmark that purports to promote my fictitious bookshop – though there’s also be a line on there to promote my books more subtly than simply displaying the covers.

“Can you send me a photo of what you have in mind?” asked Thomas, which sent me scurrying around the Cotswolds looking for a building that matched my mental picture of Hector’s shop.

The closest I could find was Nailsworth Computer Shop, which needed a few architectural adjustments to make it right.

Long story short: the drawing that Thomas produced was lovelier than I could possibly have imagined, and he even added touches of his own, such as Hector’s personalised numberplate – and he’s given me strict instructions to write into the series a mysterious event taking place in the hayloft above the garage!

Hector’s House – Copyright Thomas Shepherd

As you can probably tell by now, I was thrilled – and enormously grateful – and immediately ordered a simple bookmark that shows it off in all its glory, leaving the flip side blank so I could also use it as a compliments slip or correspondence card.

It is now capturing the imagination of so many people who see it – including my dad, who has found a further application for the design: a promotional shopping bag!
I had fun giving them out when I launched the fourth book in the series, Murder by the Book, at the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival on 21st April, and I now have a supply permanently stashed in my purse so I can pass them on to anyone I see reading a book, anywhere I go!

So if you’re also a fan of bookmarks…

A fan of bookmarks (ho ho)
…and you’re looking for an illustration of a key venue in your books to promote them, you know who to ask: Thomas Shepherd of www.shepline.com, who, as it happens, has also just launched The Imaginary Wife, the second in his extraordinary series about a man who marries his imaginary friend. (That is not his imaginary friend in the photo below – it’s fellow Festival author Katharine E Smith!)
Thomas Shepherd and Katharine E Smith at the Hawkesbury Upton Lit Fest last weekend (photo by fellow Festival author Kate Frost)

To order a copy of Murder by the Book, visit viewbook.at/MurderByTheBook – now available in ebook and paperback around the world.

To find out more about the Sophie Sayers series, visit the series page at viewbook.at/SophieSeries – or visit my website’s fiction section.

To commission your own drawing by Thomas Shepherd, contact him via his website: www.shepline.com – and tell him that Hector Munro recommended him!

FOOTNOTE
When I was sharing this experience with some local writer friends, one of them told me that the Nailsworth Computer Shop, on which the drawing was based, used to be a bookshop – how spooky is that?!

Posted in Personal life, Self-publishing, Writing

The Unintended Consequences of a Writing Life

My latest post for the Authors Electric collective, originally published on 30th March 2018

head and shoulders photo of Debbie at churchyard gate with graveyard behind
In the churchyard of St Mary’s, Hawkesbury (Photo by Angela Fitch)

In 2010, realising that no matter how hard I worked in my day job, it was leaving me unfulfilled, I made the radical decision to walk away from it without a job to go to. I intended to refocus my life on my writing ambitions.

Reading Between the Lines

It felt like a miracle when I almost immediately landed a part-time job with a wonderful children’s reading charityRead for Good, which served two purposes for me (apart from giving me an income, that is):

  • It reinforced the importance of books and reading not only for children but for all ages, which in turn validated my ambition to write books myself.
  • It gave me space to explore different ways in which I could write what I wanted to write – and indeed to discover exactly what that was.
The first three in my Sophie Sayers Village Mystery series – soon to be four!

Using commissioned non-fiction projects and experimental short stories as stepping stones, I gradually gained the confidence and competence needed to achieve my long-term goal to write a novel.

Now I’m hooked, with three novels published in the last year, the fourth due out next month, and my planned series of seven, the Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries, now starting to morph into a series of ten.

Planning for Success

But as in all of life, the things that you don’t plan are often some of the most exciting.

Here are five serendipitous things that have happened to me over the last few years while I was making other plans. Not only is my writing life is the richer for them, but it turns out they’ve helped other people too.

1) Being invited to join a regular monthly spot on BBC Radio Gloucestershire‘s lunchtime show, in its Book Club slot, alongside its delightful presenters, initially Clare Carter and now Dominic Cotter, and The Bookseller’s Caroline Sanderson, to talk about our chosen book of the month and any other book-related topics that take our fancy – and I’ve discovered I love doing radio.

photo of Debbie and Caroline in tinsel-decked recording studio
Enjoying the BBC Radio Gloucestershire Christmas party with fellow Book Club panelist Caroline Sanderson (Photo: Dominic Cotter, the show’s presenter)

2) Launching a free local literature festival to bring indie authors, poets and illustrators to my community at the Hawkesbury Upton Lit Fest, with no admission charges so that visitors could save their money to buy the speakers’ books instead. This started out as a simple plan to spend a few hours in one of the village pubs with a few writer friends – four years on, it’s somehow morphed into 50+ authors in a packed day-long programme, this year with an art exhibition running in tandem.


3) Being the inadvertent catalyst for a new book by other authors – the panel of authors I’d introduced to each other for the second Hawkesbury Upton Lit Fest to discuss writing about difference (that’s politically-correct-speak for disability, to be clear) got together afterwards to collaborate on Silent Voices, an anthology by carers and the cared-for, venting their feelings.

cover of Silent Voices
So proud to have been a catalyst for this moving book

4) Encouraging other writers to grow from nervous debutant to confident published author, either through their participation in the authors’ groups I run in Cheltenham and Bristol or through their participation in the Hawkesbury Upton Lit Fest. (I’ve observed a direct relationship between the most nerves and the biggest post-performance smile at every event.)

5) Helping other people achieve their publishing ambitions through what I’ve learned on my own journey as an indie author, such as enabling a 95-year-old, terminally ill refugee to turn his memoirs into a book before he died, or helping a retired neighbour revive children’s stories she’d written decades ago. Not only was I able to publish them as books, I also sent her into the village school as guest author on World Book Day, where she was very well received.

Cover of Parrot Talk
One of four children’s books that I’ve helped Betty Salthouse publish so far

Is It Karma?

Some author friends swear there is such a thing as book karma: if you’re helpful to others, that helpfulness will come back to you in some other form at a later date.

So is it karma that this week that I spotted the first book in my Sophie Sayers series rising up the cosy mystery charts?

If so, I’m fine with that. When I started self-publishing my books (I’d written stories all my life but hadn’t seriously pursued publication), I thought just writing the books would be satisfying enough for me. And if anyone else benefited along the way from anything I did, I’d jokingly tell myself that virtue was its own reward, or I’d get my reward in heaven, and that would be enough for me.

And if there aren’t any books in heaven? Then I’m not going. 

If you’re within reach of the Cotswolds, come along and join in the fun at this year’s Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival this month, on Saturday 21st April. Download the full programme from its website, www.hulitfest.com, to help you plan your day in advance – but there’s no advance booking required, and no admission charge. Just turn up on the day and enjoy! 
 

I’ll be launching the fourth in my Sophie Sayers Village Mystery series, Murder by the Book, at the Festival, but you can pre-order an ebook copy here in the meantime at the special launch price of 99p/99c, and the paperback from 21st April, at viewbook.at/MurderByTheBook.