Posted in Family, Reading, Writing

Meeting My Hero: M C Beaton

Cover of Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death
Who could resist a book with a title like that?

Walking past my local public library just before Christmas, I nearly fell over in delighted surprise when I spotted a big sign announcing an imminent personal appearance by one of my favourite living novelists, M C Beaton.

Although my nearest public library is in the middle of an old-fashioned  shopping centre, its managers are  up-to-the-minute on what makes modern readers tick. M C Beaton is the author of some of the most borrowed library books in the country (more details here). I’ve been hooked on her mystery  stories  ever since I heard a snippet of a radio dramatisation of the first Agatha Raisin book, Agatha Raisin and The Quiche of Death. I’ve now worked my way through all 23 books in the Agatha Raisin series, another 28 about Hamish Macbeth, and some of her others too. Always enormously prolific, at the age of 74 she still writes at least two books every year, an Agatha and a Hamish, for which her fans are truly grateful.

I immediately snapped up tickets for myself and her other fans in my family: my parents and my sister. We were all impatient for the day of her talk to arrive. After giving them a big build-up to the event, I became a little anxious. Would M C Beaton live up to our sky-high expectations? Supposing she wasn’t as fun, witty, warm and anarchic as her books? When I was a child, I met Michael Bond, creator of Paddington Bear  and Olga da Polga, and found him rather dull. There wasn’t a jar of marmalade nor a duffle coat in sight. (Apologies to Michael Bond, by the way – my disappointment reflects my childish grasp of authorship rather than his personality!)

Top Talk by A Master of Her Craft

M C Beaton addressing audience in library
The audience hung on her every word

Thankfully, Marion Chesney, to use her real name, was even more fun than I’d dared hope.  On the appointed evening in January, we battled through wind and rain to gather in the little local library. The room was buzzing with the chatter of eager fans, yet the minute she walked in, the room fell silent. She progressed  across the room, her Edwardian-style velvet gown billowing about her in a multitude of jewel-like colours. Beneath it shimmered a copper silk shirt. She knew how to create a dramatic entrance. Taking her seat on a plain library chair in the middle of the room, she picked up the microphone and with no more ado began to speak. Without reference to notes or slides, she took us through a highly entertaining account of her career, swiftly moving from bookshop assistant to reporter to theatre critic to novelist, holding the audience completely in her thrall.

It would be easy for a bestselling writer to use library events simply to sell their books. M C Beaton preferred to entertain. She also demonstrated herself to be as prolific a reader as she is a writer, just as all good writers ought to be. I was especially pleased to hear that one of her favourite authors was another of my literary heroes: Dorothy L Sayers, creator of Lord Peter Wimsey.

“I’ve even bought Fifty Shades of Gray,” she announced to our astonishment. “I bought it by mistake at an airport when I didn’t have my glasses on. I thought, ‘Oh, here’s a new P D James I haven’t read yet’.”

The Icing on the Cake

M C Beaton shares a joke with my mum
Making my mum’s day

We were putty in her capable hands. Her self-deprecating tales served only to hold us deeper in her thrall. After the talk, not only was the queue to buy her books enormous; many people went back two or three times with further purchases.

Were we the unwitting victims of clever, cynical marketing tactics? Oh no, she was entirely genuine. How do I know? I asked her to sign a book for my author friend Sandy Osborne, whose own debut novel Girl Cop had been published the previous week. As she was autographing the frontispiece, I had a sudden, cheeky impulse to tell her about Girl Cop, and I offered to send her a free copy.

“Oh no, dear, give me the details and I’ll order it from Amazon,” she said with a winning smile. “I believe in writers getting their royalties.”

Cover of Death of a Scriptwriter by M C Beaton
The writer’s revenge!

M C Beaton’s writing career has not all been plain sailing. She is still bitter at the way she was treated by the producers of the Hamish Macbeth television series many years ago. They took extraordinary liberties with her characters and plots, which bear  no resemblance to her creations. Scandalously, they don’t even pay her royalties for repeats. But is she downhearted?

“Oh no, I got my revenge,” she asserted. “My next Hamish Macbeth book was called Death of a Scriptwriter.”

Now that’s what I call a class act.

For more about M C Beaton, visit her website.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like to read other items I’ve written in praise of public libraries:

A nostalgic portrait of the public library I visited as a child

From my book promotion website, a report on talks by romantic novelist Sarah Duncan and performance poet John Hegley

Posted in Writing

Tales of the The Unexpected Book

Beware of the Tetbury Advertiser – you never know where it might lead! I mean that in the nicest possible way, for a few years ago, the Advertiser was the starting point of a trail that led to the publication of my first book. Here’s the tale of how it came about.

Paul Newnton, author
Tetbury author Paul Newnton

In the summer of 2010, a few months after I’d started writing my Young By Name column in the Tetbury Advertiser, I was contacted by one of its regular readers, the writer Paul Newnton. Though now living on the other side of the country, he kept up with local news via a postal subscription to this popular monthly magazine. Having enjoyed my column, Paul asked me to help him promote his new novel, the first in a proposed series. Despite my protest that I had no experience of book promotion, I agreed to meet him for tea in the Snooty Fox on his next trip to Tetbury. With the help of an excellent cream tea, he convinced me that by drawing on my long career in journalism, PR and marketing, I could be of valuable assistance. He was right: within a very short time, I’d arranged for his book to be stocked in the Yellow-Lighted Bookshop, generated news coverage in the local press, and fixed up an interview on BBC Radio Gloucestershire.

The author and publishing consultant Helen Hart
Helen Hart – the antidote to vanity publishers

A few weeks later, a graphic designer friend mentioned that his wife, who runs the Bristol-based assisted publishing company, SilverWood Books, was enjoying the online version of my Young By Name blog. We arranged to meet, and I came away with a commission to write a self-help promotion handbook for authors. The book was particularly to address the rapidly expanding group of self-published or independent authors – but what author doesn’t want to sell more books, even those commissioned by traditional publishers?

To explain the jargon, self-published authors are those who produce their books independently of traditional publishing companies. Thanks to the latest developments in digital printing and e-book technology, it’s possible to put your book on the market without a publisher’s contract, thus avoiding the nerve-wracking round of submissions and rejection letters. Authors who are willing and able to master the necessary technology do this themselves, but for technophobes – or for those who prefer to spend their time writing – there exist excellent publishing consultants who can do this for them, adding value and expertise. These are far removed from the “vanity publishers” of the past, who simply took your money and treated your manuscript as a routine print job, often with dire results.

To fulfil my commission, I undertook extensive research, interviewing many authors – including Tetbury’s Paul Newnton, of course – and members of the book trade, not least Hereward Corbett, proprietor of Tetbury’s Yellow-Lighted Bookshop.

Dr Alison Baverstock, MA Publishing Course Director at Kingston University
Dr Alison Baverstock, all-round publishing guru

Pre-publication, the first reviewer of Sell Your Books! was so enthusiastic that she even agreed to write a foreword. This was no small compliment, as this reviewer was Dr Alison Baverstock, senior lecturer in the MA in Publishing at Kingston University and all-round publishing guru. She deems it to give “motivating, practial and cheerful guidance on the process. It raises the spirits and promotes author confidence. It’s an investment in your writing now – and your future development.”

English: Westonbirt House Girls' School, Tetbu...
Westonbirt School (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In another bizarre demonstration of all roads leading to Tetbury, I discovered that I’d met Alison a few years before, when I was working at Westonbirt School and she was guest speaker at Speech Day. I’d taken her photo to include in the school’s newsletter.

I hope that knowing its local origins and inspiration, authors living in and around Tetbury will take a special interest in my book. I’d love to hear any feedback or input from them, which I might also be able to share, with their permission, on my blog of book promotion tips for authors at Off The Shelf Book Promotions.

Cover image of Sell Your Books! by Debbie Young
All my own work

Finally, a big thank you to the wonderful Barry Gibbs, editor of the marvellous multi-faceted Tetbury Advertiser for commissioning my Young By Name column in the first place. Without you, none of this might have happened!

This post was originally written for the Tetbury Advertiser and appeared in its February 2013 edition.

  • Sell Your Books!, a book promotion handbook for authors, is now available to order from good bookshops and online. (RRP £8.99, ISBN 978-1-906236-34-2, Publisher SilverWood Books) It is also available as an e-book.
  • SilverWood Books provides helpful, expert and services to authors seeking to self-publish their books. For an initial chat, free of charge and with no obligation, please call Helen, Sarah or Joanna on 0117 910 5829 or visit their website: http://www.silverwoodbooks.co.uk
  • For more information about Paul Newnton and his books, visit his website or pop into the Yellow-Lighted Bookshop which stocks some copies and will always be happy to order more.
Posted in Family, Reading

The Joy of Sets (of Books, that is)

Cover of "Abigail: The Breeze Fairy (Rain...
Cover via Amazon

This evening, everyone in our house has been immersed in a book. There’s not much to beat a good book, beyond the thrill of discovering that the one you are currently enjoying is part of a set.  Once you’ve finished, there’s another one, just as good, lined up to take its place.

My husband is gripped by Lustrum, the latest Robert Harris thriller to be set in Ancient Rome.  He’d been unable to put down its predecessors, Pompeii and Imperium, written about three years apart.

I’m lapping up The Perfect Paragon, the sixteenth Agatha Raisin detective story.  M C Beaton can be relied on to churn out another one or two each year, in between new Hamish Macbeths, but I must slow down now so as not to overtake her.

My small daughter Laura need not hold back on her current passion: the Rainbow Magic books by the sweetly named Daisy Meadows.   Once she’s finished Amy the Amethyst Fairy, fifth of the seven Jewel Fairies, she can progress to the Weather Fairies: Crystal the Snow Fairy, Abigail the Breeze Fairy – you get the idea.  Then there’s a set for the colours in the Rainbow – Ruby the Red Fairy, Amber the Orange Fairy.  Plus a handful on a party theme – Cherry(Cake), Melodie(Music). I’m sure she’ll love the Funday Fairies – there’ one of those for every day of the week. Plus there are fairies rolled out for special events. Laura doesn’t know it yet, but the Easter Fairy will accompany her Easter eggs. Kate the Royal Wedding Fairy is probably best read before April 29th.

Discovering eight more Rainbow Magic titles are due to be published  in July 2011, I suspect there may be more than one pen behind the Daisy Meadows name. But can you ever have too many fairies?  Not if you’re a seven year old girl.  And I’m sure there will be plenty more where these came from.

In fact, now I think about it, there are fairies everywhere I look.  Putting out the dustbins, I dream up the Recycling Fairies: Polly the Plastics Fairy, Bella (Bottle), Coco (Cardboard), Nina (Newspaper), Rita (Rags).  The Housework Fairies are always welcome to visit us – come on down,  Deirdre the Dusting Fairy, and bring your friend Ida to do the Ironing.

Did I say there’s nothing better than a set of books? But there is, as a glance up at my bookshelf reminds me: the boxed set.  Taking pride of place is a special edition boxed set of P G Wodehouse, which hastened my recovery from pneumonia a few years ago, and one of Sherlock Holmes, bought just because it was so lovely.  Of classic boxed sets I will never tire.  And you could get an awful lot of fairies in a box.