Posted in Personal life, Travel, Writing

Remembering Stuart Sharrock

In this week’s post, I pay tribute to the late Dr Stuart Sharrock, a highly intelligent and generous man who made a lasting impact on my life.

The dated image of the phone on the cover makes me realise how long ago I was part of its editorial team,

The first job that I really enjoyed was working for a trade journal, Telecommunications, when I was in my twenties. I knew nothing about technology and cared less, but really wanted to work in magazine publishing and journalism, and the advertised post of Editorial Assistant seemed a good starting point.

When I discovered the office was in a vibrant part of central London, just round the corner from Buckingham Palace, in a mews behind a high-profile street in Belgravia, an easy commute from my south London flat, I was even keener to apply.

Quickly taken under the wings of both Dr Stuart Sharrock as Editorial Director and Editor Denis Gilhooly (a fellow English graduate), by the time I’d left the magazine a few years later, I’d been promoted to News Editor, having learned a huge amount about writing, editing, news reporting, and magazine publishing.

I’d even learned enough about telecommunications to write articles explaining the technology to others, which amused my father, a career computer engineer.

I’d also gained enough confidence to accept a job offer out of the blue from Brandon Gamester, the charming co-director of technical PR firm Gamester Kenyon, based in an old banana warehouse in London Bridge – but that’s another story.

Such a Generous Mentor

Dr Stuart Sharrock headshot
Dr Stuart Sharrock

When I gave in my notice, I said to Stuart that the reason I was leaving was that I had gone as far as I could with the magazine and could never rise to be editor. “You could,” he said kindly, ever generous with encouragement to his staff, many of us  recent graduates at the start of our careers. I still don’t believe him, but it was characteristically generous of him to say it all the same.

During my time at Telecommunications, Stuart trusted me with some heady responsibilities, not only attending press conferences and trade events in the UK, but also travelling around Europe. Our magazine was the “international” edition of an American journal (ie rest of world outside of America).

On a personal level, I made the most of the travel opportunities, booking the latest return flights I could and adding on the odd day’s holiday, to allow me to see something of my destinations, not just the inside of conference halls and technical plants.

A Geneva Convention

Over six hundred pages long in English, French, German and Spanish – my editing task in Geneva in the summer of 1987

My favourite assignment was to Geneva in the summer of 1987, where I worked for a couple of months editing the trade catalogue of Telecom 87, the biggest trade conference of its kind in the world.

Telecom 87 was held only every four years, like the Olympics. The exhibition was run under the auspices of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), part of the United Nations, and the catalogue had to be published in English, French, Spanish and German.

My job was to coordinate the editorial entries and proofread them prior to publication. With a working knowledge only of English, French and German, I winged it on the Spanish and got away with it.

While he remained in our London office, Stuart made sure I was well looked after in Geneva. arranging for me to work in the office of the company that had won the catalogue printing contract. Conscious that a young single girl might feel vulnerable alone in a strange city, especially one teeming with rich businessmen from many different countries, he arranged for me to stay in a comfortable bedsit rather than a hotel, which allowed me to be more self-sufficient and independent. (Stuart was far more streetwise than me, as this cautionary tale from that same summer demonstrates.)

I was allowed to claim expenses for eating out, but this was not as a great perk as it might seem. In those days, many restaurants in this affluent city were suspicious of the motives of women dining alone, as were some of the less enlightened male diners, which could make for an uncomfortable evening. My expense claims were therefore dominated by receipts from the Geneva branch of Kentucky Fried Chicken. Stuart was highly amused.

Quite the Gourmet

Stuart shared and evangelised for his love of good dining by encouraging his staff to be more adventurous. When he came over for a meeting in Geneva, he introduced me to his favourite restaurant and guided me through the menu. Back in London, he treated my colleague Daniel Brown and me to a Japanese restaurant to introduce us to sushi, which had not yet taken off in the UK.

Another time he took us to the iconic restaurant, The Gay Hussar, whose left-wing politics were as famous as its Hungarian menu. A legend among left-wing journalists and politicians (I think Stuart had once been a communist), its walls were groaning with signed portraits of grateful customers from the highest echelons of British journalism and government. Egged on by Stuart, I chose the carnivore platter. I don’t think I got much work done that afternoon, I was too busy digesting.

An Extraordinary Track Record

But don’t let these colourful memories persuade you that Stuart was just a pleasant fellow with a large expense account and a love of fine food.

Beneath his diffident, gentle exterior lurked the most amazing scientific brain.

Before he took up residence in his modest office in the corner of that Belgravia mews, he had had the most illustrious career a scientist might hope for: following academic qualifications in Nuclear Physics, he worked at CERN and in Russia, and was part of a team that won a Nobel Prize for Physics. Sidestepping into journalism, he was the youngest editor of Nature, the leading and most intellectual science journal in the UK. Details of his subsequent career are recoreded in his obituary, which you can read in full here.

Photo via

It saddens me now to think that after I left that job, I barely crossed paths with him again, although I knew he had gone on to do more great things and was highly respected by all who knew him in the world of telecoms, in which he remained for the rest of his career. And I always recognised what a privilege it was to work with him.

Physicists Forever

As another great physicist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate said – Professor Sir Joseph Rotblat who had worked on the US Manhattan Project developing nuclear arms before devoting the rest of his life to campaigning for nuclear disarmament – “Regret is a sterile emotion”.

(I was lucky enough to hear him speak at a public lecture at Westonbirt School not long before he died in 2005. He spoke late into the evening, before apologising that he had to go to catch a plane to Geneva “to collect another award”!)

It seems appropriate to find comfort in the words of another physicist.

I don’t suppose either of these great men believed in any notion of heaven, but the eulogy that was read at his funeral, “A Eulogy from a Physicist”, explaining that even in death all your energy remains in the universe, provides a different philosophy.

(Read ‘A Eulogy from a Physicist’ here:

As one of the comments on his online obituary says, it is so very Stuart.

Posted in Personal life, Writing

May Be Not…

My column for the May issue of the Hawkesbury Parish News

cover of May issue features photo of Debbie launching HULF
A strangely familiar face on the May front cover too…

After a hectic start to 2019, I was hoping my May diary would be blank.

Not that I’ve turned anti-social all of a sudden. But 1st May marks a major life-change for me, as on 30th April I leave my part-time day job in order to devote all my working hours to writing. The only diary dates I’d envisaged for May were self-imposed milestones for my next book.

The impartial observer might notice no difference in my behaviour. In my day job, I worked almost entirely from home, with the shortest commute possible (bedroom to study, five paces) and an office dress code of pyjamas.

Same applies from 1st May. I’ll still be sitting in the same chair, at the same desk, at the same computer, although I regularly change the pyjamas. But in my head, the difference will be enormous. I hope soon to have a new book out as evidence of my personal revolution.

Yet despite my best intentions, before April is out, there is already a flurry of events in my May diary: Dog Show, Plant Sale, Big Breakfast, HU5K. And that’s before the May issue of the Parish News falls on my doormat. (I scan every issue, diary in hand, as soon as it arrives, for fear of missing out – don’t you?)

Of course, living in a community as lively as Hawkesbury Upton, a blank diary could only be a figment of my imagination.

But imagination’s my long suit. After all, I do write fiction.

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Headshot of Debbie Young by Angela Fitch
Posted in Personal life, Self-publishing, Writing

The End of an Era and the Beginning of a New One

A post about my new life as a full-time novelist

Debbie with ALLi friends in selfie shot
Celebrating the launch of “Opening Up To Indie Authors”, a book I co-wrote with Dan Holloway (right), at the London Book Fair – with fellow authors Jessica Bell, Hugh Howey and Orna Ross and Kobo’s UK Director Diego Marano

In just two weeks’ time, it’ll be all change for me as I leave the closest thing I have to a day-job to devote all my time to writing and marketing my books.

In some respects there’ll be no change, in that my commute will be exactly the same: from bedroom to study, just six paces. But instead of  working for the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi, as in “ally”), I’ll be working entirely for myself.

All about ALLi

ALLi logoIn case you’re not familiar with ALLi, let me explain a little about what it is, what it does, and what I did there. ALLi is a global, non-profit organisation for independent authors to share best practice and support, founded by Irish author and poet Orna Ross in 2012.

Debbie on the terrace of the House of Commons with an ALLi flyer
Raising awareness of ALLi at the House of Commons, July 2015, at the All Party Writers’ Group Summer Drinks Party

In 2013, Orna invited me to be Commissioning Editor of its daily blog (, and that role soon expanded. I moderated its members’-only advice forum, co-wrote self-help books for authors in ALLi’s series of guidebooks, wrote ALLi-related guest posts on other blogs, helped man its stand at the London Book Fair, and spoke on ALLi’s behalf at various festivals and writing events around the country. As an offshoot, I also started two writers’ groups, one in Cheltenham and one in Bristol, whose membership I had to restrict to ALLi members only to keep the numbers manageable.

With a new blog post required every day, and to a specific deadline, my ALLi work had to take priority – and for a long time I hugely enjoyed it, not least because I was networking online daily with all manner of authors all over the world, and learning an enormous amount along the way, particularly from Orna herself, who had become a real mentor to me in my writing as well as in my role at ALLi.

And Plenty More Besides

Orna Ross (left) has been part of the Hawkesbury Upton Lit Fest from the beginning – pictured here with Katie Fforde at the first ever HULF (Photo by

I also managed to fit in a reasonable amount of writing (I’ve published five novels in the last two years), public speaking on my own account, and running the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival, of which the fifth is about to take place (Saturday 27th April). However, around Christmas time, with my work-in-progress novel beset by a series of delays, I realised that if I was to achieve my long-term writng goals, something would have to give. I was operating on as little sleep and as little housework as I could get away with, and there were still never enough hours in the day. A series of minor illnesses (all now thankfully resolved) underscored the message that I was simply trying to do too much.

For years people had been saying to me “I don’t know how you do it all” – it just took me a while to agree with them.

Onward and Upward

Coming soon – honest! The first in my new series of novels.

Orna and the team at ALLi have been gracious and generous as we’ve worked on a handover, and I’ve been vastly amused to discover I’m being replaced by not one but three people! (Ok, so they’re all working part-time on what I used to do, but the thought still made Orna and me laugh.) I will continue to be ALLi’s UK Ambassador, and to write and speak on the organisations behalf now and again, but apart from that I will be my own person. If I don’t get as many books written as I plan, I will have no excuse, and no-one to blame but myself! So watch this space – and if you’d like me to alert you as I release new books, please click here to join my Readers’ Club, and I’ll keep you posted of progress.

I’ll close now with Orna’s version of this news, over on the ALLi blog. She is very kind!

New Horizons for Our Blog Editor and Self-Publishing Advice Center Manager Debbie Young

Posted in Family, Personal life

The Multi-Tasking Mummy

Plate spinning , Brisbane, Australia
Plate spinning – it’s what I do every day of the week (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A few years ago, when I was working at a girls’ boarding school, I was asked at least once a year to give a careers talk to the pupils, because I was one of the few members of staff whose career had included extensive time away from a school environment.

Amongst other things, I’d been a journalist and a PR consultant. This experience meant I could speak with authority about the value of “transferable skills”, as the jargon put it.These are skills that would be of as much use in one job as another – number management, working with people, planning, and so on, as opposed to the ability to manufacture a Ford Escort car, say, which would only be of any use to an employee of the Ford Motor Company.

Before my talk, to be given under the watchful eye of the careers teacher, I made sure to do my homework. I put together an impressive collection of evidence of my previous careers to use as visual aids. Slamming down on the desk a big exhibition catalogue that I’d once edited would be very useful for waking up any girls who had nodded off.

I also took along a very interesting press cutting that I’d spotted in a national daily. This article predictied that by the time the current generation of schoolchildren had grown up, the notion of a “job for life” or even a career for life would be outmoded. Instead, the average worker of the future would be likely to do an estimated 17 jobs during his or her career. It would also become the norm to do more than one job at a time, with at least one of these being pursued from the home rather than in a separate workplace.

English: Screenshot from Linux software KTouch...
The essential 4th R for any career girl – after Reading, wRiting and aRithmetic comes typewRiting (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I duly photocopied this article and  distributed it among the girls, just after I’d startled them by describing my first transferable skill: teaching myself to  touch-type.  They exchanged disbelieving looks at my description of my electric typewriter, which in those days passed for high-tech.

From the security of that full-time job in the school, I had no inkling that within less than 10 years I’d have a portfolio career myself – a concept that at the time had terrified me as much as it had the girls. Now, viewing the notion from the other side of the fence , I can’t believe that I survived working in just one job for so long without a crushing sense of claustrophobia.

The actress Bea Arthur
Bea Arthur, inspiration for BEA magazine

This complete about-face didn’t really strike me until I was interviewed recently by a terrific online magazine called Bea, which was set up as the antidote to the typical women’s   newstand publication. I love its strapline: “BEA… whoever you want to be”. And, do you know, I think I am now doing just that.

Click here to read their article all about, er, me….  (and lots of other great articles on a huge range of topics). And be amazed at how much I fit in to each day. I know I am. No wonder I’m always tired…

Posted in Family, Travel

The Perfect Job

Strolling down The Ramblas in Barcelona, the leafy pedestrian thoroughfare that slices through this great city, we can’t help but fall into the traps that have been laid for the unwary tourist.  Passing by the many living statues, we toss coins liberally into their collection boxes.

The statues are spectacular and imaginative, ranging from all-white classical Romans in togas to space-age superheroes.  There is a diminutive Charlie Chaplin, a giant baby in a pram, a man with two heads and another with no head at all, employing the same clever technique as the invisible man that we (didn’t) see in the Park Guell.  A particular favourite is what seems at first to be an abandoned fruit stall.  As soon as we look at it, a fruit-covered man emerges from the display where he has been effectively camouflaged, holding out a fruit-bedecked hat for Laura to wear for a photo.

Laura is entranced, if a little wary.  The more experienced statues know how to overcome children’s shyness and proffer coloured glass beads and marbles to encourage them.  I find the marble policy particularly pleasing as Laura is diabetic.  In any case, if they were offering sweets, the whole proposition would seem rather seedy.

We also encounter musicians on the Metro, to which Laura obligingly dances.  She is hoping for a Spanish flamenco dress as a souvenir and is certainly meriting one on her performance.  The quality of the music is very high – a delicate rendition of Bach on a mandolin, cocktail lounge favourites courtesy of duetting guitarists, soothing Sinatra from a trumpeter.  Again, I’m easily parted from my money.
Soon I am slipping any coins I receive as change into my trouser pocket, for ease of access whenever we pass another street performer.  When we encounter any plain common-or-garden beggars, of which there are plenty, I am hardened to their entreaties.

“Can’t you put a little more effort into your act?” I want to say to them.  “Show a little creativity, won’t you?  The competition is pretty stiff, you know.”

The sun comes out and we head for the beach, happy to pass a couple of hours making sandcastles for Laura’s Polly Pocket dolls.  We gather tiny pebbles, driftwood and sea-smoothed glass to make Gaudi-inspired mosaics as decoration.
Finally, after dipping our toes in the Mediterranean – still quite cold, despite the 20 degree heat of the day – we head back along the promenade, passing  magnificent sand sculptures, each the work of a young African man lurking nearby.  There is a wonderful castle with high arches.
“How does he get sand to levitate?” I wonder.  And a waterfall.
“A concealed pump,” my husband surmises.
The sculptor has clearly come well prepared.  A giant dog, very simple but vast, pleases my daughter, though she gives a basking sand crocodile a wide berth.  Cue for more redistribution of my wealth.  I’m all out of coins by the time we leave the beach.

Laura has fallen into a quiet, pensive state.

“Perhaps I won’t be an artist or an inventor when I grow up,” she confides eventually.  “I think I know what I want to be now.  I’ll be a person who makes a model and people have to put money in their tin.”

Relaxing in the late afternoon sunshine, as we stroll back to our hotel, I decide that she is definitely on to something.