Posted in Events, Reading, Self-publishing, Writing

Juggling a Trio of Literature Festivals

 Autumn: season of mists and mellow fruitfulness – and literature festivals!

1 LitFest Past: Ness Book Fest

Profile photo of Debbie at microphone with Waterstones banner behind
Speaking at Ness Book Fest on Saturday (with thanks to Lesley Kelly for the photo)

Last weekend I had the pleasure of speaking not once but twice at the delightful Ness Book Fest in Inverness. This event, now in its third year, is a wonderful celebration of local writing talent (I loved the three-minute slot showcasing a local author at the start of each session) and authors like me from further afield (although the fact that Inverness is mentioned in my first novel, and my eighth will be set in Inverness may have earned me honorary local status!)

My gigs in the excellent venue of the mezzanine event area in Waterstones’ Inverness store required me to wear two different hats:

  • firstly, an hour’s talk about how to self-publish books successfully, in my role as ambassador for the Alliance of Independent Authors
  • secondly, talking about my novel writing, with specific reference to my current Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries series, though also touching on future plans for other series, including Staffroom at St Bride’s, for which I’m currently writing the first book

The audience for both talks was highly receptive and engaged, and it was a joy to linger chatting to them afterwards, hearing about their own writing and reading activities, and signing books. One man even gave me a copy of a poem he’d written – what a lovely thing to do!

festival poster on back of toilet door
I’m in the bottom row, third from left

Another surprise came just before my first event, when I nipped to the public toilets next door to Waterstones – and found myself facing a picture of myself on the back of the toilet door! An ingenious bit of lateral thinking for advertising the Ness Book Fest, whose posters were dotted strategically all around the town!

Oh, and yes, I was wearing the same actual hat for both talks, but next day I did snap up a second hat in Harris Tweed, to which I am addicted, and whose warmth I appreciated next day on my constitutional around the National Arboretum at Westonbirt.

photo of Debbie Young in Harris Tweed hat with large sculpture of Gruffalo behind her
Looks like the Gruffalo is after my new Harris Tweed hat

2 LitFest Present: Cheltenham Literature Festival

photo of team
With the BBC Radio Gloucestershire team in the Cheltenham Literature Festival VIP Tent

I then had just a day at home to draw breath and finish reading the BBC Radio Gloucestershire Book Club‘s book of the month, this time the intriguing and unusual (and, millions claim, life-changing) fable The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, before hot-footing it to Cheltenham for an outside broadcast with the station’s lunchtime presenter, Dominic Cotter, in the Festival’s VIP tent. I spent a very pleasant couple of hours there, talking books with the BBC team and with other guests, including my friends Heidi Perry, Vicky Pember and Wilf Merttens from the children’s reading charity, Read for Good. By coincidence, they were there to do an event with one of the charity’s storytellers to a packed audience of younger readers. We managed to squeeze them into the show too!

You can share some of the fun of the Festival by listening to the show here on iPlayer any time during the next 28 days. (The Book Club slot starts about 13 minutes into the show, and Read for Good’s about 20 minutes before the end.) And if you’re a regular Book Club listener, you can get ahead for next month’s show by reading Daljit Nagra’s poetry collection, British Museum, which fellow panellist Caroline Sanderson chose, in between chairing numerous Festival events!

Meanwhile the Cheltenham Literature Festival will be in full swing till the end of Sunday – visit their website to see what else is coming up in their programme.

3 LitFest Yet To Come: Bristol Literature Festival

photo of AA Abbott reading her book in cell
A A Abbott reading from one of the books in her “Trail” series in the historic police cells

And now the dust has settled on those two outings, I’m gearing up for my next event, which is a fun celebration of crime writing organised by thriller writer A A Abbott as part of the Bristol Literature Festival. Following the success of the launch of her last but one novel at the old police cells at Bridewell Street, Bristol, she dreamed up the idea of a multi-author crime book fair in the same atmospheric setting, to take place on Saturday 20th October from 2pm until 4.30pm. At “Crime, Thrillers & Horror in the Cells“, there will be talks and readings by the crime writers present, and also of course the authors will be happy to sign copies of any books you’d like to buy. You can find more details of the event here on the Bristol Lit Fest website. It’s also a great excuse to have a look round this historic site, completely free of charge.

Next on my Festival to-do list will be to get the planning under way for the next Hawkesbury Upton Lit Fest (Saturday 27th April 2019) – more news on that soon! 

Posted in Events, Reading, Writing

My Debut at Cheltenham Literature Festival

A newsflash about my appearance tonight at the biggest and longest-standing lit fest in the UK

Poster for tonight's event
Featuring… me!

Over the weekend, a message flashed up on the corner of my computer screen: “YOU’RE IN!” Clicking to read the full email, I learned to my delight that I’ve been selected to read one of my short stories at Cheltenham Literature Festival tonight, in the 9pm event in the Little Big Top, entitled “Stroud Short Stories’ Greatest Hits”.

Debbie Young at microphone reading Quick Change
Reading from one of my short story collections at Stroud Short Stories event, April 2015

Stroud Short Stories organiser John Holland had chosen 7 out of 120 stories that had previously been read at its twice-yearly story evenings. Each SSS event provides a snapshot of the high calibre of local writing. These 120 stories had themselves been sifted from thousands of stories submitted to SSS over the years.

While the story I read at the April 2015 Stroud Short Stories event was not one of the first seven chosen, Katherine Hunter, one of the original line-up, had unfortunately fallen ill, and so I was pulled off the reserve bench to fill the gap. I’m really sad for Katherine to have to miss this opportunity due to illness, and I hope she makes a speedy recovery.

In the meantime, I’ll be dusting off my gold dress, an appropriate outfit for reading “The Alchemy of Chocolate”, which I wore when I read it at the April 2015 event in Stroud.

Cover image for The Alchemy of Chocolate showing chocolate coins falling out of a purse
If you join my Readers’ Club, you’ll receive a free download of this short story as a welcome gift

I won’t spoil the plot for anyone who is planning to be in the audience tonight, but if you’d like to read the story, you can either buy Quick Change, the collection in which it originally appeared, as an ebook or paperback (ISBN 978-0993087967), or get a copy of the story as a welcome gift when you join my free Readers’ Club.

All that means is you give me your email address and I send you very occasional emails about new books, events and special offers. You can unsubscribe any time you like too, though I hope you won’t want to! Please click here if you’d like to join the Readers’ Club.

Tonight’s Programme

To whet the appetite of the audience, here’s the line-up for tonight’s event, in order of appearance:

  1. Debbie Young – The Alchemy of Chocolate
  2. Philip Douch – Trog and Kron Almost Get It Right
  3. Ali Bacon – Silver Harvest
  4. Andrew Stevenson – A Good Old-Fashioned Cooper
  5. Rick Vick – Seeing
  6. Mel Golding – A Small Change
  7. Bill Jones – The Vampires in the Basement

It will be introduced by the ever-entertaining John Holland, an award-winning short story writer himself.

A good friend of ours, David Penny, a historical novelist and technical manager of the Alliance of Independent Authors, will be attending to video the event, so we hope to be able to share that with you in due course.

In the meantime, you can get a further sneak preview of the event if you tune in to BBC Radio Gloucestershire at 12.30pm today when lunchtime show presenter Dominic Cotter will be doing a quick interview with me. John Holland will also be interviewed on the night by the station’s roving reporter in the Green Room. (I think it’ll be Jo Durrant, who is doing a great round-up of the Festival on a daily basis – catch her on Twitter here.)

Like to Enter the Next Stroud Short Stories Competition?

After all the excitement of tonight is over, it’ll be back to planning the next Stroud Short Stories event, which takes place on Sunday 20th November. You have until the end of Saturday 29th October to submit your entry. Please note admission is free, but only authors who have a connection with Gloucestershire or South Gloucestershire are eligible to enter. Stories may be on any subject, to a maximum of 1500 words. For more details, visit the Stroud Short Stories website. Ooh, nearly forgot to mention – this time I’m the guest judge, alongside John. All entries are anonymised before they reach the judges, so no chances of favouritism. 😉

With thanks to my lovely friend Jacky, who will be in the audience, for flagging up that this week is Chocolate Week – what’s not to love about that?!



Posted in Self-publishing, Writing

My Talk at the Cambridge Literary Festival

An overview of my talk about self-publishing, given on behalf of the Alliance of Independent Authors, at last week’s Cambridge Literary Festival.

Cover of "Opening Up To Indie Authors"
My talk anticipated the launch of this groundbreaking book the following week

Last Sunday I had the honour of representing the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) as a speaker at the Cambridge Literature Festival, the new name for the Cambridge WordFest.

It was the first time I’d taken the stage at a major literary festival, my presence last autumn at the Cheltenham Literature Festival being over the airwaves from the Green Room via BBC Radio Gloucestershire, rather than before a studio audience.

It was heartening to have this opportunity to spread the word about the virtues and benefits of self-publishing at a major literary festival in one of the nation’s foremost university cities. It was also timely, as two days later I was due to launch at the London Book Fair a new book I’d co-authored with Dan Holloway, Opening Up To Indie Authors, which includes guidance on how self-published authors may work more effectively with literary festival organisers. I applaud the organisers of the Cambridge Literary Festival for their inclusive thinking, and I very much hope that this will be the first of many such events far and wide.

Behind the Scenes in the Green Room

Waiting in the Cambridge Festival Green Room, it was exciting to see prominent members of the modern publishing scene dip in and out between talks. I shared a coffee table with Dame Jacqueline Wilson, former Children’s Laureate, and remarked to the Astronomer Royal, Sir Martin Rees, that I would that evening be having tea with my cousin Dr Frances Willmoth, the author of an important book about the first Astronomer Royal. That made me feel more intelligent by association, at least!

Strange too, though, to realise what a small world publishing is. The first person I bumped into was a publicist who I knew from my time working for the children’s reading charity Read for Good. I also sat opposite children’s author Jamila Gavin, who lives and works a few miles up the road from my home on the other side of the country.

I was to do a double-act with editorial consultant Rebecca Swift, founder of The Literary Consultancy. Together we were to describe the current state of the publishing industry, including both traditional publishing routes and the newer self-publishing model. Rebecca appeared to know everybody in the Green Room, kindly introducing me to many of her friends, including Melissa Benn, daughter of the late, legendary Tony Benn MP. Melissa had just interviewed another notable politician, Alan Johnson MP, on stage. Melissa decided to join the audience of our talk, as Rebecca had been at hers. It’s a perk of being a speaker that you’re allowed to attend a number of other talks while you’re there, free of charge.

The Splendid Setting for our Talk

Interior of the Divinity Lightfoot room
Divinity Lightfoot – the name of a room, not a Bond girl

We headed off to the place designated for our talk, led by one of the many amiable and efficient stewards. Our venue: a historic and inspiring room with the wonderful name of Divinity Lightfoot. I thought this would make a great name for a character in a detective novel or a Bond Movie, but it turned out to be an elegant, airy room flooded with natural light in the Divinity School of St John’s College, Cambridge. The golden fleur-de-lys that dappled the walls were all hand-painted, the steward assured me.

We kicked off with a straw poll of our standing-room-only audience to help us pitch our talk. We asked who was trade published, who had self-published, and who was happy with their lot. About half a dozen hands went up for each of the first two questions, and none for the third. It was going to be interesting.

Sharing Our Advice About Publishing Routes

Becky kicked off the presentation, drawing on her background as an editor with Virago to create a vivid picture of how publishers and agents handle submissions. She knew how hard it was for a new author’s work to progress beyond the slush pile, and this led to her setting up her company, The Literary Consultancy, offering editorial advice to authors before they launch their manuscripts to publishers and agents.

When Becky founded TLC, self-publishing in its modern form was not an option, but as more aspiring authors learn of its potential, more are considering that route. I explained what modern self-publishing means and outlined the many opportunities it offers for commercial and critical success. I also dispelled myths and outmoded ideas about self-publishing, and I spelled out the difference between professional self-publishing, where the author assumes the role and responsibliities of the publisher, and the old-fashioned “vanity press”, in which a printing company converts a manuscript without criticism, guidance or quality control, into a printed book.

The Elephant in the Self-Publishing Room

Though one might have expected Becky and I to diverge, as so many of her clients have found success via traditional trade publishing deals, we actually concurred in many ways. I addressed head on the elephant in the room that some self-publishing advocates ignore: the importance of quality control. Many bad self-published books abound because it’s so easy for authors to click the “publish” button without proper proofreading, editing or formatting – but I endorsed Becky’s call for authors to polish their manuscripts to the highest degree before launching them on the world. Her services would be as valuable to self-published authors as to those seeking the traditional route.

The flurry of eager questions at the end of the session suggested that Becky and I had restored the faith and enthusiasm of the audience to persevere with their publishing projects, whichever route to publication they chose. The range of the audience members’ writing projects was fascinating and original, from an autobiography that required a soundtrack to the invention of new genres. Anyone for a crossover of a political satire with fantasy? Sounds good to me!

After Our Talk Was Over

Debbie Young and Rebecca Swift in Divinity Lightfoot
Debbie Young (left) with Rebecca Swift, after the talk was over

Many guests stayed long after our talk was over to ask further questions and to pick up our business cards so that they could follow us up later. When I walked up and down the empty rows to gather any remaining TLC or ALLi leaflets that the stewards had kindly put on chairs, I was pleased to discover only two remained, demonstrating the audience’s serious interest in our services.

Several of the stewards attended our talk, lingering after the paying guests had gone to talk about their own publishing ambitions. I suspect most of these stewards are volunteers, taking part simply for the love of books, so it was a real pleasure to be able to help them, after they’d spent days taking such good care of festival speakers and guests like us.

I had only one regret: that I’d brought only one copy of my book promotion handbook, Sell Your Books!, for reference, instead of bringing more to sell. But I was delighted when Melissa Benn snapped up that copy.

I also went away with a new book myself, a beautiful hardback of the novel Dory’s Avengers by Alison Jack, a Cambridge-based author and editor whom I’d previously befriended on Twitter. She’d kindly brought me her book as a gift. She also obligingly took the photo shown here of Becky and me after our talk. Two days later, our paths were to cross again at the London Book Fair – but I’ll return to that in another post.

To share this interesting inside information about what it’s like to be a guest speaker at a literary festival, here’s a handy tweet:
“Behind the scenes at a literary festival with @TLCUK & @IndieAuthorALLi at @CamLitFest: via @DebbieYoungBN”

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Walking on Air at the Cheltenham Literature Festival


Posted in Reading, Writing

Plus Ça Change…

Read for Good charity logo
I finally let go of the balloon

Last month, I announced a major change. I planned to abandon my day job at Read for Good, the Nailsworth-based national charity, to devote my time to writing.

“I can’t believe you’re leaving Read for Good!” said some of my friends, knowing what great work it does, encouraging children to read for pleasure (Readathon) and making life better for children in hospital by providing them with free books and storytellers (ReadWell).

“I can’t believe you’re giving up a part-time, term- time job – every working mother’s dream!” said others.

It hadn’t been an easy decision. We’d always planned I’d give up the day job once my husband started getting his Civil Service pension, which happened in March. We’d reckoned without the objections of my 10-year-old daughter: “But it’s COOL having a mummy who works for Read for Good!”

…Plus C’est La Même Chose

Sir Tony Robinson with a ReadWell bookcaes
Read for Good’s better known ambassador, its new patron Sir Tony Robinson (Photo: Clint Randall)

No-one was surprised when, in the run-up to my last day at the office, I hedged my bets by cheekily appointing myself a Read for Good ambassador.

That’s how it came about that during my first full week of supposedly writing full-time, I enjoyed not one but two excursions on behalf of the charity.

On Wednesday 9th October, I was invited to join two other local writers, Katie Fforde and Simon Sheridan, on BBC Radio Gloucestershire’s excellent Chris Baxter Show. The DJ engaged us in wide-ranging discussion of children’s literacy and publishing trends, giving me the chance to explain the work of both Readathon and ReadWell to a county-wide audience.

The live broadcast took place not at the BBC’s studio, but in a temporary setting to which they’d decamped for the Cheltenham Literature Festival. It was hard to stop myself phoning someone on my mobile to announce with fake nonchalance “Hello, I’m in The Writers’ Room at Cheltenham Literature Festival…”

To stop myself getting ideas above my station, I lunched afterwards at McDonald’s in Stroud. It seemed a good way to bring myself back down to earth.

Debbie Young in conversation with Sarah McIntyre, Philip Reeve and Nick Sharratt
Demonstrating my ambassadorial powers while  wishing I too had worn a hat (Photo: Clint Randall)

Two days later, on Friday 11th, I was back at the Festival, this time in the Queen’s Hotel for Read for Good’s fundraising reception. My role was to chat up the guests, which included award-winning children’s authors and illustrators such as Nick Sharratt, Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre. Read for Good’s new patron, the actor and author Sir Tony Robinson, inspired us all with a passionate speech about the power of books for young people. He cited his own experience of bunking off school as a teenager, in order to spend more time in the library!

I did still manage to get some writing done last month, but I’m enjoying this ambassador malarkey. And that’s before I’ve even started on the Ferrero Rocher…

Platter of Ferrero Rocher chocolates
Clearly I need more ambassadorial experience before I’m able to pile Ferrero Rocher into a pyramid, as in the ads

By the way, I’ve discovered it is IMPOSSIBLE to stack Ferrero Rocher into a pyramid as they do in the television advert (strapline: “Ah, Ambassador, with these Ferrero Rocher you are truly spoiling us). I think they must use blu-tak.

(This post was originally written for my Tetbury Advertiser column, November 2013.)

  • To find out more about the BBC Radio Gloucestershire broadcast and to hear a recording of it, click here for my previous post about it.
  • To get involved in the great work that Read for Good does encouraging children to read, visit
  • For further research into Ferrero Rocher, go to your nearest sweetshop. Go on, you know you want to.