Posted in Writing

‘Tis the Season to Do What, Now?

cover of Springtime for Murder
My latest novel – published in November, set at Easter (Available in paperback and ebook)

In this column for the December 2018 issue of the Hawkesbury Parish News, I get ahead of myself with the seasons

In the retail trade, buyers plan at least a season ahead. While we’re Christmas shopping, they’re planning their stock for the spring.

I share their sense of being out of step with nature’s calendar. Today, for example, the deadline of the Hawkesbury Parish News’s December issue, I launched my latest novel, Springtime for Murder. I wrote it in the summer months, edited it in the autumn, and it’s set at Easter. Now I’m about to start writing a novel that takes place in May. No wonder I have to stop to think what month it is in the real world.

It doesn’t help that I can’t rely on the weather to give me a natural steer on the seasons. With it often so unseasonably hot/cold/wet/dry, a glance out of the window can be misleading.

Image of first four books in the Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries series
The first four books in the series run from midsummer to Valentine’s Day

Taking a break from my desk to go grocery shopping does nothing to put me straight. Why are supermarket shelves still full of fresh summer fruits in the winter? Every time I go to Waitrose lately, there are punnets of strawberries reduced for quick sale, because the shop has more than it can sell. Still, at least I’m full of Vitamin C to guard against winter colds.

Thank goodness for the man-made visual clues around the village. Impressively carved pumpkins dotted around the village heralded Halloween. Mid-November, the poppies on the Plain and in St Mary’s ensured we remember the date we should never forget. Now the Christmas lights will soon be upon us.

Even so, if you see me shivering in a summer dress in December, now you’ll know the reason why: I’ll have simply lost the plot.  Which really shouldn’t happen to an author.

I wish you all a merry Christmas and a happy New Year!

PS And if you fancy some seasonal reading that is just right for December…

Cover of Murder in the Manger
In the third Sophie Sayers Village Mystery, her school nativity play goes off-script from the opening line
cover of Stocking Fillers by Debbie Young
12 short stories that are the perfect antidote pre-Christmas stress
cover of Lighting Up Time
A sweet but spooky story the longest night of the year
Cover of The Owl and the Turkey
A fun short story inspired by mishearing a snippet of news on BBC Radio 4
Posted in Personal life, Writing

She Stoops to Conkers*

This post first appeared in the November 2018 issue of the Hawkesbury Parish News

(Photo of conkers by Dawid Zawila via Unsplash.com)

While I was growing up in a suburb where many roads were lined with horse chestnut trees, playing conkers was one of my favourite autumn games. I still can’t walk past a freshly fallen conker without picking it up and slipping it into my pocket. My grown-up excuse for collecting conkers and taking them home is that they’re an effective spider deterrent.

Nature’s timing is perfect, because the conker harvest coincides with the mass migration of spiders from our gardens into our homes. Escaping from the chill and damp outdoors is the arachnid equivalent of flying south for the winter.

However, I’ve just heard on the radio that ingesting conkers can be harmful to dogs. They contain a toxin called aesculin, also present in every other part of the horse chestnut tree, which can make dogs very ill and in rare cases prove fatal.

On his podcast, the radio presenter, Rhod Gilbert, wondered how to reconcile his arachnophobic wife who fills their house with conkers and a pet dog who perceives every conker to be a dog toy. How to keep both of them happy and safe?

My cat Dorothy suggests the answer. All summer she’s been snacking on flies and moths. Rhod just needs to follow her example and cut out the middleman (the conker).

If he trains his dog to eat spiders, his problem will be solved.

For more information about dogs and conkers, visit: www.bluecross.org.uk/pet-advice/conkers-and-dogs.

(photo of 1905 performance – public domain)

* With apologies to 18th century Irish playwright Oliver Goldsmith for repurposing the title of his excellent and very funny play, She Stoops to Conquer.


Meanwhile in other news…

cover of Springtime for Murder

I’ve just launched Sophie Sayers’ fifth Village Mystery,
Springtime for Murder,
now available in paperback and ebook.

 

cover of Murder in the Manger

If it’s a more seasonal read that you’re after,
check out her third adventure,
Murder in the Manger
a cheery antidote to festive stress.

 

Coming in 2019:

  • Murder Your Darlings (Sophie Sayers #6)
  • Flat Chance (Staffroom at St Bride’s #1)
Posted in Personal life, Travel, Writing

My Missing Month: A Missive from a Scottish Summer

green mountains and blue sky
Scotland’s green and pleasant land this August

Deep into seasons of mellow fruitfulness now (and wind and rain!), our summer holiday seems like ancient history , but for sake of keeping a complete record on my blog, here’s my column for the September edition of the Hawkesbury Parish News, which I sent in from the Scottish Highlands on my summer holiday to meet its mid-August deadline.

Taking our summer break during the school holidays, we are used to leaving home when the Cotswold countryside is green and tidy and returning to find it golden brown and unkempt. It’s as predictable a transformation as from pre-holiday hairdo to post-holiday hair; only the colours are different.

But this year we were wrong-footed by the early burnishing of the fields. Thanks to the July heatwave, the local landscape was baked brown before we left.  Even that hardy perennial, grass, instead of springing back beneath our bare feet, crunched underfoot like broken biscuits.

The further north we drove, the greener the landscape. Not least because there was rain. Lots of rain. The fields beyond Gretna were as bright and fresh as any you might find in the Emerald Isle.

And the days lengthened. At the time of writing this column, ensconced in Glencoe, we are far enough north for dusk to fall a full forty minutes later than in Hawkesbury. August in the Highlands feels like Hawkesbury’s July.

So when we get home, as we always do, in time for the Hawkesbury Horticultural Show, we’re going to be completely confused. We all know that the Village Show marks the last day of a Hawkesbury summer. But my body clock will still be waiting for August to begin.

image of Buddha statue among autumn leaves
Goodbye, summer, it’s been fun!
Posted in Personal life

Where the Grass is Greener

Every month I write a column for our village newspaper, the Hawkesbury Parish News. This is my column for the August issue, written for its mid-July deadline. The weather has changed a little since then, but our garden has felt the benefit!

sample of our lawn grass

Ours must be one of the few lawns in the parish that has become progressively greener during this hot, dry weather, rather than turning to hay. However, the lawn had to get worse before it got better. It turned chocolate brown, in fact, as my husband, who never does anything by halves, dug for victory over the weeds and took large parts of the lawn back to bare soil.

Top tip here: if you want to cultivate a forest of dandelions, leave a trampoline in place for a few years, and they’ll colonise what was once grass. Until we moved the trampoline to clear that patch, it became our cat Dorothy’s favourite shady retreat, the thick bed of sap-filled leaves cooling her furry tummy.

view of lawn with ladders, husband doing woodwork, tools, etc
Our back garden is a hive of activity these summer days
photo of grass bordering flower bed
Lush new turf provides a neat edge to a parched flower bed

But then out came the grass seed, scattered across the fine tilth he’d created, and lovingly watered in, until that part of the garden began to resemble the early stages of a hair transplant (for someone with lime-green hair, that is).

A few days later, a kind neighbour gave us some leftover rolls of turf. Now parts of our lawn look like a thick, emerald-green wig.

But if you really want your grass to keep its colour, come rain or shine, my dad’s solution is hard to beat: astroturf in his Bristol townhouse back yard. It’s the perfect answer for those who are allergic to grass pollens (I wrote about hay fever in last month’s column) – or indeed for those who are allergic to lawnmowers.


set of four Sophie Sayers books
Best Murder in Show is first in a growing series of village mystery stories

Fancy a summer read while it’s still just about summer? (in the northern hemisphere, anyway!) Best Murder in Show kicks off at the time of a classic English village show – just like the one we’re currently preparing for where I live (though preferably without any murders).

Posted in Personal life, Writing

Making Hay Fever While the Sun Shines

This post was originally written for the July issue of the Hawkesbury Parish News

A Hawkesbury summer

I don’t mean to sound like one of those townies who on moving to the countryside complains about pesky tractors slowing them down or inconsiderate cockerels crowing at dawn, but this year I’ve found the hay fever season particularly troubling. On the days when the pollen count is at its highest, I feel like I’ve been ambushed by an invisible demon casting gravel down my throat, sand in my eyes and pepper up my nose – all effective sleep deprivation techniques that leave me dysfunctional by breakfast time.

My usual first resort for healthcare advice is the NHS website, but having waited all winter for this glorious summer weather, I will not be following their top tips: stay indoors, close all windows, and don’t dry your washing on the line.

A plea for alternative remedies that would still allow me to have a summer produced several alternatives to prescription and over-the-counter antihistamines. I’m sharing them here in case they help you too. These three are definitely helping me already:

  • Invisible armour: smear Vaseline around your nostrils and eyelashes to trap pollen before it reaches your system (it may not be a good look, but boy, is it effective!)
  • Clean sheets: change your pillowcase every night to avoid pollen build-up
  • Hose down: shower before bed to chase away lingering grains from hair and body

I’m about to try these:

  • Fight fire with fire: take a teaspoon of bee pollen a day (you can buy it in jars – no need to chase bees around your garden with a butterfly net)
  • Grasp the nettle: a daily drink of nettle tea (commercially available nettle teabags will take the sting out of the preparation)

My go-to winter cold remedy, hot water with honey and lemon, is also very soothing, especially for the sore throat. Local honey, available from Hawkesbury Stores, is meant to be best for hay fever, though Sandringham Estate honey, a gift from my sister who holidayed nearby, also works a treat for me. I’m guessing the Queen Bee was involved in that one.

To end on a positive note, at least hay doesn’t actually give you a fever. But that’s the kindest thing I can think of to say about it.


image of covers of first three books in the Sophie Sayers series
My series of village mystery novels is inspired by my daily life in the Cotswolds – just click on the image to find out more about them