Posted in Events, Personal life, Writing

The Comfort of Consistency

Photo of show schedule with first prize rosette
The schedule for the 2019 show is now available from Hawkesbury Stores and Hawkesbury Post Office to help you plan your entries

In my column for the July issue of the Hawkesbury Parish News, I’m looking forward to this year’s Hawkesbury Horticultural Show on Saturday 31st August – a pleasingly longstanding village tradition and the social highlight of the village year for all ages

In an ever-changing world which seems to be lurching from one crisis to the next, it’s comforting to have some events in life that are dependably consistent – such as the imminent Hawkesbury Horticultural Show (Saturday 31st August).

Although each year the hardworking Show Committee announces a handful of carefully considered changes to the schedule – a new category here, changed criteria there – part of the joy is that on Show Day, the essential formula remains the same.

cover of Best Murder in Show with Amazon bestseller flag
The Hawkesbury Horticultural Show, on whose committee I served for thirteen years, was the inspiration for my first novel – although of course the novel is a complete work of fiction. We do not have any murders at Hawkesbury Show!

But I wasn’t aware of just how true to tradition our Show is until my father recently brought to my attention an extract from a book published privately around 1950, Life in a Hampshire Village by Kathleen E Innes. Her description of St Mary Bourne’s village show at the turn of the 20th century could almost be of the present day Hawkesbury equivalent, without the influence of modern technology and the rise of equal rights for women!

… the village Flower Show was the great summer event. A marquee was hired to protect exhibits from sun, wind and weather and beside it in the field there arrived the day before the show, a fair, with all the traditional equipment of roundabouts, swings, coconut shies and wonderful sideshows… Pennies saved up for months soon vanished in rides on the shiny-painted horses of the roundabout, which went round and round to the droning music, working up to what to the riders seemed a terrifying speed… Amid shrieks and laughter, boat-shaped swngs were worked up to a height far above the horizontal, till it seemed as if the occupants must fall out, but they never did…

Judging took place in the morning, and the judges, who came from outside, did not see the names of competitions till the decisions were taken. Then the cards with names were turned face upwards, ready for the rush of excited entrants as soon as the tent was open in the afternoon. Gardeners had separate classes to prevent them, through any unfair advantage, carrying away all the prizes, but many a non-gardener’s exhibit would have gained the award even in the gardener’s class.

There was always a class for cakes, and a dish of boiled potatoes “to give the women a chance”, but on more than one occasion the prize for the best cake was borne away by a boy who had made up his mind to be a chef…

The scene inside the tent was gay and colourful. Vases of mixed flowers, the best table decorations, bowls of roses, sprays of sweet peas, were placed to meet the eye on entering. Classes of vegetables were in their allotted places on long tables round the edge – marvellous marrows, spotless and shapely potatoes, peas and beans with pods full from top to toe; cabbages solid as cannon balls, cauliflowers round and comely, carrots long and straight. All these were set out as an inspiration and a challenge. Their owners hovered with pride near at hand to hear the freely-expressed envy and admiration.

When the exhibits were removed and the tent left empty, the fair went gaily on till the summer nightfall, the monotonous music of the roundabouts inviting all and sundry to stay and make an evening of it, for it would be gone on the morrow. It was late before even the tired and happy children went to bed.

That nostalgic description has whetted my appetite for the 2019 Hawkesbury Show – now I’m off to find the schedule and start preparing my entries. See you at the Show next month, whether or not my name graces any prize certificates!

Photo of interior of village show schedule showing details of vegetable class entry requirements
We don’t do things by halves in Hawkesbury Upton

Everyone’s welcome at the Hawkesbury Horticultural Show – come and join us on Saturday 31st August for a day to remember! I’ll be in the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival tent, near the playpark and the Pimms stall fun by the Friends of St Mary’s (another committee that I’m on!) More details on the show’s website at www.hawkesburyshow.org

Photo of reader talking to author in show tent
Meet the authors in the Hawkesbury Upton Lit Fest tent at the show (Photo of my mum talking to historical novelist David Penny by another Festival author, Mari Howaqrd)

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Posted in Writing

Countdown to the 5th Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival!

Little did I know what I was getting into when five years ago I decided to mark World Book Night in my village by running a mini literature festival…

Humble Beginnings

Enjoying the first ever Hawkesbury Upton Lit Fest five years ago with author friends Orna Ross (left) and Katie Fforde (seated). (Photo by http://www.pixelprphotography.co.uk)

The idea was to bring together a few author friends for an evening of talks and readings in one of our local pubs. What started out as a sedate two-hour schedule quickly overflowed into five hours, to allow time for all who wanted to take part. These included illustrious guests such as the bestselling romantic novelist Katie Fforde, who kindly accepted my invitation to declare it open, and Orna Ross, bestselling historical novelist and poet and founder of the Alliance of Independent Authors, for which I’m UK Ambassador.

Before the evening was over, people were already saying to me:
“This is going to be an annual event, right, Debbie?”
“Can you make it a whole day next time?”
“Let’s have it on Saturday next year so the kids can join in.”

Five Years On…

Always eager to please, I fell in with all of those suggestions. Five years on, here we are a month away from the most ambitious Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival yet, on Saturday 27th April. 

That modest evening in the pub has morphed into a village takeover, with events now scheduled simultaneously in six venues, with different things starting on the hour every hour from 10am through 5pm.

map image
Now we have so many venues in the Festival that we’ve had to provide a map, beautifully drawn by Thomas Shepherd (image © T E Shepherd)

A Vast Array of Talent & Goodwill

Over seventy authors and artists will be taking part in talks, discussions, readings, a poetry slam, an art exhibition, children’s events and a series of workshops.

We’ve gained huge local support, including sponsorship from local individuals and organisations – the Hawkesbury Parish News, Head Start Studio, Hawkesbury Writers, Sid Crighton of Orange Dog Studio – and also from the globetrotting travel writer Jay Artale, who is managing our Twitter account from wherever she is in the world! (See our list of sponsors here.) Their generous support and encouragement has enabled us to keep the Festival free to attend, while increasing its reach and appeal.

team line up in school hall
Teamwork! The team of authors, poets, artists and volunteers take a bow at the 2018 HULF. (Photo by Angela Fitch Photography)

How to Attend the 2019 Festival

HULF Save the date graphic
Just a month to go! Save the date and come and join the fun – it’s all free!

If you’d like to attend, no prior booking is necessary – just come along on the day. Head for the Village School, the hub of the Festival, to grab your programme and venue map.

Even better, download them now from our website to plan your day in advance, so you don’t miss any of the events that especially appeal to you. You can also keep up with Festival news on Twitter at @HULitFest.

More Reasons to Attend!

And if you’re not yet convinced that a day at a small provincial lit fest is worth your while, read my guest post on the Oakwood Literature Festival website about what makes these events so special: What Do Small Lit Fests Offer that Big Ones Don’t? I’ll be speaking at the second Oakwood Festival on Saturday 18th May, and in the meantime at the Wrexham Carnival of Words on Thursday 2nd May.

And maybe in June I might find time for a little lie-down in a darkened room…

Posted in Events, Reading, Writing

On Providing Cover Quotes on Other Authors’ Books

My quote on the cover of Amy Myers’ latest Tom Wasp mystery, out today

While I’m often a little sceptical about some of the quotes on book covers by famous authors, critics and other celebrities, particularly where the same names appear over and over again, I’m always pleased to be asked to read other writers’ books prior to publication, especially if they or their publishers are after an endorsement quote from me.

Double Standard?

I hope not, because I do genuinely read the whole of each book myself, and whatever is attributed to me on their cover has been composed by me rather than any PR. ( I spent a large part of my former career working in PR, so am familiar with the territory!)

image of three book covers
A trio of Wasps

Usually any such requests come directly from authors, and usually they are friends of mine from the independent sector, publishing their own books. But recently publishing house Endeavour Quill approached me to read and review the latest book from an author new to me, Amy Myers. Amy has written many books, including a series of historical detective stories set in Victorian London – the Tom Wasp Mysteries, in which the eponymous detective is a chimney sweep.

Swept Off My Feet by a Chimney Sweep

cover image of Tom Wasp and the Seven Deadly Sins
Book 3 in Amy Myers’ series

Despite my to-read list being huge, I have had a soft spot for London chimney sweeps ever since I fell in love with Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins at the age of 7. I am also addicted to historical mysteries, such as Lucienne Boyce’s Dan Foster and Susan Grossey‘s Sam Plank series). And I’m a Londoner by birth, though have lived in the Cotswolds for nearly 30 years now. So I couldn’t resist this offer, and rapidly tore through Tom Wasp and the Seven Deadly Sins. I particularly enjoyed the relationship between Tom and his young sidekick, whom he’d rescued from climbing chimneys; the colourful scene-setting in the city reminiscent of the movie sets of Oliver! (yes, I have read the Dickens novel too, and seen the stage show, but Myers’ books was very filmic); and the plot based around the London bookselling scene (a topic also addressed beautifully, albeit at a slightly earlier era, in Lucienne Boyce’s novel To The Fair Land).

Behind the Scenes with “Little Darlings”

cover of Little Darlings by Melanie Golding
Get a sneak preview at Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival

Whether or not I’m asked to provide a cover endorsement, it’s still gratifying to be offered advance review copies (ARCS, as they’re known in the trade), as it allows you a sneak preview of a book before it hits the shops. Thus last night I stayed up late to finish the most recent ARC I’ve been sent, the wonderful Little Darlings, debut novel of Melanie Golding, due for publication in May by HQ (a Harper Collins imprint).

It’s an eerie thriller about the mother of twins who becomes convinced her babies are changelings. I’d describe it as the love child of Rosemary’s Baby and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and I’m sure it’s going to be as big a hit as both of those. (The film rights have been sold already, even though the book’s not out till May.)

I first came across Melanie Golding when one of her short stories was picked at Stroud Short Stories, a regional competition of which I’m co-judge. When she read it to the audience, I knew I was hearing an exceptionally gifted and accomplished writer, and I’m thrilled that she has taken her writing to novel length. Her contract for this book was one of the biggest and most shouted-about last year, and you’re all going to be hearing great things about the book once it hits the shops.

HULF Save the date graphicSneak Preview of Little Darlings at the Hawkesbury Upton Lit Fest (Saturday 27th April)

So I’m particularly thrilled that Melanie has agreed to read an extract at the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival, the free local liffest that I run in my village, prior to her book’s publication. So if you’d like to be ahead of the general reading public, and are in striking distance of the Cotswolds, do come along on the day – admission’s free, no advance booking is required. Click here to download the full festival programme and see what else you won’t want to miss during our action-packed day.

And Finally, A 99p Challenge…

cover of Best Murder in Show with Amazon bestseller flag
Just 99c/99c till 7th March

If you’re at a loose end for something to read tonight, and like reading ebooks, you might like to take advantage of the special offer running at present on Best Murder in Show, the first in my Sophie Sayers Village Mystery series – just 99p/99c or the equivalent in your local currency, from Amazon stores around the world. (Also available as a paperback to order from all good bookshops.) But hurry, the offer ends on 7th March, and after that it reverts to full price. Here’s the link which should take you to the local Amazon store wherever you live. Oh, and it would be remiss of me not to mention that this book carries a lovely endorsement quote from the ever-generous Katie Fforde!

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 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?!