When I wrote this post for the May issue of the Hawkesbury Parish News, the 4th Hawkesbury Upton Lit Fest was still in the future!
A few weeks ago, I was surprised to receive a message from my Australian Facebook friend, Serene Conneeley, saying that she was hoping to attend this year’s Hawkesbury Upton Lit Fest. As I only knew her via Facebook and have never met her in real life, I wondered whether she’d mistaken it for an event taking place in the “other” Hawkesbury, near Sydney.
Not that the two are unconnected, of course, the vast Hawkesbury River being named in 1789 after Charles Jenkinson, 1st Earl of Liverpool, then Baron Hawkesbury, and very much part of “our” Hawkesbury.
But no, Serene knew exactly where our Festival takes place. While attending it wasn’t the prime purpose of her trip to England, from what she’d heard of previous HULFs, she wanted to include it in her itinerary.
So this year we had a new record for who travelled the furthest to come to the Festival. And it’ll be a hard one to break, because the exact opposite spot to Hawkesbury Upton, in terms of latitude and longitude, is in the middle of the ocean, south-east of New Zealand. But I’m not saying it’s impossible – mermaids will always be welcome here. Advance notice will be required, however, so we can fill Farm Pool (our usually dry village pond) with water to give them somewhere comfortable to stay.
DIARY DATE FOR NEXT YEAR
The 5th Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival will take place on Saturday 27th April 2019 – a little later than usual due to the very late Easter next year. For more information, visit www.hulitfest.com.
In 2010, realising that no matter how hard I worked in my day job, it was leaving me unfulfilled, I made the radical decision to walk away from it without a job to go to. I intended to refocus my life on my writing ambitions.
Reading Between the Lines
It felt like a miracle when I almost immediately landed a part-time job with a wonderful children’s reading charity, Read for Good, which served two purposes for me (apart from giving me an income, that is):
It reinforced the importance of books and reading not only for children but for all ages, which in turn validated my ambition to write books myself.
It gave me space to explore different ways in which I could write what I wanted to write – and indeed to discover exactly what that was.
Using commissioned non-fiction projects and experimental short stories as stepping stones, I gradually gained the confidence and competence needed to achieve my long-term goal to write a novel.
Now I’m hooked, with three novels published in the last year, the fourth due out next month, and my planned series of seven, the Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries, now starting to morph into a series of ten.
Planning for Success
But as in all of life, the things that you don’t plan are often some of the most exciting.
Here are five serendipitous things that have happened to me over the last few years while I was making other plans. Not only is my writing life is the richer for them, but it turns out they’ve helped other people too.
1) Being invited to join a regular monthly spot on BBC Radio Gloucestershire‘s lunchtime show, in its Book Club slot, alongside its delightful presenters, initially Clare Carter and now Dominic Cotter, and The Bookseller’s Caroline Sanderson, to talk about our chosen book of the month and any other book-related topics that take our fancy – and I’ve discovered I love doing radio.
2) Launching a free local literature festival to bring indie authors, poets and illustrators to my community at the Hawkesbury Upton Lit Fest, with no admission charges so that visitors could save their money to buy the speakers’ books instead. This started out as a simple plan to spend a few hours in one of the village pubs with a few writer friends – four years on, it’s somehow morphed into 50+ authors in a packed day-long programme, this year with an art exhibition running in tandem.
3) Being the inadvertent catalyst for a new book by other authors – the panel of authors I’d introduced to each other for the second Hawkesbury Upton Lit Fest to discuss writing about difference (that’s politically-correct-speak for disability, to be clear) got together afterwards to collaborate on Silent Voices, an anthology by carers and the cared-for, venting their feelings.
4) Encouragingother writers to grow from nervous debutant to confident published author, either through their participation in the authors’ groups I run in Cheltenham and Bristol or through their participation in the Hawkesbury Upton Lit Fest. (I’ve observed a direct relationship between the most nerves and the biggest post-performance smile at every event.)
5) Helping other people achieve their publishing ambitions through what I’ve learned on my own journey as an indie author, such as enabling a 95-year-old, terminally ill refugee to turn his memoirs into a book before he died, or helping a retired neighbour revive children’s stories she’d written decades ago. Not only was I able to publish them as books, I also sent her into the village school as guest author on World Book Day, where she was very well received.
Is It Karma?
Some author friends swear there is such a thing as book karma: if you’re helpful to others, that helpfulness will come back to you in some other form at a later date.
So is it karma that this week that I spotted the first book in my Sophie Sayers series rising up the cosy mystery charts?
If so, I’m fine with that. When I started self-publishing my books (I’d written stories all my life but hadn’t seriously pursued publication), I thought just writing the books would be satisfying enough for me. And if anyone else benefited along the way from anything I did, I’d jokingly tell myself that virtue was its own reward, or I’d get my reward in heaven, and that wouldbe enough for me.
And if there aren’t any books in heaven? Then I’m not going.
If you’re within reach of the Cotswolds, come along and join in the fun at this year’s Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival this month, on Saturday 21st April. Download the full programme from its website, www.hulitfest.com, to help you plan your day in advance – but there’s no advance booking required, and no admission charge. Just turn up on the day and enjoy!
I’ll be launching the fourth in my Sophie Sayers Village Mystery series, Murder by the Book, at the Festival, but you can pre-order an ebook copy here in the meantime at the special launch price of 99p/99c, and the paperback from 21st April, at viewbook.at/MurderByTheBook.
In my column for the April issue of the Hawkesbury Parish News, I wrote about this old adage for writers.
Common advice to authors is that when writing fiction, it’s best to write what you know. This is to add authenticity and to avoid errors. The only trouble with that advice comes when an author’s friends and relations assume that certain characters are based on themselves.
That’s why smart fiction publishers always print a disclaimer (“any semblance to people living or dead is purely coincidental”), although the author’s friends and relations may easily retort “Well, you would say that, wouldn’t you?”
So I’d like to take this opportunity to assure you all that no-one in Wendlebury Barrow, the fictitious village in which my new novel Best Murder in Show is set, is based on any real person, living or dead, in Hawkesbury Upton (or elsewhere, for that matter).
And although the two villages have plenty of features in common – annual show, shop, pub, school, drama group, writers’ group, WI – only one of them has a resident murderer.
Fortunately, that’s Wendlebury Barrow, not Hawkesbury Upton. Phew.
Best Murder in Show is now available from Amazon as an ebook and a paperback, although its official launch will be at the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival on Saturday 22nd April at 10am in the Bethesda Chapel, to which you are all invited.
After that, copies will also be available from the Hawkesbury Stores. That is, if the staff still want to stock it after they’ve read Chapter 4 about the eccentric village shopkeeper…
The special Festival price for the paperback is £4.99, rising to the RRP of £7.99 from 1st May – so get in quick to save yourself £3!
My friend David Penny, who writes historical novels set in Spain, has just been accepted to appear on A Place in the Sun. This television programme helps weather-weary would-be expats find a new home in the foreign country of their choice.
Authors make great candidates for the programme because as people who spend their days imagining themselves in different places, they’re good at walking into a house and picturing what it might be like to live there. Relocating to the place that’s the setting for their books must feel like a dream come true.
Tempting though it is to pitch for a spot myself, not least because the show’s guests get a free week’s holiday out of it, it wouldn’t work for me, because the novels I’m writing now are set in a small fictitious Cotswold village called Wendlebury Barrow, inspired by Hawkesbury Upton.
All characters and incidents are entirely fictitious, not only because I don’t want to be sued. It’s also because events in Hawkesbury are often so funny/bizarre/surprising that you couldn’t make them up if you tried.
And that’s another reason I’m glad to be living here. At this time of year especially, it may be cold, wet and grey, but life in Hawkesbury Upton is certainly never dull.
A report about a fascinating talk about the Oxford English Dictionary by Edmund Weiner
Anyone who loves words would have been as rapt as we were at the Oxford Authors’ Alliance last night, when Edmund Weiner, Deputy Chief Editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, came to talk to us about his work preparing version 2.0 of the OED. This mammoth task employs sixty people, and though it began in 1993, they’re still only 30% of the way through the task. They are effectively detectives, examining everything ever written in English to come up with comprehensive definitions of how every word has been used through the ages. Continue reading “Straight from the Lexicographer’s Mouth: An Enjoyable Talk about the OED (Oxford English Dictionary)”→