Posted in Events, Personal life, Travel

All Roads Lead to Hawkesbury

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!

Australian flagA 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.

Aerial view of Hawkesbury River
Hawkesbury River by Tim Starling (Taken by Tim Starling) [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
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.

team photo
Celebrating another successful Hawkesbury Upton Lif Fest (Photo by Angela Fitch Photography)
Posted in Events, Reading

Sharing My Speech from the Launch of Our Community Library

Pic of Gordon checking out some audio CDs
The first satisfied borrower of the day: my husband, with Liz Howard, volunteer librarian

I was delighted to be invited to launch the new Hawkesbury Upton Village Library yesterday, and I wrote a short speech to mark the occasion. A number of people afterwards asked me for a copy of it, so here it is for anyone who would like it.

After I’d spoken, local councillor Sue Hope added her thanks on behalf of the community to the Hawkesbury Village Hall Committee, the Parish Council and the Hawkesbury Writers for their support and funding for the new facilities, for which the books and services will be provided by South Gloucestershire Libraries. A team of eight wonderful village volunteers will staff the library and open it for two hours every fortnight.

My Opening Address

It’s a pleasure and an honour to be invited to open what is going to be a wonderful new resource for our community. It feels like we’re at a little bit of Hawkesbury history in the making.

Like many of you, I was sad that funding cuts led to the closure of the mobile library that had served us so well for so long. It brought great comfort and interest to many villages and hamlets beside ours, and it was always a heartwarming sight to see it trundling down our lanes. It was like a tardis full of books, manned by kind, friendly and knowledgeable staff always willing to help us, no matter how obscure our questions, even when we forget our library cards. I don’t know whether the mobile staff realised how much we loved and appreciated them, but on behalf of our community, I’d like to thank them for the pleasure they have brought us – and to congratulate them for their driving skills to manoeuvre that great bus down the lanes to us, time after time.

So a sad loss, but, like a phoenix from the ashes, this new and different kind of library, with its permanent base in our community, is the start of a whole new chapter (groan) in our bookish lives. In a way it will bring us the best of both worlds: access to the entire stock from South Gloucestershire Libraries, not only from Yate’s stocks but from anywhere in the south west. All we need to do is request them online from the comfort of our own homes, and they’ll be served up to us by our fantastic team of volunteers, all trained to give us the help we need at a local level.

Photo of bookshelves open and stocked
Smart new mobile shelving allows the librarians to create a pop-up library every fortnight in the village hall

You can of course still use the other South Gloucestershire libraries of your choice – in Yate when you’re shopping, or the library nearest your workplace – but just as the mobile library brought resources to those who couldn’t get to those, so will the community library. But choosing books from the Community Library will help you save fuel and time – just as the Hawkesbury Stores makes it possible for us to buy groceries close to home.

For any cynics who are wondering whether public libraries are still relevant to us in the digital age, think again. Studies show that a large proportion of library users are also regular buyers of books. Libraries are for everyone – and not just for those who can’t afford to buy books.

Why do affluent book buyers use libraries too? Library books should not be considered as second-best to buying books. The quality of books in libraries is always high, mostly as new or nearly new condition, and it’s a joy to touch and hold them – these days, with the high production values of modern books, they are an aesthetic treat as well as a literary one. You can get as much of a buzz out of walking home with an armload of library books as from buying them in shops – and you don’t have to worry about running out shelf space at home, either.

Libraries also offer a low-risk strategy to expand your choice of reading matter. Well, I like to think of a library as a tasting menu in a restaurant. Like a tasting menu, a visit to the library offers you the chance to try new things. When you haven’t paid for a book, it doesn’t matter if you don’t much like it or finish it – but at the same time, you might discover new passions and interests in the process.

A library is also like a smorgasbord because it’s an all-you-can-eat menu – only in this restaurant of reading, you don’t end your visit by paying a bill. The only money you will spend here is if you treat yourself to some tea and cake, which you can do with a clear conscience because the takings for refreshments are what will cover the hall hire costs for each session.

But that’s fine too because libraries aren’t only about books on shelves. They are also an important social meeting point, accessible and affordable to all, where everyone may meet on an equal footing. They are hugely democratic and an enormously valuable anchor in our society for all sorts of reasons unrelated to books – the books might even be considered a bonus. What matters is that we connect.

cover of Reading Allowed by Chris Paling
Recommended reading for everyone who loves libraries

I’ve just finished reading a fascinating fly-on-the-wall memoir by a librarian, Chris Paling, called Reading Allowed. He points out that public libraries can also be study centres, play areas, A&E departments, refuges for the homeless and much more – Hawkesbury librarians, you have been warned! I’m sure our library will serve as a brilliant coffee shop too – a safe, warm place to socialise with friends. Fortunately libraries no longer have a silence rule!

I realise not everyone may be instantly persuaded that the library is for them. “I’m not much of a reader,” they might say, or “I don’t have time to read”. I bet they still find time to watch television. In that case, I say they just haven’t met the right book yet.  

The book stock has been carefully curated to match the needs and interests of our community, and it will be constantly refreshed to keep it interesting for us.

photo of cake on table
Celebratory cake – we don’t do much in Hawkesbury that doesn’t include cake

Who watches “Game of Thrones”? Of course, that hugely popular series is based on books by a very wise man, George R R Martin, who famously said about books and reading:

“He who reads lives a thousand lives. He who does not read lives only once.”

Our new community library gives us all the chance to live a thousand lives. So please do take advantage of this wonderful gift to our village, today and every time it opens, once a fortnight, in future. I’m delighted to declare it now officially open.


If you love libraries, you might enjoy these other posts from my blog archives:

In Praise of Public Libraries for National Libraries Day

Sharing My Stories about Public Libraries

Another Story Inspired by Public Libraries

cover of Quick Change
Click the image for buying ilnks

Both of the stories about libraries featured in those last two posts are included in Quick Change, my collection of flash fiction, available in paperback and ebook. Click the image to buy online or quote ISBN 978-0993087967 to order at your local bookshop.

 

Posted in Family, Personal life

Who Needs Wi-Fi When You’ve Got Good Neighbours?

My column for the January issue of the Hawkesbury Parish News

Photo of view of snow from my study window
The wrong kind of snow still looks pretty when you don’t have to be outside in it

Just before Christmas, a couple of evenings after our internet and landline were felled for a week by the wrong sort of snow, I was unexpectedly detained in Bristol by the need to take my mum to the emergency room at Southmead Hospital.*

As the thick walls of our Victorian cottage don’t admit mobile signals, I was for a moment stumped as to how to let my husband know that I’d be very late home.

Then I realised the solution was simple: I’d text a neighbour to pass the message on. Unbeknown to me, she was away from home too, but she kindly forwarded the message to another neighbour a few doors down. That neighbour happened to be on the motorway at the time, but she phoned yet another neighbour, who then nipped over the road to deliver the message in person. Problem solved.

Returning home towards midnight, I was more grateful than ever to live in a community in which everyone looks out for their neighbours, and not only in the season of goodwill.

Me and my kilted husband on his motorbike
Reader, I married him.

It was a bonus that this three-step system had not distorted the original message, Chinese whispers style. Not so when I first started seeing Gordon, who later became my husband, when “He is Scottish and lives in Swindon” quickly morphed into “His name’s Scottie and he comes from Sweden”.

But then, as now, intentions were of the best – and that matters far more than accuracy.

With grateful thanks to Emma Barker, Jane Shepley, and Joan Yuill, and all good Hawkesbury neighbours.

*I should add that my mum made a speedy recovery, so happy endings all round!

Cover of All Part of the Charm
My collected columns from Hawkesbury Parish News 2010-2015, is available as an ebook and in paperback – click image for more information
Posted in Personal life, Reading, Writing

Writing: You Couldn’t Make It Up…

For Writers’ Wednesday (#ww), a post about writing fiction. This post first appeared on the Authors Electric blog, for which I’m now a regular monthly contributor. (I write a new post on the 30th of each month).

Debbie sitting in a bluebell wood with a copy of her book
If you go down to the woods today…

If you go down to the woods today…

When I started writing my new series, the Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries, and set myself the ambitious target of publishing a cycle of seven novels over two years, I had no idea how much I would come to enjoy escaping into its fictitious Cotswold village of Wendlebury Barrow.

Cover of Best Murder in Show
Set in Wendlebury Barrow – my second (and entirely fictitious) home

Having now drafted the first three in the series – Best Murder in Show was published in April, Trick or Murder? will launch in August, and Murder in the Manger will be my 2017 Christmas special (no surprises there) –  I feel as if the characters are old friends. I feel entirely at home with them.

That shouldn’t really come as a surprise, because in real life, I’ve  resided in the small Cotswold village of Hawkesbury Upton for over a quarter of a century.

picture of Debbie on winding footpath with the Hawkesbury Monument in the distance
The long and winding road to Wendlebury Barrow – I mean, Hawkesbury Upton

Both the fictitious and the real village are safe, fun but eccentric places to live. (Well, safe apart from the odd murder – only in Wendlebury Barrow, ouf course.) Frequently heard in response to Hawkesbury Upton events is the phrase “You couldn’t make that up!” There are probably more implausible events happening in the actual village than in the pretend one.

I love living in Hawkesbury Upton, and although I’ve been careful to make all my characters and events fictitious, I write about Wendlebury Barrow in celebration of the kind of village life that surrounds me.

I’ve only once so far caught myself writing “Wendlebury Upton.”

Of Darker Places

Which leads me to wonder whether authors who write much grittier crime books than mine feel the same about the grimmer worlds that they have conjured up. Do they live in places like that? Do they want to visit them? I don’t think so.

Yes, I do know about catharsis, but the closest I get to enjoying it in fiction is in the likes of Alice in Wonderland, with its classic “oh thank goodness it was only a dream” moment.

As for me, I’d rather feel safe all the time, whether weaving stories in my fictional world or walking the streets of my home village.

Not for me the more violent books, films or television programmes that my husband enjoys. You probably know the sort of thing I mean: where the soundtrack consists almost entirely of the physical impact of violence (fists on flesh breaking bones, bullets sinking into fleshy targets) and the dialogue would be half the length if all the swear words were omitted.

Or maybe that’s why he watches them – precisely because they make me swiftly leave the room. Perhaps straight afterwads, he channel-hops to “Strictly”.

Incitement to Murder

However, I must admit that writing the Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries is also in part a response to his previous complaint that “nothing happened” in my three volumes of short stories – well, nothing violent, anyway.

My pre-planned series of titles commits me to at least one murder per book. My only problem now is that I’m getting so attached to the characters that I don’t want to kill any of them off.

Which my neighbours in Hawkesbury Upton will probably be very glad to know…

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
cover of Trick or Murder?
Available to pre-order now

The first Sophie Sayers Village Mystery, Best Murder in Show, is set in the summer months, at the time of the traditional village show, so it makes the perfect summer read. It’s now available to order Amazon in paperback or ebook here, or from your local neighbourhood bookshop by quoting ISBN 978-1911223139.

The second in the series, Trick or Murder?, an autumnal story set around Halloween and Guy Fawkes’ Night, will be launched at the Hawkesbury Upton Village Show on Saturday 26th August).No wonder I’m getting the real world mixed up with my fictional one!) Meanwhile you can pre-order the ebook on Amazon here.
Find out what readers are saying about Sophie Sayers here

Posted in Family, Personal life

The Naming of Rooms

My column for the June edition of the Hawkesbury Parish News

Photo of my childhood home in the present day
The suburban semi where I grew up still holds a special place in my heart

Having grown up in a suburban semi, identical to every odd-numbered house in the street (the even numbers were its mirror image), I’d always wanted to live in a house where you couldn’t guess the layout of the rooms from outside. Moving to my Hawkesbury cottage allowed me to achieve that goal.

Here, visitors regularly get lost trying to find their way out.

Our new extension has added a further surprise. Now that it’s nearing completion, we really must start calling it something other than “the extension”. For some unknown reason it’s labelled “the breakfast room” in the plans, although we don’t expect to eat breakfast there. I need to change the name before it becomes ingrained.

I missed that trick with our utility room. Now every time I refer to it, I picture Batman’s utility belt, instead of a laundry.

So I’m going to wait to see how we use our new room before deciding what to call it. I feel like one of those parents who refers to their new baby as “Baby” for a week after it’s born, while trying to decide which name would suit its looks.

I did the opposite with my daughter, naming her Laura some weeks before she was born. What a good thing she turned out to be a girl.

And in case you’re wondering why I named her Laura, and with such certainty, before we’d even met, this post from my archives will tell you:

 Why I Named My Daughter Laura – for Lauras Everywhere

 

Photo of a patriotic house, Union flags flying
My Cotswold cottage is definitely a one-off, and moving to this community inspired me to write my Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries