Every month, I write a topical column for the Hawkesbury Parish News, the local magazine run by an apparently tireless team of volunteers, for the benefit of everyone within our local community.What could be more topical for an English village in the middle of winter than a heartfelt longing for signs of spring?
Yesterday mid-morning, in a brief interlude between torrential downpours, there was a clear, fresh quality to the daylight in my back garden. If I were an artist, I would have been reaching for my paints, eager to capture the arrival of spring. Yet the calendar told me winter would last two more months.
Unlike my husband, I don’t always trust supposedly scientific evidence. Our bathroom scales are another case in point. Bringing them into the bedroom to weigh himself last week, he was startled to find he’d lost ten kilos. “Put them back in their usual place and try again,” I advised.
Sure enough, when returned to the bare boards of the bathroom floor, the scales showed his usual weight. Those ten kilos were never lost – they were just temporarily mislaid. Like his car keys and his phone, which go missing several times a week, I knew they’d turn up eventually.
Weight is in any case relative and not worth getting worked up about. At my health MOT at the GP surgery last week, the nurse congratulated me: “Well done, you’ve lost five pounds since this time last year.”
Taking the compliment with good grace, I chose not to confess that I’d actually lost a stone – and then regained nine pounds.
But I’ll store up my husband’s experience for future reference. Then when I really want to lose weight and keep it off, I’ll just put the scales on the bedroom carpet.
And In Case You’re Impatient for Summer…
A Free Summer Read!
If these signs of spring aren’t enough to lift your spirits, here’s a chance to download a free ebook of my novel set in high summer, Best Murder in Show. For a limited time only, the ebook edition is available to download free of charge from all good ebook retailers (Kindle, Kobo, Apple, etc).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
My column for the January issue of the Hawkesbury Parish News
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.
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!
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).
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.
Having now drafted the first three in the series – Best Murder in Showwas 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.
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…
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.