Posted in Events, Personal life, Writing

The Show Must Go On (Eventually)

cover of show schedule
The promise of the Village Show to come: the annual schedule

Anyone who has read my first Sophie Sayers novel, Best Murder in Show, will be familiar with the very English phenomenon of the annual Village Show.

At this action-packed event, locals display their home-grown fruit and vegetables, baking, handicrafts and sometimes livestock too. Often such shows include funfair rides, market stalls and organised entertainments in an outdoor arena.

A tea tent and a beer tent are always popular, and other catering options are likely to include a hog roast, a deer roast, a fish and chip van and ice-creams.

Hawkesbury’s Village Show

In the Cotswold village of Hawkesbury Upton, where I’ve lived for nearly 30 years, the Hawkesbury Horticultural Show, which takes place on the last Saturday of August, is generally acknowledged by villagers to be the social highlight of the year for all ages. The community is proud of the show’s credentials as the second-longest running of its kind in the country. Not even the First and Second World War managed to close it down.

Postponed until Next Year

So it was with great sadness last month that the Show Committee announced that the 2020 Village Show would have to be postponed until August 2021.

Postponed, please note, not cancelled, due to circumstances beyond our control – which means that our place in the record books will still stand.

The Village Show and Me

Over the years, I’ve been involved with the Village Show in many ways. Like most people in the village, we have submitted entries into the marquee for judging, winning prizes for all sorts of things. I’ve done particularly well in the knitting and crochet, but also once took the top prize for the oddest shaped vegetable!

inside pages of the show schedule
There are hundreds of categories you can enter in the Show, as these sample pages from the schedule demonstrate

 

photo of rosettes
Rosettes, proudly worn by show day winners, are kept for posterity and displayed at home year round

I’ve run stalls – for many years, a secondhand bookstall in aid of the village school’s PTA or youth club – and taken part in the carnival procession on floats and in groups on foot.

I’ve been the Queen of Hearts for an Alice in Wonderland team, with my husband as the White Rabbit and my daughter as Alice. I was the Chinese Ambassador in our family’s Pandamonium trailer, celebrating the arrival of Chinese pandas at Edinburgh Zoo. (My husband was the Scottish zookeeper in his kilt, my daughter, step-grandaughter and friends were pandas.) I’ve even been a St Trinian’s schoolgirl for one of the youth club floats. (I helped run the village youth club years ago.)

Photo of panda-themed float called Pandamonium
Our Chinese-themed entry for the carnival a few years ago (although every Show Day it’s pandemonium in our house)

A highlight for our family was when my daughter and her best friend were on the Carnival Queen‘s float, my daughter one of the attendants to her best friend, the queen. It was a historic day because for the first time the other attendant was a boy. It was the first year the random draw of the pupils in the top class of the village school included boys as well as girls. We’ve since had our first Carnival King.

The Man Who Knew His Onions

I also served on the Show Committee for 13 years. I didn’t realise it was that long until I resigned and was thanked for my long service. During that time, I was editor of its printed schedule, still produced today in the format that I designed. Show Committee meetings, which go on all year round, were always entertaining.

My favourite moment was a visit from the onion judge (all judges come from beyond the village, in the interests of fairness), who proudly showed us his onion rings – no, not the edible kind, but a shiny set of brass hoops used to gauge the precise dimension of each entry in his class. His father had used them before him, and possibly his grandfather too.

For the last few years, I’ve run a pop-up lit fest with a few guest authors promoting the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival, which takes place in April. The visiting authors have even volunteered as carnival judges.

photo of lit fest marquee
A A Abbott, one of the authors at the pop-up lit fest, kindly provided this photo featuring Lucienne and Gerard Boyce, now regular carnival judges

Bittersweet Connections

There are also poignant memories. My first husband, John Green, adored the show and carried off prizes for his home-made wine. He once took first prize for a bottle of potato wine that had earned second prize the year before. When he died in 2000, I donated the John Green Cup in his memory for best home-made wine. Seeing it awarded each year is a bittersweet moment.

I also arranged for a memorial trophy to be presented in memory of my friend Lyn Atherton, an early green campaigner who co-launched Hawkesbury’s recycling schemes. At the request of her widower, Clive, I sought out a secondhand trophy to be recycled into the Lyn Atheron Cup for a Useful Object Made from Recycled Materials. I found just the thing on my summer holiday in a curiosity shop in a tiny Scottish seaside town. When I told Clive where we’d got it from, he was astounded – that seaside town happened to be the site of their first ever holiday together. He had fond memories of barbecuing sausages on the beach there with Lyn, washing off the sand in the sea.

My second husband, Gordon, is the proud winner of the Lyn Atherton Cup, and my aunt and my father have also won this cup.

photo of wooden bench with trophy
The garden seat nade frin old pallets which won my husband the Lyn Atherton Cup last year

Eerily Quiet August

Every August, as the start of the Show week, seeing the bunting go up, crisscrossing the High Street, and hearing the rumbling of the funfair rides arriving in the village gets everyone excited as we put the finishing touches to our carnival floats and show entries. This year, the last week of August will seem strangely quiet, as it will in all the showgrounds around the country as Covid-19 makes such crowded events too high risk.

cover of Best Murder in Show
First in my Sophie Sayers series, set in high summer, was inspired by Hawkesbury’s annual show

In the meantime, if you’d like a flavour of a traditional English village show like ours, there’s always Best Murder in Show, which from now until after what would have been Show Day will be reduced to just 99p for the ebook, and there’ll be £1 off the paperback. It’s also now available as an audiobook at various prices on various platforms – currently a bargain at just £2.99 on Amazon’s Audible.

Buy the ebook online herebuy the paperback online here or order it from your local bookshop quoting ISBN 978-1911223139, and buy the audiobook from Audible here or from your favourite audiobook online store.

Posted in Family, Personal life, Writing

A Trick of the Light

photo of sunset behind leafless trees
Sunset on Starveall Lane, one of the single-track roads that leads into Hawkesbury Upton

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.

I welcomed the arrival of this blackbird every morning last week as it worked its way through old apples left over from last autumn

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.

photo of snowdrops in the churchyard at Slad
More signs of spring in the Cotswolds: carpets of snowdrops at the churchyard in Slad, resting place of the writer Laurie Lee

And In Case You’re Impatient for Summer…

A Free Summer Read!

A fun story set in high summer in a classic English village – first in a series of five novels (book six due out at the end of February!)

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).

Just click this link to download your copy in the format of your choice. 

Why am I giving it away? I’m hoping readers will get hooked and go on to buy the rest of the series – especially as book six in the series, Murder Your Darlings, is due out at the end of February!

Fortunately, it costs me nothing to give away an ebook as the file is a digital download, with no print or delivery costs. I just wish I could do the same with paperbacks!

More news about Murder Your Darlings soon…

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)], 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