Posted in Events, Personal life, Writing

The End of an Era: The Chronicle of an Extraordinary Five Years

cover of Still Charmed
My latest book has just been launched to mark 30 years of life in Hawkesbury Upton

As regular readers of this blog will know, once a month I share here my latest column for the Hawkesbury Parish News, our local community magazine that is possibly the best-read journal in our little Cotswold village of Hawkesbury Upton, the real-life village that inspired my Sophie Sayers Village Mystery novels.  

If you’ve been following my blog for more than five years, (and if so, gold star to you!), you may also recall that I gathered together my earlier columns into a book called All Part of the Charm. The columns in that book ran from January 2010, when I gave up my last full-time day-job to write, through 2015. I also included some essays I wrote about moving to the village in 1991.

As the end of 2020 was approaching, being a fan of round numbers, and also to celebrate 30 years of living in Hawkesbury Upton, I decided it was time to collate my next batch of columns into a new book – 60 columns in all, one each month from 2016 to 2020. Rereading them to refresh my memory of their content before writing the introduction, I realised what an extraordinary five years they had been, and how much change – turmoil, even – they had brought to our lives. Yet throughout my columns, written for a local audience in our small corner of the Cotswolds, ran a common thread:

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 – and to live in a community in which everyone looks out for their neighbours, not only in the season of goodwill, but all year round.

Wherever you are in the world, if you’d like to feel like an honorary or adoptive member of the parish of Hawkesbury, reading this little book will take you there as surely as the back of a certain wardrobe transports us to Narnia.

Below I’m sharing the introduction I wrote to this new book, which you can order now in ebook and paperback.

It’s a slimmer book than the first volume, as it doesn’t include any additional essays, and I’ve changed the layout to be less extravagant with paper, but I hope you’ll think it’s great value at that price – and that you will be what it says on the cover: still charmed.

 

The watercolour by my talented father has already been much admired by friends online

Foreword to Still Charmed:

Thirty Years On

This week, in celebration of 30 years since moving to the Cotswold village of Hawkesbury Upton on 4 January 1991, I dug out my old diary to revisit my initial impressions of village life, starting with a hectic first day in our new home.

“The log man came, bringing 15 sacks of logs, then the sweep came and cleaned both chimneys amazingly cleanly. I’d expected him to be covered in soot. Felt a little out of place when I realised that not only was I straining to understand his accent, but he was straining to understand mine.”

Next day, my husband “went to the shop for eggs and bread. Lots of people friendly there – one man knew he was from the old post office already.”

The house, unoccupied for eighteen months before we bought it, was somewhat spartan, the only heating provided by a vintage single-bar electric fire in the bathroom and an inefficient open fireplace in the front room. For several weeks, we slept on the floor in front of the fire, as everywhere else was too cold and damp. But by the second day, I was already acclimatising to our new home, a mid-nineteenth century stone cottage:

“Even though it seems in some respects that we’re roughing it, the convenience and comfort are infinitely greater than they would have been for the original occupants. When I put off going to the loo here as it’s so cold and damp, I ought to remember they would have gone down the bottom of the garden to the privy.” (Two outdoor toilets, buckets beneath holes in wooden planks, were still intact when we moved in.) “I understand the attraction of chamber pots for the first time.”

In the intervening 30 years, the house has been transformed to modern standards of comfort while we’ve retained many original features and added whimsical new ones of our own. My husband is building a mezzanine floor above the kitchen as I write. We’ve also become completely immersed in village life and are charmed by it.

During that time, I’ve served on many committees and volunteered for various community organisations in one way or another, and for the last 11 years, I’ve been writing a monthly column for our local parish magazine, the Hawkesbury Parish News, which, despite our village now boasting a high-speed internet connection, is just as much the hub of local news as it was when I first moved here. If you want to know about events, developments, future plans, and the traditional hatches, matches and despatches in our community, all you need to do is invest 50p a month in the parish mag, a fee that also includes optional delivery to your door. These days, electronic delivery is also available.

Although I often write articles for the various local organisations I’m involved in, such as the annual Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival which I founded in 2015, my monthly column has no particular brief. I just write about whatever is front of mind as the deadline looms, which is usually seasonal or otherwise topical. The aim of my contribution is to entertain, amuse, divert and share experiences that I think will make my local friends and neighbours smile. There are plenty of jokes at my own expense, and my chosen topics are often village-centric.

But although Hawkesbury Upton is surrounded by fields and reached only by winding country lanes, most of them single track, our rural idyll does not escape the harsh realities of the outside world. The period this volume covers began in the run-up to the EU referendum and ended literally on the day we in the UK left the European Union. One of the last things I did in 2020 was apply for a new passport, as my old one was due to expire on 2 January 2021. The new one will be blue, not red, and will not bear the words European Union on the cover.

Also, as I wrote the first column shared here, the US presidential election that resulted in a win for Trump was in full swing. As I wrote the final piece, Biden’s victory was assured.

Collating these columns for the collection last week, I gasped when I realised the first entry would be titled “Flu Fury”, a jokey piece written while I was on the mend from a dose of winter flu. I’m glad I didn’t know then about the coming Covid-19 pandemic, nor the disruption and devastation it would bring to the whole world. Even Hawkesbury Upton, tucked away in the Cotswolds, with its moat-like surround of agricultural land, has not escaped unscathed, and my heart goes out to all those who have lost loved ones or suffered long-term health complications.

During this extraordinary five-year period, I have lost count of the number of times I have said to my daughter while watching Trump supporters invade the Capitol, “Take note of this, we’re witnessing history in the making”, and last night, as I was planning what to write in this foreword, I said it again.

This time, she replied in her teenaged wisdom, “Everything is history these days”.

Yet truer than ever are the pieces I’ve written celebrating the joy of coming home to Hawkesbury after holidays away and my gratitude for living “in a community in which everyone looks out for their neighbours, and not only in times of crisis or the season of goodwill”. (Who Needs Wifi When You’ve Got Good Neighbours, January 2018). I also often remark upon the continuity of village life. “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.” (The Comfort of Consistency, July 2019)

During the pandemic, we may have lost the events that provide the consistency – the Hawkesbury Horticultural Show, the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival, the midnight carol singing on Christmas Eve – but the community spirit is stronger than ever, not least due to the continuing presence of the Hawkesbury Parish News, which appeared as regularly as ever throughout lockdown, a comforting dose of normality in the midst of the most abnormal of years. In the absence of events news to fill the pages, the editor, Colin Dixon, persuaded more villagers to write articles, reproduced copy from the archives, and kindly shared extracts from my novels to help keep people entertained.

On a brighter note, the five years represented in this volume have included the culmination of my lifelong ambition to become a novelist, with the first of my eight novels published so far unveiled on 1 April 2017. It may have been no surprise to anyone familiar with my columns that my novels have been inspired by my delight in village life, although I hasten to add that all the characters, settings, and situations in my Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries, my Staffroom at St Bride’s series, and my Tales from Wendlebury Barrow Quick Reads are entirely made up. So if you enjoy reading these columns, you should find my novels just your cup of tea – and vice versa. (You’ll find a full list of the novels published so far in the back of this book, and there are plenty more to come.)

Now writing my ninth novel, and with the deadline of my 134th column for the Hawkesbury Parish News looming, I’m grateful for the enthusiasm and support of its readers and production team spurring me on. First Fiona Rowe and now Colin Dixon have worked tirelessly and meticulously, with the support of a hardworking and efficient team behind the scenes, to take the magazine from strength to strength, growing it thicker and more interesting each year. Whatever history has in store for us, I will be proud to write for the Hawkesbury Parish News for as long as I am able, and may it forever be a source of comfort, entertainment and pleasure to its readers.

Debbie Young
January 2021

Buying Links for Still Charmed

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cover of Still Charmed

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Cover of All Part of the Charm

Click here for more information about my Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries


COMING SOON: Travels with my Books – a new monthly series of guest posts by authors talking about the setting for their novels

First on the list: B M Allsopp, author of the Fiji Islands Mysteries – follow my blog (click button in the sidebar to the right of this post), if you don’t already, to make sure you don’t miss this intriguing exclusive interview!

Posted in Personal life, Writing

Planning for a Better Year

In my first column of 2021 for the Hawkesbury Parish News, I wrote about the art of planning ahead – or, more accurately, my life as a Last-minute Martha.

As the editor of the Parish News will no doubt agree, I am something of a last-minuter. Ever since I started work as a journalist back in the 80s, nothing makes me as productive as a deadline. Above my desk hangs a framed Posy Simmonds cartoon strip I cut out of The Guardian back then, featuring a hapless hack racing to meet a copy deadline and doing everything but writing. She meets friends at a wine bar (well, this was the 80s), takes clothes to the dry cleaners, and washes her hair, while accruing sympathy from her friends about the pressure of her wretched deadline. She submits her piece to her long-suffering editor at absolutely the last minute, having pulled an all-nighter, garnering further sympathy from her gullible husband.

cartoon of journalist complaining about her deadline - then going for a drink with her friend
(c) Posy Simmonds

Remembering the Filofax

Inspired by that cartoon for over thirty years (so much so that I named my first cat Posy – Ms Simmonds was very pleased when I told her, after I’d heard her speak at the Cheltenham Literature Festival), I’m always pleased to discover a new method of planning my workload more effectively. I’ve tried everything from the Filofax (another craze from the 80s, when we had to file copy by telex and fax to our head office) to an electronic diary. None of these methods have lasted long. Although I’m comfortable with computers, at heart I am a low-technology girl.

More recently, I tried this tip: let your daily to-do list be no longer than would fit on a Post-it Note. My solution: buy bigger Post-it Notes.

photo of book of post-it notes in various sizes

Buying into the Bullet Journal

Then I discovered the Bullet Journal, invented by Ryder Carroll. (Watch his free four-minute tutorial here.) refuse to use the affectionate abbreviation of BuJo that many users prefer, because it reminds me of our Prime Minister’s nickname, which distracts me from any thoughts of efficient planning.

The Bullet Journal starts life as a blank notebook, preferably dotted so you can draw grids for various lists. It includes an index at the front to keep track of the lists you create, such as books to read, creative ideas, and long-term goals, as well as daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly to-do lists. A key provides an appropriate symbol so you can see at a glance how your day is shaping up: a bullet point (no surprises there) for a task, a circle for an event, and so on. You number the top three priorities and put a cross through items as they are completed, so it’s easy to see progress.

image of spread in my bullet journal

So far so good, until I discover one more recommended symbol, a forward arrow named “task migration”, indicating an item to be moved to the next day. In my head, I’ve already labelled it the mañana option – Spanish for “an indefinite time in the future”. So much for deadlines!

But with a year like 2020 behind us, planning no longer seems relevant. In 2021, let’s just seize the day, take our pleasures where we can find them, and do the best we can. If what I do happens to feature on my daily to-do list – like writing this column – I’m counting that as a win.

Wishing you a very happy and healthy New Year, however you plan to spend yours.


IN OTHER NEWS

cover of Still Charmed
Coming soon!

New Non-fiction Book Out Soon

This week marks my thirtieth anniversary of moving to Hawkesbury Upton. To celebrate, I’m working on Still Charmed, the second volume of my collected columns from the Hawkesbury Parish News, which I hope to publish as an ebook and paperback later this month. I’ll announce it here when it’s ready to order, but in the meantime, here’s the cover, featuring a watercolour by my talented father. (The first collection, All Part of the Charm, featured another section of the same painting.)

New Novel Bubbling Under

I’m also working on the seventh Sophie Sayers novel, Murder Lost and Found, which I’m hoping to publish in the spring.

99p Offer on Murder by the Book

I’ve currently got a special seasonal offer running on the fourth Sophie Sayers novel, Murder by the Book, with the ebook just 99p/99c or local currency equivalent until the end of the month. (Also available in paperback at the usual RRP.) This story takes place from the start of January and finishes on Valentine’s Day, when Sophie and her friend Ella plan to hold an event to help stop the village pub, The Bluebird, from going bust – an especially topical theme right now when so many pubs are struggling to survive the pandemic. Revealing fun surprises about Hector’s past, and with the addition of two lively new characters who are siblings to regulars in the series (no plot spoilers here!), Murder by the Book is the perfect pick-me-up for these dreary, dark days and long nights. Click here to order the ebook from the ebook store of your choice and click here to order the paperback.

image of murder by the book on a sofa with blankets
Cuddle up with a book this winter

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Posted in Family, Personal life, Writing

Let There Be Fairy Lights!

In the December issue of the Hawkesbury Parish News, I reminisced about one of my favourite memories from my childhood Christmases.

One of my favourite childhood Christmas memories is walking home in the dark after dinner at my maternal grandmother’s house. Even on the coldest night, counting the Christmas trees in people’s front windows gave us an inner glow as we passed by.

In those days, the Christmas tree was the only thing we’d decorate with fairy lights. Many homes in our London suburb had pay-as-you-go electricity meters, which had to be fed with shillings to maintain the supply, so adding to the electrical load was not a great idea.

It was a more frugal age in other ways too. These days I think nothing of buying new fairy lights each Christmas. Back then, if your string of lights stopped working, you just went to Woolworths to buy a new bulb. That is, after you’d worked out which bulb was the dud causing the string to short.

This laborious task required taking out each bulb in turn and turning the mains power switch off and again every time, until you’d solved the mystery. (We may not have been great at recycling in those days, but we knew how to make do and mend – if your electric kettle packed up, you just replaced the element.)

There were also stricter rules about when to put up your decorations: 1st December at the earliest. In any case, you’d be unlikely to find them in the shops until after Guy Fawkes’ Night on 5th November. Now I switch on the fairy lights in my front garden immediately after Armistice Day (11th November).

As the nights get longer and winter chills set in, lighting up the darkness lifts my spirits.

Christmas tree lights in a window
(Photo by Kaleb Tapp via Unsplash)

This year, we can’t gather in Hawkesbury High Street for our annual community switching-on ceremony – a tradition I love so much that I’ve borrowed it in my festive novel, Murder in the Manger. (You can read that extract at the end of this post.) So I hope that instead there’ll be more fairy lights than ever popping up around the village.

To me fairy lights feel like symbols of hope, with the same promise that rainbows offer the rest of the year. I like to think that if Noah had had fairy lights, he’d have lit up the ark as the flood waters began to subside.

Whatever you choose to do about fairy lights this December, I wish you a bright and cosy Christmas – and a New Year that can only be better than this one!


Extract from Murder in the Manger, the third Sophie Sayers Village Mystery

Chapter 34    Lights!

images of ebook and paperback
Available in paperback and ebook

As I stood outside The Bluebird in the dark, trying to spot Hector amongst the crowd, a stocky figure in a duffle coat sidled up to me. It wore a bobble hat covered with mistletoe, topped with an old bicycle lamp tied on with string. In its hand was a pint glass spilling over with mulled wine. Its growly voice startled me.

“Good evening, girlie.”

It was Billy. He pointed to his hat.

“Got a Christmas kiss for your old friend tonight?”

To my relief, at that precise moment Hector came jostling through the crowd, wearing an ancient deerstalker and a thick stripy scarf over a long overcoat. I was beginning to wonder whether I’d missed the notice for fancy dress to be worn.

“Do I detect unrest?” was his greeting to me.

I grinned.

“Nice hat, Sherlock.”

He touched it appreciatively.

“I’ve had it since I was a teenager. It came from my parents’ antique shop. It’s so battered that I only bring it out in the dark when you can’t see the moth holes. But I’m very attached to it.”

“Can I be your Dr Watson?”

“Wouldn’t you rather be Mrs Hudson? You do make a fine cup of tea.”

I batted his arm for teasing me, but before I could protest further, a slight figure dressed entirely in black bowled up to join us, a sinister balaclava covering all of its face but the eyes. Alarmed, I took a step back, but Hector was not worried.

“Hello, Tommy.”

Tommy pulled off the balaclava and stuffed it crossly into his pocket.

“How did you know it was me?”

Hector tapped his deerstalker. “Sherlock Holmes says you can never disguise a back.”

“But this is my front.”

Tommy stomped off, pulling his video camera out of his other pocket as he went. I surveyed the crowd as it absorbed him.

“Gosh, I’d forgotten quite how many people live here.”

I reached into my coat pocket to pull out the pile of invitations to the Wendlebury Writers’ book launch. The lighting-up ceremony provided the perfect opportunity to distribute them to villagers without having to go door-to-door. I wondered where to start.

“I suppose these are all villagers.”

Hector nodded.

“Most of them, as far as I can tell, although I suspect a few usually come up from Slate Green to get their hands on some free mulled wine. Word gets around about such things.” He pulled his scarf a little closer around his neck, and I looped my arm through his to snuggle closer.

“I’m surprised how many villagers I know now. And it’s nice to no longer be the newest person in town. I can see at least one person who wasn’t even born when I moved into my cottage.”

I pointed to a tiny baby in the arms of a slight lone female standing on the edge of the crowd. The mother, hood up, head bowed, was completely engrossed in her baby’s company, holding its hands and talking to it, as if there was no-one else around. I wondered whether she was as much a newcomer to the village as the baby. Perhaps she was painfully shy. There was no father in evidence, and of all the crowd, she seemed to be the only one not mingling with others.

“She looks a bit lonely and awkward,” I said. “I don’t know who she is, but there’s something familiar about her. Why does she remind me of Billy? No, hang on, she’s more like Carol, only a young, pretty version.”

Hector laughed. “Everyone looks the same on a dark night like this, all bundled up against the cold. It’s easier to recognise people in their Halloween outfits.”

He turned around to check her out, and gazed at the woman for so long that I felt uncomfortable. I didn’t think she was that good-looking.

“Actually I don’t know who she is either,” he said at last. “I wonder whether she’s a traveller? They congregate down on Slate Common now and again, until the council gets the police to move them on. I hadn’t heard they were back.”

I wanted him to return his attention to me.

“So what happens now?” I asked.

“I’ll show you.”

He took my hand and led me through the crowd to a trestle table outside the pub, where Donald and his wife were busy ladling mulled wine into polystyrene cups.

“First, we all have some of this, on the house.” He picked up two full cups and handed one to me. “Then we all assemble round the Christmas tree on the green, where the youngest child in the school and the oldest person in the village do the ceremonial switching on of the tree lights. It’s a big honour.”

I thought about this for a moment.

“Has anyone ever hung around long enough to have done both?” I asked.

“Good question, Sophie. If you ask Bella, as the parish clerk, she’ll be able to look it up in the council archives and tell you.”

As they collected their mulled wine, people began to surge away from the pub towards the green. Nobody took the most direct route, but wove in and out as they talked to each other. The sight put me in mind of a murmuration of starlings at dusk.

“Has anyone ever been the oldest person in the village for more than a year?” I asked. “I don’t think I’d fancy being the chosen one. It would feel like stepping to the front of the queue for the village graveyard.”

Hector steered us expertly into a place at the inner edge of the throng, now arranging itself in a circle around the green. “I think the record was five times for one old lady when I was a child. I was starting to think she was immortal, some kind of witch. She even survived the lights fusing the fifth time she switched them on.”

“Maybe the power surge recharged her batteries.”

Wondering who would be the oldest and youngest this year, I was surprised when Billy stepped forward, along with a very small boy in a snowsuit and Thomas the Tank Engine wellies.

“I thought Joshua was older than Billy?” I said in a low voice to Hector as a hush fell over the crowd.

“Yes, but he’s not up to this kind of outing at night. Didn’t you read his message in the parish magazine delegating his duty to Billy?”

I chided myself for still not reading it from cover to cover, as it was the highest authority on village news.

The Reverend Murray stepped into the centre of the circle, with Mrs Murray, neat and smiling, at his side. Several people in the front row turned torches on him, during his brief speech of welcome, thanking The Bluebird for its hospitality and the team of dads who had put up the tree and the lights.

His words fell away in the cold night air, punctuated by puffs of vapour emanating from his mouth. When he stopped speaking, everyone clapped, and those who’d come early to the mulled wine whooped and cheered.

When the shouting died down to a respectful silence, the vicar pronounced a formal blessing on the ceremony and made a sign of the cross in the direction of the Christmas tree.

Finally, he beckoned to Billy and the little boy to step up to a large metal box at the foot of the tree. He lifted the lid to reveal a big red handle. I moved closer to Hector.

Billy reached first to the little boy, holding out his hand.

“Come along, Davy, you hold on to old Billy’s hand, and we’ll do this together.”

The little boy shook his head and backed away a step or two. Perhaps the sight of the red handle reminded him of the bomb detonator so often featured in cartoons.

Billy shrugged. “Suit yourself, then.” I heard his knees crack as he bent down to reach the handle. He grabbed it, then stood stock still, waiting, familiar with the drill after witnessing the process for scores of years.

“Torches off now, folks, please!” said Mr Murray. “Now let’s have the countdown. Five, four, three…”

At zero, there was a split second of expectant hush. Then BANG! But the Christmas tree lights remained dark.


cover of Murder in the Manger

 

 Like to read the rest of the novel?

Click the link below to order it in your preferred format 

*** Ebook *** Paperback ***

Although this is the third in the Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries series, it can be read as a standalone novel and it doesn’t matter if you haven’t read the first two – but I hope you’ll want to, as well as the three books after this one! Now back to writing the seventh in the series, Murder Lost and Found

Posted in Events, Personal life

Saying It With Poppies

For the first time in years, I watched the national ceremony for Remembrance Sunday on television as it was broadcast live from the Cenotaph in Whitehall, London.

Usually 11am on Remembrance Sunday finds me on our village green, known as The Plain, where our local ceremony around the war memorial has been taking place for a century. This year, due to Covid, we were advised to stay away from The Plain, where a small band of people were to mark the occasion on  behalf of us all. The local church service, meanwhile, could be accessed only via Youtube here – but what a remarkable job Reverend Thomson, organist and choirmaster Ben Humphries made of it.

100 Years of Commemoration

I was glad that I had earlier this year been able to attend the special ceremony held to mark the war memorial’s 100th anniversary, which thankfully fell between lockdowns. All the same, it had to be socially distanced.

Photo of service to mark 100th anniversary of war memorial

The apparently sparse attendance is a poignant contrast with the archive photo of the crowds who attended the memorial’s unveiling in 1920.

sepia photo of unveiling in 1920
Who could have foretold that only a generation after the village turned out to the unveiling of the war memorial, tragically the names of another generation would need to be added after the Second World War?

We Shall Remember Them

However, local respect for the war memorial and those it represents – many of whose descendants are still in the village – is as deep as ever. In 2016, Simon Bendry, who now works for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, wrote Hawkesbury at War: the Roll of Honour, a book that includes a biography of every person commemorated on the war memorial, keeping their legacy alive – an ambition he’d held since a child, passing the war memorial on his way to school each day and wondering about the stories behind the names. The book is still available for sale in our community village shop, Hawkesbury Stores.

cover image of Hawkesbury at War by Simon Bendry
A biography of every man commemorated on the Hawkesbury Upton War Memorial

From the Home Front

In the meantime, I paid my own tribute without leaving my own home by knitting a poppy wreath for my front door.

photo of poppy wreath

Another first this year was of course no doorstep collection for the Royal British Legion. Their funds are much depleted due to Covid restrictions, but you can still support them online here, so that they may continue their important work supporting the British Armed Forces’ community.

We Can Be Heroes

My attempt to echo the cover of David Bowies single “Heroes”, for this years village scarecrow trail

On a lighter note, Remembrance Day licensed me to put off taking down the scarecrow that’s been perched on my front wall since the end of October as part of the annual Hawkesbury Upton Scarecrow Trail. This year the theme of the Trail was “Heroes and Villains“, which gave me the excuse to celebrate the sentiment of my all-time favourite pop song, David Bowie’s “Heroes“.

The iconic cover image that inspired my scarecrow

Just as I was about to remove him on Sunday, a car pulled up and a very nice lady asked if she could take a photo of him. Her enthusiasm made me realise the theme was still topical, even after the Trail had officially ended, so I stuck a poppy in his buttonhole and have left him there till Armistice Day on Wednesday.

A friend has suggested that after that I put a Santa hat on him and leave him there till Christmas, but as two other friends have declared they find him a bit frightening (well, it is meant to be a scarecrow!), I may give that idea a miss!

I ended Remembrance Sunday by watching the real David Bowie (far less scary) performing “Heroes” at Live Aid. Here’s the link so you can enjoy it too.

Commemorations in Wendlebury Barrow

images of ebook and paperback Finally, I just wanted to flag up a lasting tribute that I wrote in my third Sophie Sayers Village Mystery, Murder in the Manger –  a chapter that takes place on Armistice Day in the village school. This  novel begins on 6th November and ends with the village Nativity play, so if you’re after a seasonal read for right now, you know what to do…

Posted in Personal life, Self-publishing

It’s a Wrap!

My column for the October 2020 issue of this month’s Hawkesbury Parish News

When I as a child, one of my favourite features in the annuals we received each Christmas was the puzzle captioned “An everyday object viewed from an unusual angle”. The reader was invited to identify the object from a photo of a tiny detail greatly enlarged or from a long shot of an unfamiliar aspect.

The journey to choir practice last week provided a similar challenge. As I drove down the hill towards Hawkesbury, (the ancient hamlet that is home to our parish church of St Mary), I spotted peeking out from among the treetops a tall white box that I’d never seen before.

view of mysterious object

For a split second my brain processed it as either a newly-landed alien spaceship or a just-built block of flats put up since the recent relaxation of planning regulations. Then I realised it was just the tower of St Mary’s Church undergoing restoration. The last time I’d seen the tower, it had been covered in scaffolding (as per Colin Dixon’s photos on the front of last month’s Parish News). Now, like a skeleton covered in flesh, the scaffolding had been given  a smooth, pristine white coat of protective fabric.

the church in wraps revealed
Revealed!

Then I thought of Christo, the Bulgarian-born artist famous for wrapping buildings, monuments, bridges, and even landscapes in fabric or plastic. In Wrapped Reichstag, for example, he encased the German parliament building in aluminium fabric. Each of his installations was designed to be temporary. One of them, a 14km orange curtain across Ridge Gap, Colorado, blew down in a storm on its second day.

But the fleeting change in appearance of a well-known landmark can change people’s perceptions of it forever.

Christo died in May this year aged 84, and his website www.christojeanneclaude.net poignantly includes a list of “Projects Not Realised”, as well as cataloguing his completed achievements. In a posthumous celebration of the pioneering artist, L’Arc de Triomphe in Paris is due to be wrapped next autumn.

Seeing St Mary’s Hawkesbury in its new white robe, I wondered whether Christo would be pleased with our inadvertent tribute to his work – and as relieved as I am that unlike the ancient and timeless fabric of the church, the white wrapping should be whisked away just in time for Christmas, once the tower repairs are complete.

If you’d like to know more about St Mary’s Hawkesbury, and to see it in its usual unwrapped state, hop over to its website here: www.friendsofstmaryshawkesbury.com. (The eagle-eyed may spot that I’m on its committee and that I also run its website!)


In Other News This Week

cover of Breathe magazineI was pleased to be quoted in this month’s issue of Breathe magazine in Stephanie Lam’s feature on self-publishing. You’ll find the magazine on British newstands everywhere and you can also order single copies and subscriptions online.

I’m currently writing another magazine feature myself, the second in my commissioned series for Mslexia to celebrate successful independent authors. For the December issue, I’m interviewing award-winning children’s writers Kate Frost, Jemma Hatt and Karen Inglis.

Meanwhile I’m busy with speaking engagements. Yesterday I was on BBC Radio Gloucestershire’s Book Club spot (you can listen to it here for the next 28 days, from 2hrs 12mins into the show). Next Wednesday I’ll be guest speaker via Zoom at Uley Women’s Institute, and on Saturday 17th October I’ll be chairing a panel on “Routes to Publishing” at Bristol Literature Festival, held online – you can reserve a free place here if you hurry!

Meanwhile the ebook of Best Murder in Show, the first in my Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries is currently free to download, and as I type this it’s #98 in the free Kindle charts in the UK, introducing thousands of new readers to the series. If you’ve not read it yet, download your free copy here. And if you  have read it and enjoyed it, feel free to send this link to any friends you think might also like it.

cover of the Clutch of Eggs
Coming soon! A fun quick read to brighten the dark autumn nights.

And now, back to work, putting the finishing touches to the second in my Tales from Wendlebury Barrow series. The Clutch of Eggs will be out by the end of the month. It’s a quick read for just 99p/99c, to tide you over while I write my next novel – the seventh Sophie Sayers mystery, Murder Lost and Found.

More news next week. Until then, happy reading!