Posted in Events, Personal life, Writing

The Power of the List

cover of Quick ChangeWhen my author friend Lucienne Boyce read the original manuscript for my first collection of short stories, Quick Change, she gently pointed out that she thought it odd I’d mentioned recycling bins in four of the 20 stories. I changed one bin into a bonfire, which made for a much better story. However, my column for the September 2023 issue of the Hawkesbury Parish News reveals that recycling is still very much in my thoughts…

Recently I spotted an advertisement seeking volunteers for a council study of household recycling habits. When it popped up on my computer, it reminded me of a market research programme I took part in as a child. My best friend’s mum corralled a dozen of my classmates into the local church hall to taste-test various brightly coloured drinks. We went home clutching clanking carrier bags filled with glass bottles of lurid liquids, and instructions to report back on which flavour ran out first.

I didn’t much like any of the drinks, preferring Treetop orange squash, but the parties were fun, and the free samples made me feel special. My fond memories of the process were enough to make me volunteer for the recycling research.

The survey required me to keep a diary of everything I recycled over three days, snapping photographs on my phone. I thought I was good at avoiding waste, buying as much fresh, loose food as possible, but my diary was a wake-up call. So much packaging!

Cardboard packaging from a National Trust tea towel
One of my classier items for recycling – the wrapper from a National Trust tea towel, a lovely gift from my Auntie Thelma
  • Have you ever been on a diet that required you to write down everything you ate or drank?
  • Have you tried to save money by recording every item of expenditure?

In both cases, it can be easier to abstain than to add to your list.

If we had to make a note of everything we recycled every day, I reckon we’d soon find ways to reduce and re-use instead – so much better for the environment.

I’m astonished to recall that when I first moved to the village in 1991 there was no recycling service. We just chucked everything in the black bin – a bigger one than we have now, emptied weekly rather than fortnightly, and thanks to our throwaway culture, it was often full.

A century ago, there would have been no council refuse collection of any kind, but nor was there much need, as there was much less waste. People bought food loose or wrapped in paper and carried it home in wicker shopping baskets. They returned empty jars and bottles for deposits. Old tins provided useful storage – no Tupperware in those days. Rag rugs gave new purpose to worn-out clothes.

Photo of rag rug
Anthologies, like rag rugs, are much greater than the sum of the parts (I am very proud of having made this rag rug too!)

Everything else the householder had to dispose of on his property, burning it in the hearth or garden bonfires, or burying it in the garden. Even now, bits of old china, glass and metal buried decades ago frequently rise to the surface in my flowerbeds.

As a crime writer, I can’t help wondering what lies beneath my lawn…

photo of old enamel sign for Post Office
This sign lay abandoned in my back garden when I moved in, the legacy of when my cottage used to ve the village post office.

Not all rubbish could be burned or buried. Rag-and-bone men used to collect cumbersome items and sell them on as scrap. Even as late as the Sixties, a rag-and-bone man occasionally drove a van or a horse and cart slowly down our street in suburban London, calling “any old lumber?” A popular sitcom during my childhood was Steptoe and Son, revolving around a scrapyard. Could Yate’s Sort-It Centre make a great setting for a modern comedy series? I like to think so.

I’m pleased to say I found taking part in the council’s recycling research just as interesting as the squash parties of my childhood.

I’m just glad that this time I didn’t have to taste-test samples.


DRIVEN TO MURDER (Sophie Sayers #9)

holidng image for new cover for Driven to Murder
A placeholder image is now up on Amazon – cover reveal to follow soon!

On Monday I submitted the manuscript for my ninth Sophie Sayers cosy mystery, Driven to Murder, to my editor at Boldwood Books, and this morning I was delighted to receive an enthusiastic email with her proposed (very light) edits.

“What a tonic!” she said, going on to describe it as “a rich experience for returning fans” as well as “accessible to new readers”.

Now it’s down to me to make a few minor revisions in line with her comments, and then it goes to a copy editor, then a proofreader. Meanwhile, she will brief the cover designer, and I can’t wait to see what the designer comes up with!

The official launch date is 28th January 2024, but if you’d like to kept up to date by my publisher about progress, and any special offers on my other Boldwood Books, you might like to sign up for their Debbie Young mailing list here.


cover of Starting Over at Silver Sands Bay
Karen Louise Hollis’s second novel is now out

Karen Louise Hollis, author of Starting Again at Silver Sands Bay, kindly invited me to be a guest on her book blog, interviewing me about my books and my writing life.

If you’d like to read the interview, hop over to where you’ll also find information about Karen’s own books.


If you’d like to come to hear me in conversation with Kat Ailes, debut author of The Expectant Detectives (great title!), bookings are now open for our Stroud Book Festival event at The Subscription Rooms at 4pm on Sunday 12th November. Click here for more details and to book your tickets now.

Banner image for Cozy but Criminal event

COUNTDOWN TO NEXT HULF TALK (Saturday 30th September)

save the date image for nextHULF Talk In the meantime, just down the A46 from Stroud, I’m gearing up for the next book talk in the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival series of events in my home village.

This time, the theme is “Research and Inspiration: The Stories Behind the Stories“, and eight authors of novels across different genres will be in conversation about where they get their ideas, how they undertake their research, and how they weave facts seamlessly into fiction to create compelling, convincing stories.

Come and join me and Ali Bacon, Jean Burnett, Heather Child, Mari Howard, Justin Newland, and HJ Reed, from 2pm until 5pm in the Bethesda Chapel, Park Street, Hawkesbury Upton GL9 1BA. The ticket price of £5 includes tea and cake, plus a £2 discount voucher to spend on the book of your choice by one of the guest authors.

There just 50 seats in our venue, a light and airy Victorian chapel, so book now to be sure of a place, using this Eventbrite link.

For more information about Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival, visit


Posted in Events, Family, Personal life, Travel

On Track for the Holidays

A few years ago, my husband suggested we download an app* that keeps track of family and friends via their mobile phone signals.

He tends not to listen when I tell him where I’m going, and the most frequent message left on my mobile is from him, saying, “Debbie, where are you?”

He once called me on a Friday afternoon, concerned that our daughter was late home from school. My reply: “That’s because she’s here with me in the car, and we’re on our way to Cornwall for the weekend.” We had of course told him of our plans many times before we left.

While my husband was all in favour of the app, my daughter and I were not keen. It felt intrusive, like being microchipped or electronically tagged.

When the pandemic put paid to travel, we let the matter drop, but when we started to travel again this spring, and with my daughter planning some gap year adventures, we agreed to install the app for reassurance.

Our first chance to test it came in April, when my husband and daughter headed to the south of France for a week. As I’d made all the bookings, I felt personally responsible that everything should go smoothly, so I was glad to use the app to track their progress . With planes, trains and automobiles involved in their journey, there was ample opportunity for trouble – flight delays, cancellations and missed connections – even before we factored in my husband’s propensity to misplace his possessions.

Initially, following their progress on the app made me feel like a spy, but it soon became enjoyable and absorbing, although the intermittent phone signal made it slightly unreliable.

Often they appeared to be in two different places, even when I knew from speaking to them on the phone that they were in the same vehicle or hotel. Part way through their trip, I discovered that if I hit the right button, I could follow their progress at micro level.

When they were in Avignon, for example, I could trace their progress along the ancient bridge, although it didn’t tell me whether they did the famous dance immortalised in the song, “Sur le Pont d’Avignon”, as we did when we visited ten years ago. Fortunately, I remembered the ancient bridge no longer reaches the other side of the river, but stops mid-stream. Otherwise I might have been concerned that they’d dropped off the end and been swept away by the Rhône.

So thanks to the app, I was able to relax while they were away, and on their return, I knew exactly when to put the kettle on to make them a welcome-home cup of tea.

Admittedly, my husband returned minus his glasses (mislaid before they’d boarded the first plane), his jacket (lost, then found, then lost again), and his wallet.

All we need now is an app to keep track of his possessions.

This post first appeared in the Tetbury Advertiser‘s May 2022 edition. 

*The tracking app we used is called Life360.

Speaking of Holidays…

I’ve chosen as the topic of the next HULF Talk – a Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival event – “Holiday Reads“. On Saturday 25th June, I’ll be chatting with three guest authors to help you find your next books to take on holiday – or to read at home this summer to travel by book. Between them, Carol Cooper, Kate Frost and Helena Halme have written engaging, easy-to-read novels set in holiday destinations all over the world,  from Scandinavia to Zanzibar, from Cornwall to the Mediterranean. For more information and to book your tickets, visit the HULF website at

graphic advertising HULF Talk

Posted in Events, Reading, Writing

The Golden Age of Detective Fiction

This is the talk I gave at the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival HULF Talk on 30th April 2022 on the topic of Crime, Thriller and Mystery Fiction. See for more information about that talk and future HULF Talks.

My favourite period is crime-writing is the 1920s and 1930s. I’ve been reading books from the Golden Age of Detective Fiction since my teens, and it has also given me role models for my own writing.

Although many of its authors continued writing well after the Second World War, the term The Golden Age of Detective Fiction  refers to the inter-war years, when society was still reeling from the impact of the First World War. Then in 1918, the Spanish Flu pandemic killed more people than the whole of the war. Tragically, unlike Covid, this was a strain of flu which particularly affected young people with strong immune systems – the generation that had been so decimated in the trenches. The authors writing in the Golden Age of Detective Fiction had seen horror indeed, which influenced and informed their writing lifelong.

Famously Agatha Christie’s intimate knowledge of poisons was gained from her voluntary work as a nurse, then as an apothecary’s assistant in a hospital for those sent home wounded from the First World War battlefields. Hercule Poirot was inspired by seeing Belgian refugees sent to her hometown of Torquay.

In Dorothy L Sayers’ early novels, her sleuth Lord Peter Wimsey has frequent flashbacks to the war. He suffers shell shock at times of crisis, (in an era when shell shock was only starting to be acknowledged and understood), from which he is rescued by his faithful manservant Bunter – the same batman who had saved his life during the First World War, rescuing him from a shelled dug-out in the trenches.

Perhaps one reason handguns seem to proliferate in these stories is that so many men seemed to hang on to their old service revolvers. There always seems to be one handy in the desk drawer of the country house study or wherever else the writer needs to find one for the murder of a victim or the suicide of a rumbled killer seeking to avoid the gallows.

That’s another dark feature of the detective fiction of this era. Although not all the stories are of murder, most of them involve the inevitable sentencing of convicted murderers to the death sentence by hanging – capital punishment was not abolished until 1953.

So although the phrase “Golden Age” suggests nostalgia for an idyll, it arose from a dark place. It was also in some respects pioneering and forward-looking, bringing to the public’s attention what were then ground–breaking and modern themes. The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club mentions the influence of “glands” on behaviour, which had just been discovered. Also forensic pathology and the psychology of serial killers, before the term serial killers had been coined. For this reason, Sigmund Freud was a fan of Golden Age Detective Fiction.

But just like everyone else, the detective writers sought respite from tragedy in fun and frivolity. They wrote to the sounds of the Jazz Age with its freer, impulsive music. They wore less fettered fashions than before the Great War, allowing them freedom of movement. They embraced the motor car to give their heroes and villains independence and mobility – Dorothy L Sayers even rode a motorbike herself – even if they did seem to drive them off the road and into ditches with alarming frequency. Well, there was no “health and safety” in those days, and no law against drink-driving. Drinking alcohol around the clock was no deterrent to getting behind the wheel, and whisky and soda was a standard nightcap.

Of course, the detectives back then did not have the advantage of modern technology – no internet, no satellite tracking, no mobile phones – but it was a case of swings and roundabouts. With terrestrial telephony still in its infancy, they could arrange for any suspicious call to be traced at the exchange, because calls were still connected manually by human beings. In one mystery (I think a Margery Allingham Albert Campion novel?), the sleuth is able to trace a particular car in the middle of London because it is remembered by a traffic policeman on point duty.

Although  many popular Golden Age novels feature privileged people in Wodehousian settings, the authors came from various backgrounds, from the working class to the aristocracy and across the full political spectrum from hard left to far right. Many were free and original thinkers, defying the social conventions of their day. Some had difficult personal problems – Sayers secretly gave birth to a son and had him adopted by a cousin without even her parents or her employers knowing, and we may never know the truth behind Christie’s infamous eleven-day disappearance in 1926. Such secrets would be nigh impossible to hide in the 21st century and the age of the paparazzi.

What united this assorted bunch of authors was their approach to the detective story as an intellectual puzzle – almost like a parlour game, or that new and highly popular fad, the crossword puzzle, invented in 1913.

They imposed upon themselves a strict code of fair play, to give the observant reader a chance of solving the mystery alongside or even before the sleuth in the story. Wimsey’s mother likes his love interest, Harriet Vane, a detective writer, because it takes her longer than usual to guess the villain.

One of their number, Ronald Knox, whose day job was that of a Catholic priest, came up with ten commandments of detective fiction, which I’ll read you now:

  1. The criminal must be someone mentioned in the early part of the story, but must not be anyone whose thoughts the reader has been allowed to follow.
  2. All supernatural or preternatural agencies are ruled out as a matter of course.
  3. Not more than one secret room or passage is allowable.
  4. No hitherto undiscovered poisons may be used, nor any appliance which will need a long scientific explanation at the end.
  5. No Chinaman must figure in the story.
  6. No accident must ever help the detective, nor must he ever have an unaccountable intuition which proves to be right.
  7. The detective must not himself commit the crime.
  8. The detective must not light on any clues which are not instantly produced for the inspection of the reader.
  9. The stupid friend of the detective, the Watson, must not conceal any thoughts which pass through his mind; his intelligence must be slightly, but very slightly, below that of the average reader.
  10. Twin brothers, and doubles generally, must not appear unless we have been duly prepared for them.

Although there are plenty of writers who break these rules and still come up with great tales – I’m sure there are plenty of Chinamen in Sherlock Holmes, for example – and the tone of these commandments is tongue-in-cheek, I reckon for the most part they’re a good rule of thumb even now.

The authors concurred and colluded in other ways. Nowhere is this clearer than in the formation of the Detection Club, founded with 26 author members, including some who are still household names – Agatha Christie, G K Chesterton, Dorothy L Sayers – as well as many who though hugely popular in their time went out of fashion until revived by the British Library Crime Classics series a few years ago. Its membership included writers better remembered now for other kinds of fiction – Baroness Orczy of Scarlet Pimpernel fame, and Christiana Brand of the children’s Nurse Matilda series, and even A A Milne.

This was a private club which met regularly to talk shop, and they had a formal constitution and rules, including a guarantee of quality. To qualify, members generally had to write at least two novels of a certain literary standard (although they happily admitted A A Milne, who wrote just one, because – well, Winnie-the-Pooh!), and in which detection had to be the main interest.

Its current president is Martin Edwards, and he is also officially the Club’s archivist. If you’d like to know more about the extraordinary lives of the Club’s first members, I highly recommend his account, The Golden Age of Murder.

If you prefer to discover them through the pages of fiction, there’s a unique way to sample twelve of them in a single book, a novel, The Floating Admiral, a remarkable collaboration.  Each of the twelve authors wrote a chapter, without conferring with the others on the plot or the eventual outcome, adding more red herrings and twists as they went along, until Anthony Berkeley had the unenviable task of pulling them all together in the final chapter, which he entitled, “Clearing Up the Mess”. A fascinating appendix presents how each of the contributors would have solved the mystery, and their solutions and interpretations of the previous chapters to theirs are completely different.

The Detection Club is still going strong, although its reach has broadened. As Simon Brett, its president from 2000-2015, says, “Crime fiction is a much broader church now that it was in the 1920s and 1930s”. Which leads us neatly into our discussion of the thriller, with Valerie Keogh and A A Abbott…

photo of authors at the HULF Talk
Left to right: the authors who spoke at the HULF Talk in April 2022 – back row Lucienne Boyce and Debbie Young, front row Valerie Keogh and A A Abbott (Photo by Laura Young)

To read Lucienne Boyce’s talk about The Victorian Origins of Crime Writing, you can now do so on her blog here:

It has great illustrations too!

See for more information about future HULF Talks.