Posted in Events, Reading, Writing

What I Did at Stroud Book Festival 2021

Stroud Book Festival describes itself as “a celebration of stories, ideas and community for readers of all ages”, and for six years has been bringing a flurry of events over four days to a variety of pleasant venues at this busy and diverse Cotswold market town. 

Although by chance I was away on a writing retreat at the start of it, I caught up with the Festival on Sunday, chairing the Made in Stroud: Historical Novelists panel in the afternoon, and in the evening attending the Stroud Short Stories event of which this time I was co-judge alongside organiser John Holland.

Three Novelists Inspired by Mid-Century History

I was delighted to have been invited to interview three Stroud authors about their latest historical novels in the delightful setting of Lansdown Hall, laid out café-style with delicious cake generously provided by the local Waitrose. These novels are:

  • Beneath a Starless Sky by Tessa Harris
    (German Jewish girl flees to Hollywood and becomes Fred Astaire’s dancing partner before being recruited by the British as a spy)
  • The Girl Behind the Wall by Mandy Robotham
    (identical twins in their twenties are separated by the overnight appearance of the Berlin Wall)
  • The Schoolteacher of St Michel by Sarah Steele
    (schoolteacher smuggles Jewish children across the border between Nazi-occupied Vichy France and free France).

(The authors are pictured in that order from left to right in the photo at the top of this column, and I’m in the hot seat on the far right.)

ad for panel event

My brief was to ask chiefly about research. It was fascinating to hear where they’d found their jumping-off point for their novels, from newspaper articles (one of my favourite sources of story ideas) to chance conversations with residents of those areas.

I was also intrigued as to why they took different approaches to writing about real people – Tessa puts words into the mouths of Hitler, Eva Braun, Edward VIII, Wallis Simpson, and Fred Astaire, while in Mandy and Sarah’s books, key figures of the age are kept at a distance, for example we hear the Berlin crowd’s reaction to Kennedy’s iconic “Ich bin ein Berliner” address, but do not encounter him in person.

To write my books – contemporary village mysteries, set in worlds I know very well – I need to do very little research, and I am always in awe of historical novelists who must (a) carry out enough research to write convincingly about their chosen era and (b) how they manage to tear themselves away to write their books, rather than losing themselves down potential rabbit holes. Covid has introduced a new challenge: to find all you need online when travel restrictions preclude in-person visits to places key to the story. Each of the three authors had different favourite sources: Youtube for Mandy, Pinterest for Sarah and biographies for Tessa.

When so many fiction and non-fiction books have already been written about your era, I asked them, how did you manage to make your topic your own? What differentiates your books from others? Although their books are very different, they each had the same answer: by holding a microscope up to individuals involved.

Their protagonists Lili Sternberg (“the girl who danced with Fred Astaire”), Berliner twins Karin and Jutta, and French schoolteacher Lucie Laval are all strong, exceptional women with important lessons about survival and resilience amidst enforced separation and deprivation that resonate strongly to readers living through the current pandemic, and I highly recommend all three novels.

Stroud Short Stories Go Wild

After that event I just had time for tea and cake in the Green Room before heading up the hill to The Cotswold Playhouse to greet the ten authors whose short stories had been chosen by co-judges John Holland and me to be read at this twice-yearly event. As all the stories are judged “blind”, ie the judges have no idea who wrote which story until they have chosen the final ten from among dozens submitted, it is always a joy to put the face and the name to the story. A full house in this delightful provincial theatre lapped up the ten very different stories, all on the given theme of “Wild”.

With John a slick, original and funny compere, the ten authors performed their stories to a rapt audience, from seasoned participants of previous SSSs, to those who had never before shared their work in public. They were, in the running order of the night:

Pauline Masurel with Fledglings 
Claire Jaggard with The Wild Woman 
Ali Bacon with The Pig and I
Jasmin Izagaren with Jumping Season
Melanie White with City Girl
Nick Adams with Demolition
Georgia Boon with Johnny Maunder Came to the Well
Hannah Glickstein with Wild Serenade
Rebecca Klassen with Clothed in Sacrifice
Robin Booth with Painted Ladies

Even though I had read and re-read each of the stories as part of the judging process, as is always the way, hearing them read aloud by their authors added to the experience, and I heard more nuances and subtleties and rhythm in the writing than before. All ten authors read brilliantly.

Until Next Time!

When John announced that the next Stroud Short Stories event will take place on 8th May 2022, I’m sure everyone present will have made a mental note for their next year’s diary. My only fear is that the stories were of such a high standard that some writers may be deterred from submitting. Please don’t be: Stroud Short Stories is renowned for showcasing brand-new writers as well as old hands, and with no entry fee, you have nothing to lose by giving it a go. Keep an eye on the SSS webiste, and follow its always entertaining Twitter feed @StroudStories so that you don’t miss out.

Huge congratulations to Artistic Director Caroline Sanderson and her tireless team for staging such an inspiring series of events and restoring a feeling of post-lockdown normality to the remarkable town of Stroud. I’m sure everyone who took part is looking forward to next year’s Stroud Book Festival already!

Coming Soon! (27th November)

Meanwhile I’m busy getting ready for my next public event – the first in a new HULF Talk series, a spin-off from my annual Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival, bringing together four local authors talking about travel and adventure, from filming whales for The Blue Planet to hunting for yetis in the Himalayas! Admission is by advance ticket only, to enable us to keep Covid-safe, and you can find out more and order your ticket via Eventbrite here.

image block with logo and event details

Posted in Events, Reading, Self-publishing, Writing

Coming Soon: Two Talks in Three Days (22 & 24 October)

Hello folks, just a quickie to give you advance notice of two events that I’m involved in over the next few days.

1. Indie Author Fringe Conference Talk: “The Best Day Jobs for Authors” (Saturday 22nd October)

logo for 2016 Frankfurt Indie Author FringeOn Saturday 22nd October at 6pm, my talk in the autumn Indie Author Fringe Conference will be broadcast online by the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi), which hosts this fab series of free online conferences that you can join in wherever you are in the world.

ALLi runs three conferences each year, to coincide with the world’s biggest book trade events – the London Book Fair, Book Expo America and the Frankfurt Book Fair.

The Frankfurt Book Fair is currently in full swing, and the IAF Conference will run for 24 hours from Saturday through to Sunday, starting at 10am Frankfurt time. My talk will be at 6pm on Saturday 22nd October on the topic of “The Best Day Jobs for Authors”. and I’m including advice from lots of fellow ALLi authors as well as drawing on my own experience. Click here to find out about the full programme and how to join the Fringe live online as it happens, visit this page.

All the talks will also be available online for evermore afterwards too, so don’t worry, you don’t have to forego sleep for 24 hours to join the fun. If you’d like to enjoy my contributions to the two previous 2016 IAFs, here they are:

2. BBC Radio Gloucestershire: Reading “The Alchemy of Chocolate” live on air

Picture of Debbie reading from Quick Change
Reading “The Alchemy of Chocolate” at Stroud Short Stories, April 2015

I’m delighted to have been invited to give my first ever live reading on BBC radio of one of my short stories, The Alchemy of Chocolate. I’ve been invited to read this particular one as part of a piece promoting Stroud Short Stories,because it was the same story that I read at the April 2015 SSS event and also at SSS’s Cheltenham Festival of Literature event last Monday. (I’ll be posting separately about that once I have photos . Event organiser John Holland will be in the studio with me on Monday 24th October on the lunchtime show at 12noon, and he’ll be reading some of his stories too, which are always compelling and often very funny.) Tune in here.


“The Alchemy of Chocolate” is one of the stories in my flash fiction collection Quick Change, and it’s also available as a free download for anyone joining my Readers’ Club, which means I’ll send you news of new books, events and special offers, plus a free short story with every enewsletter. Just click here to sign up. 

Photo of Debbie Young, Dominic Cotter and Caroline Sanderson
Having fun at the October Book Club at BBC Radio Gloucetershire yesterday

In the meantime, if you’d like to catch the October BBC Radio Gloucestershire Book Club broadcast, featuring Caroline Sanderson, Associate Editor of The Bookseller, and me, talking books with presenter Dominic Cotter, you can do so here – it starts an hour into the show. No prizes for guessing what this month’s read was – as you can see from the photo, we got into the spirit of it, raiding our wardrobes for purple. Caroline even managed to rustle up a raspberry beret! We like to think Prince would have approved.


Posted in Events, Reading, Writing

My Debut at Cheltenham Literature Festival

A newsflash about my appearance tonight at the biggest and longest-standing lit fest in the UK

Poster for tonight's event
Featuring… me!

Over the weekend, a message flashed up on the corner of my computer screen: “YOU’RE IN!” Clicking to read the full email, I learned to my delight that I’ve been selected to read one of my short stories at Cheltenham Literature Festival tonight, in the 9pm event in the Little Big Top, entitled “Stroud Short Stories’ Greatest Hits”.

Debbie Young at microphone reading Quick Change
Reading from one of my short story collections at Stroud Short Stories event, April 2015

Stroud Short Stories organiser John Holland had chosen 7 out of 120 stories that had previously been read at its twice-yearly story evenings. Each SSS event provides a snapshot of the high calibre of local writing. These 120 stories had themselves been sifted from thousands of stories submitted to SSS over the years.

While the story I read at the April 2015 Stroud Short Stories event was not one of the first seven chosen, Katherine Hunter, one of the original line-up, had unfortunately fallen ill, and so I was pulled off the reserve bench to fill the gap. I’m really sad for Katherine to have to miss this opportunity due to illness, and I hope she makes a speedy recovery.

In the meantime, I’ll be dusting off my gold dress, an appropriate outfit for reading “The Alchemy of Chocolate”, which I wore when I read it at the April 2015 event in Stroud.

Cover image for The Alchemy of Chocolate showing chocolate coins falling out of a purse
If you join my Readers’ Club, you’ll receive a free download of this short story as a welcome gift

I won’t spoil the plot for anyone who is planning to be in the audience tonight, but if you’d like to read the story, you can either buy Quick Change, the collection in which it originally appeared, as an ebook or paperback (ISBN 978-0993087967), or get a copy of the story as a welcome gift when you join my free Readers’ Club.

All that means is you give me your email address and I send you very occasional emails about new books, events and special offers. You can unsubscribe any time you like too, though I hope you won’t want to! Please click here if you’d like to join the Readers’ Club.

Tonight’s Programme

To whet the appetite of the audience, here’s the line-up for tonight’s event, in order of appearance:

  1. Debbie Young – The Alchemy of Chocolate
  2. Philip Douch – Trog and Kron Almost Get It Right
  3. Ali Bacon – Silver Harvest
  4. Andrew Stevenson – A Good Old-Fashioned Cooper
  5. Rick Vick – Seeing
  6. Mel Golding – A Small Change
  7. Bill Jones – The Vampires in the Basement

It will be introduced by the ever-entertaining John Holland, an award-winning short story writer himself.

A good friend of ours, David Penny, a historical novelist and technical manager of the Alliance of Independent Authors, will be attending to video the event, so we hope to be able to share that with you in due course.

In the meantime, you can get a further sneak preview of the event if you tune in to BBC Radio Gloucestershire at 12.30pm today when lunchtime show presenter Dominic Cotter will be doing a quick interview with me. John Holland will also be interviewed on the night by the station’s roving reporter in the Green Room. (I think it’ll be Jo Durrant, who is doing a great round-up of the Festival on a daily basis – catch her on Twitter here.)

Like to Enter the Next Stroud Short Stories Competition?

After all the excitement of tonight is over, it’ll be back to planning the next Stroud Short Stories event, which takes place on Sunday 20th November. You have until the end of Saturday 29th October to submit your entry. Please note admission is free, but only authors who have a connection with Gloucestershire or South Gloucestershire are eligible to enter. Stories may be on any subject, to a maximum of 1500 words. For more details, visit the Stroud Short Stories website. Ooh, nearly forgot to mention – this time I’m the guest judge, alongside John. All entries are anonymised before they reach the judges, so no chances of favouritism. 😉

With thanks to my lovely friend Jacky, who will be in the audience, for flagging up that this week is Chocolate Week – what’s not to love about that?!



Posted in Events, Reading, Writing

The Alchemy of Stroud Short Stories

Debbie Young and poster for Stroud Short Stories
Excited to see the poster as we approached the event venue

This weekend, I was privileged to take part in a special evening of live performances by 10 Gloucestershire authors of their short stories, chosen for the latest Stroud Short Stories programme. 

Not only was my story, which also appears in my collection Quick Change, chosen from among 128 entries for inclusion, but also the event was named after its title: The Alchemy of Chocolate.

The event was held in Stroud Valley Arts, a small, intimate venue with slate grey walls and a low ceiling, cosy and inviting. 75 seats were squeezed in to accommodate the audience. Such is the reputation of Stroud Short Stories as an entertaining and enriching event that tickets, a bargain at £5 each, had  sold out weeks in advance.

On the subject of money, I ought to point out that this short story festival makes no money whatever – it’s run simply for the love of the short story and to give a platform to local authors. It’s also designed to give new, as yet unpublished writers the opportunity to share the stage with more established authors. The passion behind this voluntary project shone through in John Holland’s witty commentary and careful nurturing of both authors and audience throughout the night. Its impact was clear from meeting a young girl who had been  brought by her mother to encourage her interest in writing.

Reading My Short Story

New cover for Quick Change
Now available in paperback – my collection of very short stories (aka flash fiction)

I was third up on the two-part programme – a great spot as it meant the audience was already warmed up when I took the stage, and after I’d finished reading, I could relax and enjoy the remaining seven stories. As I sat waiting my turn, I was glad my friend Caroline Sanderson, who features with me on BBC Radio Gloucestershire’s Book Club slot, had come along for moral support and interest.

My reading went very well, despite spotlights shining so brightly that while on he stage I couldn’t see anyone in the audience. They could have all gone home, as far as I could tell. Fortunately, their copious laughter in all the right places in my story assured me that they were still there and hanging on my every word. I had to pause a number of times to allow the laughter to run its course, which made me feel like a stand-up comedian, in the best possible way.

It was gratifying to be approached by a number of people afterwards saying how much they had enjoyed my story and how funny it was. Several said they could relate to the heroine Jennifer, who discovers a secret recipe to turn chocolate into gold. It was lovely to see how the story chimed with them on a personal level.

I was also pleased to have several people approach me about the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival, having recognised me from the website. (I’d leafleted the seats with flyers for the event, which takes place next Thursday.)

Meeting Other Authors

Cover of Stroud Short Stories anthology
The new Stroud Short Stories anthology

It was an especial pleasure to meet so many local authors whom I’d not met before. (I’m 25 minutes’ drive from Stroud, and the 10 of us are dispersed about the county.)

I also very much enjoyed hearing their stories, from moving tales about suicide and unrequited love to wry riffs about avant garde artwork and stem cell technology. All 10 of us had completely different stories to tell, cleverly ordered by organiser and compère John Holland, himself a gifted writer of short fiction, into a digestible and seamless whole. Here’s a shout-out for the authors and their stories:

  • Martin Spice Le Fromager
  • Philip Bowne Cows Can’t Jump
  • Richard Vick Ways of Seeing
  • Katherine Mitchell Daffodils
  • Rod Griffiths The Sweetest Smile
  • Anthony Hentschel The Giant Meets the Christ-child
  • James Sinkins The Casablanca
  • Chloe Turner The Bronze Garden
  • Mary Omnes The Spinsters

If you’d like to read these stories, plus over 70 more, you can catch them in the handsome new Stroud Short Stories anthology, now available to order via Lulu here, edited and published by Nimue Brown. The books are a bargain at £10 (including P&P). That’s just 12p per story – worth every penny. My copy is on my bedside table, ready to dip into for quick late-night reading, though I’m already finding it’s impossible to read just one story at a time without being lured on to read many more.

All in all, it was a memorable and rewarding evening. Although authors who read at any event must “miss a turn” to give others a chance the next time, I’m already looking forward to the autumn event.

Stroud Short Stories takes place every six months. The next event will be held in the autumn with a spooky theme. To be kept informed of event news and for details of how to enter the competitions, follow their website: