Posted in Writing

The Joy of Serendipity

In my column for the January 2020 issue of the Hawkesbury Parish News, which I wrote in the wake of the General Election, I talked about the fun of discovering pleasant surprises as we go about our daily lives.

photo of Alice in Wonderland scarecrown
My Alice in Wonderland scarecrow in our village trail last autumn

There’s a comforting flipside to the old adage that “whoever you vote for, the government always gets in”. That is, whatever government gets in, the nation it represents will still be filled with individual human beings who think for themselves and who are capable of daily acts of kindness.

No politicians can stop us being generous and considerate to those around us.

Kindness costs nothing and cannot be taxed. Small gestures such as a smile and a cheery ‘hello’ in passing (we’re very good at that in this parish), or holding a door open for the person behind you, or helping a stranger carry their shopping to the car, can make a real difference to someone who is sad, lonely, or having a bad day. Such things also lift the spirits of the giver.

Towards the end of 2019, I was impressed by a few imaginative schemes for spreading smiles to passers-by:

  • A young woman who crocheted dozens of flowers and leaves them in public places with a note inviting finders to be keepers (see full news story here)
  • A knitting group in Caerleon which created “hats” for local pillar boxes, each decorated with a fun scene such as a skiing penguins and a full Christmas dinner (full news story here)
  • Members of an Essex Baptist church who hid around their local community a thousand pebbles painted to resemble a swaddled baby Jesus (full news story here)

Who could fail to be cheered by encountering any of these?

Of course, such schemes are not new. In our parish, the Hawkesbury Rocks initiative has been encouraging us to hide painted pebbles for a while, and the annual Scarecrow Trail is a delight. But in the uncertain early days of a new government, these examples of the generosity and wit of the general British public provide a heartening start to the new year.

In 2020, I wish you happiest of years, full of kindness, smiles and pleasant surprises.

Posted in Reader Offers, Writing

Join my Readers’ Club to Enter an Exclusive Prize Draw for Sophie Sayers’ Luxury Handknitted Scarf

In my first post of 2020, I’m pleased to invite you to enter an exclusive prize draw to win an item that features in my new novella!

photo of knitting wool and needles
Sophie chooses “a pleasing combination of forget-me-not, bluebell, cornflower and hyacinth, and stuck the needles through, skewering all four balls of yarn like a fluffy kebab”.

Happy New Year to you! To brighten up what can be a gloomy time of year in the English countryside where I live, I’ve decided to hold a prize draw to mark the launch of my imminent novella. The Natter of Knitters will be the first in my new Tales from Wendlebury Barrow series, featuring Sophie Sayers and friends, plus plenty of new and interesting characters. 

The Natter of Knitters is about a village yarnbombing event that goes wrong. The plan is to wrap a tree on the village green in handknitted scarves to raise awareness of the plight of the homeless, before the scarves are sent to an appropriate charity for distribution.

As always, Sophie finds herself volunteering to take part, despite not knowing how to knit. – but as as Carol blithely tells her, “Everyone can knit once they know how.”

From the basket in Carol’s shop, Sophie chooses wool in four floral shades of blue: forget-me-not, bluebell, cornflower and hyacinth.

Forget-me-nots are a recurring motif in the Sophie Sayers series. In her fourth adventure, Murder by the Book, her bookseller boyfriend Hector, secretly a romantic novelist, presents her on Valentine’s Day with a book called The Girl with Forget-me-Not Eyes – the colour of Sophie’s eyes, of course!

And the prize is…

The scarf Sophie knits in the story, handcrafted in a luxury mix of fine merino, silk and cashmere – see the “before” picture of the raw materials at the top of this post.

cover of The Pride of Peacocks
Download this free ebook when you join my Readers’ Club mailing list

If you’d like a chance to win the finished scarf, all you have to do is join my mailing list.  When you subscribe, you’ll also have the option to download a free ebook of another Sophie Sayers novella, The Pride of Peacocks. Current members of my list will also be included in the draw.

The draw will take place on 14th February 2020. Romantic? Moi?

The Natter of Knitters will be published on or before 14th February. (I’ll confirm the precise date shortly.)


A Valentine’s Day Mystery

cover of Murder by the Book
Sophie’s plans for Valentine’s Day are scuppered by a body down a well

In the meantime, if you fancy a topical read between now and then, the fourth Sophie Sayers Village Mystery, Murder by the Book,, runs from the beginning of January to Valentine’s Day, and is available as an ebook from Amazon and all other major ebook stores, and as a paperback either from Amazon or to order from your local neighbourhood bookshop (just quote ISBN 978-1911223269 and they’ll be able to order it in for you).

 

JOIN MY MAILING LIST HERE FOR A CHANCE TO WIN SOPHIE’S BEAUTIFUL SCARF

Posted in Events, Personal life, Writing

Casting On for Autumn

My column from the October 2019 edition of the Tetbury Advertiser was all about knitting

To read the October issue in full, please click the photo

Winning first prize in the knitting category at a village show has ignited my winter addiction to knitting a little earlier than usual. It generally kicks in as the clocks go back, the evenings become long and dark, and any excuse will do to spend more time in my armchair by the fire.

Knitting gives me the feeling of doing something constructive while just sitting down and having a rest. The rhythmic, repetitive movements of the needles and yarn quickly send me into a pleasant meditative state, especially now I’ve swapped old-fashioned steel and plastic needles and artificial yarns for smooth bamboo and natural fibres warm and soft against my hands.

Every stitch feels like a caress.

Childhood Pattern

I learned to knit at the age of five, and under my mother’s coaching quickly learned to knit and read simultaneously. Before long, I rose to the dizzy heights of having my own named box in the backroom of Rema’s, our local wool shop. Here were stored the requisite number of balls for your current project, and you’d buy them one at a time as it progressed – effectively buying a sweater on the instalment plan.

In those days, everyone knitted because home-made jumpers were significantly cheaper than shop-bought ones. The downside was the slower speed of delivery. When I was ten, I grew faster than the jaunty orange, green and brown striped sweater on my needles. On completion, I had to keep pulling on the sleeves to make them reach my wrists.

Later, I knitted countless sweaters for boyfriends. At university I knitted the same Fair Isle pullover in different colourways for two different boys in quick succession. (I must have been keen.)

My prize-winning tea cosy, knitted for this year’s village show

Downsizing for Charity

These days I prefer to make small items for charities and have found enough outlets to keep my needles busy through the winter. The most innovative is a Canadian project to provide small knitted dolls instead of styrofoam chips in humanitarian medical aid boxes. Twiddlemuffs are another great idea: knitted hand muffs adorned with buttons, beads and other decorations to comfort people with dementia.

But for now I’m keeping it simple, making blanket squares to be taken to India at half term by pupils of Westonbirt School. (Frankenstein blankets, as my friend Charlotte calls them, for obvious reasons!) My teenage daughter is doing the same for Syrian refugees. It’s humbling to be able to help others while, with our pretty yarns and silky-smooth needles, we’re just indulging ourselves in a soothing hobby.

But my prize-winning knitted tea cosy, with its thirty-plus individually knitted flowers and leaves, all sewn on by hand, isn’t going anywhere. Well, they do say charity begins at home.


Coming Soon

This episode has inspired me to write a new Sophie Sayers novella centred around knitting – look out next year for my first collection of novellas featuring Sophie and friends, working title Tales from Wendlebury Barrow. In the meantime, if you’d like to read the first Sophie Sayers novella, The Pride of Peacocks, you can do so for free by joining my Readers’ Club mailing list via the form below.

Join My Mailing List & Receive a Free Ebook

To be among the first to know about my new booksspecial offerscoming events and free downloads, just type your email address into the box above and click the grey button. You’ll also receive a free download of a short novella, The Pride of Peacocks, a lighthearted quick read in the Sophie Sayers Village Mystery series, available exclusively to my subscribers. I promise I won’t share your email address with anyone else and you may unsubscribe at any time. Thank you!

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.
Posted in Writing

All the President’s Clothes – A Timely New Short Story

Although George Orwell is one of my writing heroes, I generally avoid politics in my own stories. I’m not naturally a political campaigner, I don’t enjoy political debate, and I seldom watch the news on television or read a newspaper. However, this morning a strange thing happened: as I sat down for my allocated morning writing hour, intending to write the next chapter of my work-in-progress novel (Murder in the Manger, #3 in the Sophie Sayers Village Mystery series that will be launched in April), I found a different story taking shape on the page…

 

All the President’s Clothes

As his wife emerged from the dressing room, a shimmering olive green coatdress over her arm, his commanding voice boomed across the silk sheets on their emperor-size bed. “Blue, you have to wear blue today, dear.”

She held the garment up against her body, gazing at just one of the many mirrors that covered the walls and ceiling. “But, darling, my colourist told me that this shade is my best.” Her long, slender fingers fluttered over her well-sculpted cheekbones, already glimmering with highlighter. “And not a week ago you told me you hate blue. Red is the colour of your party.”

“To hell with the party, sweetheart. I’m in charge now. And your damn advisor also told me that as blue’s the opposite of orange, it’s the obvious complementary colour for me. Whatever the hell that means. Still, I never met a compliment I didn’t like.” He hauled himself into a sitting position against sumptuous pillows and pointed his index finger in the air. “And it’s my big day today, honey, not yours. It’s a big, big day. There will be more people looking at me than ever before at an inauguration, and, you know, whatever I wear, they’re gonna love what they see. Bigly.”

He swung his naked legs out of the bed. The thickly carpeted floor embraced his bare feet as he strolled to the centre of the room. He stopped at the precise spot where he’d calculated he could get the most views of himself – reflections of reflections of reflections. He struck what he deemed a presidential pose, brow serious, jutting jaw. This was his intended image when they added him to Mount Rushmore.

Satisfied, he ambled to the gold-plated shower room, emerging damp and fluffy-haired just as his wife was slipping something under the bed. He took a seat at her dressing table and, as he did every morning, allowed her to marshall his hair into service with the aid of the supermodel’s best friend, a giant can of Elnett hairspray. To her surprise, the minute she set the can back down, he immediately made for the door to the hall. “Okay, let’s go, let’s go.”

She stepped back, her hand over her mouth. She’d adopted this gesture to to help her consider what to say before speaking, so as not to upset him. If she did it enough, she figured, maybe he’d start to do it too. “Honey, I know you’re keen to go out there and take office, but I think you may have forgotten something.”

He glanced down at his shower-fresh  body, then raised his index finger. “Don’t trouble your silly head, honey. Listen, leave the thinking to the big guy. Just smile and wave and look beautiful. It’s what you’re there for, just like Jackie O.” His finger met his thumb to make an O. “A beautiful, beautiful girl, great class, great style. And what a fantastic life she had, didn’t she? Thanks to her great, great husband, a fantastic guy.” His hand was on the door handle now.

“But honey -” she gulped – “you aren’t wearing any clothes. You are naked as the day God made you.”

“Yes, and what a great, great job the guy did, huh?” Then as he realised she might actually be criticising him, his face turned a few shades redder. “But listen to me, dear. I have millions of followers out there waiting to see me pass by – no, billions, more than any other president. And they think I am the best dressed president in history. That I have the best clothes in history. And damn it, I have plenty of clothes. Don’t listen to anyone who tells you otherwise. They’re just fake news guys, fake news, that’s all they are. Just watch me now.”

He flung open the bedroom door, strode out onto the landing, and leaned over the banister to address his assembled family and staff duly waiting in the rose-tinted marble lobby below.

“So, people, how is your new commander-in-chief looking today? Are we ready to kick ass?” He flung out his arms in the manner of an ancient Roman emperor acknowledging the crowd’s cheers in the Colosseum, just before he settles down to enjoy a day of gladiatorial bloodshed.

“Just beautiful, sir, just beautiful.”

“And my outfit?”

“It’s the best, sir. A truly great, great outfit.”

He turned smiling, to his wife, who still lingered in the bedroom, despite having been ready to leave for hours. “What did I tell ya? You should know by now just to listen to me.” That pointing finger again.

Not waiting for her reply, he strutted down the vast curving staircase, feeling like the leading man in a Busby Berkeley musical. He reckoned he could have taught that Fred Astaire a thing or two.

Back in their bedroom, his wife sighed and sat down on her side of the bed, cautiously so as not to crease her outfit, to avoid repercussions later. Slowly she reached down to retrieve the secret basket that had been keeping her sane the last few turbulent days. From it she retrieved two chunky steel knitting needles and a ball of thick pink yarn. These cute little hats seemed to be all the rage, so she’d thought she’d better make herself one. After all, hadn’t he told her that the First Lady’s prime duty was to be a fashion icon?

Beginning to work the final row to calm her nerves, she wondered for the first time whether the recent rise in demand for knitting needles might revive the national steel industry. He hadn’t yet worked out how else to do it, so she should remember to share the good news with him later. He was sure to be pleased. She just had time to cast off and sew up the sides before the procession of bulletproof cars would arrive to whisk them on their way.

She didn’t dare try the finished hat on just now, for fear of spoiling her coiffure. She just rolled it up and tucked it in her clutchbag to take along on the ride. After all, her husband might be glad of it later. When realising the error of his ways, he might be desperate for something to keep himself warm.

pink yarn and knitting needles

This story is dedicated to Aaren Purcell and Karen Lotter, who first brought the pussyhat project (www.pussyhatproject.com) to my attention, and to everyone who has made one, worn one, marched in one, or admires the women who did so.  

And hats off to the Pantone Color Institute for their thoughtful classification work, described by Diana Budds here: What Pantone colour is Donald Trump?

© Debbie Young 2017

Posted in Family, Personal life

Put A Hat On That Baby!

Baby Laura in Santa hatEvery winter, I’m tempted to accost the parents of all small children not wearing hats. Christmas shopping, I’m transfixed by the sight of a bare-headed baby in its buggy. What is its mother thinking? Doesn’t she realise how much heat is lost through a baby’s head? And the younger the baby, the larger the head in proportion to the rest of its body. That poor baby will have a terrible headache by the time it gets home, and I bet its mother will be unable to work out why it’s crying.

Baby Laura in swing with smart fur hatI’m tempted to keep a supply of small hats in my coat pocket to slip on bareheaded babies when their mothers aren’t looking. I wonder how often I’d get away with it? It’s a bit like guerilla gardening: my intentions are of the best, but I don’t quite dare do it in public view. So I don’t.  I restrain myself. I simply shake my own (behatted) head and move on.

Moroccan fez hats in restaurantBut wouldn’t you think that new mothers would have got the message by now?  Especially as expectant mothers are told to bring a bonnet to the delivery suite.  These days, baby’s first photo usually incorporates a large hat.  It looks like a tiny relic of the 1940s, when you’d be as likely to leave home without your knickers as go out without your hat.  Minutes after my caesarean, my daughter was sporting a cheery pink and purple number.  I’d knitted it especially for the occasion.

Baby Laura asleep in winter fur hatI wonder, is there a specific age when you  start to feel a moral authority to comment on other people’s parenting skills?  Um, yes, I think that would be middle age.  Ahem. Better get back to my knitting.

But just to show I’m not beyond correction myself, here’s a link to the tale of a middle-aged lady who turned on me in Morrisons this time last year.  Maybe it’s all part of the spirit of Christmas….  The Perils of the Supermarket