Why I wrote a short story about a free community library in a telephone kiosk – a guest post and a radio interview
In my column for the March 2021 issue of the Hawkesbury Parish News, I was talking all about books – no surprises there, except for the announcement of a new free book resource in the village which I launched on World Book Day, with Councillor John Turner representing Hawkesbury Parish Council. Drum-roll please for “Books on the Bus“…
Socrates, the ancient Greek philosopher, thought books were conversation killers: monologues that denied readers the chance to engage in discussion. Despite being credited now as one of the founders of Western philosophy, Socrates never wrote a single book. We only know his thoughts through books by Plato and others.
Socrates’ preferred method of exchanging ideas was to hold a conversation while strolling around the walls of Athens. If he were alive today, during lockdown he’d have to resort to Zoom.
In our Zoom-crazy age, in which we expect every public speaker on screen to have a floor-to-ceiling bookshelf behind him, Socrates’ backdrop would be book-free. He’d probably prefer to display a statue of an owl, symbol of Athena, goddess of wisdom, and of his beloved city of Athens, and maybe a Grecian urn or two.
Books by the Yard
But if media pressure persuaded him to join the bookshelf brigade, I know of the perfect solution to fill his bookshelves at one fell swoop: a call to Books by the Yard, a service offered by my favourite second-hand bookshop, The Bookbarn . Based near Wells, The Bookbarn not only sells pre-loved and vintage books individually to callers (though closed to visitors just now due to the pandemic), it also offers a shelf-filling service. Until now, it’s been mainly the preserve of stage set designers and themed pubs and hotels seeking an instant bookish look.
Despite the closure of theatres and hospitality venues during lockdown, their Books by the Yard business has been soaring lately. The reason? Zoom backdrop envy.
Books on the Bus
If you’re hankering after a new read, there’s no need to travel to The Bookbarn – although once we’re allowed out to play again, it’ll be one of the first places I head for. From Thursday 4th March, for World Book Day, there’ll be a new Books on the Bus box in the bus shelter opposite Hawkesbury Stores. I’ll be keeping the box stocked with books for all ages to give bus passengers something to keep them entertained while waiting for their bus and on their journey.
You don’t need a bus ticket to borrow from Books on the Bus. As for the Little Free Library on my front wall, you’re welcome to help yourself in passing. Return or keep the books you borrow, as you wish. Donations of more books in good condition will always be appreciated.
Thanks to Hawkesbury Parish Council for providing the plastic box to kick the scheme off, and to the kind donors around the parish who have given me more than enough books to fill the Books on the Bus box initially.
Even so, I don’t think Socrates need worry. There’s no danger that books will ever put a stop to conversation in Hawkesbury.
IN OTHER NEWS
Writing Workshop (19th April)
If you’re interested in writing, you might like to attend an online event I’m doing on Monday 19th April, I’ll be answering FAQs about writing as part of the Wrexham Carnival of Words. This is just one session of an action-packed festival behind held online because of Covid. You can find out more about the whole programme here: www.wrexhamcarnivalofwords.com)
Collected Columns in Book Form
If you’d like to read the archive of my columns for the Hawkesbury Parish News, you might like to know that they’re also available in book form in two volumes. Here are the buying links for the paperbacks and the ebooks:
My column for the November 2020 issue of the Hawkesbury Parish News (written part way through October), I’m reminiscing about a vivid memory of an unusual building that I admired as a child.
One of the cheerier aspects of our strange times is the trend for displaying something interesting in our front windows and gardens. Rainbows, teddy bears and thank-you messages to essential workers lift our spirits and foster a sense of community.
As this issue goes to press and the clocks go back, many of us are putting out pumpkins and scarecrows for two village trails set to brighten half term week, bringing pleasure to adults and children alike.
Such expressions of public spirit remind me of the window displays I love to see on holiday in historic harbour villages. In cobbled streets running higgledy-piggledy down to the sea, the deep windowsills of old fishermen’s cottages are filled with shells, driftwood, glass fishing floats and other maritime treasures, arranged to face the street for the entertainment of tourists.
My favourite gesture of this kind dates back to my childhood. A few streets from where I was born stood a bungalow whose lower front wall was studded with glass marbles, the currency of the school playground. Not for this householder the boring grey pebbledash that adorned every other house on our interwar estate. To my childish eye, the substitution of marbles for pebbles seemed genius.
Why would anyone bother with dreary pebbles when they could have marbles instead?
It was not as if any children ever pinched the marbles, which were firmly embedded in cement. This bungalow wasn’t Sidcup’s answer to the Parthenon: these weren’t the Elgin Marbles. Besides, we were too much in awe of their beauty to even touch them, and every single marble stayed put.
I used to detour past this house every week on my way home from school to visit Mam, my maternal grandmother, yet I never once saw who lived in the marble house. I hoped he or she knew what joy their random act of fun had brought to local children.
I vowed that when I grew up, I’d decorate my house the same way.
Unfortunately, Cotswold stone and pebbledash are not a good mix. I’ve therefore had to content myself with sharing my love of books instead of my love of marbles, via the Little Free Library on my own front wall. At least the books aren’t cemented into place, and passers-by are actively encouraged to extract a book to take home.
But on my writing desk there sits a marble, and it never fails to reignite my childish sense of wonder at simple pleasures.
IN OTHER NEWS
New Quick Read: The Clutch of Eggs
Meanwhile I’ve just published a new story that I wrote in the summer, The Clutch of Eggs, the second in my Tales from Wendlebury Barrow Quick Reads series.
The short novellas (about 25-35% of the length of one of my novels) feature Sophie Sayers, Hector Munro and friends, and each one regales a series of incidents revolving around a specific theme. There is an element of mystery, as with my novels, and some minor crimes and misdemeanours, but definitely no murders!
As you might guess from the title, The Clutch of Eggs involves wild birds, birdwatchers and oologists – the technical term I learned recently for anyone who studies or collects birds’ eggs. The mysterious appearance of two wild birds’ eggs starts a train of events that ends up putting the village on the map for all the wrong reasons.
Among the new characters joining the regular cast are a handsome oologist and a trio of birdwatching brothers.
Meanwhile an endearing sausage dog called Bunty inadvertently fuels Sophie and Hector’s ongoing argument about which is better: cats or dogs.
Can Sophie save the day and create order out of chaos? Not to mention keeping everyone on the right side of the law – collecting wild birds’ eggs has been illegal for decades.
This story was inspired by a wonderful exhibition that I saw last year at Bristol City Museum, called Natural Selection, staged by father-and-son team Peter Holden (ornithologist) and Andy Holden (artist). It piqued my interest in birds’ eggs and in the psychology of egg collecting, and during the summer I read a lot of fascinating books about birds, eggs and birdwatching.
You don’t need to know or care about birds or their eggs to enjoy this book – just to enjoy tales of village life with engaging characters, quirky events and gentle humour.
The Clutch of Eggs is available as an ebook and as a compact paperback. The cute postcard format (6″ x 4″) that is a great size to slip in your pocket or handback for reading on the move, or to tuck inside a birthday or Christmas card as an easy-to-post present.
It should be available to order from your local bookshop soon, but if you have any problems sourcing it, just send me a message via my contact form here, and I’ll pop one in the post to you.
As always, if you read and enjoy The Clutch of Eggs or any of my books, I would be very grateful if you could spare a moment to leave a brief review on the site at which you bought it. Reviews help attract new readers to my books, and new readers are always welcome!
It’s an annual tradition in the village where I live to have a Scarecrow Trail each September, organised by Louise Roberts. Each year I try to tie it in somehow with the Little Free Library on my front wall, and this year I chose Roald Dahl’s Matilda, possibly the most well-known and best-loved booklover in fiction.
Free Roald Dahl Books to Borrow
Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been raiding local charity shops to find secondhand (pre-loved) copies of Roald Dahl’s children’s books, and I’ve amassed about a dozen – so this week only, the children’s section of my Little Free Library (the one on the right in the picture) will contain exclusively Roald Dahl books for young visitors to borrow. (Donations of more Dahl books will be most welcome.
Happy 30th Birthday, Matilda!
By chance I discovered last weekend that this year is the thirtieth anniversary of Dahl’s Matilda, and this autumn there will be special editions of the book published featuring cover illustrations of what she might be like by the time she’s 30 – doing great things in every one!
How to Visit the Scarecrow Trail
The Hawkesbury Upton Scarecrow Trail runs from today through next Sunday, and there’ll be tea and cakes served in the Methodist Hall from 3pm until 4.30pm both Sundays. Everyone welcome!
- For more information about the wonderful Roald Dahl, here’s his official website: www.roalddahl.com
- To find out about the Little Free Library scheme, visit www.littlefreelibrary.org
- For scarecrows of quite a different kind – home-made guys for Guy Fawkes’ Night – check out my autumn-themed novel, Trick or Murder?
For the last two years, I’ve been a regular monthly contributor to the Authors Electric blog. As I streamline my workload to allow more time for writing novels, here’s my final post before I stood down from the AE collective at the end of August.
After a fortnight’s holiday near Glencoe in a minimalist cottage and abundant fresh mountain air, I returned to my own cluttered cottage ten days ago determined to ditch surplus possessions. Even (whisper it) a few of my large collection of books…
Fate sent me a helping hand in the form of a request from the landlady of Dinneywick’s pub in Kingswood, the next-but-one village from where I live in the Cotswolds. She asked me whether I could donate any secondhand books for the pub’s new free library scheme.
I’ve had a Little Free Library on my front garden wall for a couple of years, and there are more like this popping up all over the country.
A Bookish Pedigree for a Pub
Aggie’s interest in doing something similar came as no surprise. When she and her partner Guiseppe ran The Fox in Hawkesbury Upton, they gained a reputation as an innovative, energetic couple full of ideas for keeping a country pub afloat. One of these ideas was to support the first ever Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival when I founded it four years ago. They generously provided the venue, and for the next two Festivals were a key player in its success. As a tribute to their support, the cover of the first Festival’s anthology sported a drawing of The Fox by Festival author and illustrator Sophie E Tallis.
Earlier this year they moved to the delightfully quaint Dinneywicks pub in Kingswood, near Wotton-under-Edge. Dinneywicks customers will be able to borrow books for free from the Dinney’s Little Library whenever they drop into the pub.
This is a valuable social service to a small rural community without its own public library. Customers are welcome to access it at any time during opening hours. Aggie is hoping that it will encourage people to come in for a coffee and chat during the day, as well as during the busier evening hours.
All of the books are donated, and I was glad to be able to deliver two large bags yesterday to help fill their shelves. Most of the books are in as-new condition.
Sophie Sayers Sneaks In
The eagle-eyed reader familiar with my Sophie Sayers Village Mystery novels may spot a brand new set of them on the second shelf down at the right hand side. I was happy to throw those in for free for three reasons:
- I was delighted to have the opportunity to return the favour that Aggie and Guiseppe did me when they were so supportive of the Hawkesbury Upton Lit Fest.
- I know that Dinneys will be actively luring eager readers to the pub to enjoy their new facility, so this is a useful opportunity for me to reach a new audience.
- When you’re writing a series of novels, free sampling is a handy marketing technique, assuming that if a person receives a free book in the series and enjoys it, it’s quite likely they’ll go on to buy the rest of them.
When Free Books Act As Ambassadors for Authors
It’s a similar situation to finding a book in a charity shop or jumble sale. When a reader picks up a book for £1 or even pence there, the author may not profit from that sale, but he does gain valuable exposure and a connection with a potential new fan. That fan may go on to snap up full-price copies from conventional bookshops after that.
I confess I only made this connection a few years back when I was interviewing Hereward Corbett, the proprietor of The Yellow-Lighted Bookshops in Nailsworth and Tetbury. I asked him whether he minded so many charity shops selling books in those towns, assuming he’d view them as competition undercutting his prices.
Not at all, he told me, because readers would often take a punt on an unknown author, and once hooked came to his shops to order brand new copies of their other books at full price.
I wish Aggie and Guiseppe every success with their new venture, and I hope their example will encourage other pubs to follow suit.
Of course, Dinneywick’s isn’t just about books: it’s a delightful pub, which they’ve just refurbished to a very high standard, with a cosy, attractive interior, pleasant walled garden and terrific food. So if you’re passing that way, do call in to see them – with or without a book to donate!
- For more information about Dinneywicks, visit their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Dinneywicks/
- For more information about the Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries, visit my website’s Sophie section here: https://authordebbieyoung.com/books/fiction/sophie-sayers-village-mysteries/
- For more information about the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival, visit www.hulitfest.com
- To join my free Readers’ Club, receive emails about my books and special offers and to download a free short story, please click here.