Posted in Personal life, Writing

Dwelling in Marble Halls

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.

photo of teddy bears on window seat

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.

David Bowie scarecrow with poppy buttonhole
I kept my David Bowie scarecrow topical for a bit longer by adding a poppy buttonhole for Remembrance Day

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.

Marvellous Marbles

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.

photo of a single marble on my deskUnfortunately, 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

image of paperback edition of The Clutch of EggsMeanwhile 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.

This series of stories is set in the village from my Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries, and which also appears briefly in my St Bride’s School novels.

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.

knitted bird with bookThe 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! 

 

Posted in Events, Reading

Scarecrow Trail Celebrates Roald Dahl’s Matilda’s 30th Birthday

photo of Matilda scarecrow with Little Free Library
A guest appearance by Roald Dahl’s Matilda at the Hawkesbury Upton Scarecrow Trail

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!


cover of "Trick or Murder?"
Available worldwide in paperback and Kindle ebook
  • 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?
Posted in Reading, Writing

Here’s Cheers to a Local Pub’s Reading Initiative

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.

photo of Debbie in rainhat at Glencoe
Refreshed by Scottish mountain air

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.

photo of bookshelves on my garden wall

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.

The Fox graced the cover of the 2015 Hawkesbury Upton Lit Fest anthology
photo of Debbie outside pub
“I’ll have a pint of paperbacks please!”

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

photo of Debbie with Hereward in his Tetbury shop
Debbie Young with Hereward Corbett (photo by Chris Cuppage)

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.

photo of Dinneywicks
Dinneywicks – a country pub with books on the menu

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!

 

Image of first four books in the Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries series
The story so far….
Posted in Personal life, Reading

All Booked Up in Hawkesbury Upton

My column for the April issue of the Hawkesbury Parish News

Here’s a sentence I don’t expect to hear in Hawkesbury Upton this month: “I haven’t got anything to read”.

There can’t be another village in the country offering as many opportunities to pick up good books without leaving the parish.

photo of two Little Free Library boxes on the drystone wall outside my house
The Little Free LIbrary on my front wall is open 24/7 every day of the year for people to borrow books – and they’re welcome to keep them if they like!
photo of Gordon with Liz, volunteer librarian
First customer of Hawkesbury Upton’s new Community Library was my husband Gordon, who was delighted to find they stock audio books as well as print
  • As well as the inevitable book stalls at jumble sales and other fundraisers, the Hawkesbury Stores and Head Start Studio sell new and second-hand books.
  • You can borrow books 24/7 from the Little Free Library boxes on my front wall. (No membership required – just come and help yourselves.)
  • At the village school, the children have access to the beautiful Bookery (school library), and, this being Hawkesbury, they didn’t need to go far to find an author to visit them for World Book Day – no further than Back Street, home to local children’s author Betty Salthouse.
  • Young and old alike can now benefit from our own new Community Library, opening fortnightly in the Village Hall. Huge thanks to South Gloucestershire Libraries for providing the stock and the willing band of volunteers who staff it. And it’s not just a place to borrow books – it’s also a social hub to meet friends over coffee and cake.
  • Finally, the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival will return on the 21st of this month, at which dozens of visiting authors will introduce you to even more good books. (Click on the link to view the full programme to help you plan your day at the Festival.) Admission is free, so you can save your money to buy their books – and, of course, cake.

 

table full of cakes
Cake and books in the new Community Library – a super new facility for socialising as well as finding new reading material

 

photo of folding bookshelves on wheels
Portable shelves make it easy to set up the Community Library every fortnight in the Village Hall

I sometimes think this village runs on cake. Books and cake. I’m not complaining – what better combination to nourish mind and body?

But it’s just as well that only the cake contains calories.


cover of Murder by the Book
Coming soon! The fourth in the Sophie Sayers Village Mystery series.
  • As a local author, I was asked to do the honours of declaring the library officially open. If you’d like to read my speech, which pays tribute to the defunct mobile library service that the Community Library is replacing, you’ll find it here. 
  • I was also very pleased to find one of my novels, Best Murder in Show, on its shelves! Look out for the fourth in the Sophie Sayers Village Mystery series, Murder by the Book, to be launched on 21st April at the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival. For more information about the Sophie Sayers series, visit this page on my website.
Posted in Reading

Books Are My Scarecrow’s Bag

A post that kills three birds with one stone – what a shot! – for Books Are My Bag, the Hawkesbury Scarecrow Trail, and the Little Free Library.

Photo of bluestockinged scarecrow with Books are my Bag bag and Little Free Library
Meet Virginia, Hawkesbury Upton’s very own bluestocking bookworm

Last weekend I pulled off an especially fine piece of multitasking – I managed to promote three different worthy causes in one fell swoop:

  • The first ever Hawkesbury Upton Scarecrow Trail
  • The second Books Are My Bag campaign
  • The year-round Little Free Library programme

As you can see from the photo, my scarecrow, Virginia, is a stylish bookworm. Her Cheltenham Festival of Literature t-shirt complements her blue stockings, and her whole outfit is set off by last year’s must-have accessory for anyone who loves books, the exclusive Books Are My Bag campaign souvenir bag. Keeping her well supplied with reading matter is my new Little Free Library, set up as a British offshoot of the free community library campaign founded in the USA a few years ago.

Books Are My Bag is a national movement in the UK to remind everybody of the value of the independent high street book shop. What the publishing trade likes to call “bricks-and-mortar stores” offer many benefits unavailable from online retailers, (though they can usually order you a book in just as fast as Amazon and the like, without charging you postage or a membership fee), or recent entrants to the book market, such as grocery superstores. High street bookshops have expert staff able to help you find the perfect book for yourself or for others. Over the next few days, participating stores will be sharing their passion for books and reading with special events all over the country. For more information about Books Are My Bag, and to find an event in a local indie bookshop near you, visit their website: www.booksaremybag.com.

Scarecrow with picnic basket
Life’s a picnic, whatever the weather, for Hawkesbury Youth Club’s scarecrow, tucking in outside the Village Hall

The Hawkesbury Upton Scarecrow Trail offers a fun display of 14 scarecrows dotted about the village. You can pick up a free map from the village shop or post office all this week. The trail will be in place until the end of Sunday 12th October. There’s no particular theme or cause, other than a bit of autumnal fun! See if you can spot them all.

The idea of the Little Free Library was set up by an American chap, Todd Bol, in 2009, with a single box of books, in the shape of an old-fashioned schoolhouse, in memory of his late mother, a schoolteacher who loved reading. The idea quickly caught on – after all, what’s not to love about free books? – and now there are estimated to be over 15,000 around the world. Mine’s the first in Hawkesbury Upton! Todd’s mother would be very proud of him.

Close up of my Little Free Library
Something for everyone in here
Debbie by the Library
Well, I always wanted to be a librarian when I was little

My Little Free Library is starting off with a stock of books from our home and donated by others. I’ll be adding lots of new books as space becomes available, including those that I receive free to review from authors and publishers (I do a lot of book reviewing for various magazines and organisations).

Photo of Gordon with the finished Library
Meet the architect and builder, my husband Gordon

Anyone is welcome to help themselves to a free book (or more than one!) If they’d like to treat it as a swap, and put one back, that would be great, but it’s not essential.

My Little Free Library will provide an extra source of books in the village, supplementing the shelves of donated books that are sold for £1 each by the Hawkesbury Shop and the village hair salon, Head Start Studio, in aid of the village school’s PTA. But my Little Free Library offers books at no cost at all, so everyone can afford them, and they’ll be accessible outside the shops’ opening hours. For more information about the Little Free Library scheme, to order your own official sign, or to make a donation to its cause, visit their website: www.littlefreelibrary.org.

Of course, you have to take pot luck with a Little Free Library – you’re unlikely to find a particular book that you’re looking for, but it’s a great no-risk way of being more adventurous with your reading, trying out a genre or author that you wouldn’t normally pick up. Who knows what new interest you might discover?

But if you’re bent on getting a specific book, you don’t have to go far. We’re lucky enough to live within a short drive of three independent bookshops – the Yellow-Lighted Bookshop in Nailsworth and Tetbury, the Cotswold Bookroom in Wotton-under-Edge, and, 20 miles away in Bristol, the fabulous Foyles bookshop in Cabot Circus, where I’ll be launching the new paperback edition of my must-read book for anyone affected by or interested in Type 1 diabetes. Like to get an invitation? Just contact me and I’ll send one right over.

And if that’s not enough – Hawkesbury Upton is also served by a mobile library, sent out once a fortnight from the fab Yate library a few miles away. (I’ve just had a flash fiction story inspired by our mobile library accepted for a new anthology, Change the Ending, to be published shortly – more news of that soon!) We really have no excuse for not getting stuck into good books in these parts.

If you liked this post, you might also enjoy these others on the theme of books and reading:

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