Posted in Family, Personal life, Writing

A Lockdown Date with Kittens

photo of two kittens on fleecy blanket
Two sources of comfort in lockdown: kittens & the Hawkesbury Parish News

During lockdown, our community magazine, the Hawkesbury Parish News, has heroically continued to publish, thanks to its dedicated team of volunteers writing, editing, printing and distributing it about the village.

In the absence of news of events, which usually makes up a large part of its content, the editor, Colin Dixon, has solicited plenty of new and interesting editorial to fill the space, including personal lockdown diaries by local residents.

Although many of the services advertised in its pages are suspended during lockdown, these companies are continuing to support the magazine, as they book and pay for a year’s advertising each January. They deserve our support in return when normal life returns.

In these strange times, it is comforting to see the Hawkesbury Parish News drop through our letterbox each month, giving some semblance of normality and regularity to the disrupted pattern of life in the time of Covid-19. A huge thank you to the whole team for your continuing service to our community.

Now here’s the column that I wrote for the June issue. 

 

Photo of cat gazing into fish tank
Bertie enjoys cat television

My top tip for lockdown entertainment is to acquire a pair of kittens.

We did this only by chance, collecting Bingo and Bertie (named after P G Wodehouse characters) at nine weeks old, two days before lockdown.

21st March seemed a particularly auspicious day for us to bring them home. Not only is it the Spring Solstice, but it was also my parents’ 67th wedding anniversary.

Reading the adoption paperwork when we got home, I was astonished to find that they were also born on my birthday, January 18th – the same day that our older cat Dorothy moved in. Dorothy was a stray found by neighbours (the Rounds) in their garage on a school snow day. She was personally delivered by another neighbour, Roland Starling, when I joked on Facebook that she could be my birthday present – that’ll teach me to be flippant! Best birthday present ever, though!

Dorothy, my personal assistant, reporting for duty at my writing desk
Photo of cat with head in mug of tea
A nice cup of tea always goes done well. (Bertie likes to search for teabags and lift them out with his paw.)

As Dorothy did when she first came to live with us, the kittens have provided daily cheer and distraction. The timing of their arrival has meant that we have spent as much time as possible bonding with them, and they settled very quickly.

Much as we love the kittens, my daughter has already declared that she is looking forward to seeing how they turn out when they’re full grown. I know just what she means. When she was born 17 years ago, I worried that I might be sad when she grew up. I soon realised that at each stage of development, I loved her even more.

Of course, kittens are for life, not just for lockdown, but I’m glad to have at least this one positive souvenir of these challenging times.


We are very grateful to the Cats’ Protection League for caring for our kittens until they were old enough to leave their mother. Their loving care gave Bertie and Bingo a wonderful start, and I’m sure that’s one of the reasons that they are such affectionate, good-natured creatures now.


Further reading inspired by cats: “Springtime for Murder”

cover of Springtime for MurderDon’t worry, no cats come to any harm in this book!

In the fifth Sophie Sayers Village Mystery, I wanted to write about cats and so I introduced some new characters – an elderly neighbour, Bunny Carter, who has a house full of cats, and an irritating do-gooder who keeps trying to foist more cats upon her while also trying to persuade her to leave her fortune to the local cat charity (not a bit like the wonderful Cats’ Protection League, I hasten to add!)

Sophie, as a cat person like me, is easily persuaded to adopt a black kitten, whom she names Blossom, a name nominated by my friend Sue, and not Beelzebub, which was suggested by my friend John, whom I suspect is more of a dog lover! Unfortunately Sophie discovers too late that Hector, her boss and her boyfriend, is a dog lover too…

Full of fun about cats and cat-lovers, and featuring the usual banter between the regular cast of characters in this series, this story is underpinned by serious thoughts about family relationships and the importance of solving family feuds before it’s too late. (Bunny, who earned her nickname by producing so many children in her younger days, has fallen out with all of her offspring.)

The book is available as both a paperback and an ebook, and makes a relaxing escapist read at any time of year.

Click here to order the paperback

Click here to order the ebook from your favourite ebook retailer

Posted in Events, Reading, Writing

Invitation to a Free Online Lit Fest & Other Author Events

team photo at Hawkesbury Upton Lit Fest
Team line-up from a previous Hawkesbury Upton Lit Fest, before social distancing had been invented  – I’m at the centre, arms folded, in my element! (Photo by Angela Fitch Photography)

One of the many things I love about my writing life is the social side – attending lit fests and writers’ groups and meeting author friends for coffee and a catch-up. You don’t need me to tell you that, to quote Basil Fawlty, “that particular avenue of pleasure has been closed off”“.

However, despite my initial reaction that online events are no substitute for the real thing – as a very tactile person, I spend quite a lot of my own Hawkesbury Upton Lit Fest (HULF) hugging people! – I’m being won round to the wonders of online litfests and other author events. They have several benefits compared to conventional events:

  • no travel required, so no fare/fuel/parking/travel time necessary
  • they’re generally free to attend (HULF is free, but that’s unusual)
  • they are open to a worldwide audience, so anyone can attend, wherever they are in the world

Your Invitation to Attend Crediton Literary Festival Online (Saturday 6th June)

So in today’s post, I’m extending an invitation to you to join me at the next one: Crediton Literary Festival, hosted by Crediton Library in Devon, on Saturday 6th June. As you can see from the programme below, I’ll be part of a crime and thriller panel at 11.30am, but you’re welcome to attend any or all of the events, wherever you are in the world.

You need to book in advance, as there is an attendance limit of 100 people per session for reasons of bandwidth, but booking is very easy: just send an email to Crediton Library at crediton.library@librariesunlimited.org.uk, stating which event you’d like to attend and how many tickets you require. (NB If you’re sharing your screen with your lockdown housemates, only one ticket is needed.)

Catch Up with my Previous Lockdown Events

Crime & Thriller Panel at MYVLF.com

I’ve also done several other online events since lockdown began, and all are still available to view or listen to.

MYVLF.com (short for My Virtual Literature Festival) is a multiple-award-winning digital organisation staging great litfest sessions all year round via its smart Virtual Theatre interface. (If you’ll look closely, you’ll see two my photo and the cover of my latest novel, Murder Your Darlings!)

The grand virtual setting of MYVLF.com

I was delighted to be part of the Crime & Thriller panel chaired by C L Taylor alongside Mel Sherratt and Trevor Wood. Our discussion is still available to view when you log in to MYVLF and navigate to the Theatre Hall, click on Past Interviews/Events when you get there, and scroll down to our event on Saturday 28th March.

Oakwood Literature Festival Facebook Live Interview

I was honoured to be asked to officially open the Oakwood Literature Festival three years ago, so jumped at the chance to be a guest of their new Facebook Live series of interviews with festival founder Dawn Brookes. Dawn and I both write mystery fiction and have been friends since before the launch of her debut novel, and it’s always good to catch up with her. As Dawn had the foresight to record the Facebook Live session, you can still watch it here:

 

The Writing & Marketing Show Podcast with Wendy H Jones

Today my latest guest spot has gone live, for which I was interviewed by Wendy H Jones, President Chair of the Scottish Association of Writers and author of fiction for all ages. Wendy lives in Dundee, where her books are set, but has also been to my home village of Hawkesbury Upton when she came to speak at HULF last year.

Wendy had asked me to speak primarily about self-publishing, in my capacity as the UK Ambassador for the Alliance of Independent Authors (affiliate link), so much of the talk is a speedy lesson in how to become an indie author, but we spend the last ten minutes talking about my novels, of which Wendy is a big fan!

Click here to listen to this episode of Wendy’s podcast on the platform of your choice.

You can download Wendy’s podcast on whichever platform you prefer.

I do hope you’ll be able to join me on Saturday 6th June for Crediton Literature Festival – it would be great to see this public library in Devon virtually full! 


Escape to a Writing Retreat through My Latest Novel

cover of Murder Your Darlings
Fly away with Sophie to an idyllic Greek island!

Meanwhile the jury is still out on whether I’ll be able to attend the two writers’ retreats that I’d booked into this autumn – one in North Wales as a guest speaker, and the other simply as a writer in Surrey. Mind you, most of the time these days, I do feel as if I’m on retreat from the world, so they could feel like a busman’s holiday!

In the meantime, if you fancy a taste of a writers’ retreat, you can do so not online, but via the pages of my latest novel, Murder Your Darlings, set on a remote Greek island. It’s full of fun and humour about writers, writing and reading, and I hope it’ll provide you with a welcome escape and a change of scene from wherever you are locked down right now.

Available in paperback from Amazon and in ebook on all the usual ebook sites.

Click here to order your ebook.

Click here to order the paperback.

Posted in Events, Family, Personal life, Writing

Body Clock Versus Alarm Clock: A Lockdown Dilemma

photo of two sleeping kittens curled up
Chez Young we are sleeping like kittens during lockdown – including our new kittens, Bertie and Bingo

I wrote this column towards the end of April for the May 2020 issue of the Hawkesbury Parish News

Now that all but essential keyworkers are at home all day and most of us are no longer slave to the alarm clock, are you finding your body clock is changing?

In our house, we’ve moved into a different time zone, four hours behind British Summer Time. We’re in synch with Rio de Janeiro.

We’re also sleeping more, typically nine to ten hours a night instead of the usual seven. It feels almost like hibernation, but that’s all wrong for spring.

Anyone for estivation? – a handy word meaning the summer equivalent of hibernation, mostly done to survive periods of drought.

As I’m used to working from home, I’d assumed lockdown wouldn’t affect my writing schedule. When getting up at 6.30am to see my daughter off to school, I used to start writing between 8am and 9am, before any other business of the day might distract me. Now I don’t start writing until mid-afternoon. That’s a much bigger lag than our sleep schedule.

I’ve no idea why this is so, but as with all else in lockdown, I’ve decided to go with the flow and count any day that ends without a crisis as a win.

Our current situation makes clear how artificial “office hours” of 9am-5pm are. How did they ever catch on? Of course, office hours don’t apply to many of those keyworkers whose true value to society is now apparent to us all. I bet many people now enjoying working their own flexible hours from home will be lobbying to retain them post lockdown.

Even so, I will have to break my current habit of stepping outside the front door in my nightie at midday to bring in the newspaper/milk/parcels, as there will once again be passers-by to consider.

Roll on the day when moving the wheelie bin onto the pavement no longer feels like an exciting, slightly illicit outing.


Need Escapist Lockdown Reading?

cover of Murder Your Darlings
Fly away with Sophie to an idyllic Greek island!

While all of my novels class as comfort reads (despite the odd murder!), my latest novel Murder Your Darlings is particularly escapist, as it takes place in the idyllic setting of a tiny, remote Greek island in the month of May. Starting an finishing in the village of Wendlebury Barrow, the action takes Sophie Sayers outside of her comfort zone while she takes stock of her relationship with Hector. Will absence make the heart grow fonder? You’ll have to read it to find out!

Order the ebook for the ereader of your choice here.

While most bookshops are currently closed, order the paperback from Amazon during lockdown – or contact me to provide a copy to you directly.

Addicted to Audio?

image of square version of Best Murder in Show cover, ready for new audiobook
An audiobook bargain at just £2.99!

Audiobooks make a great accompaniment to gardening, decorating, crafts and other activities you may be doing more of during lockdown.

I’ve just discovered that the ebook of my first novel, Best Murder in Show, is currently on special offer at just £2.99 on Audible. (Also available from many other ebook retailers – prices may vary.)

Click here to order your copy on Audible.

Siobhan Waring did such a great job with this story that I’ve just booked her to narrate the audiobook of Secrets at St Bride’s later this year.

 

Posted in Events, Personal life

All Change!

photo of window with teddies on the windowsill and blossom tree outside
My thoughts on lockdown – and the view from my bedroom window this morning

My column for the April 2020 issue of our community magazine, Hawkesbury Parish News, was written about a week after lockdown started and so included  my initial impressions of the positive changes it might bring to our lives.

As ever, I tried to keep my column lighthearted and upbeat. Now in the fourth week of lockdown, all that I wrote still rings true for me – although I’m not sending anything out in the post, as our precautionary self-isolation due to various health vulnerabilities in our household are precluding the short walk up to the post box at the centre of the village.

Our heroic village post office remains open, however, thanks to Dick, our selfless postmaster, as is the Hawkesbury Stores, our community village shop, aided by dozens of volunteers.

The other difference is that I gave my stash of fancy soaps and hand lotions to an appeal for toiletries for nurses in our local hospital – but the jewel-like blue of my cheap-and-cheerful Pears soap lifts my spirits every time I use it. 

Whatever is changing for you during lockdown, I send you my very best wishes.


The current restrictions, courtesy of Covid-19, are radically changing our lives. Much of these changes may linger post-virus, but, ever the optimist, I can see some good may come of it.

We will have learned to cherish luxury soap. Fancy bars that once ranked as unwanted Christmas gifts are coming into their own as we wash our hands many times a day. So much nicer than the usual squirt of washing-up liquid before I cook tea.

What’s not to love about the translucent glow of Pears’ soap?

We will have nothing but praise for delivery men, from old faithfuls like the milkman and the postman to the anonymous man in a white van. Forget the odd package or pinta left at the wrong house in the past. All will be forgiven. We’ll be happy to see a delivery man at all.

Our houses will be immaculate. With so much time at home, we’re sorting dusty shoeboxes of old photos and alphabetising our CD collections. We’re rearranging our books by author, by size, by topic or by colour – or all four, in turn. When charity shops reopen post-virus, they’ll be swamped with our discarded clutter.

interior shot of tidy walk-in larder
My larder has never been so tidy.

We’ll all have turned into vegetable gardeners. Our natural instinct to Dig for Victory is kicking in. This summer, we’ll no longer complain about a surplus of marrows. We won’t want to waste a speck of food after seeing so many empty supermarket shelves. The Hawkesbury Show 2020 will receive a record number of entries. We might even start our craft entries early, rather than finishing in a frenzy the night before Show Day.

Photo of crab apple tree in full blossom
The promise of apples to come – well, crab apples, anyway, from the most spectacular blossom tree in my back garden. (Plum and apple trees are behind it.)

The old-fashioned habit of sending letters and postcards will enjoy a lasting revival, despite the cost of postage. While the internet helps us connect with our loved ones, it’s much more special to receive a tangible show of affection from afar – well worth the price of a stamp. Bonus point: while we’re writing traditional letters and cards, we’re not frightening ourselves with misinformation online.

Photo of antique post office sign
Funnily enough, my house was once the village post office. (I found this sign in my back garden when I moved in and have since given it pride of place on my kitchen wall.)

With regard to correspondence, the soulless modern sign-offs “Kind regards” and “Best wishes”, or “Best” or even “BW” in abbreviation, will disappear. The evidence in my inbox this week suggests that in future emails and letters will end “Take care and stay well” – a sentiment sent from the sender’s heart.

And that is how I’d like to end this month’s column. Confined to my house as a vulnerable person for health reasons, I’m frustrated not to be out helping fellow villagers, as so many kind parishioners are doing now. I pledge to make up for it once I’m allowed out. You have been warned!

So for now, take care and stay well. This too will pass.

 

 


Special Offers on Escapist Reads to Lift Your Spirits

cover of Best Murder in Show
A fun story set in high summer in a classic English village
cover of Secrets at St Bride's
Mystery and mayhem in an eccentric English boarding school for girls

If you fancy a bit of escapist reading from life under lockdown, you might like to take advantage of two special offers currently running on the ebook editions of the first books in my two series of novels throughout the month of April.

 

The first in my Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries, Best Murder in Show, is currently free to download on all ebook platforms worldwide.
Click here to nab your free copy.

My first St Bride’s School story, Secrets at St Bride’s, is currently reduced to 99p in most stores, including Amazon UK, Kobo, Apple Books and Barnes and Noble. (With apologies to Amazon readers outside of the UK – this promotion is being run by Amazon and is only on my home turf!)
Click here to buy your bargain copy.

Posted in Family, Personal life, Writing

Keep Calm and Tidy Up

Cover of the April 2020 issues of the Tetbury Advertiser
Click the image to read this month’s issue in full online for free

My column for the April 2020 issue of the Tetbury Advertiser, written just as Covid-19 lockdown was beginning here in the UK. outlines my usual response to a crisis: tidying up.

In times of crisis, tidy up.

For years this mantra has helped me dispel anxiety. Sometimes I don’t even realise I’ve deployed it until my husband complains that I’ve rearranged the furniture yet again, expressing his fervent hope that this time I will feel I’ve finally got it right.

We will always have worries in our lives, due to personal, national and global issues. How dull life would be without cares. But any adverse situation in the wider world is easier to handle when your home turf is under control.

photo of packed bookshelves
Very proud of my newly tidy bookshelves – featuring my Alice in Wonderland collection and books about knitting and sewing. With apologies to Marie Kondo…

Not that I’m a disciple of Japanese decluttering guru Marie Kondo. No matter how sweetly charming she is in her books, on her tv show and in the media, I cannot buy into a philosophy that advocates each household should have no more than a dozen books.

Our smallest room alone would fill that quota, and I wouldn’t want to live in there. But having Marie-Kondo’d my usually packed diary to the point of blankness (with apologies for the postponement of my scheduled local talks and the Hawkesbury Upton Lit Fest), I’m planning to fill my windfall of  leisure time by rationalising my possessions.

Calm in a Crisis

By the time the Covid-19 all-clear sounds, my bookshelves, wardrobe, craft supplies, board-games cupboard and larder should all be in perfect order. I’ll have bagged up all surplus items ready to take to charity shops.

Once the weather warms up, my garden will be the most weed-free it is ever likely to be. The year I moved in to my cottage, an elderly neighbour whose own plot was immaculate leaned over our shared wall and surveyed my fine crop of dandelion clocks to offer a friendly, folksy warning:

“One year’s weeds, seven years’ seeds.”

photo of garden with ladders, tools etc
A work-in-progress: the taming of the garden

Given that my garden has never been weed-free since, I daren’t do the sums to work out how many weed seeds are stored up out there, but this spring will surely be my best chance of reclaiming the soil for things I do intend to grow.

Come to think of it, there’s never been a better time to strive for self-sufficiency. If only I had a packet of toilet roll seeds…

 

Shelves Aplenty

interior shot of tidy walk-in larder
The installation of an additional shelf by my DIY-mad husband inspired me to rationalise our walk-in larder

So, while at the time of writing, the media may be full of horror stories of supermarket shelves stripped bare, I predict that later this year, charity shops will have the opposite problem: such bulging stocks that shoppers can barely fit through the door to buy them.

In the meantime, should I tire of my husband’s complaints about the disruption within our four walls, I may find myself fantasising about despatching him to a charity shop with a label round his neck, Paddington-style:

“Please look after this Scotsman (one previous careful owner)”.

But there again he is very handy at putting up shelves. He’s busy installing a new one in the larder as I type. Perhaps that’s what’s missing in Marie Kondo’s life: she just needs a DIY-mad partner to accommodate all her stuff.

To read the Tetbury Advertiser in full online for free, click here.


cover of Young by Name
Earlier columns from the Tetbury Advertiser, available in paperback and ebook

If you enjoy reading my monthly columns in the Tetbury Advertiser, you might like to know that the first six years’ columns are compiled into a book that shares its title with my column in the magazine: Young By Name. Available in ebook and in paperback, it’s a lighthearted collection of short pieces that makes calming bedtime reading. Also a good buy for your smallest room! 

Click here to order as an ebook

Click here to order the paperback from Amazon