Posted in Personal life, Writing

Planning for a Better Year

In my first column of 2021 for the Hawkesbury Parish News, I wrote about the art of planning ahead – or, more accurately, my life as a Last-minute Martha.

As the editor of the Parish News will no doubt agree, I am something of a last-minuter. Ever since I started work as a journalist back in the 80s, nothing makes me as productive as a deadline. Above my desk hangs a framed Posy Simmonds cartoon strip I cut out of The Guardian back then, featuring a hapless hack racing to meet a copy deadline and doing everything but writing. She meets friends at a wine bar (well, this was the 80s), takes clothes to the dry cleaners, and washes her hair, while accruing sympathy from her friends about the pressure of her wretched deadline. She submits her piece to her long-suffering editor at absolutely the last minute, having pulled an all-nighter, garnering further sympathy from her gullible husband.

cartoon of journalist complaining about her deadline - then going for a drink with her friend
(c) Posy Simmonds

Remembering the Filofax

Inspired by that cartoon for over thirty years (so much so that I named my first cat Posy – Ms Simmonds was very pleased when I told her, after I’d heard her speak at the Cheltenham Literature Festival), I’m always pleased to discover a new method of planning my workload more effectively. I’ve tried everything from the Filofax (another craze from the 80s, when we had to file copy by telex and fax to our head office) to an electronic diary. None of these methods have lasted long. Although I’m comfortable with computers, at heart I am a low-technology girl.

More recently, I tried this tip: let your daily to-do list be no longer than would fit on a Post-it Note. My solution: buy bigger Post-it Notes.

photo of book of post-it notes in various sizes

Buying into the Bullet Journal

Then I discovered the Bullet Journal, invented by Ryder Carroll. (Watch his free four-minute tutorial here.) refuse to use the affectionate abbreviation of BuJo that many users prefer, because it reminds me of our Prime Minister’s nickname, which distracts me from any thoughts of efficient planning.

The Bullet Journal starts life as a blank notebook, preferably dotted so you can draw grids for various lists. It includes an index at the front to keep track of the lists you create, such as books to read, creative ideas, and long-term goals, as well as daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly to-do lists. A key provides an appropriate symbol so you can see at a glance how your day is shaping up: a bullet point (no surprises there) for a task, a circle for an event, and so on. You number the top three priorities and put a cross through items as they are completed, so it’s easy to see progress.

image of spread in my bullet journal

So far so good, until I discover one more recommended symbol, a forward arrow named “task migration”, indicating an item to be moved to the next day. In my head, I’ve already labelled it the mañana option – Spanish for “an indefinite time in the future”. So much for deadlines!

But with a year like 2020 behind us, planning no longer seems relevant. In 2021, let’s just seize the day, take our pleasures where we can find them, and do the best we can. If what I do happens to feature on my daily to-do list – like writing this column – I’m counting that as a win.

Wishing you a very happy and healthy New Year, however you plan to spend yours.


IN OTHER NEWS

cover of Still Charmed
Coming soon!

New Non-fiction Book Out Soon

This week marks my thirtieth anniversary of moving to Hawkesbury Upton. To celebrate, I’m working on Still Charmed, the second volume of my collected columns from the Hawkesbury Parish News, which I hope to publish as an ebook and paperback later this month. I’ll announce it here when it’s ready to order, but in the meantime, here’s the cover, featuring a watercolour by my talented father. (The first collection, All Part of the Charm, featured another section of the same painting.)

New Novel Bubbling Under

I’m also working on the seventh Sophie Sayers novel, Murder Lost and Found, which I’m hoping to publish in the spring.

99p Offer on Murder by the Book

I’ve currently got a special seasonal offer running on the fourth Sophie Sayers novel, Murder by the Book, with the ebook just 99p/99c or local currency equivalent until the end of the month. (Also available in paperback at the usual RRP.) This story takes place from the start of January and finishes on Valentine’s Day, when Sophie and her friend Ella plan to hold an event to help stop the village pub, The Bluebird, from going bust – an especially topical theme right now when so many pubs are struggling to survive the pandemic. Revealing fun surprises about Hector’s past, and with the addition of two lively new characters who are siblings to regulars in the series (no plot spoilers here!), Murder by the Book is the perfect pick-me-up for these dreary, dark days and long nights. Click here to order the ebook from the ebook store of your choice and click here to order the paperback.

image of murder by the book on a sofa with blankets
Cuddle up with a book this winter

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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 Personal life, Travel, Writing

The Perfect Date?

My column for the April 2018 edition of the award-winning Tetbury Advertiser

image of wishing well in a forest
Well, well (image by mensatic via http://www.morguefile.com

Feeling depleted by the snowy weather, I decided to follow the advice of my friend Orna Ross, a teacher of creative thinking, to “fill the creative well”.

It felt like timely advice for me because my latest novel, Murder by the Book, begins with a murderer shoving the victim to his death down a disused village well.

I know Orna doesn’t mean that kind of well. Instead she is referring to the mental reserves that need regular boosting if you are to sail through life, contented and creative, rather than stumbling like an automaton on auto-pilot.

To replenish those reserves, she recommends a weekly “create-date” – an outing to be spent entirely on your own doing something fun. It doesn’t need to be an overtly creative activity, just something you expect to enjoy.

My Create-Date in Clevedon

So last week, on the slim pretext of needing to research a stretch of the M5 mentioned in my novel (the rest of the book is more exciting than that makes it sound), I made a solitary trek to the coast to visit Clevedon Pier.

selfie with Pier stretching out behind Debbie
On Clevedon Pier

The only Grade I listed pier in England, it’s an elegant, minimalist Victorian structure much more to my taste than the over-hyped high-tech one in Weston-super-Mare. It even met with John Betjeman’s approval: he described it as “the most beautiful pier in England”. Might a decent pier have saved Slough from the Poet Laureate’s famous condemnation? Oh, and a seaside location, of course.

At the pier’s admissions office, I asked the young man on the till the entry price. With the sweetest of smiles he told me: “As it’s International Women’s Day, to you it’s £1”. I assumed that was a concession, not a premium.

long shot of pier viewed across beach
Clevedon’s pier is prettier than its beach

Water, Water, Everywhere

photo of ornate Art Nouveau drinking fountain
The Victorian alternative to plastic water bottles

On my gentle, sunny stroll along the pier’s wooden boards, I especially enjoyed reading the tiny brass plaques embedded in its walls, conjuring up back-stories of the citizens they commemorate.

Afterwards, a wander around a charity shop in Hill Road resulted in my acquisition of some beautiful vintage piano music. I was beginning to feel as if I’d travelled back to the nineteenth century, especially when, walking back to my car, I spotted the most spectacular Art Nouveau drinking fountain I’d ever seen. Not quite a well, but I was pleased to see it was full to the brim.

Four days later, my personal well is overflowing, and I’ve been working like a demon ever since my return.

So I think these solitary create-dates may become a habit. And at least I’ll know I’ll always be in good company.


For more information about how to enjoy a create-date, read Orna Ross’s post here

Murder by the Book, which begins with someone plunging down a well to their death, and which is set partly in Clevedon, will be launched at the free Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival on Saturday 21st April, and can be pre-ordered as an ebook already here. The paperback will also be available very shortly .