Posted in Family, Personal life, Writing

Halloween vs Guy Fawkes Night? – Sherlock Holmes Helps Me Decide

A quick ponder about the merits and demerits of the way we celebrate 31st October and 5th November


Policeman saluting outside Sherlock Holmes Museum
Sherlock Holmes, we salute you – outside the Sherlock Holmes Museum at 221b Baker Street last week

As we were clearing away the debris of Halloween late last evening, blowing out the candles that lit trick-or-treaters to our front door, my thirteen-year-old daughter turned to me and said “So next up is Christmas, then”.

I was taken aback when I realised that 5th November, aka Guy Fawkes Night or Bonfire Night in the UK, was completely off her radar, despite a regular community bonfire party in our village and a family fireworks party at my brother’s house.

My incredulity was compounded when, by chance watching the Sherlock episode in which some children pass Holmes with a guy* in a pushchair calling “Penny for the Guy“, she had to ask what that was.

Badge saying "I am Sherlocked)
Big fans in this house – still trying to convert my daughter to the Jeremy Brett series, though

A Different Era

The last time I felt such a disconnect was when, some years ago, in the PR office in which I worked at the time, I was complaining about something being difficult and said “This is as bad as decimalisation.” Cue a chorus from the pool of young secretaries in whose office I happened to be holding forth: “What’s decimalisation?”

For information, because even fewer people will remember it now, and for the benefit of my non-UK readers, decimalisation** was when British currency changed from the old system of pounds, shillings and pence (20 shillings to a pound, 12 pence to a shilling) to decimal currency (100 pence to a pound).

It makes me feel even older to recall that this was the office in which I first came across that weird new gadget, the computer mouse. I thought it would never catch on.)

A New Beginning

This was a timely wake-up call, because today I’m starting my third annual NaNoWriMo stint to draft 50K words in a month, and this year I’ll be using it to write the first draft of Trick or Murder, the second in my new Sophie Sayers Village Mystery.  This is set in October and November, and in it a new vicar comes to the village of Wendlebury Barrow and tries to ban Halloween and replace it with Guy Fawkes Night – something that most of the village children have never heard of. A vicar inciting parishioners to burn someone in effigy at the stake? As it turns out, all is not what it seems with this curious new addition to my colourful cast of characters.

NaNoWriMo logo
I’m not sure why the viking helmet is up there; it’s not part of my usual writer’s toolkit

But hang on, I hear you cry – if this is your third NaNoWriMo project, how come you haven’t yet published any novels? Watch this space! Early in 2017 I’ll be publishing the first in the Sophie Sayers Village Mystery series, Best Murder in Show, which was my 2015 NaNo project, and my 2014 NaNo has morphed into #6 in the series, Murder Your Darlings.

Yes, you’ve guessed it – it’s a cosy mystery series (or cozy to you, my American friends), and it’ll be packed with what Mari Howard, reviewing my short story collection Marry in Haste, “the Debbie Young brand of sly and wry humour”. More news to follow soon. If you’d like an advance preview, join my free Readers’ Club, as I’ll be sending out a free sample to my mailing list prior to publication. You’ll also receive a free short story to read in the meantime when you sign up.

But now you’ll have to excuse me – I’ve got to dash to write my first daily 1667 words …

Cover of the Ladybird book entitled James I and the Gunpowder Plot
Image: Amazon UK

*For the benefit of those who don’t know what a guy is in this context, it’s an effigy of Guy Fawkes, who plotted to blow up the Houses of Parliament in 1605. Ever since, he has been burned on bonfires, amid celebrations with fireworks, on the anniversary of his gunpowder plot, 5th November. More information is inevitably to be found on Wikipedia here

**More about decimalisation here, but not from Wikipedia. Hurrah. 

*** More about NaNoWriMo here:


Posted in Travel, Writing

What is NaNoWriMo Anyway?

(A post about one of my current writing projects)

NaNoWriMo logo
I’m not sure why we’re meant to need the viking helmet

It’s that time of year when writers everywhere appear to start talking in code, blaming something that sounds like an alien for their suddenly reclusive behaviour and the bags underneath their eyes. The reason: NaNoWriMo, short for National Novel Writing Month.

Now, that doesn’t mean those writers aren’t not beavering away on novels the rest of the year round. But what’s different about November is that NaNoWriMo challenges them to complete a whole novel – yes, a whole novel – within just 30 days, start to finish. Last year, over 310,000 authors took part, all over the world.

The Force Behind the Fun

The organisation behind NaNoWriMo is an international not-for-profit force. It provides a social network on which like-minded authors can share their progress, pick up technical pointers, and download funky widgets to encourage themselves to press on. One of these widgets is the cute word-counter that you’ll find at the bottom of the sidebar on the right (if you’re reading it during November 2014, anyway).

This public opportunity to flaunt your progress (or lack of it) is especially motivating.  But the threat of failure is less likely than you might think. Here’s why:

  • To “win” NaNoWriMo, as they persuasively term completing the challenge, you have only to write a first draft. In fact, you are actively encouraged to write only the first draft, straight off, without revisions. There’ll be plenty of time to revise it at your leisure after November.
  • NaNoWriMo’s definition of a novel is a manuscript of just 50,000 words – which equates to an average output of just 1,666 words a day. That’s far fewer words than in a standard commercial novel, which is typically around the 80,000 mark. Any serious writer – even one more used to writing short-form fiction, as I am – will not find that word count unfeasible. To make it even easier, each author is given a helpful graph on their NaNo profile page, to help measure individual progress against target.

My Progress So Far

Beach scene on Ithaca
The inspiration for my novel: the island of Ithaca

Despite missing the first day’s target because I spent the whole day driving back from Scotland, I am pleased to report that I’ve quickly made up the deficit. Last night, I even got ahead of the game, earning a special badge for hitting 10,000 words. You’re never too old to appreciate a badge, say I.

What’s more, I’m really enjoying the writing, making myself chuckle as I churn out the words, and watching my characters, almost all of whom happen to be writers, evolve and interact as the story progresses.

So far, so good. The hardest part will be after I’ve completed the first draft: editing and fine-tuning the copy and the plot, in hope of ultimately producing a manuscript fit to share with the world. In the age of self-publishing, the temptation for too many will be to post their stories up online, as soon as they’ve hit the magic number – and then be discouraged by the inevitable poor reviews. Some are even posting up their chapters as they go along. But this is meant to be a first draft, folks – it’s not showtime yet!

I’ll keep you posted of my progress – but for now back to my imaginary Greek island, on which my story is set. Now where did I put my sunhat? (Maybe I’ll find a use for that viking helmet yet…)

Images courtesy of National Novel Writing Month

Visit their website to find out more: