Posted in Personal life, Travel, Writing

In the Footsteps of Robert Holford

Photo of tall shadow of Debie cast over castle by Loch Ness
On the trail of the Loch Ness Monster last month (Castle Urquhart is on the banks of the loch)

Dare I confess that in 27 years of living within walking distance of them, I’ve never been to the Badminton Horse Trials? And in the last few years, as a frequent traveller to Scotland, I’ve spent more time on Loch Ness than at Westonbirt Arboretum.

image of Debbie Young by Lesley Kelly
Speaking at the Ness Book Fest in October 2018

While in Inverness at the start of October to speak at the Ness Book Fest, I squeezed in a quick tourist cruise on the loch. When the tour guide asked at the end how many of our party of about 30 had spotted the legendary monster, an elderly lady put her hand up. One in 30 – that’s pretty good odds.

Home Turf

On my return, determined to make up for lost time, I renewed my Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum membership for not much more than my one-off Loch Ness boat trip had cost me. The new Welcome centre at which I signed up was not the only change I noticed. Last time I came, the treetop walk was just a glint in the Forestry Commission’s corporate eye. Nervous of heights, I was relieved to discover the broad, steady boardwalk, not a bit like the rickety rope bridge I’d imagined from watching travel documentaries about rainforests.

As I renewed my acquaintance with the familiar pathways of the Old Arboretum, I espied a life-sized Gruffalo (yes, of course Gruffaloes are real). I don’t remember seeing him before, but maybe he has been there all along, and it was just my lucky day to spot him. Perhaps he’s Westonbirt’s equivalent to Loch Ness’s monster or the Himalayas’ yeti.

selfie of Debbie with Gruffalo coming up behind her in the woods
Back home, the monster is after me – on the Gruffalo trail at the National Arboretum at Westonbirt, a few miles from my house

Plus Ca Change…

But of course there was still so much that was the same. Just as I surprise myself by knowing all the words to pop songs from my youth, I remembered particular views before they appeared at each twist and turn of the skilfully designed paths. As I walked, I fell to reminiscing about the many times I used to come here in my lunch hour or after work, when I was employed across the road.

Working at Westonbirt School, originally the private house of Arboretum founder Robert Holford, gave me a special affinity for him, as if he were a family friend. 15 years ago, I even wrote a playscript performed as part of the school’s seventy-fifth birthday celebrations. I had fun putting words into the mouth of the great man, gamely played by the school’s then Head of Drama, Henry Moss-Blundell, sporting my knee-high brown leather boots as part of his costume. He reprised the role – and borrowed my boots – many times more to lead heritage tours. I still have the boots, so that’s another way I can walk in Holford’s footsteps.

Only when I was on my way home from renewing my Westonbirt membership, legs tingling after my bracing walk, did I realise that it’s not only the Arboretum that has changed since my earlier visits. In those days, I used to run round the paths. 27 years on, my Holford boots are strictly made for walking.


Cover image of November 2018 issue of the Tetbury Advertiser

This post was originally written for the November issue of the wonderful Tetbury Advertiser, which has just won yet another award, this time for the quality of its editorial content. (Well, who am I to argue with that?!)

It also raised a huge amount of money for local good causes and helps local businesses raise awareness and attract custom. So all in all, a very worthwhile magazine to write for, and I’m proud to be associated with it.

Read the whole magazine online for free by clicking the image, left. If you’re into Twitter, it’s also worth following the magazine at @LionsTetbury – the editor never fails to make me laugh.

You can also read earlier Young By Name columns in paperback format, in the book of the same name, which covers the 2010-2015 issues. Find out more about that book here. 

Posted in Events, Reading, Self-publishing, Writing

Juggling a Trio of Literature Festivals

 Autumn: season of mists and mellow fruitfulness – and literature festivals!

1 LitFest Past: Ness Book Fest

Profile photo of Debbie at microphone with Waterstones banner behind
Speaking at Ness Book Fest on Saturday (with thanks to Lesley Kelly for the photo)

Last weekend I had the pleasure of speaking not once but twice at the delightful Ness Book Fest in Inverness. This event, now in its third year, is a wonderful celebration of local writing talent (I loved the three-minute slot showcasing a local author at the start of each session) and authors like me from further afield (although the fact that Inverness is mentioned in my first novel, and my eighth will be set in Inverness may have earned me honorary local status!)

My gigs in the excellent venue of the mezzanine event area in Waterstones’ Inverness store required me to wear two different hats:

  • firstly, an hour’s talk about how to self-publish books successfully, in my role as ambassador for the Alliance of Independent Authors
  • secondly, talking about my novel writing, with specific reference to my current Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries series, though also touching on future plans for other series, including Staffroom at St Bride’s, for which I’m currently writing the first book

The audience for both talks was highly receptive and engaged, and it was a joy to linger chatting to them afterwards, hearing about their own writing and reading activities, and signing books. One man even gave me a copy of a poem he’d written – what a lovely thing to do!

festival poster on back of toilet door
I’m in the bottom row, third from left

Another surprise came just before my first event, when I nipped to the public toilets next door to Waterstones – and found myself facing a picture of myself on the back of the toilet door! An ingenious bit of lateral thinking for advertising the Ness Book Fest, whose posters were dotted strategically all around the town!

Oh, and yes, I was wearing the same actual hat for both talks, but next day I did snap up a second hat in Harris Tweed, to which I am addicted, and whose warmth I appreciated next day on my constitutional around the National Arboretum at Westonbirt.

photo of Debbie Young in Harris Tweed hat with large sculpture of Gruffalo behind her
Looks like the Gruffalo is after my new Harris Tweed hat

2 LitFest Present: Cheltenham Literature Festival

photo of team
With the BBC Radio Gloucestershire team in the Cheltenham Literature Festival VIP Tent

I then had just a day at home to draw breath and finish reading the BBC Radio Gloucestershire Book Club‘s book of the month, this time the intriguing and unusual (and, millions claim, life-changing) fable The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, before hot-footing it to Cheltenham for an outside broadcast with the station’s lunchtime presenter, Dominic Cotter, in the Festival’s VIP tent. I spent a very pleasant couple of hours there, talking books with the BBC team and with other guests, including my friends Heidi Perry, Vicky Pember and Wilf Merttens from the children’s reading charity, Read for Good. By coincidence, they were there to do an event with one of the charity’s storytellers to a packed audience of younger readers. We managed to squeeze them into the show too!

You can share some of the fun of the Festival by listening to the show here on iPlayer any time during the next 28 days. (The Book Club slot starts about 13 minutes into the show, and Read for Good’s about 20 minutes before the end.) And if you’re a regular Book Club listener, you can get ahead for next month’s show by reading Daljit Nagra’s poetry collection, British Museum, which fellow panellist Caroline Sanderson chose, in between chairing numerous Festival events!

Meanwhile the Cheltenham Literature Festival will be in full swing till the end of Sunday – visit their website to see what else is coming up in their programme.

3 LitFest Yet To Come: Bristol Literature Festival

photo of AA Abbott reading her book in cell
A A Abbott reading from one of the books in her “Trail” series in the historic police cells

And now the dust has settled on those two outings, I’m gearing up for my next event, which is a fun celebration of crime writing organised by thriller writer A A Abbott as part of the Bristol Literature Festival. Following the success of the launch of her last but one novel at the old police cells at Bridewell Street, Bristol, she dreamed up the idea of a multi-author crime book fair in the same atmospheric setting, to take place on Saturday 20th October from 2pm until 4.30pm. At “Crime, Thrillers & Horror in the Cells“, there will be talks and readings by the crime writers present, and also of course the authors will be happy to sign copies of any books you’d like to buy. You can find more details of the event here on the Bristol Lit Fest website. It’s also a great excuse to have a look round this historic site, completely free of charge.

Next on my Festival to-do list will be to get the planning under way for the next Hawkesbury Upton Lit Fest (Saturday 27th April 2019) – more news on that soon!