Posted in Reading

Reading Tag #1: In Which Robinson Crusoe is “It”

As a long-standing Desert Island Discs fan, I can’t help speculating Crusoe’s choice of music

If you’ve ever looked something up on Wikipedia, I bet you’ve found yourself clicking on a link in one article that takes you to another. Then in the second article, you find another that leads you to a third… and before you know it, an hour’s flown by.

It’s especially easy to play reading tag online like this, where hotlinks provide easy stepping stones. Playing the same game with physical books requires more planning and patience, but I still find it hard to resist.

The most recent bout for me took Daniel Defoe‘s novel Robinson Crusoe as its starting point. To mark its three hundredth birthday, we chose it earlier this year as our Book of the Month at the BBC Radio Gloucestershire Book Club, hosted by Dominic Cotter as part of his lunchtime show, with Caroline Sanderson and me as his regular panel.

This wonderful 1964 children’s television series is now available to buy as a DVD

I’d read Robinon Crusoe at university and really enjoyed it, as well as Defoe’s Moll Flanders, but that was long enough ago for me to have forgotten most of the content. To be honest, my most vivid memories of the story stemmed from the old French television series, dubbed into English, which made a strong impression on everyone of my vintage who saw it, with its stirring theme music (do click the link to listen!) and compelling narrative, mostly true to the original novel.

Robinson Crusoe…

For a three-hundred-year-old novel, it was surprisingly accessible. Written in the voice of Crusoe, the novel fooled many of its early readers into thinking it was a memoir. As well as the familiar story of his shipwreck and solitary status on the island for most of his stay, there is wrapped around it a substantial tale of how he came to go to sea in the first place, including an earlier adventure along the coast of Africa, and the saga of his journey home. Rereading it now, I found it compelling and intriguing, although as a twenty-first century reader, his condescending attitude to non-Europeans jars.

… and Other Castaways

Hearing the Book Club broadcast, my author friend Edward James recommeded a new non-fiction book to complement it: Crusoe Castaways and Shipwrecks in the Perilous Age of Sail by Mike Rendell. On request, the publisher, Pen and Sword, kindly sent me a review copy.

Tales of real-life castaways and shipwrecks

The book was a pleasure to hold as I read it – it felt like a luxury item. Here’s how I reviewed it on Amazon UK:

This is a beautifully presented book, the cover immediately getting you into the frame of mind for the era that it describes. I had it recommended to me after reading Defoe’s “Robinson Crusoe”, which is, as the title suggests, the jumping off point for this guide to the real Crusoe (and Defoe), other castaways of the era, and victims of shipwrecks, some famous, some infamous, some little known but worth knowing about.

It’s a very readable guide for the casual reader, as well as for serious historians, with a high level of detail about the various journeys. The author’s style is personal and personable, authoritative without ever being stuffy.

Having read it, I realise that Crusoe was not untypical of this dangerous age, and reading about the hazards of the journeys even when plain sailing (the nutrition, the piracy, the mutinies) made me wonder that anyone arrived at their destination intact at all.

This would be a good gift for anyone interested in Robinson Crusoe and Defoe in particular, or in historical sea voyages in general. My only criticism is that the captions on the very attractive colour plates, which added atmosphere to the narrative, were absurdly short. There is a list of image acceditation at the back, but I thought it would have made more sense to add this detail to each picture, rather than have the reader turning back and forth between the plates and the text. Otherwise, an engrossing read and aesthetically enjoyable too.

… including a Castaway Cat

At around the same time, by chance I cam across another Crusoe-inspired book, (and goodness knows, he’s inspired plenty of spin-offs over the years, from The Swiss Family Robinson to Lost in Space). Visiting the fabulous Old Station Pottery and Bookshop in Wells-next-the-Sea, Norfolk, I spotted The Nine Lives of Island Mackenzie by Ursula Moray Williams, its cover featuring an Edward Ardizzone illustration referencing Robinson Crusoe.

A heartwarming castaway tale for all ages

Ardizzone’s evocative line drawings are scattered throughout Moray Williams’ gentle and witty text, intended as a chapter book for younger readers, but a delight to Crusoe fans of any age, especially if they also love cats! Not wishing to spoil the plot of this delightful read, suffice to say there are plenty of parallels to Defoe’s story, as well as a satisfying ending.

Over to You

So now I’m all Crusoed out – but feel free to share via the comments box news of your own reading tag adventures.

I wonder how many degrees of separation there are between books? I’d love to know!

Join My Mailing List & Receive a Free Ebook

To be among the first to know about my new booksspecial offerscoming events and free downloads, just type your email address into the box above and click the grey button. You’ll also receive a free download of a short novella, The Pride of Peacocks, a lighthearted quick read in the Sophie Sayers Village Mystery series, available exclusively to my subscribers. I promise I won’t share your email address with anyone else and you may unsubscribe at any time. Thank you!

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.
Posted in Events, Reading, Writing

On Providing Cover Quotes on Other Authors’ Books

My quote on the cover of Amy Myers’ latest Tom Wasp mystery, out today

While I’m often a little sceptical about some of the quotes on book covers by famous authors, critics and other celebrities, particularly where the same names appear over and over again, I’m always pleased to be asked to read other writers’ books prior to publication, especially if they or their publishers are after an endorsement quote from me.

Double Standard?

I hope not, because I do genuinely read the whole of each book myself, and whatever is attributed to me on their cover has been composed by me rather than any PR. ( I spent a large part of my former career working in PR, so am familiar with the territory!)

image of three book covers
A trio of Wasps

Usually any such requests come directly from authors, and usually they are friends of mine from the independent sector, publishing their own books. But recently publishing house Endeavour Quill approached me to read and review the latest book from an author new to me, Amy Myers. Amy has written many books, including a series of historical detective stories set in Victorian London – the Tom Wasp Mysteries, in which the eponymous detective is a chimney sweep.

Swept Off My Feet by a Chimney Sweep

cover image of Tom Wasp and the Seven Deadly Sins
Book 3 in Amy Myers’ series

Despite my to-read list being huge, I have had a soft spot for London chimney sweeps ever since I fell in love with Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins at the age of 7. I am also addicted to historical mysteries, such as Lucienne Boyce’s Dan Foster and Susan Grossey‘s Sam Plank series). And I’m a Londoner by birth, though have lived in the Cotswolds for nearly 30 years now. So I couldn’t resist this offer, and rapidly tore through Tom Wasp and the Seven Deadly Sins. I particularly enjoyed the relationship between Tom and his young sidekick, whom he’d rescued from climbing chimneys; the colourful scene-setting in the city reminiscent of the movie sets of Oliver! (yes, I have read the Dickens novel too, and seen the stage show, but Myers’ books was very filmic); and the plot based around the London bookselling scene (a topic also addressed beautifully, albeit at a slightly earlier era, in Lucienne Boyce’s novel To The Fair Land).

Behind the Scenes with “Little Darlings”

cover of Little Darlings by Melanie Golding
Get a sneak preview at Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival

Whether or not I’m asked to provide a cover endorsement, it’s still gratifying to be offered advance review copies (ARCS, as they’re known in the trade), as it allows you a sneak preview of a book before it hits the shops. Thus last night I stayed up late to finish the most recent ARC I’ve been sent, the wonderful Little Darlings, debut novel of Melanie Golding, due for publication in May by HQ (a Harper Collins imprint).

It’s an eerie thriller about the mother of twins who becomes convinced her babies are changelings. I’d describe it as the love child of Rosemary’s Baby and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and I’m sure it’s going to be as big a hit as both of those. (The film rights have been sold already, even though the book’s not out till May.)

I first came across Melanie Golding when one of her short stories was picked at Stroud Short Stories, a regional competition of which I’m co-judge. When she read it to the audience, I knew I was hearing an exceptionally gifted and accomplished writer, and I’m thrilled that she has taken her writing to novel length. Her contract for this book was one of the biggest and most shouted-about last year, and you’re all going to be hearing great things about the book once it hits the shops.

HULF Save the date graphicSneak Preview of Little Darlings at the Hawkesbury Upton Lit Fest (Saturday 27th April)

So I’m particularly thrilled that Melanie has agreed to read an extract at the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival, the free local liffest that I run in my village, prior to her book’s publication. So if you’d like to be ahead of the general reading public, and are in striking distance of the Cotswolds, do come along on the day – admission’s free, no advance booking is required. Click here to download the full festival programme and see what else you won’t want to miss during our action-packed day.

And Finally, A 99p Challenge…

cover of Best Murder in Show with Amazon bestseller flag
Just 99c/99c till 7th March

If you’re at a loose end for something to read tonight, and like reading ebooks, you might like to take advantage of the special offer running at present on Best Murder in Show, the first in my Sophie Sayers Village Mystery series – just 99p/99c or the equivalent in your local currency, from Amazon stores around the world. (Also available as a paperback to order from all good bookshops.) But hurry, the offer ends on 7th March, and after that it reverts to full price. Here’s the link which should take you to the local Amazon store wherever you live. Oh, and it would be remiss of me not to mention that this book carries a lovely endorsement quote from the ever-generous Katie Fforde!

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.