Posted in Events, Personal life, Reading, Writing

Festive Fun with BBC Radio Gloucestershire

A report on my appearance on BBC Radio Gloucestershire’s Chris Baxter Show yesterday

BBC Radio Gloucestershire logo“I love this book! It’s festive, fun and a bit silly at times!” said BBC Radio Gloucestershire presenter Chris Baxter yesterday, when I was a guest on his excellent afternoon show. “It gets your imagination going, which stories at Christmas need to do.”

I’d been invited to talk about Stocking Fillers, my Christmas book of short stories, and I was thrilled to hear that Chris had been enjoying reading it on the train on his way to work that morning. We talked about the writing process, when I’d started writing them (high summer! – more about that here), and the challenge of writing short pieces.

Cover of Stocking Fillers

After that, I was invited to read extracts from some of my favourite stories, which of course I was very pleased to do. I can now describe the book as “as featured on BBC Radio”, which is a terrific endorsement.

As ever, it was a joy to take part in a BBC Radio Gloucestershire programme, and I came away, as always, so impressed with what a great job they do bringing the community together and spreading goodwill throughout the county, not only at Christmas but all year round.

Debbie on a stall with her books
At a Christmas fair

And this time, there was also something else to take away: a request from Chris Baxter for some ghost stories for next Christmas. Hmmm, I’ll have to give that one some thought…

In the meantime, if you’d like to listen to interview, for the next month you can catch up with it on BBC iPlayer here:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02dsf6d
(from 1 hour 10 minutes into the programme)

Cotswold Bookroom Christmas shop window display
Stocking Fillers is in the left hand window, in the centre at the front

If you’re in Gloucestershire and would like to pick up a last-minute, er, stocking filler, the book’s currently stocked at four local independent shops:

The Cotswold Bookroom in Wotton-under-Edge

The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop (branches in Tetbury and Nailsworth)

The Hawkesbury Shop (general village store)

And you can download an ebook from online retailers at any time. (Paperback also available for online purchase.)

Merry Christmas reading, folks!

Julia Forster and me outside the Nailsworth branch of the Yellow-Lighted Bookshop, where we'd just delivered new stocks our the books we're holding
Julia Forster and me outside the Nailsworth branch of the Yellow-Lighted Bookshop, where we’d just delivered new stocks our the books we’re holding

 

Posted in Personal life, Writing

When Fiction is Like Fashion

(This post was written for the December 2014 issue of the Hawkesbury Parish News)

Photo of an Ithacan beach with clear blue sky
Thinking of summer in midwinter

With the shortest day fast approaching, I’m already thinking about Spring. That’s because I’m starting to plan a collection of short stories due to be released at Easter.

As in the world of fashion, if you’re planning to write topical fiction, you have to think at least one season ahead. I therefore started writing my festive short story collection, Stocking Fillers, while soaking up the Greek sun back in August. At first, it seemed seem strange to be writing about Christmas while wearing a swimsuit. It got easier a couple of weeks later, when I spent a fortnight in Scotland. Although it was still only August, the weather was more like November. But as my daughter always likes to say, “We don’t go to Scotland for the weather”.

Cover of Stocking Fillers
Now available to order in paperback from all good bookshops and online as an ebook

Available to buy as an ebook or in paperback from the start of December, Stocking Fillers consists of twelve short stories, all humorous, as various characters prepare for the big day. My favourites include a grumpy middle-aged dad penning his first Round Robin Christmas letter, a little boy wise beyond his years offering Santa time management advice, and a busy mum wondering how on earth she’ll fit in all of her chores before Christmas Eve. Not every character is loveable, and the stories aren’t all sugar-plum sweet, but I hope you’ll find them fun. If you’d like signed copies to give as gifts, just give me a shout and I’ll be happy to add a special message by hand.

Wishing you all a very happy Christmas!

Posted in Writing

Another Story Inspired by Libraries

Indie Author Fair banner adAs promised in my last post, today I’m sharing the second of the two stories that I read aloud at the Indie Author Fair in Chorleywood last Sunday.

Both stories have been published in anthologies this year. The one I posted here earlier this week was included in National Flash Fiction Day’s 2014 anthology Eating My Words.

I was invited to write the second story, below, to appear in an interesting and unusual project that used flash fiction to promote positive expectations of local government services. Gosh!

I chose to celebrate the mobile library service in my story, because the village in which I live is fortunate to have a visit from one every fortnight. Mobile libraries are invaluable resources, storing an extraordinary assortment of fiction, non-fiction, CDs, DVDs and even jigsaw puzzles in their limited space, for the benefit of remote communities, free of charge. They are especially valuable to those who have no independent transport to reach their nearest public library, but they’re also welcome to those who can’t otherwise get out very much, such as parents with small children at home, or those caring for housebound relatives who do not have the freedom to leave the village often.

My preamble is in danger of being longer than my story (the required word count for submissions was 350 words), so without more ado, here we go….

Upwardly Mobile

Every other Tuesday, half way through my shift in the village shop, I’d watch the white mobile library bus trundle past on its way to park by the village school. On its return trip twenty minutes later, the lady driver would wave cheerfully to me. In our narrow lane, the giant books painted on the side of the van almost touched the shop window, making me feel the size of a Borrower, which was ironic, because I’d never borrowed any of its books.

Then at the start of October, my hours at the shop were cut. Our takings had been falling since the new superstore popped up a few miles away. After that, I was always at home on Tuesdays, alone in my cottage opposite the school. I’d watch the library van park outside my house.

As soon as its doors swung open, school children bearing books would bound up its steps. Older folk followed more slowly, cautiously gripping the handrail with their book-free hand. When they’d emerge one by one, they’d all be smiling, large print books a common bond between the very old and very young.

As the days shortened, I grew weary of daytime television. I wished I could afford more bus trips into town, or to anywhere that would make my life less dull. Then last Tuesday afternoon I finally found my courage. Once its regular visitors had dispersed, I slowly mounted the mobile library’s steps.

“Can I help you, dear?” asked the lady driver, now standing behind the counter. It seemed odd to hear her voice at last.

“I don’t know,” I faltered. “You see, I’m not much of a reader.”

When she ducked behind the counter, I thought it was to hide her scorn. But she popped up again with a library card application form and a pen.

“Ooh, everyone’s a reader, dear!”she exclaimed kindly. “You just haven’t found the right books yet. We’ve got something here for everyone. I’ll help you choose.”

But that’s all I have time to tell you now, because I want to get back to my book.

Headshot of Debbie Young with Change the Ending paperback
Self-satisfied selfie, snapped on the day that my paperback arrived in the post!

Change the Ending is an intriguing anthology which includes the work not only of seasoned authors but also of local government workers who had never written fiction before, but were persuaded to by the project’s creator Dawn Reeves, a powerhouse of energy and inspiration. It’s now available to buy here.

To read more of my short stories, you might like to try either of my single-author collections:

  • Quick Change, published in the summer to mark National Flash Fiction Day, featuring 20 flash fictions on the theme of change
  • Stocking Fillers, just published this month, to celebrate Christmas with 12 humorous short stories

Both are now available as ebooks on Kindle, but if you’re ereader-averse, you’ll be able to buy them in paperback very shortly!

Posted in Writing

An Autumnal Story for a Misty Morning, via Wattpad

A seasonal short story from my new flash fiction collection Quick Change, and an introduction to Wattpad, the free reading site. 

Received wisdom in my village is that autumn starts the day after the Village Show is over. The morning mists this week bear witness to that myth’s veracity. So, feeling all autumnal, I thought I’d post up a link to a short story on an autumn theme (or fall, to my friends the other side of the pond). It’s taken from my new flash fiction collection, Quick Change, which is currently available as an ebook and due for launch as a paperback in November this autumn.

Autumn LeavesAutumn Leaves 

Click on the story title to read the story on a site called Wattpad. You can also find other free samples of my work there, not just from this book but from others too, both published (my diabetes book) and as yet unpublished (my memoir of moving from the city to the country).

All about Wattpad

If you haven’t already encountered Wattpad, it’s a social media site which helps authors share free samples of their work with readers by posting up their books in short bursts, either all at once or eking them out over a longer period. (The old adage “always leave them wanting more” doesn’t only apply to the performing arts, you know.) Some authors also use it to test out new stories and gain feedback, effectively acquiring beta readers (the book world’s equivalent to test drivers) prior to publication. And of course, they all hope that lots of readers will enjoy the free samples sufficiently to pay real money to buy their actual books, whether as ebooks or in print.

I joined Wattpad only recently, but I’m hoping it’ll help me reach new readers that otherwise wouldn’t know about me. The site is particularly popular with teenagers and new adults reading scifi and fantasy (not my core audience), but it’s becoming increasingly popular across other genres and with other audiences too.

More about Quick Change

Cover of Quck Change flash fiction collection
Emerged from its cocoon on National Flash Fiction Day 2014

The ebook edition of Quick Change is now available to buy exclusively on Amazon for £1.99 or the equivalent in your local currency. That’s just 10p a story, folks! Click the book cover image on the right to go straight to its page on Amazon. I’ll be adding the ebook to other distribution platforms such as Kobo and Smashwords shortly, but if you’d like to read it now and don’t have an ereader, simply download the free Kindle app to the electronic device of your choice (phone, tablet, PC, etc).

In the run-up to the launch of the paperback, if you’d like a free review copy of the ebook of Quick Change, in return for an honest review on Amazon or Goodreads, please let me know. 

Like to join my mailing list? There’s a free, new, previously unpublished short story with every issue of my enewsletter, despatched once a month. Click here to sign up now for free. You can unsubscribe at any time. 

Posted in Personal life, Reading, Type 1 diabetes, Writing

The Alchemy of Chocolate

Logo for the SilverWood Authors Spring Hop

Welcome to the SilverWood Authors Spring Hop!

“Some of SilverWood’s many authors have come together to share a variety of articles and items of interest on their blogs for your enjoyment.

“There are some lovely giveaway prizes, and – to stay in keeping with the Spring and rebirth theme at this time of year – some colourful Easter eggs.

“Feel free to collect the eggs, and use them where you like. They were drawn by SilverWood author Peter St John who writes the ‘Gang’ series about a boy who was evacuated to a village near Ipswich during WWII. Meet Peter and his characters on the Blog Hop, along with a host of eggcellent SilverWood authors. 😉

“Have fun!”

Helen Hart
Publishing Director
SilverWood Books
www.silverwoodbooks.co.uk

About My Spring Hop Post

Cover of my new book, "Coming To Terms with Type 1 Diabetes"
Cover design by SilverWood Books

My contribution to the blog hop is a light-hearted very short story that takes as its theme every woman’s love of chocolate. I’ve always loved chocolate, though my relationship with it hasn’t always been easy, especially since my daughter was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes at the age of 3.

But it is a complete myth that diabetics can’t eat chocolate – they can, they just need to give themselves enough insulin to offset it before they eat it. So if you know a diabetic and are wondering what to give them this Easter, don’t hesitate to give them a chocolate Easter egg – and not “diabetic chocolate” either, an evil concoction made with a sugar substitute that spoils the flavour and has no health benefit compared to normal chocolate. (Yes, there IS a health benefit – to dark chocolate, in moderation, and it’s a useful source of slow-release carbs, which is why Paula Radcliffe eats a couple of squares before running.)

This and other myths surrounding life with Type 1 diabetes will be dispelled in my new book, Coming To Terms With Type 1 Diabetes,which SilverWood will be publishing in paperback form for World Diabetes Day, 14 November 2014. The ebook edition, for which SilverWood provided this beautiful and appropriate cover (the blue circle being the international symbol of diabetes), was published for World Diabetes Day 2013 to raise awareness of the condition and funds for research into a cure.  and has gathered many 5* reviews and has been called by a leading GP “one of the best things I’ve ever read about diabetes”. The paperback will have new bonus material added. To keep informed about the book’s progress, and for an invitation to the launch in Foyles’ Bristol Bookshop on Thursday 13th November, please click here to sign up for my mailing list.

Prize Time!

In the meantime, I hope you enjoy my chocolate-inspired short story below – and if you like it, please leave a comment. As an incentive, one commenter drawn at random on the day my book is launched will receive a free signed copy of the new paperback – plus a slim bar of chocolate to use as a bookmark!

 

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Image of an Easter egg

 

The Alchemy of Chocolate

If you dip a wafer biscuit into a chocolate fountain enough times, eventually it won’t fit in your mouth. Much the same had happened with Jennifer’s body. It was as if every bar of chocolate that she’d ever eaten had been melted down and painted onto her frame.

Oozing into hidden places, the fat encroached so slowly at first that Jennifer was slow to notice her transformation. Then, one summer’s day while sunbathing on her lawn, she realised that she’d no longer pass the fat test she and her friends had used at school: the ability to lay a ruler flat across her hipbones. (That was the best use they’d found for their geometry sets).

By the time she came to squeeze into an old pair of cords for Bonfire Night, Jennifer observed that where her stomach had once been concave, it now billowed out, like a ship in full sail. No wonder sleeping on her tummy had become uncomfortable.

Trying on a party dress for New Year, she spotted that her waistline only curved inwards when elasticated clothing constrainied her flesh.

By the Spring solstice, the fat had found new places to hide. Her eyelids were thicker, and when inserting an earring, she had to push harder before the post emerged on the other side of the lobe.

Jennifer was glad when spring sunshine came early, because it gave her licence to go bare-legged. Lately, tights had become irksome. Unless she aligned their waistband precisely with that of her knickers, skirt and petticoat, her silhouette resembled the scalloped edge of a doily on a plate of cakes.

At Easter, Jennifer was quick to remove the temptation of her Easter eggs – by eating them. But then, at last, she decided to take action about her surplus fat. Precisely what action, she was not sure. She was unwilling to relinquish chocolate, or indeed any kind of food. Nor did she fancy exercising her way into shape. Poring over a list of how to burn calories, she was horrified by the ridiculous distance she’d have to run to work off a single bar of Dairy Milk. There had to be an easier way. It was just a question of dispersing fat rather than storing it.

Then, lulled to sleep on Midsummer’s Eve by an exceptionally delicious hot chocolate, Jennifer had a remarkable dream. She dreamed of the perfect recipe for weight loss.

Next morning on waking, she knew exactly what to do. She rushed downstairs to her kitchen and assembled in a mixing bowl the ingredients dictated by her dream. Instead of stopping to wonder how this magical formula could require only store-cupboard staples, she got on with beating the mixture, her wooden spoon a biscuit-coloured blur.

Once the batter was blended, she tipped it into a saucepan and set it over a low heat, chanting the mantra that had also come to her in the dream. When the mixture was smooth and warm as the perfect waistline, she decanted it into a jug and popped it in the fridge. She knew instinctively that this was the correct next step.

When she arrived at her office for work, she was so impatient for nightfall – the witching hour, or so her dream had told her – that she could hardly concentrate on her job.

As soon as she arrived home, she slipped on her nightie, took the jug from the fridge and with a medicine spoon measured out the dose prescribed in her dream. She swallowed the quivering spoonful in a rush, before she could change her mind and retired to bed to await the results. The anxious fluttering in her tummy didn’t stop her from tumbling into solid, dreamless sleep.

Waking next morning, she climbed out of bed, slipped off her nightdress and flung it distractedly on the bed. Reaching with her right hand behind the back of her neck, she grasped what the previous night’s dream had told her she would find just above the nubbly bone at the top of her spine: a trapezoidal zip-pull. She grasped the metal.

Bending her head forward to clear her long dark hair out of the way, Jennifer tugged the zip-pull between thumb and forefinger as far as she could. Then she stretched her left hand up behind her back to meet the right one, and continued pulling the zip down, slowly, slowly, till it reached the base of her backbone.

As the zip-pull stopped abruptly at her coccyx, the thick flesh covering Jennifer’s upper back and shoulders started to feel loose. Soon she was easing off the entire outer casing of flesh as instinctively as a snake sheds its skin. Wriggling her hips and thighs to dislodge this pudgy onesie, she sat down on the bed, peeled it off her calves and finally stepped out of it on to the bedside rug.

Only now did she have the courage to glance in the dressing table mirror. There, to her delight, in a flawless casing of fresh skin, was her slender teenage outline. It was like meeting a long-lost, much-missed friend.

Glancing down at the discarded, Jennifer-shaped fat that lay perfectly still on floor, she wondered what on earth to do with it.

But of course! It was recycling day. She could simply put it in the green wheelie bin. After all, it should compost down as readily as bacon rind. Better to throw it in the wheelie bin than put it out in the garden for the birds.

With a new lightness of tread, Jennifer took a few steps around the bedroom. She felt decidedly different. The top of her thighs no longer rubbed together, her arms lay straighter against her sides, and she no longer felt that her stomach had been lagged, like the insulating jacket wrapped round a hot water tank.

Beginning to enjoy the full effect, Jennifer turned this way and that. But it wasn’t the slim reflection in the dressing-table mirror that caused her to smile. It wasn’t the realisation that her low-cost recipe would fetch a fortune on the heaving market for diet products. Nor was it the recognition that she’d achieving every slimmer’s dream of alchemy, turning fat into gold. It was the thought that she could now eat as much chocolate as she liked, without ever having to worry about gaining weight. It was a dream come true.

 

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Cover of Quck Change flash fiction collectionThis story features in “Quick Change”, my first collection of flash fiction, which you can buy from Amazon here:  Quick Change.

My post is just one of many interesting articles in the SilverWood Spring Blog Hop. To hop forward to read these, please click on the links below. You’ll also find more colourful Easter eggs to collect and some more giveaway prizes!

 

Helen Hollick :  Let us Talk of Many Things  – Fictional Reality http://ofhistoryandkings.blogspot.co.uk/2014/04/fictional-reality-silverwood-blog-hop.html

Alison Morton : Roma Nova – How the Romans Celebrated Spring http://alison-morton.com/2014/04/17/how-the-romans-celebrated-spring-2/

Anna Belfrage: Step inside…   – Is freezing in a garret a prerequisite? https://annabelfrage.wordpress.com/2014/04/16/is-freezing-in-a-garret-a-prerequisite/

Edward Hancox: Iceland Defrosted – Seaweed and cocoa http://icelanddefrosted.com/2014/04/16/silverwood-blog-hop-seaweed-cocoa/

Lucienne Boyce: Lucienne Boyce’ Blog – The Female Writer’s Apology http://francesca-scriblerus.blogspot.co.uk/2014/04/the-female-writers-apology-or-then-and.html

Matlock the Hare:  Matlock the Hare Blog –  Pid-padding the self-published Pathway… http://matlockthehare.blogspot.co.uk/

Michael Wills:  Michael Wills – A Doomed Army http://www.michaelwills.eu/2014/04/a-doomed-army/

Isabel Burt: Friday Fruitfulness  –  Flees for the Easter Hop… http://isabelburt.com/ (her post will go live shortly)

John Rigg: An Ordinary Spectator – Television Lines http://www.anordinaryspectator.com/news-blog%20

Peter St John: Jenno’s Blog –  My Village http://jennospot.blogspot.fr/2014/04/my-village_16.html

Caz Greenham: Caz’s Devon Blog Diary – Springtime and Flowering Baskets http://www.wp.me/p3oYnS-n1

Helen Hart: SilverWood Books Ltd http://www.silverwoodbooks.co.uk/