Posted in Writing

Why I Named the Leading Male Character in “Best Murder in Show” Hector Munro

How I named the leading man in Best Murder in Show

Cover of Best Murder in Show by Debbie YoungLast week I explained how I chose the name for the heroine of Best Murder in Show, the first of my new Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries series, and this week, just three days before the ebook launches (paperback to follow three weeks later),  I’m going to reveal how the leading man, Hector Munro, got his name.

Why Hector…

Image of battered guidebook
My husband’s well-worn guide to hillwalking in the Munros

Hector Munro is the proprietor of the village bookshop, Hector’s House. Those of a certain age will recognise the name Hector’s House, which was a 1970s children’s television puppet show, featuring a  dog called Hector whose catchphrase was variations on this theme: “I’m a great big lovable old Hector”. It was the kind of show that warmed the heart of adults and children alike in the tea-time slot in my childhood, when the Magic Roundabout was taking a break. (You can sample it on YouTube here.)

The name for the bookshop has been forced onto Hector by the benefactor who co-financed its launch, but the name Hector is well and truly his own, chosen by his antique dealer parents who have a passion for the classics.

Though of course it was actually chosen by me, because I wanted something unusual. I don’t know any real-life Hectors, although I’ve since heard of an acquaintance coincidentally christening her baby with that name. My Hector is a creative, unconventional type, who thinks outside the box and is not afraid to do what he wants to do.

…and Why Munro

The name Munro came to me in a flash as a comfortable surname, partly because my Scottish husband is what’s known as a Munro bagger. Munro baggers are hillwalkers who set themselves the challenge of climbing all the Munros – 280+ Scottish mountains over 3,000 feet – which means Scotland’s highest mountains.

How did the mountains get their name? They were named in honour of the first man to map them all, a certain Hugo Munro.

Ever since I’ve known my husband, resident in England throughout his adult life, and so very far from the nearest Munro, he has been pursuing his goal of bagging them all. We spend many summer holidays touring Scotland in our camper van, seeking out the next mountain on his list. My daughter and I drop him at his starting point, then go off to do touristy things before picking him up post-conquest. This year it looks as if he’s going to complete the final Munro.

Therefore in my mind the name Munro is a symbol of challenge, determination and achievement, and also a certain rugged, wiry manliness, without being too obvious. The word Munro is like a code, as any Munro bagger will understand.

Putting Them Both Together

Photo of collection of short stories by Saki
Equally battered is my copy of Saki’s short stories (real name: Hector Hugh Munro)

Putting the two together, I liked the way that Hector Munro tripped off the tongue. I also thought it memorable. But so much for my memory, because I didn’t realise until long after I’d established my character why I’d taken to the name so much. Picking up a copy of a book by one of my favourite short story writers, I was reminded that Saki‘s real name was Hector Hugh Munro.

As if that wasn’t enough, I also realised a little while later that the surname of the proprietor of my nearest independent bookshop is also associated with mountains, or at least large hills: The Corbetts are the next highest hills in Scotland after the Munros. Hereward Corbett, is proprietor of the Yellow-Lighted Bookshop (branches in Tetbury and Nailsworth). Whether Hereward’s parents had anything to with mountaineering, I do not know.

Next in the Scottish mountain pecking order are the Grahams and the Donalds. By chance, the landlord of the local pub in the Sophie Sayers series is called Donald, but I haven’t introduced a Graham yet. I think he’d better come into one of the sequels – I don’t want the Grahams feeling left out.

Hector Munro: His Own Person

But let’s be clear about this: Hector Munro is not based on any of his namesakes in any way. All the characters, settings and situtations are entirely fictional, as in any novel. My Hector Munro is a man unto himself, one not easily tamed or fathomed, as you will see when you read the series and follow how his character develops. To whet your appetite for what’s to come, here’s the scene where Sophie first meets him in Chapter 5 of Best Murder in Show, when she’s seeking a job in his bookshop…

Extract of BEST MURDER IN SHOW

“Hello, can you tell me where Hector is, please? Carol in the village shop told me that he needs help.”

“You can say that again,” came a familiar voice from the back corner. Arranged around three circular tin tables were a dozen old-fashioned folding garden chairs, one of them occupied by Billy, the non-cerebral stout-drinker from the day before. Despite the aspersions he’d cast on Hector’s tea, he was enthusiastically working his way through a large pot of the stuff.

A lean olive-skinned man in his early thirties was leaning on the main shop counter with his arms folded, longish dark curls flopping forward to cover his high forehead.

“I can. But should I?”

Confused, I glanced across at Billy for a clue. That was a mistake.

“She’ll be asking to see your buns next, Hector.”

“Thank you, Billy, if I need your advice, I’ll ask for it.”

The man at the counter unfolded his arms and pointed one finger at his chest. “He’s here. I’m Hector. Thank you for brightening my bookshop with your presence. I don’t believe we’ve met before?”

Despite Hector’s parents having only recently retired, I’d been picturing someone only marginally less aged than himself. After all, when you’re eighty-six, most people qualify as younger. Perhaps it was the archaic name that threw me. Hectors should be wrinkly grey-haired curmudgeons in cardigans, not gorgeous, enigmatic Greek gods.

Hector held out a warm, soft hand for me to shake, before coming out from behind the counter to stand alongside me. “But the more pressing question for me is, how can I help you? No, don’t tell me, I’ve got just the book for you.”

He strode over to the fiction section, plucked a paperback from among the Gs and presented it to me, deadpan.

“Here we are: Travels with my Aunt, by Graham Greene.”

Billy guffawed. “Point to you, young Hector!”

I gasped. “How did you know who I was? Did you recognise her skirt?”

I’d put on a long mulberry velvet one from my aunt’s wardrobe to try to look cultured.

“Have you looked in the mirror lately?” replied Hector. “You are obviously related to May Sayers. Billy tells me that you’re living in May’s cottage.”

“Actually, my name’s on the deeds now. My great aunt left the cottage to me.”

“You’ll have to wait about twenty years before people round here call it your cottage. Your name being…?”

“Sophie. Sophie Sayers. Sayers, same as my aunt.”

“Yes, you certainly are,” put in Billy, who clearly considered himself part of our conversation. “Don’t let old Joshua see you looking like that, whatever you do. It’ll be too much for him. We’ll be carrying him off to the graveyard to lie alongside her, if you’re not careful.”

Hector shot him a withering look. “Billy, really! Drink your tea or I’ll take it away.”

That shut him up. He must have needed the tea to sober him up after his early start on the stout the previous afternoon.

In the ensuing silence, I noticed for the first time the music that was playing softly in the background: Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells. Great Auntie May had long ago taught me to love this classic album from the 70s. It’s not something you hear much in public these days.

“You’re playing—”

Hector’s smile had a hint of smugness about it. “Your tune? Your Auntie May always loved it, so I thought you might too.”

“What? Did you see me coming and put it on specially?”

“Spot on.”

We both listened appreciatively for a moment to the music’s gentle meanderings, while he set the Graham Greene book on the counter, facing me, presumably as a hint. But I wasn’t so easily hoodwinked by his charm into buying a book I neither wanted nor needed. May’s house was stuffed with books.

I pulled myself together, remembering the serious and pressing intent of my visit. If I wasn’t able to get a job here, I’d have to look further afield, and soon.

“So, as I was saying, Carol Barker said you were looking for an assistant. And Joshua Hampton, next door to me, encouraged me to apply. So please may I have an application form?”

Hector patted his pockets as if searching. “Sorry, I seem to be fresh out of them. Bit of a run on applications this morning. How about an application cup of tea instead?”

He gestured to the tearoom. I chose the table furthest from Billy.

“So, tea?” offered Hector, sitting down opposite me. “Not you, Billy, you’ve had enough for one morning.”

Behind me, Billy drained his cup noisily, and scraped his chair across the old oak floorboards. “No matter, I’ll be heading off to The Bluebird for my dinner soon.”

“But it’s only eleven o’clock.” I wondered what scenic route he’d be taking to the village pub, a few hundred yards away, to make his journey last till evening.

“That’s The Bluebird’s opening time. I has a ploughman’s lunch up there for my dinner midday every Tuesday. Washed down with a nice pint of old Donald’s special. Good luck with your interview, girlie.”

He rolled the word interview around his mouth like a euphemism for some lascivious delight.

The shop door jangled to allow Billy’s exit as Hector set down a loaded tea tray on the table between us. The crockery was decorated with the titles of classic novels in old-fashioned typewriter fonts. He’d given me Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations and himself Somerset Maugham’s Cakes and Ale. The teapot was branded Love in a Cold Climate, by Nancy Mitford.

Will Sophie get the job? Will she discover the secret that enables Hector’s House to keep his business solvent? (A bookshop in a tiny Cotswold village – really?) You’ll have to read the book to find out!

Cover of Best Murder in Show by Debbie Young
Ta-da! Now available to order as an ebook for Kindle (paperback to launch on 22nd April)

Click here to order the ebook – paperback to follow shortly! 

 

 

Posted in Reading, Writing

Who Is Sophie Sayers Anyway?

A post about the heroine of my debut novel, Best Murder in Show

Cover of Best Murder in Show by Debbie Young
Ta-da! Now available to order as an ebook for Kindle’ paperback to launch on 22nd April

New novel, I hear you cry? Yes, my new novel! Due to launch officially in paperback on Saturday 22nd April at the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival, Best Murder in Show is already available to pre-order as a Kindle ebook via Amazon. (Click here to find it on Amazon UK and here for Amazon US.)

It’s the first in a series of seven classic mystery stories set in the Cotswolds in the modern day, in a village not unlike the one where I’ve lived for the last 26 years.

Of course, as it’s fiction, any resemblance to real people, places or situations is entirely coincidental, although I confidently expect at least one of my neighbours will stop me in the street claiming to be X, Y or Z in the story.

As long as they’re not claiming to be the murderer, I think I can handle that.

To whet your appetite between now and the official launch, I’ll be writing a series of posts about different aspects of the book.

How I Named My Heroine

Today I’m going to tell you how I chose the name of the heroine, Sophie Sayers, who at the age of 25 inherits a country cottage from her great aunt. This legacy provides her with the perfect opportunity to ditch her sponging, controlling boyfriend, and instead to reinvent herself as a writer.

Only problem is, she’s not sure what to write or where to start.

In the meantime, although she’s able to live rent-free, she still has to earn her keep, so she secures a job in the village bookshop,where the charming but enigmatic bookseller Hector Munro takes her under his wing. (More about his name in a future post.)

Before long, Sophie is sucked into the busy social life of the village community, seeking to solve a murder mystery that everyone else assumes to be death from natural causes. She’s hoping that the handsome Hector will not turn out to be the murderer, but he’s definitely hiding something suspicious…

So Why Sophie Sayers?

Firstly, I’ve always liked the name Sophie, and at one time was holding it in reserve for a daughter, should I ever have one.

I did indeed eventuallly have a daughter in 2003, but I decided some weeks before she was born that she was actually a Laura. I still loved the name Sophie, not least because there’d been one in my family a few generations back, so post-Laura I decided to save Sophie for my next cat.

Photo of Dorothy on a cushion
A safe landing for Dorothy

But my next cat, who arrived as a stray in a snowstorm on the same day as my aunt’s postcard of the red shoes from The Wizard of Oz, turned out to be a Dorothy.

She settled in straight away and has been here ever since, our Cotswold cottage apparently being her equivalent to Kansas: “there’s no place like home”.

 

Photo of Debbie Young and M C Beaton
With writing hero M C Beaton, author of the Agatha Raisin and Hamish Macbeth series

A few years later, when I started writing the first in a planned series of mystery novels, I wanted to pay tribute to one of my own favourite detective story writers, Dorothy L Sayers, author of the wonderful Lord Peter Wimsey series. (I’d always assumed this was what M C Beaton had done when echoing Agatha Christie in her Agatha Raisin detective stories. and I’m now kicking myself for not asking her on the two occasions when I have been lucky enough to meet her.)

But I couldn’t call my heroine Dorothy, because the cat had nabbed that name.

Cover of Sayers biography, "Such a Strange Lady"So Sayers it had to be – and Sophie, retrieved from the backburner, provided a pleasingly alliterative match. The similarity between Sophie and her namesake end there. The title of Dorothy L Sayers’ biography hints at the author’s uncompromising approach to life, but Sophie is eager to fit in with others – often too eager, as is sometimes her downfall.

 

I’m glad to have found a worthy bearer of one of my favourite names at last, while also offering homage to one of my many influences (as indeed is M C Beaton, as testified by my bookshelf).

Dorothy L Sayers collection on packed bookshelf
Taking inspiration from cherished treasures: the fragile paperbacks that I avidly collected as a teenager, nestling amongst other favourites such as Orwell and M C Beaton

If you’d like to order the ebook of Sophie Sayers’ first adventure, Best Murder in Show, you’ll find it on Amazon UK and on Amazon US, and in fact on all the other Amazon sites around the world.

The paperback will be launched on Saturday 22nd April at the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival, and will then be available to order from all good bookshops. 

Image of ebook on Kindle
Best Murder in Show – now available as an ebook (paperback coming soon)

 

Posted in Writing

Just What Dr Watson Ordered? – In Praise of the Original Sherlock Holmes and Comfort Reading

My column for this month’s Tetbury Advertiser

Cover of the March edition
Click the image to read the rest of this month’s Tetbury Advertiser

Worn down by a bleak and hostile environment filled with threats, this month I turned to an old friend for comfort. No, I’m not talking about our current political climate, but about the final episode of the television series Sherlock.

Holmes regenerates in different guises more frequently than Dr Who, with over 200 films listed by IMDB. Although I loved the earlier episodes of the Cumberbatch incarnation, the finale left me cold. It was as if the cast had taken a wrong turning and ended up on the set of a James Bond villain’s lair. I craved the cosy retreat that is the centre of the world for the original Holmes and Watson: 221b Baker Street.

221b or Not 221b?

Photo of front of museum
Outside the Sherlock Holmes Museum

What a stroke of genius it was for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to add the “b” to that address. With a single letter, he suggests the quirky subversiveness of a hero who makes up his own rules and isn’t afraid to stand up against the establishment – a true hero then and now.

These days the Sherlock Holmes Museum in Baker Street claims that door number as its own, but it’s actually just a plaque on the wall. The address is and always was fictitious, a Narnian wardrobe that many have sought but never found.

Comfort Reading

In times of trouble, whether personal, national or international, fictional characters and places can offer as much consolation as real ones, and often more.  Sinking recently into the opening pages of Holmes’ first adventure, A Study in Scarlet, which I’d nominated as the BBC Radio Gloucestershire Book Club’s February Book of the Month, was like stepping into a hot bubble bath after running through a thunderstorm with neither raincoat nor umbrella. Elegant prose, cracking storytelling and engaging characters lured me into a world where there may still have been crime and hatred, but where there’s also the inevitability of resolution and the triumph of good over evil.

A Story for Our Times

badge saying "I am Sherlocked"Subtle moral lessons are woven in along the way. I’d forgotten that one of the themes of A Study in Scarlet is religious tolerance, the crime revolving around questionable acts by Mormons in nineteenth-century Utah. Over a century after publication, it’s a story still relevant to our times.

So if you’re troubled by the state of the world in 2017, Dr Watson would surely prescribe spending time in the company of the original “consulting detective”, Sherlock Holmes, as he first emerged from the pen of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Though you may feel, as I do, that if Benedict Cumberbatch appeared up on your doorstep, you wouldn’t turn him away. Alternative medicine, perhaps?

Photo of Debbie holding a box set of Sherlock Holmes books
That’s my comfort reading sorted (Photo by presenter Dominic Cotter in the studio of his BBC Radio Gloucestershire lunch time show)

What’s your favourite comfort reading? I’d love to know!

logo giving date of next Hawkesbury Upton Lit Fest
Admission free and everyone welcome!

Find more comfort in books and reading when you come along to the FREE Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival on Saturday 22nd April 2017 in the delightful Cotswold village that I call home. I’m looking forward to unveiling my own mystery series there, Best Murder in Show. Come and join the fun!

Posted in Reading, Self-publishing, Writing

12 Free Books For You – including “Marry in Haste” (24th-28th February)

An invitation to help yourself to 12 free ebooks between now and the end of February, including one of mine!

Graphic showing Free Reads for Smart Women banner
We thought a dozen would be a nice round number…

If you like reading ebooks, read on to find out how to take advantage of a special offer that includes a free download of one of my collections of short stories, Marry in Haste.

If you don’t like reading ebooks, or haven’t tried them yet, here’s a chance to convince yourself, without it costing you a penny! In case you didn’t know, these days you don’t have to own an ereader to read an ebook – you can download to your phone, tablet or computer a free reading app such as Kindle or Kobo, and away you go!

A couple of days ago, I was very pleased to be invited to join a group of eleven sparky women authors in a joint promotion of free books called “Free Reads for Smart Women“. Always a sucker for flattery, I was very happy to add my name under this banner, which, in classic Freudian slip mode, I had misread as Free Reads BY Smart Women”.

Of course, both interpretations apply – because what smart woman could resist the offer of twelve ebooks for free, when they look as intriguing and beautiful as this?

array of books

There’s a bit of everything here to appeal to smart women of all kinds, from crime thrillers to romance, from historical novels to contemporary humour.

What’s the Catch?

The closest thing you’ll find to a catch is that to get your free books, you have to submit your email address. Obviously, that’s so that InstaFreebie, the service that’s hosting this promotion, can email the ebooks to you.

Also the authors would like to send you information about more of their books – but don’t worry, you can unsubscribe from their mailing lists at any time, no questions asked.

InstaFreebie would also like to send you more free book offers, if you’d like them – but again, just unsubscribe if you prefer.

And There’s More…

Interestingly, when you download each free book, InstaFreebie immediately shows you three other free ebooks it thinks you might like. Our team of twelve was bemused to find bare-chested men on the covers of many of these books. But so far we’ve had no complaints…

Men Also Welcome!

cover of Marry in Haste
“A book for women that every man should read” – reviewer

By the way, you don’t have to be a woman to enjoy any of these books. In fact, one of my favourite reviews of Marry in Haste is by a gentleman who described it as “A book for women that all men should read”!

Men are of course very welcome to help themselves to our freebies too. (I’ll be very interested to hear whether Instafreebie offers you same books featuring bare-chested men!)

How to Download Your Free Books

Hoping I’ve whetted your appetite to download one, some or all twelve, here is the link to claim your free ebooks:

www.helenahalme.com/instafreebie/

It’s a landing page hosted on Helena Halme’s website, and you just click on the book cover of your choice to claim your free download. You can revisit the page and keep clicking for more as often as you like – and if you’d like to share the page or this post with your friends to help them do the same, please do.

***Please note that this promotion is running 24th-28th February only – so get in quick before the end of the month!***

Why Are the Books Free?

Cover of Best Murder in Show by Debbie Young
Due to launch in April

By the way, if you’re wondering why the twelve authors involved are not only smart but so generous – all the books being offered are still on sale commercially elsewhere – it’s because it’s every author’s wish to build up a mailing list of people who are interested in their books, so that we can email readers directly whenever we’ve got a new book about to launch or a special offer coming up.

This campaign is coming at the perfect time for me, as I prepare to launch my first Sophie Sayers Village Mystery in April, and I’ll be sending to my mailing list details of a special launch price offer in March. Exciting times!

~~~~~~~~~~~

Cover image for The Alchemy of Chocolate showing chocolate coins falling out of a purse

If you’d like receive news of that offer without getting involved in the InstaFreebie promotion, that’s fine too – you can sign up here. It won’t get you a free book, but you will have the option to receive a free short story, The Alchemy of Chocolate, as a thank-you.

Happy weekend reading. folks!

Posted in Events, Writing

A Place in the Rain

My column for this month’s Hawkesbury Parish News

clare-gma-and-david-penny
David Penny chatting up my mum at the Hawkesbury Show on the Hawkesbury Upton Lit Fest stand

My friend David Penny, who writes historical novels set in Spain, has just been accepted to appear on A Place in the Sun. This television programme helps weather-weary would-be expats find a new home in the foreign country of their choice.

Authors make great candidates for the programme because as people who spend their days imagining themselves in different places, they’re good at walking into a house and picturing what it might be like to live there. Relocating to the place that’s the setting for their books must feel like a dream come true.

Cover of Best Murder in Show by Debbie Young
Due to launch 22nd April at Hawkesbury Upton Lit Fest

Tempting though it is to pitch for a spot myself, not least because the show’s guests get a free week’s holiday out of it, it wouldn’t work for me, because the novels I’m writing now are set in a small fictitious Cotswold village called Wendlebury Barrow, inspired by Hawkesbury Upton.

All characters and incidents are entirely fictitious, not only because I don’t want to be sued. It’s also because events in Hawkesbury are often so funny/bizarre/surprising that you couldn’t make them up if you tried.

And that’s another reason I’m glad to be living here. At this time of year especially, it may be cold, wet and grey, but life in Hawkesbury Upton is certainly never dull.

Cover of The Incubus by David Penny
Reviewed on my book blog

If you’d like to know more about David Penny’s books, check out my review of his latest novel, The Incubus, over on my book blog.