Posted in Writing

‘Tis the Season to Do What, Now?

cover of Springtime for Murder
My latest novel – published in November, set at Easter (Available in paperback and ebook)

In this column for the December 2018 issue of the Hawkesbury Parish News, I get ahead of myself with the seasons

In the retail trade, buyers plan at least a season ahead. While we’re Christmas shopping, they’re planning their stock for the spring.

I share their sense of being out of step with nature’s calendar. Today, for example, the deadline of the Hawkesbury Parish News’s December issue, I launched my latest novel, Springtime for Murder. I wrote it in the summer months, edited it in the autumn, and it’s set at Easter. Now I’m about to start writing a novel that takes place in May. No wonder I have to stop to think what month it is in the real world.

It doesn’t help that I can’t rely on the weather to give me a natural steer on the seasons. With it often so unseasonably hot/cold/wet/dry, a glance out of the window can be misleading.

Image of first four books in the Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries series
The first four books in the series run from midsummer to Valentine’s Day

Taking a break from my desk to go grocery shopping does nothing to put me straight. Why are supermarket shelves still full of fresh summer fruits in the winter? Every time I go to Waitrose lately, there are punnets of strawberries reduced for quick sale, because the shop has more than it can sell. Still, at least I’m full of Vitamin C to guard against winter colds.

Thank goodness for the man-made visual clues around the village. Impressively carved pumpkins dotted around the village heralded Halloween. Mid-November, the poppies on the Plain and in St Mary’s ensured we remember the date we should never forget. Now the Christmas lights will soon be upon us.

Even so, if you see me shivering in a summer dress in December, now you’ll know the reason why: I’ll have simply lost the plot.  Which really shouldn’t happen to an author.

I wish you all a merry Christmas and a happy New Year!

PS And if you fancy some seasonal reading that is just right for December…

Cover of Murder in the Manger
In the third Sophie Sayers Village Mystery, her school nativity play goes off-script from the opening line
cover of Stocking Fillers by Debbie Young
12 short stories that are the perfect antidote pre-Christmas stress
cover of Lighting Up Time
A sweet but spooky story the longest night of the year
Cover of The Owl and the Turkey
A fun short story inspired by mishearing a snippet of news on BBC Radio 4
Posted in Reading, Writing

On Box Sets and Books in Boxes – to Mark the Launch of Sophie Sayers’ First Box Set

images of covers of first 3
Is it a box set? Is it a trilogy? Whatever you call it, it’s a bargain!

 

It’s perhaps an inevitable phenomenon of our digital TV-on-demand era, with voracious viewers binge-watching whole series of their favourite shows at a sitting, that the equivalent should happen in ebook publishing.

The digital book box set allows readers to stock up on a whole batch of books in a series by their favourite author, or in some cases a collection of books each by a different author in the same genre.

Box sets are usually priced significantly cheaper than it would cost to buy the books separately.

Catching the Box Set Omnibus

I confess I’m jumping on the box set bandwagon myself this week, with the launch of my first box set of the first three novels in my Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries series. If you buy the box set, you effectively get the books as a 3-for-2 bargain, as the price is the equivalent to what you’d pay for books two and three if bought alone.

As these are ebooks, the box is of course only notional. Although I have to say I do loved physical boxed sets too – and single books that come in their own little slipcase, the sort that the Folio Society is so good at, not so much a box set as simply a book in a box.

There’s something very comforting about physical box sets of books. My mother’s gift to me of a P G Wodehouse collection of Jeeves novels twelve years ago was as much a cure for my pneumonia as prescription drugs…

P G Wodehouse box set

…and I only have to look at this box set of the complete Sherlock Holmes to feel better.

Sherlock Holmes Box Set

When I was little, I only had one box set of books, a beautiful Disney-themed collection for my ninth birthday and still treasured.

Disney box set

But I did have several omnibuses – a collection of single books in a single fat volume.

Mary Plain's Omnibus book cover

In fact, I was quite grown up before I realised that an omnibus was “long” for the word bus, despite the handly clue provided here by Teddy Robinson.

first page of Teddy Robinson's Omnibus book

Climb Aboard Sophie Sayers’ Omnibus

images of covers of first 3
The first three Sophie Sayers books are now available in a virtual box set – a single ebook

If you’re an ebook reader, and have not yet climbed aboard my Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries, I hope you’ll enjoy her first box set. And if you’ve already read these, and the following book 4, Murder by the Book, I’ve got something for you too: the fifth in the series, Springtime for Murder, will be launched in November. More news on that book coming soon…

  • If you’d like to be among the first to know when I’m about to publish a new book, and to keep up with other news about my writing life, just sign up here to join my free Readers’ Club. You’ll also receive a free short story. (Of course, your details won’t be shared with anyone else or used for any other purpose.)

 

Posted in Writing

On Becoming an Amazon Bestseller

screenshot showing orange bestseller flag on Best Murder in ShowThere are worse ways for a writer to start the week than discovering that overnight one of your books has been awarded the coveted orange “bestseller” flag on the Amazon store serving your home turf (UK in my case).

I admit I’m chuffed, even though I know the flag will disappear as soon as another book knocks it off the top spot. And that’s just as it should be. If every Amazon bestseller flag remained in place for ever, the system would lose its value – and authors would become complacent and vain.

What This Means

To be clear, the bestseller flag doesn’t mean it’s top of the whole Amazon UK ebook chart, but top of a particular category. In this case, Best Murder in Show is currently #1 in the “cozy culinary mystery” list. Over the weekend, it also hit #2 in the “cozy crafts and hobbies mystery” class.

Both of these are sub-genres of the larger “cozy mystery” chart. All four Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries usually float about somewhere in the top 100 of that list in the UK Amazon store.

If the Category Fits…

With the Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries series featuring plenty of food and drink (a large part of the book is set in a tea room or the pub, with Hector’s hooch a popular feature) and hobbies (amateur dramatics, writing, dressmaking, gardening, etc), it’s a good fit for these two sub-genres.

illustration of bookshop and tea room
Hector’s House, the village bookshop and tea room where Sophie Sayers works (Illustration by Thomas Shepherd of http://www.shepline.com)

That’s a relief, as Amazon’s classifications can be a bit hit and miss, confusing readers and frustrating writers. A recent bestseller in “non-fiction dog-care” was a detective novel in which the heroine’s sidekick is canine. I hope she is an exemplary dog-owner.

What’s Next for Sophie Sayers?

But for now I must set aside such distractions and press on with this week’s writing priority: preparing for my proofreader the manuscript of Sophie’s fifth adventure, Springtime for Murder.

More news of Springtime for Murder will follow shortly, when I unveil its new cover and set it up for pre-order in the run up to its October launch.

You can buy Best Murder in Show in paperback or ebook online here

or order the paperback from your local bookshop quoting ISBN 978-1911223139.

Posted in Events, Writing

The Reluctant Murderer Finds Partners in Crime at CrimeFest

This post first appeared on the Authors Electric collective blog at the end of May. 

Partners in crime at CrimeFest, on a panel chaired by the fabulous Zoe Sharp, far left

In the same month that I joined the Romantic Novelists’ Association, I also pitched up on a panel at CrimeFest. An unlikely duo, you might think, but my cosy mystery series has a foot in both camps, with a strong romantic subplot  underpinning the murder in each novel.

In some respects it’s a similar situation to visiting Greenwich and being able to stand on the Meridian line with one foot in the east, the other in the west. Further variety is added by a generous helping of comedy running throughout my books.

But I’m by no means the only one to tread such a complex path, genre-wise. Fellow CrimeFest panellist Alison Morton adds alternative history to her crime/romance split.

Deemed by The Guardian to be the best crime writing festival in the world

A Multiplicity of Murderers

Just because two authors write in the same genre, doesn’t mean their books need have much in common. While each of my books has “Murder” in its title, none of them are that dark. One reviewer, Rosalind Minett, a career psychologist, describes mine as “uplifting murders”. Certainly my books include plenty of life-affirming threads and happy endings for everyone except the murderer(s).

Reluctant to Murder

The fourth Sophie Sayers Village Mystery

Sometimes I even provide a stay of execution for the murderer’s intended victim. I’ve started describing myself as The Reluctant Murderer, because sometimes I have to force myself to polish people off. I took no chances with my latest novel, Murder by the Book, shoving someone unceremoniously down a well to their death in the very first chapter, before my resolve could weaken.

And in the book I’m currently writing, Springtime for Murder, (Sophie Sayers Village Mystery #5), I’m as yet undecided as to whether the person who gets hit over the head with a hammer will be allowed to survive. (“Might knock some sense into X,” Billy has just muttered, about 20k words into the manuscript.) [Update on 25th June: I’ve now finished writing the first draft and it’s not looking good for the hammered one…]

Different Shades of Danger

My first in series, Best Murder in Show, stood out on the bookshop table at Crimefest as practically the only one with a sunny blue sky on the cover. The rest were mostly murky muddy colour palettes, or various shades of bruising. But that’s fine, there’s room for all kinds – and many readers enjoy the whole range.

Sharp as a Zoe

I hadn’t met our panel’s host, Zoe Sharp, before the day of our talk (the last of the four-day festival), but a reference to her in a previous talk had me alarmed. A member of the audience asked that panel what was the best way to kill a person with a knife with a single would to the head.

“That’s easy enough,” said the chair, “but if you ask Zoe Sharp, she’ll tell you how to do it with a biro.”

What’s in a Name?

Sharp by name, I thought… though her name too is a mixture of light and dark, with Zoe being Greek for life, in contrast to her surname that might be chosen as a pseudonym filled with threat, hinting at razor blades and flick-knives.

As it turned out, Zoe was sparky, smiley and smart, and while her books may be full of combat, her direction of our panel was pure fun.

Which just goes to show: it takes all sorts to make a murder story.

You couldn’t meet a nice bunch of murderers – a quartet of CrimeFest authors: David Penny (seated) next to me, Alison Morton (standing left), Carol Westron (standing right)
Posted in Events, Writing

The Reluctant Murderer at Oakwood Literature Festival

cover of the June issue of the Tetbury AdvertiserThis post first appeared in the June 2018 edition of the award-winning Tetbury Advertiser.

“I have a no-murder policy,” said the tall, softly-spoken man in black.

If, like me, you were obliged to sit beside him for the next hour, would you be reassured by that remark, or alarmed?

What if that statement had a similar impact to those “Keep off the lawn” signs that make you want to do nothing so much as kick off your shoes and run barefoot across it, desperate to feel the cool blades of grass tickling the soles of your feet?

Or to those tantalising signs in the swimming pools that list all the things that you’re forbidden from doing: “No diving, no bombing, no running”, etc – I’m sure you can reel off the list as well as I can – at the same time helpful providing a clear line drawing showing you exactly how to commit each of those offences.

Having a murder policy of any kind might even exert the power of suggestion, in the same way that the instruction “Don’t think of oranges” immediately makes you think about oranges.

It’s All About the Context

Of course, context is all. If the man’s statement had been an unsolicited chat-up line in a wine bar, or his opening gambit at a speed-dating session, I would have been worried. What else might he have up his sleeve? “I have a no wife-beating policy.” “I have a no-coveting-my-neighbour’s-ox policy.”

Cover of Child Taken by Darren Young
Don’t worry, they all live to tell the tale

As it happened, it was music to my ears, as what had brought Darren and I together was an invitation to speak on a panel at the Oakwood Literature Festival in Derbyshire last month, and he was describing his approach to writing his psychological thriller, Child Taken.  As I am a writer of crime novels that are more Miss Marple than Nordic Noir, I really have to force myself to kill people for the sake of the plot. I’ve even started describing myself to readers as “the reluctant murderer”, which no doubt comes as a relief to my friends and relations. Listening to Darren, I was glad to know I wasn’t alone in my reluctance.

So as introductions go, his opening line was much more innocuous than one might assume. Although it turned out his surname was also Young. Now that was creepy.


set of four Sophie Sayers booksTo read more about my cosy mystery series, in which all the murders are gentle and sometimes there’s even a stay of execution, click here.

Cover of Young by NameAnd if you’d like to read more of my whimsical columns for the Tetbury Advertiser, here’s a book of the first sixty of them, available in ebook and paperback.