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 Personal life, Writing

Spring Fever

It seems appropriate to share my post for the March issue of the Tetbury Advertiser on the first official day of spring – also my beloved parents’ 65th wedding anniversary. Such a romantic and positive day for them to have got married, I always think.

cover of the March issue of the Tetbury AdvertiserAdmiring the green shoots of daffodils popping up in my front garden, I’m struck by their similarity to post-hibernation grizzly bears. Both spend the winter tucked away, hidden and forgotten, in a kind of cocoon: bulb and cave, respectively. Seeing them emerge in spring is enough to warm the heart of any mortal, though round these parts you’re more likely to spot the former than the latter.

A friend advises me that narcissi contain a natural form of antifreeze. I bet hibernating bears would like some of that, but unfortunately it’s not in a form that’s accessible to them or to us. Otherwise I could have offered a bunch of daffodils to my husband for his car radiator when its burst hose deposited all his antifreeze on the M4 yesterday.

Fur Fury

Further signs of spring at Young Towers are the little tufts of white, orange and black fur scattered throughout the house. Unlike me, Dorothy, our calico cat, takes no heed of the maxim “Cast not a clout till May be out” (or, possibly may with a little m, as in the flower, depending on which version of the saying you prefer). Dorothy starts ditching her winter coat as soon as the days are noticeably longer. By mid-February, she’s kitten-skittish, despite her middle age.

blue sky over the rec
Big spring skies above the Hawkesbury Recreation Ground

I know the feeling. A single day of forget-me-not blue skies and bright sunshine is enough to infect me with spring fever even in stubbornly sub-zero temperatures. That is, until I stumble across an article identifying this notional affliction as a tangible, physical and serious illness. Common around March in pre-industrial times, “spring disease” was characterised by muscle weakness, wounds that wouldn’t heal, and loose teeth. It could even prove fatal.

C Fever

dorothy looking out of the window at the snow
“Ok, who’s hidden the spring flowers?”

Although the article is hardly ideal reading the night before a dental appointment, I brace myself to investigate. The disease turns out to be scurvy, caused by a winter diet low in fresh fruit and vegetables. By early spring, the only sources of Vitamin C were vegetables that didn’t rot during storage, such as leeks and cabbages, and, once we’d discovered them, potatoes. Given my impending trip to the dentist, I concoct a supper consisting entirely of all three vegetables, just to be on the safe side.

Confident that I can now enjoy my spring fever without losing my teeth, I step out next morning into a crisply cold but sunny day, ready to visit the dentist. But unlike Dorothy, I keep my winter coat on.


Cover of Murder by the Book
Coming this spring: the fourth Sophie Sayers Village Mystery

You’ll find a further taste of spring in the fourth novel in my Sophie Sayers Village Mystery series, Murder by the Book, to be launched at the FREE Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival on Saturday 21st April. The ebook is already available to pre-order at a special earlybird price of just 99p/99c here: viewbook.at/MurderByTheBook

 

 

Posted in Events, Writing

It’s Not Quite Over Yet… Festive Oxfordshire TV Readings Now Available on YouTube

A quick shout-out for  my festive TV appearance before the 12 Days of Christmas are over!

Photo of four authors on TV studio sofa
Festive readings on That’s Oxfordshire TV with Mari Howard, Thomas Shepherd, Lynne Pardoe and me.

In our household, we have a strict rule that the Christmas decorations don’t come down till 12th Night, which we reckon is tomorrow, 6th January. I know there are various theories on when Christmas starts and finishes, but that’s the one we stick to – even though I’m often itching to declutter well before then, and make the house feel a bit more springlike. (Yes, I know we’ve still got a long way to go before the first day of spring on 21st March, but I hate January and February, and like to pretend they don’t exist.)

That Jackanory Moment

However, this attitude is to my advantage today, because it means I can just about get away with sharing with you the videos of two pieces I read on a regional television station for Christmas, when, along with Mari Howard, Lynne Pardoe and Thomas Shepherd, three author friends from the Oxford Authors Alliance, I was a guest at Talk Oxfordshire. We each read short stories or passages from our books with a festive flavour, and they’ve just put the tapes up on YouTube where those outside of the station’s reach.

I did two readings – one non-fiction, one fiction – and you can view them both by clicking the images below.

In the first one, I’m recalling one of my favourite memories from my childhood Christmasses, which features in my essay collection Young by Name: Whimsical Columns from the Tetbury Advertiser 2010-2015.

In the second, I’m reading “Do You Believe?”, a lighthearted short story about a shrewd little boy’s visit to Father Christmas. This is one of the twelve short festive stories in my collection Stocking Fillers.

I’m planning to add more readings soon, so to hear them as they appear, you might also like to subscribe to my YouTube channel.

Finally, as I brace myself to clear away Christmas, I’d like to share a quick anecdote from my great-niece (3), who finding that the Christmas tree and decorations in her house had been taken down overnight while she slept, asked “Where’s Christmas gone?” When told it was over now that January was here, she said crossly “Go away, January!” I know how she feels.

 

Posted in Personal life

February is the Sleepiest Month

My column for the February issue of Hawkesbury Parish News
(with apologies to T S Eliot for parodying the opening line of “The Waste Land”)

Baby Laura fast asleep in February 2004
Like mother, like daughter: Laura’s first encounter with February

Sorry, February, but you are my least favourite month. You kick in when Christmas starts to feel like a distant memory. At least January has the saving grace of including my birthday. But with longer days not yet with us, and weather too grim to entice us outside, the only thing you’ve got going for you is your brevity.

I was therefore interested to read in the press this week of research suggesting the benefits of hibernation. What a great way to bypass February!

Scientists report that the long winter sleep of squirrels switches off their brains, resting their synapses without deleting any information. When the squirrels wake up in spring, they can still remember where they buried their nuts. With my senior moments increasing, especially since turning a year older last month, there couldn’t be a better time for me to give hibernation a try.

So if you don’t spot me out and about in the village this month, you’ll know what’s keeping me off the streets. Just tiptoe past my house until 1st March. That’s when I’ll be emerging, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. And possibly snacking on nuts.

Cover of Quck Change flash fiction collectionIf you need something cheery to read,
with a springlike feel to get you through February,
check out my collection of ultra-short stories, Quick Change  

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!