Posted in Writing

Trust Me, I’m a Bell Ringer

In this month’s issue of the Hawkesbury Parish News, I share cautionary tales about buying and selling our family cars.

Debbie learning to ring bells on the dumb bell
Learning the basics of bell ringing on the dumb bell, under the guidance of St Mary’s Tower Master Colin Dixon, who is also Editor of the Hawkesbury Parish News (Photo: Laura Young)

When buying or selling a car privately, it pays to be wary of would-be scammers, so when last month we decided to part with a vehicle we no longer needed, I braced myself to fend off shady dealers.

Sure enough, the first offer was what I’ve since discovered to be a classic case of overpayment scam:

  • Via email, the buyer offers your asking price without even viewing the car and asks to pay online, in this case by Paypal.
  • You then receive an email confirming his payment – but of a higher amount.
  • The buyer emails again, regretting his silly mistake and asking you to refund the difference direct to his bank account.
  • Then he disappears without trace, taking your refund with him, while his original payment to you bounces.

Suspicious when his supposed proof of payment went straight into my spam box, I called his bluff, rebuffing and blocking him without paying a penny.

The next offer came from a much more plausible source: a lady who told me she lives in Chipping Sodbury and works for Marks and Spencer.

What could be more respectable? I thought, before realising that was exactly what a scammer might expect me to think.

Last year I came close to committing an unintentional but plausible scam myself. At a dealer near Wells, we viewed and made an offer for a car, and I set up a bank transfer to pay for it. When I dropped my husband off to collect it and drive it home, the salesman was pleased to see us. “We’ve received your money, thank you,” he beamed, but his face fell when he double-checked. “Oh no, that’s from a different Young.”

“But I’ve paid from my Marks and Spencer bank account, and they told me it would be in your account by 5pm,” I replied. It was already gone five. “But I must dash – I’ve got to get back for bell ringing practice.”

Even though the money had not arrived by the time the dealership closed for the evening, the trusting young salesman let my husband drive the new car away. His nerve almost failed at the last minute.

As he handed over the keys, he said: “You realise if the payment doesn’t come through by the morning, I’ll have to report you for car theft.”

When I checked my bank account the next morning, the money still had not left my account. When I phoned to ask why, I was told it had been stopped it as part of a routine check for money-laundering. The transfer eventually went through, but it cost the salesman a sleepless night.

Only with hindsight did I realise my bell ringing practice would have made a great cover story for a scammer, second only to wearing a clerical collar. Or indeed living in Chipping Sodbury and working for Marks and Spencer.

Fortunately my Marks and Spencer lady turned out to be as genuine as my bell ringing practice, but I fear I may have put the car dealer off bell ringers for life.


A Note about the New Bells of St Mary’s

photo of the Wulfstan bell
Fresh from the mould, our new Wulfstan bell, named after our former parish priest, St Wulfstan

This month, our local parish church of St Mary the Virgin will take delivery of a wonderful set of eight new bells, which have been cast especially for us, after a mammoth fundraising effort by the Friends of St Mary’s. I’m on the Friends’ committee, and I also run their website.

For  more information about this exciting and historic event in the life of our village, visit www.friendsofstmaryshawkesbury.com, where over the coming weeks we will be sharing the story of their blessing, installation and inauguration.


More About Money-Laundering

cover of Fatal Forgery by Susan Grossey
Constable Sam Plank’s investigations into historical financial fraud start with this first novel in Susan Grossey’s excellent series

I’m lucky to have a friend who is an expert on money-laundering – or rather on the prevention of money-laundering. If I ever have any qualms about the trustworthiness of a deal, I know I can count on Susan Grossey for advice. She is the author of a series of books and numerous articles on the topic, which have also inspired her to write an excellent series of mystery novels about historical financial crime. It’s kind of heartening to know that dodgy deals pre-date the digital age and online banking! I highly recommend her Constable Sam Plank series, which kicks off with Fatal Forgery – read  more about Susan’s books and where to buy theme on her website: https://susangrossey.wordpress.com/


In Other News

cover of Murder Lost and Found
The ebook is now available for pre-order and the paperback will be out on 23rd May.

Meanwhile I’m gearing up to launch my next novel, Murder Lost and Found, which is due to be published on 23rd May – a date I chose as auspicious because it will be my daughter’s eighteenth birthday! One of the themes of this story, which kicks off when a dead body is found in the village school’s lost property cupboard, is the deceptiveness of eyewitness evidence, a dilemma encapsulated by the quote from psychologist Elizabeth Loftus in Psychology Today:

“Eyewitnesses who point their finger at innocent defendants are not liars, for they genuinely believe in the truth of their testimony. That’s the frightening part – the truly horrifying idea that what we think we know, what we believe with all our hearts, is not necessarily the truth.”

I’ve had great fun writing this story, the seventh Sophie Sayers Village Mystery, which sees Sophie gain new confidence as she reaches the end of her first year in the village of Wendlebury Barrow. I’ve introduced some fun new characters too, including a trio of mischievous workmen and Anastasia, a beautiful young intern that to Sophie’s horror Hector has appointed while she was away on holiday.

The paperback will be available from the launch date – more news on that to follow soon. 

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 Reading, Writing

Recommended Weekend Reading: A Brace of Historical Detectives

Photo of Debbie with box set of Sherlock Holmes
Recommended weekend reading, every Friday, new on my blog (Photo: Dominic Cotter, at BBC Radio Gloucestershire)

This is the first in a new weekly series of posts on my blog, sharing my favourite recent reads every Friday and recommending them as weekend reads. This feature will supersede the book blog that I’ve been writing for the last couple of years, as I was finding it too much of a strain to keep two websites running in parallel. In time I’ll move the reviews from the other site back to the archive here, and you’ll always be able to find a complete list of the reviews held on this site on the index page here. Given that I read at least one book at week, and often more, I should have no shortage of material, but I’ll only ever share here the books that I wholeheartedly recommend.

Today I’d like to recommend two historical detective series that I’ve been reading in parallel over the last few years, following their development from the day the first in each series was launched. I’ve even introduced the authors to each other (online, as they live on opposite sides of the country), as they seem to have so much in common. I just wish I could get their two heroes in the same room together too!

Meet Dan Foster and Sam Plank

Cover of Portraits of Pretence by Sam Grossey
Fourth in a gently addictive series
Cover of the Fatal Coin
A gripping novella with as much action and excitement as a full novel

Dan Foster is the creation of Lucienne Boyce, and Sam Plank is from the pen of Susan Grossey. Both are Bow Street runners, from the early era of British policing when constables sought out criminals for local magistrates to bring them to justice.

Dan Foster & Sam Plank: Compare and Contrast

  • Both are sensitively drawn, complex characters, who have risen above deprived and difficult backgrounds – Dan was a child pickpocket turned bareknuckle boxer, and Sam was a street urchin.
  • Each has acquired an interesting wife, providing thoughtful subplots and plenty of character development opportunities. Sam’s is a loving and loveable helper, but Dan’s is introduced as a drunken, self-pitying wretch. Both, by coincidence, are childless.
  • Both solve crimes particular to the age, against meticulously researched historical backgrounds. While their stories are set against a detailed and vivid backdrop, in neither case does the reader feel on the receiving end of a history lesson.
  • Dan’s adventures are darker and grittier than Sam’s, but despite being more violent (only when necessary to the plot, I hasten to add), they are also sensitively drawn, with poignant moments cleverly woven in amongst the adventures, as they are in Sam’s too.

I’ve read and enjoyed all of the adventures of both so far, and have been lucky enough to have a sneak preview of Dan’s second and third stories prior to publication. But for this weekend, I’m recommending Dan’s second, The Fatal Coin, and Sam’s fourth, Portraits of Pretence – and when you’ve read them, I’m sure you’ll be glad to know that there are more adventures of both ready and waiting for you.

What I’ll Be Reading This Weekend

  • my first ever Georgette Heyer novel, Footsteps in the Dark (I know, how did I get to be this old without reading Georgette Heyer before?)
  • Richard Bach’s Jonathan Livingstone Seagull (same applies) – our BBC Radio Gloucestershire Book of the Month for July
  • the manuscript of Trick or Murder? – just back from my editor, second in the Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries series and due for publication at the end of August – exciting times!

Happy weekend reading, folks!

Cover of Best Murder in Show by Debbie Young
Fist in a series of seven Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries

P.S. Fancy reading one of my books this weekend? Best Murder in Show, a lighthearted modern mystery story, is the perfect summer read, set at the time of a traditional village show. Now available as an ebook for Kindle or in paperback  – order from Amazon here or at your local neighbourhood bookshop quoting ISBN  978-1911223139.

 

 

Posted in Reading, Travel, Writing

The Fatal Attraction of Books to Review

(A new post about book reviews and my reading habits)

Red bookcase of to-read books
#amreading

The decision I made some time ago to read and review books outside my comfort zone has brought many rewards.

None of these has been financial, which is worth mentioning given the subject matter of the book I’ll be talking about further down this post. No, I’m talking about rewards in terms of the discovery of many terrific new books that would otherwise have been off my radar.

Another good decision was to include my email address on my Amazon profile. Since I’ve reached the heady heights of top reviewer status (well, top 1,500, anyway – currently #1,453 in the UK), I’ve received a steady stream of emails from authors asking me to review their books.

With a teetering to-read pile constantly tumbling down by my bed, and the black hole that is my Kindle hiding dozens of downloads, I’ve always got more books than I have time to read, but whenever I receive a courteous, friendly request to review a book that sounds interesting, I do my best to squeeze it in, unless it sounds like a book I’d actively dislike.

 

How I Choose Which Books to Review

Books on the mat by my bed
My Bed (sorry, Tracy Emin, but I prefer mine to yours)

I often use Amazon’s handy “Look Inside” feature to check out the first few pages before saying yes – if the first few pages don’t appeal, it’s unlikely the rest of the book will. That’s a far more reliable guide to a book’s readibility than checking out the other reviews.

I’ve also learned a new trick here: if there is a suspiciously high number of five star reviews, I’ll click on each reviewer to see how many other reviews they’ve left. If there are none, I can be pretty confident that they doing an author friend a favour, and I take their verdict with a pinch of salt.

So, top tip to authors who ask friends to bung up a 5* review for them: while they’re at it, get them to review loads of other books with various star ratings to add credibility to their review of your book. ( I jest.)

Forging Ahead

Cartoon of a burglar with mask and cash box
Not Susan Grossey but @CriminalGenius

And that kind of activity brings me neatly (ok, with a bit of a shove, then) to the latest book that I’ve discovered via this route: Fatal Forgery by Susan Grossey. Susan sent me a very pleasant email asking whether I’d be interested in reviewing it, after she’d discovered me via my recent article in ALCS News. She included a link to an early review in the Law Gazette. It was glowing, but given the context, I was happy to believe that it was legal, decent, honest and truthful!

Cover of Fatal Forgery by Susan GrosseyFatal Forgery is a historical novel set in the Regency period, following the adventures of a police constable investigating a case of fraud.

Fraud isn’t a subject that usually excites me, although it clearly does engage Susan, in a way that is completely above board (although when I followed her on Twitter, it did suggest as “similar to @SusanGrossey” a certain @CriminalGenius!)

Susan writes about money laundering for a living, in publications that surely must be contenders for the satirical TV programme Have I Got News For You‘s guest magazine of the week, with titles such as Money Laundering Bulletin. (“This week’s top tip: how to get your fivers whiter than white” etc. I’ll leave to you invent equally childish quips of your own.)

Forgery, in Regency times, was potentially punishable by death – a fact that 21st century bankers would do well to remember. That would keep them on the straight and narrow. When the promised book turned up in the post, the beautiful, appropriate cover and atmospheric interior design had me quickly turning the pages, and I was hooked. I’ve reviewed the book on my blog, as well as on Amazon UK/US and Goodreads. (I know how to make an author happy!) There’s a link at the foot of this post.

Artistically Inclined

Cover of The Towers of Tuscany by Carol CramAn Amazon-induced email also introduced me to Carol M Cram, another debut historical novelist, whose story of medieval Italian artists, The Towers of Tuscany, kept me entertained on my journey to and from the Cambridge Literary Festival recently. Would a writer working in Canada really be able to conjure up the colourful Mediterranean of times gone by, I wondered? Yes, and in spades, is the answer. Follow the link at the foot of this post to read my review – as always, the reviews on my blog are slightly different to those I post on Amazon and Goodreads.

Africa Bound

Cover of In A Foreign Country by Hilary ShepherdBut now it’s all change again, as my current read has taken me to 1970s Ghana, thanks to In A Foreign Country by Hilary Shepherd – another author who contacted me after reading my ALCS News article. Who needs to go on holiday when you can travel so far – and in time as well – via the pages of a good book, without even getting out of bed? I’ll review this as soon as I’ve read it.

Ithacan Odyssey

Image of setting for Homeric Writers' RetreatAll the same, I’m looking forward to travelling in real life to Ithaca this August, when I’ll be helping other authors at the Homeric Writers’ Retreat. I’m inspired before I’ve even got on the plane: “A dozen authors come together for a peaceful workshop on a tiny, idyllic Greek island.The authors’ ink and the local wine are flowing steadily until….”

You never know, that could become the blurb for my own debut novel – watch this space!

 

Links to book reviews mentioned above:

Other related posts: