Posted in Personal life, Travel, Writing

In the Footsteps of Robert Holford

Photo of tall shadow of Debie cast over castle by Loch Ness
On the trail of the Loch Ness Monster last month (Castle Urquhart is on the banks of the loch)

Dare I confess that in 27 years of living within walking distance of them, I’ve never been to the Badminton Horse Trials? And in the last few years, as a frequent traveller to Scotland, I’ve spent more time on Loch Ness than at Westonbirt Arboretum.

image of Debbie Young by Lesley Kelly
Speaking at the Ness Book Fest in October 2018

While in Inverness at the start of October to speak at the Ness Book Fest, I squeezed in a quick tourist cruise on the loch. When the tour guide asked at the end how many of our party of about 30 had spotted the legendary monster, an elderly lady put her hand up. One in 30 – that’s pretty good odds.

Home Turf

On my return, determined to make up for lost time, I renewed my Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum membership for not much more than my one-off Loch Ness boat trip had cost me. The new Welcome centre at which I signed up was not the only change I noticed. Last time I came, the treetop walk was just a glint in the Forestry Commission’s corporate eye. Nervous of heights, I was relieved to discover the broad, steady boardwalk, not a bit like the rickety rope bridge I’d imagined from watching travel documentaries about rainforests.

As I renewed my acquaintance with the familiar pathways of the Old Arboretum, I espied a life-sized Gruffalo (yes, of course Gruffaloes are real). I don’t remember seeing him before, but maybe he has been there all along, and it was just my lucky day to spot him. Perhaps he’s Westonbirt’s equivalent to Loch Ness’s monster or the Himalayas’ yeti.

selfie of Debbie with Gruffalo coming up behind her in the woods
Back home, the monster is after me – on the Gruffalo trail at the National Arboretum at Westonbirt, a few miles from my house

Plus Ca Change…

But of course there was still so much that was the same. Just as I surprise myself by knowing all the words to pop songs from my youth, I remembered particular views before they appeared at each twist and turn of the skilfully designed paths. As I walked, I fell to reminiscing about the many times I used to come here in my lunch hour or after work, when I was employed across the road.

Working at Westonbirt School, originally the private house of Arboretum founder Robert Holford, gave me a special affinity for him, as if he were a family friend. 15 years ago, I even wrote a playscript performed as part of the school’s seventy-fifth birthday celebrations. I had fun putting words into the mouth of the great man, gamely played by the school’s then Head of Drama, Henry Moss-Blundell, sporting my knee-high brown leather boots as part of his costume. He reprised the role – and borrowed my boots – many times more to lead heritage tours. I still have the boots, so that’s another way I can walk in Holford’s footsteps.

Only when I was on my way home from renewing my Westonbirt membership, legs tingling after my bracing walk, did I realise that it’s not only the Arboretum that has changed since my earlier visits. In those days, I used to run round the paths. 27 years on, my Holford boots are strictly made for walking.


Cover image of November 2018 issue of the Tetbury Advertiser

This post was originally written for the November issue of the wonderful Tetbury Advertiser, which has just won yet another award, this time for the quality of its editorial content. (Well, who am I to argue with that?!)

It also raised a huge amount of money for local good causes and helps local businesses raise awareness and attract custom. So all in all, a very worthwhile magazine to write for, and I’m proud to be associated with it.

Read the whole magazine online for free by clicking the image, left. If you’re into Twitter, it’s also worth following the magazine at @LionsTetbury – the editor never fails to make me laugh.

You can also read earlier Young By Name columns in paperback format, in the book of the same name, which covers the 2010-2015 issues. Find out more about that book here. 

Posted in Writing

Anything for a Quiet Life – with “Living Quietly” Magazine

A post about my new writing commissions at Living Quietly magazine

cover of October issue of Living Quietly
The October issue contains my short story “The Butterfly Clip”

I’m pleased to announce that I’m now writing for a new online magazine called Living Quietly.

Even the title makes me feel calmer, and that’s even before I’ve looked at the elegant, cool interior layout and read the articles. It’s a new publication, with the second issue just out as a paid-for download, (how very 21st century!) Print copies are also available of the first issue.

I have to thank my author friend AA Abbott for pointing me in their direction, when she saw they were looking for short stories to be featured. As she writes action-packed thrillers, it’s not her usual stomping ground, but she’s always got an eye open for an opportunity, both for herself and, very generously, for her writing chums.

  • In the October issue, they’re carrying my sweet short story “The Butterfly Clip”, the closing piece in my collection Marry in Haste.
  • In the December issue they’ll be featuring a story from my festive Stocking Fillers. (I’m not sure yet which one.)
  • Then in January I’ll be writing a new piece for them to mark the Forestry Commission’s Centenary in 2019, inspired by my long-term love affair with the National Arboretum at Westonbirt, not far from where I live.
Photo of Virginia Woolf
Virginia Woolf is also a contributor to Living Quietly!

I was chuffed to find that on the contents page of the October issue, I share the billing with one of my writing heroes, Virginia Woolf! The first and probably the last time that’s likely to happen! They’ve included one of her stories also.

It turns out both the magazine’s editor, Margaret Bligton-Boyt and I were inspired by an early age by Woolf’s seminal essay, A Room of One’s Own – essential for anyone’s quiet writing life, I reckon.

 


To find out more about Living Quietly, just pop over to their website here: www.livingquietlymagazine.com or follow them on Twitter at @living_quietly.

To find out more about my short story collections, click on the book titles below:

Marry in HasteStocking FillersQuick Change

Posted in Family, Personal life, Reading, Writing

All Change!

English: Woodland magic Shafts of sunlight thr...
Changing Autumn colours at the National Arboretum Westonbirt, a few miles from my house  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Mummy, did you realise that this will be the last night I go to bed as a Year 5?”

Such was the plaintive cry from my daughter’s bedroom on the eve of the summer holidays. Like most children, she is averse to change, but it didn’t take her long to realise that change can also bring advantages. Not least the one that stems from the deal we did when she was still at infants school: I agreed that the number of pounds in her pocket money should equal her school year. She reminded me of our agreement the minute the summer holidays began, holding out her hand expectantly, “because, technically, I’m really a Year 6 now”.

Unlike my daughter, I positively embrace change. When I’m restless, rearranging the furniture makes me feel so much better. Not so my husband. Notorious for being unable to find things – glasses, car keys, wallet, shoes, daughter – even he feels it’s getting out of hand when he can’t find the sofa.

Changing Roles

This autumn it won’t be just my furniture that’s getting a different outlook. I will be too. After being in constant employment since finishing my formal education, I’ve decided to go it alone. Well, I couldn’t wish for a more understanding boss.

By the time this edition of the Tetbury Advertiser* rolls off the press, I’ll be working from home. I’ll be writing, blogging, editing, helping other authors, and reading, reading, reading. (I like to think of reading as a job creation scheme for other authors.)

Statuette of man reading a book
Reading: a job creation scheme for writers

As a writer, I could – and often do – work anywhere I happen to be. But by choice I’ll be working mostly at the desk in my study, overlooking my back garden, which from this viewpoint is dominated by a huge old apple tree.

The apple tree serves as a kind of arboreal calendar. Imperceptible daily changes transform it from bare branches to blossom to harvest. No matter what I’m writing, wherever my imagination has taken me, a glance out of the window provides me with a grounding reality check or where I am and what season we’re in. A few weeks ago, the old tree was so full of apples that it showed more red than green. Now with only the odd scarlet dot breaking up the expanse of leaves, it just looks like it’s recovering from measles. Before long I’ll be able to see straight through barren branches.

Changing Colours

Even that anticipated change doesn’t make me feel downhearted. 13 years of driving to work at Westonbirt has cured me of autumn melancholy. Nothing puts a more positive spin on seasonal change than the National Arboretum. Even when the autumn blaze of colour disappears, the trees spring magically back to life, their skeletons revitalised by the magical fairy lights of the Enchanted Wood’s Illuminated Trail. Such optimism is enough to make you look forward to midwinter.

But first, I need to rearrange my study…

(*This post was originally written for the October 2013 edition of the Tetbury Advertiser.)