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 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

Flu Fury

(My column for the January issue of the Hawkesbury Parish News)

Baby Laura asleep in winter fur hat
My daughter Laura demonstrating at an early age that sleep is the best medicine

When, like a less powerful cousin of the Grim Reaper, flu stalked the village before Christmas, I was one of its victims. The first half of December passed me by in a blur.

It’s only when you’re on the mend from a nasty bug that you realise how poorly you’ve been, and what bad decisions you’ve made while unwell, e.g. being fobbed off with an unnecessary prescription for penicillin by the GP’s triage system. Continue reading “Flu Fury”

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 Reading, Travel, Writing

How to Be an Armchair Traveller

(This post was written for the January issue of the Hawkesbury Parish News)

Cover of Sea Witch by Helen HollickJanuary is traditionally the time when holiday companies’ commercials start popping up on our television screens. What better distraction from our post-Christmas overdrafts than sundrenched villas and beaches?

In the depths of the January gloom, these adverts tempt us to raid the rainy-day fund reserved for moments of crisis, such as when dishwasher gives up the ghost. (Now there’s a middle-class problem.)

The Budget Travel Option: A Good Book

Debbie Young with Helen Holllick
With Helen Hollick, creator of the fabulous escapist Sea Witch adventure stories

I for one will be resisting the lure of travel agents and instead taking refuge in a good book. This time last year, through the pages of Helen Hollick’s excellent historical novel Sea Witch, I sailed away with her enticing pirate Jesemiah Acorne. After an interesting stop-off in South Africa, we headed straight for the Caribbean, where thoughts of palm-fringed shores and tropic temperatures helped me shut out the dark nights and icy winds of Hawkesbury Upton. It may have helped that I was reading in a comfy armchair by a log fire, with what was left of our Christmas bottle of Lamb’s Navy Rum.

Photo of bluestockinged scarecrow with Books are my Bag bag and Little Free Library
My Little Free Library – offering armchair travellers an easy source of escapist books

Good books are much cheaper than holiday bookings – and you don’t even have to wait till the summer to enjoy them. And, as with radio, the pictures are so much better than on television. If your budget doesn’t run to a new book, check out the huge range of £1 books in the Hawkesbury Shop and Head Start Studio, or the free books available round the clock from the Little Free Library box on my front garden wall in France Lane.

Last January, my sorrow at ending my voyage with Captain Acorne was cut short when I realised that “Sea Witch” was the first in a series. I’ve been saving the sequel especially for this winter. So wish me bon voyage – I’m back off to the Caribbean via the pages of Pirate Code. I just wish I could bring back some duty-free.

OVER TO YOU What’s your favourite book for armchair travelling? I’d love to know!

If you’ve enjoyed this post, please share it with your friends!

And if you liked this post, you may also enjoy this anecdote that centres on reading a book on a plane, inspired by my avid travelling: Flight of Fancy: A Cautionary Tale