Posted in Events, Personal life, Travel, Writing

Sophie Sayers and Me

Perhaps because I write in the first person and I live in a village in the Cotswolds, readers sometimes assume that my Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries are partly autobiographical. One of my best friends, who has known me since we were 11, said to me after reading the first in the series, Best Murder in Show, “Sophie Sayers – she’s you, isn’t she?” Today I’d like to explain some of the similarities and differences between us.

Best Murder in Show against backdrop of Cotswold cottages

First of all there is a disparity in our ages. I’m old enough to be Sophie’s mother, but I was only four years older than Sophie when I moved to the Cotswold cottage where I still live and work today.

Like Sophie, I had previously lived in towns and cities before moving to a village, but I moved here with my husband rather than as a single girl on the rebound from a failed relationship.

Cottage Home

This illustration of the Hector’s House bookshop by Thomas Shepherd is in the same style as Sophie’s ficitious cottage (Copyright Thomas Shepherd http://www.shepline.com)

Sophie and I are both lucky enough to live in a Victorian Cotswold stone cottage with a pleasant established garden, but Sophie inherited hers. I had to buy mine, paying off my mortgage a few years ago. I envy Sophie her mortgage-free status from such a young age!

Strangely, when I write about Sophie’s cottage, I don’t picture my current home. That might seem the obvious choice, but it’s the wrong size and shape for my story. Mine is a three-bedroomed semi-detached cottage, whereas Sophie’s is a two-bedroomed terrace. (That’s a row house to American-English speaking readers.)

For the internal layout, I picture an amalgam of my maternal grandmother’s 1920s terraced house in Sidcup and my first house, a Victorian two-up, two-down workman’s villa in Tring, Hertfordshire. Both of those houses were brick-built, but Sophie’s is definitely made from the local honey-coloured Cotswold stone, like all the other old houses in her village.

Writing Ambitions

Sophie and I both harboured writing ambitions since childhood. Like Sophie, when I decided the time was right to start taking my writing seriously, I took baby steps rather than plunging straight into writing novels. Having swapped my full-time job for a part-time one to give myself time to write, I committed, as Sophie does, to writing a monthly column in the village community magazine, in my case the Hawkesbury Parish News. This was to force myself into a regular writing habit and to nurture the discipline of writing to deadline and to length.

cover of Young by Name
You can also read the archive of columns in each magazine in book form

Unlike Sophie, I volunteered to write a second column for a magazine with a larger readership and circulation, the award-winning Tetbury Advertiser, which serves the nearby Cotswold market town.

For both publications, I write about seasonal or topical issues, and they’re generally humorous, ending with a smile even when addressing a serious issue such as Covid-19, but the editors give me free rein as to choice of topic.

Sophie, on the other hand, confines herself initially to writing for Wendlebury Barrow’s parish magazine, in which her column is called “Travels with my Aunt’s Garden“. The great aunt from whom she inherited her cottage was a travel writer and filled her cottage garden with plants that remind her of her favourite places around the world. Each month Sophie writes a seasonal piece about a plant currently thriving in her garden and its exotic origins.

Cosmetic Details

There are many differences between us:

  • Sophie’s got light brown hair and blue eyes, my natural colour at Sophie’s age was dark brown, as are my eyes.
  • I’ve never worked in a bookshop or dated a bookseller, although I do love bookshops of all kinds.
  • Sophie is thriving in her job running the Hector’s House tearoom, whereas my only stint as a waitress was in a tea shop in York while I was at university. I was very bad at it and soon made my excuses and left.
  • Sophie’s parents live and work in Inverness; mine retired to Bristol after working in London, Frankfurt, Detroit and Los Angeles.
  • Sophie has taught at international schools, whereas I attended one as a pupil between the ages of 14 and 18.
  • Sophie is an only child, while I have a brother and sister.

Writers’ Retreat as a Turning Point

But there is one final similarity that unites us:  we have both attended writers’ retreats on Greek islands. Mine was on Ithaca, run by author, designer, poet and musician Jessica Bell, an Australian living in Athens. Sophie’s is on a tiny fictitious island just off the end of Ithaca and is run by a specialist company based in London.

Ithaca photo
Wonderful memories and much knowledge gained from the retreat organised by Jessica Bell six years ago

Sophie wins her place on her retreat as a competition prize, whereas I attended Jessica’s as a paid speaker.

Yet both Sophie and I returned from our retreats significantly changed.

For me, the retreat was the turning point that made me realise that I really could write novels. Previously I’d focused on short stories, nervous of tackling the larger canvas of full-length fiction. My eighth novel, Stranger at St Bride’s, is due to launch on 1st July.

Sophie enters her retreat questioning not only her ambition to write books, but also the future of her relationship with Hector.

How is Sophie changed by her retreat? You’ll have to read Murder Your Darlings to find out!


Escape to a Greek island through the pages of the sixth Sophie Sayers Village Mystery, now available in ebook and paperback

How to Order Murder Your Darlings


graphic advertising course

How to Create Your Own Writing Retreat at Home

While the coronavirus pandemic hampers foreign travel, writers’ retreats abroad can be only a fantasy. That’s a great shame, because writing is terrific therapy in a time of crisis, even if you write only for yourself.

But here’s news of a different kind of writers’ retreat that you can set up for yourself at home – the new Fictionfire  – you may be interested in a different kind of this talk of retreats has got you hankering after taking such a trip yourself.

My friend Lorna Fergusson, an award-winning author, writing coach and editor, has set up this course online at a very reasonable price ($17 earlybird rate until 21st June, $37 after that). This gives you a lifetime access to the course materials.

Lorna also runs free online writing retreat sessions, and having enjoyed a couple of those during lockdown, I know that her course will be of a high standard (and yes, I have already snapped one up at the earlybird rate!) Click here for more information. 

Posted in Events, Reading, Writing

Back to School for a World Book Day Reading Competition

Every day last week I had the pleasure of spending some time at Westonbirt School, talking to English classes in Years 7, 8 and 9 (11-14 year olds), sharing insights into an author’s life and writing advice that I wish I’d been given at their age.

World Book Day logo 2020On the Thursday, for World Book Day, I returned in the evening to co-judge the school’s annual inter-house reading competition, alongside the award-winning poet Shirley Wright and two sixth-form pupils. We judged the pupils’ readings were on four criteria: clarity, confidence, choice of passage and overall performance. The overall standard was really high, and, in the stunning setting of the school’s Grade 1 listed library, being a judge was a very enjoyable experience.

Congratulations to all those pupils who performed, and to the English department, so ably led by Miss Sheehan, for staging such a streamlined and impressive evening of entertainment.

But before the readings began, I had to give a small performance of my own: a brief motivational speech to all those taking part. In case you’re interested, here’s the transcript.

My Address to the Readers

People often assume that being a professional writer is a lonely business, spent in isolation. But as I’ve been explaining in these classes, the writer’s life is all about collaboration. It’s team work. Editors, proof-readers and cover designers help turn my manuscripts into books, before the books are sent out into the world.

Reaching readers is by far the most important stage in any book’s journey, because a book’s success stands or falls by what its readers make of it. Every reader interprets the writer’s intention in their own way. Furthermore, the same reader, reading the same book at different times in their life, may find it a completely different experience.  Books you love now may leave you cold when you get to my age. On the other hand, in later life you may find you love books that you struggled to enjoy at school.

Those who read books aloud to entertain others add another layer of interest to a writer’s words.

In the audiobook publishing world, these people are called voice artists. Good voice artists add value and interest to a book and inject it with their own personality. They also make the process look easy. But even when you know a text really well, reading it aloud is hard work, as I know from my own experience. At the launch of my first novel, performing an extract from Best Murder in Show, instead of reading about “Rex’s elegant girlfriend”, I managed to call her “Rex’s elephant girlfriend”. That’s quite a different thing and an error I’ll never forget. (Click here to witness my gaffe!)

Using your voice to engage an audience is a valuable life-skill in any setting. If you apply the skills demonstrated in this competition in other settings, such as the classroom, the boardroom or in government, you can change lives and may even change the world.

Last Friday, in the rain and the mud in Bristol, Greta Thunberg spoke for just four minutes. Her immaculate delivery of  her succinct and perfectly polished script moved not only the tens of thousands on College Green, my own daughter among them – but, thanks to the internet, her voice resonated around the world, mobilising millions to support her cause – including you, here, at Westonbirt School, as you watched her speech streamed live in the Great Hall. (Watch her speech on Youtube here.)

Those of you who are reading to us tonight may be reading words written by someone else, but in years to come, when you use the power of the spoken of word to deliver your own messages, we may find ourselves as mesmerised by you as we were by Greta.

You have already proven your exceptional skills by being chosen to represent your houses in school-wide heats. No matter who wins this competition tonight, your houses should be proud of you all and you should be proud of yourselves.

Now let the stories begin.


Cover image of Secrets at St Bride's
My own take on school stories – one for the grown-ups!

The Story Behind the Story

My time spent working at Westonbirt School (1997-2010) was the inspiration for my new St Bride’s School series, which begins with Secrets at St Bride’s. However, the situation, the plot and the characters are completely made up!

To read the first chapter for free and to find out more about this jolly romp of a novel, click here

Posted in Events, Personal life, Reading, Writing

Quick! Before We Run Out of May…

photo of abundant May blossom on hawthorn hedge
May blossom at my favourite time of year

…How I’ve Spent Most of Mine

In between pulling over on impulse at various points on various journeys to take photos of the gorgeous spring views in the Cotswolds, I’ve had a packed calendar of events, the weight and complexity of which has scuppered my plan at the start of this month to post a weekly uupdate on what I’ve been up to. So I’ve decided in future to do this just once a month, in a single post at the end of each month. Today’s post will fill you in on how I spent the second half of May, having published a couple of posts earlier about the first half. Well, I did say I have been busy.

I will still try to post here weekly, including the monthly columns I write for our two local magazines, plus anything else that strikes me as possibly of interest to you.

My First Twitterchat (14th May)

I confess I barely knew this was a thing before, but when Tim Lewis, who runs a weekly Twitterchat for the Alliance of Independent Authors, asked me to feature as a guest to speak about running a literature festival, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to promote my beloved Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival (HULF)!

promotional image for my Twitterchat

“What is a Twitterchat?” I hear you cry. It’s a conversation on Twitter, identified by a specific hashtag , in this case #IndieAuthorChat. It takes place at at set time – in this case 8pm-9pm London time. The host asks a series of questions and the guest answeres, but anyone else may join the conversation by searching for and applying to their own tweets the required hashtag. Tim explains at greater length in a post on the ALLi blog here.

The hour flew by, and even though as Tim instructed I had carefully prepared lots of ready-made answers and photos, I felt like I was typing fast enough to melt the keyboard for the whole hour. As well as enjoying talking about HULF, and encouraging other authors to consider setting up something similar themselves, I made some great new friends.

BBC Radio Gloucestershire Book Club (15th May)

This month we were discussing the young adult book that everyone has been talking about lately – The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. Show presenter Dominic Cotter, fellow guest Caroline Sanderson and I all have teenage daughters, each of which had identified this as a must-read, and we finally caught up with it! It tells the story of a girl living in a poor black of the USA, riddled with drug dealing and violent crime, and how she finds the strength to cope with the aftermath of the shooting of two innocent friends – and to campaign for reform. It’s an incredibly powerful book on so many levels – an engrossing read (although it took me a chapter or two to tune into the dialect and slang) with a tremendous sense of place and beautifully drawn, memorable characters, as well as politically important and empowering. We all felt it will become a timeless classic, and, we hope, instrumental in bringing about change in the real world. Read it!

And if you’d like to tune into the show to hear what else we had to say about this and other book-related topics, such as HULF, you can catch it on iplayer till mid June via this link. Book Club is the first hour of the lunchtime slot, and starts about 10 minutes into the show.

Next month’s Book Club choice is Raynor Winn’s memoir The Salt Path, and the show will be live from noon on Wednesday 26th June.

Our BBC Radio Gloucestershire Book Club recommendations for May and June

Captain Swing & the Blacksmith (17th May)

I was thrilled to have the chance to see my first ever Folk Opera, based on a wonderful book I was sent to review a couple of years ago – Beatrice Parvin‘s Captain Swing and the Blacksmith, a historical novel set at the time of rural riots against the mechanisation of farming with the introduction of the threshing machine. The book came with a CD of the folk songs that inspired it, and this show took the whole to its natural conclusion with a dramatic presentation through readings, songs and instrumental music, all in the delightful rural setting of Avebury‘s Social Centre, a tiny hall a stone’s throw from the, er, stones – the mysterious standing stones of Avebury. What better way to spend a sunny spring evening? I liked it so much I also bought a music CD from the accordionist’s band, not least because he is featured playing it in Hugo, one of my favourite films.

Captain Swing and the Blacksmith Folk Opera Cast

Oakwood Literature Festival (18th May)

The next day I had an early start to drive to Oakwood, a suburb of Derby, where my author friend Dawn Brookes was organising her second Oakwood Lit Fest, which she’s created on a similar model to Hawkesbury’s. Last year I had fun as keynote speaker, and this year I chaired a panel talking about the nature of Cosy Crime Fiction – what it is and why it’s so popular. On the panel with me were Dawn, who writes mysteries set aboard cruise ships, and Wendy H Jones, who writes both cosy and dark crime novels. I also enjoyed talking about my Sophie Sayers series at a Meet the Author event in the local library.

promotional banner for the Cosy Mystery panel event

Stroud Short Stories (19th May)

Next evening I was Stroud-bound, this time thankfully to sit in the audience and enjoy someone else doing the work! I’m an occasional judge for the twice-yearly Stroud Short Stories event, which culminates in ten authors reading their short stories before a live audience. This was the first time in a new venue, the Cotswold Playhouse, which, like the previous venue, was sold out for the event, despite being twice the capacity! The stories were all so scintillating, and the readings so magnficent, that many in the audience, myself included, declared this to be the best yet. I was also pleased to discover the venue, which I’d never been to before – they have a great programme of shows at affordable ticket prices all year round, and I suspect I’ll be back there again soon, possibly for the Bristol Old Vic students’ rendition of The Canterbury Tales on 4th July.

Cheltenham Authors’ Alliance (21st May)

A much-needed day at home was followed by my monthly trip to Cheltenham to host my Cheltenham Authors’ Alliance writers’ group in the delightful Suffolk Anthology bookshop. As ever, it was a lively discussion about everybody’s news and questions and issues of the moment, and although it was exhausting after such a busy month, it’s always lovely to see everyone there and to help them make progress with their own writing lives. When one member very kindly described me afterwards as his guardian angel, it gave me enough spring in my step to drive home safely!

Wotton-under-Edge Arts Festival Meeting (22nd May)

Just about still able to string a sentence together, next night I’d agreed to meet a representative of this festival that takes place at our nearest market town, just three miles away. Next year will be their 50th Festival, and at HULF one of their committee approached me to ask whether we might provide a literary event as an outreach for them next year. I was honoured to be asked (not least because Wotton is about five times the size of Hawkesbury!) and enjoy and hour’s brainstorming meeting with Anne Robinson, who is going to take our ideas to the next committee meeting and develop things from there.

Matilda the Musical (27th May)

And finally I wound up my hectic month with a treat – well, my teenage daughter’s birthday treat, actually! A trip to the Bristol Hippodrome to see Tim Minchin’s wonderful stage musical rendition of Roald Dahl‘s classic children’s book, Matilda. I love Matilda with a passion. You may remember I made a model of her for our village scarecrow trail last autumn, when she manned my Little Free Library for a week. I can’t bear to throw her away, so now she’s taken up residence in the reading nook in my dining room.

photo of Matilda scarecrow with Little Free Library
Matilda loves my Little Free Library!

We first saw the show when it launched at Stratford-upon-Avon, prior to its London run, and loved every moment – and this was sufficiently long ago that we had forgotten a lot of the detail, so it was still really fresh to us. It is an astonishing show, enjoyable on so many levels – the story, the music, the ingenious lyrics, the choreography and the sentiments – and will be loved by adults and children alike. If you have the chance to see it, do – you won’t regret it.

Guest Posts

I was pleased to be interviewed by Rachel McCollin for her blog here:

Interview with Debbie Young, Cozy Mystery Writer

And to be quoted again on her blog the following week when she was polling authors about where they get their inspiration – you can read that post here:

How to Get Writing Inspiration?

I love doing guest posts and interviews so was pleased to be invited this week by printing giant IngramSpark, to write a series of blog posts for their website, aimed at other indie writers.

What About the Writing?

Somehow – and I’m not entirely sure how – in between all of this frenzy of activity, I managed to finish my final edit of my new novel, which has now been despatched to my invaluable editor Alison Jack. I also decided in a lightbulb moment to change the title from Flat Chance – A Staffroom at St Bride’s Mystery to Secrets at St Bride’s – A School Mystery for Grown-ups. It’s a fun mashup of romantic comedy, mystery and satire, aimed at all those who grew up hooked on traditional school stories for children, such as Malory Towers and the Chalet School series. The cover is now with my talented designer for amendment (sorry to make extra work for you, Rachel Lawston!) It will also be the first in a new series.

I also signed off the audio files for my first audiobook novel, which will be of the first in the Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries series.

New Writing Projects

Today I started writing a new Sophie Sayers novella which will be given free of charge to everyone on my mailing list. (If you haven’t yet signed up, you can do so using the form at the bottom of this post.) I’m hoping this will be ready in August.

Then I’ll be writing the sixth Sophie Sayers Village Mystery, Murder Your Darlings, set at a writers’ retreat on Ithaca, at which Sophie inadvertently won a free place back in Best Murder in Show.

After that I’ll be alternating between the two series in future, and publishing at least one book in each series each year, if not more. St Bride’s #2, Stranger at St Bride’s, in which an American gentleman turns up claiming the estate is rightfully his, as a descendant of the (supposedly childless) founder, will be my autumn writing project.

Book Reviews Always Welcome!

In the meantime, if you’d like to spur me on, and you’ve read and enjoyed any of my books, it would make me very happy if you could spare a moment to leave a brief review online somewhere.

New reviews help books get discovered among the masses of novels out there in the world, and your support could make a real difference to my sales.

Like to Join My Mailing List?

To be among the first to know about my new booksspecial offerscoming events and free downloads, just type your email address into the box above and click the grey button. You’ll also receive a free download of a short novella, The Pride of Peacocks, a lighthearted quick read in the Sophie Sayers Village Mystery series, available exclusively to my subscribers. I promise I won’t share your email address with anyone else and you may unsubscribe at any time. Thank you!

Posted in Personal life, Writing

May Be Not…

My column for the May issue of the Hawkesbury Parish News

cover of May issue features photo of Debbie launching HULF
A strangely familiar face on the May front cover too…

After a hectic start to 2019, I was hoping my May diary would be blank.

Not that I’ve turned anti-social all of a sudden. But 1st May marks a major life-change for me, as on 30th April I leave my part-time day job in order to devote all my working hours to writing. The only diary dates I’d envisaged for May were self-imposed milestones for my next book.

The impartial observer might notice no difference in my behaviour. In my day job, I worked almost entirely from home, with the shortest commute possible (bedroom to study, five paces) and an office dress code of pyjamas.

Same applies from 1st May. I’ll still be sitting in the same chair, at the same desk, at the same computer, although I regularly change the pyjamas. But in my head, the difference will be enormous. I hope soon to have a new book out as evidence of my personal revolution.

Yet despite my best intentions, before April is out, there is already a flurry of events in my May diary: Dog Show, Plant Sale, Big Breakfast, HU5K. And that’s before the May issue of the Parish News falls on my doormat. (I scan every issue, diary in hand, as soon as it arrives, for fear of missing out – don’t you?)

Of course, living in a community as lively as Hawkesbury Upton, a blank diary could only be a figment of my imagination.

But imagination’s my long suit. After all, I do write fiction.


Like to Receive News of my Books & Events in your Inbox?

Like to be among the first to know about new booksspecial offerscoming events and free downloads? Just type your email address into the box and click “CONFIRM” to join my e-newsletter mailing list. I promise I won’t share your email address with anyone else and you may unsubscribe at any time.

Headshot of Debbie Young by Angela Fitch
Posted in Personal life, Self-publishing, Writing

The End of an Era and the Beginning of a New One

A post about my new life as a full-time novelist

Debbie with ALLi friends in selfie shot
Celebrating the launch of “Opening Up To Indie Authors”, a book I co-wrote with Dan Holloway (right), at the London Book Fair – with fellow authors Jessica Bell, Hugh Howey and Orna Ross and Kobo’s UK Director Diego Marano

In just two weeks’ time, it’ll be all change for me as I leave the closest thing I have to a day-job to devote all my time to writing and marketing my books.

In some respects there’ll be no change, in that my commute will be exactly the same: from bedroom to study, just six paces. But instead of  working for the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi, as in “ally”), I’ll be working entirely for myself.

All about ALLi

ALLi logoIn case you’re not familiar with ALLi, let me explain a little about what it is, what it does, and what I did there. ALLi is a global, non-profit organisation for independent authors to share best practice and support, founded by Irish author and poet Orna Ross in 2012.

Debbie on the terrace of the House of Commons with an ALLi flyer
Raising awareness of ALLi at the House of Commons, July 2015, at the All Party Writers’ Group Summer Drinks Party

In 2013, Orna invited me to be Commissioning Editor of its daily blog (www.selfpublishingadvice.org), and that role soon expanded. I moderated its members’-only advice forum, co-wrote self-help books for authors in ALLi’s series of guidebooks, wrote ALLi-related guest posts on other blogs, helped man its stand at the London Book Fair, and spoke on ALLi’s behalf at various festivals and writing events around the country. As an offshoot, I also started two writers’ groups, one in Cheltenham and one in Bristol, whose membership I had to restrict to ALLi members only to keep the numbers manageable.

With a new blog post required every day, and to a specific deadline, my ALLi work had to take priority – and for a long time I hugely enjoyed it, not least because I was networking online daily with all manner of authors all over the world, and learning an enormous amount along the way, particularly from Orna herself, who had become a real mentor to me in my writing as well as in my role at ALLi.

And Plenty More Besides

Orna Ross (left) has been part of the Hawkesbury Upton Lit Fest from the beginning – pictured here with Katie Fforde at the first ever HULF (Photo by http://www.pixelprphotography.co.uk)

I also managed to fit in a reasonable amount of writing (I’ve published five novels in the last two years), public speaking on my own account, and running the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival, of which the fifth is about to take place (Saturday 27th April). However, around Christmas time, with my work-in-progress novel beset by a series of delays, I realised that if I was to achieve my long-term writng goals, something would have to give. I was operating on as little sleep and as little housework as I could get away with, and there were still never enough hours in the day. A series of minor illnesses (all now thankfully resolved) underscored the message that I was simply trying to do too much.

For years people had been saying to me “I don’t know how you do it all” – it just took me a while to agree with them.

Onward and Upward

Coming soon – honest! The first in my new series of novels.

Orna and the team at ALLi have been gracious and generous as we’ve worked on a handover, and I’ve been vastly amused to discover I’m being replaced by not one but three people! (Ok, so they’re all working part-time on what I used to do, but the thought still made Orna and me laugh.) I will continue to be ALLi’s UK Ambassador, and to write and speak on the organisations behalf now and again, but apart from that I will be my own person. If I don’t get as many books written as I plan, I will have no excuse, and no-one to blame but myself! So watch this space – and if you’d like me to alert you as I release new books, please click here to join my Readers’ Club, and I’ll keep you posted of progress.

I’ll close now with Orna’s version of this news, over on the ALLi blog. She is very kind!

New Horizons for Our Blog Editor and Self-Publishing Advice Center Manager Debbie Young