Posted in Events, Reading, Writing

Ali Smith, CrimeFest & Partners in Crime

Selfie of Debbie Young, Alison Morton, & David Penny
CrimeFest is a great place to network with fellow crime-writers such as my author chums Alison Morton and David Penny.

Last week went by in a bit of a blur for me, but included attending two very enjoyable events that you might like to know about.

I must admit after having spent a large part of this year so far organising the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival, it was bliss for me to attend events as a member of the audience, and to sit back and enjoy myself rather than rushing about making things happen.

Ali Smith at Tetbury Book Fest

The week kicked off with the new Tetbury Book Fest, run by the Yellow-Lighted Bookshop at the delightful Tetbury Goods Shed, a small-scale events space on the site of the former and sympathetically converted former Tetbury railway station. This Cotswold market town, just a few miles up the road from me, was filled with party atmosphere, its annual Wacky Races event, in which locals race home-made go-carts around its street, having taken place a little earlier that day.

At Tetbury, I really enjoyed a talk by Ali Smith, one of the country’s most highly-regarded authors. She doesn’t do many public events like this, but the Yellow-Lighted’s ever-persuasive Hereward managed to lure her along. She was there to talk about her latest book, Spring, but it was also inspiring to hear her talk about her love of books and reading,

cover of Spring by Ali Smith
The third in Ali Smith’s seasonal quartet of novels

“My books are nothing to do with me once I’ve finished them,” she said. “Books belong to us all individually as well as communally.”

She passionately advocated rereading books – a great excuse for those who, like me, like to keep books they’ve enjoyed in case they want to return to them later.

“Books are different to us on rereading ten years later,” she observed, and I completely agree.

I was also chuffed to learn a new word from her: intertextuality. This means the act of referring to other texts within a book. I do that a lot in my Sophie Sayers series (Sophie works in a bookshop), mostly for comic effect, but it’s pleasing to know there’s a formal name for it.

I didn’t take a photo of Ali because she is very shy and it would have felt intrusive, but I had a nice chat with her while she was signing her book for me, and was pleased to be able to tell her that the previous week I’d been with Dr Gerri Kimber, whom she thanks in the acknowledgements section of Spring, when she came to speak at the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival about Katherine Mansfield, referenced in her book.

CrimeFest

My week ended with four days in a big Bristol hotel at CrimeFest, a huge international writing conference that draws authors and readers from all over the world. The hotel felt a bit like a crime scene itself, with stripes of colour-coded tape stuck to the carpets to guide you through winding corridors and deserted ballrooms to specific events. I would not have been surprised to find a chalk outline of a body along the way.

As well as a tempting bookshop, there was a stall selling crime-related props designed for use at murder mystery parties or launches of crime novels. The closest they had to a real weapon was a chocolate gun, but much as I love chocolate, even that made me shudder whenI heard the vendor saying breezily “Kids love them”. I really don’t want to see a child with a chocolate gun in its mouth. Ugh.

The CrimeFest programme is packed, with several strands of events running simultaneously all day long. In between socialising with crimewriting friends, I attended the following sessions across the four days:

  • Whose Story: Unique Voices and Unreliable Narrators
  • They’ve Been in My Head for Years: Writing a Long-standing Series
  • Writing Elsewhere: Using an International Setting
  • Don’t Make Me Laugh: Humour in Crime Fiction
  • Contemporary Issues: Reflecting How We Live
  • Crime Fiction Legacies: Desmond Bagly, Campion, Holmes and More
  • A Light Touch: Writing Traditional Mysteries
  • Unlikely Alliances: Partners, Sidekicks and Friends
  • The Indie Alternative
The Indie Alternative, chaird by the fabulous Zoe Sharpe, with B L Faulkner, Beate Boeker, Lynn Florkiewicz and Stephen G Collier (I spoke on this panel at CrimeFest 2018)

Each panel had three or four speakers plus a moderator, all published authors, some long-established bestsellers, others closer to the start of their crimewriting career. The standard of moderators and speakers was very high, with only one of the panels descending quickly into self-promotion.

The authors who particularly captivated me were all people whose books I’d never read, but that’s about to change: 

  • Norwegian novelist Gunnar Staalesen, writing the same series for 43 years
  • Felix Francis, son of the more famous Dick Francis, continuing his legacy, with his own name on the cover of his books but underneath the strapline “A Dick Francis Novel”!
  • Mike Ripley, an irrepressible author of comic crime novels and also continuation author for Margery Allingham
  • Janet Laurence, a dignified and gracious lady who talked with great authority about the Golden Age of Crimewriting – I could have listened to her all day
  • Beate Boeker, a delightful German who says her name in a certain dialect translates as “Happy Books” – talk about nominative determinalism!
  • Charlie Gallagher, a serving police officer writing bestselling police procedurals
  • Vaseem Khan, whose detective’s sidekick is a baby elephant, and whose day job is at the Jill Dando Institute of Security and Crime Science

These last two provided a sobering reminder that crime doesn’t only happen in fiction.

Spoiled for choice as to what to read next and unable to choose between all of these, I bought instead a book I’d been meaning to read for ages: Martin Edwards’ The Golden Age of Crimewriting – the perfect follow-up to my current read, Janet Brabazon’s biography of Dorothy L Sayers.

But it’s a fair cop, I confess: on arriving home, I immediately went online and bought secondhand from a charity retailer the first in Vaseem Khan‘s series. Well, what’s not to love about baby elephants?


What’s Next?

Another week, another festival! This week I’ll be chairing a panel on cosy crime novels at the Oakwood Literature Festival in Derby; going to a musical evening in Avebury based on Beatrice Parvin‘s historical novel Captain Swing and the Blacksmith, and attending the Spring event for Stroud Short Stories. And in between times, I may even get some writing done! Full report to follow next week…

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Posted in Writing

Why I Named the Leading Male Character in “Best Murder in Show” Hector Munro

How I named the leading man in Best Murder in Show

Cover of Best Murder in Show by Debbie YoungLast week I explained how I chose the name for the heroine of Best Murder in Show, the first of my new Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries series, and this week, just three days before the ebook launches (paperback to follow three weeks later),  I’m going to reveal how the leading man, Hector Munro, got his name.

Why Hector…

Image of battered guidebook
My husband’s well-worn guide to hillwalking in the Munros

Hector Munro is the proprietor of the village bookshop, Hector’s House. Those of a certain age will recognise the name Hector’s House, which was a 1970s children’s television puppet show, featuring a  dog called Hector whose catchphrase was variations on this theme: “I’m a great big lovable old Hector”. It was the kind of show that warmed the heart of adults and children alike in the tea-time slot in my childhood, when the Magic Roundabout was taking a break. (You can sample it on YouTube here.)

The name for the bookshop has been forced onto Hector by the benefactor who co-financed its launch, but the name Hector is well and truly his own, chosen by his antique dealer parents who have a passion for the classics.

Though of course it was actually chosen by me, because I wanted something unusual. I don’t know any real-life Hectors, although I’ve since heard of an acquaintance coincidentally christening her baby with that name. My Hector is a creative, unconventional type, who thinks outside the box and is not afraid to do what he wants to do.

…and Why Munro

The name Munro came to me in a flash as a comfortable surname, partly because my Scottish husband is what’s known as a Munro bagger. Munro baggers are hillwalkers who set themselves the challenge of climbing all the Munros – 280+ Scottish mountains over 3,000 feet – which means Scotland’s highest mountains.

How did the mountains get their name? They were named in honour of the first man to map them all, a certain Hugo Munro.

Ever since I’ve known my husband, resident in England throughout his adult life, and so very far from the nearest Munro, he has been pursuing his goal of bagging them all. We spend many summer holidays touring Scotland in our camper van, seeking out the next mountain on his list. My daughter and I drop him at his starting point, then go off to do touristy things before picking him up post-conquest. This year it looks as if he’s going to complete the final Munro.

Therefore in my mind the name Munro is a symbol of challenge, determination and achievement, and also a certain rugged, wiry manliness, without being too obvious. The word Munro is like a code, as any Munro bagger will understand.

Putting Them Both Together

Photo of collection of short stories by Saki
Equally battered is my copy of Saki’s short stories (real name: Hector Hugh Munro)

Putting the two together, I liked the way that Hector Munro tripped off the tongue. I also thought it memorable. But so much for my memory, because I didn’t realise until long after I’d established my character why I’d taken to the name so much. Picking up a copy of a book by one of my favourite short story writers, I was reminded that Saki‘s real name was Hector Hugh Munro.

As if that wasn’t enough, I also realised a little while later that the surname of the proprietor of my nearest independent bookshop is also associated with mountains, or at least large hills: The Corbetts are the next highest hills in Scotland after the Munros. Hereward Corbett, is proprietor of the Yellow-Lighted Bookshop (branches in Tetbury and Nailsworth). Whether Hereward’s parents had anything to with mountaineering, I do not know.

Next in the Scottish mountain pecking order are the Grahams and the Donalds. By chance, the landlord of the local pub in the Sophie Sayers series is called Donald, but I haven’t introduced a Graham yet. I think he’d better come into one of the sequels – I don’t want the Grahams feeling left out.

Hector Munro: His Own Person

But let’s be clear about this: Hector Munro is not based on any of his namesakes in any way. All the characters, settings and situtations are entirely fictional, as in any novel. My Hector Munro is a man unto himself, one not easily tamed or fathomed, as you will see when you read the series and follow how his character develops. To whet your appetite for what’s to come, here’s the scene where Sophie first meets him in Chapter 5 of Best Murder in Show, when she’s seeking a job in his bookshop…

Extract of BEST MURDER IN SHOW

“Hello, can you tell me where Hector is, please? Carol in the village shop told me that he needs help.”

“You can say that again,” came a familiar voice from the back corner. Arranged around three circular tin tables were a dozen old-fashioned folding garden chairs, one of them occupied by Billy, the non-cerebral stout-drinker from the day before. Despite the aspersions he’d cast on Hector’s tea, he was enthusiastically working his way through a large pot of the stuff.

A lean olive-skinned man in his early thirties was leaning on the main shop counter with his arms folded, longish dark curls flopping forward to cover his high forehead.

“I can. But should I?”

Confused, I glanced across at Billy for a clue. That was a mistake.

“She’ll be asking to see your buns next, Hector.”

“Thank you, Billy, if I need your advice, I’ll ask for it.”

The man at the counter unfolded his arms and pointed one finger at his chest. “He’s here. I’m Hector. Thank you for brightening my bookshop with your presence. I don’t believe we’ve met before?”

Despite Hector’s parents having only recently retired, I’d been picturing someone only marginally less aged than himself. After all, when you’re eighty-six, most people qualify as younger. Perhaps it was the archaic name that threw me. Hectors should be wrinkly grey-haired curmudgeons in cardigans, not gorgeous, enigmatic Greek gods.

Hector held out a warm, soft hand for me to shake, before coming out from behind the counter to stand alongside me. “But the more pressing question for me is, how can I help you? No, don’t tell me, I’ve got just the book for you.”

He strode over to the fiction section, plucked a paperback from among the Gs and presented it to me, deadpan.

“Here we are: Travels with my Aunt, by Graham Greene.”

Billy guffawed. “Point to you, young Hector!”

I gasped. “How did you know who I was? Did you recognise her skirt?”

I’d put on a long mulberry velvet one from my aunt’s wardrobe to try to look cultured.

“Have you looked in the mirror lately?” replied Hector. “You are obviously related to May Sayers. Billy tells me that you’re living in May’s cottage.”

“Actually, my name’s on the deeds now. My great aunt left the cottage to me.”

“You’ll have to wait about twenty years before people round here call it your cottage. Your name being…?”

“Sophie. Sophie Sayers. Sayers, same as my aunt.”

“Yes, you certainly are,” put in Billy, who clearly considered himself part of our conversation. “Don’t let old Joshua see you looking like that, whatever you do. It’ll be too much for him. We’ll be carrying him off to the graveyard to lie alongside her, if you’re not careful.”

Hector shot him a withering look. “Billy, really! Drink your tea or I’ll take it away.”

That shut him up. He must have needed the tea to sober him up after his early start on the stout the previous afternoon.

In the ensuing silence, I noticed for the first time the music that was playing softly in the background: Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells. Great Auntie May had long ago taught me to love this classic album from the 70s. It’s not something you hear much in public these days.

“You’re playing—”

Hector’s smile had a hint of smugness about it. “Your tune? Your Auntie May always loved it, so I thought you might too.”

“What? Did you see me coming and put it on specially?”

“Spot on.”

We both listened appreciatively for a moment to the music’s gentle meanderings, while he set the Graham Greene book on the counter, facing me, presumably as a hint. But I wasn’t so easily hoodwinked by his charm into buying a book I neither wanted nor needed. May’s house was stuffed with books.

I pulled myself together, remembering the serious and pressing intent of my visit. If I wasn’t able to get a job here, I’d have to look further afield, and soon.

“So, as I was saying, Carol Barker said you were looking for an assistant. And Joshua Hampton, next door to me, encouraged me to apply. So please may I have an application form?”

Hector patted his pockets as if searching. “Sorry, I seem to be fresh out of them. Bit of a run on applications this morning. How about an application cup of tea instead?”

He gestured to the tearoom. I chose the table furthest from Billy.

“So, tea?” offered Hector, sitting down opposite me. “Not you, Billy, you’ve had enough for one morning.”

Behind me, Billy drained his cup noisily, and scraped his chair across the old oak floorboards. “No matter, I’ll be heading off to The Bluebird for my dinner soon.”

“But it’s only eleven o’clock.” I wondered what scenic route he’d be taking to the village pub, a few hundred yards away, to make his journey last till evening.

“That’s The Bluebird’s opening time. I has a ploughman’s lunch up there for my dinner midday every Tuesday. Washed down with a nice pint of old Donald’s special. Good luck with your interview, girlie.”

He rolled the word interview around his mouth like a euphemism for some lascivious delight.

The shop door jangled to allow Billy’s exit as Hector set down a loaded tea tray on the table between us. The crockery was decorated with the titles of classic novels in old-fashioned typewriter fonts. He’d given me Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations and himself Somerset Maugham’s Cakes and Ale. The teapot was branded Love in a Cold Climate, by Nancy Mitford.

Will Sophie get the job? Will she discover the secret that enables Hector’s House to keep his business solvent? (A bookshop in a tiny Cotswold village – really?) You’ll have to read the book to find out!

Cover of Best Murder in Show by Debbie Young
Ta-da! Now available to order as an ebook for Kindle (paperback to launch on 22nd April)

Click here to order the ebook – paperback to follow shortly! 

 

 

Posted in Reading, Writing

Painting the Town Yellow

In this month’s Tetbury Advertiser, I’ve been revisiting one of my favourite topics: eponymous buying, inspired by the purchase of a book that shares it’s name with a local shop. 

Cover of the Yellow Lighted Bookshop bookWhat’s the connection between Tetbury and Vincent van Gogh?

No, it’s not the starry starry nights, the abundance of sunflowers (in the florists’ at least), the wonky-legged chairs in certain cafes, nor even the occasional pipe-smoking man seen wandering through town in a straw hat. It’s one of the shops – The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop, named after Lewis Buzbee’s delightful book, The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop, which weaves together a memoir of his life as a bookseller with the history of books and bookshops. Continue reading “Painting the Town Yellow”

Posted in Events, Personal life, Reading, Writing

Festive Fun with BBC Radio Gloucestershire

A report on my appearance on BBC Radio Gloucestershire’s Chris Baxter Show yesterday

BBC Radio Gloucestershire logo“I love this book! It’s festive, fun and a bit silly at times!” said BBC Radio Gloucestershire presenter Chris Baxter yesterday, when I was a guest on his excellent afternoon show. “It gets your imagination going, which stories at Christmas need to do.”

I’d been invited to talk about Stocking Fillers, my Christmas book of short stories, and I was thrilled to hear that Chris had been enjoying reading it on the train on his way to work that morning. We talked about the writing process, when I’d started writing them (high summer! – more about that here), and the challenge of writing short pieces.

Cover of Stocking Fillers

After that, I was invited to read extracts from some of my favourite stories, which of course I was very pleased to do. I can now describe the book as “as featured on BBC Radio”, which is a terrific endorsement.

As ever, it was a joy to take part in a BBC Radio Gloucestershire programme, and I came away, as always, so impressed with what a great job they do bringing the community together and spreading goodwill throughout the county, not only at Christmas but all year round.

Debbie on a stall with her books
At a Christmas fair

And this time, there was also something else to take away: a request from Chris Baxter for some ghost stories for next Christmas. Hmmm, I’ll have to give that one some thought…

In the meantime, if you’d like to listen to interview, for the next month you can catch up with it on BBC iPlayer here:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02dsf6d
(from 1 hour 10 minutes into the programme)

Cotswold Bookroom Christmas shop window display
Stocking Fillers is in the left hand window, in the centre at the front

If you’re in Gloucestershire and would like to pick up a last-minute, er, stocking filler, the book’s currently stocked at four local independent shops:

The Cotswold Bookroom in Wotton-under-Edge

The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop (branches in Tetbury and Nailsworth)

The Hawkesbury Shop (general village store)

And you can download an ebook from online retailers at any time. (Paperback also available for online purchase.)

Merry Christmas reading, folks!

Julia Forster and me outside the Nailsworth branch of the Yellow-Lighted Bookshop, where we'd just delivered new stocks our the books we're holding
Julia Forster and me outside the Nailsworth branch of the Yellow-Lighted Bookshop, where we’d just delivered new stocks our the books we’re holding

 

Posted in Reading

Books Are My Scarecrow’s Bag

A post that kills three birds with one stone – what a shot! – for Books Are My Bag, the Hawkesbury Scarecrow Trail, and the Little Free Library.

Photo of bluestockinged scarecrow with Books are my Bag bag and Little Free Library
Meet Virginia, Hawkesbury Upton’s very own bluestocking bookworm

Last weekend I pulled off an especially fine piece of multitasking – I managed to promote three different worthy causes in one fell swoop:

  • The first ever Hawkesbury Upton Scarecrow Trail
  • The second Books Are My Bag campaign
  • The year-round Little Free Library programme

As you can see from the photo, my scarecrow, Virginia, is a stylish bookworm. Her Cheltenham Festival of Literature t-shirt complements her blue stockings, and her whole outfit is set off by last year’s must-have accessory for anyone who loves books, the exclusive Books Are My Bag campaign souvenir bag. Keeping her well supplied with reading matter is my new Little Free Library, set up as a British offshoot of the free community library campaign founded in the USA a few years ago.

Books Are My Bag is a national movement in the UK to remind everybody of the value of the independent high street book shop. What the publishing trade likes to call “bricks-and-mortar stores” offer many benefits unavailable from online retailers, (though they can usually order you a book in just as fast as Amazon and the like, without charging you postage or a membership fee), or recent entrants to the book market, such as grocery superstores. High street bookshops have expert staff able to help you find the perfect book for yourself or for others. Over the next few days, participating stores will be sharing their passion for books and reading with special events all over the country. For more information about Books Are My Bag, and to find an event in a local indie bookshop near you, visit their website: www.booksaremybag.com.

Scarecrow with picnic basket
Life’s a picnic, whatever the weather, for Hawkesbury Youth Club’s scarecrow, tucking in outside the Village Hall

The Hawkesbury Upton Scarecrow Trail offers a fun display of 14 scarecrows dotted about the village. You can pick up a free map from the village shop or post office all this week. The trail will be in place until the end of Sunday 12th October. There’s no particular theme or cause, other than a bit of autumnal fun! See if you can spot them all.

The idea of the Little Free Library was set up by an American chap, Todd Bol, in 2009, with a single box of books, in the shape of an old-fashioned schoolhouse, in memory of his late mother, a schoolteacher who loved reading. The idea quickly caught on – after all, what’s not to love about free books? – and now there are estimated to be over 15,000 around the world. Mine’s the first in Hawkesbury Upton! Todd’s mother would be very proud of him.

Close up of my Little Free Library
Something for everyone in here

Debbie by the Library
Well, I always wanted to be a librarian when I was little

My Little Free Library is starting off with a stock of books from our home and donated by others. I’ll be adding lots of new books as space becomes available, including those that I receive free to review from authors and publishers (I do a lot of book reviewing for various magazines and organisations).

Photo of Gordon with the finished Library
Meet the architect and builder, my husband Gordon

Anyone is welcome to help themselves to a free book (or more than one!) If they’d like to treat it as a swap, and put one back, that would be great, but it’s not essential.

My Little Free Library will provide an extra source of books in the village, supplementing the shelves of donated books that are sold for £1 each by the Hawkesbury Shop and the village hair salon, Head Start Studio, in aid of the village school’s PTA. But my Little Free Library offers books at no cost at all, so everyone can afford them, and they’ll be accessible outside the shops’ opening hours. For more information about the Little Free Library scheme, to order your own official sign, or to make a donation to its cause, visit their website: www.littlefreelibrary.org.

Of course, you have to take pot luck with a Little Free Library – you’re unlikely to find a particular book that you’re looking for, but it’s a great no-risk way of being more adventurous with your reading, trying out a genre or author that you wouldn’t normally pick up. Who knows what new interest you might discover?

But if you’re bent on getting a specific book, you don’t have to go far. We’re lucky enough to live within a short drive of three independent bookshops – the Yellow-Lighted Bookshop in Nailsworth and Tetbury, the Cotswold Bookroom in Wotton-under-Edge, and, 20 miles away in Bristol, the fabulous Foyles bookshop in Cabot Circus, where I’ll be launching the new paperback edition of my must-read book for anyone affected by or interested in Type 1 diabetes. Like to get an invitation? Just contact me and I’ll send one right over.

And if that’s not enough – Hawkesbury Upton is also served by a mobile library, sent out once a fortnight from the fab Yate library a few miles away. (I’ve just had a flash fiction story inspired by our mobile library accepted for a new anthology, Change the Ending, to be published shortly – more news of that soon!) We really have no excuse for not getting stuck into good books in these parts.

If you liked this post, you might also enjoy these others on the theme of books and reading:

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