The one where Making Wishes at Bay View is published

Making Wishes Twitter 1It’s publication day today for Making Wishes at Bay ViewThis is my second release from Boldwood Books and the first re-release from my back-catalogue.

The first book in the four-book ‘Welcome to Whitsborough Bay’ series, Making Wishes at Bay View combines two previously published books –  the novella Raving About Rhys and the short sequel novel, Callie’s Christmas Wish.

The remaining three books in the series are going to be released over the next two months. On February 20th, books 2 and 3 will be out:

New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms (was Searching for Steven)

Finding Hope at Lighthouse Cove (was Getting Over Gary)

On 17th March, the final part of the series will be released:

Coming Home to Seashell Cottage (was Dreaming About Daran)

Making Wishes tea

Books 2-3 are currently still available for Kindle download only as their old titles but will be taken down from sale as soon as the brand new covers are available and will be replaced by pre-order links for the new versions.

All new titles will be available on all eBook formats, globally, audio, paperback and large print. The audio version of Making Wishes at Bay View is out now but the other three will all be released together on 17th March.

If you are a library user, they’ll all be available on the uLIBRARY App from Ulverscroft through libraries that support that App. Making Wishes… is available on uLIBRARY right now.

Clearly there are new titles across the series and there are also brand new covers. What else has changed?

The plot and characters remain the same as before. In theory, a reader could read a mix of the versions to get through the series and they won’t be confused. The new versions simply have a fresh edit. This could mean:

  • Some superfluous detail has been removed to tighten a scene
  • Some additional detail has been added to extend a scene
  • Tweaks to the flow of a conversation
  • Slight adjustments to the way a character reacts to something
  • A couple of removed scenes
  • A couple of new scenes

The changes very much vary from book to book.

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So what has specifically changed in Making Wishes at Bay View and do you need to read it again if you’ve already read Rhys and Callie?

It’s entirely up to you. If you loved the stories first time round and fancy meeting the characters again and seeing if you can spot the changes, then delve right in!

The plot is still the same as before and so is the cast of characters. No characters have disappeared and no new ones have been added in. Callie is still exactly the same although she’s now 25 instead of 21. Octogenarian, Ruby – my most favourite character ever – hasn’t changed at all. Iris is still in there and there’s a bit more banter between her and Ruby which I loved adding in. I wish those two existed in real life. I’d love to spend time with them!

The main change is Callie’s best friend and work colleague, Maria. I don’t want to give any spoilers for anyone who hasn’t read either version, but there’s a bit more detail about Maria and Callie’s friendship in Making Wishes at Bay View. Also, a couple of plot points involving Maria play out a little differently. I hope you like the changes.

IMG_7863How did I spend publication day?

I wish I could say that I had a lovely relaxing day celebrating but it was day job as normal for me. I marked 12 assignments and dealt with 15 student enquiries, slopped my lunch down my top, got crumbs all over my keyboard, and jumped every time the dog barked at someone passing. Standard day! What was lovely was occasionally breaking to share news on social media, thank others for sharing it, and eat a gorgeous box of biscuits that my publisher sent me with the book cover on!

I was a guest on my fabulous friend Sharon Booth’s blog, talking about how the combination of the books came about and why friendship is important in my stories. You can read the post here. And I was on the Boldwood Books blog talking about the inspiration behind my Whitsborough Bay setting. You can find that post here.

Making Wishes Blog Tour

My blog tour started with a lovely review from Joanne at Portobello Books Blog – read it here – who said: “Making Wishes at Bay View is a lovely read, one which I whizzed through as I was so taken with the characters, particularly Callie. It was lovely to return to fictional Whitsborough Bay again. Making Wishes at Bay View is a book which is sure to leave you with a warm feeling inside, a proper feel-good piece of writing.” Aw! Thanks Joanne.

I also had a lovely surprise from new ‘fan’ Little Miss Book Lover 87’s blog which made my day too. You can read that here. She said, “I knew that this was a fab book from very early on. This is another new author for me and I am already eagerly adding more books to my TBR. This is a book I devoured in hours and found it completely impossible to put down. I cannot say anything negative about this book, it is absolutely fantastic. Redland is able to pull the reader in and make it extremely hard for them not to fall in love with the story. This is a delightful read which I highly recommend to anyone who loves women’s fiction. I am definitely a huge fan after reading this book.” Actually, you probably don’t need to click into this one as that’s the full review! Lovely, isn’t it?

Thank you to everyone who has supported me up to and on publication day, the advance readers/bloggers who have left a lovely review on NetGalley, and anyone scheduled for the rest of the blog tour.

Have an amazing week.

Jessica xx

Making Wishes FB 2

 

 

My Favourite 19 Books of 2019

Reblogging from The Cozy Pages onto my own WordPress blog. Absolutely thrilled to feature as two of Nina’s favourite 19 books of 2019, especially when that’s out of 119 books read across the year. Huge thanks to Nina for choosing Bear With Me and The Secret to Happiness. Congratulations to everyone else whose books feature too xx

The Cozy Pages

Goodreads tells me that I’ve had a very enjoyable year in reading. In fact, I gave 21 books out of 119 a five star rating; and gave an average rating of 4.1 overall. Once a story brings me joy and provides intriguing characters, I’m fairly generous with my stars (espresso shots on this blog). However, a few have really stuck with me since I first read them and stand out above the rest, so here are my top 19 reads of 2019.

Before I get into the individual books, I’m highlighting three favourite cozy mystery series. These are series I started on in 2019 and loved so much that I got myself fully (almost) caught up on them!

The Cat Latimer Mysteries by Lynn Cahoon captured my attention with its clever plots and behind the scenes view of a writer’s life (one who even hosts writers’ retreats)!

A Family Skeleton…

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The one where I share some tips about how to start writing

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My desk. Isn’t it tidy? (You should see the state of it right now!)

When I started out on my writing journey, the one thing I didn’t do was connect with other writers. I read loads of “how-to” books and studied my craft, but I never engaged with those who’d been there/done that to get some tips and advice. I wish I had. Every writer approaches things differently but I always find something that resonates with me on every blog post I read from a writer.

Last year, a writing contact on Twitter very kindly asked if I would write a blog post for his blog about my typical writing day and some hints and tips for anyone starting out. I was very happy to oblige and also flattered that I’d been asked. Things like that make me feel like a ‘real’ writer. The post never appeared and it struck me that it was a shame to have written an advice post that was going out of date and languishing. So I’ve posted it here…

 

The first thing to say about my typical writing day is that there’s no such thing as a typical writing day for me. Some writers talk about routines, about writing every day, about not stopping until they’ve achieved so-many-thousand words. It doesn’t work like that for me. I write when I can, as much or as little as I can. Sadly, it’s usually little.

IMG_7454My dream is to be able to write full-time but, for now, writing doesn’t pay the mortgage so I have a day job which has to take priority. I am, however, very fortunate with the flexibility my job provides. Nearly four years ago, I stopped commuting and became a home-based Human Resources tutor. The workload built quickly and I was soon working 12-16 hour days and travelling on weekends to run workshops. Writing was a huge struggle. I’ve managed to reduce it to about a 6-hour day over the past year and the workshops no longer run so I get my weekends free.

On weekdays, I try to stop working by 2pm so I can write. For the past couple of years, I’ve been studying a Masters in Creative Writing through Open University so my writing time could be study time instead but I finished this in October and am thrilled to say I now have an MA!

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When I was a Brown Owl, I awarded myself my ‘Writer’ badge 🙂 

I tend to be fairly disciplined when it comes to writing. I don’t set myself a word count for the day but I do tend to just get on with it. About five years ago, I enrolled in NaNoWriMo (National Novel-Writing Month) which is an international ‘project’ to get a 50k novel written in the month of November. The idea is to just write and not try to edit as you go. I used that approach to finish my second novel and start my third one (the timing wasn’t right for me with my works-in-progress to start on a fresh book like they advocate) and it was the best thing I ever did. I’d faffed about with my debut novel, Searching for Steven, editing and re-editing every time I sat down to write. NaNo got me into a rhythm of just getting on with it and editing after I’d written a full manuscript. I’ve written all my subsequent books using this approach.

Some days, I have my procrastinating head on. Who doesn’t? And if that’s how it’s going to be, so be it. There’s no point in forcing the writing if it isn’t coming. Most of the time, though, I can just sit down and write. I won’t always have the best words in the right order, but the story keeps building and you’d be amazed how quickly you can get to 10k words, then 25k, then 50k…

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Image by Karolina Grabowska from Pixabay

I like to keep a track in my diary of how many words I write each day and then total the week for no other reason than the feeling of satisfaction if I’ve had an epic week. I had a couple of weeks last year where I wrote nearly 17k words each week. Very satisfying! This is balanced by weeks where I don’t write at all.

The start of a book is usually my nemesis. When I wrote Searching for Steven, I swear that there were forty or so different starts. And I mean massively different starts. It became a standing joke that I had no idea where the story should really begin. Beginnings have troubled me ever since although not to the same extent.

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Image by M. Maggs from Pixabay

Beyond that, I often find the first 10k words come slowly and I think this is because I’m finding my way with the characters and the story. Somewhere between 10k and 15k words the story takes flight and comes together much more quickly.

When I’m not writing, I’m always thinking about my stories and characters. I’m a pantser rather than a plotter i.e. I have a story in mind, I know where it’s going to end, I know who the main characters are, and I then let their story unfold naturally. It surprised me that this is my preferred style because, in ‘normal’ life, I’m very organised and quite a planner. I did try to plan my second novel, Getting Over Gary. It didn’t work. Gary didn’t want to do what I’d planned for him to do and neither did the other characters! Never again. I create a basic profile for my main characters, I plan a character arc for the protagonist(s) and then I let them take me where they want, which can sometimes be in quite surprising directions. For example, in The Secret to Happiness, I had a character who was going to be a ‘baddie’ and she didn’t want to be. She ended up becoming a really lovely character but that meant someone else needed to be the ‘baddie’; someone I hadn’t expected to be so devious!

What’s my advice to anyone thinking of writing or struggling with their writing?

  • If you want to write, write. You may not be great at it but you’ll never know unless you try
  • If you’re thinking “I’d love to write a book but I don’t have time”, then stop right there. I didn’t have time but I made time. I stopped watching the soaps on TV, I stopped lounging around, I wrote whilst commuting to work (I will point out that this was on the train; not whilst driving!) and I developed ideas whilst in the shower. Very, very few writers ever had the luxury of time when they were starting out, but they had a dream and they made it happen
  • Don’t feel you have to write every day. But do think about it each day. I often develop dialogue and plot twists while in the shower, out shopping, or when driving
  • Learn how to write. Being good at writing in day to day life v writing a book are two very different skills. There’s a lot to learn but there are some amazing self-help books, courses, and qualifications out there to help. I spent ten years learning my craft whilst writing my debut. To be fair, I had a lot of years where I didn’t write anything as I married, had a baby, opened and closed a business and changed job several times during that time, but I never lost sight of that goal and never stopped learning
  • Take the NaNoWriMo approach of just getting on with it (learn more here). You can edit it later. You might ditch a lot of it later. But if you don’t get the words down in the first place, you’ll have nothing to edit
  • Don’t write because you want to make a fortune. Most writers don’t. Most still have a day job. Some only make enough for a cheap night out once a month. Write because you have stories to tell and you couldn’t imagine not sharing them
  • Keep a list of ideas. It could be a book title, a plot point, a piece of dialogue or a quirky character. It may not be a fully-formed novel just yet but it could become it one day

I hope you enjoyed my little insight into the world of writing and that it might have inspired you to crack on with that idea that’s been buzzing at the back of your brain if you’re new to this.

All the best

Jessica xx

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The one where Daran is the Chill With A Book ‘Book of the Year’

Untitled-3I had some amazing news today. The final book in my ‘Welcome to Whitsborough Bay’ series, Dreaming About Daran, won the Chill With A Book Awards ‘Book of the Year’ for 2019. These Awards recognise the best reads from indie authors and independent publishers.

Each book entered into the Awards is read by several readers who rate it against several questions:

  • Were the characters strong and engaging?
  • Was the book well written?
  • Did the story / plot have you turning the page to find out what happened next?
  • Was the ending satisfying?
  • Would you recommend to someone who reads this kind of story?

If the book meets the criteria, then they could win a Readers’ Award for the month. Those classed as really exceptional may be awarded a Premier Readers’ Award.

In May 2018, Bear With Me won a Readers’ Award and the Book Cover of the Month. In February, Searching for Steven won a Readers’ Award, in March Getting Over Gary won a Readers’ Award and the Book Cover of the Month and then, in May, Dreaming About Daran won a Premier Readers’ Award.

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With 51 books (including Steven and Gary) winning Readers’ Awards across 2019 and 28 (including Daran) winning Premier Awards, I thought there was no chance of Daran getting the Book of the Year but he did. I’m so proud of my boy! What a wonderful way to start 2020!

I absolutely love Dreaming About Daran. It’s my favourite book in the series and I was really pleased with the way it came together and concluded the threads so it’s so thrilling to be selected as the best book that the reader group read last year.

I cracked open the Christmas Maltesers Truffles to celebrate earlier today! I’d like to say I’ve celebrated this evening too but I’ve been taking down the Christmas decorations so that I can focus on editing all weekend.

Thank you so much to Pauline Barclay who runs these amazing Awards, supporting and promoting the best in independent authors and independent publishers and, of course, all the readers who made this possible. Woo hoo!

Dreaming About Daran NEW COVERHere’s the blurb:

Where do you go when it’s your own past you’re running from?

Sometimes, you can run from the past, but you can’t hide. Since the age of sixteen, Clare O’Connell has lived her life by four strict rules:
1. Don’t talk about Ireland
2. Don’t think about Ireland
3. Don’t go to Ireland
4. Don’t let anyone in

And so far, it’s worked well. She’s got a great career, some amazing friends, and she’s really happy. The future’s all that counts, isn’t it?

When her boss insists she travels to Ireland to repair a damaged relationship with a key client. Clare finds herself drawn back to the village of Ballykielty where she comes face to face with the one person she’d hoped never, ever to see again.

With the door to her past now wide open, the first three rules have gone out of the window. Can Clare stick to rule number four?

Making Wishes at Bay View

My fabulous publisher, Boldwood Books, are re-releasing the series in the first quarter of this year, re-edited, with new titles and fresh covers. Making Wishes at Bay View will be out on 14th February, replacing Raving About Rhys (a novella) and Callie’s Christmas Wish (a short novel following on from the novella).

New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms is the new title for Searching for Steven and comes out on 20th February along with Finding Hope at Lighthouse Cove which is the new title for Getting Over Gary. 

Then, on 17th March, Dreaming About Daran will be revamped and re-issued as Coming Home to Seashell Cottage. I hope to share the covers for books 2-4 very soon so watch this space.

You can read all about the Chill With a Book awards here: http://www.chillwithabook.com

Pauline is always on the look out for new readers so if you’re a prolific reader, you might want to consider being part of the Awards.

Jessica xx

 

The one where I look back over the past decade

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Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay

I’ve had a really hectic Christmas and feel as though I blinked and missed it.

Going away on holiday before Christmas was a first for us and, in some ways, it meant a longer run-up to Christmas because I needed to get my presents bought and wrapped so much earlier than normal. I was looking forward to a few days to relax and get into the Christmas spirit before the big day itself but the reality was that I had to retreat into my editing cave and lock the door. Other than a short break on Monday afternoon (23rd) to see Last Christmas at the cinema (amazing by the way) – which I’d probably not have done if I hadn’t pre-booked the tickets before our holiday – I was in my editing cave until early evening on Christmas Eve when I forced myself to stop working. I was then back to it on Boxing Day and finally finished what I needed to do late that evening. I’ve been fortunate enough, whether employed or self-employee, never to have had to work on Christmas Eve or Boxing Day so this was a bit of a shock to the system for me! It therefore meant I didn’t have the immediate build-up I normally have which is why I feel I blinked and missed Christmas.

There was no time to draw breath as we had family gatherings on the next couple of days so yesterday (Sunday), I announced I was going to lie in then stay in my PJs all day and watch films. So that’s what I did. Well, maybe not quite all day because I had a few things to do on the morning, but I popped on some ‘loungewear’ and slobbed in front of the TV to watch Fisherman’s Friends (loved it), The Princess Switch (loved it although I’d already watched it when wrapping gifts last month so this was more for munchkin than me) and Avengers: Endgame (loved it although struggled a bit to remember what had happened in previous films). And I wrote a blog post about the past year which I’ve just completely scrapped because I decided it was more boring than a boring thing that’s really tediously mind-numbingly boring whilst wearing its most boring clothes and visiting Boringville. Yes, it really was that bad.

So my alternative post today is more about reflecting on the past decade instead where I went from an aspiring writer to becoming an international best-selling author. Eek!

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Image by Gaby Stein from Pixabay

At the start of this decade, I was working for a very well-known food manufacturer with a strong presence in York (think chocolate, coffee, cereal, water and pet food) in a job that I absolutely adored. I was responsible for designing and running development centres for factory-based staff who had the potential to become shift managers or engineering managers but needed to work on a few areas. It was one of those dream roles where it really is a round peg perfectly fitting in a round hole.

P1050480We were living in Scarborough town centre but had made the decision that we wanted to move out to a village and our house was on the market. I started helping out at a local Brownie pack in May and took over as Brown Owl in the September when the existing Brown Owl retired; something I’d always wanted to do, having gone through Brownies, Guides and Rangers myself.

My daughter was three and time for writing was very sparse although I had made a good start on my debut novel, Searching for Steven. Well, when I say good start, I mean there were lots of words. Not particularly good words and not in the right order but there were words which is significantly more progress than a blank page!

Then something really exciting happened. I’d made an 11th hour submission of a short story to a competition run by English Heritage for stories set at or inspired by Whitby Abbey. The top fifty would be selected and placed in an anthology from which profits would be ploughed back into the Abbey. It wasn’t as polished as it could have been but I was thrilled to have been selected as one of the top fifty. Woo hoo! Somebody thought I could write. It certainly spurred me on.

 

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Image by Gaby Stein from Pixabay

Remember that dream job I mentioned? It was taken away from me. A massive HR restructure gave it to someone completely inexperienced in training, coaching and development and left me ‘at risk’. I was devastated. We’d just accepted an offer on our house the day before I got the news and I was kept in the dark for one week, not knowing whether I had a job or not, and therefore not knowing if we’d be able to move. When the call finally came through, I was told that I did still have a job … back in the recruitment team where I’d started life at the company two years previously. The existing team had all lost their jobs and I was going to provide consistency for the new team being recruited.

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Image by Lukas Bieri from Pixabay

The reality of this change was that I ended up doing my original job (because my replacement lacked the knowledge or experience to do it), my recruitment job, the graduate recruitment role (because the person doing that had left during the restructure too and I had expertise in this) and the Head of recruitment role. All for no extra money, or course. The further reality was that I couldn’t do any of the roles well because, let’s face it, who can do four full-time roles at the same time? On top of this, I was no longer home-based but, because the house sale had gone ahead and we’d moved out to a village, I now had a pig of a commute. I spent 4.25 hours commuting each day by a mixture of bus and train. I worked solidly during that commute and until 11pm each night because that was the only way I could even attempt to keep fire-fighting my many roles.

Needless to say, no writing got done in 2011. I’d been gutted that my application to join the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme (NWS) hadn’t arrived on time to secure me a place that year but, with hindsight, it was a blessing because there was no way I’d have been able to finish my manuscript for submission with the hours I was working.

My daughter started school in September and I managed to secure a couple of days off work so that I could take her on her first two days and be there when she finished. When I dropped her off on that first day, I burst into tears when I walked across the playground, realising that I was missing out on everything about her growing up with the stupid commute and the demands on my time from work. I returned to work the following week with my resignation letter.

 

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Image by WikimediaImages from Pixabay

P1050686At the start of 2012, I tried again with the RNA’s NWS. They’d changed the system so that you could apply via email instead of post and I secured my place that way. Yay! What this meant was that I needed to crack on with writing because I had a deadline of August to get my MS submitted. I work well when I have a deadline, though.

I’d started a home-based role conducting telephone interviews and, whilst this did see me working evenings and weekends, I did manage to find some time to write and got a draft of Searching for Steven submitted. The feedback was really positive and the key improvement needed was to make it shorter as it was at least 30k words over at nearly 130k words.

I turned 40 in May this year. I’d like to say that I had some huge life-changing epiphany but there was nothing so exciting. It was just another birthday and a milestone like that didn’t really bother me.

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Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

The life-change that didn’t happen when I turned 40 actually happened in 2013 when I joined a bootcamp. Three mornings a week, I rose at 5.15am (plus a Saturday slightly Beach Hutslater) to go down to the seafront in Scarborough and work out for an hour. It was an amazing time, full of laughter and friendship, and I blogged about my journey towards losing half my body weight.

Searching for Steven went back through the NWS with a 30k cull – but various changes had added a different 30k words back in – so I knew I was going to get similar feedback to the first year. I did. But it was extremely helpful and insightful, helping me shape him to send out into the world of publishing the following year.

I attended the RNA’s conference for the first time and pitched Searching for Steven to a couple of digital first imprints who both loved it. One cited it as one of her favourite reads and both were sure they would be interested in publishing it and I should definitely submit the full MS. Naively I thought I was in there and, as soon as it was ready, I started sending it off to agents and publishers – including those two – and the waiting game commenced. And I waited… and waited… and waited.

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Six of the Write Romantics

Writer Jo Bartlett and I formed the Write Romantics, a group of ten writers who were all on the NWS and who had aspirations of becoming published. We started blogging together and soon developed quite a following.

Career-wise, 2013 was a bit of a disaster. Although repetitive, I’d enjoyed my telephone interviewing role but some significant changes were made to the work expected of us (more detail in the reports) but the pay rate per call actually decreased. Double the work for less money? Not exactly fair. I took a fixed term contract to do a coaching role at my local technical college but it turned out not to be a ‘real’ job and had been more about having someone in situ to avoid them losing some funding. I was made redundant after only five months into a two-year role and I couldn’t find another role without returning to commuting to York or perhaps even Leeds which I really didn’t want to do. I ended up securing a seasonal job in a garden centre on minimum wage just to have some money coming in. I actually really loved that role. Christmas at a garden centre? What isn’t to love?

 

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Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

At the end of the previous year, I started a training and development role at the Scarborough factory of an international food manufacturer (think frozen food, particularly chips or other potato-based products). In the summer, a request for flexible working was agreed meaning I worked my full-time hours across a Tuesday to Friday, giving me a Monday free. Monday was Brownies night so meant I could prepare for my meeting but the main bonus was a day to write. Luxury. There were niggles with the job but the day devoted to writing meant they weren’t that significant.

dont-panic-1067044_1920I finished Getting Over Gary (the second book in my ‘Welcome to Whitsborough Bay’ series) and submitted that to the NWS for critique. In the meantime, Searching for Steven rejections were coming in thick and fast. The two publishers who I’d met at the 2013 conference took forever to get back to me and actually had to be chased by the RNA as I wasn’t the only one waiting to hear. After a whopping 9 months, both said no. Oh. I was so sure one of them would take it from the reaction at the conference, although I’d become less sure as the months plodded past.

By this point, I had 23 rejections (or no response whatsoever) and, although some of them had been very positive, I was fed up. I hadn’t necessarily expected Searching for Steven to find a home so the rejections weren’t too upsetting; it was more the time and effort that was soul-destroying. Everyone wanted something different and, at that point in time, a lot of them wanted it via paper format so it was very expensive too. I had a couple more publishers to hear from and had decided to go indie if it was a no from them. But both said yes and I had a very happy dilemma on my hands.

I actually verbally accepted one but they were so slow in getting a contract drawn up that the other came through before I’d signed anything. I was also starting to get doubts about them as it seemed that, after saying they wouldn’t change much, they wanted to change loads, particularly removing the friendship focus and keeping the stories pure romance. The friendship thread was very important to me and was what made the series so it was actually very fortunate that So Vain Books made an offer and I went with them instead, signing my contract in September 2014.

 

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Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

On the day that Searching for Steven was published (3rd June 2015), my husband gave me a set of three canvasses. One had the front cover of Steven, one had the cover of a novella called Raving About Rhys that my publisher released in May as an introduction to the series, and the third had this quote on it:

“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” Mark Twain

3rd June 2015

The day life changed for Jessica Redland

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It made me cry. It is still above my desk and I draw inspiration from it when I doubt myself as a writer. I am a writer.

Jessica Redland - Searching for Steven - Front Cover LOW RESI had a launch party for Searching for Steven but it didn’t quite go as planned. The printers messed up and I actually had no paperbacks to sell. A launch party without a book to launch? I forgot to cut the cake and it was an unexpectedly hot day with no air con in the venue so everyone was melting. So I drunk lots of wine!

Just when my writing career was taking off and I could finally say “I’m a published author”, my HR career was about to take another nosedive. The company had gone through a major restructure and we were assured that, because HR was already streamlined, there would be no HR redundancies. Only they needed to trim a bit further and my job went. I was fortunate to walk straight into a role for a local recruitment agency but it was a real low point for me. The company and the people were great. I was not great at the job. Naively we’d all thought that my recruitment skills would translate well into the role but the reality is that a recruitment agency is a sales role; not a recruitment role. Me and sales? Very square peg and very round hole. I knew my days were numbered there.

I stopped going to bootcamp because I was couldn’t fit it in around my working hours and the three stone I’d lost (nowhere near my goal at that point) started to pile back on.

 

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Image by Bruno Glätsch from Pixabay

I’d worked at a local factory some years earlier and the engineering manager had rated me highly. When he realised I was working for the agency, he was keen to put a number of vacancies my way. It was worth a lot of money to the recruitment agency so I’d managed to cling on by my fingertips at the back end of 2015. 2016 arrived, the vacancies had all been filled, and I wasn’t bringing in much income so they let me go. They were right to do so because I was completely and utterly crap at the role, but this was the first time I’d ever been let go rather than made redundant and it was awful.

Fortunately I’d been working part time for a distance learning company for several years as an internal verifier and they were rapidly expanding. I’d already put out some feelers about working for them as a tutor too and this got escalated. I still have that role today, based from home, dealing with queries and marking assignments for students studying their HR professional qualification. I travelled a lot, running weekend workshops in London and Birmingham, which was a wonderful opportunity to catch up with friends based in both cities who I hadn’t seen in ages.

IMG_1404With hubby and I both home-based, we made the decision to get a dog; something hubby had always wanted. Ella the Sprocker Spaniel joined our family, much to Felix the cat’s disgust!

Getting Over Gary and Dreaming About Daran were released in March and August respectively, concluding my series. And also concluding my time with So Vain Books. Things hadn’t worked out for them as hoped and I secured back my rights before the company ceased trading. Feeling very despondent, I decided to lick my wounds as an indie writer and see how that went before thinking about submitting again.

 

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Image by Gerhard Gellinger from Pixabay

Searching for Steven (New Cover Design 3)As an indie writer, I released Bear With Me, a standalone novel but still set in Whitsborough Bay like all my others. I was very proud of it but it didn’t soar. In fact, none of my books were setting the charts alight but I was working so many hours that I had no time available to invest in marketing and promotion so I had to just keep ticking along.

A lot of work travel meant a lot of time on trains and in hotel rooms to write and I managed to pen two Christmas books. I’d only planned to write one – Charlee and the Chocolate Shop – but I mentioned a shop called Carly’s Cupcakes in that book and suddenly had a vision for who Carly was and what her story was. It was begging to be written. So in October 2017, I released twoChristmas books and they sold far better than anything else I’d written … although still not quite as well as I’d have hoped.

I made a big decision in the summer to start studying towards a Masters in Creative Writing through Open University. I’d never thought I’d study again but I liked the thought of taking the next academic level in a subject I loved. If I was going to study, a sacrifice had to be made and the only one I could make was leaving Brownies. After 7.5 years with the pack, I stepped off my perch in December.

 

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Image by Gerhard Gellinger from Pixabay

I was surprised to discover that a Christmas book is not just for Christmas. Charlee and Carly continued to sell in January, February, March … and all year round. It seemed that Christmas books were winners so I wrote another two for release ahead of Christmas 2018: Christmas at The Chocolate Pot Cafe and Callie’s Christmas Wish, the latter being a follow-on to my novella Raving About Rhys.

Word was out, though: Christmas books sell. Everyone seemed to be writing them and neither book did as well as the two the previous year. And then Amazon sent me to Amazon Jail. They claimed I was engaging in activities to manipulate the sales and downloads of Searching for Steven. I wasn’t. I’m not clever enough or technical enough to even begin to know how to do this. So Steven was stripped of his rankings in all markets meaning he couldn’t be found in any searches unless someone specifically looked for that title. Sales practically disappeared.

loser-3096213_1920Earlier in the year, I attended the RNA’s conference again. It wasn’t yet finished but I pitched a book called Wish I Could Tell You Goodbye which told the story of several women who needed to say goodbye to someone or something in their lives but were struggling to find the strength to do so. It explored whether meeting each other via a bootcamp could give them the encouragement to let go. The setting was inspired by my bootcamp experiences and I was very proud of this piece of work. I pitched to four publishers who all enthused about it but two wanted it to go down a cosy romcom route and two wanted me to keep the contemporary women’s fiction I’d moved towards in my writing. They were particularly passionate about it finding a home with them. Only, when I finished it and submitted to them, they didn’t want it.

The rejections floored me and, with low sales across all my books, I began seriously questioning whether I could write or whether it was worth the heartache. Yet being a writer is who I am. I wouldn’t know what to do with myself if I didn’t tell my stories. The sales figures may not have screamed success but the reviews did and I’d regularly pick myself up looking at them.

In a home-based role, the weight continued to pile on and my despondence about my writing didn’t help me in doing anything about it. The long hours I worked between the day job, my Masters, and trying to write didn’t help either.

 

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Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

I started the year still languishing in Amazon jail. They finally released me in February and put me straight back in less than two weeks later, starting the hideous episode all over again.

A couple more rejections for my latest novel came through. Whilst acknowledging that I was a good writer with a great location for my books, they either didn’t “get” the bootcamp setting or didn’t think the book had enough of a “hook”. This floored me again and, on top of the Amazon jail situation, I wasn’t in a happy place with my writing in early 2019 and was flooded with doubts about my future as an author.

Screenshot 2019-06-18 at 09.41.35But things were about to change in a big way. On 1st February, a new publisher called Boldwood Books opened for business and they sounded different. Reading their website, Boldwood sounded like the perfect home for me. I just had to hope that they “got” the setting and thought it had a sufficient “hook”. Fortunately they did and, on 20th March, I received a whopping nine-book-deal from Boldwood for four brand new books and five from my back-catalogue. Woo hoo! It couldn’t have come at a better time.

Wish I Could Tell You Goodbye got a new identity as The Secret to Happiness and was launched on 3rd September. It came out in all formats (eBook, audio, large print and paperback) globally from day one; something very unique to Boldwood as part of their “publishing reimagined” offer.

thumbnailThe Secret to Happiness had performed well during its first month out but a Bookbub promotion in Canada and Australia in October saw me become an international bestseller with the amazing positions of number 9 and number 20 respectively in the overall Kindle charts in those countries. I still can’t quite believe I’m both a top 10 bestseller and an international bestseller. Eek! Some major promotions in the UK also saw the book achieve its highest UK chart position within the top 600 which was very exciting too.

More good news was on the way. After two years of studying, I passed my MA in Creative Writing with distinction which I couldn’t be more thrilled about. I worked so hard to achieve that grade but creative writing can be very subjective so I wasn’t sure I was going to quite get there in the end.

The Write Romantics still exist and the group have gone from being ten unpublished writers to ten published writers, whether that be traditionally, indie or through a hybrid approach. We no longer blog together as we simply don’t have the time with our individual social media activities to manage, but the support of the group is invaluable. Whenever one of us are experiencing a high or low, whether in writing or in life in general, there’s someone there to give a virtual hug of sympathy or congratulations. I’ve met every member at least twice and am very fortunate in having forged a very strong friendship with the fabulously talented Sharon Booth who I meet a couple of times a month to catch-up on all things writerly, and eat cake. Perfect!

 

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Image by Susan Cipriano from Pixabay

As for 2020 and beyond… 

I have a whopping six books coming out with Boldwood Books next year. That might sound excessive but five of them are from my back-catalogue. The ‘Welcome to Whitsborough Bay’ series that started my writing journey has been re-edited, re-packaged and re-titled. The novella has been combined with the follow-up Christmas short novel to make one book, turning this into a four-book series. Making Wishes at Bay View will be out on 14th January, New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms and Finding Hope at Lighthouse Cove will be released on 20th February and Coming Home to Seashell Cottage will come out on 17th March.

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July 2nd will be the publication day for my next brand-new Boldwood release, which doesn’t have a title at the moment. Then Christmas at The Chocolate Pot Cafe will be re-released on 1st October. This was my Christmas novel last year and I have added several new chapters to extend the story. I needed to keep it under 70k at the time because I’d submitted it for a competition where it couldn’t exceed that amount but, whilst the reader wasn’t left hanging, there was an aspect of the story I could have explored more and this has been my opportunity to do so.

My July release is part one of a new series and the second part will be out on 7th January 2021. I’ve only written one chapter so far so need to get cracking on that one very soon!

It’s still my dream to be able to write full-time one day. Maybe 2020 will be the year it happens. Got to dream big!

 

Wishing you all the best for a wonderful start to the new year and new decade. See you on the other side.

Jessica xx

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Image by Samad Khakpour from Pixabay

 

 

The one where I went to Lapland to meet the real Santa

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Lapland is the largest and most northerly region of Finland and, of course, the home of Father Christmas. And, last week, my family and I had the bucket-list experience of spending three days there. We flew out on Ashleigh’s 13th birthday – pretty amazing way to spend your first day as a teen!

IMG_7648We’d booked a Santa’s Lapland holiday, flying from Leeds Bradford to Ivalo airport which has to be the dinkiest airport I’ve ever been in. With Christmas songs on the plane, elves running riot round the baggage collection, and lots of snow, it was certainly beginning to look and feel a lot like Christmas. As we went out to our coaches, there was a Sami with a reindeer for a perfect photo opportunity.

We were staying in a beautiful village called Saariselkä 250km north of the Arctic Circle so it was cold. Very cold. But completely fabulous. First stop was to collect the snowsuits, boots, mittens and socks that we’d need to keep snug in the double-figure minus temperatures. I was a little bit worried that, being very overweight yet vertically challenged, they wouldn’t have a suit to fit but I needn’t have stressed. They had suits for all sizes and were very good at looking at someone and selecting an appropriate size with no fuss.

We’d booked onto a snowmobile experience which we were expecting to do the following evening and were a little surprised to discover that it was actually happening on our first evening instead so it was a case of checking in, quickly unpacking, swapping Ashleigh’s snowsuit (as hers didn’t fit) then heading out for our first activity. The snowmobiles would seat 2 x adults who’d have the opportunity to swap over driving halfway if they wanted. Small children would ride in a sleigh pulled by one of the reps on a snowmobile, snuggled under blankets.

With Ashleigh being significantly bigger/older than all the other kids, we asked if there was any chance of us having a snowmobile each and Ashleigh riding pillion. She was thrilled when they confirmed we could do this and decided to be Mark’s passenger for the first stretch.

Oh my goodness, how much did I love driving a snowmobile? I’ve driven a quad bike a few times so the controls were very much the same principle, although you did have to grip harder to keep the snowmobile going the way you wanted. We followed a winding track through the forest. It was so peaceful and the snow-laden trees flanking us were absolutely beautiful. Halfway through, we stopped by a campfire for hot berry juice and cookies. This would  have been the perfect opportunity to check out the Northern Lights but, sadly, we didn’t see them because there was too much cloud cover. Gutted. The closest thing we got was pictures in front of giant posters of them at the airport!

Ashleigh became my pillion passenger for the final stretch. I was at the back of our small group and, even though my snowmobile had behaved perfectly on the way out, it conked out twice on the way back. The rep behind me needed to start it up again but I was secretly pleased it was playing up because this meant that I needed to catch up with the rest of my little group which meant I could speed up significantly. Woo hoo! Ashleigh absolutely loved it although I was conscious of having her on the back so didn’t dare go quite as fast as I might have done on my own.

The following day a coach took us further north for a series of activities in the snow. The temperature steadily dipped and we were told that the Artic Centre was actually minus 20 degrees. Brr! We were told to give the ‘high-five bear’ – the meeting point for the husky rides – a high-five to bring us luck. I didn’t need asking twice. Aw, isn’t he gorgeous?

There were five ‘big’ activities that we could only do once and several little activities that we could undertake as many times as we wanted. They were spread across two areas connected by a sleigh ride. The only set time was the husky ride so we needed to work everything around that.

We weren’t scheduled for our husky ride until the afternoon so we took the sleigh ride to the other side first to complete the activities there. The sleigh was pulled by a snowmobile and was great fun but it was so undignified trying to get out of it with low seats and a slippery floor from the snow. I thought I’d sussed it on my first attempt but we did four sleigh rides in total and I got worse at getting out each time, ending up completely beached!

Our first ‘big’ activity was a reindeer-pulled open sleigh. Mark and Ashleigh travelled together in front of me and I had a sleigh to myself. We travelled in a convoy of four or five reindeer and sleighs tethered together. My reindeer kept getting really close to Mark and Ashleigh and, at one point, he nearly hooked Mark’s hat off his head with his antlers!

There were various warming huts and tepees around the site and you could get hot berry juice and pancakes in one of them. Nom nom. We nipped into an igloo then attended a show where the children learned all about reindeers from a naughty elf and its trainer. The trainer was the spitting image of my oldest brother but he had a really posh voice and it was so strange looking at him and not hearing my brother’s Teesside accent.

Ashleigh had a go on a toboggan and on a mini-skidoo and we all tried a kick-sled which is a bit like a scooter on skis. I absolutely loved the kick-sled and would happily have played on it for ages but we had a date with a husky.

The husky ride was fabulous. We were told that the dogs would be really excited and barking a lot so we should just focus on getting into the sled at the start but that we could pet them afterwards. Mark was the first to drive and it was a heck of a squeeze fitting me and Ashleigh into the sled. At one point, I was worried that we might not be able to get in safely but we managed to wriggle about a bit and finally squash in. We set off in a convoy of twenty sleds and it was so exhilarating.

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There were six huskies in pairs and the middle pair pulling our sled started fighting. Or at least that’s what we thought they were doing. At first. One of them kept jumping on the other and it got quite fraught with the dogs coming off the track and us having to do an emergency stop! The rep behind sorted them out and we were back on our way.

IMG_7731Then it was my turn to drive. Mark had to stand on the brake while I got out and I had to takeover standing on the brake before he moved. That wasn’t easy because it meant I was tipping backwards and, having not been to the gym for a few years, I have no abs to help me do this!

IMG_7721When the dogs went down a hill, we needed to put one foot on the brake and, when they went uphill, we had to help them by scooting with one leg. Nearly came a cropper the first time. That ice stuff is slippy! Anyway, turns out our huskies weren’t fighting; they were being amorous. And they kept being amorous throughout the ride, much to Ashleigh’s amusement!

I can’t decide whether my favourite event was the snowmobile or the husky ride. Both were amazing bucket-list experiences and I’d love to do them again. The huskies were absolutely gorgeous and their fur was so much softer than I expected. The light was fading and it was so magical being surrounded by snow and being able to stroke such beautiful dogs.

We skipped one of the ‘big’ activities – an elf show – and spent quite some time queuing to 80838332_2698296666876283_6134827008095420416_osearch for Santa. A family at a time were taken on a snowmobile-pulled sleigh ride to find Santa’s cabin in the woods.

We were greeted by a couple of elves, one of whom was very naughty and pinched our hats then swapped them over, before going in to meet Santa. He was in a wooden cabin surrounded by presents and invited Ashleigh to sit with him. We’d discreetly handed over the letter she’d written to him before boarding the sleigh and she was quite astonished to discover he had that and that he knew it had been her birthday the day before. He asked her if she had any questions so she asked how old he was, then we posed for some family photos before boarding the sleigh again.

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Ashleigh had a couple more toboggan rides then we caught one of the coaches back to the village. It was a brilliant, packed day, full of amazing experiences.

When we got back to the hotel, we decided we might as well keep the snowsuits on and have a little wander round some of the gifts shops before changing for dinner. I was keen to get a couple of Christmas tree decorations from our holiday. I ended up getting seven items. Oops! And five Tonttu. These are my new love and I think I was pretty restrained to only come home with five. I’d have happily filled my suitcase with these gorgeous little fellas.

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We had a delicious hot chocolate back in the hotel and Hermann the bear was delighted to discover some beer especially for bears in the mini fridge!

The following day, we were leaving for the airport at 11.40am so we donned our snowsuits again and took Ashleigh to a huge toboggan run a short walk from the hotel.

Mark took a little wander to try to get some photos and to spot a good place for a family picture. We managed a lovely shot before heading back to the hotel to do the final bits of packing and bundle up our snowsuits.

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It was a really amazing couple of days. We’d have loved to have another day or two to explore a bit more. Our hotel room – Gielas at the Tunturi Hotel – was superb and the bathroom even had a small sauna in it but we didn’t have the time to use it. We’d love to go back one day and, from the pictures in the airport, the area looks stunning in the summer too.

Of course, I had to take the opportunity for a couple of promo shots while I was there!

If you’d like to find out more about Santa’s Lapland, click here. We went on Santa’s Magic and booked our snowmobile experience as an additional activity. It’s certainly not cheap but it was brilliant. Being somewhere where it’s only light for a few hours of the day was also quite extraordinary.

We may have a massive hole in our finances now, but we have several Tonttu, Ashleigh has a giant husky, and we all have some very happy memories!

Jessica xx

 

The one where I went to a Christmas Masquerade at a Castle … sort of

IMG_7545I had a lovely day out yesterday with my good friend and fellow author, Sharon Booth, visiting the Christmas installation at Castle Howard. We’ve started an annual tradition (does twice count as a tradition?) of visiting a stately home each Christmas. Last year we went to Burton Agnes Hall near Bridlington which was beautifully-decorated and very impressive, but Castle Howard – a much bigger stately home – exceeded all expectations. Wow! Just wow! I think we may be back next year. Or maybe do both????

Castle Howard is a grand estate in North Yorkshire situated off the A64 between York and Scarborough and, given the size and grandeur, it’s not surprising that it took over 100 years to be built, starting in 1699. With 1,000 acres of rolling gardens and parkland, there’s plenty to explore on full-day visit. As it was bucketing it down and blowing a gale, Sharon and I did not explore the grounds but we did enjoy our wander around the house. The photos above were taken on a much nicer day a couple of years ago!

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I’ve been to Castle Howard before, several times, but have only explored the house once at Christmas and that was many years ago when the munchkin was small and we took her to their Father Christmas experience (highly recommended and very magical but you need to book as soon as the dates are released in September each year). This was before they did the installations so it was lots of flowers, candles and dressed trees but nothing like the Christmas Masquerade.

I cannot recommend the Christmas installation enough. It is absolutely stunning. Every room offered a new treat and, as we moved along corridors and up staircases between rooms, the statues were adorned with colourful masks and vases displayed baubles, feathers, birds and more masks so there was always something to look at related to the theme.

I was worried that, without flash, I wouldn’t take any decent photos (photography is allowed but flash-free). However, I was quite pleased with what I managed to get.

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Lady Georgiana’s Bedroom

The first room elicited a huge “oooh” and we just continued with the “ooohs” and “aahhhs” every step we took. What imagination the team have to have pulled this together. Apparently plans start about a year in advance, although they had less than two weeks to actually build the installation. That’s quite astonishing when you see it as you’d think it would take months to put it up. It takes me more than a full day to put up my Christmas decorations at home so two weeks to achieve this? Serious respect to everyone involved.

Rooms carried the theme of a famous masquerade character such as Harlequin, Pierrot  and Colombine whilst others carried the general masquerade theme. There were costumes, masks, and wigs all cleverly displayed with lighting. And the colours! Wow!

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The New Library

Sharon and I both adored Lady Georgiana’s Bedroom and dressing room but our favourite room was The New Library which is used as an office. We’d both have happily stepped over the rope, grabbed a book from the shelves, and settled in front of the fire until security forcefully removed us. Despite the high ceilings and large dimensions of the room, it managed to feel so cosy and welcoming.

I loved the upside-down Christmas tree – such imagination – and marvelled at the 25-foot one in the Great Hall.

I was super impressed with the river and bridge in The Long Gallery and had to stop to pose on the bridge. Beautifully-dresses masked mannequins showed off their finery.

We ended our tour with a visit to the chapel which is very ornate and lovely for a rest and some contemplation.

IMG_7558When we’d finished contemplating (and resting our feet), it was time for lunch and, of course, cake. Nom nom. I had the last slice of lemon sponge and Sharon chose a Victoria sponge. It was very delicious and … dare I use that word that so many people hate? …. moist!!!! As you can see, I was halfway through it before I even thought to take a photo.

All too soon, it was time to head home and we were just in time to catch the land-train back to the entrance. We had the entire two-carriage train to ourselves and, my goodness, was it cold. With open sides, a gale blew right through it but it was still a lovely journey. We were also only just in time for Sharon to catch her train from my local station. Seriously, the poor woman was dashing across the tracks on one side as the train was pulling in the other! Far too close for comfort!

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If anyone is thinking of visiting Christmas Masquerade at Castle Howard, then definitely do. They are open until 23rd December and again before New Year.

You can find out more about the installation, dates, and prices here.

It’s got great access for anyone with mobility challenges and we saw several visitors moving around in wheelchairs so don’t let any mobility issues put you off as most of the exhibits can still be accessed.

IMG_7513Oh, and I found a bear! Unfortunately he was part of the installation so I had to leave him where he was.

I’m already curious as to what next year’s theme will be. Hopefully if we do go back, we’ll manage a less blustery day. And apparently it’s good to avoid Tuesdays as that’s when they get most of their coach trips. Good to know!

Have a great week and good luck with any final Christmas preparations.

Jessica xx