The one where I become an international bestseller

IMG_6926

All writers have dreams and I’m no exception. Yet this week I achieved a dream that actually wasn’t even a dream. It felt like something so out of reach that I’d never even contemplated it for my wish list so I was astounded and thrilled when I became an international bestseller last night. Eek!

My new-found status comes on the back of a BookBub promotion in Australia and Canada. BookBub promote eBooks for free or bargain prices to their 10 million subscribers. The Secret to Happiness was offered for $1.64 in Australia and 99 cents in Canada. The promotion didn’t kick in until mid-afternoon yesterday but, once it started, it was so exciting refreshing the Amazon and Apple Australia and Canada sites to see progress.

It was particularly lovely for me to have a BookBub in both of these countries because I’ve visited both and it’s brought back fond memories…

IMG_7140CANADA

When I was 8, I visited Canada very briefly. And I mean very briefly as in for a few hours. My family went on a big holiday to the USA and took in Niagara Falls as part of that trip so we disembarked the Maid of the Mist on the Canadian side for an explore.

Twenty-five years later, I returned for my honeymoon and, this time, it was a few weeks instead of a few hours.

Hubby and I married in late September so we were actually in Canada this time 14 years ago. We decided to focus on British Columbia, starting in Vancouver.

IMG_7146
Whale-Watching on Vancouver Island

We spent a few days there, then caught a seaplane to Vancouver Island where we stayed for a few nights. After another night back in Vancouver, we took The Rocky Mountaineer up to Jasper. Such a beautiful place.

After a few nights there, we hired a car and made our way to Banff via Lake Louise where it started to snow.

The hills and mountains were all covered in snow and some of the roads to more remote lakes were already closed off ready for the heavy snowfall.

Our final stop was Calgary although we much preferred Jasper, Banff and Lake Louise.

 

We were hoping to go to Canada again for hubby’s 50th next year but he’s a keen photographer so wants to time it right for good photos, which doesn’t time right for school holidays. We may need to postpone a few years when our daughter has finished school. It’s such a stunning part of the world and the people are so friendly.

And there are lots of bears. We saw a few from the window of The Rocky Mountaineer which was amazing. Looking through the photo album, I noticed a bit of a trend of me having my photo taken next to stuffed or wooden carved bears. Good times!

Amazon Canada No 9 in Paid ChartBack to the BookBub promo in Canada, here’s a few stats:

Starting position #256,592 on Amazon Canada

Ending position #9 in the overall Amazon Canada Paid Chart

Achieved #1 bestseller in all these categories, some of which are slightly dubious but it’s Amazon’s algorithms at work and out of our control:

  • Clean & Wholesome Romance (hmm, not quite)
  • Holiday Fiction
  • Holiday Romance
  • Mashup Fiction
  • Sea Adventures (Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum me hearties!)
  • Sea Stories
  • Small Town & Rural Life

On Apple Canada, the top position reached was #7 in the overall chart and #3 in the Fiction & Literature chart.

Apple Canada No 6 in Paid ChartThank you so much, Canada. Yesterday was actually Thanksgiving in Canada. We were in Jasper for Thanksgiving on our honeymoon (it fell on 10th October) and, at that time, I had written about half of quite a poor novel. As we tucked into our Thanksgiving meal and celebrated with the locals, I never dreamed that 14 years later, my tenth book would make it to the top ten of the Canada charts! I am very thankful to the readers in Canada for helping The Secret to Happiness to soar so high.
AUSTRALIA

IMG_7132Twenty years ago, one of my best friends, Catryn, asked me if I’d like to go to New Zealand with her to visit her sister who’d emigrated out there. Yes please!

If we were going to travel to the other side of the world, we decided might as well go for a month and take in Australia and Bali too. Yeah, I know! Way too ambitious. In a month, we’d have only covered a small part of New Zealand or Australia alone, never mind both of them and Bali too! It worked out roughly at 10 days in NZ, 10 days in Aus, and 6 in Bali.

We spent February 2000 there and our trip to Australia was split between Sydney, Alice Springs/Uluru, and Cairns/The Great Barrier Reef. The weather was very inclement. It was overcast when we visited The Sydney Opera House and horrendous when we went to Uluru. You know when you see photos of people at Uluru and it’s a vibrant red/orange colour with a bright blue sky behind it? That wasn’t us.

Our trip took in a fairly nice sunset the evening before but our actual visit to the rock the following day was in a thunderstorm! We had to wear bin liners and negotiate floods as we made our way around the base.

Climbing the rock wasn’t an option as it was too dangerous. In some ways, I was quite pleased about that because I was having a moral dilemma about whether to climb or not. Part of me wanted to climb for the experience but a bigger part of me didn’t want to because I knew that the traditional owners wished against this in respect of their laws and culture. I didn’t think I had the right to over-ride that. I actually thought that the climb had since been stopped permanently but I Googled it and have discovered this will finally happen later this month.

We were actually lucky to get to Alice Springs and out to Uluru at all because the previous trip had been cancelled due to flooded roads.

The weather didn’t improve for a few days diving on The Great Barrier Reef either. The reef was all churned up and choppy and looked more like The North Sea than the stunning turquoise images we’re used to seeing.

It was an amazing experience, though, and I’d love to go back one day but take more time. Oh, and I wish I was as fat now as I thought I was when I was there. It’s scary how you can perceive your own body. I thought I was enormous. Hmm.

Onto my BookBub promotion in Australia. Being ten hours ahead of us, it was only late evening when I started moving up the Australian charts and I had a feeling it was going to be the early hours of the morning when it peaked and I’d miss it. I couldn’t stay awake, though. After retiring at about 12.45am, I awoke again around 3.00am and was thrilled to see I’d made it to #22 although I rose a little higher earlier today.

Amazon Australia No 20 in Paid ChartStarting position #174,463 on Amazon Australia

Ending position #20 in the overall Amazon Australia Paid Chart

Achieved #1 bestseller in even more categories, some of which are also slightly obscure:

  • Family Life Fiction
  • History (very random)
  • Holiday Fiction
  • Holiday Romance
  • Mashup Fiction
  • Parenting & Relationships
  • Sea Adventure Fiction
  • Sea Stories
  • Small Town & Rural Fiction
  • Travel
  • Women’s Fiction About Domestic Life

On Apple Australia, the top position reached was #26, and #7 on the Fiction & Literature Chart.

Apple Australia No 26 in Paid Chart
Thank you so much to all those readers in Australia who downloaded The Secret to Happiness and helped it get so high.

I cannot thank my publishers, Boldwood Books, enough for the amazing job they are doing in promoting and supporting all their authors. As I said right at the start, this wasn’t even on my radar as a dream so I am quite overwhelmed. It’s very likely the chart position will drop now that the promotion has ended but I’m thrilled to be able to say I got there and I have a million screenshots to prove it!

Jessica xx

Advertisements

The one where I get my first ever 1-star review on Amazon

I’ve done it! After nearly 4.5 years as a published writer with ten books out there, it has finally happened. Today, I received my first ever 1-star review on Amazon for my latest novel The Secret to Happiness.

Screenshot 2019-10-10 at 13.35.14In the writing community, the first 1-star review is often joked about as being the ‘rite of passage’ or it’s said that you’re ‘not a real author’ until you’ve received one. That might all sound very flippant but it’s a way of dealing with the blow of someone telling us that they thought that the novel that we spent months or even years creating with blood, sweat and tears is, quite frankly, a turd. Ouch. It hurts. But it happens.

Every big name from classics like Austen and Dickens to multi-billion contemporary best-sellers like J K Rowling, Stephen King and Dan Brown has 1-star reviews. So that puts me in pretty good company.

I am quite astonished that I’ve ‘survived’ this long without the lowest rating but I will admit that I smarted when I received it today and not for the reason you’d expect…

criticism-3083100_1920
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

One-star reviews happen and, as authors, we need to accept that not everyone is going to love our story (would be a boring world if we all loved the same things). Some readers will come from the “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything” school of thought and keep it to themselves whereas others will happily voice their negative opinions and some of those will do it with venom! Which is absolutely their right. Maybe not the venom part but it’s certainly their right to share their opinion.

No, what irked me was that Amazon have changed their rules around reviews. I obviously missed the memo about this and I still believed that it was not possible to just give a rating; words had to accompany it. Not anymore. Now a reader can simply give a rating with no explanation whatsoever and this is difficult to swallow.

feedback-2463927_1920

I still have a day job in Human Resources. As an HR Professional, one of my two specialisms is learning and development. I’m therefore all for a bit of (preferably constructive) feedback and I will happily learn from this in my writing career and action it where possible e.g. if a reader has spotted an error. What I can’t do is learn from a 1-star rating with no explanation. And neither can potential readers. I personally don’t make a buying decision based on reviews but there are plenty of readers out there who do and having low ratings without explanations doesn’t help them or the author.

I’ve seen 1-star reviews for other authors along these lines:

Book didn’t appear on my Kindle

Formatting seemed to go funny

Paperback didn’t arrive on time

Not read it yet so can’t rate it

It’s possible that the formatting is down to the author or publisher but not necessarily. The other scenarios above are definitely out of the author’s control and, if a prospective reader is looking at the reviews for a buying decision and the reason for the low-rating is explained as one of the above (or similar), then they can effectively discount that review as it’s not about the story itself.

I’ve also seen 1-star reviews for other authors that state something like:

Absolutely loved it. One of the best books I’ve ever read. Can’t wait for the next

In this case, the reader has clearly misunderstood and clicked on the wrong end of the rating scale. Oops. But, again, a prospective reader looking at reviews as part of their decision-making will see this and be able to discount that 1-star rating too.

mistake-1966448_1920
Image by Tumisu from Pixabay

But when a 1-star rating simply appears without a review, who does this help?

  • It doesn’t help the author because it brings down their ratings and gives them nothing to work with
  • It doesn’t help prospective readers because there’s no information to support the rating and factor into their buying decision
  • And, actually, it doesn’t help the person who left the rating because they haven’t had their rant!
what-2711657_1920
Image by an_photos from Pixabay

I therefore find myself mystified as to why this system would be introduced by Amazon.

Maybe there is a case for just leaving a rating on certain products. For example, if you ordered a pack of 12 x Bic biros, does that really warrant you having to write a review? They’re mass-produced pens. What more can be said? Either you can write with it or you can’t. But for books, is this really an improvement? I’d suggest not but I’d very much welcome your thoughts.

I’m concerned that it opens the system up for abuse. When someone places a review, their Amazon identifier comes up. Sometimes this is their real name but, more often than not, this is an identity they’ve created for their reviews like glitterunicorn or loves2read. Either way, we have no idea who these people are and the unspoken rule is that we don’t communicate with reviewers, even to thank them, but they do have some form of identity on the system and, if curious, we can see what else they’ve reviewed and maybe take comfort that they never give high ratings for books or they clearly don’t enjoy a certain type of book. However, when they just leave a rating, they’re completely anonymous – we just know the rating and nothing about the source – and this surely opens up the opportunity for an individual with an axe to grind to randomly give a low rating to an author they dislike or even of whom they’re jealous whilst appearing completely invisible on the system.

Screenshot 2019-10-10 at 18.04.34

On Tuesday, I shared the above tweet to say that 35 of the 36 reviews on Amazon were 5-star. Is it a coincidence that, within two days, an anonymous 1-star rating appeared (bearing in mind it usually takes a couple of days for ratings/reviews to materialise)? Yes, quite possibly. In fact, I hope it is. But I wouldn’t be an author if my mind didn’t work overtime and constantly ask ‘what if…?’ What if someone decided to take me down a peg or two after that tweet? What if someone was sitting there saying, ‘Nearly all 5-star? Well, not anymore. Ha ha ha ha ha!’ I just don’t know. I’d like to think that nobody could be so cruel but we live in a world full of hatred and unkindness exacerbated by keyboard warriors and trolls who don’t think about the impact their words might have on others. Or don’t care.

Can I just emphasise that I’m not upset at receiving a 1-star rating (she writes through the blur of tears before ripping open her second box of tissues for the day). After all, 36 readers disagree. I’m just a bit bewildered by Amazon’s change to allow ratings instead of reviews. Please do pop a comment below and let me know what you think.

Edit: I meant to say something which I put on my FB post about this earlier and that there may well be a whole pile of positives to this change that I’m simply not thinking of because I’m too blinkered by the 1-star review. Huge thanks to Shalini, a prolific reader and reviewer who has been so supportive of my writing for giving another perspective on this. It’s well worth reading her comments for an alternative take (click on the option at the top of this post to see comments).

Jessica xx

calligraphy-2658504_1920
Image by Ka Young Seo from Pixabay

The one where I’ve finished my Masters

dawn-1840298_1920
Image by Pexels from Pixabay

I’ve just submitted my final Masters assignment. Yay!

I’ve been studying an MA in Creative Writing through Open University and it’s quite weird to think that two years of study has now finished. The course materials and accompanying activities finished a few months back, so I’ve been out of the routine of weekly studies for a while although the final submission was 15k words so it was about giving time to do that.

We don’t get the results back until early December so it’s a waiting game now. I’ve worked hard and am delighted that I’ve got a distinction so far but will need to get a distinction on my final assignment to come out with that grade overall. My other fiction pieces have scored highly so I’m hopeful.

banner-939233_1920

Have I learned loads? I’ve certainly learned but probably not loads. This wasn’t because there wasn’t lots to learn because there was absolutely loads to take in for someone new to writing. However, I’d already written seven books when I started and studied a lot about writing so most of the first year for me was cementing what I already knew. Much of the second year was about going more in-depth on that as well as exploring a few very specialist elements of writing which I’m unlikely to use. It has been useful, though. I particularly enjoyed looking at script writing which I think has helped my novel writing.

learn-3980941_1920
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

What I’ve found most valuable is the connection with a handful of writers in my tutor group. We started out with about 14 students in the group but only 7 of us have remained active. It’s been so helpful looking at and critiquing the work of others and having them give me feedback in return. I’ve been lucky enough to meet one of the group in person, another has moved into the area so we’ll hopefully meet soon, and I’m meeting a third when I’m down in London in November.

I’m really looking forward to seeing where their writing journeys go and to hopefully seeing them all secure publishing deals or publish their own work in the not-too-distant future.

And, of course, I’m looking forward to receiving my results. Watch this space.

Good luck Angie, David, Georgia, Janet, Mandy and Tracy and thank you for your feedback, support and friendship.

Jessica xx

The one where I visited a bear house

IMG_7099

I love bears. Bet you hadn’t noticed that! I was very excited, therefore, to hear that a bear house had been created at North Yorkshire’s Newby Hall (near Ripon) following the extremely generous donation by Gyles Brandreth and his wife, Michele, of their bear collection.

IMG_7114

Attempts to visit it were thwarted twice. We planned to visit one Saturday only to discover online that it was closed for the winter. Our next attempt was summer last year when we turned up … only to discover that there was a massive traction engine rally in the grounds and the house was closed. So it was third time lucky last week.

This visit was a day out with my husband, Mark, to celebrate our 14th wedding anniversary. We had a slow 2-hour journey stuck behind tractor after tractor but it was worth the trek because Newby Hall is a fabulous place and I’d highly recommend a visit (but next year because it’s now closed for the winter).

IMG_7075IMG_7091IMG_7085

We went on a lovely walk through the woods first following a sculpture trail. Some of the sculptures were very recognisable like a gorgeous pair of pigs and others were more abstract. All were available for sale. My absolute favourite was Remington the dog (top right). He’s bronze and comes with a hefty price tag (forgot to take a photo but it was in the region of £5k!)

There was one that looked like a cracked paving slab resting against a stone. I’m sure this was very meaningful for those in the know and I’m sure there was a lot of planning and talent involved but… Yep, I clearly know nothing about art. At £820 it was one of the less expensive exhibits. Needless to say, I came home with photos and memories rather than purchases!

IMG_7088

A guided tour around the house was fascinating. Newby Hall is a private residence so visitors can’t wander freely but the three tour guides were superb; very engaging and also funny. There were small collectible bears hiding in each room but, every time I pointed one out to Mark, the tour guides said, ‘They’re for the children’s tour.’ I beg to differ. It’s not only children who like bears!

71509715_2510462272326391_1009764266036690944_o

The Bear House itself was calling but so were the scones and cakes so we stopped for lunch first. My scone was still warm from the oven. Mmmm.

IMG_7097

Then it was finally onto the bears. I loved The Bear House. There were some original famous bears in there including Fozzie Bear from The Muppet Show, Paddington, Sooty, and Super Ted. Apparently there are more than a thousand bears in Gyles and Michele’s collection and there’s no way they can display anywhere near that many so the display keeps changing … a fabulous excuse to keep visiting again!

IMG_7102As well as the famous bear sections, there were several themed displays including a wedding, a picnic and a royal balcony scene. I was curious as to whether the collection included any bears I have and was thrilled to spot one in the church scene. See that little fella with the lovely black jacket in the wedding scene? He’s a Hermann Teddy Original and I’ve got him! He was actually one of the first collectible bears I added to my hug.

There’s so much more to do at Newby Hall. With a miniature railway, boat rides and adventure playground, it’s a great day out for kids. The grounds are extensive and lovely to explore with a rock garden and a statue walk. There’s also an extensive dolls house collection which is fascinating but we were struggling for time by this point so didn’t linger for long in there. We did, however, rescue a bumble bee who’d got trapped inside. which made me very happy.

IMG_7101

IMG_7108

IMG_7109

Some of the bears have been donated by famous people. There was one from Dame Judi Dench and another from Tony Blair. As an author, I particularly enjoyed meeting Barbara Cartland’s teddy bear, ‘The Prince of Love’. Well, what else would you call him?

IMG_7106

Newby Hall has featured in TV and films extensively too. Many scenes in Victoria have been filmed there, a 2007 BBC adaptation of Mansfield Park was exclusively filmed there as was much of season one of Peaky Blinders. How exciting!

If you’d like to find out more about Newby Hall, you can find their website here.

IMG_707770222018_2510462262326392_6049442976646561792_oIMG_7079

Hope you enjoyed the pictures and that you have a fabulous October.

Jessica xx

The one where I talk about lightbulb moments and shifting goalposts

70339176_1400040106821488_6280215439226175488_nI had a lovely writing-related day on Saturday. It was the RNA’s annual York Tea and, as that didn’t start until 1pm, I arranged to meet a York-based writing friend on the morning. The last time we met was before the same event last year so we had a lot to catch up on. It was lovely to hear all about the next steps in her journey towards hopefully securing agent representation for her debut historical novel and she was keen to learn all about my publishing deal.

Then, on the afternoon, the event itself was fabulous and it was great to catch up with writing friends and chat to virtual friends for the first time face to face.

70641082_1400040126821486_3027867912644853760_nI could write loads about the York Tea but that’s not the purpose of this post which, instead, is about a lightbulb moment and a reminder of a poem I wrote a couple of years back.

When I was talking to my writing friend on the morning, she was keen to explore what made me move from being a “successful indie writer” to seeking a publishing deal. That made me laugh. Successful? Me? I explained that part of the reason for seeking a publishing deal was that I didn’t see myself as being successful at all. I talked about low chart positions and limited sales and she was genuinely astonished that I didn’t view myself as a successful writer. We talked quite a bit about this and it was illuminating to see myself through her eyes; the eyes of a new writer.

70928445_1400040553488110_2584542097021337600_nFor over six years, I’ve been part of a writing collective who provide support and encouragement to each other, celebrate successes, and offer sympathy during low periods. This is invaluable but, because we’re all published writers now, it’s easy to forget about the early days when typing ‘the end’ was a huge achievement and being published was the holy grail. I know that comparing yourself to others is the worst thing possible but it’s also a natural human inclination. When I compare myself to the other talented authors within my writing family who write for a similar market as me, I have always been bottom of the class. I’ve only vicariously experienced high chart positions, volume sales, Amazon Prime deals, and bonuses for pages read. Whilst thrilled for my friends and cheering on their success, the question has always haunted me: What am I doing wrong? I therefore wanted to work with a publishing expert who would get me the visibility/sales that have evaded me as an indie writer, despite great reviews.

My writing friend listened to all of this and she understood where I was coming from but she listed all the things I had achieved and how in awe of this she was as someone starting out on her writing journey. As I say, it was illuminating to see myself through the eyes of a new writer.

70455697_1400040296821469_3810547224698421248_nAt the RNA Tea, I was sat next to my fabulous author friend, Sharon Booth, and a wonderful RNA member we’ve met before had a conversation with us and expressed her admiration for how well we were both doing. A friend of hers who we’d only previously ‘met’ virtually came over and said the same thing. In fact, she called us both “inspiring”. You know those cartoons where a question mark circles round the character’s head? That was us. We were hearing all these words like impressive, inspiring, role-model, aspirational and felt such a disconnect. It’s absolutely not how we view ourselves so it was astonishing to hear others describe us both in this way.

Screenshot 2019-09-16 at 09.40.00
Why don’t we see ourselves the way others see us? It goes back to a poem I wrote a couple of years ago which I posted on my blog at the time but I’ve posted below again. IMG_6926I’m no poet (as you can see) but the sentiment is there. As writers, we’re so busy shifting the goalposts that we can easily forget to focus on everything that we’ve achieved so far. I’m doing it again at the moment. So far, Boldwood Books have released six books and mine was the fourth of these but the only one out of the six not to break the top 1,000 on release date. Several have actually broken into the top 300 which is beyond amazing and I am so thrilled for them because that is such a wonderful achievement and must be such a buzz. I still haven’t broken the 2,000 mark. When I should be doing a happy dance because this is way better than the positions of any of my other books, I’m worrying that I’ve let my publisher and me down. When did I become such an over-thinker?

Screenshot 2019-09-14 at 07.59.18

So, I’m trying to focus on the successes and the goals achieved instead of the ones that are (currently) out of reach. At the time of publishing this, I have:

  1. 16 reviews on Amazon and they are all 5-star and they are all amazing reviews full of wonderful words that make me cry for joy
  2. The number 1 slot in the ‘Hot New Releases’ category on Amazon
  3. 10 books published and have written 11, with another 3 part-written
  4. 49 reviews on NetGalley, 94% of which are 4 or 5 star (59% 5 star and 35% 4 star)
  5. Been offered 3 x publishing deals, the one from Boldwood Books being a dream of a deal that I still can’t believe I was fortunate enough to secure
  6. Amazing reviews on Amazon of all my other books: 395 reviews, 98% of which are 4 or 5 star (81% 5 star and 17% 4 star)

Screenshot 2019-09-16 at 12.55.38

And that’s just the facts and figures. Add to that a supportive family and a writing family and I really am very lucky. If somebody had tapped me on the shoulder when I was working on my debut novel, Searching for Steven, and told me that I would achieve all of the above, I wouldn’t have believed them because it sounded so awesome.

IMG_6925A few weeks ago, I arranged for all the females on my side of the family to meet for lunch in York. I met up with my mum, one of my cousins and my two sisters-in-law for a mooch around the shops first. One of my SILs told me how much she was looking forward to reading The Secret to Happiness and how proud she was of everything I’d achieved. I was really touched by that. Then, at the meal, Mum got everyone to sign a card for me and I was asked to give a speech about my new publishing deal. My family were so proud and keen to know more which made me feel like I had actually done something special.

Why haven’t I felt this way before? I think that, like so many writers, I’ve struggled over the years to admit that I’m an author because the response is either:

  • IMG_6927‘I’d love to write a book … if only I had the time’ accompanied by a clear judgement that I obviously have loads of spare time
  • Genuine disinterest/change of subject
  • ‘Would I have heard of you?’ and then disinterest when I’m not in The Times Top 100
  • ‘I don’t read’ accompanied by a change of subject

So it’s easier to stay quiet than face this sort of reaction. I don’t get why people behave like this because, by saying we’re authors, we’re not saying we’re special or better than others; we’re simply declaring our career choice. I have friends who will ask me about how my day job is going (I’m a freelance HR Tutor) and be happy to chat about my work and theirs but they never, ever ask me about writing. Why not? Writing is also my day job and one day I hope it will be my full-time day job. It upsets me and, as a result, I’ve  repeatedly put myself back in my box and stopped seeing any achievements as being special, focusing on the negative aspects instead. Not anymore.

IMG_6929

Perhaps it’s time for a different type of goal. Instead of focusing on the chart positions and sales figures, my goal is to do with the title of my book and what it is that makes me happy. Writing makes me happy. Creating characters and putting them in challenging situations makes me feel alive. As long as I still feel that way, then I have achieved success at being a writer. With a sprinkle of hope and luck, maybe the other things will start happening when I stop worrying about them. And, if they don’t, then I need to focus on what I’ve achieved and remember how I felt when an idea for a story was all I wanted and everything else wasn’t even a dream; never mind a reality.

I’ll stop wittering now and leave you with the poem which is just as relevant to me now as it was when I wrote it a couple of years ago. The only bit I’ve changed is how many books I’ve written. It was six before.

Have a fabulous week.

Jessica xx

 

Never Enough by Jessica Redland

All I want is one idea

How difficult could that be?

A plot that has some mileage

That would be enough for me

All I want is to write a book

What an achievement that would be

300 pages, a brand new world

That would be enough for me

All I want is for someone to read it

A friend or family

If they said it was good; that I could write

That would be enough for me

All I want is an eBook publisher

How amazing would that be?

To believe in my story and share my work

That would be enough for me

All I want is to make some sales

Just one, or two, or three

A handful of readers to download to Kindle

That would be enough for me

All I want is some good reviews

How flattering would it be

For strangers to say they love my work?

That would be enough for me

All I want is to climb the charts

It would make me so happy

To see my ‘baby’ go up and up

That would be enough for me

All I want is a bestseller tag

In some obscure category

That orange flag would scream success

That would be enough for me

All I want is to break the top hundred

I know there’s no guarantee

But then I’d know I’ve got some talent

That would be enough for me

All I want is to be top ten

Can anyone hear my plea?

Side by side with my favourite authors

That would be enough for me

All I want is a number one

I’d barely contain my glee

That coveted slot and all those sales

That would be enough for me

All I want is a paperback

Something I can hold and see

To say “I wrote this”, oh my word

That would be enough for me

All I want is to write full time

A lady that lunches? So me!

Full days in my office, creating away

That would be enough for me

All I want is an audio deal

Listening while sipping my tea

Those accents, those sounds, my world brought to life

That would be enough for me

All I want is my books on the shelves

Of a supermarket: big four. Or three

The sales, the success would remove all the stress

That would be enough for me

All I want is a top five publisher

The validation? My pants I would pee!

I’d finally know that I really can write

That would be enough for me

All I want is to make foreign sales

Australia? France? Germany?

Translations galore, the world at my door

That would be enough for me

All I want is the film to be made

The big screen for everyone to see

Amazing reviews, the compliments ooze

That would be enough for me

All I want is an Oscar win

I’d really be top of the tree

Best screenplay? Oh my, I think I would cry

That would be enough for me

All I want is some book two success

And the same for book number three

Doing even better than first out the grid

That would be enough for me

All I wanted was one idea

To write a book, just for me

But the goalposts kept changing, my life rearranging

And it’s never enough for me

It’s easy to feel so overwhelmed

When sales aren’t what I’d hoped

And reviews are mean and personal

And very unprovoked

When all the writers that I know

Seem to do so great

And the day job takes priority

So my writing has to wait

So it’s back to the start to recapture that feeling

When first I typed “the end”

When someone said, “I loved it!”

Even though they were a friend

When I sat at my keyboard and laughed and cried

As my characters found their voices

When the publishing world was unexplored

But filled with exciting choices

The task once seemed impossible:

To write a full-length story

A big fat tick against that goal

I should bask in the glory

That I achieved what many don’t

And repeated it eleven-fold

I am a writer BECAUSE I WRITE;

Not for how many I’ve sold

The one where I celebrate National Teddy Bear Day

IMG_6869

Today is National Teddy Bear Day; a day that celebrates the history behind the teddy bear. Do you know the history? It’s quite a fascinating story.

Stuffed animals had been around for some time and this even included stuffed bears with Steiff including a bear toy in its 1894 catalogue although it was more reminiscent of a grizzly bear than the cute and cuddly teddy bears we think of today. So how did a stuffed grizzly bear – possibly a bit scary-looking – morph into what we more commonly know as the teddy bear today. It was actually the result of a bit of clever marketing in the early twentieth century…

IMG_6867
My Steiff Paddington – a wedding gift from hubby – and a gorgeous reading artist bear

The president of the USA at the time was President Theodore Roosevelt (in office from 1901-1909). In November 1902, Roosevelt visited Mississippi to work on a tricky political situation around boundaries between Louisiana and Mississippi. Roosevelt had a reputation as a rugged hunting/shooting/fishing type so, to help him relax between difficult negotiations, a bear-hunting trip was organised on 14th November (yeah, I know, but do bear in mind [excuse the pun] that we’re talking nearly 117 years ago and these things were viewed very differently back then). Anyway, it was all going a bit wrong and, as the day drew to a close, the President hadn’t been successful. Keen to end the day on a high, the hunters chased and stunned a small black bear and tied it to a tree so that the President could shoot it. Argh! But don’t panic. It does end well because, even though it obviously didn’t bother him to shoot one of these beautiful animals in the wild, he refused to shoot a captive animal and demanded they, “Spare the bear!” So the bear was cut loose. Hurrah!

IMG_6870
One of my many bear-related ornaments

News of fair play was all over the papers and a cartoon by Clifford K Berryman appeared in the Washington Post with the clever caption “Drawing the Line in Mississippi” which linked to his political reasons for being there as well as drawing the line against killing a captive animal.

A Brooklyn-based Russian couple, Morris and Rose Michtom, were shop-owners and fans of stuffed bears. Delighted by the story, Rose made a jointed bear from soft fabric and put it in the shop window alongside the newspaper cartoon. It sold immediately and so did many replicas. Rose called the bear ‘Teddy’s Bear’ and it’s alleged that Morris wrote to the President asking permission to use the name, receiving a hand-written note giving his permission. Aww. I love that.

IMG_6868The story goes that Roosevelt wasn’t a very sentimental person (possibly not surprising given the “rugged man” image) and didn’t actually like teddy bears, but the publicity did him no harm and the teddy bear as we know it now went from strength to strength.

I could go on and on about the history of the teddy bear because I personally find it interesting about how any product gets developed and has such amazing longevity, but I’ll stop there for now. If you want to read a little more about National Teddy Bear day and see Berryman’s cartoon, click here.

As followers of this blog will know, I’m an arctophile which means I’m a friend/lover (collector) of teddy bears. I love real bears just as much and I hope to go and see polar bears in the wild for my fiftieth birthday in a few years’ time.

IMG_6866As a young child, I had a teddy bear: the aptly named Big Bluey because he’s big and he’s blue. He was a Christening gift and he sits in my office watching me write. His fur is a bit squashed and he’s been repaired at the seams a few times but he’s not doing too badly for a 47-year-old.

I was probably in my mid to late-teens when I really started to really like teddy bears. I don’t know what specifically prompted it but suspect that it was Forever Friends bears being everywhere at the time. I absolutely adored them (and still do).

IMG_6873
Bear Coasters

Over the years, I’ve had all sorts of bears and bear-related gifts from friends and family: stationery, ornaments, tea-towels and pretty much anything you can think of. The scariest gift was an upright vacuum cleaner cover my mum once bought from a craft fair. It was a bear in a dress (the dress covered the upright part of the cleaner and the head rested on the handle) and I’m afraid I don’t have photographic evidence of it but it was definitely scary although it gave all the family a good laugh.

My fascination with proper collectible bears didn’t come until I was in my late-twenties. I’d heard of Steiff but had never seen one. My boyfriend of the time took me into a specialist teddy bear shop in his hometown of Lincoln and it changed my life. At first I was astonished at the price tags. Used to paying £10-20 for a plush teddy bear, prices started at an eye-watering £50 and that was for a small, cheap one. I left the shop muttering that I wouldn’t pay that sort of money for a bear … but returned to it later because I couldn’t stop thinking about a Dean’s bear called Scruff who’d caught my eye. I winced as I handed over £70 but that little bear has bought me so much joy and has lasted way longer than a pair of shoes or a handbag of that price might have done.

IMG_6498My collection grew and then I took my interest to the extreme when I packed in a well-paid job as a Graduate Recruitment and Development Manager, moved from Reading to my roots in North Yorkshire, and opened a specialist teddy-bear shop of my own. (The boyfriend was no more at this point).

I ran Bear’s Pad in Richmond, North Yorkshire (not the one in London) for nearly 2 years and it was such a joy to be surrounded by teddy bears and bear-related products every day. I had some wonderful regular customers who shared my passion, but also had some shockers:

  • The woman who allowed her daughter to urinate on my carpeted floor instead of taking her to the public toilets then made out it was all my fault because I hadn’t let her use my staff toilet (which I had no insurance to let customers use and would have meant clambering over my stock and past my safe so that wasn’t going to happen)
  • The many occasions where I arrived on a weekend to find somebody had vomited in my doorway so I had that to swill away before opening up
  • The seemingly lovely man who distracted me by asking me to get a large bear down from the top of the display shelves, saying he’d return later with the cash. In the meantime, his accomplice slipped behind the till and tried to empty it. Fortunately I’d locked it but that didn’t stop him stealing my mobile which was on a hidden shelf below the till
  • The local woman who made it her mission to go around all the independent shops and tell them they were going to fail because all independents did sooner or later
  • The parents who’d send their kids to “play in the bear shop while mummy goes on the tanning beds” in the shop opposite
  • The various others who’d damage or shoplift

Ooh! I just had an unexpected rant there! Back to National Teddy Bear Day…

I met my husband a couple of months after opening Bear’s Pad. We met online and, as we lived a couple of hours away from each other, our first date was in the small market town of Helmsley. I took a small jointed teddy bear with me and decided that, if I liked my date, I’d give him the bear to remember me by. Yeah, soppy. I did like him and I did give him the bear although I was gutted to discover recently that he’d completely forgotten this! Rude! The bear – Hermann (named after the German manufacturers) – became our holiday bear, going away with us on all our holidays with a little backpack we got off a cheap doll. Hubby knew Hermann was our holiday bear but had completely forgotten how he came to be in his possession. Men, eh?

When we married, we had a Cherished Teddies bride and groom on the top of our cake and plush bears on the top table.

Searching for Steven (New Cover Design 3)Bears have remained a strong theme and influence for me. My book, Bear With Me, is inspired by my experiences of having a teddy bear shop and learning how to make artist bears, although you don’t have to like teddy bears at all to enjoy it as the teddy bear shop (called Bear With Me) just happens to be the setting; bears aren’t the main theme.

In every book I write, I ‘plant’ a bear. It is usually there to give the protagonist comfort and is often a reminder of the past. Sarah in Searching for Steven turns to her childhood bear, Mr Pink, for comfort. Elise in Getting Over Gary hurls her bear, Marmite, across the room because he was a gift from her husband who has just betrayed her. In Callie’s Christmas Wish, a musical bear is a valuable link to the past for octogenarian, Ruby, and, in Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes, Carly gives her sister a bear purchased from Bear With Me to convey a special message. A picture I bought of a bear and the words ‘Be Brave’ inspired part of the storyline for Christmas at the Chocolate Pot Cafe. These teddies and collectible bears certainly have some power!

IMG_6881Some people don’t get why a grown adult would love teddy bears but I can’t see my interest ever waning. I don’t buy many plush bears anymore, tempted though I might be, as I don’t have the room. Over the years, I’ve given about 20 binbags full of teddy bears to charity. I find it so hard to say goodbye but I tell myself that they’ll go to loving homes! I have a cabinet in the office full of collectible bears and a few others spread around the room. It’s not possible to feel down when surrounded by their pudgy faces and outstretched arms, waiting for a cuddle.

IMG_6876My plush bears have certainly given me comfort over the years and, as I say, they’ve changed my life. If I hadn’t bought that first collectible one, I wouldn’t have opened a bear shop, I wouldn’t have met my husband, and I probably would never have finished writing my first book.

Happy National Teddy Bear Day. Why not give your teddy a cuddle and thank him or her for being there for you over the years?

Jessica xx

 

 

The one where I talk about my dedication to my dad

IMG_6838

Authors usually dedicate their books to someone. My first was for my husband and my second for my daughter and my subsequent ones were dedicated to someone whose relationship with me had some connection to the book. For example, Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes features two sisters so that book was dedicated to my four sisters-in-law (as I couldn’t have chosen between them or I’d have started a war, especially as my SILs on my husband’s side of the family are twins!)

The Secret to Happiness was launched today and I dedicated it to my dad, Peter. There’s no specific link to fathers in the book but, having previously dedicated one to my mum, I felt that it was dad’s turn.

When my debut novel, Searching for Steven, was released, I had a launch party for friends and family. They spoilt me with bottles of wine and flowers and one friend bought me a Troll Beads bracelet with a book charm on it. This started a tradition of buying a charm each time I released a new book and, along with a few other charms representing my life and writing, the bracelet is now full.

thumbnail-1

I wanted to mark the launch of The Secret to Happiness in some way. On a recent trip to York, I visited my favourite shop – Stonegate Teddy Bears – and an artist bear by J&P Mohair Bears spoke to me. Well, not literally as that would be a little weird, but I connected with him. I’m an arctophile – collector/friend of teddy bears – and I have built up quite a collection over the years. The bear is adorable and he was definitely the perfect launch day gift to myself.

It was only when I got home that I looked at the bear’s name tag. Guess what he’s called? Peter. Same as my dad to whom I’d dedicated the book. How spooky is that? Clearly it was meant to be.

Jessica xx

The one where I anxiously await tomorrow’s book launch day

thumbnail-4

Tomorrow will signal launch day for The Secret to Happiness. The final changes to the manuscript were made a couple of months ago so I’ve been building up to this for a while now although the last few days seem to have whizzed by.

ebook-3089013_1920
Image by Felix Lichtenfeld from Pixabay

This is my tenth release but the first with my fabulous new publisher, Boldwood Books. So far, The Secret to Happiness has been available for pre-order on Kindle, but it will be available in a multitude of formats from launch day:

  • eBook on all platforms
  • Audio – physical and streamed
  • Large print
  • Print on demand paperback
  • Available through all libraries

This is all very exciting because my other books are currently only available on Kindle so I’m hoping that a wider readership will be able to tap into them.

I haven’t received my physical author copies yet but look forward to that box arriving very soon and being able to sniff and stroke my book baby (I know, authors are weird!) I’m not sure there’ll be much to sniff about my audio copies but I will give them a gentle stroke.

In my fantasy life, I’m a super-successful author who’ll spend launch day spent relaxing on a chaise-longe, sipping on white or pink wine (not a fan of champagne or prosecco) and being fed cake and chocolates (grapes being far too healthy!)

dont-panic-1067044_1920
Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay

In reality, I’m taking a day off from the day job of marking assignments, my drink of choice will be water and Diet Pepsi or Ribena Light and I’ll be dreaming about cake, whilst frantically refreshing Amazon every hour. My husband has already joked that I’m going to be an obsessive nightmare,  repeatedly panicking that I’m a huge failure and a massive disappointment to my publishers if my book doesn’t set the charts on fire. He’s right. I can feel the panic welling already!

Hubby and I are going out for lunch, which will be lovely, but that will be via the phone repair shop because I dropped my phone this morning and, although there’s not a scratch on it, I appear to have dislodged the screen and it no longer responds to touch. I suspect that this will be expensive.

stones-2780171_1920
Image by annca from Pixabay

How am I feeling about tomorrow? I am what my 12-year-old daughter would call nervo-cited which is a mixture of nervous and excited. Despite amazing reviews on my other books, I’ve floundered in making an impact on the Amazon charts. It seems that those who find my work love it … but not that many find it.

Thirty-two NetGalley advance copy reviews would indicate that readers are loving The Secret to Happiness too which I’m thrilled about … but will that translate into sales and chart positions and take me one step closer to my dream of doing what I love and writing full-time? Desperately hoping that it will. I’m therefore probably more on the nervous side of nervo-cited as I have high hopes for this release.

There’s still time to pre-order The Secret to Happiness for Kindle for the bargain price of £1 by clicking here. A huge thank you to those wonderful reviewers who have warmed my heart with their amazing comments so far. It’s helped ease the nerves … a little bit, anyway.

Jessica xx

 

Everyone deserves a chance at happiness…

Danniella is running from her past, so when she arrives at the beautiful seaside resort of Whitsborough Bay, the last thing on her mind is making friends. After all, they might find out her secrets…

Alison is fun, caring and doesn’t take herself too seriously. But beneath the front, she is a lost soul, stuck in a terrible relationship, with body confidence issues and no family to support her. All she really needs is a friend.

Karen’s romance has taken a back seat to her fitness business. But she doesn’t want to give up on love quite yet. If only those mysterious texts would stop coming through …

When the women meet at their local bootcamp, a deep friendship blossoms. And soon they realise that the secret to happiness is where they least expected to find it…

 

 

 

 

The one where I had the time of my life

IMG_6783

I was fifteen when Dirty Dancing came to the UK cinemas (October 1987). I remember a friend saying she’d seen it and loved it but I’d never heard of it and, with no social media around, I don’t remember there being much hype.

It was a few years later when I first IMG_6793saw it on video and I wondered why I hadn’t bothered with it sooner. I absolutely loved it. Since then, I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen it. I own the DVD, more recently replaced by the twentieth anniversary edition on Blu-ray, and also the soundtrack on CD (which is on in the background as I write this).

Yesterday, I took my daughter to see the stage version in Leeds and it was fabulous. We didn’t have the best seats as I only booked tickets a few weeks ago, but we still really enjoyed it.

We’d seen Strictly Ballroom a few years ago and it was very close to the film so I was interested in seeing how close the Dirty Dancing adaptation would be. Much of the dialogue was exactly the same, and most of the songs were there, although some were significantly shortened and a couple were instrumental rather than lyrics. I had one big disappointment here: ‘She’s Like The Wind’ was instrumental only. For me, that song is iconic to the film, especially as it is sung by Patrick Swayze, but perhaps that’s a reason why it wasn’t included. It was disappointing not to hear it, though.

IMG_6791There were new songs and new scenes. With a film I know and love so well, it’s a little weird seeing new parts.

Some certainly added value; particularly those around character development for Baby, Johnny and Baby’s parents.

Some added more to the political situation in the USA at the time. It was 1963 and a lot was changing there, particularly regarding civil rights. Part of Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech (which actually happened during the time the film was set) was included in a new campfire scene, culminating in the singing of ‘We Shall Overcome’. And there was more made of Neil Kellerman going on his freedom ride and his motivations around this. I personally felt that these scenes disrupted the story (sorry) and actually made Neil into a confusing character when he didn’t need to be anything more than the slightly creepy arrogant relation to Max Kellerman that he is in the film. But perhaps someone not so familiar with the film (is there such a person?) might disagree.

IMG_6790

Also, I didn’t understand the character of Tito Suarez. In the film, he’s the conductor for the house band and he performs a brief tap-dancing routine with Max Kellerman. Clearly, from the brief conversation they have during the finale concert, they’re very good friends too. However, in the musical, Tito’s role seems to change and he’s giving advice to Neil and Johnny but there’s no set-up of their relationship to understand why he’s suddenly the advisor, as well as a conductor and a singer. Hmm.

Oh, and don’t get me started on Mr Schumacher becoming some sort of comedy magician instead of one half of a doddery old couple stealing wallets.

These were small points, though. What a delight to hear the film’s two most iconic lines:

“I carried a watermelon”

and

“Nobody puts Baby in a corner”

Absolute classics! Johnny had to pause for a very loud audience reaction after his line!

IMG_6792The sets were stunning and the many set changes were brilliantly handled. I was particularly impressed with how they achieved the scene dancing on the log over the chasm and the practice lifts in the water. As for the dancing, it was superb throughout. And that final lift? Incredible.

So, whilst I have a few niggles here and there – probably because of my love for the film exactly how it is – this really was a wonderful show and I would highly recommend anyone to go and see it. You really will have the time of your life!

And whilst Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey can never be replaced as Johnny Castle and Baby Houseman, the leads in this show were very impressive. A huge congratulations to all the cast.

And you can get a Johnny teddy bear, complete with leather jacket and sunglasses. How cute is that?

Jessica xx

 

The one where I have a very bad day

Do you ever have one of those days that start off full of excitement and high expectations, but go horribly wrong? I had one of those days today.

My 12-year-old daughter is going to a Girlguiding festival over August bank holiday weekend and the theme is ‘Disney’. I promised her I’d take her to Primark to get some cheap Disney clothes.

We drove an hour to the retail park just outside of York. She complained of a headache when we got there and then, when we were inside Primark, she said she felt sick. Primark is the opposite end of the retail park to the toilet block so it was a bit of a dash. She wasn’t sick but felt it and looked pale.

Leaving her in the seated area outside the toilets, I bought water, Calpol, and a Poundland bucket for the journey home, just in case. Just as well because she was sick on the way home. When you have a phobia about people being sick, like I do, this is a pretty traumatic incident.

Halfway home, we discovered that the main road was closed due to an accident and we had to turn back on ourselves and take a diversion. With so many vehicles on the alternative route, there were parts of the journey that were stop/start and others that were stationary. We tried a shortcut that would have bypassed the accident but were stopped by the police because the shortcut was a narrow-is country lane and they didn’t want loads of traffic using it, risking further collisions. Fair enough. We ended up having to rejoin the traffic we’d left, much further behind than we’d been before, and stuck behind a combine harvester which held us up even more.

It took nearly two hours to get home, instead of one. We finally made it home, our only purchases of the day being the water, some Calpol and a sick bucket but thank goodness for the sick bucket!

A song I absolutely hate played on the radio en route and I didn’t have the energy to try to change station. It’s a standing joke how much I hate this song and how, despite it being from the early 90s, the local radio station seem to constantly play it. When I got home, I discovered I had been wearing odd earrings. A minor point but it seemed to add to the ‘rubbishness’ of the day.

I work freelance marking HR assignments and they’d piled up while I was gone. Some of them take a lot longer to mark than others and my inbox seemed to be full of those ones so each one took an eternity to plough through. The quality was very poor and none of them passed which is always disappointing. Then my right shoulder started aching really badly, undoubtedly from hunching over the steering wheel for two hours, rigid as a board, trying to ignore my sickness phobia and then feeling tense still as I desperately tried to catch up on my work and stop my day being a complete write-off.

But then I looked up the accident online and suddenly my bad day paled into significance. My shopping trip had been a disaster, my daughter had been sick, and we’d been stuck in traffic but this was all trivial stuff because it turns out that, in that RTA, someone died.

According to the report on the York Press website (you can read it here) “a 61-year-old man from the Sheffield area, suffered fatal injuries and was pronounced dead at the scene”. Two children in the car, aged 9 and 10, were taken to hospital, one of them by road and one by air ambulance “with injuries not believed to be life-threatening”. There are no details about how the accident happened other than that it involved the man’s car, a car transporter and an HGV. I’m not going to speculate what might have happened as that would be unfair but, if a car was up against a transporter and HGV, it’s probably a bit of a miracle that those two poor children weren’t killed too.

Given the ages, I’m guessing this might have been a grandfather out with their grandchildren. Again, the article doesn’t say. Could have been their dad, an uncle, or perhaps just a friend. Whatever the relationships, how traumatic must that have been? Those two children are at an age where they’ll likely always remember that accident, and their lives will change forever from today.

My thoughts are with the poor children and all the families involved as well as the two drivers of the other vehicles as their lives will have now changed forever too. And my thoughts with the emergency services who deal with tragic incidents like this every day. Hats off to you. I’m not sure I could do that.

I’m sure there were many fed-up and irate people stuck in the traffic today but give me two-hours of traffic any day instead of what those involved in the accident have been through and will go through going forwards. Scary stuff.

Stay safe out there.

Jessica xx