A Little Christmas Reading

Every Christmas I take time off work. Typically I like to have Christmas Eve off right through to New Year and, if there’s only a day or two after New Year’s Day (like this year), I like to add them to the end of my break. A week and a half off work. Perfect. What a lot of time to spend relaxing and reading.

Except that never really happens.

P1050958I have visions of spending a relaxing family Christmas Eve watching festive films and eating chocolate. I wish! Typically there’s some last minute Christmas card distribution, a trip down to the market to buy the Christmas dinner vege, and the 4.00pm Christingle Service with my Brownie Pack. I take the munchkin with me and the girls are asked to dress as kings, shepherds or angels which is lovely. Only the munchkin never seems to get ready on time, or has a last-minute costume change, or we can’t find something so it’s a fraught panic to get out of the house and arrive before the Brownies. But, once we’re there, it’s fabulous. We have a good turn-out from the Brownies each year with around 15 or so of my pack of 24 joining us. There’s something very magical about being surrounded by excited 7-10 year olds, dressed in their Christmas costumes, singing carols by candlelight on Christmas Eve. Despite the getting-out-the-house annual panic, it’s one of my favourite events of the year. I’m wondering if the nativity can top last year’s. I can’t remember exactly what happened but it pretty much descended into disorganised chaos and I got the giggles. I often get the giggles. I know I shouldn’t when trying to be the role model for a group of children but, hey, if you can’t laugh at Christmas, when can you?

I’d best return to the point of this blog post which was about reading. So, every year I have these great intentions of doing a stack of reading. I’ve noticed more and more Christmassy books appearing over the last decade or so and they always look so enticing on the shelves (or the virtual shelves on Amazon). I’d never, ever bought a Christmas novel but I was drawn to one six years ago. The snowy cover enticed me, the blurb assured me it was my kind of story and, although I wasn’t familiar with the author, I made the purchase. But here’s what happened:

_MG_6905Year 1 – the book came home from the bookstore, got put on the shelf, got forgotten about

Year 2 – I picked the book up and read one chapter but Christmas chaos ruled and, by the time I picked up the book again three months later, I’d forgotten what happened in chapter 1 and I decided it was no longer the time of year to read about Christmas so it went back on the shelf

Year 3 – Exactly the same as Year 2 except I think I managed two chapters this time!

Year 4 – I had gritty determination to conquer my Christmas novel and, although I struggled to find time during the day to relax and read, I made sure I read some each evening. I actually finished the book before the end of January but, unfortunately, I didn’t like it! What an anti-climax! I was absolutely determined to plough through it because of the epic number of attempts to read it but I didn’t warm to the heroine, I didn’t really believe the story, and I was hugely disappointed by the ending. Needless to say, I’m not going to share the name of the book or author. Perhaps it was just me. Perhaps my battle to read it had already clouded my feelings and I was never going to enjoy it. Poor book

Year 5 – I was excited to discover a Christmas book in my RNA Conference goody bag. I decided I’d start this one much earlier so that I’d be well into it by the time Christmas itself hit and I’d make myself find a few snatched moments across the holidays to bury my nose in it. I managed about three chapters but then Christmas hit and we dug out a Christmas jigsaw we’d bought the year before but never opened. The munchkin likes jigsaws and I’ve helped her complete children’s ones over the years but I haven’t done a complicated jigsaw since I was a child and, here we were, presented with a 1000-piece scene from a toy shop at Christmas. We lay it out on the coffee table and all joined in. I had no idea that it would be so hard or that it would become an addiction; one that caused hours to whizz by without me noticing. The Christmas book is still on my bedside shelf with the marker in at the start of chapter 4. And, guess what? Yep, I can’t remember what’s happened so far.

This year, however, I’m already ahead of myself. Because this year, I’ve discovered the wonder of the novella. If I’m honest, I hadn’t actually heard of a novella until last summer. In my mind, there were novels and there were short stories and I had no idea of a concept that existed in-between and may I say what a wonderful concept it is.

As a writer, I should read. I know I should. It’s research. It’s enjoyment. But as a writer who also has a full-time job, a Brownie pack to run, goes to bootcamp 3 mornings a week, and has a family, time really is a struggle. I hardly ever watch TV as evenings are my writing time. I’m trying to get into the habit of going to bed a smidge earlier and reading before sleep, even if only a chapter. The novella has helped massively because these are stories that are long enough to develop characters, make you care about them, and tell a decent story, yet they’re short enough to be read across just a few evenings. Perfect for the person with no time.

The fact that I’ve read three Christmas-themed novellas already and we’re still a few days off Christmas Day speaks volumes. Ok, so I cheated and I actually read one of them over half term in October whilst on my holidays, but it was still a novella set at Christmas and I did go on to read the other two in the series.

So, here’s my lowdown:

The Gift of Christmas Yet to Come by Jo Bartlett

51RNIeU+KiL._AA160_Even if Jo wasn’t a fellow-Write Romantic and great friend, I would still be raving about this book because it’s gorgeous. Set in the fictional St Nicholas Bay (where I want to move right now!), it spans across a whole year, starting and ending with Christmas, and leaves you with a warm and fuzzy feeling. I can’t recommend this novella enough. And it seems I’m not the only one; 15 x 5-star reviews agree!

Here’s the blurb:

The Gift of Christmas Yet to Come is a novella that spans two Christmases and one woman’s quest to complete a family with a missing piece.

School-teacher Kate Harris is about to turn thirty-four and suddenly the tick-tock of her biological clock is almost deafening. Facing another Christmas without a longed for child in her life, it’s time to take action.

With the support of her closest friends, in the close-knit small town of St Nicholas Bay, she decides to go it alone. But in a town where Christmas is big business all year round, and it’s rumoured that Charles Dickens wrote some of A Christmas Carol, it turns out Santa Claus isn’t the only one with mysterious powers.

Should Kate listen to a voice from beyond the grave telling her to slow down and wait for her real fate to be revealed, or follow her heart and find the missing pieces of her family in a way she’d never imagined?

Holly’s Christmas Kiss by Alison May

61JIt0EQtvL._AA160_This Christmas Kisses novella was out last Christmas but I only downloaded it this year and I’m glad I did. From a wedding to an airport to snowy Scotland, this is another warm and fuzzy read that will leave you smiling. I’m off to download the second Christmas Kisses novella right now, Cora’s Christmas Kiss, as I think I’ve time to squeeze in one more before Christmas Day!

Here’s the blurb:

Happy Holidays? Not for Michelle…

Holly Michelle Jolly hates Christmas and she has a good reason to. Apart from her ridiculously festive name which made her the brunt of jokes at school, tragic and unfortunate events have a habit of happening to her around the holiday season. And this year is no different.

After the flight to her once-in-a-lifetime holiday destination is cancelled, Michelle faces the prospect of a cold and lonely Christmas. That is, until she meets Sean Munro. Sean loves Christmas, and he wants to share the magic with Michelle.

With Sean’s help, can Michelle experience her first happy Christmas, or will their meeting just result in another year of memories that she’d rather forget?

Christmas at The Gingerbread Café by Rebecca Raisin

51JIuTL6nPL._AA160_This is the first in a series of novellas set in Ashford, Connecticut; a small town with lots of small businesses including Lily’s Gingerbread Café. I gobbled up the first three novellas whilst on holiday over half term and am about to download the fourth which is set at Christmas too. Perhaps that’s one for after Alison’s?

Here’s the blurb:

Christmas is the season the Gingerbread Café in Ashford, Connecticut was made for…but owner Lily couldn’t be feeling less merry if she tried. She’s spent another year dreaming of being whisked away on a sleigh-ride for two, but she’s facing festive season alone – again. And, just to give her another reason to feel anything other than candy-cane perky, a new shop across the road has opened… Not only is it selling baked goods, but the owner, with his seriously charming smile, has every girl in town swooning.

But Lily isn’t about to let her business crumble — the Gingerbread Café is the heart of the community, and she’s going to fight for it! This could be the Christmas that maybe, just maybe, all her dreams – even the someone-to-decorate-the-Christmas-tree-with ones – really do come true!

P1060064Of course, there are a stack of other novellas and novels out there. These are just three that I have read and loved and therefore recommend if you want something quick that will make you smile and make you care.

Oh, and Winter Tales: Stories to Warm Your Heart is still available, of course, with all proceeds going to Cystic Fibrosis Trust and Teenage Cancer Trust.

Happy reading and Happy Christmas!

Jessica xxx

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A romantic Christmas tradition that never quite started

1522851_784506671588635_6474462348225739404_oOn The Write Romantics blog yesterday, I posed a Wednesday Wondering around favourite Christmas decorations. As always, it was fascinating to read the responses from my fellow-WRs but it struck me that quite a lot of them talked about sentimental reasons behind their favourite decorations whereas I just talked about ones I liked. I’m actually a fairly sentimental person so it got me thinking about why I don’t have sentimental decorations.

And a memory surfaced.

As a teenager, I had very little success with boys but things improved when I got to university. In the 2nd term of my first year, I met Ben (name has been changed just in case!) We’d been friends during the first term but it moved on from friendship the following term. The Easter break was really tough because I lived in Teesside and he lived on the south coast. Not very close. I’d planned to visit him over Easter but he contracted glandular fever and was very ill with it so we had to cancel. We knew summer would be even tougher with more than 2 months apart. We both had summer jobs and needed the money so any time together needed to be at the start or the end of the holidays. I went down to stay with him at the start and we had a short holiday on The Isle of Wight and he came to visit me at the end of the summer holidays. I’d been so excited about it after weeks apart full of soppy cards and long, romantic letters (neither of us liked the phone and it was long before email).

_MG_7508When I picked him up at Middlesbrough Coach Station, he seemed a bit distant but I put it down to tiredness after an incredibly long journey. We took a trip to Whitby and the distance was there again and I couldn’t pinpoint what it was. I’d planned a day out in York. I figured that maybe a day by the coast hadn’t been very exciting for someone who lived close to the sea anyway but surely he’d be impressed by the beauty of York.

I’d schemed something over the summer. In York, there’s an amazing shop called Christmas Angels. It sells collectible teddy bears, toys, and and Christmas decorations. The main room at the back of the shop is absolutely full of Christmas stuff from nativity scenes to intricate advent candles to basic baubles. My plan was to take him there to buy a decoration that would be our first joint decoration and a habit we’d repeat each year because I’d believed I’d met “the one” and we’d be together always. But, as I looked round at the decorations, and he questioned why we were in a Christmas shop in the summer, I realised I couldn’t confess the real reason for taking him there. I made some excuse about thinking he’d like to look around because it’s a lovely shop. Then we left. I knew at that point that something had changed in our relationship for whatever reason – time apart and distance perhaps – and that we wouldn’t have joint Christmases. It was quite a sad realisation.

_MG_7511We made it through one more Christmas (spent apart again) but split up the following spring. We remained friends but drifted apart for good about fifteen years ago.

I’m not someone who likes to repeat things I’ve done with one partner with a new one because it feels false and cringe-worthy. I’ve therefore never wanted to repeat this sentiment with my hubby of buying one special bauble a year. We did actually start our own thing. We bought an illuminated house one year and he suggested we bought one each year until we built up a collection. We added another one to it. Then a train. Then we didn’t see any more we liked and we also realised that we’d quickly run out of space for them. The collection stopped at two properties and a vehicle!

_MG_7513He does add to our Christmas collection most years, though. Last year he bought me the most stunning lit cone-shaped structure that looks like it’s snow-covered twigs with berries on, weaved to form the shape. There’s a section of it in this picture. This year, I spotted a gorgeous soft reindeer in our local garden centre and he bought me that which was very sweet.

My favourite aspect of Christmas decorations has to be the fairy lights. There’s something so warm and romantic about being in a room with twinkling fairy lights all around. I love candles too although I tend to light them most of the year round. Speaking of which, I think it’s time I headed downstairs and wrapped a few more gifts while the lights tinkle and the candles flicker. Lovely.

Night night xx

_MG_7516

The reasons for the early Christmas prep … whinge time!

I posted earlier this week about my procrastination for my writing and promised I’d explain why I think I’m doing this. So here’s the explanation. Frustratingly, I started writing this post immediately after the 3rd Dec one but I’ve somehow lost it. I must have closed it down without saving it. Grr.

Let’s crack on. Here’s are several things that have happened that have led to my crisis of confidence:

P10507461) My NWS report earlier this year. I submitted novel 2, ‘Getting Over Gary’, and my reader didn’t have many positive things to say about it. She kept saying there were lots of positive things … but somehow managed to emit them from my report. She kept referring to it as a “draft” but I actually felt like it was pretty much there. Thankfully my incredibly supportive fellow-Write Romantic, Jo Bartlett, had beta-read Gary. I asked her to look over the report and she was really encouraging in allaying my concerns

2 ) I started to edit Gary as there were a couple of points that my reader had made that I decided to act upon. I’d loved the book before submitting it but began to really doubt it was good enough as a follow-up to Steven. One of the points that plagued me were that my heroine of book 1, Sarah, and her best friend, Elise (the heroine of book 2) weren’t different enough. I write in 1st person and have given myself a bit of a challenge. Book 1 is told completely from Sarah’s POV but book 2 is Elise’s story and mainly told from her POV but it also continues with Sarah’s story and includes chapters told from her POV. By book 3, we have Sarah’s, Elise’s and Clare’s (new heroine) POVs. I began to realise that my reader was right and I wasn’t really sure what to do about it. Jo came up with a great suggestion of expanding on some aspects of Elise’s personality that I’d touched upon in book 1 but hadn’t made much of in book 2. If I built on this, I’d get my difference but it meant quite a bit of work and I struggled with it.

I then got the amazing news of a publishing deal. Then another. In the two-offers excitement, I pretty much wrote off September, not writing anything. Early October was then devoted to getting ready for the launch of our anthology, late October was a holiday, then I returned to start NaNo …

_MG_69113) I failed NaNo. Last year I “won” it, finishing Gary and starting on book 3, ‘Discovering David’. I wanted to use the 50k word goal to finish David after which I’d turn to Gary again and try to finally resolve the issues in that. The thing is, I started NaNo knowing the plot of David wasn’t perfect. I had a big event happen near the start and I realised earlier in the year that I needed this happen much closer to the end to ensure my heroine, Clare, had a good character arc. This meant a lot of re-plotting. I took my notebook away on holiday with a plan to re-plot it then but I just didn’t find the time to look at it on a family holiday.

I decided to just crack on with writing the chapters I’d mapped out (as I’d still need them) then re-order things later. I managed about 20k words which was probably about 17k more than I’d have done without NaNo but I lost my confidence and let myself get distracted my the whole Christmas preparation thing I talked about in my last post.

4) Our anthology, ‘Winter Tales – Stories to Warm Your Heart’ came out at the start of November which was very exciting. But, on the day it was launched, I had a bit of a panic attack. We’d discussed as a group whose short story would feature first in the anthology. It was decided that mine would because (a) I’d been the one to pull the stories together and my husband had typeset them and (b) My story is called ‘Not Just Another Winter’s Tale’ which fit well with the title of the anthology. Very exciting. Very flattering. Actually, very scary and that fear hit me big time when I went onto Amazon to look at our book and registered that the “look inside” would mean potential readers got to sample most of my story. Only my story. Nobody else’s story. Just mine. Which meant that some people might make the decision not to buy because they didn’t like my work. Huge pressure. Of course, the logical side in me is telling me that I have no way of ever knowing whether someone chose not to buy because of the sample but my Doubting Thomas tells me they could well have done

P10506875) The reviews for ‘Winter Tales’ started coming in. Some of the group had made contact with book reviewers and provided them with advance pdfs so a few reviews came in pretty quickly. It was amazing to get 4 and 5-star reviews from these individuals with hundreds or thousands of followers and I basked in the collective glory of the anthology. But I was also hit with doubts. One thing I hadn’t been prepared for was any of the reviewers specifically naming stories as their favourites. The first reviewer picked four stories as her favourites (not mine) and the second one said she preferred the non-traditional romance stories (also not mine). Ridiculous isn’t it but this really threw me. I certainly hadn’t expected to have my story named as a favourite but it hadn’t entered my head that others would be picked out either. Which took me back to point 4

6) I’m feeling really down about work at the moment. This time last year, I’d been out of work for several months and had just secured a job with the company I currently work for. A month or so back, my team received some information that indicated that we could find our roles at risk. Several other pieces of data came to light that suggested this would definitely be the case and, whilst I’ve been now told my role isn’t at risk, there will definitely be a restructure in the new year and I have no idea what my role will look like. I saw a promotion opportunity internally recently and, as I’ve taken a big step down in salary and level to work locally and avoid a huge commute each day, I knew I could do this job. The recruiting manager knew I could do this job too but she felt that I’d be wasted in the role because I’m good at and passionate about what I do at the moment. So the promotion isn’t open to me and I just have to hope that whatever restructuring happens in the new year finally provides clarity on my role and a pay rise. Not going to hold my breath, though 😦

So there you have it. The job situation is having a huge effect on my confidence but I’d be lying if I said it was the whole thing. I think the bigger concern is around writing books 2 and 3. I’m exceptionally proud of Steven. I was proud of Gary until I submitted to the NWS and I was very happy with the story for book 3 until I started writing it. Musicians often cite “that difficult second album” and I think I’m suffering from the difficult second and third book. I’m also doubting my story in the anthology and am doubting I have what it takes to be anything other than a “one-book wonder”. And I’m not even that yet because it won’t be released until next year!

On the positive side, I’ve had wobbles before and got over them. I’m also meeting my writing pals Alys and Sharon tomorrow who should help to slap me and cheer me up. Jo has reminded me that I’ve got a three-book deal but, whilst amazing, my publishers haven’t seen Gary or David yet. What if they don’t like them. She suggested I could send Gary over for a look but I don’t know if I dare, especially when I know it’s not quite there.

I think what I need to do for now is just focus on Christmas, try to relax, stop panicking about the writing and crack on with it when I get my work confidence back as that is definitely on my mind.

Right, going to stop moaning now. Before I go, though, I’ll just point out that our heating broke down overnight on Thursday and we can’t get anyone out until Monday. We had our first frost today and it’s freezing so I’m feeling extra sorry for myself today. I’m writing this in my PJs AND a onesie, thick socks, and the lounge fire on (thank goodness for an electric fire), trying to get some heat into my bones. I think this is probably making the writing doubts even worse!

Thanks for listening xx

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas … and there’s a reason for it

1522851_784506671588635_6474462348225739404_oDo you prefer the build-up to Christmas or Christmas Day itself? I find Christmas Day quite exhausting and, after the munchkin has opened her gifts, I think a year of hard work usually catches up on me and I just want to sleep for England. So, for me, it’s the build-up I prefer and specifically one aspect: the moment when the tree is up and the boxes have all been put back in the attic and I can settle down on the sofa and gaze at the gorgeous lights and decorations. I absolutely love fairy lights and would happily have them up in the house all year round. We moved house 3 years ago. When we had our kitchen re-done in our old house, we had a couple of sets of shelves that looked perfect with white fairy lights on them all year round. Somehow we lost the plugs in the move so our current kitchen doesn’t have any. However, I’ve just treated myself to a couple of sets for the office although they haven’t quite made it out of their boxes yet.


I don’t particularly enjoy Christmas shopping (I’m not a shopping fan full stop) but I love gathering all the gifts together and wrapping them. I like to adorn them with bows and curly ribbon and can spend hours on the task. This year, I’d done them all just before the end of November in a film-fest of The Proposal and What Happens in Vegas. Usually I would watch Christmas films but they were still in the attic. They came down with the decorations so Saturday was a Christmas film-fest whilst tree-decorating.

P1040382I’m greedy. We have three trees! We have a large artificial one in the bay of our lounge, my daughter has a small pink one on a coffee table in the lounge and we have a third smaller artificial one in the dining room window. This may seem an indulgence but we originally bought this extra one because we had large shelved recesses in the dining room in our old house and, in our new house, the lounge is at the back of the house and the dining room is at the front. I like to see Christmas lights from the road so I simply had to put the small tree on display on the large window ledge there.

I’m ridiculously organised this year. I’ve bought and wrapped nearly all my gifts, have written my cards, and have put up all the decorations. I just have gifts for the hubby to buy. He’s an absolute nightmare to buy for so I’ve put it on the table that I haven’t a clue what to get him this year so ball’s in his court to tell me or he’ll have nothing. So far, he’s suggested a blu-ray so progress isn’t great! I’m not normally this organised. Don’t get me wrong – I’m a pretty organised person – but I’m not normally this far in advance with Christmas which begs the question why. What’s different this year?

I think I know.

IMG_0305I’m procrastinating. I’m going through a phase of self-doubt with my writing and, if I immersed myself in spending two evenings producing a spreadsheet with all the things the munchkin had on her wish-list and posting links to said items at the best price (yes, I really did do this!), if I spent two evenings wrapping gifts, two days putting up all the decorations and an evening writing cards, not to mention a morning’s shopping trip and several hours online, then I didn’t have to write. And I didn’t have to face my doubts. And I could continue to be an ostrich. But the shopping’s done, the decorations are up and the cards are written which means I can’t bury my head in the sand anymore. Eek. I’ll tell you more about the self-doubt in my next post.

What to do now? Should I write? No, I think I’ll get those fairy lights out their boxes …