The one where I did The Time-Warp (again!)

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I went on a road-trip to Manchester at the start of this week to see The Rocky Horror Show at the theatre. It was hubby’s sister who suggested going as The Rocky Horror Picture Show is her son’s most favourite film ever and he’d always longed to see it on stage. I’ve seen the film a couple of times and I’ve actually seen the stage show too, about 20 years ago, and I confess that I like it rather than love it … but I loved the idea of a road-trip.

So, five of us piled on a train to Manchester on Monday morning: my two sisters-in-law, my nephew and a friend of one of the SILs. When we’d all said we’d go, there was a strong declaration that we wouldn’t be getting dressed up. Definitely not. Well, not fully. Maybe a token feather boa? But definitely not anything Rocky Horror-ish. But my nephew had other ideas. Being his favourite film, he was desperate to dress as “sweet transvestite” Frank. When I heard rumours of basques, wigs and heels, I knew that the bar had been set high. Very high.

And, therefore, somehow this happened….

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The problem with dressing up is that, when you’re not exactly svelte, it’s very hard to get ready-made costumes. And, with my figure, there was no way I was going to squeeze myself into a basque and suspenders, even if I could have found one to fit. I decided to make my own costume. One of the characters, Magenta, wears a French maid’s uniform. I had a plain black skater dress and decided to sew lace round the bottom and round the sleeves and make a net skirt to go underneath it. I ordered an apron and hair-piece from Ebay and picked up a wig from a joke shop in town.

img_5873Then I ran out of time. We were getting a train first-thing on Monday morning and I spent the duration of Dancing on Ice and Vera on Sunday night trying to sew lace onto my dress and create the net underskirt. I was gutted to discover I didn’t have enough lace to go round the sleeves so that scuppered that idea.

Next, I painstakingly hand-sewed the net to a petticoat (so it wouldn’t irritate me). I’d made sure that I didn’t sew onto the elasticated waistband but I didn’t think about the fact that the petticoat itself was elasticated. When I pulled it on, I heard that sickening crack of threads snapping. Eek! I just had to hope that enough of it would stay intact or I’d be trailing several metres of bright pink net behind me like some sort of crazed bride!

img_5876So why do I like Rocky Horror rather than love it? There are many parts I do love. I love all the crazy, flamboyant, campness of it. I love the premise. I love so many of the songs. I think Richard O’Brien’s imagination is incredible. But, near the end, I personally feel it loses its way and … sorry … I think it gets a bit boring. I’m sure there will be fans (my nephew included) shouting “Nooooo!!!!!” at this but, for me, it loses the momentum. If we divide it into the two Acts of the theatrical production, the first Act is superb: innocent Janet and Brad are leaving a wedding, he proposes, they (perhaps slightly randomly but we go with it) decide to tell their old science teacher their news, get a flat tyre on the way and walk back to a mansion they’d passed to seek help. It’s all fast-paced, gives us a great sense of the two protagonists, and thrusts them into impending danger. They then meet the residents of the house, dance The Time-Warp, witness the ‘birth’ of Frank’s creation, Rocky, meet biker Eddie. Going into the start of Act 2, Brad/Janet lose their innocence. It’s still all very fast-paced, with great songs, excitement, humour and, if you’re new to it, plenty of surprises.

img_5902Then, partway through the second Act, it gets a little dull. The songs aren’t as memorable, the science teacher appears, we discover the residents of the house are aliens, and three key characters get shot. As a writer, I find myself comparing this to a book and thinking that this is that occasion where you read a book that you’re loving, then it really slows down, and you think it could have just done with one more edit to make it fantastic all the way through.

Anyway, the pace picks up again with a finale and another dance to The Time-Warp and all is forgiven for that slow moment. I’m sure many love it all but this is just my opinion.

We were treated to a fabulous cast including former Strictly pro-winner Joanne Clifton as Janet, Ben Adams from 90s boyband A1 as Brad. Apparently Duncan James of Blue has been playing Frank in half the productions but not the Manchester ones which was a shame as I’d love to have seen him in the role. Our Frank was superb, though, so we certainly didn’t lose out. I wasn’t quite so enamoured with Corrie’s Liz McDonald (Beverley Callard) as the Narrator. She seemed uncomfortable in the role, bless her. But, let’s face it, it was hard enough getting dressed up to be in the audience. How nerve-wracking must it be to be on stage, knowing that the finale involves your trousers being ripped off to reveal stockings and suspenders? Respect to her.

So it’s goodbye from me and my feather duster. And I bet you’re now singing about jumps to the left and steps to the right in your head. Sorry!

Jessica xx

 

 

 

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The one where I took my tree down a bit early

img_5809It’s Twelfth Night – 6th January – which is traditionally the deadline for taking your Christmas tree and decorations down, although there is a bit of debate as to whether it should be 5th January instead. It’s considered bad luck to keep them up after this deadline and I had expected to be spending this weekend removing all evidence of Christmas from our house. But I didn’t have to because I’d already done it. For the first time ever I took my decorations down early, starting on Wednesday evening, doing a bit more on Thursday evening, then disassembling the trees on Friday.

img_5690As I say, I’ve never taken them down early and I wondered why I’d done so this year, especially when Twelfth Night was nicely falling on a weekend. I’ve concluded it’s a distraction strategy because if I spent several evenings last week taking the decorations down, I wouldn’t have to do any writing. And if I spent Saturday cleaning up and putting things back to normal, I wouldn’t have to do any writing. And if I spent Sunday catching up on my MA coursework, I wouldn’t have to do any writing.

Yes, I’ve had a major wobble. My 2018 has got on top of me and my motivation seems to have disappeared, just like my Amazon rankings for Searching for Steven. But that’s okay. It will come back and, although I may not be writing, I’m thinking or ‘brewing’ as I call it. It’s still a vital part of constructing my plot and developing my characters and it’ll mean that, when I do finally put fingers to keyboard again, it will flow quicker.

Hope your first week of 2019 has gone well and, if you haven’t taken the decs down, you do realise that means they need to stay up all year, don’t you?! Fairy lights and a bit of bling all year round is no bad thing. Hmm. Might have to get them back down from the attic…

Jessica xx

The one where I’m a bit pleased to say goodbye to 2018

I wasn’t sure whether to do an end-of-year round-up but I read a couple of posts from writing friends of mine today and really enjoyed reading them so I decided to go ahead and do mine.

I wondered how to approach this: month by month, season by season, highs v lows, the good/bad/ugly … then I decided to approach it in a slightly different way, taking inspiration from my absolute favourite film of the year which hurled itself into the number two slot on my most favourite films ever (Shawshank Redemption is still my very favourite): The Greatest Showman. Have you seen it? If you haven’t, you really must, even if you’re not usually a fan of musicals. Hugh Jackman. Zac Efron. Need I say more?

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Please note that the songs aren’t presented in the same order as they appear in the film. Ooh, and on that subject, I must add that the soundtrack is my favourite movie soundtrack of all time. I play it every single day and was delighted to add the reimagined version to my CD collection (yes, I’m old school and still like to own CDs) this Christmas. I can even play A Million Dreams on the piano. Well, part of it. Badly. But it’s getting there.

The Greatest Show

Being an author is an amazing thing. For me, it really is ‘the greatest show’. Thinking up plot ideas, developing characters, and having their stories unfold is like creating a show for people to read, as opposed to watch. Sometimes the show receives a standing ovation, but sometimes things don’t quite go to plan …

A Million Dreams

Chill Logo READERS' AWARD 2018A few writing-related dreams came true this year and a few special things happened:

  • I passed Year 1 of my MA in Creative Writing with distinction
  • I received not one but two awards for Bear With Me: A Chill With a Book Readers’ Award and a Cover of the Month Award
  • Several of my books achieved that little orange bestseller tag for achieving the number 1 position in a category on Amazon. For some, this lasted days and, for others, it was only an hour or two but each was still a proud moment
  • Searching for Steven secured an audio deal and so did Bear With Me. I had to walk away from the one for Bear With Me as it had been shortlisted by a major publisher on a non-agented submissions day and I didn’t want to blow my chances of a publishing deal with them by tying it up in an audio deal. Unfortunately, it became a no from the publisher too so I could have had the audio deal after all, but it was one of those decisions I had to make. In the meantime, Searching for Steven is out now on audio format which is very exciting. You can get it here
  • Cover of the Month Award. MAYI completed 5 x blog tours organised by the fabulous Rachel Gilbey from Rachel’s Random Resources. Rachel makes me laugh because she talks about the ‘fans’ I have in the blogger community who can’t wait to read my work. Fans? My fans? I still find that a little astonishing
  • At the point of writing, three separate books have appeared in ‘Best of 2018’ Top 20 lists (actually a Top 18, Top 20 and Top 21) which wasn’t even a dream I’d had but would have been on my wish list if I’d dared to hope such a thing could happen
  • Blue LogoI joined forces with my very good friend, Sharon Booth, to create the Yorkshire Rose Writers, building on our brand as Yorkshire-based writers who write about Yorkshire
  • I attended some great writing-related events: the RNA Conference, the RNA’s York Tea, a bloggers/writers event in York, a social media workshop run my Anita Chapman and a Writer’s Retreat in Bronte country run by author Rowan Coleman. Through these, I met some very special and talented individuals and am very grateful for this

Come Alive

8. Callies Christmas Wish COVERThree books came alive for me this year. I released Callie’s Christmas Wish in October and Christmas at The Chocolate Pot Cafe in November.

I also wrote another novel which will be released in 2019 (see ‘The Other Side’). I’m very proud of all three of them. Callie and Choc Pot both went on blog tours and received some amazing reviews which came at a time when I really needed the encouragement to keep going because giving up was becoming very tempting (see ‘Tightrope’).

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The Other Side

IMG_5346.jpegI took another foray into ‘the other side’ this year: exploring traditional publishing. I wrote a novel called ‘Wish I Could Tell You Goodbye’. Told from three perspectives, it was a challenge to write and I was very excited about the story. My beta readers told me it was the best thing I’d ever written and I used various chapters for my MA in Creative Writing, securing a distinction each time. I pitched it at the RNA Conference and 4 publishers were eager to see the full MS. They all turned me down. I’ve had rejections before, when I sent my debut novel out for publication, but these rejections – and a few others – completely floored me. There were tears, there was massive self-doubt and, yes, there was a lot of consolation cake eaten.

Rewrite The Stars

Amazon decided to ‘rewrite the star’ ratings for a lot of authors this year. In spring/summer, there was an outcry on social media when Amazon’s algorithms were altered, resulting in a lot of individuals having all their reviews unceremoniously removed because they allegedly knew the authors. For a very successful writer who has hundreds of reviews for each book, this is annoying but for a struggling indie writer who doesn’t have anywhere near that number, this is pretty devastating. I don’t have an exact figure but I lost approaching 20 reviews and, typically, they were nearly all 5-star ones. Why couldn’t Amazon take one 2-star one? Meanies!

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Tightrope

During the later part of the year, I feel like I’ve been balancing on a ‘tightrope’ when it comes to my writing, with no safety net, no bar to balance me, and a long way to fall. The ‘stolen’ reviews were the start of it and, at about the same time, sales massively dipped and so did pages read on Kindle Unlimited, pretty much overnight. I stopped receiving emails promoting my books too. It felt as though Amazon’s changing algorithms weren’t favouring me. I reached out to them for some guidance on why I never got promoted anymore or selected for a Prime deal. They responded … with a standard email suggesting I might like to promote myself by setting up a Facebook profile, a website, a blog, Twitter and so on. Really? Wish I’d thought of all that!!!

Then I lost my footing on my tightrope. I woke up one Monday morning to a Facebook message from a very successful author telling me that her publishers were threatening legal action against me because one of my book covers was too similar to hers and I needed to change it. Turns out her designer and mine had used the same Shutterstock image; something that happens all the time and is a risk that all designers know they face when using stock images. The case was dropped when we shared Shutterstock’s stance on this but it was a horrible and scary experience and I’m still licking my wounds.

I clambered back on that tightrope and sent my MS out to be considered for traditional publication (see ‘The Other Side’) but the ‘audience’ didn’t like what I did and pelted me with rejections.

Searching for Steven NEW COVERPulling myself together, I tried to cross that tightrope once more and this time it was Amazon determined to make me fall. An email came out of the blue a week before Christmas accusing me of engaging in activities designed to manipulate sales of Searching for Steven in the USA. They rank-stripped me for that book in all markets (which means it can’t be found unless someone specifically searches for the title or for books by me) and have threatened further action. I have a separate blog post prepared about this which I’ll release when – if – the matter gets resolved.

On top of everything else that had happened in the second half of 2018, this left me emotionally and mentally defeated. I’ve never felt so low and, sadly, it ruined my Christmas.

Never Enough

As I continue on my writing journey, I’m a bit like Barnum in The Greatest Showman because each goal achieved just leaves me wanting more. I wrote a poem about it earlier this year which you can read here.

I am very lucky to be part of two writing collectives. The incredibly talented Sharon Booth and I have started a partnership as the Yorkshire Rose Writers, but I’ve also been part of the ten-strong Write Romantics for 5.5 years.

Being surrounded by writers is a double-edged sword because on the one hand it is such a joy to have regular dialogue with like-minded individuals who understand the highs and lows of being a writer and can support you through the lows, as well as it being inspiring to observe their successes and live vicariously through those. On the other hand, it’s very hard not to compare your success (or otherwise) with those around you, especially when everyone else seems to be doing so much better (more sales, higher chart positions, Prime deals, Amazon bonuses etc) and I’m the one with the weakest sales, being threatened with legal action, and being rank-stripped.

 

And so we move into 2019 and I turn to the final two songs in this amazing film.

This Is Me

Throughout my writing journey, I’ve always remained true to myself, writing the stories that I want to write and that my readers seem to want to read. When I sent my debut novel out to publishers, I was fortunate enough (after many rejections) to have two publishing offers on the table. The first, which I’d verbally accepted, wanted to make a lot of changes to the trilogy: more heat, shorter, focus on the romance and not the friendships. I was on the verge of walking away from it and going indie because it was no longer going to be the story I wanted to write, when the other offer came through. Sadly, that publisher ceased trading so it didn’t work out but it was still the right decision for me at the time to have chosen them.

IMG_5466This year, I have had publishers and other authors advising me to take my writing in a particular more cosy direction if I want to secure a new publishing deal … but that style isn’t me. It was when I started but my writing has changed over time. I would have called myself a romcom writer but I now write contemporary women’s fiction where the romance is not always the central thread. THIS IS ME! It’s my style and my voice and I don’t want to change it. I wouldn’t hesitate to do so if readers and bloggers didn’t rate it but they do … I just don’t reach enough of them as an indie writer.

I’m not giving up on the hope of securing a traditional publishing deal again because I do feel I need that step to get greater exposure. However, I’m not going to change the type of book I write just to secure a publishing deal. If it’s meant to be, the right publisher will like my approach. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying I can’t learn from a publisher and don’t want my work editing because I think I’m perfect. Far from it. What I’m saying is that I write a certain type of emotional story and I get a buzz from that so that’s what I’ll continue to do, even if that means I remain an indie writer because it’s not what publishers are seeking.

From Now On

IMG_5716From now on, I need to re-focus and, just like Barnum in the film, remember the important things in life: my family, my health, and why I started writing in the first place. This year has taken its toll on me in more ways than a loss of confidence. I’ve worked too many long hours trying to fit writing and studying alongside my day job as an HR Tutor. This has meant that my lardy backside has been pretty much welded to my office chair from rise til bedtime. I’ve not slept well for most of the year because I’ve not given myself any time to switch-off, which means I’m permanently tired and feel pretty grumpy. My diet has always been bad (I’ve battled with my weight since I was 10) but its been the worst ever this year and I don’t exercise at all. I daren’t get on the scales. I know I returned to my heaviest ever earlier this year, but my clothes still fit so, if I’ve gone over that, it can only be by a couple of lb. Lack of daylight has left me with a vitamin D deficiency (I’m turning into a vampire!) and bad diet has left me with a lack of iron and folic acid so I’m on medication for those as well as high blood pressure. When I returned from my holidays during the October half term, I started having heart palpitations but various tests and an ECG revealed (perhaps surprisingly given my weight) there’s nothing wrong with my heart and the palpitations were actually stress-related anxiety attacks. Eek!

IMG_5766Nobody starts a diet at Christmas but, by mid-January, I need to be back at the gym, eating healthily and spending some time each day outside instead of permanently sealed in my office. I need to organise my time better so that I get more writing done but also have more time with my family. And I need to shut down the computer and read or watch TV on an evening to give myself time to switch-off and hopefully get a good nights’ sleep.

And I need to be kinder to myself, accepting that everyone is on a different path towards their writing goals and mine appears to be the one that meanders, backtracks, and has a few dead ends along the way rather than being a direct route. But quite often a path that meanders has really stunning views so I need to stop and take those in.

From now on, it will be different. From now on, this is me, balancing on a tightrope where it may feel like what I do is never enough but I still have a million dreams and can rewrite the stars to achieve each one. 2018 was a tough year but I made it out the other side and will come alive again in 2019 because writing really is THE GREATEST SHOW!

Happy New Year to you all. I hope 2019 is kind to you and that you’re kind to yourself too. I’m going to try to be.

Jessica xx

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