The one where it’s the end of an era

When I was in my twenties, my parents ran a successful sub-Post Office. This was in the days before the existence of social media, before Smartphones and before everyone had email. Yes, we’re talking the days when people wrote to each other. A letter arriving in the post was so exciting back then.

Running alongside the Post Office was a shop. It sold stationery and packaging, as you’d expect from a Post Office, but it also sold gifts. On a Saturday afternoon, when the Post Office shut for the day, the counter space was transformed into additional sales space and it was particularly lovely at Christmas when it would be full of toys. My younger brother had a Saturday job there and I would sometimes help out in the shop or Post Office when I was home from university.

When orders arrived for stock for the shop side, there would sometimes be a free gift and, when I was twenty/twenty-one, it was this clock.

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Bright yellow, purple and green probably isn’t a combination that looks good in most (any) homes but I loved the quirkiness of it and especially loved that it had a supply of stationery in the back, so the clock became mine.

It sat proudly on my desk while I worked in TSB’s Head Office during my year out from university and I added a few stickers to it over the years to really personalise it. After I graduated, the clock became my thing. It travelled with me to every new job, always sat on my desk, and was often a talking point.

Sadly, after about twenty-five years of loyal service, my gorgeous little clock has ticked for the last time. It started losing time but, several new batteries and a clean later, it won’t tick at all. It has stood on my desk for a month now, not working, and I’m struggling to let go of it. I never used the stationery as I couldn’t bear the thought of any of it running out. The pens have long since dried up and the glue has … well I don’t know the technical term but it is now a solid lump.

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I wondered why I was struggling to put the clock in the bin but I’ve decided that it’s because it really is the end of an era if I do that because that little clock is so much more than a clock. It represents my parents running their own business which inspired me to open my own teddy bear shop many years later. Because of the shop, I met my husband and he is the one who encouraged me to learn how to write properly and ultimately become an author. It also represents the highs and lows of my career to date – the positive experiences of running my own business and of meeting some amazing friends through work and the negative experiences of being bullied in the workplace and overlooked for promotion on several occasions. These life experiences have all helped shape my plots and characters into stories and people that feel real, because they are inspired by reality. So, for me, it’s not just a clock; it’s a lifetime of experience and I think that’s why it’s hard to say goodbye.

Do you have anything that represents an aspect of your life that you can’t let go of? Or perhaps, like me, you have something that has moved to all your jobs with you. I’d love to hear from you if you do.

For now, my little clock will sit on my desk for a bit longer. After all, my computer tells me the time. Do I really need my clock to do that? And it is telling me the correct time twice a day too.

Jessica xx

What’s in a Character Name? #GuestPost Jessica Redland

I was a guest on Samantha Henthorn’s blog this week, talking about the inspiration behind my character names

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This time last month, I promised to bring news about novels I had read as part of my creative writing degree. However, I am unable to share my thoughts with you until they have been marked by my tutor – don’t want to be giving my best stuff away – it’s getting serious. As an alternative, I thought, I’ll write about a beautiful book I’ve read recently. The Secret to Happiness by Jessica Redland – then shut the front door! Jessica Redland herself, one of my favourite authors only goes and volunteers to guest post!

Over to Jessica;

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I believe that the genre you write very much influences the choice of character names. An author of sci-fi or fantasy stories is very likely to pick unusual, quirky names or, more likely, make them up themselves. An author of historical novels is going to need to do their research and draw…

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The one where it’s Bonfire Night

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Image by lumpi from Pixabay 

As a child, one of my favourite events on the calendar was always Bonfire Night. I was brought up on a 1960s/1970s housing estate, popular with young families. We were surrounded by a farmer’s fields and, because he didn’t tend to plant crops right up to the end of the street, the residents were permitted to build a bonfire on the wasteland each year.

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Image by Benjamin Nelan from Pixabay 

All the local kids would gather wood from the neighbours and gradually build the bonfire over the space of a few days. There probably was adult supervision but I don’t specifically remember that; I just remember the fun of collecting the firewood and building.

There’d always be a Guy although I have no idea who created him; I seem to remember him just appearing. Again, there must have been an adult involved. Then, on Bonfire Night itself, the residents of our street and the next would gather around the bonfire and watch it burn.

There was something so magical about standing there, bundled up for warmth, listening to the crackle, feeling the heat on my face and watching the sparks drift into the night sky. I adored the smell. It’s still one of my favourite smells today. Somebody would hand around sparklers and the children would write their names in the air.

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Image by christels from Pixabay 

The people who lived at the bottom of the street had a double garage and I remember them having families back there for jacket potatoes and hot dogs. I think of this as an annual tradition but it might have only been once or twice they did it. It’s funny how selective the memory can be.

One year, I’d been to Brownies the night before Bonfire Night and, as the car pulled down our street to take me home afterwards, my heart sank at the sight of orange and yellow flames licking into the air. Yes, some local kids had decided it would be fun to burn it down a day early. I cried, thinking Bonfire Night was ruined, but the neighbours rallied and we built another one the next day, even bigger than the original. Looking back now, I’m amazed it was only burned down early the once. These days, there’d be no chance of building a bonfire and having it survive overnight.

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Image by free stock photos from www.picjumbo.com from Pixabay 

I remember horror stories of chidden going to sleep in bonfires to protect them from an early lighting and being burned or even killed. What an absolute tragedy.

I don’t particularly remember having fireworks – just sparklers – at the neighbourhood display, but I do remember sometimes having fireworks in our back garden at home.

There was a big town bonfire at the playing fields at our local swimming baths. I seem to remember going there a few times too. I have a feeling that, when I was in my teens, the farmer started using the field so we couldn’t hold our local bonfire anymore.

When I went to Loughborough University, there’d be a big bonfire each year on the field outside my Halls of Residence although, weirdly, the only year I definitely remember going was on my year out when I came back and visited a friend.

After graduating, I lived in Birmingham. There was a huge bonfire and fair held each year on one Saturday in the north and the next in the south. I went there a couple of times too although the crowds were a bit too big for my liking.

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Then it stopped. I suppose I thought of going to a bonfire/fireworks display as being very much a family thing and I didn’t have a family so I had years where I missed out.

Now I have a family, we don’t do something every year but we’ve been down to the beach a couple of times. People have little bonfires lit and there are fireworks and sparklers. We had great fun five years ago when we went down to Scarborough’s South Bay and hubby experimented with slow shutter speeds on his camera, taking pictures of the munchkin and me writing our names, and of us being ‘ghosts’ on the beach.

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About a twenty minute walk down the road from us, McCain’s training centre play host to a bonfire and fireworks display each year. We’ve been to that a few times including this evening but, unfortunately, it was just fireworks this year because they’re doing a major factory expansion and there are building works on so there wasn’t the room for a bonfire.

The fireworks display was amazing (massive thanks to the organisers) although we’d messed up on the time somehow and thought it was starting 45 minutes earlier than it did so were very cold by the time the display actually started. Brr. About halfway through the display, it started raining and it was driving straight at us, making it a tad difficult to see the fireworks!

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The rain came down very heavy on the way home but I’ve been home about forty minutes now and have finally warmed through. The munchkin has had a bath and has a hot chocolate so she’s happy and toasty too.

We have a dog and a cat and they’re thankfully not too bothered about the bangs. Felix (the cat) doesn’t love loud noises so will usually find somewhere to hide in the house like behind the sofa, but he’s quite calm about it as that’s his happy space. Ella isn’t bothered at all. She might bark a bit, but she’s generally pretty chilled. I do really feel for the pets who get very anxious, especially when fireworks are set off outside of celebration nights like Bonfire Night, NYE and Diwali and therefore owners can’t be prepared for them. We live in quite a quiet area and I haven’t hears many fireworks this year before today. There were a few last night but not particular loud ones but, again, I know some people live in areas where setting them off is rife and my heart goes out to them.

What are your views on Bonfire Night? Do you have some fond memories of it from childhood or from more recently? And do you love or hate fireworks? Would love to hear from you.

Jessica xx

 

The one where it’s Hallowe’en

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It’s Hallowe’en today. If I was a horror or crime writer, I’d be using the day to the maximum to promote my books. Uplifting stores of love and friendship aren’t exactly the natural partner to all things spooky and nothing I write has ever featured Hallowe’en. Didn’t stop me buying a couple of gorgeous Squishmallows to pose with my books, though. Have you felt one? They are soooo soft, it’s an effort for me to put them down and get on with some work!

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When I was little, I loved dressing up on Hallowe’en – usually as a witch – and going door to door with my older brother, Michael. There were loads of families living nearby so the streets were busy with friends and neighbours. Pumpkins weren’t around back then so Dad would have carved us a scary face in a large turnip and we’d carry that using a string handle, with a small torch inside it. Oh my goodness, those turnips reeked! I don’t particularly remember being given sweets either, although we must have been. A handful of copper coins sticks in my mind instead.

P1040134I have a younger brother too – Chris – and he started accompanying us until an incident completely put us off. He must only have been about six so I’d have been twelve and we went out without Michael. We called round at a house on the next street. It was a family we knew and who we called on each year, as were all the families we visited, and the son (who was a couple of years younger than me) answered the door. We said our usual greeting of ‘trick or treat’ and he cried ‘trick’ and threw a bucket of water over us. It was the first time that anyone had ever tricked us and, until that moment, I’d never even thought about the meaning of our greeting; it was just something you said instead of ‘hello, give me some sweets’. And weren’t the visitors meant to be the ones doing the tricks? Anyway, there we were, wet, frozen, our costumes ruined, and we had to go home in tears. It was unexpected and completely unnecessary but there you go. As I say, it ruined it for us. Never went out again.

IMG_2572In my second year at university, I had another Hallowe’en-based trauma. I was appointed social secretary for my halls of residence and had organised a trip to a Hallowe’en night at a nightclub in the next city which meant hiring a coach to transport everyone. Normally a popular event, only a handful of people from the 300-ish living in that hall had bought a ticket and it looked like the event was going to run at a massive loss and wipe out all the committee’s funds. I was mortified. Thankfully my fellow-social secretary saved the day and did some negotiating with a nearby hall for discounted tickets. My boyfriend at the time turned up in my room dressed as a vampire and offered to come with me but we weren’t going to know anyone there and our relationship was on the rocks so I really couldn’t face it. I childishly sulked in my bedroom that evening, cursing Hallowe’en!

P1040101I had a couple of good Hallowe’ens in my twenties. I went to a hen do for a work colleague at a big hotel event and, a couple of years later, hosted a fabulous Hallowe’en party two years in a row in my first house in Birmingham. My favourite part was dressing up and seeing the imagination that went into friends’ costumes.

Work and home changed, the group of friends from those parties drifted out of my life, and Hallowe’en became just another day. I’ll admit to being a bit bah humbug about it. I don’t believe that children should knock on doors of people they don’t know because it’s not safe for them. I used to put the lights out, hide at the back of the house, and ignore the door.

My daughter has only ever been trick or treating once. There aren’t many families where we live and the few there are, we don’t really know, so we’ve (perhaps meanly) refused for her to go out because it goes back to my must-not-call-on-strangers rule. We’ve also been abroad for a few October half-terms meaning we’ve been away for Hallowe’en anyway. The one time she did go out was when we visited friends in another village maybe four or five years ago. They knew loads of people and one unknown child with their two daughters and a couple of friends wasn’t a problem. She didn’t like the dark or everyone being dressed up. Can’t win, can you? She hasn’t missed out completely, though, as she dressed up for primary school and at out of school clubs.

When I was a Brown Owl, we often held Hallowe’en events at my Brownie pack. Most of the girls – and the leaders – embraced the opportunity to dress up and we’d have spooky games and food. I was particularly proud of a pink witches hat I bought one year in Clintons, a donation from which went to breast cancer research. I made a black cloak with a pink lining and, one year, had the chance to wear it at Brownies and then at a bootcamp Hallowe’en party a few days later.

Then I left Brownies and I left bootcamp and I’ve never dressed up for Hallowe’en since.

On Sunday, we went to Burton Agnes Hall near Bridlington where they have a lovely woodland walk. For half-term, they decorate it with spooky displays. We’ve been three or now and it was great to see a fresh set of displays this time.

Up the coast in Whitby, it was Goth weekend. It’s quite a spectacle with the most amazing costumes. We took Ashleigh several years ago and she was desperate to dress up. It was only a supermarket costume but she looked fabulous in front of Whitby Abbey and in St Mary’s graveyard. A few years back, we visited again but it had become a bit too popular and there were photographers everywhere, like the paparazzi, so it was hard to move around and even harder to get any photos of the costumes.

As for today, Ashleigh is now twelve and a Thursday night is her piano lesson. She made some comments about trick or treating and we had the usual discussion about not being allowed to call on people she doesn’t know and, besides, it’s piano. I’ve (reluctantly) agreed to take her to a spooky theatre tour after piano at the YMCA where she attends classes on a Saturday. I don’t know what to expect. I have a horrible feeling it may be one of those set-ups where actors jump out on you. I can’t bear things like that and it’s going to go one of two ways with Ashleigh; she’ll either love or she’ll end up sobbing. Even though she likes reading spooky stories and is showing a love for (tame) horror films, my money’s on the sobbing. Or maybe it’ll be me who’s sobbing. Or both. Argh!

Happy Hallowe’en, whatever you have planned.

Jessica xx

The one where two of my books get a fresh look and a new identity

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Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay

When the idea for my debut novel,  Searching for Steven, came to me, I had no idea whether I had the ability to turn it into an actual book. I enjoyed writing but writing a book was a bit different from writing the questions for a job interview, a case study for a role play or a training course; all part of my day job as an HR Professional. With a lot of false starts, many hours poring over self-help books with my highlighter poised (shh – don’t tell anyone I do that!) and thousands of abandoned words, I made it. And not only had I got to the end of a book but I’d developed a trilogy. Woo hoo! Highly unexpected and very exciting.

A publishing deal followed (after many rejections in case that sounds like it was really easy to secure) and a home for the trilogy was found. My publisher asked if I could pen a short story as a sample of my writing, introducing potential readers to the fictional world of Whitsborough Bay. An idea came to me for the perfect prequel to the series, but I tend to think big when it comes to plot ideas and it became a novella instead of a short story.

Raving About Rhys was released in May 2015, a couple of weeks before Searching for Steven but it was deliberately written as a standalone novella and could be read before or after Steven.  The other two books from the original trilogy – Getting Over Gary and Dreaming About Daran were released in March and August 2016 respectively but, not long after, it all went a bit wrong. My publisher ceased trading and I needed to quickly re-release them as an indie writer, each with a speedily-designed new cover. Once we had more time, each had another new cover designed. Hubby and I never really liked the cover for Raving About Rhys but I was a bit stuck for ideas so we decided to live with it. Within 18 months of being released, Raving About Rhys had had three identities!

Raving About Rhys tells the story of Callie Derbyshire who works in Bay View Care Home, and loves her job, mainly because she adores the residents. Her favourite resident – even though she knows she shouldn’t have favourites – is Ruby, a woman in her mid-eighties with a colourful past and a grandson who may or may not be a figment of her imagination. Out of the many characters I’ve created across my books, Ruby has remained my very favourite (don’t tell the others in case they stop speaking to me!) She’s funny, mischievous and has a fascinating dynamic with fellow-resident, Iris, who she swears is not her friend.

8. Callies Christmas Wish COVERAlthough Raving About Rhys was a complete story in novella format, Ruby stayed with me over the next couple of years so, last year, I decided to write a follow-up. Callie’s Christmas Wish picked up a few months after Raving About Rhys ended and, as well as letting the reader find out whether Callie’s happy ending stayed happy, it revealed the secrets to Ruby’s past. But Rhys was about to get his fourth identity and, this time, it would be more than a change of cover…

Half of my amazing nine-book publishing deal with the fabulous Boldwood Books comes from my back catalogue. Across 2020, the original trilogy will be re-edited, re-titled and re-released but as a four-book series starting with Raving About Rhys and Callie’s Christmas Wish combined into one story.

The brand new title for this combined book is … drum roll please …

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I absolutely love the new title which combines the name of the care home where Callie works with the strong theme of wishes that I originally had. Funnily enough, I toyed with changing the titles of each book in the series last year, wondering if I should go for something a bit more commercial. I came up with a couple of reasonable(ish) titles but kept trying to incorporate ‘care home’ into the replacement title here which just didn’t work. It never entered my head to simply use ‘Bay View’ even though I frequently refer to Bay View Care Home as Bay View throughout the book! I think you can be too close to your own work and it’s lovely to have the objectivity of an editor who can stand back and see different things.

Raving About Rhys is temporarily still available on Amazon but, once that has been linked with Making Wishes at Bay View, he will disappear from sale and only the combined version will be available. Callie’s Christmas Wish has already been unpublished in preparation for this change.

Business Card FRONTAs for the story, what’s changed? Very little. When I wrote Callie’s Christmas Wish,  I needed to incorporate some backstory from Raving About Rhys for the benefit of anyone who hadn’t read Rhys first. Combining the two books meant all of that needed removing because it wasn’t needed anymore. The story itself hasn’t changed at all and we still have the same fabulous cast of characters, including a real treat of a couple more scenes between Ruby and Iris which I loved writing. There’s a bit more detail around the friendship between Callie and her colleague, Maria, and a couple of tweaks to Maria’s storyline but it’s otherwise the same two stories and characters brought together under one book.

So do you need to read Making Wishes at Bay View if you’ve already read Raving About Rhys and Callie’s Christmas Wish?  It’s entirely up to you. If it’s been a while since you’ve read them or you loved the stories so much that you were going to revisit them anyway, you might want to read the fresh version. I know my mum will and so will my sister-in-law, Sue, who has read the whole series several times!

As soon as the cover is finalised, Boldwood will do a reveal and the ARC version of Making Wishes at Bay View will be made available through NetGalley.

Screenshot 2019-06-18 at 09.41.35It’s currently available on pre-order on Amazon here. It’s going to be £1.99 for eBooks across all platforms but Amazon have priced it a little under that at the moment at £1.59 and will adjust this to £1.99 when the other platforms have it up for pre-order and Amazon’s systems price-match. Therefore, if you want to bag a bargain and grab the new version at a slightly cheaper price, zip on over to Amazon right now! As well as other eBook platforms, it will be available on audio and paperback again. I’m thrilled that the same narrator from The Secret to Happiness, Lucy Brownhill, will be recording the whole of the new series so, if you enjoyed that, you’re in for an absolute treat as she’s sticking around. Yay!

The other three books in the series all have brand new names and we’re in the process of editing them too so, if you’re new to my writing and are thinking of buying the series, you might like to hold fire until 2020 when they’ll all be edited and re-released through Boldwood Books. Title reveals coming later.

Hugs and good wishes.

Jessica xx

Here’s the blurb:

Never give up on a wish for a happy ever after…

Callie Derbyshire has it all: her dream job as a carer at Bay View, <i>finally</i> she has found the love of her life. Everything is perfect.

Well, almost.

Ex-partners are insistent on stirring up trouble, and Callie’s favourite resident, Ruby, hasn’t been her usual self.

But after discovering the truth about Ruby’s lost love, Callie is determined to give Ruby’s romantic story the happy ending it deserves. After all, it’s never too late to let love in again. Or is it?

A heartwarming and uplifting novel of finding love and friendship in the least expected places from top 10 bestselling author, Jessica Redland.

This book was previously published as two novellas – Raving About Rhys and Callie’s Christmas Wish.

 

The one where I learned how to murder people … in books, that is!

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I had a lovely day out yesterday at the Festival of Words in Beverley, East Yorkshire. My good writing friend, Sharon Booth, and I had bought tickets for ‘Murder Day’ which involved 5 x different sessions, all with authors of crime.

Session 1 was with author Martin Edwards, interviewed by local author, Nick Quantrill. He spoke about the golden age of crime, which is the era between the two world wars during which Agatha Christie wrote. It was a really fascinating insight into the popularity of this genre and the influence it has had on writers since.

IMG_7165During the break, we grabbed a drink and I treated myself to something I’ve never tried before: a chocolate scone. I posted on Instagram that it was surprisingly nice and my younger brother made me laugh by asking why it was surprising: chocolate good, scone good!

A discussion panel was the set-up for Session 2 with Nick hosting. Jess Kidd, Chris Simms and debut-novelist Amanda Mason talked about their gothic thrillers and each read an excerpt from their books. It was interesting hearing the very different writing voices.

Prolific writer, Kate Ellis, spoke alone for Session 3, taking the audience through the inspiration behind her 23-strong DI Wesley Peterson series and her other novels.

We had a break after that and went to the cafe library for a spot of lunch, joining another author friend, Sylvia Broady.

After lunch, Session 4 was the one I’d been really looking forward to: The Art of Forensics. Author Margaret Murphy hosted a discussion with Anne Cleeves and Helen Pepper. Ann Cleeves writes the books which were made into the TV series Vera and Shetland. I confess I haven’t read any of her books but I absolutely love Vera; brilliant series. She’s started a new series based in Devon which has been optioned for TV so I treated myself to a signed copy of the first in the series. Helen is a former CSI from Co Durham and now trains police recruits in forensics. She advises both Anne and Margaret on the forensic elements of their books and is the advisor on the TV series Vera.

IMG_7157It was a brilliant discussion. When I’ve written my books, I’ve reached out to experts via social media or explored websites/blogs to check out information relevant to my storylines but I’ve never thought about an author working with an expert on more of a consultative basis like this, yet it absolutely makes sense, particularly for something so important and specialist like forensics. The discussion was also very funny. Ann was very down to earth, admitting that she avoids doing anything that seems like hard work – for example writing the scripts for the TV series of Vera – because she really just enjoys sitting in her jogging pants and “making up stories”. Helen was exceptionally funny too and I bet she’s fascinating and fun to work with.IMG_7170

We had another hour’s gap before the final session so nipped into town. There’s a Paperchase in Beverley so I treated myself to a bear desk pad and post-it notes from a lovely new range there.

Poor Sharon had been battling with illness all day and was wiped out so she headed home and I attended Session 5 on my own. There was a change of venue from the Memorial Hall to The Art Gallery and the final speaker was Cath Staincliffe, interviewed by Nick again. Cath had written several books before she hit her big break with the TV series Blue Murder starring Caroline Quentin. I loved that series. Whereas Ann Cleeves wrote the Vera books ahead of the TV series, Cath had created a character ready to write a book and it became a script first. It was therefore really interesting to hear how she then retrospectively wrote the books. She was then asked to write the prequel novels to the popular series Scott & Bailey so she talked about those too, as well as writing for radio.

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I’ve been to a few talks over the years as part of Scarborough Literature Festival which later became Books by the Beach but I’ve never been to another venue or attended a full day of events. I thoroughly enjoyed my Murder Day and hearing from so many crime writers. It’s not my genre but it’s always fascinating to hear from other authors, whatever they might write.

As I was listening to the authors speaking I found myself wondering if, one day, I might be the one up there. It’s my absolute dream to be a guest author on Scarborough’s Books by the Beach festival but I’m under no illusion around my ability to draw a crowd so it would be many years yet – if at all – before that might happen. Still, it’s good to have dreams.

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The other thing I thought about was how much I’d have loved to throw question after question at the authors about their writing day, their publication journey, and a whole host of other questions that are of interest to me as a writer but probably wouldn’t necessarily appeal to the readers in the audience. There weren’t many questions asked of Cath at the end session so I did sneak one in about whether she had any traditions or superstitions. She talked about writing long hand, always on the same type of paper, with the same type of pen. I wanted to explore more but could easily have monopolised the conversation for ages if I had!

Thank you to all the authors for their input and to the organisers for such a fabulous day.

Jessica xx

 

 

 

The one where I become an international bestseller

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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…

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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.

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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.
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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

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…

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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.

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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.

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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!
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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.

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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

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Image by Ka Young Seo from Pixabay

The one where I’ve finished my Masters

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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).

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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

Jessica xx