The one where I passed my Masters

IMG_7453I got the results through this morning for my Masters in Creative Writing and I’m so excited to have secured a distinction. I know that, in the great scheme of things, the individual grade doesn’t really matter and it’s simply getting a Masters that counts but, for me, this was a personal journey and a goal I really wanted to achieve because of what happened with my undergraduate degree.

Screenshot 2019-12-09 at 16.57.19I have a BSc (Hons) in Banking and Finance from Loughborough University (Leicestershire). Studying my degree was full of highs and lows. When I applied to Loughborough, I wanted to be a bank manager and I hoped to secure sponsorship from one of the major high street banks to go there. I was fortunate enough to secure a place on TSB’s sponsorship programme which meant a small financial sum each year (positioned as being for text books but actually spent on pints of Purple Nasty!), holiday work in a local branch if I wanted it, a year out working for them, and potential to secure a place on their management trainee scheme after graduating.

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Image from Pixabay

So, at age 17, I’d already partially-secured a place on a graduate scheme which was an exciting possibility. The only challenge was whether I could pass the degree – something that proved more challenging than I could ever have predicted.

I remember sitting in my first economics lecture and listening to the professor stating smugly, “If you haven’t studied economics at A level, you’re going to struggle. And if you haven’t studied maths at A level either, you are going to massively struggle.” I hadn’t studied either of them and that professor was right. I struggled. I didn’t understand macro economics, I didn’t understand micro economics, I couldn’t do accountancy and quantitative analysis gave me nightmares. Thankfully, we studied banking law and business organisations too; subjects which I did understand. We could choose options and picking Marketing and HR also saved me. I finished my first year with a 2:2 average, although a 3rd in certain subjects. Oops.

 

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After my final exam (I’m in the purple jacket)

My second year was worse. I could continue with my preferred options but I couldn’t drop any of the subjects I hated. That same economics professor made a joke about anyone who hadn’t understood the first year not having a chance of grasping the second year. Also right. I spent hours in the library or locked in my bedroom with the course textbook and a dummy’s guide to the subjects yet still nothing made sense. Even with the subjects I liked, I couldn’t seem to secure a decent grade and I was at a loss as to what I was doing that was so wrong. Frustratingly, I now know that a lot of it was down to poor referencing but none of the tutors thought to tell me that at the time. Cheers for that!

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Final year fun drinking games (I’m on the left)

If struggling with my studies wasn’t bad enough, my social life fell apart. I’d chosen to stay in the Halls of Residence on the committee, where I was social secretary. One of my best friends from Halls in my 1st year was also on the committee and we’d chosen rooms on the same floor of our tower block with all sorts of plans for the fun we’d have. But we didn’t have fun. When we came back after the long summer break (bearing in mind that this was the days before social media, email or mobile phones so we had only exchanged a couple of short letters), he was very distant and didn’t seem to want to spend time in my company. I’m not sure what happened there. He quickly became part of a clique on our floor and the group would regularly go out together without ever asking me to join them. They’d return in the early hours, crank up the music, and shout at each other around the corridor while I curled up under my duvet in tears. I hated that year. I’ve never felt so lonely in my whole life. The only friend I had on my floor was a mature student from Ireland who also seemed to be an ‘outcast’ but, sadly, he was missing his girlfriend back in Ireland too much and made the decision to drop out at the end of the first term.

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My 2nd year was never fun like my final year (I’m at the front)

All alone again, I tried to throw myself into my studies but that’s not easy when you don’t understand your subjects. I tried repeatedly to get help from tutors but every discussion was over my head and I’d leave their office more confused than I was when I arrived.

It never entered my head to drop out – it wasn’t an option as far as I was concerned – but that year really was horrendous. I will be eternally grateful to two friends of mine off my course, Darrell and Andrew, who were there for me in my final term. We never talked about me being lonely and I always put on this display of confidence around them, but I think they both just sensed it. They’d both drag me out for something to eat or a walk around a park to stop me festering in my room. Darrell, in particular, was a Godsend, because he tutored me too, helping break down some of the concepts I just couldn’t get my head around.

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Graduate Day – in front of my Halls of Residence at L’bro Uni (Towers)

If I hadn’t had a year out, I don’t think I’d have looked back very fondly on my university days but that year out made me. I’d worked every holiday in my local TSB branches but I had an opportunity to work in their Head Office in my third year and it was amazing. I shared a house with another two sponsored students from Loughborough and we had so much fun. I loved my job and had some great work experience alongside a brilliant social life, mixing with the other sponsored students and management trainees.

When I returned to Loughborough for my final year, it was with a fresh perspective and a new confidence. I was determined to make the most of the opportunity.

I found the work experience added value in subjects like HR and Marketing and I had finally been able to drop most of the maths and economics-based subjects although there was one compulsory one called business finance which, for me, might as well have been conducted in Russian for all I understood of it! I made a mess of my business finance exam, which I fully expected, but I did well in the others. I didn’t dare to dream that I could get a 2:1. I wasn’t even expecting a high 2:2 yet I did somehow manage to secure the 2:1. It was only by 0.1% but it was still a 2:1 and I was beyond thrilled with it. I also made some really good friends that year and had the social life I’d been lacking in my second year, meaning I could graduate with happy memories instead of feeling relieved to escape from the loneliest time of my life.

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Graduation Ball … after a much happier final year!

Because I’d studied Marketing, I had a chance to get my marketing professional qualification at the end of my final year by doing a few more lessons and an exam after my main degree exams had finished, so I did that. I secured a position on TSB’s management trainee scheme, as hoped, which meant studying my professional HR qualification as well but, when I was in my mid-twenties, that was it. I was finished with education. I had a degree and two professional qualifications and no way was I studying again. Ever.

For the last 3.5 years, I’ve been a home-based tutor for the HR professional qualification that I possess. I run webinars, mark assignments and respond to student queries. Working in education got me thinking about studying again and, even though I’d sworn I never would, I started to weaken. My problem with my undergraduate degree had been that it included subjects I didn’t care about or understand. What if I studied something I was passionate about instead? So I enrolled on a Masters in Creative Writing with Open University which started in October 2017.

IMG_7456Working full-time, writing and studying is not easy. One sacrifice I knew I had to make was ceasing my role as Brown Owl. There was no way I could fit in planning and running a Brownie Pack as well, unless I wanted to give up on sleep.

After my experiences with my undergraduate degree, I was determined that I wouldn’t struggle through my Masters. I’d self-taught myself much of the content and had put it into practice in writing several books already so the actual subject area wasn’t a challenge for me. What I struggled with was the commentary we had to submit with some assignments. It took me quite some time to get my head around what was needed and the feedback seemed to be inconsistent and contradictory which was frustrating. When we did our secondary option – script-writing for me – I actually challenged the marking of it because it was so contradictory and the second tutor agreed I had been under-marked on it. But she decided I’d been over-marked on my fiction and ended up downgrading my whole assignment from distinction to merit. I was absolutely gutted. Lesson learned the hard way.

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Right from the start, I had a goal of coming out with a distinction to show that I could do something academic to a high level instead of struggle all the way through it like I did with my undergraduate degree. It was very touch-and-go, though. I’d get a distinction, then a merit, then back to distinction and that dream of the top grade overall started to drift away.

I was surprised when I ended the first year on a distinction but the second year was independent of that grade. Again, I was up and down with the scores and every time I ‘repaired’ something, a new ‘problem’ appeared to arise. However, a particularly strong assignment helped pick up my year two average and I went into the final submission at 88% (distinction being 85%). Whether I got a distinction overall was resting on my final assessment – 15k words of fiction.

There was a grade predictor on our student home page and I calculated what I needed to get in my final assessment to come out with a distinction overall but it advised me I needed 85% – a distinction – in that to get a distinction overall, despite being at 88% already.

Screenshot 2019-12-09 at 15.06.08I was never going to fail but whether I got a distinction or a merit overall was not a foregone conclusion. Most of my fiction had scored highly (a couple of submissions being 94%) and I’d submitted part of the assignment as a formative, for which I’d had really positive feedback so this had to bode well … but there was this nagging doubt that I might not quite make it.

The results were due today and I kept refreshing my home page to see them. Turns out I was looking at the wrong part of the page and, when I scrolled up looking for something else, I saw the final grade had actually appeared.

IMG_7455It confused me, though, and I have to admit that it felt like an anti-climax. The word ‘distinction’ was there in large bold letters. But it stated I only had 83% for my final submission and I still had it in my head that I had to have 85% or above because of that damn grade predictor. I was therefore convinced I was looking at the wrong thing and perhaps that was my year one grade showing instead. It was correct, though, and clearly the grade predictor was wrong. Thing is, disappointment had then set in. Firstly, it was disbelief that I had really received the distinction. Then it was: why only 83% for that piece of fiction when I’d had 94% previously? How had I fallen a full 11%?

I know, I know… I shouldn’t focus on the negative but, because of the grade predicator, I was so confused by my score and could only focus on the fact I’d dropped marks and got a merit for my final submission without it really registering I’d still received a distinction overall.

IMG_7454It still hasn’t sunk in that I have actually achieved what I set out to do; putting my study demons to bed. I might treat myself tonight by not working for a change! Don’t judge me but I’ve already eaten tomorrow’s advent calendar chocolate as a congratulations treat!  And I’ll have a very large piece of cake when I go out for the day tomorrow with my writing friend, Sharon Booth. It may sink in then. Also, I’d just spotted the result and then had to pick up the munchkin from school to take her to her first piano exam so I was a bit distracted thinking about her and whether she would be nervous or not. It will sink in. Soon.

I’d like to thank everyone who has supported, encouraged and believed in me but the biggest thank you of all has to go to my tutor group. Tracy, Mandy, Janet, Georgia, Angie and David – your feedback and friendship has been invaluable. I look forward to watching you all publish your first novels! You are all super talented writers and deserve to have success with your writing.

Jessica xx
(MA!!!)

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.
AUSTRALIA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ending position #20 in the overall Amazon Australia Paid Chart

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

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

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

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

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

Jessica xx