Scarborough was looking mighty fine last night

IMG_8565Dolphins are frequently sighted along the North Yorkshire Coast so we decided to take a little drive to Scarborough seafront last night, take a walk around Marine Drive, and hopefully spot them.

Typically, they weren’t around last night but Scarborough was looking mighty fine so I thought I’d share some lovely photos.

Here’s our 4-year-old sprocker spaniel, Ella, who wanted to have a go at walking along the sea wall (safely on a lead, of course!)

 

These are all taken in Scarborough’s South Bay harbour. Isn’t it pretty?

IMG_8570

IMG_8569

IMG_8573

IMG_8575

IMG_8576
Scarborough Castle stands proudly on the hill above the harbour and the Old Town
IMG_8579
Looking from the lighthouse over towards the old toll house
IMG_8580
The ‘Diving Belle’ in front of the lighthouse
IMG_8581
Scarborough Lighthouse. In my books, where Whitsborough Bay is predominantly inspired by Scarborough, the lighthouse is red and white striped instead of plain white

The sun was setting over North Bay on our way back…

IMG_8594

IMG_8592

But the sky was still brilliant blue looking back towards Scarborough Castle…

IMG_8596

IMG_8598

Hope you enjoyed a little flavour of Scarborough. I’m so proud of living in this beautiful town and you can probably see from these photos why it’s such an inspiration for the fictional North Yorkshire seaside town of Whitsborough Bay in my books.

Big hugs

Jessica xx

 

 

The one where I should be in Portugal

IMG_6193
This time last year – May half term – my husband, daughter and I went to Albufeira in Portugal. It was our first visit to the country and we absolutely loved it.

IMG_6180With so many amazing places to see in the UK and around the world, we like to visit different places but we had such fond memories from our week in Portugal that we decided to return this year for a relaxing week in the same resort and same hotel; a first for us.

But, for obvious reasons, we’re not there. Like so many people, our holiday plans needed to be cancelled as the world faces an unprecedented pandemic.

I wish we were in Portugal right now but I really can’t feel sad about it. It is what it is and we really have been fortunate. So far, COVID-19 has not touched our family with tragedy so a cancelled holiday, a non-birthday, a couple of cancelled theatre trips and a few other planned events that couldn’t happen are absolutely nothing compared to what some have and are still facing.

So I wrote a little poem about it….

 

I should be in Portugal, a break for seven days

Some time out with my family, soaking up some rays

I should be in Portugal, relaxing by the pool

Jumping in the icy depths when I need to cool

I should be in Portugal, walking on the sand

Dining out on tasty food, a cold beer in my hand

I should be in Portugal, a speedboat on the waves

Searching for some dolphins and cruising through the caves

I should be in Portugal, a trip to ZooMarine

Riding on the big wheel, and in the wave machine

I should be in Portugal, a walk through the old town

Visiting the gift shops, just as sun goes down

I should be in Portugal, the place we went last May

Lovely, friendly people – a super place to stay

Instead I’m in the UK, staying safe at home

Because a nasty virus has meant we cannot roam

Instead I’m in the UK, working every day

Hoping that these tragic times will soon be gone away

Instead I’m in the UK, my heart so full of sadness

For those who’ve lost the ones they love during this worldwide madness

Instead I’m in the UK, thinking about the firms

That won’t survive the loss of funds from this vile set of germs

Although I’m not on holiday, I’m feeling very blessed

That those I love are in good health, and not feeling distressed

Although I’m not on holiday, my family are by my side

My daughter’s doing well at ‘school’, filling me with pride

Although I’m not on holiday, my books are in the charts

With stories bringing comfort, warming readers’ hearts

Although I’m not on holiday, I’m really very grateful

That a cancelled trip is the worst I’ve had from a virus that’s so hateful

Please be assured, my books are a million times better than my poetry!

I know I’ve been very fortunate but many haven’t.

My empathy to those who’ve had events, celebrations and holidays cancelled, particularly ones that have been extra special like my brother’s 50th birthday plans and those who’ve had their weddings cancelled.

Wishing a speedy recover to anyone currently fighting COVID-19, including my lovely friend and fellow-author, Jo, and her family. Hope you’ve all continued to improve this week.

Love and hugs to anyone who has lost a loved one – whether to this virus or something else – and particularly where you haven’t been able to say goodbye and celebrate their life in the way you’d have hoped.

My best wishes to anyone with a business that’s struggling, has gone under, or who has lost their job/faces employment uncertainty.

And my thoughts are with all those affected by this worldwide pandemic in so many other ways I haven’t mentioned.

Hang on in there. I’m rooting for you. We’re hopefully through the worst and we’ll be able to spend time with friends and family soon as life returns to some sort of new ‘normal’.

Big hugs

Jessica xx

The one with some gorgeous North Yorkshire Coast photos

I love where I live on the North Yorkshire Coast. Scarborough has been my home for sixteen years now and it has provided the main inspiration for the setting in my books; the fictional seaside town of Whitsborough Bay. My husband is Scarborough born and bred.

We lived in town initially but now live on the outskirts. Scarborough has two bays – North and South – and we’re closest to South Bay but it would be a very long walk to get there so we’ve not been able to do that during lockdown. Besides, North Bay with the brightly-coloured beach huts is my favourite of the bays and that’s even further to walk.

Our nearest walking-distance beach is called Cayton Bay. There’s a lovely cliff-top walk overlooking the bay about 7-10 minutes’ from our house. I’ve done that walk a few times since lockdown and have shared photos of it.

Yesterday, hubby decided to walk down to the Cayton Bay. I didn’t accompany him as (a) I had too much to do before my return to work tomorrow and (b) I’m so unfit at the moment that I’m not convinced I’d have made it back up the cliff path without a winch! It’s very steep and it was a hot day. I therefore asked him to take some photos for me and I thought I’d share them.

Hope you enjoy hubby’s photos and your virtual trip to the beach. If you’d like to see more of his work, you can look at his images on his website here.

Big hugs

Jessica xx

thumbnail-6

thumbnail-2

thumbnail-1

thumbnail-3

thumbnail-4

thumbnail-5

 

The one where my dog gives her guide to isolation

My fabulous publishers, Boldwood Books, have been running a #PetsOfIsolation thing (there’s probably a technical term for this but let’s go with ‘thing’ for the moment) over on Twitter for the last week. Or is it fortnight? Hmm. Time is a fluid concept just now. Anyway, the idea was to encourage their authors to share photos of their pets during lockdown and hopefully have readers do the same, filling Twitter with happy images of animals. Aw, lovely.

We have a 4-year-old sprocker spaniel called Ella so I shared a few pics of her but I decided to put together her guide to isolation here. For anyone not on Twitter (looking at you, Mum), I thought I’d share Ella’s advice on here.

So, here it is, Ella’s Guide to Isolation:

Number 1

Get out of the house for socially-distanced exercise. Give your human extra exercise by dodging all photo ops and making them chase you for 1 x blurred pic. Fun for all the family

Ella Exercise

 

Number 2

Steal stuff. As much stuff as you can. Steal all the stuff that doesn’t belong to you and use doe eyes to protest your innocence. So much fun winding up the humans and great for relieving boredom

Ella Steal Things

 

Number 3

Sleep. Do this lots. Preferably by clambering into your human’s bed when they’re not looking. Mmmm. Sleep is good. Sleep is better when you shed hair all over your human’s duvet

Ella Sleep

 

Number 4

Ella’s Guide to Isolation Part 4 of 5: If your human is eating, stare at them. Maybe cock your head to one side, put paw on their knee & whimper. Focus. Intimidate. They’re weak. They will fold. That food will be yours mwah ha ha

Ella food

 

Number 5

Dream of life beyond isolation. Paws for thought. Think about holidays, trips, parties, hugs. This will one day pass and we can say hello friends. Hello family. Hello life. Hang on in there, stay home, stay safe xxx

Ella Hols Prep

 

Hope you enjoyed Ella’s Guide as a #PetsOfIsolation.

Jessica xx

The one where it’s a beautiful day on the North Yorkshire Coast

IMG_8170

Our sprocker spaniel, Ella, has recently turned four and pictures of her as a puppy have been cropping up on my memories on my Facebook timeline. When we made the decision to have a dog – a first for me – I’d been working from home as a distance learning HR Tutor for over a year. I thought that having a dog to walk would provide the perfect excuse for a break from the computer, would give me a reason to leave the house each day, and would provide some much-needed exercise before my bottom expanded beyond the size of Brazil a la Bridget Jones. The reality was that my working day was too long and the dog-walking quickly became the responsibility of hubby who also works from home but has a job that is slightly less demanding on hours than mine. So the bottom did continue to expand and is now the size of South America, never mind Brazil!

IMG_8166At the start of lockdown, I resolved to get outside for a family walk with Ella each day, in-keeping with the government’s guidelines around exercising once a day and keeping a safe distance from anyone else doing the same. I managed a few walks during the first week and it was lovely but I hadn’t quite appreciated the impact lockdown would have on my workload. Students who have been furloughed or have sadly lost their jobs are at home with the opportunity to knuckle down and study, those who are still working are no longer going out on weekends or evenings so they’re studying too. And a stack of new students have enrolled. My workload has gone through the roof. I often struggled to fit writing around it and now it’s even more of a challenge. I know I’m fortunate that I still have my job – which is just as well because I am one of the self-employed who falls through the gap for financial support, being a sole trader who happens to be set up as a limited company – but I do long for an opportunity to pause and take a breath occasionally!

So I made a big decision that, this weekend, I was not going to work on the day job. I don’t mind working 12-14 hour days the rest of the week but I needed a break and I’m so glad we did this morning because the weather is stunning on the North Yorkshire Coast although a bit blowy on the clifftop as you can see from the photo above.

Hope you’re staying safe. Wishing everyone all the best and I’ll leave you with some of the photos I took earlier. The Yorkshire Coast welcomes you to visit and explore its beauty as soon as we’re through this but hope you enjoy a few photos in the meantime.

Jessica xx

The Cleveland Way passes along the clifftop just 5-7 minutes walk from our house. We didn’t take the path down to the beach today but probably will do one day soon:

The north and south ends of Cayton Bay. We could see a few walkers down there. On the south side, there are some WWII ‘pillboxes’ that fell down the cliffs and embedded in the sand many years ago:

 

Ella found an abandoned tennis ball so had great fun running after that. We live on the housing estate just over that field in the middle photo and are so lucky to have this on our doorstep:

This bench fascinated me. It would once have had such a stunning view but it’s become somewhat overgrown over the years:

One of the gardens in the houses overlooking the sea has the most amazing treehouse in it. Would have loved a treehouse when I was a kid. Actually, scrap the kid bit. Would love one now! xx

The one where it’s very different yet not different at all

IMG_8093
Nalgo – part of Cayton Bay, south of Scarborough – a view 15 mins walk from our house

Yesterday was day 1 of schools being closed in the UK (to most but not all children) and today was day 1 of ‘lockdown’. The PM hasn’t officially used that term and I know some people hate it but, to me, it makes sense. My immediate household is in lockdown because hubby and I are both self-employed home-workers who have no need to travel other than hubby going out shopping for basics for us and his parents (mid-70s and early-80s) who live locally. Unfortunately my parents live about 1.75 hours away so we can’t provide them with shopping support. (Sending love to you both xx)

Because we both already work from home, each with a spare bedroom as an office, very little has changed to our ‘normality’. If I stay off social media and avoid the news, I can actually believe that this isn’t really happening. And that’s no bad thing sometimes because, quite frankly, I’m scared. But this isn’t a doom and gloom post so I won’t expand on that. Let’s get back to lockdown in our house…

Even our 13-year-old daughter’s presence doesn’t scream of ‘different’ to us because we’re used to her arriving home from school late-afternoon and being in the house while we’re still working, and we’re used to having her here in school holidays while we’re still working. So everything feels pretty much business as usual. Sending my love to all those for whom this is a completely alien, those who are unable to work from home and are still going out to work, those who have found themselves out of work and, of course, those who work for any of the key services, especially the NHS/other healthcare services and food retailers (and all those involved in the supply chain).

Ironically, staying at home for me is probably going to mean I go out more. We have a dog – a 4-year-old sprocker spaniel called Ella – and she needs walking. Hubby normally does this and meets up with a group of dog walkers as I usually work long hours and can’t find the time. Obviously that can no longer happen.

We’ve decided to make a walk with Ella our daily exercise as a family, in-keeping with the PM’s guidance of staying with a family unit, going somewhere where there aren’t people, and keeping that distance when we encounter anyone. I need to do this daily because, if I didn’t, I would sit at my desk solidly, work from morning till bedtime and never get any air at all, not even in the garden. I know this because I am a bit of a workaholic (comes from having two jobs – day job and author) and have done that for most of the past 4 years. Even with that mentality, I did at least get out and about for some fresh air with the odd trip to the shops, a weekly piano lesson and a fortnightly get-together with my good friend and fellow-writer, Sharon Booth. The daily dog walk is to make sure we all get some air and exercise and so that my bottom doesn’t continue to expand whilst welded to my chair!

We’re very fortunate to live in a village on the outskirts of Scarborough, a short walk along a coastal road to Cayton Bay. There’s a loop we can take which is about an hour and we did that this morning. It’s such a lovely walk. We met very few people and, in the main, distance was maintained when passing anyone. There were a few muppets, though. Take the couple walking towards us with a large dog. We were about to cross the road when the man moved so we thought he was going to cross the road and that the woman and dog would follow. She stayed where she was, leaving us trapped with no choice but to walk between them. Social distancing not observed. What is wrong with people?

A little further up the road, a woman was out walking 4 young children, probably aged 6-10. She wasn’t paying any attention to them, walking in front, looking at her phone, while  they meandered all over the place behind her. We tried to give them a wide berth but they got in our path. Clearly not been educated on what’s going on.

IMG_8104
Empty main road into town

Then, on the home stretch along the coast, a woman sat in the middle of the footpath distracted by her phone while her kids ran about in the field next to her. We had to walk on the road to bypass her and then the kids ran out the field into our path. *Rolls eyes in despair*

Aside from those few numpties we did enjoy it and, if it wasn’t for the distinct absence of vehicles, you could believe that it was a completely normal day but the lack of vehicles, particularly on the busy main road into Scarborough (that we walk over), told a different story.

We walked through a bypass and I loved this sign drawn in chalk on the side. It hasn’t come out very well on the photos but there’s a rainbow at the end of it.

Wishing you all the best, wherever you are and whatever challenges you’re facing or worries you’re having right now. If it’s safe to do so, I hope you are able to get outside – if only for a short while or even just through an open window – to see the arrival of spring and find a little comfort from the flowers, blue skies and birdsong.

Love and hugs

Jessica xx

 

 

The one where I went to Lapland to meet the real Santa

IMG_7641

Lapland is the largest and most northerly region of Finland and, of course, the home of Father Christmas. And, last week, my family and I had the bucket-list experience of spending three days there. We flew out on Ashleigh’s 13th birthday – pretty amazing way to spend your first day as a teen!

IMG_7648We’d booked a Santa’s Lapland holiday, flying from Leeds Bradford to Ivalo airport which has to be the dinkiest airport I’ve ever been in. With Christmas songs on the plane, elves running riot round the baggage collection, and lots of snow, it was certainly beginning to look and feel a lot like Christmas. As we went out to our coaches, there was a Sami with a reindeer for a perfect photo opportunity.

We were staying in a beautiful village called Saariselkä 250km north of the Arctic Circle so it was cold. Very cold. But completely fabulous. First stop was to collect the snowsuits, boots, mittens and socks that we’d need to keep snug in the double-figure minus temperatures. I was a little bit worried that, being very overweight yet vertically challenged, they wouldn’t have a suit to fit but I needn’t have stressed. They had suits for all sizes and were very good at looking at someone and selecting an appropriate size with no fuss.

We’d booked onto a snowmobile experience which we were expecting to do the following evening and were a little surprised to discover that it was actually happening on our first evening instead so it was a case of checking in, quickly unpacking, swapping Ashleigh’s snowsuit (as hers didn’t fit) then heading out for our first activity. The snowmobiles would seat 2 x adults who’d have the opportunity to swap over driving halfway if they wanted. Small children would ride in a sleigh pulled by one of the reps on a snowmobile, snuggled under blankets.

With Ashleigh being significantly bigger/older than all the other kids, we asked if there was any chance of us having a snowmobile each and Ashleigh riding pillion. She was thrilled when they confirmed we could do this and decided to be Mark’s passenger for the first stretch.

Oh my goodness, how much did I love driving a snowmobile? I’ve driven a quad bike a few times so the controls were very much the same principle, although you did have to grip harder to keep the snowmobile going the way you wanted. We followed a winding track through the forest. It was so peaceful and the snow-laden trees flanking us were absolutely beautiful. Halfway through, we stopped by a campfire for hot berry juice and cookies. This would  have been the perfect opportunity to check out the Northern Lights but, sadly, we didn’t see them because there was too much cloud cover. Gutted. The closest thing we got was pictures in front of giant posters of them at the airport!

Ashleigh became my pillion passenger for the final stretch. I was at the back of our small group and, even though my snowmobile had behaved perfectly on the way out, it conked out twice on the way back. The rep behind me needed to start it up again but I was secretly pleased it was playing up because this meant that I needed to catch up with the rest of my little group which meant I could speed up significantly. Woo hoo! Ashleigh absolutely loved it although I was conscious of having her on the back so didn’t dare go quite as fast as I might have done on my own.

The following day a coach took us further north for a series of activities in the snow. The temperature steadily dipped and we were told that the Artic Centre was actually minus 20 degrees. Brr! We were told to give the ‘high-five bear’ – the meeting point for the husky rides – a high-five to bring us luck. I didn’t need asking twice. Aw, isn’t he gorgeous?

There were five ‘big’ activities that we could only do once and several little activities that we could undertake as many times as we wanted. They were spread across two areas connected by a sleigh ride. The only set time was the husky ride so we needed to work everything around that.

We weren’t scheduled for our husky ride until the afternoon so we took the sleigh ride to the other side first to complete the activities there. The sleigh was pulled by a snowmobile and was great fun but it was so undignified trying to get out of it with low seats and a slippery floor from the snow. I thought I’d sussed it on my first attempt but we did four sleigh rides in total and I got worse at getting out each time, ending up completely beached!

Our first ‘big’ activity was a reindeer-pulled open sleigh. Mark and Ashleigh travelled together in front of me and I had a sleigh to myself. We travelled in a convoy of four or five reindeer and sleighs tethered together. My reindeer kept getting really close to Mark and Ashleigh and, at one point, he nearly hooked Mark’s hat off his head with his antlers!

There were various warming huts and tepees around the site and you could get hot berry juice and pancakes in one of them. Nom nom. We nipped into an igloo then attended a show where the children learned all about reindeers from a naughty elf and its trainer. The trainer was the spitting image of my oldest brother but he had a really posh voice and it was so strange looking at him and not hearing my brother’s Teesside accent.

Ashleigh had a go on a toboggan and on a mini-skidoo and we all tried a kick-sled which is a bit like a scooter on skis. I absolutely loved the kick-sled and would happily have played on it for ages but we had a date with a husky.

The husky ride was fabulous. We were told that the dogs would be really excited and barking a lot so we should just focus on getting into the sled at the start but that we could pet them afterwards. Mark was the first to drive and it was a heck of a squeeze fitting me and Ashleigh into the sled. At one point, I was worried that we might not be able to get in safely but we managed to wriggle about a bit and finally squash in. We set off in a convoy of twenty sleds and it was so exhilarating.

80339477_2698296686876281_1225452928026804224_o

There were six huskies in pairs and the middle pair pulling our sled started fighting. Or at least that’s what we thought they were doing. At first. One of them kept jumping on the other and it got quite fraught with the dogs coming off the track and us having to do an emergency stop! The rep behind sorted them out and we were back on our way.

IMG_7731Then it was my turn to drive. Mark had to stand on the brake while I got out and I had to takeover standing on the brake before he moved. That wasn’t easy because it meant I was tipping backwards and, having not been to the gym for a few years, I have no abs to help me do this!

IMG_7721When the dogs went down a hill, we needed to put one foot on the brake and, when they went uphill, we had to help them by scooting with one leg. Nearly came a cropper the first time. That ice stuff is slippy! Anyway, turns out our huskies weren’t fighting; they were being amorous. And they kept being amorous throughout the ride, much to Ashleigh’s amusement!

I can’t decide whether my favourite event was the snowmobile or the husky ride. Both were amazing bucket-list experiences and I’d love to do them again. The huskies were absolutely gorgeous and their fur was so much softer than I expected. The light was fading and it was so magical being surrounded by snow and being able to stroke such beautiful dogs.

We skipped one of the ‘big’ activities – an elf show – and spent quite some time queuing to 80838332_2698296666876283_6134827008095420416_osearch for Santa. A family at a time were taken on a snowmobile-pulled sleigh ride to find Santa’s cabin in the woods.

We were greeted by a couple of elves, one of whom was very naughty and pinched our hats then swapped them over, before going in to meet Santa. He was in a wooden cabin surrounded by presents and invited Ashleigh to sit with him. We’d discreetly handed over the letter she’d written to him before boarding the sleigh and she was quite astonished to discover he had that and that he knew it had been her birthday the day before. He asked her if she had any questions so she asked how old he was, then we posed for some family photos before boarding the sleigh again.

80449892_2698296313542985_3586783882457907200_o

Ashleigh had a couple more toboggan rides then we caught one of the coaches back to the village. It was a brilliant, packed day, full of amazing experiences.

When we got back to the hotel, we decided we might as well keep the snowsuits on and have a little wander round some of the gifts shops before changing for dinner. I was keen to get a couple of Christmas tree decorations from our holiday. I ended up getting seven items. Oops! And five Tonttu. These are my new love and I think I was pretty restrained to only come home with five. I’d have happily filled my suitcase with these gorgeous little fellas.

IMG_7807

We had a delicious hot chocolate back in the hotel and Hermann the bear was delighted to discover some beer especially for bears in the mini fridge!

The following day, we were leaving for the airport at 11.40am so we donned our snowsuits again and took Ashleigh to a huge toboggan run a short walk from the hotel.

Mark took a little wander to try to get some photos and to spot a good place for a family picture. We managed a lovely shot before heading back to the hotel to do the final bits of packing and bundle up our snowsuits.

81529144_2698296290209654_7091761415454720000_o

It was a really amazing couple of days. We’d have loved to have another day or two to explore a bit more. Our hotel room – Gielas at the Tunturi Hotel – was superb and the bathroom even had a small sauna in it but we didn’t have the time to use it. We’d love to go back one day and, from the pictures in the airport, the area looks stunning in the summer too.

Of course, I had to take the opportunity for a couple of promo shots while I was there!

If you’d like to find out more about Santa’s Lapland, click here. We went on Santa’s Magic and booked our snowmobile experience as an additional activity. It’s certainly not cheap but it was brilliant. Being somewhere where it’s only light for a few hours of the day was also quite extraordinary.

We may have a massive hole in our finances now, but we have several Tonttu, Ashleigh has a giant husky, and we all have some very happy memories!

Jessica xx

 

The one where I went to a Christmas Masquerade at a Castle … sort of

IMG_7545I had a lovely day out yesterday with my good friend and fellow author, Sharon Booth, visiting the Christmas installation at Castle Howard. We’ve started an annual tradition (does twice count as a tradition?) of visiting a stately home each Christmas. Last year we went to Burton Agnes Hall near Bridlington which was beautifully-decorated and very impressive, but Castle Howard – a much bigger stately home – exceeded all expectations. Wow! Just wow! I think we may be back next year. Or maybe do both????

Castle Howard is a grand estate in North Yorkshire situated off the A64 between York and Scarborough and, given the size and grandeur, it’s not surprising that it took over 100 years to be built, starting in 1699. With 1,000 acres of rolling gardens and parkland, there’s plenty to explore on full-day visit. As it was bucketing it down and blowing a gale, Sharon and I did not explore the grounds but we did enjoy our wander around the house. The photos above were taken on a much nicer day a couple of years ago!

IMG_7501

I’ve been to Castle Howard before, several times, but have only explored the house once at Christmas and that was many years ago when the munchkin was small and we took her to their Father Christmas experience (highly recommended and very magical but you need to book as soon as the dates are released in September each year). This was before they did the installations so it was lots of flowers, candles and dressed trees but nothing like the Christmas Masquerade.

I cannot recommend the Christmas installation enough. It is absolutely stunning. Every room offered a new treat and, as we moved along corridors and up staircases between rooms, the statues were adorned with colourful masks and vases displayed baubles, feathers, birds and more masks so there was always something to look at related to the theme.

I was worried that, without flash, I wouldn’t take any decent photos (photography is allowed but flash-free). However, I was quite pleased with what I managed to get.

IMG_7506
Lady Georgiana’s Bedroom

The first room elicited a huge “oooh” and we just continued with the “ooohs” and “aahhhs” every step we took. What imagination the team have to have pulled this together. Apparently plans start about a year in advance, although they had less than two weeks to actually build the installation. That’s quite astonishing when you see it as you’d think it would take months to put it up. It takes me more than a full day to put up my Christmas decorations at home so two weeks to achieve this? Serious respect to everyone involved.

Rooms carried the theme of a famous masquerade character such as Harlequin, Pierrot  and Colombine whilst others carried the general masquerade theme. There were costumes, masks, and wigs all cleverly displayed with lighting. And the colours! Wow!

IMG_7525
The New Library

Sharon and I both adored Lady Georgiana’s Bedroom and dressing room but our favourite room was The New Library which is used as an office. We’d both have happily stepped over the rope, grabbed a book from the shelves, and settled in front of the fire until security forcefully removed us. Despite the high ceilings and large dimensions of the room, it managed to feel so cosy and welcoming.

I loved the upside-down Christmas tree – such imagination – and marvelled at the 25-foot one in the Great Hall.

I was super impressed with the river and bridge in The Long Gallery and had to stop to pose on the bridge. Beautifully-dresses masked mannequins showed off their finery.

We ended our tour with a visit to the chapel which is very ornate and lovely for a rest and some contemplation.

IMG_7558When we’d finished contemplating (and resting our feet), it was time for lunch and, of course, cake. Nom nom. I had the last slice of lemon sponge and Sharon chose a Victoria sponge. It was very delicious and … dare I use that word that so many people hate? …. moist!!!! As you can see, I was halfway through it before I even thought to take a photo.

All too soon, it was time to head home and we were just in time to catch the land-train back to the entrance. We had the entire two-carriage train to ourselves and, my goodness, was it cold. With open sides, a gale blew right through it but it was still a lovely journey. We were also only just in time for Sharon to catch her train from my local station. Seriously, the poor woman was dashing across the tracks on one side as the train was pulling in the other! Far too close for comfort!

IMG_7561

If anyone is thinking of visiting Christmas Masquerade at Castle Howard, then definitely do. They are open until 23rd December and again before New Year.

You can find out more about the installation, dates, and prices here.

It’s got great access for anyone with mobility challenges and we saw several visitors moving around in wheelchairs so don’t let any mobility issues put you off as most of the exhibits can still be accessed.

IMG_7513Oh, and I found a bear! Unfortunately he was part of the installation so I had to leave him where he was.

I’m already curious as to what next year’s theme will be. Hopefully if we do go back, we’ll manage a less blustery day. And apparently it’s good to avoid Tuesdays as that’s when they get most of their coach trips. Good to know!

Have a great week and good luck with any final Christmas preparations.

Jessica xx

 

The one where I talk about my lovely London trip

AF1695B8-77D8-4040-AD5B-B9C735098D0A

At the end of last week, I had a very busy and very exciting few days in London. There were so many highlights but I nearly didn’t make it, thanks to our delightful train network.

Hubby dropped me off at Scarborough Train Station on Wednesday morning to catch the train to York where I’d connect to London. I was confronted with this…

IMG_7294

Whilst the new trains are lovely and the staff are delightful and often full of good humour, the actual service run by Transpennine Express is shocking. So many of the journeys I have made lately have been cancelled or running late. Apparently there was no conductor for the service so it was simply cancelled and no alternative provided other than the next train an hour later; far too late to make my connecting train to London.

I’m very lucky in that hubby works from home and I knew he wasn’t working on a deadline so I called him on the car hands-free and he had to turn around and come back to collect me. Our dog was in the car so we had to arrange to drop her off with his parents rather than dragging her to York and back (an hour each way). Just as well we did this because, whilst my London train was thankfully running on time, it took hubby nearly three hours to get home again. There’d been an accident on the main York to Scarborough road and both lanes were shut so there was a massive diversion in place. I actually made it to London fifteen minutes after he got home which is ridiculous.

EJ49BRGWwAAdGAo
Me with my editor, Nia. No idea why I’m leaning like that!

I had a lovely afternoon in London, meeting my editor, Nia, and the CEO and Founder of Boldwood Books, Amanda. I’ve spoken to Nia on the phone several times and have had a Skype conversation with Amanda and Nia but nothing beats meeting them face to face. What a lovely lunch we had, talking about the first few months of The Secret to Happiness being out there, and marketing plans for 2020 and beyond. Every day, I am so very grateful that I submitted to Boldwood and my manuscript was chosen for representation because they really are an absolute joy to work with.

My hotel had a room with a view, ha ha ha! I posted this image showing Fenchurch Street station on Facebook and one of the Write Romantics, Deirdre, really made me laugh by asking “what’s that on the roof – ectoplasm?” Certainly looks like it!

IMG_7300

On Thursday morning, I had a very quick swim, jacuzzi and steam room before wandering over to The Tower of London and Tower Bridge, five minutes’ walk from the hotel.

I’ve been to London many times over the years and this is the second time I’ve been to this area but I don’t think the sights of London will ever bore me. I love all the history amongst the modern. It was a bit chilly by the river, mind.

Usually I find London several degrees warmer than the north but not last week. Brr.

After my walk, I took the tube to Kings Cross to collect my very good friend and fellow Write Romantic, Sharon Booth. I was early but Sharon’s train was running late so that gave me a great excuse to wander around the shops at Kings Cross and the ones at St Pancras over the road. How gorgeous is this Lancome Christmas tree? When you get up close, each light is shining through a bottle of perfume. That’s a heck of a lot of bottles of perfume!

IMG_7329

As well as meeting Boldwood, a massive highlight for me was having seven out of ten of the Write Romantics in the same place at the same time. I think we’ve managed six before so maybe one day all ten of us will get together. (From left-right on the 2nd picture below, it’s Jackie Ladbury, Jo Bartlett, Helen Phifer and Sharon Booth). Helen J Rolfe is in later pictures and I’m afraid I didn’t manage to get a picture with Deirdre Palmer as we weren’t sat together.

IMG_7337

We joined RNA members for a talk with bestselling author, Sophie Kinsella, who has just released another book in her shopaholic series after several years’ break. It was interesting to hear how she became a writer and more about her stories. Sorry about the poor pic but we were on the back row!

I love the Confessions of a Shopaholic film and am looking forward to Can You Keep a Secret? released soon. I’ve read several of Sophie’s books including that one.

After the talk finished, all but one of the Write Romantics gathered in my room for Prosecco and I grabbed a quick drink with them before changing and heading to a drinks reception with Boldwood.

This was an opportunity to see Amanda and Nia again but also a third team member, Megan, who is the Publishing Executive. Several of the Boldwood authors were gathered and it was so wonderful to meet them in person.

(L-R is Beth Moran, Amanda Ridout (BW), Lucy Coleman, Emma Murray, Diane Saxon, Jessica redland, Nia Beynon BW) and Fay Keenan). Megan (BW) was taking the pic.

EJ97YXIWwAELn5W

Next was the RNA’s Winter Party and Industry Awards. I’ve never been to one of the RNA’s London parties so this was a first. I had been looking forward to catching up with a few people I knew on social media but had never actually met but it was busier than I expected and, despite doing a few rounds of the room after the awards ceremony, I couldn’t see them! It doesn’t help that I’m vertically-challenged so trying to spot people in a roomful of people isn’t easy at the best of times but, when the lighting is dim and the room packed, I don’t think I stood much chance.

IMG_7344The highlight of the party for me was seeing two wonderful bloggers – Anne Williams and Rachel Gilbey – being nominated for the Best Blogger Award. Rachel reviewed my very first book and has read everything I’ve written since. I’ve been on several blog tours arranged via her Rachel’s Random Resources role. Anne has been a wonderful supporter of my work too more recently and I’ve had the pleasure of meeting her a few times before. Anne won and I was pleased to be able to congratulate both of them and get a photo of them together.

One of the Write Romantics was heading off home soon but the remaining six of us decamped to Pizza Express and had a lovely evening, catching up on all things writing and non-writing. Helen J Rolfe is the one on the right on the 1st image above. And I had to show my pizza because, whilst you may not be able to see, it had potatoes on it. Yes, that’s right, potatoes on a pizza! And it was delicious.

It was pouring when we left but that didn’t stop us getting a couple of photos outside The Four Seasons Hotel.

Isn’t that a lamppost gorgeous? It’s like something out of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. I kept expecting Mr Tumnus to appear at any moment!

A huge thank you to everyone who organised the Sophie Kinsella talk and the Winter Party as I know how much time and effort goes into coordinating events like this. Thank you so much to Boldwood for organising the pre-event drinks and to all the Boldwood authors. I’m sorry I didn’t get to chat individually to everyone during our short time together and then for not being able to find you to say goodbye.

My journey home was a bit fraught. I only had six minutes to make my connection in York and we were about 25 minutes late. However, so was my connecting train so I did manage to catch it. One time when I’m grateful for the poor service!

IMG_7295Have an amazing week.

Jessica xx

 

Some useful links:

The Romantic Novelists’ Association

Boldwood Books

Anne Williams’s ‘Being Anne’ Blog  

Rachel Gilbey’s ‘Rachel’s Random Reads’ Blog

 

The Write Romantics’ Amazon Pages (including those not in London):

Jo Bartlett

Sharon Booth

Jackie Ladbury

Deirdre Palmer (also writes as Zara Thorne)

Lynne Pardoe

Helen Phifer

Jessica Redland

Helen J Rolfe

Rachael Thomas

Alys West

 

 

The one where it’s Bonfire Night

new-years-eve-1040633_1280
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.

bonfire-801244_1920
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.

fireworks-1880045_1920
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.

fireworks-865104_1920
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.

10710356_772896169416352_8423854991211200294_o

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.

10658741_772896262749676_7205665515974763118_o

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!

10649077_772896256083010_2380929875232123490_o

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